The following post is the manuscript for a sermon on Hebrews 2:18 that I was to have preached January 3, at Sojourn Community Church of New Albany. Shortly before then, my father past away. Pastor Jonah Sage was gracious enough to take my place in the pulpit. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share my sermon with you here, in written form:

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18

Here we are, January 3. Three days past New Year’s Eve.

Christmas is over. Maybe one of your kids’ new toys is already broken. Another one – probably the one that cost the most – has already produced all the thrills in your child that it ever will, and now it’s just boring.

We’ve said goodbye to the time of sugarplum fairies, flying reindeer, presents, kisses under the mistletoe at Christmas or the stroke of midnight at the New Year’s Eve party – which is all to say that the magic of Christmas and New Year’s has faded.

And for some of you there was never any seasonal magic to begin with. The holiday season is the loneliest time for you, or the time when you’re most aware that you can’t afford to buy all the things you’d like to buy for your loved ones.

We long to be whole: body, mind, and soul. We want healthy relationships and a satisfying way to make ends meet. But it’s like every aspect of our being and this world is rebelling against us. And that’s never more apparent than this time of year, when the magic of the season has faded and we take stock of our lives, trying to figure out how to do better in the coming year.

Maybe you’ve recently left high school for college, or college for a career. You used to be the smartest student in the room or the star athlete of the team, and you had visions of how far that would take you. But now you’re grouped with a bunch of people who were also the smartest or the best where they came from, and you’re struggling to keep up.

Maybe you’re in your late 20s and you can’t believe you’re already losing your hair. Or you’re in your 30s and you can’t believe you’re still single (or that you’re single again). You’re in your 40s or 50s, starting over in a new career and saying, “Yes sir” to a 25 year old. Or you’re 70 and everything hurts, all the time.

In our wildest dreams we want someone to heal our pain, but most of the time we’d be satisfied just to know someone else can really feel our pain. To know the disappointment we know, to feel the anxiety we feel.

~~~

To make matters worse, “trying harder” often fails. Maybe you’ve already broken at least one of your New Years’ Resolutions.

Even medicine, money and the advice of experts fail us. I just spent two years, under the advice of my doctor, trying to naturally lower my cholesterol through dietary changes and exercise. I’ll spare you all the details but give you one picture: I had to say goodbye to the best breakfast cereal ever, Cap’n Crunch, and say hello to … Kashi. And my taste buds have adjusted – Kashi’s fine – but after two years of all these changes my doctor said, “Your cholesterol is still too high.”

So now, at 44 years old, I have to take a pill every day to regulate my cholesterol. And although I know there are lots of other health benefits that come with a healthy diet and exercise, sometimes I think, “Why am I still eating Kashi? Why did I say goodbye to the Cap’n?”

We aren’t getting better. In fact, we’re getting worse. Some of us keep getting sicker, or poorer, or more disillusioned, heartbroken and tired.

And you’d think Christians would be immune to this. We’re the good guys, right? We asked God for forgiveness and we gave our hearts to him. Then why is life so hard, still?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I thought all my problems were over after I got saved, but since then it’s been one trial after another.”

And so just as I’m tempted to give up Kashi since my cholesterol is still a problem, I’m tempted to turn from God and from Christian community when suffering comes.

Why am I going to community group when I still feel lonely?

Why am I serving when it seems like no one is serving me?

Why am I keeping up my Bible reading plan when God doesn’t seem to be blessing me?

Why am I giving sacrificially to the church when money is so tight?

Why do I come to the worship service every Sunday when it would feel so good to sleep in, and let the kids watch TV?

People think like this all the time, and so little by little, they begin to withdraw. And of course that doesn’t make their problems go away. It only hastens the inevitable reckoning, when they’re left alone with themselves and forced to confront the emptiness they feel inside.

~~~

Into this broken world, where people go their own way, having given up on expecting anyone to heal or even feel their hurt, God became a human.

Now, think about that for a second, especially if you’ve been a Christian for awhile and you’ve heard this over and over, “God became man, God became man, God became man.”

Sometimes we hear or read something so much that we stop thinking about it. God became a human? But we hate being human. It’s why we love stories about becoming superhuman. We want to fly, to run faster than a speeding bullet, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to be impervious to pain, to stay young forever.

We aspire to be gods, and yet God takes on frail flesh? Is this a joke? Is he mocking us? We say, “Life as a human is too hard and he says, “Oh yeah – watch this”?

