We have in Jesus a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. We have in Jesus a high priest who was tempted in the same ways that we are.
When we think about Jesus, we can often have this picture of a man who always had the right answer, said the words that were perfect for the moment. Healed the people who needed to be healed. Did the miracles he needed to, to demonstrate who he was.
And we can have this picture of a man who always felt what he was supposed to feel, no matter how difficult a circumstance he found himself in. Who thought everything he was supposed to think - no more, no less.
And a fair amount of that may be true. After all, in the text at the end of Hebrews 4 (where we start to see Jesus referred to as a high priest), we see it there that he didn't sin, even though he was tempted. But it would be a mistake to think that when Jesus was on earth, his experience was always one of being at peace with how God was directing events around him. It would be a mistake to think that Jesus' life was always joyful to be so uniquely involved in God's purpose on this planet.
I don't say that in a vacuum. I've encountered a great many Christians, even learned ones, who like to pretend that anxiety, depression, disorientation, ennui, general ambivalence, and trauma response have no proper place in the Christian life - and that they all should be put away with haste. Many of those play a daily role in life for each one of us.
But as is clear from the text of scripture in Hebrews, our Savior did not live his life on this earth as if he was on Prozac. His example in the role that he plays as high priest will show us something about how we ought to live, lead, and be led.
So let's look at a selection from the first verses of Hebrews 5. Having established that Jesus is the great high priest who passed through the heavens, who can sympathize with our weakness: "[The high priest] can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness... In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered."
The role of high priest was a great honor in the temple system - one of the highest in the land. Priests would administer the sacrifices in the temple system and be responsible for addressing the spiritual cleanliness needs of the people. And there was a lot to do there - so many things could make you unclean, as a picture of the sin that dirties our hearts and souls.
But the high priest, he had special duties. He had the special garments, and he would represent all of Israel before God. He would be the one who entered the inner chamber, the holy of holies to make atonement for the people of God.
With all that responsibility outlined in Hebrews, we can expect the author's understanding of the high priest to include carrying a big hammer to keep people in line. We can have this picture of Jesus talking smack about us with God the Father all the time. We expect the most holy over the universe to match our own inner critics. We hear so much truth among the intrusive thoughts impinging on our consciousness, that we expect the presence of God, where truth implicitly dwells, to be full of the same. But he says something we probably didn't see coming: "he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided."
This turns our paradigm around a bit. The high priest represents the people toward the face of God, to make gifts and sacrifices for their sins. And when he turns to those people whom he represents, we see a face of gentleness. Why? Because he sympathizes with their weaknesses. This reminds of the times we see the people of Israel described as sheep without a shepherd.
I don't think it's inappropriate to apply this to ourselves, to say that we can also be the ignorant, and the misguided. Any of us can look 5, 10, 20 years back, and it's easy to start saying, if I'd only known then what I know now. If I'd only spent that money on different things, read my Bible more consistently, spent my time on the things that matter to me now.... We had ignorance, and the high priest can deal gently with the ignorant and the misguided.
But we don't want to be in that category, do we? Instead, we want to be the ones who figured it out quickly and who did it the right way the first time. We want to be those who achieved efficiency in a walk with God - those who had a very high signal-to-noise ratio in spirituality.
The thing is, we haven't even arrived now. We're not likely to in the coming twenty years either, unless God brings us into glory. And we have all experienced times when we were led down roads that weren't right - that didn't interpret scripture correctly, that didn't model a Christlike attitude and behavior. For whatever reason (probably somewhat rooted in that ignorance we were just talking about), we were misguided. And the high priest can deal gently with the ignorant and the misguided.
Those intrusive thoughts that form so great a part of our daily experience, for those of us who struggle with that: those thoughts are suffering. They are half-truths coming from our neural networks in our brains that are driven to certain patterns that do not allow us to be happy. When we allow those thoughts to be the voice of our perception of God, our reality is easily swallowed up within the experience. Being aware of that is very different from changing it, and often the experience is what it is. We are indeed misguided by the well-worn paths in our minds.
Considering beyond ourselves: we look to our leaders in the church to model how to live like Christ. To have his character traits. To respond to people and events the way that Jesus would have responded. And to any with eyes to see, it becomes plain quite quickly why so many are disillusioned with the church in America. And some would gladly and eagerly pin the decline of the American church over these last decades to a lack of sound doctrine.
