October 14th, 2018, Pastor Galen
“…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“I know what It’s Like to Be in Need”
My first job after college was working as a bank teller. I don’t know if any of you have ever worked in a bank or not, but one of the interesting realities of working in a bank is that, although I had a tremendous amount of responsibility and handled thousands and thousands of dollars on a daily basis, I actually made very little money. As a bank teller I made just slightly above minimum wage, and although I had access to a lot of money at work, I got to take home very little of it. (My brother used to joke that banking is one of those industries where you are definitely not allowed to take your work home with you).
One day, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman walked into our branch with a story about how she had been driving through the city and her car ran out of gas, and she didn’t have any money and had lost her ATM card and credit cards. She wanted to see if we could help her out by giving her some money to fill her gas tank and help her get back on the road.
Now, nothing in my rather extensive two weeks of intensive bank teller training had prepared me for a question like this. Although indeed we were in the business of handing out money, we weren’t allowed to give it out freely to anyone who asked for it.
And, although we were in a rather under-resourced area of Baltimore city, and if you walked outside for any length of time it was common to be approached by someone asking for money, I had never actually had someone come into the bank and make a request like this.
I stood there slightly dumbfounded not sure what to do. I had several thousand dollars in my drawer at the time, and even just $10 would have helped her out, but I knew I couldn’t just give it to her. I looked at the bank teller next to me, who shrugged her shoulders and said, “ask Shanika.”
Shanika was our assistant head teller. She was a tattooed single mother of three with a raspy voice and a soft heart. So I called her over, explained the situation, and without another word, Shanika turned around, grabbed her own purse, reached inside, and drew out a $10 or $20 bill and handed it through the bullet-proof glass to the woman on the other side of the counter.
As the woman walked out the door, the other bank tellers and I stared at Shanika. We knew that, even though she was our supervisor, she didn’t make much more money than us. As a single mother, we knew that money was probably tight for her, as it was for all of us. We also knew that she didn’t know this woman, that she had no way of knowing if the woman were telling the truth or not, and that she would probably never see that money again.
Shanika turned and saw us staring at her, and said, “What? I know what it’s like to be in need, and I would want someone to do the same for me if I were in that situation.”
“I know what it’s like to be in need.” Shanika knew firsthand what it was like to be in need. Although the other woman was a stranger, of a completely different cultural background and stage in life, Shanika was able to empathize with this woman and respond accordingly. Why? Because she knew what it was like to be in need.
Jesus Has Been There Too
The author of Hebrews proclaims that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
In other words, Jesus knows what it’s like to be in need. Jesus has walked in our shoes. God understands us. God gets it. The beauty of the incarnation — that God became a person and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ — is that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus knows what it’s like to be one of us. Jesus left the splendors of heaven to come down to this earth and to live among us.
Jesus walked on this earth for 33 years. He was born as a baby — vulnerable, innocent, completely dependent on his parents and those around him. Jesus went through childhood, puberty, adolescence, and young adulthood. He felt hunger, thirst, sadness, pain, joy, and sorrow. He experienced dreams that were unfulfilled, hopes and longings that were never realized. He suffered rejection and betrayal, and grieved the loss of a close friend.
Not only that, but Jesus knew what it was like to be homeless. As an adult, he said that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).
Jesus knew what it was like to be poor. As an infant, when his parents took him to the temple to consecrate him before the Lord, they sacrificed two pigeons, which was a provision in the law for those who could not afford a lamb.
As a young child, Jesus’s parents were forced to flee to the country of Egypt in order to prevent King Herod from killing him. Jesus knows what it’s like to be an immigrant, and a fugitive fleeing persecution.
Jesus’s father was a carpenter, a term that referred not only to craftsmen, but also to builders and construction workers. Jesus knows what it’s like to work hard and to make very little money.
And, as we know, Jesus was arrested, falsely accused, stripped, beaten, and killed. Jesus knows what it’s like to be incarcerated, publicly humiliated, and treated unjustly.
No matter what we experience in life, Jesus knows what it’s like. Jesus can relate. Jesus has been there too.
Jesus Faced Temptation
The author of Hebrews reminds us that not only can Jesus relate to our weaknesses, but Jesus can also relate to any temptation we may face. Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
This is difficult for us to get our minds around, because it is so difficult for us to avoid giving into temptation that so often we confuse temptation with sin itself. But we see here that it’s possible to be tempted, and yet not sin.
Each of us is prone to different sorts of temptations. What is tempting for some of us might be repulsive to others of us. I love chocolate. So much so that if we have chocolate in the house, it’s really difficult for me not to eat it. My wife, on the other hand, only likes certain types of chocolate candy, and even then she could pretty much take it or leave it. It’s very easy for her to resist eating chocolate candy.
But Jesus knows what it’s like to crave chocolate — or whatever it is that’s a temptation to us. Jesus faced every temptation that we face, but did not sin.
…and Yet Did Not Sin
Now, we might expect the author of Hebrews to say that, since Jesus experienced all of the same temptations that we face and yet did not sin, therefore we can avoid sin too!
But instead, the author of Hebrews points out that we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy.” Because Jesus knows what it’s like to be face whatever situations we encounter in life, Jesus is ready and waiting to extend mercy and grace to us in our time of need. We never have to be afraid to ask God for help. We never have to be embarrassed or ashamed. Whatever it is that we’re going through, whatever doubts we’re having, whatever our weaknesses, whatever our desires or temptations, Jesus has been there too.
So many people think that God is somewhere up in heaven just ready to stomp on us as soon as we mess up, or that God is some cold detached being somewhere far off in the sky who doesn’t understand us or can’t relate to us, or worse, that God is somewhere watching from a distance, laughing at us as we struggle through life.
But instead, we see that in Jesus, God is right here with us. God is with us in the pain and struggles of life. God is present us in our weakness. God is right next to us in our temptations. God understands our struggles. God knows what it’s like to walk in our shoes.
And God is ready and waiting to help us out in our time of need, because God knows what it’s like to be in need.
We Should Be Merciful Too
Because God is ready and willing to extend mercy, grace, and compassion to us, let us be people who extend grace and compassion to others as well. Let us be people who are marked by love. Let us learn to empathize with others in their weaknesses, and let us be bearers of God’s grace and mercy to those around us.