Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 11, March 9 to March 15 2008

Hebrews 2:5-9

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

This morning we are taking up again our study of the Letter to the Hebrews, concentrating on chapter 2, verses 5 through 9. If you have been with us for any portion of this study, then you will know that in this letter the writer has been working hard to address a particular problem - the problem of people turning away or drifting away from the Christian faith and, under the threat of persecution, going back to the Judaism from which so many of them had come.

In order to prevent this sort of thing from happening any more, the writer devotes himself to both encouraging the people of God to remain faithful amidst their suffering and hardship and, in the same breath, warning them of the grave consequences of turning away.

As part of his strategy for doing these things, the writer puts his main energies into talking about the person and identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first part of the letter, he demonstrates how Jesus was and is superior to any of the Old Testament prophets, to angels, and even to Moses himself. In the next main portion of the letter, he shows how Jesus is superior as a high priest to even the greatest and most well known high priest of the Old Testament - a guy named Aaron. Further, Hebrews shows us how Jesus was not only a greater high priest, but he also offered a better sacrifice than any other priest has ever offered - the sacrifice of himself which perfectly and forever dealt with the wrath of God and fully satisfied the justice of God. In short, the writer shows how Jesus is superior TO and the fulfillment OF the Old Testament system to which some of them were being tempted to return.

Finally, while there are various warnings and encouragements scattered throughout the letter, there is a great big pile of them at the end of the letter, from about chapter 10, verse 19 onward, and which comprises the third and final main division of Hebrews.

So, as we are still in chapter 2, then that means we are still in that first main section which is showing the superiority of Jesus to all sorts of things - most especially to the angels. After taking an initial look at this in 1:5-14, we looked last week at one of the early warning passages in the opening of chapter 2, and are now picking up the comparison, once more, between Jesus and the angels. In doing so, we are expanding on something which has already been mentioned briefly - the rule and reign of Jesus - and which will be commented further upon here.

As we turn our attention, then, to this theme, it is good to remember some things which we saw in the introduction to this letter. In particular, we need to keep in mind that at the time this letter was written and then circulated, there was a great deal of talk "in the air," so to speak, about angels.

We know this because the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain various writings that reflect what was going on at about this same time period, contain a number of teachings about angels. Among these teachings were ones which held that angels played a very prominent role in God's workings in the present and would play an even more prominent one in the future.

Indeed, it was believed by many that angels would in fact be given positions of power and authority over all human beings, and even over certain prophetic, kingly, and priestly figures which they also believed God would one day send to earth. The verses before us this morning were written to counter and correct some of those ideas.

The approach that the writer of Hebrews takes in responding to these things is a continuation of what he has been doing all along - going to the Old Testament Scriptures in order to demonstrate to these people who Jesus is and who he is NOT. And, of course, he has a reason for going about making his point in this way: Because by going to the Old Testament he is appealing to a source that they would have trusted implicitly.

And, in keeping with what we have already seen here, his choice of texts at this point of the letter is interesting. The quotation found in verses 6-8 is from Psalm 8 - a psalm which the Jews did not regard specifically as a "messianic" psalm - i.e., as a psalm which has in view the person that God would one day send to redeem and deliver his people. They regarded Psalm 8 simply as one that talked about the exalted position that God had reserved for his chosen people - a position which they, to be sure, had not attained to but which they fully expected, one day, they would attain to.

But it is to this text that the writer of Hebrews turns to make his point about Jesus. How and why he does this will be the focus of our study this morning. Before we go any further, let's pray together.....

Heavenly Father, we pause to thank you, as we always do, when we return again to your Scriptures, acknowledging as we do so our great confidence in you and our great thankfulness for your Son, and for your word about your Son. Make our hearts and minds receptive to whatever it is that you have for us this morning. Suppress the many other things that are angling for our attention, even the very good things, that we might make a priority of the better thing, and the better opportunity that is ours in this moment. Please use the frailty of human speech, and work through this foolish moment that we call preaching, to bring forth surprising things from very unlikely sources. Tear us down, build us up. Glorify yourself. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.

