Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hebrews 4:15—our sympathetic High Priest

I remember when the Greek of this verse first hit me. I had taken my Greek NT with me in my backpack, and had gone on a hike in the foothills of Glendale, CA, back in the 1970's. I just wanted to be alone, to read, reflect, and pray.

And then I read this:
οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ἀρχιερέα μὴ δυνάμενον συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθ᾽ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.
That word, συμπαθῆσαι, struck home to me. It's phrased in the negative, "We do not have such a high priest as cannot" -- emphatically denying that He is such as cannot συμπαθῆσαι, and thus emphatically affirming that He can and does συμπαθῆσαι.

But that word, συμπαθῆσαι. When I read it, I said aloud, "Wow."

It means that He can feel with, He can feel pain with, He can be touched with the painfulness of our weaknesses. He is not a bloodless, dispassionate Force or Principle (such as my cult, recently abandoned in repentance, had taught). He is not an expressionless, alabaster statue in the heavens. Even now, at God's right hand, serving as our High Priest, He knows from within Himself the pains our weaknesses cause.

And the reason given for this ability is both His humanity (further brought out in 5:1ff.), and His having endured trials and temptations of His own: πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθ᾽ ὁμοιότητα. Perfect passive participle, He is now one who has been put through every category of temptation in similarity (to our own).

But there is one all-important point of disconnection with us: χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.

His temptations were thus all the worse than ours, contrary to what our first impression might be. Dr. Robert Thomas first helped me understand this, at Talbot. The Devil tempts us, ratchets up his temptation-machine to a 1, 1.5, 1.75 -- and we bail, we fail.

But with the Son of God, the temptation is brought to a 1, a 2, a 3... nothing. Then 4, 6, 8, and finally the greatest force he can bring to bear, a 10 -- still nothing. No yielding. Temptation far stronger and more intense than any we endure, but no failing. What a Savior.

I can't imagine putting it better nor more tersely than Spurgeon:
"God had one Son without sin; but he has no son without temptation" (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, 2/9 pm)

1 comment:

Faith Matters said...

Thanks for this meditation. It's very comforting. I had not heard the quote from Spurgeon before. Nor have I ever read the Greek for this passage. It made me take another look at the variety of uses of the preposition κατα.