A glorious purpose - Hebrews 2:5-18

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 17th September 2006.

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Brenda Adams was only seventeen years old when she left for her friend’s party wearing her brand new leather coat. But she didn’t come back with the coat; in fact she didn’t come back at all, for as Brenda was leaving the party she was accosted by two girls who demanded that they be given the coat. She refused. So she was beaten, kicked, and dragged across the street where one of the girls pulled out a gun and shot her. This just one instance of a crime wave sweeping across the United States which has been dubbed by the police as ‘crimes of fashion’. Now, why is this? Are they covetous? Yes. But why clothes in particular? Well, you don’t have to be a specialist in social psychology to spot the message which is being conveyed to both young and old alike in a myriad of different ways, namely, ‘You are what you wear.’ Whereas at one time our significance and value in society were often bound up with who we were and what we did- being a father, a joiner, a homemaker, a son- they are now determined by the image we project. Are we cool? Are we popular? Are we powerful? And here clothes play their part, hence ‘power dressing’. And if there is no God and so no source of absolute values, we are forced to make our own values. So, if I decide that I matter more than someone else and I can enhance myself by wearing what someone else has, and if I have both the ability and the opportunity, then I will take it; hence, ‘crimes of fashion’. This is just another instance of what happens in a society which says, ‘goodbye to God.’

There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges facing those of us who live in the West at the beginning of the 21st century is to secure a sufficient basis for believing that human beings do have value. If we are merely cosmic accidents then we ultimately have no more significance than an ant. But that goes against our basic instincts doesn’t it? We do feel we should be valued. We do think children shouldn’t be beaten or killed for their clothes. And the Bible would agree. More than that the Bible would show us why that gut instinct is right and we could hardly do any better to find out what those reasons are  than by turning to our passage this morning in Hebrews chapter 2. For here we discover that unlike any other creature in the universe we have a glorious purpose. And what that purpose is and how it is achieved, is all bound up with this amazing person the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week we saw in chapter 1 how Jesus Christ is portrayed as absolutely unique. In particular it was his deity which was in view, as he was presented as the ‘radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’. And so we spoke of Jesus as being ‘God with a human face.’ But in the chapter we are looking at today it is primarily Jesus humanity which is in view- ‘God with a human face’. The fact that the eternal Son of God became one of us.

The first thing we read is that humankind has a unique purpose in creation-v5 ‘It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.’ When the writer speaks of ‘the world to come’, he is not talking about heaven. The word he uses for ‘world’ is quite specific and means the inhabited earth- oikumene- from which we get our words’ ecumenical’, ‘economics’ and  ‘ecology’- literally it is to do with house management-the house being the world we live in. And when he talks of this world being subject, he is thinking of administering or ordering that world. So he has in mind a future creation, a renewed world which one day God’s people will inhabit it and take care of it. In this sense, human beings are superior to angels in that it is they who are God’s managers whereas the angels are simply God’s messengers. And, says our writer, this was always God’s original intention, just take a look at Psalm 8 he says, that is our destiny in a nutshell (v6). "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8 and put everything under his feet’

Human beings have been put on this earth with the specific purpose of looking after God’s world, God’s way. Believe it or not we are considered by God to be royalty-‘crowned with glory and honour’. Can you imagine any far greater status or more glorious a rule, than to be put in charge of this fantastic world? Of course we are meant to care for it responsibly. Now it was this belief that gave rise to modern science. The early scientists of the 16th and 17th centuries took the Bible and especially the early chapters of Genesis very seriously. They saw that being made in God’s image meant that we were to lovingly explore but not exploit the world God had made in order to see how it works. But it was not to stop there. They also saw that things were to be ‘put under his feet’, that is just a poetic way of saying, that creation was to be tamed and brought under control and the findings of science were to be used for mankind’s benefit. All the other good things God had given were to be used in a similar grateful manner- art, music, literature. God is the supreme creative being, the supreme Scientist if you will, and we are meant to copy him in these respects.

But our writer then makes a statement which alerts us to something we all know to be true; that between God’s original creation and our present situation something has gone terribly wrong. Look at what he says at the end of verse 8, In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him’ That is so obviously the case isn’t it? Not ‘everything’ is subject to human beings. Oh yes we do have remarkable abilities and have accomplished some amazing things so we are able to exercise some rule in this world- the harnessing the sun’s energy for fuel or the development of drugs for healing. But that rule is not over ‘everything’ for there is a terrible struggle involved- far from being the masters of our environment we are often the victims; so we have Tsunamis, famines and earthquakes. And instead of using science and technology for the common good of humankind we have used them to develop the most barbaric tools for wiping out humankind.

