Lent 1 2021 Invocabit
February 21, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
A young couple had just lost their child. At the last moment, they had learned that the birth of their child would not bring life, but death. It was a tragedy that they just couldn't seem to get over. Family and friends tried to console them. And yet nothing that anyone said seemed to be of any help. No one could really understand the pain and loss. There were no words that truly gave comfort or any kind of peace in such a tragic loss. And that’s not because people didn’t try. The best condolences came across as hollow, well intentioned yet ill received. The worse were fake and condescending, sometimes downright insulting. And then they meet another couple that was going through the same thing. They knew exactly how they felt. They don't have to explain it. They don't have to talk. There was just the knowing look between them of shared experience.
How often have people felt as though no one really understands and so can’t offer any real sympathy over any number of tragic circumstances in life. Everyone wants to be understood, to be truly heard and related to, to know they’re not alone. It’s a sign of depression and whispers of the devil’s lies that you are all alone in your grief and sadness and that the there is no real healing. If only we would have someone in our lives who would be able to sympathize with the deepest hurt, the strongest temptations, the most intimate feelings.
The good news is that we do. Just like one couple who has experienced the same sort of tragedy in life can comfort another, we have a God who doesn't just pay lip service in understanding the pains and struggles of living in a sinful world, but one who has personally experienced temptation, evil, injustice, heartache, incredible loss, and pain and suffering. The author to the Hebrews writes to us, “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” (Hebrews 4:15).
One of the great implications of the incarnation of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus is that God Himself doesn't stand aloof to the pain in the suffering of this world. He doesn't just watch it perched upon his throne up in heaven. He doesn’t stand at an antiseptic distance to avoid being infected with grief. The prophet Isaiah proclaims about this one, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3a). He takes the pain in temptation and suffering upon Himself so that we might have One who can stand in our midst, One who could speak for us, One who could explain and put into words the inexplicable in our hearts and our minds and our lives.
Jesus actually knows, He understands, the struggles. Our Gospel reading shows that Jesus was not just tempted by the devil in the wilderness over 40 days, but during the whole of His human life with its full range of active and passive temptations. He knows when you are tempted to hold back. He knows the temptation to take matters into your own hands. He knows the sweet sound of the devil whispering in your ears. He knows just how deeply you are hurt, He understands the pain of disappointment, of anger, betrayal, jockeying for power. He’s experienced life lived in fallen creation.
Yet here is the difference. He was entirely “without sin” in this life. He didn’t fall into those temptations; He wasn’t overtaken by them. Since He is without sin, He suffers with sinner in order to take your sin upon Himself and take it away from you. He didn’t just suffer with you because He wanted to sympathize with you in your weakness and identify with you in temptations, but because He wanted to offer sympathetic help without demeaning or belittling us. He affirms your feelings and the gravity of your sin and still shares His sinless holiness. No one can do that other than Jesus.
Let’s go back to that couple with the stillborn child. What do you say to that couple, especially if you haven’t ever experienced their kind of pain? Everyone wants to have the right words. We want to help, but we’re at a loss to know what to say or how to say to it. This couple that I talked about, I know them. I held their child. And even I didn’t know what to say. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have the right words. Being left speechless is an uncomfortable thing when you desire to help someone, but you just don’t know how because you know, your words simply don’t cut it. This leaves you with only one option – the Words of Christ.
Consider Jesus in the midst of tragedy and death. His friend Lazarus had died. He didn’t try to explain it away. He didn’t talk to just fill the silence. He didn’t say, “It’s all God’s will” or “It was their time” which translates to “God killed your loved one, get over it,” and turns God into a heartless, controlling dictator. No, Jesus wept. The sinless Son of God just wept. He knows the pain of death and loss. And then He spoke. He called Lazarus from the tomb, speaking life over death. Because He could. In fact, He is the only one who has the just the right words at just the right time which actually does something.
And this is the greatest news of all. Jesus not only understands what we're going through but he's the only one who can actually do something about it. Whose words actually bring peace and comfort to a broken heart. Whose words actually deliver strength and endurance and patience. Whose word can even overcome the assaults and the whispers of the devil, the onslaught of the sinful world, the unease of a burden conscience. Whose words actually bring life, even in the midst of death. This is part of the point in our text from Hebrews. Jesus is able to sympathize with you in a way that is neither condescending nor unhelpful because He understands. He too has been “tempted in every way like us”, in all respects, even by the worst abuse at the hands of hardened sinners. He has suffered all that you suffer and can ever suffer and provides you with His comforting words so that you may share this with others. This is how St. Paul can write in 2 Corinthians, “He comforts us in our afflictions so that we can comfort others with the same comfort by which He has comforted us." Just as Christ suffered like and with you to comfort you, that sometimes the Lord allows suffering so that you can bring the comfort you’ve received to others. So in those uncomfortable situations when you don’t know what to say, speak only those words with offer any kind of real hope, any kind of real peace, any kind of real comfort – the Word of God. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall live even though He dies and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
In Jesus, you have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, the very Son of God who speaks and acts on our behalf. Because of this you can approach His throne of grace not just to have a sympatric ear by means of our prayer, but with the sure and certain confidence that you may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. Because you have access to God’s grace through Christ, you are invited to come near to God boldly and confidently with trust in Jesus as our High Priest, who is acquainted with suffering. The whole purpose of the Divine Service is centered around this very fact. The altar up front and center in our church symbolizes that you have access to God’s throne of grace. You may approach the King on His throne to receive gifts from Him. You have an advocate who stands with you, who understands you, who leads you in receiving God’s mercy as His Word is read and taught, as He feeds you with His very body and blood, and as He invites you to approach Him with prayers on behalf of the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and all people according to their needs.