Friday, 28 November 2014

Just like us

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence... Hebrews 4:15-16

Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are”. I wonder if we have ever allowed the full impact of that statement to sink into our minds?

It means that, in principle if not of course in every detail, there is nowhere I may have to go where Jesus has not been before me. He experienced physical torture. He knew extreme hunger. He knew ferocious satanic attack. All these are spelled out in the gospels. 

But presumably he knew also what it was to be subject to temptations suggested by the ten commandments; not to mention those we perhaps consider (wrongly?) to be fairly petty - jealousy, irritability, careless words, laziness, resentment, unjustified anger. But in all these situations he was “without sin”. 

I have to admit that I find it hard to understand how all this can be. Reconciling the divine nature of Jesus with his human nature is something that has taxed theologians throughout the Christian period - how could one person be both perfectly divine and genuinely human? But I for one am happy to let the theologians puzzle it out; what matters is this clear statement of scripture, and what it means in practice for us weak human beings.

Which is what, exactly? Let’s spell a few things out.

First, it means that Jesus is a massive challenge to us. 

His experience teaches us that temptation can be overcome - the story of his trial in the wilderness makes that clear. Many of us, I suspect, make do sometimes with a rather token resistance to sin. As long as we aren’t guilty of anything too glaring, we settle for an “Oh well, six out of ten isn’t too bad” attitude - overlooking the fact that God calls us to be “perfect”, “holy”. We settle for respectability rather than real godliness.

This wasn’t the way of Jesus, and it shouldn’t be our way either. Only the best!

But second, it means that Jesus is a massive comfort too.The writer uses expressions which can give us a tremendous boost.

One is that Jesus is “able to sympathise” - which doesn’t just mean “feel sorry for” but “to suffer alongside”. Jesus doesn’t talk down to us from a great height. No, he is right in the thick of things, just where we are. He doesn’t only offer advice or even a good example, though he does of course do that; no, he shares our troubles. 

And this truth is reinforced by those other wonderfully comforting words, “just as we are”. Picture Jesus wearily wiping the sweat from his brow after a hard day out teaching the crowds. Picture him easing himself into bed, dog-tired. Picture him, acutely thirsty, asking the Samaritan woman for a drink from her bucket. Just like us. 

Third, it gives us hope. The writer tells us we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence”. Come boldly into the presence of God!

Many religious leaders in history have been stern and forbidding. They have crushed and intimidated those who look to them by the severity of their demands, keeping them at arms’ length. But not Jesus. His arms, outstretched on the cross, form a posture of welcome. And that is exactly how God sees us: “Come!” he says, “come! I love you. I want you to be with me!”

I don’t know what your particular weaknesses and temptations are. They may be things you are so ashamed of that you can’t share them even with your best friend. They may have dominated and poisoned your life for many years. Well, if these verses mean anything, they mean that Jesus knows all about them yet still loves you

For there is something else here we haven’t yet mentioned explicitly. Jesus isn’t only your friend who sympathises with you, your fellow-human who is just as you are; no, he is also your high priest who has acted on your behalf. He has offered a once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sin. Whatever your sins may be - however shameful, humiliating, disgusting, cruel, spiteful, degraded - his blood is sufficient to deal with them. Yes, really.

So why hold back? Why not “approach the throne of grace? Why not come? Why not come today?

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me even in the worst of my sins and the hardest of my trials. Thank you for the perfect sacrifice of your blood shed on the cross. Thank you for ushering me into the presence of the all-holy God. Lord Jesus, I come, I come! Amen.

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