Sunday evening sermon on Hebrews 2:5-18
As we begin let’s think about where we are. Sunday night – another week has begun. How do you feel about the coming week? These next few minutes are about taking the light of God’s word and shining them into our lives to comfort and to challenge. So let’s take a minute as we begin to bring to mind what’s most on our hearts about this week. In particular, what are your fears? Bring to mind one or two of them.
What are your sufferings? Bring to mind one or two.
What are your temptations? Bring to mind one or two.
Let’s see how God’s word addresses those tonight.
Here’s an interesting image from the Psalms.
[SLIDE – Psalm 63:8]
In Psalm 63 the Psalmist prays to God and says:
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:8)
Do you see the image? I’m holding on to God. But really, underneath, He’s holding on to me. My soul does cling to you LORD. But deep down it’s Your strong right hand that’s upholding me. There is some strength to my grip. But that’s not what’s upholding me. At the end of the day – it’s about the strength of Your grip!
Last week we read a stark warning. Hebrews 2:1 “We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” And v3 “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation.”
Pay attention, says Hebrews. Don’t drift. Don’t ignore this. Salvation is at stake.
And if that’s all we read, we might go away from that kind of passage thinking – oh gosh, it’s all about me holding on to God. If you take these few verses just on their own you might imagine that the gospel is this thin slippery, rope and we’ve got to be especially strong graspers to stop ourselves drifting to hell.
Well if that’s how we feel, the rest of Hebrews chapter 2 will give us a much bigger perspective. Verses 1-4 were all about our souls clinging to God. Verses 5-18 are all about the Strong Right Hand of God holding on to us. Ultimately your salvation is not down to your grasp of God. As we’ll see in these verses, Ultimately your salvation is down to His grasp of you. Salvation is about being grabbed hold of.
What would it be like for God to really grab hold of you?? How would it be for God to catch up with you and lay hold of your life? How do you feel about such a prospect?
Do you fear the idea? Do you dread the notion of God ever catching up with you? Maybe you’re worried about how He will treat you up close and personal?
Or maybe you thrill to the idea. Maybe you long for your life to be taken hold of and put right. Maybe then you’d break free from the ruts you’ve been stuck in. Maybe then you’d get your life on track.
How do feel about God grabbing hold of you?
Look at verse 16. I’ll read what it literally says in the original language.
Verse 16: “Surely it is not angels that He lays hold of but it is the offspring of Abraham that He lays hold of.”
The word ‘help’ there in our church Bibles is a really weak way of translating a very strong word. This is the word for ‘seize’ or ‘arrest’ or ‘catch’. It’s got the idea of being taken into custody. Now in verse 18 there’s a word for ‘help’ that’s quite different. There it’s the idea of ‘coming to the aid of’. In v18 it’s more like ‘lending a helping hand’. In verse 16 it’s more like ‘Man-handling’. Verse 16 is the idea of Jesus Christ taking Abraham’s descendents into His hands, taking the offspring of Abraham up into His possession. That’s the kind of help Jesus offers. He lays hold of us.
It’s a bit like our cats. Many is the time when Emma and I decide that the cats really should go outside. And so I will help our cats make that transition.
Here’s how I help them. I don't simply provide clear instruction. I don't simply command or cajole. I don't simply open the way. I don't simply clear the path and make safe passage. I'm very hands on in the ‘help’ I give. I seize them. I catch them, I gather them up in my arms. And I walk across the threshold carrying them under each arm. And in this way I deliver them into a whole new realm. That’s how I help my cats make the transition.
It’s the same with Jesus Christ. He looks on a humanity that needs delivering. . And so He “helps” us make the transition. Now He doesn’t simply provide helpful instruction about how we make the transition. He doesn’t simply command or cajole. He doesn’t simply open up the way. He doesn’t simply clear the path and make safe passage. He is very hands on in the help He gives. He gathers us up and He strides across the threshold Himself and delivers us into a whole new realm.
This evening we’re going to think about:
Who grabs hold of us?
Why does He grab hold of us?
How does He grab hold of us?
First, Who. Verse 5 begins with a theme that occupies most of the first two chapters of Hebrews. Jesus is better than angels. Whoever this letter is addressed to seemed to think pretty highly of angels and they seemed to wonder where Jesus fits in. Hebrews tells us, He’s better than angels. In chapter 3 we’ll learn He’s better than Moses. Then we’ll learn He’s better than Joshua. Then we’ll learn He’s better than the priests. Then we’ll learn He’s better than the temple. Jesus is far superior to all the stuff of the old covenant. All that was a shadow – Jesus is the Reality who cast the shadow. All of the old covenant stuff was explicitly and intentionally telling people about Jesus. So Hebrews keeps going back to the Old Testament and saying – look guys, the OT itself tells you that Jesus is superior. So stop looking at the shadows, fix your eyes on the Reality. So Who is Jesus?
