Sunday, April 21, 2013

THE PERFECT SAVIOR (PART 2) Hebrews 2:14-18

Today we study the last part of chapter 2. The writer is concluding his argument that Jesus is greater than angels. The question the writer answers in these verses is: if Jesus is greater than angels, why did he suffer and die?

Verse 9 tells us that Jesus was crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. Philippians 2:7 says Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross. Acts 2:23 says Jesus was delivered to death by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.

But, why did he come to die? He came to die on our behalf. Verse 9 says he suffered death so that he might taste death for everyone. First, to completely identify with us men and women, he had to experience all that we experience, including suffering and death. The writer will explain this in more detail in verses 14-18.Second, he dies for us. It says “that he might taste death for everyone” in verse 9. 1 John 3:16 says “he laid down his life for us”.

So, why would God the Father send his son to die this way? Verse 9 says it was by the grace of God. He did not do it because we deserved it. We did not deserve it. Romans 5:6 says Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:8 says he died for us while we were yet  sinners. Romans 5:10 says he died for us while we were his enemies! So, Christ died for us out of God’s grace. Therefore, Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace. Grace means he gave us something we did not deserve. God displayed his glory in grace by sending Jesus to die and give us salvation.

Verse 10 says this was appropriate or “fitting”. This verse has a lot going on. So, first, let’s look at it without the descriptive phrases and then come back to those. Without the descriptive phrases, this verse says it was fitting that the Father, in bringing many men and women to salvation, should make Jesus perfect through suffering.

The writer uses the word “perfect” here to mean completed. It does not mean Jesus was sinful until the Father made him perfect. We know this because the writer later says Jesus was without sin. But Jesus’ incarnation, his becoming human, was completed in suffering in death. He experienced all the sufferings we experience. There is a sense of qualification here, also. God qualified Jesus through suffering and death to come before him as our high priest.

Now, let’s look at those descriptive phrases. The first one is “for whom and by whom all things exist”. The “he” form whom and by whom all this exist” is God the Father. He made all things and all things exist for him. Everything is to bring him glory. His display of love and grace in bringing men and women to salvation also brings him glory by showing how great his love and grace is.

But this phrase also explains why “it was fitting” that God sent his Son to die. Since God is the one who created all things for his purposes, he works to bring about his purposes. One purpose was shown in Adam. He designed Adam to rule over the earth. Adam failed to bring about the purpose. So, it is appropriate, or fitting, that God send another who will accomplish God’s purpose of having man rule over the earth. God the Father would accomplish this great goal by sending his Son to accomplish it through a great action: his death for our sins. He appointed his Son to accomplish his redemptive mission.

Second is “the founder of their salvation”. Here he refers to Jesus. Some versions say the author of their salvation. What does this mean? It means he started it or he led the way. His present glorification will lead to our glorification. We are some of the many sons.

We see, then, that Jesus completely identified with us. He was fully God, but he was also fully man. Verse 11 says Jesus and his followers have the same origin. That source is God the Father in the sense that he created mankind and Jesus became a man. In this verse, Jesus is the one who sanctifies and his followers are those who are sanctified. He says this is why Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (and sisters). He shared our humanity, but also brought us into God’s family as sons of God and brothers of Christ. 

In verse 12, the writer dips back into the Old Testament again to prove his point. He uses three verses.

First, he quotes Psalm 22, a Messianic Psalm. And Psalm 22:22 is the exact quote. Psalm 22 is a Psalm of David and is a lament of one who is suffering deeply. He cries out to God. He anticipates vindication from God. And after he is vindicated, he will worship God with God’s people.

Matthew 27 says that this psalm finds greater fulfillment in the death of Christ. He quotes specific phrases from the Psalm and shows them as fulfilled by Christ. Although he does not cite the Psalm by name, the Jews who knew this Psalm well would catch the references.

The writer of Hebrews does the same. He quotes the Psalm without naming it, knowing that his audience of Jewish believers would understand the reference. The picture here is of the ascended Christ, in the midst of the congregation of believers in heaven, singing the praises of the Father.

Second, (in verse 13) the writer quotes Isaiah 8:17 in the Septuagint: “I will put my trust in him”. The NIV uses this exact reading in Isaiah 8:17, also. The literal translation from the Hebrew to English seems to be “I will wait for the Lord”. The KJV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, and NASB all use this language. The context is that God hid his face from Israel because of its idolatry. But Isaiah and the believing remnant trusted God for deliverance. The application by the writer of Hebrews seems to be that Jesus trusted the Father to deliver him and so do all of his brothers and sisters (those who believe in and follow Jesus).

Then the writer quotes the next verse in Isaiah (8:18) to say that Jesus presents himself before the father with all the children (believers) God gave him.

Now, in verse 14 of Hebrews 2, the writer returns to his theme in verse 10 of the need for Jesus to identify with men and women in all respects to be their savior. Here he explains the concept in more detail.

First he states a fact. The children are flesh and blood. This is just another way of saying we are human.  We are mortal (we will die). We are not spirit beings like angels. Although we are made in God’s image, we are not divine. We are not gods.

So, because we are human, Jesus became fully human (“partook of the same things”). The NIV explains this to you by saying “he too shared in their humanity”.

Let’s stop here for a minute. It has always been the orthodox position of the church that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. The New Testament makes the point that Jesus was fully human in several ways. Here are some.

