Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Role of the Church in the Community
Lesson 8. Jesus Showed Sympathy
Our lesson this week depicts Jesus as a compassionate, empathetic, and sympathetic Savior. True of course, but aren't these adjectives often used to describe us as well, in certain circumstances? But there's a text in Hebrews that goes "light years" beyond the "feeling" of sympathy, and it can only apply to Jesus: "We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities [sympathize with our weaknesses]; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (4:15).
This one verse goes to the heart of the 1888 message--the human nature of Christ. We've read Ellen White's words many times, but to review them now, slowly, will set the tone, as she says: "The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study. Christ was a real man; ... Yet He was God in the flesh. ... We should come to this study with the humility of a learner, with a contrite heart." 
She expressed her joy when she wrote of meetings held soon after the 1888 General Conference Session: "Many hearts were touched, ... The Lord came very near, and convicted souls of their great need of his grace and love. We felt the necessity of presenting Christ as a Saviour who was not afar off, but nigh at hand." 
The key to understanding the heart of the 1888 message lies in that phrase--"a Saviour who was not afar off, but nigh at hand." He who is "the way, the truth, and the life" made Himself manifest as One "nigh at hand," "Emmanuel, ... God with us," not with Him only, but "with us" (Matt. 1:23).
So fully has the Son of God identified Himself with our fallen humanity, that it's difficult to take a scalpel and separate the heart cries of Jesus in the Psalms from the heart cries of king David. For example, in Psalm 22:1 David cries out, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" But then we discover that Jesus cries the same dereliction as He hangs on His cross (Matt. 27:46). Then as we read further in Psalm 22, lo and behold, we find that the entire psalm records the heart cries of Jesus up to the moment of His death when He cried out, "It is finished."
But how could Jesus Christ, the sinless One, pray the same words that the guilty, bloodstained sinner David prayed? Wasn't Jesus "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26)? He should be as far away from feeling like the despicable sinner, David, as day is from night!
But let's go back to Matthew 1:23 in which His name is translated, "God with us." Isn't it "unto us" that this "Child is born, unto us a Son is given" (Isa. 9:6)? Didn't the Father "so love the world that He gave" Him to us forever? Don't we "see Jesus ... made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death" (Heb. 2:9)? How could He "suffer death" unless He came inside our skin, as it were? He is "not ashamed to call [us] brethren" (vs. 11)! He had to be "[made] perfect through sufferings" (vs. 10). But wasn't He "perfect" all along? In holiness, yes; but He had to go through a process of education for 33 years in order to qualify to cry out sincerely from a broken human heart every word of Psalm 22!
That word "made" has enormous meaning: "In all things He had to be made like His brethren. ... In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour [aid] them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:17, 18). He was "made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. 4:4). He was "made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7), He became truly a man "in the [same] likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), "made ... to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21).
Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," understood the relevance of Christ being our Saviour, who is "nigh at hand." He wrote in The Present Truth magazine:
"To confess Christ, it is not enough to believe that He once lived and suffered and died and rose again. We must confess not merely that He did come in the flesh, but that He 'is come in the flesh.' He is a present Saviour. As in all the afflictions of the Israelites of old He was afflicted, so now 'we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities' (Heb. 4.15). He still feels everything that touches us, for He is still in the flesh. Even in the heavenly places. He is still 'the Man Christ Jesus' (1 Tim. 2.5). He is our forerunner, that is, one of the brethren who has gone before to prepare a place for the rest. When He comes again, He will come in the flesh for His flesh did not see corruption and the same flesh that went into the grave also ascended to heaven (Eph. 4.10)." 
"Although the Word was made flesh, even our own sinful flesh, He was 'full of grace and truth.' He was 'in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Heb. 4.15). God made Him 'to be sin for us,' yet He 'knew no sin' (2 Cor. 5.21). He was made to be sin, yet He 'did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth' (1 Peter 2.22). It is these two things combined that make Him a sympathizing Saviour, in whom we may freely confide. No one can sympathize with another's failings, if he has not been tempted in the same way. Moreover, those who are guilty of any sin are the quickest and fiercest to condemn others for the same sin. Sinners excuse sin, but have no sympathy for fellow-sinners. It is only those who are cleansed from sin, who can exercise charity for the erring. Christ was tempted to the uttermost, and was always pure from the slightest taint of sin; therefore we may trust Him as one who knows and who cares." 
What does it all add up to?
Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became "the Son of man," your Saviour "in the flesh." He empathizes with you 100 percent. In the first Bible verse cited in this essay is a double negative that makes a powerful positive: "We do not have an High Priest who cannot [sympathize with our weaknesses]; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
Does He sympathize with all the sorrowing, pain-ridden people on earth? Yes! He longs to put an end to sin and the sorrow it brings. And the closer we come to Him, the more we will share His concern. Don't turn your back on Him even for a day!
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
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