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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Jesus Knows (or Jesus' Empathy)

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Adult Elephant encouraging baby elephant to engage with the water
The Creator of all knows what we humanly need

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,

neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God

that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

For maybe over a year now, I’ve been working on a series I’ve called “Weal or Woe?” I’ve begun posting it in my blog category, “Considering Issues.” A few days ago, I posted the third blog in the series: “Social Justice.”[1] Writing it inspired this blog post—more details about who God is in relation to us.

The paragraph from the “Considering Issues” blog, which was mainly responsible for inspiring further reflection was this one:

Jesus knows more about suffering than any man who ever lived—partly because He was the only truly innocent man who ever lived. Also, because as God with us (Emmanuel),[2] Jesus did not exempt Himself, but rather entered wholly into... [our experience]. His dwelling with us and empathy with us was (and continues to be) very real and complete.

I don’t know how many times I’ve felt alone or abandoned by God. (Not so often as I’ve grown to trust Him more.) Our five natural senses and human understanding can—and often do—lead us into such musings and suppositions. Nevertheless, as often as I’ve felt this way, more often God has reminded me of His nearness to me and personal care for me—and for all of us. He has done it through His Word, another person, His creation, or by other means.

While I was writing the Social Justice blog, He reminded me—through Jesus’ earthly story—just how very near He has drawn to us. He’s not only the God who made us human beings but He’s also the God who’s worn our human skin. He can fathom all we go through. He understands each of us better than any other human ever can or will.

When Jesus came to earth, God did not send Him to rich or influential parents in a palace, or to parents who were politically or economically well off. He was not born to inherit worldly or social influence or power. But He came—was sent—to poor parents, without any kind of world-esteemed privilege at all. His parents lived in and eventually raised Jesus in a corner of their nation that was considered to be corrupt—in politics, economics, and religion. In a nation that was subject to and paid tribute and taxes to indifferent, even sometimes antagonistic rulers through often corrupt tax collectors and governors. To a nation of people that had not been an independent nation for hundreds of years. A nation that had been subject to servitude and slavery for much (maybe most) of its existence.

His birth was inglorious in the extreme, as far as human understanding and circumstances will admit. His mother’s faithfulness to His adoptive father was humanly in question. And this was in a culture and religious atmosphere where a woman, and a man too, could justifiably have been stoned to death had either of them been accused and found to be unfaithful to their marriage vows. There were plenty of religious zealots, especially among the Jewish leaders of that time, who given the chance would have been more than willing to pick up and fling the first stone to “prove” their own personal “righteousness” in eliminating the one they deemed unfaithful.[3]

Not only were Jesus’ adoptive earthly father and His mother oppressed under the false judgments of their community, but they were simultaneously being tyrannized by the Romans who ruled over them. They were compelled at the very time Mary’s first baby, Jesus, was expected to be born, to travel at great inconvenience and expense to themselves, to be many days away from their hometown and what resources they had, to participate in a census, probably for even greater taxation.[4]

Upon arrival at their destination, Bethlehem, “The City of David,” they couldn’t afford, let alone find, a decent place to stay for the delivery of the baby. It’s likely they arrived close to a Jewish feast day and that’s why there were no rooms anywhere. It’s also likely no one wanted to take them in and allow a room and possibly themselves to become unclean through the birth of a baby. People would have wanted to remain ceremonially clean so they could appear at the Jewish temple as part of the feast day celebration. Whatever the reason, Jesus’ mother gave birth to Him in a barn-type situation, probably among animals. His crib was an eating trough for animals—a manger. His first clothes were not a royal or a priestly robe, but swaddling bands wrapped around His tiny, vulnerable, infant body. Jesus was born “underprivileged.”[5]

