I read Hebrews 2:14-18 yesterday. Read it slowly, out loud, a few times:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
I am a person who struggles mightily with depression and anxiety. It comes and goes and is subject to a diverse array of stimulus. I also have a lot of good ways of coping with it, which are sometimes enough to feel better and sometimes aren’t.
Usually when we think of Jesus’s atonement, we think of him as the substitute for our sins. We deserve a penalty for our sins, hell, and Jesus took that hell upon himself on the cross so we wouldn’t have to take it on ourselves for all eternity. Then when the Judge looks at us, we are declared innocent (righteous). Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Jesus did on our behalf.
All of this is true, praise be to God! But something even deeper hit me yesterday.
Substitutionary atonement (what I just described) has always felt like Jesus is my pinch hitter, using a baseball analogy. I know this pitcher will strike me out, so Jesus goes to bat in my place. He hits a home run and we win. That’s what I think of when I think of a substitute. But what do you observe about this scenario?
I observe myself sitting alone on the bench, and Jesus quite far away from me.
That, my friends, is not the picture of Jesus’s atoning sacrifice. To me, that’s a picture of depression and anxiety. Jesus has punched my ticket into heaven, but I’m sort of left fending for myself here on this earth.
Something clicked yesterday (praise be to God) as I was reading Hebrews 2. Yes, Jesus is my substitute. But he’s my substitute for everything. All the ways I feel inadequate. The ways I don’t measure up. The ways I don’t feel valuable. The things I’ve messed up. The things I fear. He says, “I’ve got you, and I’ve got this.” His substituting for me wasn’t a one-time act. It is a covering over me, in me, and through me, that never leaves me or forsakes me.
Analogies fall short here, but the best I can come up with is Jesus driving the car while I sit in the passenger seat, or him flying the airplane while I rest in his power and control. Wherever I go, he goes. Wherever he goes, I go. I’m reminded of Jesus’s promise from Matthew 11:28-30, a promise that often feels untrue to me:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
What I began experiencing yesterday is the two-necked truth of the yoke analogy. A yoke was put on two oxen, not one. Jesus uses this analogy to tell us that he’ll be on one side of the yolk, and we’ll be in the other. Where he goes, we go; where we go, he goes.
He is my atoning sacrifice. My substitute. He covers for me each and every time I don’t measure up. Each and every time I fail. Each and every time I feel like I don’t have value. Each and every time things feel out of control. He has measured up for me. He’s my atoning sacrifice. He is my substitute. He is always there, always interceding for me, always giving me true worth when it feels like I have none.
This truth has felt like Alka Seltzer to my anxiety and to my ups and downs of depression. Not that I’ll never have these feelings again. No, I’ve already had to go back to this mantra over and over again just in the last day. But every time I do, I feel the yoke on my neck. I feel the warmth of Jesus next to me. His power and strength guiding me, loving me, leading me.
Jesus is my substitute.
And he’s yours too.
Author of Beyond the Battle: A man's guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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