For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers...
Of the many things that help deepen relational bonds with other people, a shared experience is one of the most powerful. For children and youth, relational bonds are often deepened through the shared experience being in the same class at school, or playing on the same team, or going on the same mission trip. For adults, relational bonds are often deepened through the shared experience of going to the same college, working in the same vocational field, or participating in the same small group.
But those common, everyday instances of shared experience pale in comparison to the more intense, immersive shared experience of suffering. Consider the bond formed by cancer patients in a treatment room, or by soldiers in battle, or a family gathered bedside in the moment of death. The shared experience of suffering is a strong relational adhesive, powerfully bonding those who endure it together.
Compared to other historic faiths, the Christian faith is unique in suggesting that human beings have a shared experience with God. In Hebrews 2, the author highlights how God the Son, Jesus Christ, voluntarily and humbly condescended to enter the shared experience of being a human being. In being made “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:9), Jesus is not merely above us, but with us; not merely with us, but like us; and not merely like us in general, but like us in every way. What a wonder that Jesus knows what it is to live in a body, to learn, to sleep, to be in a family, to work, to pray, and to experience all that it means to be human! Even while we were not physically present with Jesus during the days of His earthly incarnation, this shared experience nevertheless establishes a deep and powerful relational bond with our Savior. This bond enables Him to be merciful and faithful in His relationship to us (Hebrews 2:17), and it enables us to be confident and intimate in our relationship to Him (Hebrews 4:16).
But our shared experience with God goes deeper than the experience of being human. In Hebrews 2, the author repeatedly and dramatically reminds us that the ultimate purpose of Jesus being human: redemptive suffering. Just as no experience of humanity is complete without the experience of suffering, so too Jesus’ experience of humanity included the sharing of our experience of suffering. He shared our experience of suffering spiritual and moral temptation (Hebrews 2:18), and ultimately He shared our experience of suffering physical death (Hebrews 2:9). But Jesus did not share in our experience of suffering merely to “taste our sadness” (as Charles Wesley put it in his hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”). Jesus shared in our experience of suffering to our terminate our sadness. As the author of Hebrews put it, He chose to “taste death for everyone” in order to defeat Satan and redeem us as His people (Hebrews 2:9-10).
In the end, our shared experience with Jesus does not merely provide a strong relational adhesive, bonding our hearts to His and given us a sense of consolation that God knows us. Those are powerful truth to be sure, but the truths run even deeper. Our shared experience with Jesus does not merely provide a strong relational adhesive, but an unbreakable spiritual union that is perfect and permanent. In being made like us, Jesus has restored us to the Triune God now and forevermore. And so we love Him not only because He is like us; we love Him because He has first loved us by suffering for us.
I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.
William Featherstone, “My Jesus, I Love Thee” (1864)