What do I say? My wife asked me that question a few months ago. You see my wife’s sister had a friend whose father died unexpectedly. This friend and her mom were out of town for the weekend and her father stopped responding to texts sometime late Saturday evening. They thought nothing of it, but then when they came home the next day, they found him. He had a heart attack and had died. What do I say?… What do you say? That’s hard, right? What do you say in those moments?
So often, we try our best. We try to think of words that will be comforting. We try to offer assistance, but you know from experience how bad we can be at comforting one another. We’re terrible at it! And, usually, what’s our big go-to in those horrible moments? Someone lost a loved one. Someone’s horribly sick…or going through a rough time….and we send them a card – “thinking of you”. Now, please, it is a thoughtful sincere thing, but is that all we really have to offer?
I suppose though a card is better than some of the other ways we try to reach out and comfort someone. Have you ever said this to someone? “I know what you’re going through.” I bet some of you have learned the hard way that those words, yeah, they’re not comforting. Try saying that to someone who is grieving, “I know what you’re going through.” They’ll turn right around and say, “No, you don’t.” In fact, I watched a presentation recently from a grief counselor and, according to her, the number one thing you should not say to someone grieving is, “I know what you’re going through.” On the other hand, one of the best things you can do is to simply listen, and so maybe if you struggle with that a card is your best option.
But here is maybe the bigger thing. If you’re going through something, a temptation, a hardship, you’ve lost someone, your sick, whatever it may be, the thought often is that “yes, no one knows what I am going through. My struggle, my hardship, my grief, it’s so unique that no one could possibly understand it.” I want to challenge that thought today, and I want you then to think through with me what you can say to yourself in moments when you need help and what you can maybe also do for others in their time of need.
And we begin to think this all through right here with these intense words from the writer to the Hebrews. He says this: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Wow, that’s some heavy stuff right there. Break it down with me. Start with this sword that is mentioned.
It’s double-edged. I don’t own a sword and so won’t claim to know much about swords, but I do know that a double-edged sword is for stabbing, repeatedly. It pierces. Dividing, as the writer here explains. This double-edged sword is compared to the Word of God, and that’s a good way to look at God’s Word. It has both law and gospel. The law tells us we are all damned. That we are sinners with no way out. That death and hell is our lot, and try as you might, that end cannot be avoided. The law is offensive and uncomfortable. And we see that law edge of God’s Word right away in verse 13. Take a look with me.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The English translation here is a little weak, a better translation would be to say that everything is “naked and exposed before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” Think about that. All my thoughts, words, deeds exposed, laid bare, and that includes all my sins. Naked and exposed, that’s how we stand. God knows everything about you. Does that make you uncomfortable? That’s the law. It’s the realization that I do things contrary to God’s will, and that not only bothers me and plagues me with guilt. It angers God. It brings his wrath. It pierces. It kills. It makes me want to run and hide and separate myself from God, and some do.
But we aren’t left there by the writer, exposed and terrified, no, remember, God’s Word is a double-edged sword, and that second edge…it’s good news. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” These aren’t just nice-sounding well-intended words.
It’s not like you going to your hurting friend and trying to sympathize with him or her by saying, “I know what you’re going through; I understand.” In that situation, you mean well, but you don’t actually mean it, because you can’t. We can never fully understand. Jesus, on the other hand, not only means well when he says he sympathizes with your weakness, he means it. When Jesus took on that human flesh, he found out first-hand what it was like to be hungry, and cold, and homeless, and hated. He knew sadness, and need, and was tempted “in every way.” And he didn’t just sort of understand and get those things, he experienced them.
Remember how so often we think about our problems, our struggles, whatever we’re going through, that that it is so unique that no one can understand you and what you are going through? Well, here you find out that one person can. Jesus knows you, the real you. You stand naked and exposed before him. He knows the good and the bad, and, dare I say it, he knows what you’re going through
I mean pick something. Maybe you feel helpless and lost right now. Jesus knew the feeling. His friends deserted him and he was left on a cross, forsaken by God. What about those tears you weep over the death of a loved one? Jesus wept. The Bible doesn’t just tell us that as a fun fact. Jesus wept. He was tormented and appalled by the death of his friend. He knew that deep aching sadness of loss. Are you unhappy with God’s plan for you right now, frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be hearing your prayers? Jesus understands that too. Near the end of his life, he prayed with all his might that God might change the plan, save him from a cross, but God didn’t.
And here is really what makes Jesus able to understand you, the writer to the Hebrews tells us “ he was tempted in every way, yet was without sin.” That’s an important point. When you and I try to help someone, our sin gets in the way of truly listening to and loving others. We get upset, self-protective, impatient. Sin is selfishness. In different ways, we are all stuck on ourselves, wrapped up in ourselves. Think about it, did you ever try to help someone only to end up talking about yourself and how you got through this tough time. Is that helpful?
Jesus is the only one who was never wrapped up in himself, always looking to help, always listening, always caring, and so his heart can truly go completely out to you. Being the only one tempted in every way as we are, yet being without sin, makes him the perfect sympathizer. He has all of the experiences that create sympathy and none of the sin that eats up sympathy. He is truly a merciful and faithful high priest.
So, what do you do with that? What do you do with a Savior who came here, and lived here, and suffered here, and was forsaken here…and he knows you? How about you hold on to him. What if you trust him? Look at verse 14, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” In those moments when you’re not sure what to say, maybe there is nothing to say. Sometimes all we can do is trust.
And, when we trust, we do this, verse 16, we “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” We approach God confident that he knows what we’re going through, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Did you catch that? When we trust and approach God’s throne, we find grace to help us in our time of need. God knows what you need. He knows how to help you. Realize this too, when you approach that throne of grace, you have more of God’s attention than he has of yours. He doesn’t see you as just part of the crowd. He doesn’t brush you off as a person who has way too many problems. He sees you. And because he knows every little detail about you, he sympathizes specifically with each of your life issues. He’s ready to listen, and more importantly, he’s ready to help.
But understand what his help is…It may not be a temporary solution to your earthy struggles, an answer for your loss, an end to your pain. Instead, it might just be a cross. You see this world with its hardships and struggles wasn’t the way it was meant to be, and God knows that too. So, often then God’s help is that final answer, a cross, Jesus stepping in to be with you and near you on this journey called life, helping to see you home. That is the faith we profess. And that is the comfort you can give.
So, what can you say in those hard moments of life? Sometimes there isn’t much we can say, but there is a lot we can do. I can’t be Jesus for someone else, but by God’s grace, I can give that hurting person I know a glimpse of what he is like. I can be there. I can listen. I can care. I can be sympathetic. I can pray and I can forgive. I may not be able to understand what they are going through, but perhaps by doing these things I can bring them with me to that throne of grace, to Jesus. He knows what they are going through. May his words be then what brings them a lasting comfort and peace. Amen.