Who Is He Who Comes to Help?
Two of the most common kinds of helpers could be described as feelers and fixers. Feelers and fixers. Feelers tend to be good listeners, ask really good questions. They’re not going to pounce. They’re not going to jump in, not going to push their agenda on you. They may not come with solutions, but just their very presence helps you to feel better. It’s good to have them near. They are really gifted in comforting, listening, encouraging.
Fixers are not as good in listening. They may listen long enough to figure out what the problem is and then they’re ready to go. Let’s fix this. Here’s the plan. They tend to come with a lot of authority, a lot of confidence and may offer a solution that you don’t see as a solution. But they’re ready to help. And I’ve been thinking about these two kinds of helpers lately, mainly from the perspective of how deficient they can be when they travel independently of one another.
I get invited into a lot of complicated situations, and there are times (as my default setting is fixer) where I want to listen long enough to figure out what the problem is and let’s get going here. Let’s fix this thing. But often, situations are far more complicated, tangled up. And maybe in some situations, someone really doesn’t want to change or really doesn’t want a solution, or sometimes there isn’t a solution. There isn’t a remedy.
And so, I can shift gears and become a feeler. Let’s just listen. Let’s just be present. I’m here for you. But the problem with the “I’m here for you” can at times make someone feel like “there is no help for you.” I’m just here for you, and we’ll just go down together.
Do you see the tension between fixers and feelers? Fixers come with a lot of authority and not as much empathy. Feelers come with a lot of empathy and not as much authority. Here’s the beautiful part. In steps Jesus. I love this about Jesus. You don’t have to pick. Is he a feeler or a fixer? He comes with both.
Now, you get a glimpse of this. We’re going to take just a little glimpse of this in the book of Hebrews. And just to set us up for that, let’s make sure we understand the context of Hebrews. The letter to the Hebrews is a letter written to people who are feeling spiritually sluggish, maybe you could even describe them as spiritually depressed, ready to give up, not knowing if they can keep going. Some of the people are so spiritually exhausted, they’re considering abandoning Christ and just blending back into the culture because it’s easier just to float. And the author in response to that tendency pleads with them to turn their eyes to Jesus.
The theme of Hebrews is what? Keep at it. He’s worth it. Those two big ideas. We can keep going. We can persevere because Christ is preeminent. He is better than angels, better than any high priest, human priest, better than anything or anywhere we can turn to. He’s worth it. And in Hebrews 4, he is inviting his readers out of the agitation of unbelief into real rest – not escapism or another empty religion – but real rest. To summarize the chapter, real rest is found, in Hebrews 4, when we learn from Israel (verses 1-11) “so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” They never experience true, lasting rest.
Secondly, real rest is found when they listened to the word (verses 12 and 13), “For the word of God is living and active.” And when the Spirit of God takes the word of God and applies it directly to our hearts, it is a soul surgery that is discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Can you remember the last time God has done soul surgery on you? When you could see things about yourself that you had not previously recognized? When you saw glimpses of who he really is, lie- crushing, soul-freeing glimpses of who God really is? That’s what the Word of God does. It may happen in a sermon.
It may happen in your quiet time when you open the Word, and when you’re driving down the street, and the Spirit of God brings the truth of his Word home to your heart. That is a pathway to true rest. But the third part, the last part of Hebrews 4, and the part I want us to focus on tonight is in verses 14, 15, 16. It could be simply stated: look to Jesus. Look to Jesus.
Hebrews 4:14. “Since then we have a great high priest,” so he’s contrasting the ordinary human high priest, “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
Do you see the whole theme of Hebrews in that one verse? We can hold fast our confession. We can keep at it because he’s worth it. He’s “passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.” What do we mean “passed through the heavens”? Don’t miss that. That’s not “passed to heaven.” It’s “passed through the heavens.” So, he’s talking there not about him necessarily going to heaven as much as he “passed through the heavens.” Heavens there is referring to the firmament of heaven (Genesis 1), is referring to what we call “space” or “the atmosphere.”
I mean, Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, was buried, rose, ascended bodily through the heavens. Now just think about that! Anybody who can do that is not like you or me, right? Sans spaceship – without a spaceship, he’s just passing through the heavens. Where are you going? “I’m going to pass through the heavens” to the presence of his Father.
So, what is verse 14 highlighting? It’s highlighting the sovereignty of Jesus; he is above and beyond anyone or anything we know. In a sense, you could describe him as the ultimate fixer. He defeated angry crowds, political and military might, decay, disease, death, sin. He defeated them all, even gravity. “I think I’ll pass through the heavens.” He’s over every scientific law. He rules and reigns over every atom in the universe. There’s no place in the universe that isn’t under his jurisdictional authority. He is Jesus, the Son of God, who “has passed through the heavens.”
And so, in that sense, the author is making clear that Jesus is not just like a spiritual pet that you snuggle with when you’re scared. He is the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings. And when you get a vision of that kind of, what we could describe as an autocratic leader, there’s a tendency for us to pull back and to assume we can have no relationship with him. He’s scary! He’s intimidating! It’s overwhelming.
