Believe Jesus: Just Like Us
Close up, all our heroes are just like us. Sure, their skills, gifts, ability (and luck) are superior to ours, but get up close to anyone and what we find is that they have exactly the same human foibles, flaws and weaknesses as we do. Despite all the variations there are from culture to culture and between individuals, all of us are just like us.
But here’s the thing: The letter to the Hebrews was written to people just like us, about someone just like us, only perfect! Hebrews is all about the one flawless hero, the one truly perfect man. Hebrews sets out the great claim of Christianity that we have a saviour who is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. It is this claim upon which Christianity hangs – it hangs on the person of Christ, the one who is God enough to save us, and man enough to represent us.
How is he like us?
We are flesh and blood; so was he! We suffer; so did he!
Human existence is in many ways an exercise in suffering. Many of us experience much in life that brings joy and pleasure, but all of us also experience varying measures of physical, emotional and relational suffering. The sobering reality is that the longer we live, the more of this suffering we will experience. One of the amazing claims of the gospel is that Jesus experienced suffering, just as we do.
Moreover, we’re told here (v18) that the temptation Christ experienced was a source of suffering. This is because temptation resisted is suffering embraced. One of the questions I’ve been most often asked over the years is about the reality of Christ’s temptations – how could the temptation be real if Christ is God and therefore incapable of doing wrong? I believe the answer is found in the reality that temptation is only painful to the degree in which it is resisted. Temptation embraced is not painful, but feels good, at least for a time. Temptation hurts when we resist it, and this means that Jesus suffered more from temptation than any other man because he resisted more than any other man.
Jesus is just like us, only perfect!
What did his suffering achieve?
Hebrews often quotes from the Old Testament, and these quotations are not random. The first quotation in this passage is from Psalm 22, the psalm that Jesus cried out when he was on the cross. This is a psalm that begins with abandonment and despair (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and ends with praise, praise that speaks out “in the midst of the congregation.” The point here is that both Christ’s suffering and his praise is for the “congregation”, the ekklesia, the people of God. His triumph through suffering is the evidence that we will triumph over suffering, which is why we can trust him. Just as Christ’s sufferings were vindicated, we should not give up when we suffer.
The next two Old Testament quotes in this passage come from Isaiah 8:17-18. When Isaiah prophesied Israel was in a mess and about to be overrun by Assyria, but Isaiah still trusts in God. Isaiah had children, who would suffer the Assyrian invasions, but God will be faithful in keeping his people. Christ’s suffering is about gathering a people, a people who can trust God even in negative circumstances.
Jesus had to put his trust in the Father; he knows what it is to not exercise power, to partake in the weakness of human flesh. But Christ has broken the tyrant’s power, he has broken the terrors of death and death no longer separates us from God’s love. By becoming just like us Jesus has been qualified as the great high priest who has atoned for our sins. His suffering has enabled him to help us.
What does it mean for us to be in his family?
Jesus is not embarrassed by us!
Families provide the greatest opportunity for love and acceptance but also for the greatest embarrassment and shame. The thing is, it should be shameful for Christ to associate with us. He should be embarrassed by me and want nothing to do with me, yet he has dealt with my shame. By his priestly work on the cross Jesus has turned aside God’s wrath from me – he has associated himself with me, and led me out of death.
As a member of the family of God I look to one who is able to sympathise with me because he knows what it is to be human. And I look to one who is merciful towards me, dealing with my sin, and covering over my shame.
The trouble with our heroes is that in the end they are just like us. Jesus is the one man who will never disappoint. He is just like us, but so wonderfully different from us. He is the perfect man.