(watch here: https://youtu.be/2kA0yLPWFnM)
10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying,
‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’
‘I will put my trust in him.’
‘Here am I and the children whom God has given me.’
14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
Our reading reminds me of the one about a woman who accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office one day. After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don’t follow my instructions carefully, your husband will surely die. Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch make him a nutritious meal. For dinner prepare an especially nice meal for him. Don’t burden him with chores. Don’t discuss your problems with him; it will only make his stress worse. Do not nag him. If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, I think your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband asked his wife, “What did the doctor say?” “He said you’re going to die,” she replied.
Hmmm…not the most sympathetic wife…but can you blame her?! 10 months to a year of treating your spouse like they’re royalty all because they’re a little stressed?! No, I can’t blame her ignoring such ludicrous advice from the doctor. She can and should find more reasonable ways of sympathizing with her husband’s plight. This isn’t to say she can’t empathize with his struggle. Most of us have been overwhelmed by life at one point or another. We know the stress of a loss or a deadline or a responsibility or an expectation. Life can get stressful at times and most of simply want someone to acknowledge our struggles if not provide some degree of comfort. We simply want to be heard, our suffering to be understood by someone, anyone. Sometimes I wonder how many patients out there have brought themselves to a doctor simply because they want someone to acknowledge their suffering. They know either the doctor can’t relieve them or they can relieve themselves of their suffering. They just want to someone to know what they’re going through. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a high number of patients only because I know how important it is for suffering to be acknowledged and understood. I believe acknowledging and understanding suffering are in themselves relieving.
Last week we began our 5-week sermon series on the book of Hebrews. Recall how I said the primary purpose of the book was to convince the first and second generation Jewish Christians of Christ’s superiority over customs and laws and traditions. Those early believers still clung to their beliefs that the harmony created by adhering to laws and customs and traditions was the source of life’s joy. They needed further persuasion of the greater joy found in a relationship with Christ. Right away in chapter 2 we hear the first encouragement for Christ: he knows firsthand what it means to suffer in this world. He knows firsthand what it feels like to be tested. He can not only sympathize with us and feel sorry for us but he can actually empathize with us because he felt the agony of bodily suffering. Our bodies are these wonderful gifts of God’s creation. They can bring us such joy and happiness but they can also bring us such great pain and sorrow. Some of what our bodies bring us depends on how we treat them. If we treat them well, then they reward us with joy and happiness. If we treat them poorly, well, pain and sorrow. Most of what our bodies bring us is a result of the aging process. Our bodies are temporary vessels with dwindling capacities to provide joy and growing capacities to provide sorrow. Our bodies fail us no matter how we treat them. It is ultimately our bodies that cause us to suffer. Our souls would be perfectly content without the burden of our bodies. But then we couldn’t exist in this world. We need our bodies if we are to live in this world.
Would God live in this world without a body? Of course He would (and does!) but in forms that are irrelevant to us. He needed to take on the form of a human to move beyond a sympathetic God into an empathetic God. We don’t need a God who feels sorry for us. We need a God who fully acknowledges and understands our joys and our sorrows because only then can we fully trust him. We can believe that He can and will find ways to save us. He is willing to sacrifice for us. Love is fully realized by a willingness to give up personal joy for the joy of another. We know God loves us because of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. Jesus was tested and suffered…GOD was tested and suffered and we can place our trust in that! Laws and customs and traditions don’t suffer on our behalf. They’re inanimate concepts. They don’t care about our suffering. Indeed, they’re often times the source of our suffering! So is it reasonable to place our trust in them? Do they love us and empathize with us the way Christ does? Of course not! And those early Christians needed to hear this. Laws have their purpose in maintaining order but they can’t save us from such things as loneliness or despair or fear or doubt. These are powerful forces in our world that only Christ can save us from. And not simply by his teachings and healings but by his sacrifice. He frees us from our slavery to the fear of death by actually going to the cross and suffering on the cross and dying on the cross! That is no small thing and a great reason for why Christ is far superior to the law.
Jesus not only acknowledged and understood our suffering but gave it purpose in connecting us with God. We trust God more and know we are not alone in our suffering. And Scripture offers us rich wisdom on suffering. In 1 Peter, we hear, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (5:10) God always waits on the other side of suffering, eager to restore, support, and strengthen us. And in the book of James, we are encouraged: “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (1:12) The crown of life also awaits those who endure suffering.
Suffering is unavoidable in life but that doesn’t mean its unacknowledged or misunderstood. Jesus knows are suffering all too well. He knows we will suffer when we claim him as our Lord and Savior. But if he can suffer so can we. Psalm 34 proclaims, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.” (19) Let us rejoice in our suffering and give thanks for our knowing God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.