Gentle Jesus: Prayer Partner (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:2; 7:25)

MOTIVATE

Perhaps you’ve seen one of Disney’s newest movies Encanto. No spoilers, but essentially the movie is about a family and community with each individual having a unique and supernatural gift. One of the characters, an eldest child named Luisa, has the gift of superhuman strength. While on the outside she is strong, resilient, and ready to help anyone with any task, on the inside she feels immense pressure. She sings a song: “Surface Pressure,”[1] which captures what many today feel and think.

I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous
I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is
I move mountains, I move churches
And I glow ’cause I know what my worth is

I don’t ask how hard the work is
Got a rough indestructible surface
Diamonds and platinum, I find ’em, I flatten ’em
I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanding
But

Under the surface
I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus
Under the surface
Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”?
Under the surface
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service

A flaw or a crack
The straw in the stack
That breaks the camel’s back
What breaks the camel’s back it’s

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa
Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’till you just go pop, whoa…

Who am I if I can’t carry it all?
If I falter

Under the surface
I hide my nerves, and it worsens, I worry something is gonna hurt us
Under the surface
The ship doesn’t swerve as it heard how big the iceberg is
Under the surface
I think about my purpose, can I somehow preserve this?

Line up the dominoes
A light wind blows
You try to stop it tumbling
But on and on it goes

But wait
If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations
Would that free some room up for joy
Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?
Instead we measure this growing pressure
Keeps growing, keep going
‘Cause all we know is

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa
Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh…

If the same pressure would’ve pulled you under
Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?
No cracks, no breaks
No mistakes, no pressure

Last week we started our brief sermon series around the book title: Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The introductory message was from Matthew 11:28-30, which describes Christ’s heart as gentle with an invitation for all those who labor and are burdened to find rest in Him. Today, we continue this series with a reminder of how Jesus actively sympathizes with us in our current situations. We understand this through 3 roles Jesus serves in our life and faith.

EXAMINE               Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:2; 7:25

“Since 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… He can deal gentle with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness… Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Dane Ortlund describes this passage as God’s stethoscope to our ears, letting us hear the vigorous strength of Christ’s beating heart.[2]

Jesus is our advocate.

  • In the OT, a prophet represented God to the people, and a priest represented the people to God. In the NT, Jesus is our prophet and priest, our comprehensive advocate. As Son of God, He fully represents divinity and as Son of Man, He fully represents us in humanity (cf. 1Tim2:5; 1Jn2:1-2).
  • Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. Through the incarnation, God become man. He knows what it is like to…
    • Live with imperfect parents (Hey kids & teens!).
    • Live in a blended family. Joseph was not a biological father to Jesus nor were His siblings. Undoubtedly, family dynamics in the divine host family were challenging.
      • Hey son… great job at school grades (and really everything else in life), but could you stop pointing out how imperfect I am as a parent!?!
      • Hey son… you got any advice on how to parent your brothers and sisters?
      • Sisters: Hey, my nice and favorite big brother, could you help me out with my homework…
      • Brothers: Hey brother, you think you know it all, I bet you don’t know the answer to this question (writing down)… and this one (writing down)… and this one (writing)… and one more… Thanks bro.
      • Siblings: Happy Birthday Jesus.
        Jesus: It’s not my bday. Before Abe was, I am.
        Siblings: Party pooper.
        Jesus: I’m not a party pooper. You see that basket over there… Who wants pizza? You see that water pitcher… Who wants juice? (non-alcoholic of course)
    • Live misunderstood.
    • Live lonely.
    • Live hurting; feel weight of world; treated unjustly.
    • And Jesus does all this without sin! Personally, I experience a stubbed toe and sin, much more frustrations or conflicts with others I’m tempted toward pride or wrong attitudes.

Dane Ortlund writes[3], “Fallen humans are natural self advocates. It flows out of us. Self-exonerating, self-defending. We do not need to teach young children to make excuses when they are caught misbehaving. There is a natural built-in mechanism that immediately kicks into gear to explain why it wasn’t really their fault. Our fallen hearts intuitively manufacture reasons that our case is not really that bad. The fall is manifested not only in our sinning but in our response to our sinning. We minimize, we excuse, we explain away… We advocate for ourselves.
[BUT] What if we never needed to advocate for ourselves because another had undertaken to do so? What if that advocate knew exhaustively just how fallen we are, and yet at the same time was able to make a better defense for us than we ever could? No blame shifting, or excuses, the way our self-advocacies tend to operate, but perfectly just, pointing to his all-sufficient sacrifice and sufferings on the cross in our place? We would be free. Free of the need to defend ourselves, to bolster our sense of worth through self-contribution, to quietly parade before others our virtues in painful subconscious awareness of our inferiorities and weaknesses. We can leave our case to be made by Christ, the only righteous one.”

