Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 13, March 23 to March 29 2008

Hebrews 2:9-18

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

If you have a Bible, please turn with me to the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 2. We will begin our study this morning at verse 9 and work our way through, Lord willing, to the end of the chapter.

Over the past five weeks, we have been looking intently at this letter, trying to understand what the writer is getting at and how he has gone about doing it. In the process we have discovered some real treasures which I have, personally, found to be very encouraging — in the fullest, biblical sense of that word. This letter is encouraging because of the exalted view it presents of the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done — which strengthens our hope. It is also encouraging because it issues warnings about things which we need to be warned about. And so, by lifting up Christ AND by warning us not to fall away, this letter is truly an encouragement.

Indeed, this is the very effect that this letter is intended to have, and for good reason. When the writer of this letter sat down to put pen to paper, so to speak, he was addressing Christians who had come from a Jewish background, with a number of them having probably served as priests, and who had subsequently converted to Christianity. Now, under the threat of persecution, and in the face of some false ideas going around, they were being led astray.

Some of them, it appears, were being lured back into a form of Judaism that perhaps did not completely reject Jesus, but it certainly modified him a great deal. In this alternative view, Jesus was regarded as a great prophet or possibly even a very powerful angel, but he was not God. And He was not divine. This seems to be what some of them were thinking. However, whatever the precise thoughts that were going through their heads, it is evident from what Hebrews says that they were drifting away from the truth and were adopting a greatly diminished view of Jesus.

So, the writer of Hebrews sets about the task of stopping the drift and re-affirming a view of Jesus that was fitting and appropriate, and which showed the sufficiency and completeness of his work as our high priest and as a mediator to settle the differences between a Holy God and a sinful and fallen creation.

Now, as we have seen before, the entire letter can be divided into three parts. We are currently in the first part (1:1- 4:13) which is dedicated to showing the difference between Jesus and the prophets, angels, and Moses himself. Moreover, not only does it show the difference, it shows the superiority of Jesus to all these things. In the past few weeks, in particular it is the comparison between Jesus and the angels that has been in view, and which is brought to at least a preliminary conclusion in the verses before us this morning.

Now, in showing both the difference between Jesus and the angels, and in showing the superiority of Jesus to the angels, the writer of Hebrews has sought to demonstrate these things - firstly - by reminding his readers of the very different language that God has used, in the Scriptures, to talk about these two parties. We saw in Hebrews 1:5-14 that while God spoke to and about the angels in a more utilitarian fashion, he spoke to and about Jesus in very exalted tones, referring to him as a ruler and as one who enjoys the authority and honor of God himself.

Last week, we saw the writer continue to draw out these sorts of distinctions when we looked at Hebrews 2:5-9. The particular distinction in view in those verses was simply the fact that in the coming new world, it will not be angels that rule and have authority - as some of them believed was going to be the case - but Jesus would be the one in authority.

However, as we also saw last week, Jesus is not going to rule alone, nor is he going to rule a vacant kingdom, with no inhabitants. As a result, his rule and reign are all caught up with God's creation plans and purposes for human beings. The people in the Garden of Eden were originally commissioned to serve as his vice-regents and to manage God's creation on his behalf. Nevertheless, through sin and the Fall, humankind was rendered incapable of fulfilling this commission.

Into this picture, then, steps Jesus, many years later, and he takes on humanity and then sets about fulfilling his commission, defeating sin and death. In doing this he takes away the road blocks that prevent God's people from fulfilling their God-given mandate. As a result, in and through and even with Jesus, the people for whom he died will one day be inhabitants of the new creation over which Christ reigns, and in which they will fulfill their mandate, under the over-arching authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

So again, Jesus' coming to earth and his coming reign are all caught up and mixed up with that — that is with God's plans and purposes for his created humanity. Because these things are so intertwined then, it was necessary that Jesus take on human flesh and become not just our Savior but our pioneer, fully human, as we were meant to be. Moreover, no mere angel could have done this.

To be sure, Jesus is not just human, nor was he just a pioneer, but is our Savior, and Redeemer, and many other things, which we will see this morning. But it was his function as pioneer - as the one who goes the way that no one else had gone before and makes a path where once there was none, and which we will one day follow - it is that function - and how it relates to his future rule and reign and how it related to our commissioning, that verses 5-9 have in view.

In the verses before us this morning, however, the writer shifts from that kind of focus to a more central focus of what Jesus, who is sort of the ultimate "multitasker," was all about - namely bringing "many sons to glory," as vs. 10 describes it, by his death on the cross.

So, in vss. 9-18, we will see that Jesus is unique and superior to angels, not only because of how the scriptures talk about him (1:5-14), and not only because of his role in the coming new world (2:5-9), but because of his role in this present world, as the one who came to redeem sinful humanity - a role that like his role as our pioneer provides a deeper reason for his taking on human flesh and then suffering and dying on behalf of others.