God enters humanity, and at this point in history – just like today – humans had been breaking every one of God’s laws every day for thousands of years, and because of this the world was a horrible place, full of heartache and pain.

Then Jesus comes and he perfectly keeps all these laws. He never even tells a little white lie.

Is he shoving it in our faces? Is he saying, “Look, you idiots. See how I’m doing it? It’s simple – do what I tell you to do, and stop doing the things I told you not to do. Got it? Okay, I’m going back to heaven. Don’t mess up again, or else.”

Next week we’ll celebrate Epiphany Feast right here in this room. We’ll bring crockpots and baskets full of food, to share a big meal together in this annual potluck observation of Epiphany, which means “appearance,” or “manifestation.” It’s when we remember how God manifested himself in the person of Jesus, from the time a star guided the Magi to the baby Jesus until his days as the greatest miracle worker that the world has ever seen.

Slowly and surely, He was not only showing himself to be God, but he was showing his intentions toward us.

In scenes throughout the Gospels, he’s forgiving the sins of a prostitute. He’s raising the dead child of an enemy soldier. He’s embracing a tax collector. He’s speaking hope to a woman who was cast out by a whole city of outcasts. Is he actually for us?

Did God become man, not so he could show us up or pronounce final judgment on us but so we could know and declare from the depths of our being, “Yes! Jesus loves me”?

What manner of man is this, of whom the writer to Hebrews can say:

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18

Every Sunday we remind each other that Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, then died in our place to pay for our sins, so that we could be made right with God and enjoy relationship with him. But today’s passage brings up another benefit in what Jesus did for us.

The larger context and the language of this passage show us that Jesus’ suffering was the source of his temptation, and that the temptation in view here is the greatest temptation any of us face – the temptation underneath the surface of every other temptation:

The temptation to doubt that God’s way is best and that he loves you.

Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus agonized so much that he sweat great drops of blood. He prayed, “Father, if it be your will, please let this cup pass from me.”

And in his next breath he could have given in to the temptation. He could have said, “I’m done. Your way is not best. I’m out of here.”

Instead, he said, “But nevertheless, let your will be done Father – not mine.”

Every heartache we endure and every trial we face in our bodies, our minds, our souls is an opportunity for us to either say, “God, I don’t understand this so I’m done with you,” or “I don’t understand this but there’s two things I know: You love me, and Your way is best. Let your will be done.”

And our faithful high priest who hears our prayers is able to help us, because he’s been in that spot. He helps by making us able to continue clinging to him, whatever we must endure, even when we don’t understand why. But he also helps by delivering us from situations and infirmities, even if it seems there is no way out – as he demonstrated in the miracles he performed throughout his time on earth.

The cross was the culmination of a whole lifetime of God making himself manifest to us – proving his identity and his intentions toward us. The Incarnation of Jesus and the life he lived shows us that salvation is not a one-time event, bestowed by a genie who then vanishes into thin air – this is the savior who walks beside us, from life’s first cry to final breath.

When you walk with him in relationship he shows himself to you time and again, in his word, in his faithfulness through the circumstances of your life, and in his people – your church family. Healing happens in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s an example of how that can look:

On March 3, 2012, tornadoes swept through Kentuckiana, killing 34 of our neigbors across the area. Henryville was particularly devastated – by the next morning, the town looked like a war zone. During the storm, Kristen and I were huddled with some family members in our basement here in New Albany, while other family members were holed up in my parents’ basement in Jeffersonville.

My brother Darrell and his family were huddled up in … Henryville. And they didn’t have a basement.

Darrell, his wife Tricia, and their three small children Caleb, Collin and Mia packed into an interior closet when a tornado picked up their entire house, threw it the length of three football fields, and smashed it to the ground.

Of course the extended family, taking cover in our basements, had no idea at first. We were hearing that tornadoes were touching down in Henryville, causing destruction. And then my mom got one text message from Darrell. One message, two words:

“I’m hurt.”

And that’s all we knew for awhile.

Eventually we discovered that Darrell was taken to Clark Memorial Hospital with 19 broken bones. Tricia had been air lifted to University Hospital with a shattered pelvis and a collapsed lung. Two of the three kids were taken to Kosair – Caleb with a broken back, and Mia with a severe concussion and bruised liver. Collin, miraculously, was unhurt.

In the days to come we learned that when Darrell had regained consciousness after the tornado dropped the house, he covered the kids with drywall to protect them from baseball-sized hail. Then, with 19 broken bones, he carried them one at a time to safety, dodging the hail and the downed power lines, which were hissing all over the ground.