It’s true, Jesus’ birth was heralded by angels, but they did not proclaim Him to the world or earthly powers, but to common shepherds, who were in the hills “tending their flocks by night.”[6] The Spirit of God also announced His birth. But not to the body of the religious leaders of the time. Instead, His still, small voice spoke to two old people fast approaching their last days on earth: an old man named Simeon, and a “very old” woman named Anna. By God’s leading, they were both there at the Jewish temple when the baby Jesus was presented, as all first-born Jewish males were, eight days after their birth with the required sacrifice.[7] And Anna, even though she was a prophetess, was a woman, so her testimony would not have been allowed in a court of law. Still, as God knew she would, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all” the humble folks she knew “who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Because of prophecy and signs in the heavens that appeared with His birth, prestigious wise men “from the east” traveled to Jerusalem to worship, “the one who has been born king of the Jews”—the, by then, young child, Jesus.[8] However, even this did not elevate His status or give Him immunity in the political or religious world of His time. But just the opposite. Instead, His parents had to flee with Him to Egypt (after being warned by an angel in a dream), to save His life from the ruling King of Jerusalem, Herod. Herod did not fear God, but he did fear losing his position and power. He had already killed many people, ruthlessly holding on to his control above all else. True to form, Herod “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the [men from the east]” (Matthew 2:16). Had Jesus’ parents stayed in His birthplace with Him, He would have surely been slaughtered along with the rest of the boys who were there.

So, for a time the child Jesus and His parents lived as immigrants in a foreign land, Egypt—until Joseph, His adoptive father had another dream revealing Herod had died and they could return to their homeland. Of course, they didn’t have internet, or even radio or telephones back then; and news traveled very slowly, even by the fastest means, which was usually by ship and/or courier. When they arrived back in Judea, it would have been confirmed to them that, just as God had revealed to Joseph in a dream, Herod was dead. However, when Joseph “heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth” (Matthew 2:22–23). Mary and Joseph had come full circle.

However, even in their homeland, Jesus and His family were social outcasts. Jesus’ “new” hometown, Nazareth, was despised by most Jews.[9] It was situated in the hills of Galilee. Their “righteous,” southern, countrymen in Judea disassociated themselves from this area of their country where Jesus was raised because it was overrun by Gentile (non-Jewish) inhabitants; and the Jews in the region of Galilee, who worked for and with the Gentiles, often adopted some, if not many, of their “abominable” ways. The “pure” Jews or Judeans considered—and called—the Gentiles, “dogs,” and “sinners.” (The Jews did not consider themselves to be sinful from birth.) Gentiles were also seen as “unclean,” and so they were not allowed into Jewish homes or past the outer court of their Temple in Jerusalem.

Galilee, where Jesus grew up, was also separated from Judea by Samaria. Samaria was the country of the Samaritans, who were half-breeds—Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles and so “defiled” themselves and their Jewish religion. The Samaritans were considered worse than dogs. The Galileans were considered to be tainted by proximity to them and because of being surrounded by Gentiles. Even though the “righteous” Judeans were also neighbors to the Samaritans and surrounded and ruled by the Gentiles, they had the Temple in their midst at Jerusalem. This made all the difference to them, though applied in the wrong way (in despite of others). The Jews from Galilee had to travel for days to get to Jerusalem and the Temple for feast day celebrations three times a year.

Jesus, the firstborn of His mother, Mary, and His Father God through the Holy Spirit, did not remain an only child for long. He eventually became the oldest of a large family of at least six other children by His mother, Mary, and her earthly husband, Joseph.[10] Jesus’ social standing was of the labor class. His adoptive father was a carpenter by trade.[11] According to tradition, Jesus was apprenticed and trained in this trade as well.