Chapter 1 begins with the most exalted picture of Jesus. Look at chapter 1 verses 2-3:
But in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through Whom He made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.
Jesus is the Son.
The inheritor of ALL THINGS, the creator of ALL THINGS, the sustainer of ALL THINGS, the very radiance of God’s Glory. Jesus IS the outgoing, shining brightness of God’s character. I just ask you to dwell on that word IS. He IS the radiance of God’s glory. God shines out in glory and Jesus IS that glory shining out.
You cannot think too highly of Jesus Christ. It is simply impossible.
Therefore Hebrews 1 goes on to tell the Christians to stop fixating on angels. All through the OT is tells you not to fixate on angels, it tells you to fixate on Christ.
So through chapter 1 we see quotes from the Psalms and they all prove that Jesus is better than angels. In chapter 2, v6, we’ve got another Psalm – Psalm 8. And this is another Psalm that proves Jesus is greater than angels. It says:
"What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour 8 and put everything under his feet."
Man was lower than angels for a bit, but then hyper-exalted way above angels.
Now at first you might think this Psalm is talking about Adam. Because, didn’t Adam have dominion over the earth, wasn’t everything put under him? Well yes. But only because Adam was a shadow, a proto-type looking forward to JESUS – THE MAN.
Jesus is the MAN, the true Man, the real Man, the essence of Man. And that’s who Psalm 8 points us to. Jesus the Man.
(As an aside: I’m going to say “Man” a lot in this sermon. And sometimes I’ll mean Jesus and sometimes I’ll mean humanity. But I’m going to be deliberately unpolitically correct. Because actually it’s a great shame that ‘Man’ doesn’t mean ‘humanity’ anymore because actually the gospel depends on the fact that MAN fell in the garden. And MAN was redeemed at the cross. MAN fell in the garden. In fact his name was “MAN” – Adam just means “Man”. But when he fell everyone fell because all humanity was IN Adam. Very literally. THE MAN sums up all humanity.
And when Christ came at Christmas AS MAN, He took the very flesh of Adam and summed up MAN – all humanity, males and females and children, everyone – to save them. So when I say “Man” it might not sound ‘gender inclusive’ – actually in bible terms it’s totally gender inclusive – all humanity is summed up in MAN. First Adam who fell and then Christ who saved us. And Jesus is MAN).
So anyway, Jesus descended from the heavens, lower than the angels for a little while, took our humanity but then (after He died and rose) He ascended up to glory and honour. And everything is now under the dominion of MAN, the true MAN, the real MAN – Jesus Christ.
The humanity of Jesus is stressed again and again. Look at v11:
Both the One who makes men holy [that’s Jesus] and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
Jesus is family. He’s our Brother. That’s repeated in v12. Verse 14 says “He shared in their humanity”. Verse 17 says:
For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way
Jesus was made like us, His brothers, in EVERY WAY. Jesus has skin colour and hair colour and eye colour and a blood type. Look at verse 18:
Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus sympathises with you, with human sympathy. Are you able to process that? The One who upholds the stars and planets is a Man who sympathises with your human plight, because He is one. The One on the throne is your flesh and bone Brother. Put it another way, your flesh and bone Brother is the One on the throne.
Jesus is the Son and He is Man and, one more thing. He is, end of v10, the Author of our salvation. Others translate this as the Captain of our salvation or the Founder of our salvation. That’s a bit better. I think the word Pioneer would be best. Because strictly speaking the word means “one who goes first along the path.” One who goes at the Head and others follow. A bit like a needle that goes through thick cloth and pulls the thread behind it. Jesus, the Son, the Man – our Brother – is the Pioneer of our salvation. He comes from the highest heights to sum up our whole predicament and to lead us to glory as our Pioneer.
That’s who grabs hold of us.
WHY does He grab hold of us.
Well two reasons – to save us FROM certain things and to save us FOR certain things.
Here’s what He saves us FROM:
Darkness below us, darkness within us, darkness above us and darkness around us.
First there’s the darkness from below. It’s there in v14. There we see ‘him who holds the power of death – the devil.’
Genesis 3 introduced us to the devil. There MAN prefered to align himself with Satan rather than the LORD. And so the LORD pronounced His death-sentence on MAN. Interestingly in Genesis 3, the LORD pronounces the death-sentence, but He makes Satan the executioner. Do you remember, He says to Adam ‘because you’ve disobeyed: Dust you are and to dust you will return.’ And He says to the devil ‘You will eat dust all the days of your life.’ Satan is a man eater. The power of death is given over to Satan. We all die under the LORD’s holy death sentence. But the devil is the executioner. He holds the power of death.