So what happened such that we find ourselves in our present mess? Well, the writer gives us a clue by the frequent mention of the great taboo subject- death. Did you notice that word? In v 9, he speaks of ‘Jesus suffering death and tasting death for everyone.’ In verse 14 he emphasises Jesus humanity made of flesh and blood so that by ‘his death, he might destroy the one who has power over death-the devil and so set us free from the fear of death.’ Put simply, the reason why things are not as they were or as they should be is because human beings have introduced a moral and spiritual infection into the world called sin- a deliberate going it alone as rulers without God and so as a result placing ourselves under another influence, a malign angelic being called the devil. And death is the ultimate reminder that we cannot be our own Masters; that things have gone wrong and things need to be put right.

But how? How can this crazy mixed up world ever get put back on course so that we become the people we were originally meant to be? How is this angelic being who over the millennia has enticed men and women to carry out the Killing fields of Cambodia, the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the slaughter in Bosnia, be overthrown? More pertinently, how is the ultimate insult which makes a mockery of all our hopes and achievements-death- to be removed and reversed? From a purely human point of view even to raise such questions seems to show the shear futility of them. And from a purely human point of view that is so; but what about from a divine point of view? What if God has taken the initiative in redemption as he has in revelation both involving the same person? Then it is not impossible. And that, says our writer, is exactly what he has done in Jesus- v8b-9. ‘Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’

For a short period the eternal Son of God was made a ‘little lower than the angels’ for he was clothed in human flesh and blood. He grew tired and weary. He was limited by time and space. He had to put up with noisy neighbours and grumbling relatives. But at the same time he began to show what man was meant to be like. He used his powers for the benefit of the weak and dispossessed. He tamed nature by calming the storms. Those oppressed by demonic powers he set free and those whose hearts were broken by the spectre of bereavement he mended by raising their loved one from the dead. But even then not everything was subject to Jesus. The Romans still ruled. The devil’s power still held sway. But all of that was to change one Friday afternoon, when as our writer says, ‘He suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone’ with the result that he is now raised from the dead himself with a glorious resurrected body and exalted to the position above the angels seated at his Father’s right hand crowned with glory and honour. He is talking about the means of our salvation.

In fact our writer uses three pictures to describe how Jesus achieves God’s original purpose to, as he puts it in v 10, ‘bring many sons to glory’.

The first we see in verse 10, when speaking of Jesus it says, ‘God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect (that is complete to do his task) through suffering.’ The word translated ‘author’ could be rendered, ‘pioneer’ or ‘trail blazer’. Well, Jesus is the great pioneer. I am sure you have seen those Western films, with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood acting as the scout of the wagon train as they set out on a long a perilous journey through the wilderness to form some settlement in some luscious valley. Well, the pioneer or trail blazer would go on ahead of the main group to scout out the best way to the hoped for destination. He would risk life and limb, battling with the elements, fighting wild Indians and bandits and then returns to guide the people home. A man like that you will trust won’t you? He has put his life on the line for you and he knows every bit of the way for he has been there and back. Well, that is exactly what Jesus has done for us. He has been through this life of ours as one of us; that is why he can call us his ‘brothers’-v11-12.  He has had to fight temptation just like us; suffer indignity and misunderstanding, just like us, and even go through death, like we have to and- succeeded. What is more he has come back from the grave to show that he has blazed the trail to our heavenly home and will get us there too-  so  he will  be able say to God on that great day, v13 ‘Here I am and the children God has given me.’ He is not going to lose any of his family along the way, not after what he has been through for them. If you want to be able to make your way safely through this world and home into the next, then follow the man from Nazareth; who else qualifies?