Joseph died or disappeared from the scene while Jesus was in his teens or twenties. After His mother was widowed, and all of them were left without an earthly father or provider, Jesus would have had the responsibility on his shoulders of providing for her and His siblings until they could properly care for themselves or be provided for. His fulfillment of these duties to His family may have been why He didn’t begin His ministry until He was in His early thirties. Though Jesus was God on earth, He did not grasp or give Himself any exemptions or any undue—or due—worldly privileges.[12]

In all things, Jesus submitted Himself to God, His Father. Before He finally began His short, three-year ministry, He first went to be baptized by His cousin John the Baptist to “fulfill all righteousness.”[13] It was His intent from the beginning to obey His Father, God, in every detail. After Jesus was baptized by John, God spoke His approval through “a voice from heaven [saying], ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:17). You would think everything would be plain sailing from here on with God, His Father being clearly with Him and on His “side.” But, far from it; it was the start of Jesus’ walk toward His death three or so years later.

Instead of an easy path, Jesus’ ministry started with a set of temptations.[14] His Father—God—had literally just voiced His approval of Him in front of witnesses. So, without a doubt, Jesus knew who His Father was and whom this meant He, Jesus, was (Immanuel—God with us). But this did not turn His head in pride or keep Him from humbly following God’s will completely. Rather the temptations He faced caused Him to reaffirm, not only Who He was (is) but also His commitment to obey God in all things. In this instance and throughout His life, He was “...tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15b). He held on and stayed strong through prayer and holding to God’s word for the sake of His Father’s Name and for us. And, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Having been a man, He can teach us as no one else can how to overcome temptation. And as God, He “ faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b). When we truly seek Him or prove we want Him and His will above all things, He will remove the desire to sin altogether and replace it with His Law of love.[15]

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He gathered around Him a core of disciples; not only from among the common people (fishermen and laborers)[16] but also from among those who were despised or politically “on the edge” (a tax collector and an extreme political-religious zealot).[17] He even chose one man, who later betrayed Him to His death, who was also on the edge spiritually.[18] Even these disciples who spent the most time with Him, and who were the most devoted to Him, very often misunderstood Him and His teachings.[19] He also, unconventionally, had women followers who helped support His ministry.[20]

Jesus knew beforehand what would happen to Him and even that some of His disciples would deny Him and that the one would betray Him.[21] He chose them anyway. Jesus was the humblest, gentlest, kindest, most merciful and forgiving man who ever lived. He spent most of His time, if not all, with the common people and the sick and afflicted among His people, including and especially repentant sinners and social outcasts, healing and teaching them.[22] He truly loved them and—just as He said—came to serve them (and us).[23] He healed the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, showed and taught people about God’s way of love and God’s kingdom, and He even restored a few individuals to life who had died or were considered dead.[24]

At the same time, He was not a doormat as some call the meek who are so surrendered to God—as Jesus was. He was (is) the only one of us to continually and perfectly seek God’s will and always submit His own will to God’s. He was, in fact, the only truly just man who ever lived. He was full of integrity and goodness. He only ever did what was right. And He boldly, unhesitantly confronted the evil deeds of those who came to Him, both humbly for healing or arrogantly to confront Him. This did not exclude the Jewish religious leaders of His people who had the power to hurt or kill Him should He cross them—and later did.[25]

Though Jesus Himself was more deserving than any man who has ever lived of the best treatment, He willingly suffered and allowed all human abuses without retaliation when and as they came. Even though—and actually because—He knew the outcome, and He knew He had the love of the God of the universe and all of heaven on His side, He was able to suffer the worst treachery, disrespect, prejudice, false accusation, misrepresentation, mistreatment, disdain, indifference, rejection, rabid jealousy, vicious anger, hatred, mocking, baiting, verbal and physical violence, including some of the greatest cruelties people could engineer—scourging and crucifixion on a Roman cross.[26] Even though Jesus knew God was with Him and that all these things would come, it wouldn’t have made them any less painful when they did; it may have even made them more difficult to bear.

With Jesus’ heart of love and compassion—His whole purpose being one of mercy—His betrayal by Judas who used his position as one of Jesus’ own chosen apostles to betray Him with a kiss, would have felt like the ultimate rejection and slap in the face. Judas—a man whose name is now synonymous with betrayal. This Judas, who helped bring Jesus, a fully innocent, just and loving man to an agonizing death; death by hanging from large square nails in His hands and wrists on a splintery, wooden Roman cross after a cruel scourging and beating beforehand. Judas, the man of whom Jesus said these fearful words: “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). Even though what Judas did was an integral part of God’s plan and use of him.