He’s “passed through the heavens,” but look where the author goes next in verse 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.”
So, yes, he’s a fixer. He’s the ultimate fixer. He rules and reigns over every problem. Yet he is a feeler. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He, the exalted, transcendent Son of God, is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. The Greek word there for sympathize is “sumpatheo.” He feels with us; he hurts with us. He rejoices with us. It is impossible for us to experience a high or a low that he does not likewise feel with us.
The word “weakness” there is referring to not just physical weakness – he knows what that’s like – but also moral weakness, when you feel like I can’t say no any longer. I’m ready to give in. Psychological weakness, when we experience brain fog, tangled thoughts, we feel like we can’t think in a way that’s consistent with the way things really are. Memory fades. All those kinds of weaknesses. What the author is saying is the very One who passed through the heavens is the very One who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Yet without sin.
Now, for some of us we say, “Well then, he doesn’t get it.” Oh? Think about it. He’s tempted, tempted, tempted, tempted, and this is where many of us give in, right? He’s tempted, tempted, tempted, tempted, never giving in. He goes the distance. He understands temptation even beyond what we do because he never gives in. He never folded. “Yet without sin.” So, he, Jesus, is moving toward us like no one else we know. Everybody you know has pieces of fixer and pieces of feeling in them and can do it may be different times, different ways, good, bad.
All those are glimpses, little glimpses of Jesus, but Jesus is the ultimate fixer/ feeler, the One who comes to us with authority and with empathy. He can actually do something, and he feels our sorrows deeply. This tension between empathy and authority comes through clearly in today’s Christmas hymn. “Who is He in Yonder Stall?”
The author likes the word “yonder.” Look at verse 1. “Who is he in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall.” Notice the words that seem to highlight Jesus’ emotional experience, human experience. The author could have just walked through the life of Christ and told the facts, but he didn’t. Benjamin Hanby put the accent on what Jesus experienced and included emotional descriptions, like “deep distress, fasting in the wilderness.” He experienced head-spinning hunger and soul-crushing loneliness.
Look at verse 2.
“Who is he the people bless for his words of gentleness?
Who is he to whom they bring all the sick and sorrowing?”
He was a magnet to the broken, to the lonely, to the hurting. Verse 3,
“Who is he that stands and weeps at the grave where Lazarus sleeps?”
He defeated sin and death, yet he wept at a funeral. Verse four.
“Lo! at midnight who is he prays in dark Gethsemane?”
Do you know what it’s like to pray in the dark? I mean, not just physical darkness, but when you’re wondering, “God, what in the world are you doing?” Jesus knew.
“Who is he on yonder tree dies in grief and agony?”
So Hanby seems to be highlighting the human experience of Jesus that qualifies him to come with real help. Look at verse 5.
“Who is he thatfrom the grave comes to heal and help and save?”
He experienced the full range of human emotions, highs and lows, so that he would be suitable to come to heal, to help, to save. He is the ultimate feeler. Yet, as the chorus and some parts of the verses emphasize,
“‘Tis the Lord, O wondrous story! ‘Tis the Lord, the King of glory! At his feet we humbly fall. Crown him, crown him Lord of all.”
Do you see the disparity between the humble experience of Jesus and his exalted status? It is a massive chasm. A King of glory, which means he rules and reigns over every speck of glory in the universe. There’s no glory that he does not own, and yet he experienced deep distress, fasting, moved near the sick and sorrowing, died in grief and agony. He did not shield himself from our experiences.
So, when I kept reading over and over regarding this in the hymn, it made me wonder what in Hanby’s life would prompt him to put the accent on these aspects of Jesus’ experience? And as Rhiannon mentioned in the video a little bit ago, Hanby was known for many other songs, two in particular he is most famous for. And I want to mention those two and remind us of why those might be significant. The first one is “Up on the Housetop,” a rich theological hymn, but this does reveal a lot about Hanby.
“Up on the housetop, reindeer pause, out jumps good ol’ Santa Claus. Down through the chimney with lots of toys, all for the little ones, Christmas joys. Ho! Ho! Ho! Who wouldn’t go? Ho! Ho! Ho! Who wouldn’t go? Up on housetop, click click, click, down through the chimney with good Saint Nick?”
What’s interesting about this song, even the little “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and the “click, click, click.” He’s got a lot of songs like that, but they reveal a lot about him – not that he had a small vocabulary – but that he loved children. He loved children. Even as a teenager, he taught children who were younger than him, and he was kind of like a good Pied Piper, a Peter Pan kind of person. It was not unusual to see him walking through town with just a herd of children and them singing together. He wrote these kinds of fun songs – not for church, not this one – but to sing with his students so that they could enjoy singing and making music together.
He later became a pastor and he pastored a Brethren Church, for some of you this going to make sense right away, what kind of trouble that could bring because the Brethren Church was just moving toward taking the position of no instruments in their churches. And Hanby brought in vile, demonic instruments into the church, like the piano and the organ.