The second picture is that of the great liberator vv 14-16  ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy 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. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.’ I am sure that most of us have been horrified by the case of Natascha Kampusch who was just 10 years old in 1998 when she was snatched off the street on her way to school in a suburb of Vienna by Wolfgang Priklopil. For eight years she was kept beneath his house, behind a steel door, in what was a tiny, windowless cell. Then mercifully she seized the opportunity to escape. What a terrifying situation to be in. But the writer here brings home to us the unpleasant truth that humankind is subject to a spiritual enslavement, just as real and just as demeaning as the suffered by little Natascha. The kidnapper, if you like is Satan, he exercises his hold over people by the use of fear, like Priklopil, the fear of death. Is death the end and so robs life of value? Is death not the end and are we subject to an eternity of darkness, which was the haunting fear of many of the pagans living in the 1st century world and many people today. We can’t escape this ourselves, we need someone to set us free. Well, the liberator has come, says our writer. And how liberates! As we have seen, if we sin we pay the penalty, and the penalty is death. But what if there was someone else who could pay the penalty instead on our behalf? Of course he would have to be one of us, since it is as human beings that we sin and it is as human beings that we pay the price. But he would also have to be the perfect human being who had no sins of his own to pay for. More than that he would have to be someone who is more than a human being, a sort of representative, an infinite being who could pay for infinite sins. There is only one I know who fits that bill and that is the Lord Jesus Christ-perfect God and perfect man united in one person. And in this sense too we are not inferior to angels, according to v 16, it is Abrahams descendents he helps, not angels. Angels cannot be redeemed, but we can.

And so for those who trust in him and follow him, the devil loses his grip. What was once a dungeon-death- is transformed into a doorway- a doorway into glory. I have mentioned this incident to some of you before, but I find it so helpful I hope that you don’t mind me sharing it again. Bishop Bergrave of Norway was once asked: ‘Can you explain death?’ He said ‘I will try’ and told this story: ‘Once there was a peasant who one morning said to his wife and son, “I have to go to the next village but I promise I will be back before sunset.” His little five year old boy begged him to take him with him and so he eventually agreed. The father grabbed his chubby little hand and off they went. They came to the river they had to cross swollen because of the rain and such was the torrent that it had washed away the bridge and all that was left was a heap of pilings. The little boy, his face a picture of panic exclaimed, ‘Father, we shall never get across that.’ And holding his wrist tightly he suspended him at periods over the rapids, stepping from post to post until they eventually made it to the other side. So on they went. The business took longer than expected and by the time they set off for home it was dark, no moon, no stars. As they walked along the road, the little boy started to cry. Through muffled sobs he explained to his father the cause of his tears, ‘We crossed the river in daylight, but we will never make it in the dark.’ Without saying a word, the father scooped up his little boy and pressed him close to his heart and in a moment he was fast asleep. The next thing the little lad knew was waking up in his bed, with the father standing by the doorway smiling and light streaming into the bedroom. It was morning.’ Bishop Bergrave said, ‘That is what death is like for the Christian; what you fear you never experience.’

And this brings us to our final picture- Jesus the great sympathiser-vv 17-18; ‘For this reason he had to be made like his brothers 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. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ In the OT the High Priest had to be blood kin to the people he represented. He offered animal sacrifices on their behalf. What is more the high priest knew what it was like to be weak and tempted and so when he went into the temple to do his duty he was not to do so in some morally superior way, he was to be tender hearted towards God’s people, feel for them, because he being one of them understood them so well. But now we have Jesus as our high priest. He was both priest and victim on the cross. And now in glory we can come to him in prayer when in need with the confidence that he knows full well what we are going through because he has been through the mill himself. I don’t know about you but I need a God like that. I need someone who is not remote or cold or uncaring, but someone who is near, warm and compassionate, who will draw close and support me and get me through. Well, I do have that someone and he proves himself reliable over and over again. And one couple who discovered this for themselves was Glyn and Don Johnson.

‘We have prayed for healing. God has not given it. But God has blessed us.’ said Glyn. She spoke slowly partly because of conviction and partly because of her disease. ‘He has given us strength we did not know. He gave it when we needed it and not before. God has given us peace in our pain. He covers us all the time. Even when we are out of control, he is still there.’ she said, speech slurred and eyes moist. Glyn was 45 years old and it had been a year since she had been diagnosed with Lou Gerig’s disease, which leads to the deterioration of muscle strength and mobility, leaving only the mind. As she spoke, her husband, Don wiped her tears and wiped his own. And then she said this: ‘I hope this will not cause my family to be bitter. I hope that I can be an example that God is wanting to trust him in the good times and the bad. For if we don’t trust him when times are tough, we don’t trust him at all.’  Why could she say that? Because she personally knew Jesus- the great pioneer, the great liberator and the great sympathiser.

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