So that’s the darkness from below.
Then there’s the darkness within us. FEAR of death. Verse 15 says we are slaves to a fear of death. Everything we do is overshadowed by the grave. Now very few of us face this head on, few would articulate their fears as a fear of death. But it wouldn’t take long to trace them back to the ultimate source. We fear loss, we fear the unknown, we fear separation – and without Christ death is the ultimate loss, the ultimate unknown, the ultimate separation. Trace all other fears to their source and you find death. And this fear is a slavery. There is a driven-ness to a life without Christ that ultimately dances to the tune of this fear. Before Christ gives us an answer to death, we are captive to this fear. It is a great darkness within us.
That’s the darkness below, the darkness within. Now the darkness above us. And that’s God’s anger at us in our sin. Verse 17 says that the sins of the people required a sacrifice of atonement – do you see that? This word for atonement means that God’s anger at sin needed to be turned away from us. His anger was directed towards us in our sin. And Jesus turns that anger away from us. This is so important. Our problem is not just that we sin. Our problem is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are provoked to furious and righteous anger by our sin. Bad things are an offence to the Good God, and He is righteously angry at us in our sin.
If our problem was simply that we did bad things then the solution would be in our grasp – we could just stop doing bad things. But the real problem is above us. God’s anger at us in our sin – that is a problem that’s out of our hands. God’s wrath is the dark cloud above us.
So there’s darkness from below, from within, from above and then there’s darkness around us. Verse 18: we are assailed daily by suffering and temptation – do you see that? Suffering and temptation. You’ve thought about these already tonight. And these will hit you from all sides whether you’re good, bad, naughty or nice, Christian or non-Christian. These sufferings and temptations surround us.
This is what Christ saves us FROM – from darkness below – the devil. From darkness within – the fear of death. From darkness above – God’s anger at our sin. From darkness all around – suffering and temptation.
What does He save us FOR?
Look at v10: Jesus saves us to Bring “many sons to glory.” Remember how Jesus Himself had been CROWNED with glory, v9. When Jesus died and rose and ascended to the right hand of God to sit on the throne of the universe – that was MAN being crowned with glory. But Jesus is our Pioneer and He brings us INTO that Glory!
And what does this glory look like? It looks like a family gathering.
Did you notice all the family words in this passage?
V11 – family, brothers
V12 – brothers
V13 – children
V14 – children
V17 – brothers.
Here’s what’s going on. God THE SON, became God OUR BROTHER, so that we can become CHILDREN of our Heavenly Father. The SON became our BROTHER, He grabs hold of us and brings us into HIS relationship with the Father. So that we are children.
There’s a lovely picture of this in verse 12. In verse 12 it’s a quote from Psalm 22. And Hebrews just assumes that Psalm 22 are the words of Jesus. (Interestingly for the writer of the Hebrews it seems that his default assumption for the Psalms is that these prayers are Jesus’s own prayers. Here is not just a man praying before God. Here is MAN, the MAN praying before God – and we echo His prayers – that’s a big part of what’s going on in the Psalms, but that’s a whole other sermon).
In v12 it’s a quote from Psalm 22 and it’s Jesus speaking. You know how Psalm 22 begins? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s Jesus’ words from the cross. Well Psalm 22 continues to describe the fruit of Christ’s death. After the cross, because of the cross, Jesus is able to say to the Father, (v12) “I will declare Your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
Here is Jesus the Worship Leader, leading the singing of praise to God the Father, and tuning our hearts to sing with Him. That’s how God brings many sons to glory. Jesus our Brother makes us children and leads us into His own relationship to the Father. That’s glory.
So... v16 has told us that Jesus grabs hold of us. We’ve seen who is this Jesus who grabs hold of us, we’ve seen why He grabs hold of us, but now – How does He do it?
Well He does it in three movements – the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown.
This is all over this passage but let’s just focus on verse 17. In v16 we’ve just heard that Jesus lays hold of us. How? Verse 17:
For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way (that’s the cradle), in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God (that’s the crown), and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people (that’s the cross).
If we map that out in the order that it happens we get this.
The cradle is where God the Son becomes MAN. MAN in the deepest sense of that word. He becomes Humanity Himself – He takes Adam’s flesh and sums us all up.
But the cradle without the cross would just be a bit of divine sympathy really. The cradle is meant to move TO the cross. Verse 14 says it very starkly. Look at v14:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death…
Do you see – CRADLE, so that CROSS.
He takes the humanity of Adam a humanity that is headed for the grave, a humanity stained by sin, a humanity under the LORD’s own curse, a humanity enslaved by the devil – and He puts it all to death. He takes its death sentence, as verse 9 puts it, He tastes death for everyone. Everyone deserves the LORD’s death sentence for sin and Jesus takes that death sentence for humanity.