Now, again, at the heart of this passage is a quotation from Psalm 8, followed by some comments upon it by the writer of Hebrews. And so, in order to gain a good understanding of this passage, we need to start out by looking at Psalm 8 for a moment. So, keep your finger here in Hebrews 2, and flip back toward the middle of the Bible and let us spend a few minutes thinking about Psalm 8 together:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Now of course, as you all know I am sure, in the Book of Psalms what we have is a collection - and in fact a collection of collections, of various songs, on various themes. It is sort of like the hymn book of God's people in the Old Testament. And in this specific Psalm - Psalm 8 - we have perhaps one of the greatest hymns of praise to God in the Old Testament. It starts with a declaration of praise - "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" - and then it ends on the very same note of praise, echoing the exact same words.

And what is interesting in this Psalm is all the stuff that comes in between these two "bookends" of praise. In vs. 3, the Psalmist - in this instance David, one of the former rulers of Israel - describes the experience of looking up at the heavens and being humbled and awed by the greatness and vastness of it all - and being led from there to sheer amazement that the God who can do all that would have any concern for people.

I do not know if you have ever had a chance to go inside some of the great cathedrals in this country or in some other places around the world, but if you ever have, then you will know what a fascinating experience that can be. In downtown Melbourne, and also in Sydney, there were a number of magnificent cathedrals that we had occasion to visit during our time there. And I can remember going into some of these places and, as soon as you were past the door and into the main area of the sanctuary, you felt almost compelled as your eyes were drawn upward by this amazing architecture and intricate ornamentation. And as you stand there with your gaze being trained upward you see these massive arches, and stonework, and towering stained glass windows, and you suddenly become aware of how very small you are - standing as you do beneath this massive ceiling - a sort of artificial heaven constructed above you.

When you stand in these sorts of places you can almost feel the weight of the superstructure pressing down upon you, forcing upon you, in a way which you cannot resist, the very real impression of your relative insignificance in the scheme of things. Indeed, this was the conscious aim some of the great architects like Christopher Wren - to design structures that generated this very feeling and which highlighted both the majesty of God and the smallness of humankind.

Well, in a similar, but more significant way, this is the experience of David as he stares up at the "cathedral" of heaven, feeling the weight and majesty of that, and then suddenly feeling very small in relation to it. And it is this humbling feeling of smallness and insignificance that then drives him to wonder at the curious fact that a God that can do all of that should be so concerned with such an insignificant creature as a human being.

And yet, as the David goes on to marvel in vs. 5ff, God has chosen to be very concerned with humankind, making them only slightly lower than the angels and yet crowning them with glory and honor, giving them dominion over God's creation and over God's creatures.

And of course, as we read these things and see the language that is used here, we are drawn even further back in the Old Testament - to Genesis chapter 1 - which this Psalm clearly has in view - and we recall the mandate and commissioning that God gave to the first man and woman, in their representative capacity,

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.... (Genesis 1:26)

If you were here for our series on Genesis 1-11, then you may remember that when we looked at this passage we saw how part of God's plan, from the very start, was that men and women would serve, under his authority, as his vice-regents, exercising dominion over the creation, managing it on his behalf and for his glory. It was an honorable and noble task which they had been given but which, as a result of sin and the Fall, has subsequently become an un-manageable task - which we will say more about in a moment.

But it was not that way in the beginning. And it is this very thing - the un-deserved but very real privilege of ruling over God's creation that David - the Psalmist - is referring to here.

And, to be sure, David personally knew something about all of that - ruling and reigning - as he served as one of the first Kings of Israel, taking Saul's place. In a limited, but real sense, David carried out the commission to manage God's creation. Nevertheless, the problems of carrying out this commission in a fallen world and as a fallen person IN that world soon became apparent in David's own sinful life, and in the subsequent effect of his sin upon his own descendants, and upon Israel as a whole.

And so, even though humankind was originally commissioned to rule over God's creation on his behalf - and this is certainly a source of wonder and praise to God - as we see in the Psalm - the sad reality is that the function of ruling and managing God's creation is one that we are not actually doing very well, if at all.

