This summer, I studied the book of Mark and learned ever so much more than I could have hoped; the Lord is a good teacher! (That’s just how He works, isn’t it? He always exceeds expectations!) I learned about our mighty and loving God by looking at the way Jesus acted and the words He spoke, never once failing His Father or the people He came to redeem. He saw entire crowds with compassion, feeding them with both bread and truth, shepherding them in love. At the same time, He would go great distances just to find one of His lost and lowly sheep, whether a child, a tax collector, or a beggar. He had the power to perform miracles, yet those disciples who saw Him transfigured on the mountain also watched as He meekly laid down His life to save us while enduring the taunting of those who thought that He could not even save Himself.
Sometimes, as we study the Bible, God teaches us something completely new, and at other times, He gives us a new understanding of something that we’ve already heard. Several of the most important lessons I learned this summer fall into that second category, and I thought that I would share one idea in particular that stood out to me. We spent several weeks looking at the final chapters of Mark, carefully observing the time from the last supper through the resurrection. It was good to slow down and really process the unfolding events. As we looked at all that Jesus endured, I realized, in a new and deeper way, that Jesus understands.
I knew that Jesus suffered for me, died on the cross, and rose again. I knew that He lived a sinless life so that by His death He could satisfy the penalty for our sin and by His blood cleanse us from our own deadness to walk in newness of life for all eternity. But there was always a part of me that thought, oh, it must not have been that difficult for Him. He is God, after all. Jesus came to earth, but being born of a virgin without the sinful seed of man, He didn’t have a sin nature. So it was natural for Him to live a perfect life, not once giving into temptation, right? Could He really know what we face? Could He relate to my pain, my bad days, my heartache? Could He truly understand what it’s like for me?
Studying Mark changed my understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be not only fully God, but fully human. It’s a concept we’ll probably never quite grasp. But Jesus was fully human. He inhabited the same sinful and broken world that we do. He experienced what we experience – pain, sadness, loneliness, exhaustion – because He was a real person. He wasn’t some made-up superhero in an imaginary world; He was a real hero who faced trials and overcame them when no one else could stand. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought Him salvation, and His righteousness upheld Him” (Isaiah 59:16).
Hear some of His words from the night in Gethsemane, when His brutal torture and crucifixion were awaiting Him: ‘And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will’” (Mark 14:33-36). Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled. He was sorrowful even to death. Luke’s gospel tells us that He was in such agony that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
It would be impossible for us to do what Jesus did, so perhaps we cannot truly understand how difficult it was.
Jesus, being God, knew what would happen. He had been telling His disciples over and over again what was coming. The Scriptures were being fulfilled. He knew the excruciating pain, the humiliation, and the loneliness that He was facing. He knew what it would be like to become sin for us, to become a curse for us when He hung on that cross. He knew what it would be like to carry on His raw, bleeding shoulders the enormity of every single sin and hurt and sorrow that has ever existed in this world. He knew. And He, being fully human, the Son of Man, did it anyway.
“The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”
Jesus prayed three times the same words; Jesus, the Son of God, asked that if it were possible, God would relent and spare Him from what was coming. In His humanity, He didn’t want to face the suffering, yet from Jesus we can learn one of the greatest lessons, which is that what we want does not have to become our will. Like our Lord, we can set our face like flint and determine to submit to God, knowing that His purpose for us, even in the midst of trials, is good, and that He is our loving Father. As our Father loves us, so does Jesus. Look how much He loves us! “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). In complete unity with the Father, He determined to lay down His life so that He might bring life and light to us, His brothers and sisters through adoption. Mocked, tortured, forsaken by God, through all of these things He loved us and counted it as joy that He would redeem us to Himself.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb. 2:14-18)
He understands. He is merciful and faithful as He helps us. When we are tempted, He offers guidance and a way of escape, having fled temptation Himself. He can relate to our difficulties and temptations much more than we could ever relate to His. In His infinite wisdom and love, our Lord provided not only for our forgiveness and new life, but for our daily needs; from His own experience He now sustains us through every moment as we await His return. “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Jesus, who Himself sought God’s help, now helps us. He leads us in victory as only a Good Shepherd would, walking before His sheep so that they might follow in safety and peace. He traveled the road before us, and now He travels it with us.
When I face trials, He is my refuge. When I am tempted, He is my wisdom. When I sin, He is my Advocate. When I endure, He is my reward. Day to day, He carries me through life. His grace is not begrudgingly given; His love for me is steadfast. He knows that my troubles are sometimes messy, but He cares for me anyway, and nothing can separate me from His love. He is there to help and build up; would He tear down the ones for whom He gave His life? “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3). My concerns are not too trivial, my wounds are not too deep, my problems are not too disgraceful. In my weakness He draws near in strength, because His love transcends all. Nothing is hidden from before Him, and He doesn’t want me to hide – He wants me to run to Him, to draw near and be cleansed and abide in Him. He knows. He cares. He heals.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).