He was known for leading his congregation, adults and children and everyone, in joy-filled singing that some more conservative members felt was frivolous. And these instruments were tools of the devil, and so he was forced to resign. So, the author of the hymn we’re focusing on today was fired as pastor. But the part I think that’s really good for us to see is that he was a man who loved children and loved singing joy-filled songs.
His second most famous song is not famous today at all, but back then it was, Darling Nelly Gray. It was extremely popular in the mid-1800s. I want to share a part of verse 3, and you get a glimpse of the message of this song. In verses 1 and 2, a slave is talking about happier times he shared with his girlfriend Nelly Gray. And then in verse 3,
“One night I went to see her, but ‘She’s gone!’ the neighbors say. The white man bound her with his chain; they have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away.”
The words of this song were written over several years, influenced by what appears to be two different events in his life. The first one was the fact that Hanby grew up in a home that was part of the Underground Railroad. The Hanby family had a harness and saddle shop behind their home. There’s the home. They had a big dog named Towser, and they would hide the slaves that they were helping to get to freedom in the saddle shop, and then the dog would scare away anybody that would be snooping around trying to find out what was back there.
And there was one man, Joseph Selby, who was a young slave hidden in their shop who described a girl whom he loved named Nelly Gray, who he was planning to marry. She was sold by the plantation owner to another plantation. And so what Joseph was doing was trying to make his way to Canada to get a job, to get his freedom, to get a job, to earn money, to go back and try to buy his girlfriend’s freedom so they could get married. He became ill on the journey. He died in Rushville, Ohio. He’s buried there in Hanby’s town.
But you can imagine for Hanby, as a young man, to go through that experience, to feel the hurt and the injustice of this young man and desperately want to do something about that. So that’s what prompted the beginning of the song. There were several years before he finished the song. But the second big event was attending a slave auction for the very first time and just being gripped by how can one human being traffic another human being as if they are farm equipment? And he was deeply moved by that. And so, he finished the song as a lament of the slave trade.
And eventually, the song was published and was a huge part of changing the culture of our country, the way people think or thought about trafficking fellow human beings. So, we can see from these two examples that Hanby was not a stoic. He felt injustices deeply. He celebrated blessings joyfully. He did not believe that Jesus, the King of glory, was insulated from any of these experiences. He believes Jesus is feeling the hurts with us and experiencing the joys with us, and that comes through strongly.
Look at verse 5 again,
“Who is he that from the grave, comes to heal and help and save?
Who is he that from his throne rules through all the world alone?”
You can see, even just in that one verse, the first half, there’s kind of an accent on empathy, second half on authority. So, what do we do with this? How do we respond with this vision of Jesus? Hebrews 4 answers that question in verse 16. “Let us…”
You know, you could not say that in the old covenant. “Let us…” all of us! In the old covenant, it was on the day of atonement, the high priest with the right sacrifice could enter the most holy place and be in the presence of God. Today, in the new covenant because of Jesus it is “let us…” all of us. There is not one person in this room that the “us” does not apply to. No matter how marginalized you might feel, there’s an invitation being given to you.
“Let us then with confidence…” Picture yourself just peeling away all the shame, all the fear, wiping off all the doubt. “With confidence, draw near.” In the Greek, that’s present tense.” So, keep drawing near to the throne” which used to be characterized by wrath because of our sin, but is now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, a “throne of grace,” a throne which is characterized by distributing grace, not judgment, not wrath if you come in Jesus, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This is our invitation. Will you come? “Let us draw near with confidence, boldness, to the throne of grace.” And God is ready to distribute mercy and to provide a kind of grace that is timely. It’s not a stock grace he’s pulling off the shelf. It’s custom grace, specifically designed for your time of need. So, will you respond to that invitation that God is offering you because of Jesus? Will you draw near?
You say, “Well, I don’t know if this applies to me Because I’m, I feel unlovable.” We love him because he, what? He first loved us. God is saying to you if you say, “I’m too unlovable,” he says, “No, no, no! I loved you before you figured out you were even unlovable. I love you before you do anything to think you are lovable. My love is first. My love is faster than anything you could think about, any of your worth or lack thereof.”
“I’m unforgivable.” Oh, so you think you can commit sin that is stronger than the One who passed through the heavens? You think you can sin greater than the One who has defeated sin and death as if it doesn’t apply to you?
“Let us draw near,” all of us! Or maybe you fit into the category. I know at times many of us struggle with this where we feel like, well, our problems are so small compared to so many others. Jesus may sympathize with them, but my problems are silly compared to them. The burdens on my heart that I came in with tonight, they’re there silly compared to what many people are going through.
Therefore, he doesn’t sympathize with me. So, are you saying he’s lying? That you have to meet a certain level of crisis before he really empathizes? No, “let us draw near.” He meets us with “grace to help in time of need.”
Will you? And I think this is really important this Christmas season because some of us live with a low-grade sense that Jesus is there for someone, but not for me. And what this passage is communicating is the king of Glory is also the One who sympathizes with our weakness, no matter what form they come in. So, the very One who has the power and authority to solve our problems, to provide grace to help in time of need is the very One who feels our struggles deeply and moves near us. There is no one else in the universe like that. Don’t push him away.