Only Jesus, who was both human and God, could fully understand and suffer the sin that was to be forgiven, and then fully forgive it. Jesus—who had so fully entered into our experience and loved (loves) us so completely—did allow Himself to suffer and die for our sin and guilt in this excruciating way (the word “excruciating” comes from this kind of execution) for our sakes. His innocent life was given in exchange for our sinful lives; for anyone who will believe that He did this for each of us. That an innocent being, both man and God, suffered and died for our sin and guilt, and forgave us in His mercy. He did this so His Spirit might dwell in and with us, and He could continue to teach and help us, in full empathy with our plight. Through this means, which is so misunderstood and despised by the world—just as He was all His life—He dwells with us by His Spirit, and we can dwell with Him and His perfectly just and merciful Father, God, forever in His Kingdom (which is heavenly). His compassion unites us so that we forever belong and are forever one in justice and mercy, in love, joy, and perfect peace with Him.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—

how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?

It is God who justifies.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one.

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—

is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine

or nakedness or danger or sword?

...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors

through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31–35, 37)


[1] See: [2] Isa. 7:14; 1 Kings 8:57; Ps. 46:7, 11; Isa. 8:10; Zech. 8:23; Matt. 1:23; 28:20; John 14:15–18, 23; 2 John 1:3 [3] See Lev. 20:10; Luke 1:26–38; Matt. 1:18–25; John 8:2–11 [4] See Luke 2:1–3 [5] See Luke 2:4–7 [6] See Luke 2:8–20 [7] See Luke 2:21–38 [8] See Matt. 2:1–12 [9] See John 1:46; 7:41, 52 [10] Matt. 13:54-56; Mark 6:3; Matt. 12:46; Mark 3:31-32; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:1-5, 10; Acts 1:14 [11] Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3 [12] See Phil. 2:1-8 [13] See Matt. 3:13–17 [14] See Matt. 4:1–11 [15] See 2 Tim. 2:22; also Deut. 4:29; 119:2, 10; Jer. 29:13; and Deut. 26:16; Josh. 22:5; 1 Kings 8:58; Ps. 37:31; 40:8; 119:30, 34; Jer. 31:33 (Heb. 8:10, 16) [16] See Matt. 4:18–22 [17] See Matt. 9:18; 10:2–4; Luke 5:27–28 [18] See Matt. 26:14–16; Mark 14:10–11; Luke 22:3–6; John 6:70–71; 13:27; 17:12 [19] See Mark 9:32; Luke 2:50; 9:45; 18:34; 24:13–27; John 12:16; 20:9, etc.! [20] See Luke 8:1–3 [21] See Matt. 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; Mark 8:31; 10:32–34; Luke 9:22; 17:22–25; 18:31–33; 26:20–25, 31–35, 45–49, 75; John 13:21–30; 37–38; Acts 2:23 [22] Matt. 9:10–12; 11:19; Mark 2:15–16; Luke 5:17–26, 29–31; 7:34–35, 36–50; 15:1–7, 8–10; 19:7; John 3:16–17; 8:1–11 [23] See Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27; John 13:1–17 [24] See for example (there are many more examples): Matt. 4:23–25; 8:16, 23–24, 28; 9:18–25, 27–33; 12:22; 14:14; 15:22, 30; 17:15–18; Mark 1:39; Mark 3:10; 5:15–18; Luke 7:1–10, 11–16, 21–23; John 11;1–44; Acts 10:38 [25] Mark 11:15–18, 27–33; 14:1–11; Luke 19:45–48; John 5:16–47; 7:1–13, 16–24, 25–32 [26] Read the gospels: Matt., Mark, Luke, and John to see the abuse Jesus suffered.


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