In short, then, we turn our attention now to the incarnation of Jesus and the purpose behind all of that as another thing which sets him apart from mere angels. For the rest of our time this morning, we are going to give our energies to looking at this issue. Before we do, let us pray together and then we'll listen to the passage......

Read Hebrews 2:9-18:

But 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. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me."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. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 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. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Now, in these verses we see something of the apologetic nature of Hebrews come to the foreground. By "apologetic," I do not mean, saying you are sorry for something. I mean apologetic in the biblical sense of being a defense of what one is saying. Because, you see, as the writer of Hebrews is trying to show these people why they should NOT diminish their view of Jesus, he has to address the obvious questions that some of them are asking, and being asked by others. He has to address why the Son of God would take on human flesh, why he would suffer, and why he would die. These are things that their persecutors would have asked them about, and which they would have taken and held up as proof that Jesus was not who the Christians thought he was.

But the writer to the Hebrews is not flustered by any of this and seeks to show that Jesus' incarnation, suffering and death are not signs of defeat and failure but were intentional and even necessary for God's ultimate plan and purpose. These things did not render him inferior in any way. In fact, as verse 9 makes clear, they are the very reason why he is now exalted and crowned with glory. And so, let us consider, some of the reasons for Jesus' incarnation, as contained in these verses. As we do, we will see how these things strengthen the argument that Jesus was no angel, and we will also see some of the practical implications of these truths....

The first reason that Jesus' incarnation was so necessary is found straight away, in our opening verse, -- Hebrews 2:9. This is a small verse that packs a big punch. The bigger theology, of which that verse is but a summary, is that humankind, ever since Adam, has been under the curse of sin and death, living as fallen creatures in a fractured world, in rebellion against the very God that created them.

The Bible makes it very clear that the penalty for this sin is death. To make matters worse, human beings are incapable of doing anything that will result in their pardon, or in their sentence being commuted. However, someone could deal with their penalty in their place, as their substitute if such a person were human, but somehow not under the curse of Adam, not born with a sin nature that rendered them guilty, and thus incapable of standing in anyone's place.

This person, the New Testament tells us, was Jesus who was/is God's Son, eternal with the Father, but who took on flesh and bone in the same way that you and I do, however with the very important exception that he was not conceived by any human person, but by the Holy Spirit, within the womb of the Virgin Mary. As such, he is human, and yet is distinct from Adam's race and is, in fact, the second and last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), who stands at the head of a new humanity which includes all those whom he came to save.

So, when this Jesus is arrested and convicted and condemned he undergoes all this as an innocent man, as one who is not himself under the penalty of sin and death and is thus entirely capable of taking on the penalty of sin in the place of someone else, in fact, in the place of many someone elses. So, vs. 9 talks about Jesus "tasting death for everyone" — the meaning of which is clarified in the very next verse by the phrase "many sons to glory". So, in context, "everyone" here clearly refers to every one of the sons of glory for whom he came, and for whom he died.

This, then, is another reason for the incarnation of Jesus. In addition to his taking on flesh to be our pioneer which we saw last week, he took on human flesh so that he might die in our place, and take upon himself, as a human being, a penalty that properly belonged to human beings. This is the grace of God, manifested toward us. It is a glorious grace. It is the reason why we sing the hymns that we sing. It is the reason that we celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as we do.

Now for the people to whom Hebrews was written, this would have been received as a great encouragement as they looked around, surrounded as they were by the evidence of a world that was, in so many ways, frightening and chaotic. To be reminded that Jesus is now crowned with glory because of an accomplished mission and then to be reminded that this victory also assured their own victory —this was Good News.

And it is good for us to hear. It is the reason why, you see, we in the Reformed tradition are so adamant to guard the complete one-sidedness of our salvation, which we refer to as the sovereignty of God. We are adamant to protect these truths because to do otherwise only diminishes the glory of Christ.

When we attribute any part of salvation to ourselves we are making an assault upon the honor and accomplishment of Christ. Because, after all, He was not crowned with glory because of something that he potentially accomplished but because of what he actually accomplished, completely and fully, by himself but not for himself.

A second reason for the incarnation is found in vs. 10. Simply put, these verses tell us that while Jesus, in his divinity and person was complete and perfect and lacking in nothing, he was not a perfect Savior until he took on flesh, suffered and died. Now, let us be clear. The writer is not talking about any imperfection in Jesus himself. This is not the perfection of person but the perfection of function. His main goal was to redeem a sinful people and in order to do that perfectly and effectively, he had to suffer and die.