First, Matthew, in the first chapter of his gospel, traced Jesus’ human lineage back to David and then to Abraham. Luke 3 traces it all the way back to Adam. John 1:14 says he took on flesh and dwelt among us. All of the gospels show that Jesus died. Peter, in Acts 2:22, said “ Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God”. In Acts 17:31, Paul said God would judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed”.  There are many more references to this fact. John felt so strongly about this doctrine that he wrote: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist…” (1 John 4:3)

And yet, men throughout history have tried to deny this. Therefore, the creeds of the Christian church have stated its truth as necessary to the faith.  For example, the Apostles Creed says “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,     And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,     Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried.” All of the traits of Christ are human traits.

Hebrews tells us in several places why the humanity of Jesus is important. Today’s passage is one of these. So, why is it important that Jesus became human or took on human flesh? He did this so that, by dying, he could destroy Satan, who had the power of death.

Remember the battle of the seeds? When Satan lured Adam and Eve into sin, God told him a seed (or descendant) of Eve would crush or bruise his head.  (Genesis 3:15). God cursed Satan with this and at the same time delivered a promise to us. One would come who would defeat Satan. In this passage, the only clue is that the person would be a human being. He would be born of woman. Later God would narrow the promise to the descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then of Judah, and finally of David. At the very time the fist man sinned, God told him that a deliverer would come and defeat the adversary, and that deliverer would be a human being.

The devil believed God. All through the Bible the devil tried to evade this curse by destroying the one who would defeat him. He killed the seed of the woman when Cain slew Abel. He had the babies in Bethlehem killed but Jesus escaped harm. But the devil could not escape the curse or thwart the plan of God.

Satan worked to have Jesus killed. Luke 22:3 says that Satan entered into Judas before the Passover and led him to betray Jesus. When Satan was able to have Jesus killed on the cross through the betrayal of one of his disciples, it was his worst mistake, for Jesus’ death as the perfect sacrifice and his resurrection defeated death and Satan. It was the plan of the Father all along and he used Satan and Judas to carry it out. Peter in “Acts 2:23 said that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

Satan helped to bring about his own destruction, for verse 14 says that Jesus destroyed Satan by his death. Jesus invaded Satan’s kingdom of earth during is ministry, began its destruction on the cross and will seal it at the end of this age. Why did Jesus cast out demons? He did it to break Satan’s power over the world. When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples, they returned amazed that demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. (Luke 10:17) When they reported this to Jesus, he said “I saw Satan fall like lighting from heaven”.

The destruction of the power of Satan benefits us. Verse 15 says we are delivered from the slavery of the fear of death. All over the world, you see the effect of the fear of death. People will do anything to stay alive. Relatives will try desperate measures to keep a loved one alive. Hospitals constantly deal with families who keep the bodies of loved ones working after their brains are dead because the families cannot bear to let them go.

But Jesus’ brother and sisters are delivered from this. We will grieve the loss of a loved one, but say that they are better off now because they are with Jesus and not suffering in the flesh. We have all heard stories of believers who died at peace and of those who seemed to be allowed to see through the veil at the last moment into heaven. Jesus has disarmed Satan. He has taken away the fear of death.

In verse 16, the writer makes a parenthetical statement to show that it is human beings that Jesus helps, not angels. Specifically, it is men and women who believe in Christ. The writer uses the term “the offspring (or seed) of Abraham”. Is he saying here that angels only help Jews? He is not. The New Testament teaches us that believers are the true seed of Abraham, not those who are Hebrew by race. In Galatians 3:7, Paul wrote “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham”.

Verse 17 says “therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect”. In other words, “therefore he had to be made fully human”. What does “therefore” refer to? It refers to the preceding sentence, that Jesus helps men and women, not angels. Then it goes on to say he had to be made like us in order to become a merciful and faithful high priest.

Verses 17 and 18 go on to explain this. Jesus identified with us in his death, but also in his life on earth. He did this so that he could serve as a high priest for us. First, He became like us to die in propitiation of our sins. What does “propitiate” mean? It means to make peace by satisfying a demand. It may also mean to appease an offended person. God is offended by our sin. God demands death as payment for sin. Jesus satisfied that demand by dying for us. Once the demand was satisfied, we were at peace with God. God is no longer angry at us or offended by us.

The Old Testament high priest offered sacrifices for God’s people. He killed animals to propitiate the sins of Israel at least on a temporary basis. Jesus is our high priest in that he offered himself as the sacrifice for the sins of his people, those who believe in him.

He also became a merciful and faithful high priest who helps us live according to God’s standards of holiness. He helps us because he suffered all the temptations and trials we do. He did not sin like we do, but he felt the temptation and the trial. So, he knows how it feels to be tempted and he is here to help us resist temptation.

How was Jesus tempted? We saw him tempted directly by Satan right after his baptism. Matthew 4 records this is detail. He offered Jesus’ short cuts to achieve his goal, either by putting on a show or by worshipping Satan as the Lord of the earth. He tempted him to meet his own physical needs by using his power as God rather than depending on God. But Jesus also suffered physical trials as we do. He was hungry, thirsty, tired and hot.

Jesus felt our emotions. He felt frustration at disciples who could not learn, he felt betrayal as his disciples let him down. He felt anger. All the same things we feel, he felt. And because he experienced the temptations and the trials, he is able to help us when we are tempted.

Let’s think for just a minute what that means for you. 

What do you do when you are tempted to sin? Some just give in and hope God does not care. He does care, however. He commands us to be holy. Some resist as long as they can in their own strength. Some deny that they sin.

But, this verse says Jesus is able to help us when we are tempted. So, we can go to him and ask for help. Do you do this?

Sometimes Jesus just helps us without being asked. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will provide a way out. When you are tempted, look for the way out!

But sometimes Jesus waits until we ask. So, when you feel weak and tempted, go to him and ask for help. Be honest. Say, I really feel tempted to commit this sin. I cannot fight it off. Please help me! Provide a way out and give me the strength to take it.

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