A few weeks ago I missed an opportunity, I think. I was preaching, and the sermon was on Jesus as our ‘great high priest’ from the book of Hebrews (4:14–5:10 if you must know). As part of it, I said this:
“Jesus is the perfect high priest because he entered into the grittiness and the reality and the pain of our existence. Life can be very hard indeed, but like the high priests of Israel, Jesus knows that. He has sympathy because he knows how it feels. He knows every last bit of it, more than we know”
And then I moved on. I sort of wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d explored some of the many ways Jesus really did identify with our situations, not just as clever illustrations but because people there that Sunday (including me) were doubtlessly in some of those situations themselves. It could have been far more powerful and useful than what I did go on to say. So now I will, with twelve real things Jesus struggled with on earth.
My hope is that some of this will be of comfort to you. I would be astonished if at least some of this isn’t something you have faced or are facing. Know that you are not alone.
1. Jesus had a job
How many of our struggles come because we have to work? Or have to balance working a job and living the rest of our lives? Jesus wasn’t just a roving preacher-man for His whole life – He was a carpenter. He had a real job. He knew that struggle.
2. Jesus was ‘used’ by people
Jesus was exceedingly generous with His time, healing, teaching and friendship. That meant there were folk who took advantage. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 men with leprosy. Only 9 come back to thank him. The rest just wanted His service and then they were done. Of course, Jesus kept being generous anyway. He knew that struggle.
3. Jesus got angry
Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the things around Him that were wrong. Look at John 2:13-17 (turning tables in the Temple) or Matthew 23:13-39 (strong words to the religious elite). He saw injustice – usually perpetrated by the religious powerhouse – and it made him furious. And He couldn’t help but act on that anger. Of course He still loved those He was angry with. He knew that struggle.
4. Jesus was misunderstood by those closest to Him
Our family and those we grow up with know us best, a lot of the time. But sometimes they are blinded to who we’ve become, or they don’t like it. When Jesus went back to His hometown, He was so underestimated that He couldn’t realise His potential there (Mark 6:1-6). And later on (Luke 8:19-21), He recognises that He shares far more in common with non-relatives because His family just don’t get Him. But He still loves and looks after His family (John 19:25-27). He knew that struggle.
5. Jesus suffered bereavement
And He wept (John 11:35). He knew that struggle.
6. Jesus ‘failed’ at evangelism
Not every conversation led to a conversion. The rich young man couldn’t accept what Jesus demanded and left (Mark 10:17-22), and many of his own followers dropped away as things went on (John 6:66). He didn’t have a 100% success rate. He knew that struggle.
7. Jesus had anxiety for the future
Knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t always help. Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him as He prayed in Gethsemane, but He still struggled with it (Luke 22:39-44). He knew it was God’s will, but He didn’t want it to be. He knew it was right, but He didn’t want it to happen. He was scared about what was to come. He knew that struggle.
8. Jesus was tempted with sin
The temptation Jesus faced in the desert was real (Matthew 4:1-11). He was tempted to put Himself first, to show off, and to take glory for Himself. All of this was a real temptation. The writer(s) to the Hebrews makes it clear He was tempted ‘in every way’ (4:15). But Jesus withstood temptation. He knew that struggle.
9. Jesus was abandoned by His friends
Judas betrayed Him (Matthew 26:14-16). The disciples fled (Matthew 26:56). Peter denied knowing Him (Matthew 26:69-75). All His loyal friends and followers, who He had chosen and poured His life into for years – every single one of them – deserted Jesus. He poured Himself into them knowing that, of course, and was willing to forgive them (John 21:15-17). He knew that struggle.
10. Jesus was persecuted
He was beaten physically, mocked, punished for things He had never said, or for things He’d said that were true. And eventually He was forced to carry His own torture device up a hill and was crucified on it. All for being obedient to God’s will and kingdom. He knew that struggle.
11. Jesus experienced ‘political’ manoeuvring
Jesus’ opposition didn’t like Him and they were scared of Him, but they didn’t deal with it openly. They engaged in back room deals, gossip, half-truths and outright lies. They were plotting (Matthew 21:46). And Pilate (John 18:28–19:16) knew there was no real case against Jesus. But instead of saying so, he tried the politically-sensible way out – Barabbas. That didn’t work, but instead of sticking to His convictions that Jesus was innocent, he let Jesus be crucified to keep the people happy. All politically-motivated. He knew that struggle.
12. Jesus felt far from God
While He had mostly enjoyed a very close and intimate relationship with God in His life, as He hung on the cross God was nowhere to be seen or heard or felt. ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’ This wasn’t imagined. God had turned His face away. When we feel God is distant, God’s Son knows how we feel. He knew that struggle, too.
This list is by no means comprehensive. When I moved on in my sermon, I said this:
Jesus isn’t sitting in heaven looking down and judging us thinking ‘What are they doing? It can’t be that hard!’ He’s there shouting ‘Come on! Keep going! I know it’s hard, but I promise it’s worth it! Keep going! Keep going!’
I really believe that to be true. Jesus knows what we are facing, and He cares. God bless you.
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