"Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted."
Hebrews 2:17-18 CSB
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need."
Hebrews 4:15-16 CSB
Even the best of earthly companions fail in their sympathy and react to tears with frustration or grief with platitudes and lectures. We are too often tone-deaf in our closest relationships and miss each other out of inattention, our own inner struggles, impatience, fatigue, and just plain sin. Our old self dies hard and persists in seemingly automatic patterns of reaction strengthened over years and decades of practice. Deeply ingrained neural ruts often need much grace and time before they are filled in and different trails of response are blazed in our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Even after long years of walking with God, the habits of the new self do not completely displace the old, and we cry, "Wretched man that I am!" now while we wait for the day when we will be like Christ, for we shall truly see Him as He is.
Thanks be to God, that Day is coming. It is nearer now than when I went to sleep last night, nearer this moment than when I drank my first sip of coffee this morning. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
In the mean time, in these Shadowlands, I cling to the forgiving grace, unfailing sympathy, and kindness of our Lord. When I fail in love and place myself first, His blood is enough for that. When others fail me, I find comfort knowing He suffered too. He was misunderstood, rejected, physically abused, betrayed, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry. His family tried to stage an intervention, thinking he was mentally ill. He even knew the more ordinary rejection of the failure to listen in order to hear, instead of listening while formulating a response or not listening at all. How many times in the Gospels do we find His words falling on deaf ears and hard hearts! (Case in point: the disciples were surprised and disbelieving when He rose from the dead, even though He had told them, out loud, time and time again, that this very thing would happen.)
Charles Spurgeon elaborates on our Savior's sympathy with words in which to steep a bedraggled, overwhelmed soul:
Many men can be touched by the sorrow of another, but they are not touched with that sorrow. It is one thing to see pain but another thing to be touched with the feeling of it. Our pain, our depression, our trembling, our sensitiveness—Jesus was touched with these though he did not fall into the sin that so often comes of them. We must treasure this view of our Lord's sympathy, for it may be a great support in the hour of agony and weakness (The Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 1645, s.v. Hebrews 4:15).
Dane Ortlund's heartening book Gentle and Lowly also develops this theme eloquently, and I commend it to your notice if you have not yet read it.
Let Jesus draw you in through the loveliness of his heart. This is a heart that upbraids the impenitent with all the harshness that is appropriate, yet embraces the penitent with more openness than we are able to feel. It is a heart that walks us into the bright meadow of the felt love of God. It is a heart that drew the despised and forsaken to his feet in self-abandoning hope. It is a heart of perfect balance and proportion, never overreacting, never excusing, never lashing out. It is a heart that throbs with desire for the destitute. It is a heart that floods the suffering with the deep solace of shared solidarity in that suffering. It is a heart that is gentle and lowly. So let the heart of Jesus be something that is not only gentle toward you but lovely to you. If I may put it this way: romance the heart of Jesus. (Kindle location 1222).Christ's heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend no matter what friends we do or do not enjoy on earth. He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness. While that pain does not go away, its sting is made fully bearable by the far deeper friendship of Jesus. He walks with us through every moment. He knows the pain of being betrayed by a friend, but he will never betray us. He will not even so much as coolly welcome us. That is not who he is. That is not his heart (Kindle location 1493).
Recently I also found our never-failing Friend and sympathetic Savior in "The Ruler of the Waves," a small booklet by J. C. Ryle (1816- 1900).
I find a deep mine of comfort in this thought, that Jesus is perfect Man no less than perfect God. He in whom I am told by Scripture to trust is not only a great High Priest, but a feeling High Priest. He is not only a powerful Saviour, but a sympathizing Saviour. He is not only the Son of God, mighty to save—but also the Son of man, able to feel.Who does not know that sympathy is one of the sweetest things to us in this sinful world? It is one of the bright seasons in our dark journey here below, when we can find a person who enters into our troubles, and goes along with us in our anxieties—who can weep when we weep, and rejoice when we rejoice.Sympathy is far better than money, and far rarer too. Thousands can give who know not what it is to feel. Sympathy has the greatest power to draw us and to open our hearts. Proper and correct counsel often falls dead and useless on a heavy heart. Cold advice often makes us shut up, shrink, and withdraw into ourselves, when tendered in the day of trouble. But genuine sympathy in such a day will call out all our better feelings, if we have any, and obtain an influence over us when nothing else can. Give me the friend who, though poor in gold and silver, has always ready a sympathizing heart.Our God knows all this well. He knows the very secrets of man's heart. He knows the ways by which that heart is most easily approached, and the springs by which that heart is most readily moved. He has wisely provided that the Saviour of the Gospel should be feeling as well as mighty. He has given us one who has not only a strong hand to pluck us as brands from the burning, but a sympathizing heart on which the labouring and heavy-laden may find rest….Had my Saviour been God only, I might perhaps have trusted Him, but I never could have come near to Him without fear. Had my Saviour been Man only, I might have loved Him, but I never could have felt sure that He was able to take away my sins. But, blessed be God, my Saviour is God as well as Man, and Man as well as God—God, and so able to deliver me—Man, and so able to feel with me. Almighty power and deepest sympathy are met together in one glorious person, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Surely a believer in Christ has a strong consolation. He may well trust, and not be afraid" (J. C. Ryle, The Ruler of the Waves).
Are you hurting? Misunderstood? Bullied? Lonely? Rejected? Overwhelmed? Afraid? Exhausted? Forgotten? Alienated? Anxious? Downcast? Grieved by your failures to love, trust, and obey?
Go to your merciful and sympathetic High Priest. He knows. He sees. He understands. He loves. We fail each other, but He will never fail us in His compassion and concern. He who dwells in you, if you are His, cannot but feel your sorrows with you. In all our afflictions, He is afflicted. He may leave us in the dark. He may leave us in the fire. He may leave us in the storm. But He will never leave us.
Courage, dear hearts!