I have sat through many an Easter sermon. I have watched many movies depicting Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. Easter is one of the most amazing days to have ever happened, and Easter services are always joyous.
Jesus is alive.
Death, where is your sting?
The graveyards are no longer permanent residences.
Loss is only temporary.
But as I have walked with Jesus for many years now, I see Easter has many nuances, and one is especially poignant to me.
This verse in Hebrews 4:15, which we read last week, is one of the most important verses in the Scriptures to me. I have several versions here:
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. (NLT)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our
weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as
we are—yet he did not sin. (NIV)
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (1-14)
I highlighted the last part. It speaks to our question: God is as a father to us. He made our first parent, Adam, and knows intimately what we are made of and what we are capable of, both good and evil.
But Jesus understands us in a different way, I propose. He understands us as human beings, for He left the courts of heaven and wrapped Himself in our flesh. The flesh imposed on Him had limitations: hunger, thirst, loneliness, longing, fatigue, consternation, sadness and fear.
Let me draw you an analogy. As I sit in my office with the window open, I hear the chirping of the wee birds at the feeders that hang outside. I enjoy their songs and their antics. I refill the feeders regularly so they will not go hungry, and I love to see the variety of birds that show up. I love my little friends, but I am really not one of them. I see the bigger picture: I place the feeders so they will be safe, to make sure that the raptors don't exploit this location for their lunch. I use quality birdseed. I know their lives are short, but that doesn't mean their lives must be unnecessarily hard. I live in a high desert where water is scarce, so I also have installed a small bird bath.
I have tried to think of everything. But I am still not a bird. I can use my imagination and wonder what being a bird is like, and try to sympathize with their world, but I am not a bird.
But, if I were able, I would like to become one. Then I would have a deeper understanding of what challenges they face, their fears and how it must feel to fly in fear and in joy.
Jesus became us. His Father lovingly provides for us, remembers we are dust, and sees the bigger picture, with the concept of eternity thrown in. But when Jesus wrapped Himself in our flesh, walked in our dirt, ate our food, slept under the stars, and grew tired, weary and sometimes had a good laugh, He really understood us in a more intimate way.
He was tempted by this life, by His flesh. He was tried by this life, by His flesh. In the Greek, "temptation" and "tested" are the same word. What at first draws us in by capturing our attention, what then makes us discontented, angry or incurs fear, causes us to either give in or find a way out, tests who we are, in our heart and in our character. It is difficult in this flesh. James traces the trajectory:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (1:13-15)
What then is the purpose of testing/temptation? James shares:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:2-4)
Growth. Refinement. A deeper commitment to God and His ways, eschewing our own, and standing with Him, confident that He who began a good work in us will complete it. Our flesh, with its sin nature, needs God's refining fires to pull out the dross and make us into the gold He wants us to be.
Jesus didn't pull an Adam: He never ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil--the fruit that says we can do it our own way. No, He ate the fruit from the tree of life--His Father's life. The Life that gives life and maintains His Father's supremacy at the center of all thoughts, of all actions. Jesus didn't rebel against His Father, His ways nor His wisdom.
Unlike us, He didn't allow the flesh to send Him into a rebellious, self-centered response to the world's and the flesh's enticements. In other words, He did not sin--which at its heart, is an act of rebellion.
So, even though Jesus chose time and time again to respond obediently, that doesn't mean the temptations/testings didn't hit Him hard. Frequently. Intensely. Repeatedly.
So, our seminal verse in Hebrews about our High Priest is utterly essential to standing on the knowledge that He gets it.
Really and truly gets it.
But wait a minute. You may be saying, "How can His story be my story? How can He understand what I have been through?"
I have taken this excerpt from my book, Stronghold Starters: How Satan Gets Into Our Lives. I pray it will speak to your heart and make you realize that with Jesus, tempted /tested in every way possible, you never walk alone. I imagined Him saying:
I was accused of being many things, even in my childhood. I was seen as an illegitimate child, a mere carpenter’s son, a man from an ignorant village, a man with no schooling, a nobody.Later on, I was accused of being a blasphemer, a drunk, demon-possessed, a friend of sinners, a sinner myself, a lawbreaker, inappropriate with women, a fake, a deceptive leader. I was rejected by my hometown, misunderstood by my family, denied by one friend and betrayed by another friend.
One day, I was handed over to my enemies, of which I had many. They mocked me, severely beat me, and tortured me with whips and fists. I then had to carry the very thing that would kill me. Through the streets I went, with screams, angry words and wailing accompanying every painful step I took.
I grew terribly thirsty and slammed to the ground, carrying the weight of the world upon my shoulders.
Then came the soul-shattering, mind-numbing, excruciating bolts of lightning pain, with no mercy, no respite, and no peace.
More hateful mocking words drifted up as the gates of Hell swung wide open, and the accuser stalked me again.
Then my burden grew beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Ugly, black, biting, writhing, searing sin engulfed me.
My heart seized at the utter hopelessness of it all.
I saw your rape.
I saw your rapist.
I saw your abuse.
I saw your abuser.
I saw your child die.
Your mental anguish.
I drank deeply from the cup of your sin, your pain, your life.
Then, as if humanity’s sin had gathered into raging bitter storm clouds, burning rain poured upon me, relentless, cold and black.
I saw every victim that ever walked the face of the earth. I saw every person who had perpetrated hatred, violence, murder and torture upon others. I saw kings, leaders, mere men worshiped as gods and ignoring my Father. I saw those who did unspeakable things in my Father’s name.
The rain of sin kept pouring down.
I saw the face of every person plunged into a mass grave.
I saw the sin that lured people into bondage and death.
Every baby’s cry pierced my ears.
Every woman’s scream seized my heart.
Every man’s terror burned my soul.
Every child’s tears wounded me again.
At this moment, when sin’s blinding black rain darkened every corner of creation, and washed over me in a pitiless surge, I could no longer see my Father.
All hope was gone. I was a captive. I now felt what every human being feels without my Father: drowning in the black rain of sin, with no hope, no light, and no comfort.
Alone. Lost. Dying.
I cried, ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?’
This very moment is why I came. I came to experience your world without my Father. Your sin separated you from Him and now I felt that in all of its bitter loneliness.
I cried, ‘It is finished.’
This very moment is why I came. I shed my own blood to pay your sin’s debt and to reunite you with my Father. I came to bring your dead self to new life: My life. I will live my life in you and through you.
The tomb could not hold me. Death could not hold me.
That Sunday, as I emerged from tomb, triumphant and whole, the enemy’s laughter stopped.
I now sit with my Father in heavenly places. Join us. Please don’t turn away.
Please don’t return to the darkness.
Come to the Light.
Come to Me, for although you are burdened with a heavy load, what I give you is Light for I give you Me.