The Sympathy of Christ
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize 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, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
This is taken from the epistle to the Hebrews — that is, to those of that nation who had become Christians. Of course the Jews knew all about the high priest, for he was the chief minister in their religion — any allusion to him, therefore, they would easily understand. The high priest of the Jews used to offer sacrifices to God on their behalf — and on one day in the year especially, the great day of atonement, he used to go inside the veil of the tabernacle or temple (where no one else ever went, and he only went on that day), and there make an offering of atonement for the sins of himself and of the people.
But when Christ had died and risen again, the Jewish high priests came to an end — for they were but forerunners of Christ, and He is now the one and only High Priest. He offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and then He "passed into the Heavens," to be our High Priest there, like as the Jewish high priest used to go once a year into the holy of holies.
But our High Priest remains in the Heavens still. His sacrifice was once for all, and His passing into the Heavens was once for all. No further atonement will ever be needed. The great work is finished. And now He is at the right hand of the Father, to plead our cause, to present our prayers, and to procure for us acceptance by virtue of His precious blood. Though exalted so high — He does not forget us. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses."
He does sympathize with us. In all our infirmities and troubles of every kind, in pain and sickness, in poverty and need, in anxiety and grief — He has a fellow-feeling for us. Is not this comforting? Does it not cheer us in a time of suffering, when some kind friend comes in and sits down beside us and shows most plainly that though unable to help, he does heartily feel for us? How much more cheering is it to know that Jesus in Heaven sympathizes with us in all our troubles here below! Does not this thought, this blessed truth — take the edge off the sharpest suffering and lift us for the time above our sorrows?
But is it true? Does He care for me? Does He feel for me? Yes, it is true — for the Word of God says so, and that is all true. But more than this, as if on purpose to encourage us and to take away all our doubts and fears, something is told us to show us how it is that our blessed Lord can sympathize with us poor creatures. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted as we are — yet without sin."
Jesus Christ Himself when He was on earth was tempted as we are, and therefore He can feel for us. This is true, whether we take the word "tempted" to mean tempted to sin — or tried by affliction, or both. Though He could not be led into sin because there was no sinful nature in Him as there is in us — yet He was tempted to sin. We read of His being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and there is no reason to think that was the only time. He can feel for us therefore when we are tempted, because He was tempted Himself.
He was also afflicted. He is called "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). No sorrows were ever equal to His. We do not know that He was ever ill — but we do know that He was tired and hungry and sad. He was besides, the poorest of the poor; He had nowhere to lay His head; He led what would be called a hard life. Our greatest sufferings are light compared with His; and He had some afflictions (the greatest of all) which we cannot fully understand, as when He prayed in the garden, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" (Matthew 26:39), and as when He cried upon the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!" (Matthew 27:46).
He can sympathize with the poor therefore, because He was poor Himself. He can sympathize with the sad, because He was a man of sorrows. He can sympathize with all who suffer, because His own sufferings were so many and great. He was tempted; He was tried; He was afflicted; He went through before us what we have to go through, and much more; in this very world in which we live now — He lived and suffered; and therefore He can and does sympathize with us.
Did He not sympathize with the poor and needy when He was on earth? Was any sufferer ever brought to Him whom He would not help? Did He not cure the sick? Did He not give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame? Did He not restore dead children alive to their sorrowing parents? Was He not kind to all? Did He not say to one, "Weep not!" (Luke 7:13), to another, "Be of good cheer!" (Matthew 9:2), and to many at once, "Let not your heart be troubled" (John 14:1)? And would He have done and said all this — if He had not cared for them and sympathized with them? He does not change. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
In Heaven above, He sympathizes with sufferers just as much as He did on earth. He is as kind and compassionate as ever.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace." "Boldly" — that is, freely and gladly, feeling confidence in our Savior, and speaking all our mind to Him.
Let us come, "that we may obtain mercy," for we need mercy. We are poor unworthy sinners. We have nothing to plead but God's mercy in Christ Jesus. We want our sins to be forgiven through His precious blood. Nothing but this can bring us peace.
Let us come, that we may "find grace to help in time of need." There is no need of ours which God cannot supply, no pain that He cannot help us to bear, no trouble in which He cannot give us comfort. In every time of need let us pray, really pray; not merely saying over a few words, but praying from the heart, drawing near to God through Jesus Christ, laying all before Him, asking Him to help us, and believing that He will. Jesus Christ is there. And He thinks of us and cares for us and sympathizes with us. He is our friend, our Savior, our Mediator and Advocate. He will speak for us. Only let us pray and pray again — and wait and hope and trust.