Sympathetic to Weakness

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

- Hebrews 4:15

Yesterday we saw how Christ’s ascension makes Him a greater High Priest than the high priests of the old covenant. Jesus did not enter the earthly sanctuary in order to make sacrifice, nor is He on earth interceding for His people. Rather, He ascended on high through the curtain of the clouds (Heb. 4:14) in order to enter the heavenly sanctuary where He always intercedes for His people (7:25).

Though Christ is now highly exalted, it would be a mistake to think that our great High Priest is far removed from our human experience. Far from being a Savior who knows nothing about the human condition, the Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in all of our weaknesses (4:15). These weaknesses, John Calvin says, include both external evils and internal feelings of the soul.

Jesus can sympathize with all our weaknesses because He lived as a human being and experienced the things that we experience. According to John Owen, Christ’s sympathy with us means three things. First of all, it means that He is concerned for us. Christ is concerned for us when we are hungry. He is concerned for us when we are in trouble. He is concerned for us when we are tempted. Secondly, Christ’s sympathy with us means that He can relieve our suffering. He can provide for our daily needs. He can save us when we are in trouble. He can help us avoid engaging in sin. And thirdly, Christ’s sympathy with us means that He can experience what we feel emotionally, insofar as our emotions are not sinful. He rejoices with us when we rejoice for good and godly things. He mourns with us when we mourn over the loss of good and godly things.

Prior to the Incarnation, God was concerned for His people. He felt sorrow for His people (Isa. 63:9), and He helped His people in times of trouble. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, humbled Himself and came in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5–11). Consequently, Christ, who is fully God, became fully man and sympathizes with our weaknesses. Such divine sympathy is expressed when we, the people of God, are tempted. Hebrews 4:15 makes the astonishing claim that Christ was tempted and yet was without sin. He lived a life like ours, yet none of His experience was tainted with sin! Jesus is a greater High Priest because He never yielded to temptation.

Coram Deo

Some theologians portray Christ’s sympathy with His people as weak and ineffectual. Though Christ may feel what we feel (insofar as our emotions are not sinful), He does not merely stand beside us whimpering and weighed down by emotion. Rather, He can and will raise us up into newness of life and rejuvenate our emotions when we go to Him.

Passages for Further Study

Judg. 2:18
Isa. 53:4
Isa. 63:7–14
Matt. 9:35–36
Rev. 14:9–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.