Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sympathy and Separation

Jesus of Nazareth was — and remains — unique in his nature.

He was the Word become flesh, and yet dwelling among us. Who is the Word? One with the Father, the creator of worlds, yet becoming man.

What does it mean when we say that the Savior was “separate from sin”?

It’s not only that he did no sin. That’s what the scripture says. Peter testified to that fact: “He committed no sin.” But he also knew no sin. That word “knew” is used of intimate association. To “know” in the scripture is very often to be close to, to be in a relationship with, as a man may know his wife. There is intimacy there in the thought. The Lord Jesus knew no sin. It’s not only that he did no sin; he was never in approving association with sin at all, completely separated to God.

Separate from Sin

But John also tells us there is no sin in him, and that is what I want to emphasize. We may realize that he never sinned, and that he knew no sin, but there was no sin in our Savior. When the scripture talks about sin being “in” a person, it refers to the fact that we have a sinful nature within us. But when our Lord became flesh, it is “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Right from his birth, all through his life, he not only did no sin, knew no sin, there was no sin in him.

We want to make that very, very clear. Sometimes people get confused over the scripture, which tells us in Hebrews 4:15, “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.”

I was greatly helped by the late J.B. Watson. I heard him minister on this verse, and I’ve never forgotten what he taught us. I found it so helpful I’ve made it my own, in the sense that I have gone through the scriptures and examined what he said, and I’m convinced he was right. Please notice what it says. It doesn’t say he sympathizes with our sin. I don’t want a Savior who sympathizes with my sin; you know, who says, “There, there, I know what it is. I’ve been through that.” That’s not true of Christ. He’s not been through that when it comes to my sin; he has not experienced that. He has experienced humanity in its weakness, but he has not experienced humanity in its sin, and we must keep that clear in our minds. It says here that he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, and it goes on to say he was in all points “tempted as we are, yet without sin”.

Temptation Inside and Out

Now of course when we think of temptation, we think of something that comes from within. That’s right, in the sense that in James it tells us that each person is tempted when he is “lured and enticed by his own desire”. But temptation doesn’t always and only refer to that which comes from within. It can be simply that which comes from outside us. This was true of the temptation of the Lord Jesus. It was not something he experienced like lust or covetousness within him, but he was externally tested as to whether he would be obedient to his Father and carry out his will, and there were three tests to which he was subjected. Now, in those tests he was not in any measure responding in a sinful way. Satan put before him the kingdoms of this world. The Savior had nothing within him that responded to that. He utterly rejected it because of the source from which it came.

When we are tempted, we often experience desires that are out of harmony with God’s will. If we’re honest, we have to admit that. We are tested from within. Even if the devil were put into prison tonight as he will be one day, you would still be able to tempt yourself, because it’s in your nature as a fallen creature to generate your own sin. You don’t have to be tempted from the outside, you can conjecture things in your mind which are utterly sinful.

When he came into this world, the Lord Jesus experienced human weakness, but he didn’t know anything by association with the flesh. The flesh was not “in him” in that sense. He was human, but there was no sinful nature in him. He was utterly separate from men in that he didn’t have a sinful nature.

An Objection

There’s an objection to this, and it may be derived from this same verse in Hebrews. “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.”

If you have a King James Bible, you will notice there are some words in italics there. It means that those words are not in the original, but the translators have put them in. They want us to recognize that they are making a suggestion here as to what is meant. When they read this verse, they said to themselves, “What does it mean that he was tempted ‘as without sin’? How would we put that together in English to make sense?” So they translated it — meaning very well — “as we are, yet without sin”, as if he could have sinned but he didn’t.

Now, that’s not the teaching of scripture. I want to show you there’s another sense in which that word can be used. Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many ...” It’s looking back to Calvary. It’s saying he came once to bear the sins of many. Then, it says, he “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him”. Notice the words. In the original language, they are exactly the same as the wording in Hebrews 4: “apart from sin”. “Not to deal with sin.” He was tempted in every respect as we are apart from sin; that is, there was no temptation springing from within his own heart.

He experienced temptation externally. He knew what it was to experience human weakness. These are things that belonged to him as a perfect man. But he never had any truck with sin, and there was no sin within him. So he was in all respects tempted as we are apart from having anything to do with sin. It isn’t just that he managed to get by without sinning.

So then, how can he sympathize with us in everything we face? Well, he doesn’t sympathize with our sin. As our advocate, he goes about to restore us, but as our high priest, he doesn’t sympathize with our sin. His advocacy comes into play, and he is there in the presence of the Father, and we have an advocate. But in his advocacy, he stands there as “Jesus Christ the righteous”, not just “Jesus Christ the sympathizer”.

— Colin Anderson, excerpted from “Who is Christ?”, 2008

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