This too would have been important for the original recipients of this letter to hear for it tells us plainly that the suffering of Jesus was fitting and right. Here is suffering that is purposeful, that is redemptive, and that has meaning. Simply knowing that such a thing exists is important news for people who were themselves undergoing suffering and hardship.

Even more to the point, the thing which they ought not to miss, and we with them, is that if suffering was fitting and right for our Savior, what does that say about the place of suffering for those that identify with that same Savior, who walk in his steps, who take up his same cross?

As Paul writes,

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.....(2 Tim 1:8)
Or as Peter echoes,
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.... (1 Peter 2:19-21)
There is such a creature as purposeful, meaningful suffering. Theologies that make all suffering anathema, or treat such things as a sign of God's disfavor, or as something uncomfortable which we are always to despise and find a way of escape from do not do justice to the Bible, and they do not help God's people — especially when their suffering for Christ is very real. However, for those who are experiencing these things it is encouraging to know that all such suffering is purposeful and meaningful and is not some detour but is in fact, the very path to Christ-likeness.

Now following verses 9 and 10, we come to verses 11-13 which are a slight digression from what we have been talking about, and yet which are very much a part of the whole matter. They are a digression because rather than providing reasons why Jesus humanity and suffering were necessary, these verses are simply confirming that he was, in fact, truly human.

Without going into any great detail, let it suffice to say that in verse 11, we get the main statement in this regard,

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.....

Jesus, who sanctifies, and the people who benefit from this "all have one origin" — that is, they are all the same, they are all people. As such, Jesus' relationship to those whom he sanctifies is truly a brotherhood.

Well, after affirming the fact of Jesus' shared humanity with those whom he sanctifies, the writer goes on in vss. 12 and 13 to quote from 2 passages which support this affirmation. As usual, in quoting these texts, the writer of Hebrews is assuming that his readers will know and understand where they are coming from and so will supply the context he is leaving out — a context which helps make sense of what, on the surface alone, may not be immediately clear.

The two passages quoted from here are Psalm 22 and Isaiah 8. Psalm 22 is one which you would probably recognize as it contains a number of things which proved to be quite prophetic in terms of events that took place during Jesus' life here on earth. Isaiah 8 would probably be less familiar to you. In Isaiah 8 the prophet, finding that no one is responding to what he has been saying, takes his teachings and writings and seals them up. He then hands them over to his disciples to hold them until the time comes when the things he has spoken and written about come to pass. At that time, it will become clear that what Isaiah said was the true word of God. Nevertheless, until that time happened, until he was vindicated, all he could do was to wait upon the Lord.

This, in effect, is what is happening in both of these passages. In both passages you have people, human beings, who are in hard places and in these places acknowledge their complete need of and dependence upon the Lord. The writer of Hebrews then, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sees that both the words of the Psalmist and the words of Isaiah find their fulfillment in Christ and point, ultimately, to him since, in both places, what you have is a righteous person who is suffering unjustly and awaiting the Lord's deliverance and vindication of them. Jesus identifies with these, his brothers, in their humanity and dependence upon the Lord.

After this slight digression, the writer of Hebrews returns again, in vss. 14-16, to providing further reasons for the necessity of the incarnation. The incarnation was necessary because through it Jesus acquired real humanity which means he acquired a body in which he could really suffer and which could really die. By that death, as we have seen, he dealt fully and completely with the sins of his people and delivered them from the curse. More to the point, in conquering sin and death, Jesus initiated and signaled the sure demise of the one who wields these things, the one who, for a time, oversees the realm where death reigns supreme — the one who, as Hughes writes, "persuaded mankind to abandon life for death" in the first place..... in a certain garden..... a long time ago — that is the serpent, Satan.

And so, if Jesus has tasted death for all his people, if Jesus has destroyed the one who has the power of death, then death no longer has its sting, it is no longer the final word. Moreover, because it is no longer the last word, then those who belong to Jesus do not have to be in bondage to the slavery that comes through the fear of death.

And it is worth commenting here on the slavery that comes about through the fear of death, if only for a moment. Because, you see, apart from Christ, apart from the hope of the resurrection and the reality of eternal life, and the assurance we can have of attaining to these things — apart from those things death certainly is a thing greatly to be feared. Because if all that is front of you is either nothing or an unpleasant eternity — where is the inviting option?

Which means that now becomes all important. You have to make the most of this time. This means that you have to try and extend this time as long as possible, and, at the same time, you have to milk it for every personal advantage and every possible pleasure. So, the fear of death - for those who are apart from Christ - sets you up for becoming enslaved to all sorts of idolatries and excesses and indulgences.