Gentle And Lowly, pp.92-93

As our comprehensive advocate, the author of Hebrews exhorts us to hold fast. The verb Κρατέω indicates taking possession or to take powerfully hold of something. In the context of the book, it indicates having a convinced confidence (3:6, 14) and unwavering commitment to the confession of Jesus as God’s Son, especially considering others drifting from faith and quitting gathering in church (cf 2:1; 3:6; 10:23).[4]

  • These days, “deconstructing your faith” has become a common concept.[5] Deconstruction is the questioning and systematic dissection of the Christian faith. It often ends up with the person rejecting beliefs and values previously held. Just as the author of Hebrews, we should express concern for those who are drifting and disbelieving from the faith. And while we are saddened, we should not be surprised.
    • Jesus predicted many would be led astray and fall away (Mt 24:10-13).
    • Paul warned people would swerve from the truth and shipwreck their faith (1Tim 1:19; 2Tim 2:14, ff.)
    • 1 Cor 10:12 “let anyone who thinks they stand take heed lest they fall”

  • Key to deconstructing faith is not forgetting to reconstruct it. It’s ok to have doubts, ask questions, and refine our perspectives. But if our questions leave out the quest for answers, then we are not being honest with ourselves or God. Faith isn’t a cul-de-sac but a conduit toward certainty.

Key to deconstruction is not forgetting to reconstruct. It’s ok to have doubts, ask questions, & refine our perspectives. But if our questions leave out the quest for answers, then we are not being honest with ourselves or God. Faith isn’t a cul-de-sac but a conduit to certainty.

  • Perhaps you’re not deconstructing but simply drifting. Gathering in person is viewed as a risk due to health factors surrounding a virus. The pandemic has displaced people who used to be present in worship for what is called “virtual worship” and “meta church.” The challenge is turning faith into spectator religion rather than sincere relationships.   
    • Praise shifts to passive observation.
    • Prayer intimacy shifts to personal intermission (drink, restroom, email/social media, or other distractions).
    • Preaching shifts to episode commentary.
    • People shift to technological pixels and we only become further insulated in biases, isolated in relationships, and alienated as a society.   

*As a pastor, I believe there is some value for virtual worship experiences and potential for digital discipleship. But these should only be
1) short-term substitution, 2) combined with profound commitment to participate with active discussion and discipleship application. If your only faith development is online then that is not in line with Scripture (cf Acts 2:42-47; 1 Cor 14:26; Heb 10:19-25; etc.).

  • Since Jesus is our advocate in heaven, we can be His ambassadors on earth. We do so through identifying with His church and influencing others in word & deed.

Jesus is our intercessor.

The Son of God is not only our advocate but our intercessor.  The passage notes Jesus as the great high priest who…

  • “passed through the heavens” (4:14) This relates to Jesus’ ascension return to heaven. Jesus told His followers, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7-8). The benefit of Jesus’ ascension is that He has all power (1 Peter 3:22) and that power is present in those who believe (Acts 1:8; Rom 8:11; Gal 2:20; Eph 1:13-14).

  • “[sits on the] throne of grace… always living to make intercession for us” (4:16, 7:25) What is Jesus doing in heaven right this very moment? He’s not just respectfully receiving all our praises but He’s perpetually praying for His children (cf Rom 8:26; Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 7:23-25).
    • Ex: When pastor tells children, “Go ask your mom if it’s ok to give you Reese’s”, the pastor is asking the mom to be the intercessor.
    • Ex: When a new co-worker asks a long-time employee to “put in a good word” to the company supervisor, they are asking for you to be their intercessor.
    • Apply: Christians are to intercede for one another in prayer. Our prayers for one another matter and make a difference. But the most valued prayer life we can be thankful is that Jesus is praying for us.[6]
  • While Jesus is praying/interceding for us, He invites us to draw near the throne of grace. While earthly thrones require permission to draw near, the heavenly throne is open 24/7/365.
  • Think about this[7]: Would a father with a suffocating child want his child to draw on the oxygen tank in a modest manner, careful not to ask for too much help? No! Likewise, when we need God’s mercy and grace, Jesus wants us to take considerable comfort from the abundant riches of His atoning work from the cross and His affection from His intercessory work from the throne of heaven. Though Jesus is in heaven, He is just as available and active in His embrace of sinners and effort to care for sufferers as he ever was on earth.

