Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2008
Dear Friend in Christ:
One of the most notable and beloved musicians in recent history was Johnny Cash. I remember him in the mid-fifties singing songs that became very popular. He always sounded like he had “been there”, and he had. He was, it always seemed, sincere and able to identify with his listener.
Cash was especially able to identify with prisoners. He had been “busted” too, and he wore black for them. His ability to identify was costly. He had walked through tough times to earn the right to say, “I understand you.”
But there is someone else who identified with all humanity at a greater price – Jesus Christ. And because of that ability, He has redeemed multitudes of lives.
The question for us is not only does He identify with us, but can we learn from Him to identify with others, and in so doing bring His message to them? We will examine that serious question in this letter. In order to do that, we will look at Hebrews chapters one and two.
God has spoken to mankind in many ways: Angels, prophets, circumstances – and even donkeys! But the most serious and effective way that He has spoken to us is through His Son.
Jesus Christ – God’s Eternal Son, the Creator and Heir of all things, worshipped by angels and fully equal with God_not only delivered a message of salvation to mankind, but was Himself the Message, the Word of God.
If God’s Word delivered through other means was vital, how much more vital is the Word delivered by His Son? If those who disregarded other means did not escape the terrible results, how shall we escape if we let the message of Jesus slip away from us or if we drift away from it?
Jesus not only was the Truth and delivered the Truth, but His Word was confirmed by various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the Father’s personal means to communicate to mankind the way of salvation. To disregard or relegate Him to the sidelines leaves us in a desperate condition facing death and without hope. However, we have blessed hope in Jesus.
So, God not only sent messengers and letters, He sent His unique Son to deliver His Word to us. His Son became one of us. Verses 6-8 refer back to Psalm 8: “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Mankind is on God’s mind. But He did more than think of us, He sent His Son to be one of us, walk among us and show us the way. He went beyond telling to demonstrating the way of salvation when He identified with us in our fallen state.
Jesus’ identification was so complete that He experienced birth, submission, baptism, temptation, ministry, rejection, and suffering; He even took our sins upon Himself. The Cross Is Ultimate Identification. That is where we see the unexplainable love and mercy of God. Then He rose again and ascended to be crowned with glory and honor. Though we do not yet see all things under His feet, we see Him – the Son of God who became the Son of man – one of us!
“It was fitting for Him (appropriate), in bringing many sons to glory, to become complete through suffering…”I cannot comprehend the idea that Jesus had to become “complete”, but perfect as He was, His mission required suffering. Bear in mind, the suffering was for us, not for Himself. The Innocent One took the initiative and the burden for the guilty.
Identification requires suffering. Jesus’ suffering included giving up His place, physical deprivation, and pain. He suffered rejection and humiliation at the hands of His own people, in addition to the odious task of taking our sin upon Himself – despite His compete innocence. His example speaks to us about what is required to identify with other people who may seem unworthy of sacrifice. But humility and sacrifice are our passport to reaching those that we are called to reach.
When my wife and I walked through her cancer ordeal, something happened to us that changed our perspective .We identified with sufferers. Each night we would pray for those who suffer. After she passed away, I sought out another man whose wife had died of the same illness. We prayed together. I had prayed for him before, but this time it was different. Difficulty of any kind opens our eyes and hearts to others and their plight.
Hebrews 2:11 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. What a statement! The Son of God is not ashamed to call us brothers. His is the attitude that will enable us to succeed in identifying with someone else. We must see them as brothers and sisters.
Religion is a discipline to a set of beliefs and behaviors. It offers us many useful benefits. But too often it has a serious flaw. The flaw is that it calls people to identify with us rather than having the ability to identify with them. We see this flaw in the Pharisees and Sadducees. While they did some things right, they failed to lift the burdens of others, and they forgot what it was like to realize their own sins and identify with the sins of others. Jesus fiercely rebuked this behavior (see Matthew 23).
The word “church” means “called out ones.” It is the assembly of those who are called out of the world. However, we must also remember that after we have been called out of the world, we are called to go back into the world to deliver our message by sharing its burdens_as Jesus did (see John 17:14-18).
In the following verses from Hebrews 2, the writer references three Old Testament verses:
The writer of Hebrews reaches back into the Old Covenant to explain Jesus Christ’s identification with us. Psalm 22 is a prophetic description of the Cross and was quoted by our Lord on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Jesus was experiencing ultimate rejection. He went through that unimaginable darkness in order to declare God’s love for us. He was taking our place.
The amazing aspect of this verse is that Jesus is calling us brothers before we are born into His family. He treats us as already sanctified and one with Him. Jesus loved us before we loved Him.
Second Samuel 22:3 says, “I will put my trust in Him.” This is a quote from a Song of David after his deliverance from Saul and his other enemies. In verse 2 David says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength in whom I will trust…”
Trust is required in the process of identification. We are taking a risk to identify with people who may be dangerous_as in the case of Jesus. Missionaries have been killed in their effort to identify with uncivilized people. But remember, our trust is not in the ones to whom we are sent; it is in the One who sends us.
And then there is Isaiah 8:18, “Here I am and the children whom the Lord has given me!” Isaiah’s children were for a sign to Israel. I will not describe that here, but the writer of Hebrews is referring to the children given to Jesus through His ordeal. Hebrews 3:6 refers to Jesus who was God’s Son, but begat His own house (family). Through identification, the Son became a Father (see Isaiah 9:6-7).His sons and daughters vindicated His willingness to identify with humanity. And they are meant to be a sign to the world.
Now all of this may sound complicated, but the short version is this: treat the non-Christian as a brother or sister; trust God in the risk and He will give you spiritual sons and daughters.
Now I must both look at the Holy Scriptures and be honest with myself. Identification is powerful, but it is not easy! Criticism is much easier. Yes, I can identify with some people who are where I have been: teenage rebels, poor people, pastors, and teachers to name a few. But there are many others that challenge my patience. Sometimes, it shows when my ability to identify runs out!
When the Eternal Word who spoke all things into existence looked down on humanity in His divine foreknowledge, He must have seen the amazing challenge that faced Him. However, until He actually began the incarnation journey, He could not yet fully identify with until He became one of us.He did it completely and was completed Himself by so doing. He was perfected, as it says in Hebrews 2:10. Now, one of us is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He understands you and me and represents us to the Father. Hallelujah!
We may love from a distance, but we remain incomplete. Only as we begin the journey to be where others are will we become complete and mature in our own walk with Jesus. Then we will not only understand others better, but we will identify with Jesus more fully – the fellowship of His suffering(see Philippians 3:10). Yes, it is safer over here, but it is much richer over there.
I am eternally grateful that our Lord was not a Pharisee or some religious zealot who was merely seeking proselytes. I am grateful that He suffered the birth pains to bring you and me into existence. I pray to be more like Him, and I do not have as many years to fulfill that mission as I once did; nor have any of us so many years to take further steps in that direction.
For those of you who even now suffer, my prayers are with you. I hope that comes through to you as you read this. I pray that your ordeal brings fruit in the lives of others and for your refreshing and deliverance soon.
P.S. I shared on “The Power of Identification” at our recent CSM Gatlinburg Conference, and I would like to make it available to you on a single CD or as an online download. For more information, please see the enclosed card, or visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org today!
Scripture Reference: Hebrews, Psalms, 2 Samuel, Isaiah, Philippians
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.