Now, obviously, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to work this one out, right? Just pick up the newspaper, turn on the television, or get out in your car and drive around town for an hour and you will see - everywhere you look - clear evidence that the world is not under the control of its intended caretakers.

To be sure, we can manage some aspects of some things some of the time - but we are as often mastered as we are the masters. Indeed, the greatest single testimony to our inability to manage the world are the countless graveyards and cemeteries that can be found everywhere. The message of death and the grave, among other things, is that we have only a very tentative, fleeting grip on anything and are at the mercy of time and the ravages of disease and biological decay.

And the writer of Hebrews, in quoting from Psalm 8, comments upon this very fact. It is not the element of praise in this Psalm that is being highlighted here. It is the irony that is raised by this Psalm's subject matter, and which elicits the following comment from the writer of Hebrews in the second half of vs 8,

.....Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him....

Now there is an understatement, if ever there was one. And please note, the reference here is not, in my opinion, to Christ, but to the humanity that is the subject of the verses just quoted in Psalm 8. To be sure, he is going to get to Christ very quickly and decisively - in the very next verse - but he is not there yet.

And so, when the writer of Hebrews says, "we do not yet see everything in subjection to him" - while it is possible that he is referring to Christ at this point, I do not believe that is the case. And, while I do not think it is an issue worth dying for, I do think that there are good reasons for understanding that the word "him" at this point is still referring to humankind.

And it is because I think his construction here helps to make an extremely important point. As we have already seen, these verses highlight the tension between the explicit teaching of Scripture about humankind and its role as God's vice-regents - and the undeniable fact that we are not actually serving in that capacity very well. Right? We do not actually see the subjection thing happening in the world around us.

And so you might say, "That is great. But why make this point then? Why is the writer of Hebrews making this point at this place? How does reminding his readers that humankind was created to manage God's creation, but is not currently pulling it off - how does that help him in his desire to demonstrate the superiority of Christ to the angels?"

The answer to that is seen by first realizing that there is another tension that the writer of Hebrews is dealing with here. Not only is he dealing with the disparity between what human beings were commissioned to do, and what they are actually doing, but there is also a disparity between the exalted language about Jesus as the Creator and Lord of the universe, and his coming to earth, taking on human flesh, and then suffering what, by all appearances was a humiliating defeat and tragic death on the cross. But, you see, the writer of Hebrews wants to show that it was not that sort of thing at all. Indeed, as we will see more clearly next week, Christ's suffering and death do not cast any shadow of doubt on his rule and authority but are, in fact, the greatest exercise of it.

They are the loving and self-sacrificial efforts of a just and merciful king who has no intention of ruling an un-populated kingdom. Christ is the Lord, and there is a coming new world and new creation, where sin will be no more; a kingdom over which he - and not the angels - will rule and reign, as verse 5 points out.

But you see, when that world comes, when the creation that is presently groaning under the burden of sin and the Fall, is fully restored - when that happens and the initiated reign of Christ is consummated, he will not be the ruler of a vacant realm in which there are no inhabitants. His is not going to be a kingdom in which there are no subjects. He will be the ruler of many "sons of glory" - to use the language of vs. 10, who will live under his kind and merciful authority and who will also, finally and fully, carry out the original commission given to them in this world - to manage God's creation on his behalf, and for his glory.

Let me say it again, because I do not want you to miss it. But these verses are telling us that Jesus is not only our savior, he is our pioneer. He is the one who was truly human, as well as divine, who goes before all of us. He was and is the true, representative man - the second Adam - who comes and completely fulfills the commission given to him by his Father. And part of that commission was to conquer and subdue sin and death - the very things which prevent you and I from carrying out the creation commission given to us.

And this Jesus who has come, has united us to himself by his Spirit so that in him and through him we do now and will one day in the future, personally and completely fulfill our God-given role, in God's new and restored creation. Making this happen is a task which God has not entrusted to any angel. This is a role that could only be fulfilled by Jesus. Next week, Lord willing, we will see even better why this is the case.