But He doesn’t stay dead. What use would that be? If Jesus stayed dead, that means MAN stays dead, humanity would have no hope beyond the grave. But no, He rose and ascended to God’s right hand, CROWNED with glory and honour. And He rose there as my priest. My High Priest. What’s that all about?
Well one day a year in Israel’s calendar was a day called The Day of Atonement. It was a day when all the sins of the people were dealt with and the people were brought to be AT ONE with God.
There’s lots of things that happened on the Day of Atonement, you can read about it in Leviticus 16. But here are two things that happened. Imagine this church building was the temple from the Old Testament . There’s the Most Holy Place where God lives. Here would be a massive curtain that keeps everyone out. Only the High Priest is allowed in here and only on the Day of Atonement. Here’s the Holy Place where only Priests are allowed. Out in the car park only Israelites are allowed – and over Susans Road they’d allow some Gentiles (some non-Jews) to have a peak to see what was going on. Also out there is an altar where sacrifices are made.
On the Day of Atonement, out there the High Priest would sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people. (A lot more went on but I’ll just tell you about this). A goat was sacrificed . Sin demands judgement, the sacrifice died in place of the people. And then what the High Priest did was to take the blood of this sacrifice through the Holy Place and into the Most Holy Place. No-one is ever allowed in here – except the High Priest and only because he brings the blood of the sacrifice. But with the blood he goes in here and he represents the people before God.
On his clothing there is written the names of the Israelite tribes, written across his chest. He bears the people of God on his heart before the LORD.
Now I don’t know how long he stayed there on the day of atonement. He was probably in dread fear of his life, so he probably left after a few minutes.
But listen. All of this is a shadow of the reality. Here’s the reality. The LORD Himself – the One who IS holy, holy, holy – the One who sustains everything by His powerful word – He climbed down from the Most Holy Place – from Heaven. And HE – THE LORD – became our Brother. CRADLE. And as our Brother and our Pioneer, He took on the role of High Priest. So to make atonement He had to go to the altar – THE CROSS. And there He was sacrificed in our place. Can you wrap your head around that – the LORD of the Most Holy Place, takes on the role of the bloody sacrifice on the altar. The LORD on the altar – that’s what the cross means. And because of His own blood that was shed, He ascends back into Heaven and is CROWNED with glory and honour. But this time He is ONE OF US, this time He is our Brother, this time He is our High Priest – and He carries us on His heart before the Father.
He has grabbed hold of us in the depths and as our Pioneer, He has raised us to the heights.
Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China, and one man converted through his ministry was a Chinese confucian scholar. This ex-Confucianist used to tell a story to explain his conversion which Hudson Taylor often repeated:
A man fell into into a dark and slimy pit. Try as he might, it was impossible to pull himself out. One day Confusius himself came past the pit and said: ‘Poor man, if only he’d listened to me, he’d never have fallen into the pit in the first place.’ Some time later the Buddha came past. Looking down at the man he said: ‘Poor man. Just come up here and I’ll help you.’ And he walked on. And then Jesus Christ walked past and he said, ‘Poor man.’ And He jumped into the pit and lifted him out.
You might wish that Christ had a more ‘hands-off’ approach. But no He comes and claims us, grabs us, Man-handles us. And He does it the way I pick up my cats.
He picks us up and delivers us into a new realm.
If you belong to Jesus – your old MAN (I’ll use the old language) your old man has been put to death and Jesus has raised you up into His relationship with the Father.
What’s Jesus’ relationship with His Father like? How does the Father look on His Son? “This is My Son Whom I love – with Him I am well pleased.” If you belong to Jesus – THAT is how the Father feels about you.
And how does Jesus feel about you? He sympathises.
Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
When we think about our sufferings our fears and our temptations, and when we think about bringing those to God – we basically think about bringing them before some heavenly throne. We forget about the cradle and the cross, we only think about the crown. Well alright fine – let me tell you about the One who wears that crown. He is your Brother, He is your Sacrifice, He is your Pioneer, He is your High Priest, your name is written on His heart, and He sympathizes.
When you think about God, it is not CHRISTIAN to think only of the crown. Other religions have only the crown. We have the cradle and the cross as well. And the One wearing the crown is the same one who was born for you and died for you.
And His right hand upholds us. Now that you’ve heard this, Do you find that your soul clings to Him just a little bit more. That’s how the warnings in Hebrews work. It says don’t neglect SUCH A GREAT SALVATION and then it tells you HOW GREAT the salvation is. His right hand has laid hold of us, as we understand more of this, so our souls cling to Him all the more.
Think again of your fears. How does God’s word confront them tonight?
Think of your temptations. How does God’s word confront them tonight?
Think of your sufferings. What does God’s word have to say to you tonight?