As with any complex issue, of course that is somewhat true. But I'd charge that if there is a problem in the church that equals the lack of sound doctrine in magnitude, it's this: many of those who teach sound doctrine do not also exhibit some of these key characteristics of Christ.
I went to seminary with some of them - they would boast of the kinds of changes they were going to make in churches by teaching the right doctrine. If only people had the right doctrine, they'd think, everyone would start living more like Jesus. But that's not how it works. They would use doctrine as the mighty hammer to beat people down. They weren't dealing gently with the ignorant and misguided.
I've seen groups of churches founded on the idea that if we just had the proper doctrine and practiced church as it ought to be, the average holiness of church members would necessarily increase. In some of those churches, the leaders presumed to have a lot of sway in member's lives: on who they marry, where they work, and where they live. But when it came to interacting with those who experienced horrible abuse within those same churches, they did not deal gently with the ignorant and misguided.
And some look to the biggest personality in the room to lead. That's where we end up with the Mark Driscolls and the James McDonalds. They did not deal gently with the ignorant and misguided.
The life that Jesus modeled for us was not just about teaching. What we're seeing in this text is the very reason that we can come to the throne of grace to seek mercy and find grace to help in our time of need. This is Jesus, the word of God who is sharper than any two edged sword. Nothing is hidden from his sight, this greatest of high priests who has even passed through the heavens. He can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, because he himself was also beset with weakness.
During his days on this earth, Jesus saw with clarity the corruption of creation. He saw each moment the effects of sin on the planet. Life expectancy was much lower in those days, and even in thirty-odd years, he would have seen many pass away. Not only that, he saw people dealing with pain and suffering each day of their lives. He healed many, of course.
He also saw a great deal of ignorance. Imagine the frustration when he accomplishes a great miracle feeding the five thousand. He wants them to believe in who he is, while he submits to the role the Father would have him play in the salvation of the world. And what do they want to do? They wanted to make him king, right then and there. He was so frustrated by these people that he had to escape them, first to the mountain to pray, and then by walking across the water. They saw that he escaped, and they came and found him, and they've turned on him.
I can't imagine how frustrating that would be, to be in that position of pouring yourself out to a people who seem to think you're not doing anything right. And then, even your own disciples seem to forget about this great miracle later on. To have that level of experience and be without sin - that is a miracle in its own right, isn't it?
And with that frustration, or when we see the anxiety in Gethsemane - we could go on and talk about a lot of the emotions we see in Jesus. But with those feelings, he is not doing calm recitations of the Lord's prayer, is he?
He's not a stoic savior, lest we think that this quality of begin able to deal gently with the ignorant and misguided means we also have to practice tranquil serenity. No! Not so - he's praying with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death.
So this is the principle that we find here in the word. That we can approach the throne with confidence, because Jesus our high priest can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided. Because he also experienced the kinds of weaknesses we have. He understands our human experience and sympathizes with our weakness. He represents us to the father, and turns to us with a face of gentleness.
We are the ignorant and misguided.
So for those of us who are leaders, are we developing to the best ability within ourselves this character of Christ? Are we teaching sound and correct doctrine and communicating the facts well, but failing to exhibit the gentleness that is so evident in Jesus? When we come to the ignorant and misguided, while we may be frustrated, is our response a gentleness and compassion rooted in our shared human experience? Or is our first reaction disgust and judgment? Do we see the weakness, ignorance, and misguidance (if that's a word) around us as an inevitable condition of humanity, or as something lower than human that deserves our contempt?
As we look toward Christian leaders in this life, are we looking for the ones who exhibit that compassionate gentleness? Some of the pastors I mentioned earlier had very large churches - people gravitated toward that type of character and teaching. I would say those who ended up in those pews were among the ignorant and misguided, and should have been faced with gentleness instead of what they received. But the type of teacher and leader we look for can tell us a lot about ourselves, can't it? It tells us that something is out of balance.
For all of us, we all interact with the ignorant and misguided each and every day. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, isn't it? I wish I could say I always or even usually respond in gentleness. I don't. We ought to. Our compassion should be rooted in that very truth, that no creature is hidden from his sight, and all things are open and laid bare to this very high priest, this Jesus. We needed our savior to deal gently with us. So we should deal gently with those around us.