Jesus is our Savior.

Of all the titles and roles Jesus plays, “Savior” is the most familiar. And while familiarity brings a great sense of comfort, it can also result in complacency. The invitation to draw near to the throne is grace is to receive mercy and grace to help in our time of need.

  • Many of us in need avoid approaching others. We don’t want to bring attention to self or bother anyone. So, we suffer silently and alone.
    • The opposite perspective is true. Jesus wants us to approach Him during our need.

Ortlund reminds us, “All of our natural intuitions tell us that Jesus is with his people, present and helping, when life is going well. This text says the opposite. It is in our ‘weakness’ that Jesus sympathizes with us… It is a depth of felt solidarity… In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering; he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t – not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”[8]

“Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult the life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what he himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.”[9]

Gentle & Lowly, pp. 46, 48

When we are sad, struggling, or even in sin, Jesus does not throw his hands up in the air without understanding exactly what we need. Additionally, Jesus doesn’t merely drop down a pep talk from heaven. Instead, Jesus is our personal Savior, and through the Holy Spirit, comes near in a fresh and meaningful way to forgive our sin, comfort our sorrows and hold our tears (cf Ps 34:18; 56:8). He calmly and gently reveals our trouble and deals with us tenderly. Hebrews 5:2 points out His dealing gently with the “ignorant and wayward.” These terms are not compliments, nor mild ways of describing sinners. Hebrews 7:25 reminds “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” The shocking scandal of the gentle and lowly Savior is how prepared and prompt He dispenses forgiving grace and fresh starts to those who need it. Nothing can hold back His Holy Spirit or prevent Him from traveling distant journeys or dark valleys with you. 

Jesus doesn’t merely drop down a pep talk from heaven. Instead, Jesus is our personal Savior. The shocking scandal of the gentle & lowly Savior is how prepared & prompt He dispenses forgiving grace and fresh starts to those who need it.

  • We can only claim Jesus as Savior if we acknowledge our sin. Jesus hates your sin, but He loves you. Like a doctor who hates the sickness or disease, so is Jesus on your side but against your sin. He cannot ignore your sin anymore than a doctor ignoring sickness and offering remedy.
  • What holds you back from the freedom, forgiveness, and fresh start in the gospel of Christ?

  • What holds someone you know back from the Savior?
    • Is it your not dealing gentle with the ignorant and wayward?
    • Is it your not displaying a Christ-like witness?

APPLY/THINK

Many parents have routines for putting their toddler children to bed.

  • Take your vitamins.
  • Brush teeth
  • Change clothes to pajamas
  • Read Bible story
  • Tuck in with blankets
  • Cuddle
  • Sing a song
  • Pray

While routine helps, frequently the toddler will ask for something else to avoid going to sleep.

  • One more story… song… drink/food… bathroom… whatever!

Parent’s response (after caving and compromises)…

“Enough. It’s time to go to sleep.”

But Psalm 121

  • “The LORD neither slumbers nor sleep”
    • Always awake and alert… even in the dark.
    • We can rest because God is working.
  • “The LORD is your keeper… The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.”
    • He will not forsake you – wherever you go, He is there.
    • He will not fail. He is faithful.

Ortlund concludes his book[10]: “The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.”


[1] “Surface Pressure” by Walt Disney Music Company. Lyrics by Lin-manuel Miranda. Some repetition of verses removed for brevity.  

[2] Dane Ortlund, Gentle & Lowly, p.45.

[3] Gentle and Lowly, pp. 92-93.

[4] Lane, W. L. (1991). Hebrews 1–8 (Vol. 47A, pp. 103–104). Word Biblical Commentary.

[5] Some thoughts inspired by https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/before-lose-faith-deconstruction/

[6] Some thoughts on this from www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prayer-life-matters-most/.   

[7] Thoughts inspired from Dane Ortlund, Gentle & Lowly, pp.40-43.

[8] Gentle & Lowly, p.46.

[9] Ortlund, p.48.

[10] Gentle & Lowly, p. 216.

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