Our fast-paced world is far removed from the dusty roads Jesus walked in first-century Palestine. Can He really understand our needs and sufferings? Can He empathize with our worries?
by Graemme Marshall
The Bible tells us Jesus can "sympathize with our weaknesses" and that He was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15). Yet we know He was not crippled or handicapped. We know He did not live to old age. Nor was He forced into unemployment or retirement. He never had to make ends meet on a pension. He didn't go to war or face a veteran's life, nor was He a victim of modern-day pollution, road rage or disease.
How, then, can Jesus understand the difficulties and challenges we face?
Could a 33-year-old single male with "legions of angels" at His command (Matthew 26:53) understand a woman's needs? What of the trauma of a divorcée or someone facing bankruptcy, paying child support or eking out a living while drawing social security?
What of the myriad temptations and problems we face? Jesus didn't live in a society quite like ours—with satellite television, video games, movies and smart bombs. If we are to come with confidence to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), how can we be sure Jesus understands what we suffer? After all, He is the glorified Son of God—an immortal spirit being—while we are weak, fleshly humans. If Jesus never experienced the human frailties we experience, how can He understand our personal needs in His role of Intercessor with the Father? (Hebrews 7:25).
Paul's explanation that we are not alone in our trials can be comforting (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you attend a Christian fellowship, you find others going through similar experiences (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). This is strengthening. Yet each of us has his own pain, trial and anguish that we may think no one else can properly understand.
We may wonder whether God can feel our pain. Can God appreciate the depth of human despair? Peter wrote that Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example (1 Peter 2:21). In what ways did Jesus lead the way? What confidence can we have that He understands the personal trauma of every one of His people? Read on to appreciate Jesus' unique trials and find comfort in them.
Weariness and limitations
Can Jesus understand the limitations of a human body? Isaiah was inspired to write that Christ's physical appearance didn't make Him especially attractive or desirable (Isaiah 53:2). He was apparently average looking, and at times His body got just plain tired. He rested at the well of Samaria because He was physically weary and thirsty (John 4:6-7).
Like any other human, He needed time to recuperate from the stress of heavy responsibility, for the weight of the world really was on His shoulders. After periods of hectic activity, He withdrew to areas of solitude to refresh Himself and recuperate (Mark 6:31).
Our unjust society
Can He understand life today? The plagues of government inefficiency and abuse, injustice and violent crime were just as much a part of His world as they are ours. His life was regulated by an oppressive system of at times foolish laws and regulations, just like ours.
Jesus knew the burden of oppressive taxation and the sting of racism. He lived in Judea under the occupation forces of the mighty Roman Empire, which treated the populace as subjugated peoples and harshly enforced its requirements. One of Rome's rules was that Jews could be commandeered anytime to carry a Roman soldier's equipment for a mile. Simon of Cyrene was grabbed out of the crowd and made to carry the wooden beam on which Jesus would be crucified. Jesus was too weakened by a scourging to carry it further Himself (Matthew 27:32).
Jesus encouraged His followers not only to comply with this rule, but to go above and beyond. By carrying a burden for two miles, they would carry the load for some other passerby and fulfill the Golden Rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 5:41; Luke 6:31).
Jesus also spoke of the hypocritical leadership of the religious authorities of His day: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do" (Matthew 23:2-3).
He was personally insulted: accused of being illegitimate, "born of fornication" (John 8:41).
Family conflict and people problems
Many of our problems concern relationships with members of our own family and close friends. We must try to get along with people we are near constantly—fellow workers, employees, neighbors and school officials—even though they sometimes oppose us at every turn. Jesus had to face similar difficulties. His own brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). He had gathered a group of novice disciples around Him who at times vexed Him with their vanity and visions of grandeur (Luke 9:46).
The established religious community criticized Him for His lack of formal education in the Scriptures (John 7:15). Because He hailed from the small town of Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus endured slurs. Even one of His future disciples, on hearing where Jesus had grown up, asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).
In the hour of His greatest distress, His closest friends deserted Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane His disciples fled when they saw Jesus would be arrested, leaving Him alone to face the religious authorities and their soldiers. The next day many of His disciples were still too frightened to be publicly seen as He was beaten and executed. "But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things" (Luke 23:49).
What about other people relationships? Jesus wasn't married, so can He understand marriage problems? How can Jesus understand what it is like to live with an unconverted mate?
Actually, He can. He was symbolically married to the nation of Israel. She was a selfish, unfaithful spouse who caused Him a great deal of grief and unhappiness (Jeremiah 3:6-14). He is not only prepared to take her back, He will receive her once again—when she repents and wants to be a faithful bride.
Illness and pain
Can Jesus understand the physical and psychological pain of child abuse, rape, disease or physical infirmities?
Many people suffer from illness or accidents. Christ understands the depths of their suffering. The Gospels reveal that in His last hours as a human being He was falsely accused, mocked, reviled, sworn at, spat upon and slapped in the face. He suffered a brutal beating before His crucifixion, which in itself was an extremely painful and humiliating way to die.
Isaiah tells us of Jesus: ". . . There were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness" (Isaiah 52:14, New International Version). Apparently Jesus was barely recognizable as a human after the awful beating He suffered. As God in the flesh, did He want to live physically any less than we do? No. He didn't want to feel the agony of crucifixion and death. But, faithful to the plan of God, He obeyed because of the necessity of His dying on our behalf (Matthew 26:39, 42).
Grief and anguish
Have you ever been stolen from by your acquaintances, convicted without a hearing, suffered racial slurs, betrayed by a friend or had your money embezzled by a close associate? Jesus had all those things happen to Him.
But someone might say: "Well, Jesus never suffered the things I do." Perhaps the best response would be that what Jesus went through in 33 years of human existence the overwhelming majority of people have never duplicated. He experienced numerous attempts on His life, had a crown of thorns thrust down to gash into His scalp, was scourged and crucified and willingly gave His life to pay for the sins of others.
A few people have endured indignities on a similar level. Many were crucified in those years. None, though, lived without ever sinning. In this Jesus stands head and shoulders above everyone else: a real, flesh-and-blood, 33-year-old thoroughly masculine male who never sinned, not even once.
As Creator of all things, including humanity, God has through eons of time experienced depths of emotion about what humans do to other humans. This was even before Jesus became God in the flesh. In the same way, He was "grieved in His heart" before the flood (Genesis 6:6), so we can know that Jesus grieves about the state of our world.
If you can sympathize with some of these examples, then rest assured that you can know with certainty that you have a faithful High Priest who walked this physical life ahead of you. He knows what it means to suffer. He is fully qualified on your behalf to express the depth of your personal, private suffering to the Father.
Christ meant it when He told us in His Word: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Approach God boldly and confidently, knowing with every pain you suffer that Jesus is the High Priest who hears, knows and understands how you feel. GN