Tricia was trapped in rubble, which Darrell couldn’t move. But God sent two neighbors who ran to rescue her.

They had lost their house, a vehicle, and nearly all their possessions and mementos. But the next day in the hospital, Darrell kept saying, “Another reason I thank God is …”

In the weeks and months to come, God’s church came to their aid time and again with prayers, money, and material goods. Many of you here at Sojourn played a part. In fact we turned our entire multi-purpose room into a Red Cross distribution center for tornado victims. Other Christians and churches came through for my family too – locally and even across the country. One friend even built them a new house on the ground of the old one – a better, bigger house, with a basement.

It was a long process, but now they are healed, back to work, back to school, and with a testimony that God has used far and wide – they’ve been featured in newspapers, local TV, a Weather Channel special, and even a show hosted and produced by Roma Downey, who starred in Touched By An Angel.

God turned tragedy into testimony. Through it all, we learned the truth of today’s verse,

Because he himself suffered when he was being tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Heb 2:18

Jesus was sympathetic to their pain and able to help them cling to God instead of bitterly turning away from him, because Jesus knew what they were going through.

He remembers sweating drops of blood. He remembers being sold out by one of his best friends. He remembers the sham of a trial. He remembers being beaten until he was unrecognizable. He remembers carrying a heavy wooden cross up a hill, and being nailed to that cross.

He remembers struggling to breathe as he hung there, while every fiber of his being gasped,

“I’m hurt.”

And no help came.

Heaven was silent. His friends and neighbors ran away from him. His enemies laughed. The pain grew worse and worse.

And then he died.

And if that were the end, what good would it do? Okay, Christ became like us, to face temptation and suffering so he could sympathize with us. So what? He’s dead.

He took the devil’s best shot, but then he died. I could lean on him if he was here. I could cast my cares upon him if he was here. I could ask him for healing and trust him for victory over my own grave if he was here, but they buried him.

Pause

Have you ever wondered why Christianity, of all religions, doesn’t make a big deal about our founder’s grave? We’re not even sure where it is. If you go to Israel there’s a tourist spot that we think may have been the garden tomb where Jesus was laid, but church historians will tell you there’s no solid proof.

The trouble is, unlike the first devotees of other religions, the early followers of Christ didn’t seem to care about his tomb. They didn’t make a big shrine there. They didn’t encourage pilgrimages there. They didn’t do anything to ensure that future generations would even be able to find it.

Why?

Because that’s not where Jesus was! That’s not where he is! The writer of Hebrews and the other early followers of Christ knew that Jesus is alive – not just as a concept or a beloved memory, but as a flesh-and-blood person that those disciples saw, heard and touched. To assure them he wasn’t a ghost, he literally said, “Come feel my wounds.” He even ate fish with them.

Then after ascending into heaven 40 days later, He sent his Spirit to live inside of them – the same Spirit that came inside of you when you first believed.

We can trust him for healing and resurrection of our mind and body. We can trust him for the comfort and strength of our souls. We are healed through our relationship with this one who feels our pain and heals our pain, who is able to help those being tempted and tested because he himself suffered, and was tempted.

COMMUNION 

(Pick up the bread). We come here every week and literally digest into our bodies the symbol of brokenness and healing.

On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took a loaf of bread like this one. And after giving thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

(Pick up the cup). Then he took a cup of wine, like this one, and he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me, until I come again.” And he promised not to drink from the fruit of the vine until he’s drinking with us at our After-Death party, where everyone is whole; everyone is healed.

Stories like the one I told about my brother’s family tell us that Christ is still a healer, he’s still a miracle worker, he is still our hope. He feels your pain and he heals your pain.

And his own resurrection points to something greater: when we go to him in prayer, if his answer to our immediate need is “No,” it’s because he has something better planned for us.

You’ll take communion by walking forward, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into either wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine have strings of twine tied around them (and we’ll have glutton free station in this far corner).

If you’re not a Christian we ask that you don’t come forward to receive the bread and cup, because this ceremony is a symbol of something you haven’t accepted yet.

But whether you’re a Christian or not, you can come forward and meet with pastors right over here, who will pray with you now in this healing service. Those of you who are Christians will have plenty of time to receive communion first, and then pray with our elders.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain when we come to God in prayer. James, the brother of Jesus, tells us:

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15

Are you sick? Are you sorrowful? Are you injured? Do you need guidance? Do you need deliverance?

He feels your pain and he heals your pain. Come to him this morning. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Your time is now, and this is the place.

Let’s pray.

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