But for now, as we need to draw our time to a close, I want to finish by thinking for a minute about one point among many possible points of application that you could draw from these verses. It has to do with the twin realities of realism and hope that we see side by side at the end of verse 8, and the beginning of verse 9..... present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.....

In those verses we see both realism and hope. The realism comes from seeing that everywhere we look - within ourselves and outside of ourselves - we see a world that is not at all under our control. We see a chaotic world, that convulses under the burden of sin and the Fall. We see stubborn and rebellious and restless hearts - our own hearts - that chafe at the thought of being in subjection to anyONE or anyTHING.

Over against this, however, we also see hope - hope that comes from fixing our eyes on Jesus, who entered into this world, and who was also made a little lower than the angels - in his incarnation and in his suffering and death. And this Jesus who has been crowned with glory and honor, who sits at the right hand of God, awaits patiently the time when God the Father will bring all things to a determined and glorious resolution.

The image that comes most readily to mind for me in thinking about all is that of an unfinished house. I have never actually lived in an unfinished house - although I'm sure some of you have. But I have seen some unfinished houses, and they are, it seems to me, living illustrations of realism and hope. On the one hand, all around you are signs of things that are not what they should be - walls that are unfinished, plumbing that is not connected, leaks that need fixing, etc. All of these things can be causes of great distress.

At the same time, all around you are signs of hope - entire rooms that are finished, walls that are painted, plumbing that DOES work. In short, there is enough there that is completed, or nearly completed to give you hope or at least some idea of how good things are going to look when they are finally completed.

And that is, I think, a useful metaphor for thinking about how the realism and hope found within these verses relates to us - on a number of levels. Because this, in fact, is where we live - somewhere between these two poles of realism and hope. On the one hand, we know that Jesus' rule and reign is established, that he IS superior to the angels and yet, on the other hand, we see evidence of its incomplete application all around us.

We see this reality in ourselves. We are all unfinished houses. If we take an honest look at our hearts we see things which will make us despair, attitudes and thoughts that do not want to submit to any sort of authority. And right alongside these things, we also see other things which give us reason for hope - broken-ness over some things which once mastered us, fruits of the Spirit which have taken root in soil that once only supported weeds.

If we look around us, at our brothers and sisters in this church, we see the same sort of dynamic going on. Look around this room - and all you will see - in any direction you look, are unfinished houses. The things that are real for you in your heart, are also real for them. When we look around at our brothers and sisters we see all the ridiculous and confusing situations that, in our sin, we seem to so easily create - and it is enough to make you want to give up sometimes.

But then, right alongside that we see things that give us hope. I was having a conversation with a dear brother this week that just made my heart sing as he shared with me how God has liberated him from things that once were a source of great fear. God has given him a real peace and calm that gives him tremendous, daily freedom to abandon himself into the role that God has given him here.

And the same could be said for the world at large which, also, is an unfinished house which gives us reasons for despair (as with the recent Tsunami) and reasons for hope (seeing the response to the Tsunami). A world that is both grotesque and beautiful, sickening and breath-taking.

So, when we look at ourselves, and at the church around us, and even at the world around us we see unfinished houses - evidence of both realism and hope. We see things not yet in subjection under anybody's feet, and at the same time, with the eyes of faith we see Jesus who is ruling and reigning, crowned with glory and honor, because of the suffering of death. We see the way that he has conquered our own hearts and that undeniable fact gives us hope that what he has done in us individually, and even corporately, will one day be fully done and experienced at large.

The fact that Jesus, our savior and pioneer has gone before us, should be a source of great hope that where the Head of the Church has gone, the Body of the Church will soon follow. The rule and reign which he has inaugurated and established, will be the rule and reign that we will one day participate in through him And when that day comes we will then, finally and completely, fulfill the commission given us at creation, which was made impossible by the Fall, which was nostalgically sung about in Psalm 8, and which is finally accomplished by Christ — Christ, the true humanity, who was and is in his flesh, what we were always meant to be, and one day will be. Brothers and sisters, do not let your present trials crowd out that sure hope. Do not let the things that you do not yet see, draw your attention away from what we can see - namely, Jesus.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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