Some are in bondage to the clock. Some become enslaved to their own desires and are held captive by things which once were freedoms. Some chase after the myth of eternal youth, and will sacrifice almost anything to satisfy that insatiable idol. Some become entangled in their own possessions - owned by the very things that they imagine themselves to own. The bondage that comes through the fear of death is a very real bondage. But Christ's victory delivers us from these sorts of bondage. We do not have to be held hostage by the clock, or by youth, or by success, or by power, or by status, or by pleasure, or by things.

A further reason for the incarnation is seen in vs. 17. Verse 17 tells us that the incarnation was necessary because God's chosen means for dealing with human sin and rebellion is priestly. Let me explain what I mean. The pattern that was established in the Old Testament is that God dealt with his people by means of a priest — and most especially the high priest. The high priest was to stand between the one party, God, and the other party, the people.

In taking this position he had to be able to act both as God's representative and as the peoples' representative — one who could fully identify with and sympathize with those whom he represented. If Jesus had not taken on human flesh, he would not have been able to serve as our High Priest. He would not have been able to represent us to God.

However, as it was, and as Hebrews will make even clearer later on, Jesus did take on human flesh and so was the perfect high priest — better than any that had ever served in that role and better than any other possibly could. As perfect God, he fully represented God in a way which mere human priests like Aaron never did. As perfect man, he fully represented humanity in a way no human being could ever match. The real significance of this, then, is found in the phrase at the end of vs. 17 which speaks about his making propitiation for the sins of the people.

Now the word propitiation is important here. Its roots are found in the Old Testament sacrificial system when, for example, the high priest would make a special sacrifice for the entire nation of Israel on one special day of the year, the Day of Atonement. In doing this, the high priest assuaged God's wrath against his people for a time. So, propitiation has specifically in view the placating of God's righteous and holy anger against sin. This is what Jesus did as our high priest. However, unlike the Old Testament high priests, who could only, at best, postpone God's wrath and keep it at bay with their sacrifices, which had to be constantly repeated, Jesus' work as high priest was far superior and was, in fact, perfect and, as such perfectly and permanently dealt with God's wrath toward sinners. He quenched what the Old Testament priests could only assuage.

For the people who would have first received this letter, that was huge. Because, you see, those who were being tempted to turn away from Christ and return to Judaism were saying, in effect, that they wanted to turn away from having God's wrath fully and finally dealt with, and instead return to a system which could only temporarily deal with the anger of God. But in and through Christ, wrath that could never be dealt with fully before, is finally spent, and is over and done with at the Cross. That was a huge truth for God's people so long ago, and it remains the same for us today.

Have you ever offended someone, and then tried to make amends, and they said that everything was fine, but you were not sure that was true? You wondered if they really were really fine, after all? I have been in that situation many times; and it is a terrible thing. Hebrews is telling us here that Jesus is the reason why we never have to feel that same way with regard to God's anger toward us, because of our offense against him. If we belong to Jesus, then we can know that because he was such a perfect high priest, because he fully represented both God and man then the propitiation that he accomplished was perfect and complete.

God is fully satisfied. He is no longer keeping score, counting your sins against you. Hear me when I say this: There is great liberty there, if only you will dare to believe it. There is no license there nevertheless there is liberty.

Finally, in vs. 18 we see one last reason why the incarnation was so important. It is simply this: The incarnation was important because God loves his people and identifies with them in their suffering and temptation in real and personal ways. Which means that we have a Lord and Savior who knows what is going on with us, because he has been here. He has worn this stuff, this skin, this body. That makes a huge difference.

All of us have had the experience of going through unique and moving moments in our lives: perhaps the death of a child, or a parent, perhaps a divorce, or perhaps some intense experience like sky-diving, but we have all had unique experiences. From time to time we run across people who have had these same experiences. When we find people like that, there is an instant connection because you know that they know. All the little things that you cannot describe or quite put into words — all those things they understand because they have been there and all you have to do is just stare at each other and nod your head. Because you both know, that you both know.

Hebrews 2:18 is telling us something like that about Jesus, especially with regard to suffering and temptation. There is no suffering or temptation, no hardship, no concern, no struggle — nothing like that with which Jesus cannot identify and, if he were standing in front of you, could not look you in the eye and say, "Brother, been there, done that."

In other words, this is a God you can talk to, about everything.


So, in this section of Hebrews 2 we have seen that Jesus took on human flesh, suffered and died, for a number of reasons: that he could be our Pioneer, fulfilling his commission so we could fulfill ours that he could taste death - in a substitutionary way - for all his people that he could become the perfect Savior and Redeemer, through suffering that he could destroy the devil and wrest from him the power of death that he could deliver those who were in bondage to the fear of death that he could make propitiation - i.e., quench God's wrath against his people that his people could know that he knows and understands their suffering and temptation

There is only one person in the entire universe that could fill that job description. It is not an angel. It could not be an angel.

It had to be Jesus. It is 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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