An Up-Close Look at Jesus’ Heart for Sufferers

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Depression and Faith | 1 comment

In our English usage, the word “sympathy” carries negative connotations.

Many folks equate sympathy with pity, with feeling sorry for people who suffer, yet without involving ourselves in their lives or trying to assist them in some manner. We view a similar word, empathy, more favorably, as an attempt to understand another’s pain and to put ourselves in their shoes. A friend once told me that his daily physical pain made him more sensitive to others who hurt. He said, “My pain gives me empathy with others, not sympathy.”  He correctly understood that many hurting people equate sympathy with an insensitive, patronizing attitude.

Few people want our pity. If they think we pity them, they view us as aloof and condescending. If we say we sympathize with them, they may see our attempt to express concern as a surface-level kind of caring.

But the Greek construction translated sympathy in the New Testament is far more favorable. Its meaning is closer to how we use empathy than it is to the current connotations of sympathy.

Oh, I’m ever-so-eternally grateful for what sympathy means in Hebrews 4:15-16, in reference to Jesus’ heart toward us:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to symnpathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 


Meaning of “To Sympathize”

The verb in Hebrews 4:15 stems from two Greek terms: “syn”=with, or together with, and “pathos”=suffering or passion.

This word here means to suffer with, to share in another’s suffering; to be so moved by someone’s affliction that the sympathizer–in this case, Jesus–also experiences the person’s pain or misery. John 11:35 offers a case in point. When Jesus saw Mary weeping over her brother Lazarus’ death, despite knowing he intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, he also wept, entering into Mary’s pain.

That’s the polar opposite of someone who’s aloof or condescending!


Basis for Jesus’ Sympathy

Jesus’ own suffering while on earth enables him to understand and to feel the pain of others.

In a prophetic reference to the coming Messiah’s affliction, Isaiah wrote, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief….he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….smitten by God and afflicted….pierced for our transgressions” (53:3-5).

Before the launch of his public ministry, Jesus endured severe, repeated temptations from Satan (Luke 4:1-13).

Late in his earthly ministry his closest friends abandoned him, culminating in Peter’s three denials. According to Mark 14:32-35, before Jesus’ arrest, knowing that he faced the cross and would be forsaken by the Father as he paid for our sins, he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled.” He told his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” According to Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud crying and tears.”

On the day of his crucifixion, he was beaten and whipped and mocked, culminating in the searing pain of nails ripping through his flesh. Before dying he cried aloud, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When it comes to rejection, temptation, being despised, scorned, rejected, abandoned, misunderstood, falsely accused, experiencing excruciating bodily pain and feeling forsaken by God, Jesus can say unequivocally, “Been there, done that!”

But why does his identification with our suffering matter?


Present Tense Compassion

Hebrews 4:15-16 suggests that Jesus’ understanding of our temptations and trials is prompted by his own suffering. Yet it says so much more. Even now, from heaven, Jesus is a co-sufferer with us.

Thomas Goodwin, in his book The Heart of Christ, uses Hebrews 4:14-16 “to convince disheartened believers that even though Christ is now in heaven, he is just as open and tender in his embrace of sinners and sufferers as he ever was on earth.”

In Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sufferers and Sinners, Dane Ortlund adds this in his discussion of Hebrews 4:14-16: “In our pain, Jesus is pained. In our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own….his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress…..his is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain….Our pain never outstrips what he himself shares in. We are never alone.”


So What?

Verse 16 of Hebrews 4 gives us our application of Jesus’ sympathy: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”

When I’m distressed and approach Christ in prayer, I know he not only grasps what I’m experiencing, but also I know that he’s God. He’s capable of not only feeling my pain or grief, but removing it, or better yet, redeeming it for my good and his glory.

Whether my nemesis is depression, physical pain, troubling relationship issues or trials of circumstance that I can’t control, I run to Jesus. He not only comprehends my pain in his mind; he also feels my suffering in his heart. His sympathy, along with his promise of merciful and gracious help, prompts my heartfelt prayers when I’m needy.

This kind of sympathy is what Charles Spurgeon had in mind when he elaborated on the specialness of Hebrews 4:15-16: “Bodily pain should help us understand the cross, but mental depression should make us apt scholars of Gethsemane. The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice. To feel in our being that God to whom we cry has himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.”

Why do you need to approach the throne of grace today?


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1 Comment

  1. This is so true. Finally, Jesus is the Only one who realy knows and understands.Finally He is the only One Who stays when everyone else is ‘gone. If we only alow Him to be our Helper, Comforter. So often it is so difficult because we/i feel guilty about our suffering, illness, depression …. because it can be self inflicted or we think it is, or people acuse us like they did Job. We forget, that evenso , God is mercyful and has forgiven us and indeed we are free to come like you wrote is writen in hebrews 4. Thanks to Jesus.
    Thank you Terry powel for writing this.


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