How Can a Sinless God Sympathize with Guilty People?

As part of God’s sanctifying providence Christians must endure difficult seasons of frustration. Some will be brief and others lengthy, but they will all test our affections and whittle away our worldliness. Our questions will not always be about God’s power or authority but about his care. Will he indeed mend the wounds he is right to cause?

Answers will be few for most of them or at least selfishly insufficient. Jesus does not require we know why but he does require we follow him (Jn 21.20-23). While Jesus may not provide specific answers now, he did set the context of our discipleship. Following him would be a cruciform life known as daily cross-bearing (Lk 9.23). Jesus initiated his finest into ministry by preparing them for death rather than success (Jn 21.18-19).

God knows this. He is not ignorant of the fact his providence will be confusing to us. That is why we have a humble, suffering, sympathetic High Priest (Heb 2.17-18; 4.14-16). He will not always provide answers (which are cheap) but he will provide grace, mercy and hope. Hope for the resurrected life. God knows we want to know why but he also knows that will be largely unsatisfying. We do not benefit from knowing why frustrating providences happen nearly as much as knowing they are temporary (2 Cor 4.16-5.10).

The last year or so has been one of those seasons for us. God be praised the gospel is true because I have prayed in ways that took him to task. In fact, I have wondered if we want better things for God than he wanted for himself. Frustrating indeed. God has been infinitely patient as I asked him some confusing (and borderline blasphemous) questions.

How could God know what it’s like to feel guilty? He never sinned so how can Jesus possibly sympathize with guilt-ridden people? Jesus never said a rash word so how can he possibly know what it’s like to set forests aflame by his tongue (Jas 3.5)? Jesus never entertained a lustful thought so how can he sympathize with those sleeping around in their heart (Mt 5.27-28)? He never uttered a cross word so how can he sympathize with murderers at heart (Mt 5.21-22)?

Jesus never reacted in unrighteous anger so how can he sympathize with the incensed? Jesus never doubted God so how can he sympathize with those struggling to believe? Jesus never feared if God would care for him (1 Pt 2.23) so how can Jesus sympathize with the fearful? Jesus was tempted “in all things yet without sin” (Heb 4.15). While he can sympathize with those who are tempted, how can he do so with those who fail to withstand it? Can he sympathize with those who are yet with sin?

Jesus knows what it like to be sinned against but how can he sympathize with those doing the sinning? How sympathetic can a Sinless Jesus really be with sinners? How can he really know what I’m going through? It is an important question.

And there can only be (and that gloriously) one answer: the cross.

“Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (Isa 53.4-6).

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ that is, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?'” (Mt 27.46)

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5.21).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE'” (Gal 3.13).

Jesus does know what it feels like to be guilty. Jesus does know what it’s like to be rageaholic, sexual deviant, a doubter and rebel. Jesus did not endure the cross winking his eye and crossing his fingers.  He really suffered as one bearing the real guilt of all the elect. There was a real transfer of Adamic guilt so there could be the real transfer of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 5.19).

I can hardly stand the guilt of one of my sins. How could one possibly bear the weight of sin’s guilt for people? Twelve? Forty? Yet Jesus bore the guilt of all the sins of all the church (Eph 5.25).

The gospel teaches Jesus knows fully well what it’s like to be guilty like us. In reality, the gospel teaches we actually do not know what it’s like to be guilty like Jesus. Despite protesting otherwise, we don’t know what’s it like to be cursed like Jesus.  And we thankfully never will. We suffer something of the guilt of our own sin but we cannot possibly know the guilt of all sin.  In fact, to be sin (2 Cor 5.21).

Jesus is indeed our sympathetic High Priest. He does know we go through. Only he has made sure condemnation is not the end result for us like it was for him (Rom 8.1). He removed death and sin’s sting by having God leave the stinger in him (1 Cor 15.54-57).

Jesus is the only true refuge for guilty people because no one has felt guilt like he has. He can help. He will heal. He is faithful.

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