RPM, Volume 16, Number 10, March 2 to March 8, 2014

Jesus: Better and Lower than Angels

Hebrews 2:10-18

By J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews, chapter 2. So far in the book of Hebrews we have seen Christ's superiority asserted in chapter 1, and demonstrated He is superior to the angels. And it is demonstrated from the Old Testament and quotations apply to the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews, chapter 1, versus 4 to the end of the chapter.

And then in Hebrews, chapter 2, beginning in the first four verses our responsibility is stressed to respond to the gospel because of who Christ is. And then in Hebrews 2, verses 5 through 9, the theme of Christ's superiority is picked up on again. His superiority to the angels and our responsibility to embrace him and his gospel are stressed by showing that God has subjected the world to come to Him. The kingdom to come is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. And because Christ rules over all things, so also we ought to trust in Him.

The last time we looked at verse 9, and there we saw that Christ has already been crowned with glory even if we don't see the evidence all the time that He is ruling. The verse shows that Jesus was in a state of humiliation for a little while, and yet it resulted in His glory and our good. The argument runs something like this. Even though we don't see the rule of Christ evidenced as we might wish, yet we do see evidence of His glory even in His suffering. That seems to be the line of argument in Hebrews 2, verse 9. And we reflected for a few moments on that relationship between Jesus' suffering and glory. Now it's that relationship which is going to preoccupy us for the rest of the chapter, so I let my mind run a little bit and apply some of those points. And I'm very gratified. I had a number of phone calls and messages asking for clarification and further elaboration on that verse in the next few days after we went through that passage. And I readily admit that I was applying some things not only from verses 9 through 18, but from the rest of the book as we studied it that night. But basically what we did is we said there was a connection between Jesus' suffering and his glory, and that connection between His suffering and His glory reminds us that there is also a connection between our suffering and our glory because we have been united to Him in faith. This verse begins to introduce us to a concept that the author of Hebrews will carry out for many, many chapters, and that is the relationship between Jesus' suffering and glory. And so we let our minds run for a few moments on what that teaches us about our suffering in light of the fact that we have been united to Him if we have trusted in Him, if we have placed our faith in Him. And we remarked that because we are in Christ, there is no wasted suffering, even as there was no wasted suffering in Christ's experience. So we were applying a little bit some of the principles or extrapolating from some of the principles we saw there in verse 9.

So let's look then at Hebrews 2, beginning in verse 10 to the end of the chapter. Hear the word of the living God:

Hebrews 2:10-18

Father, these words are so rich that we cannot possibly do them justice. We could study these verses for many, many years together and never, ever see all the richness, all the fullness that are contained therein. And yet we know that this word is for our edification. And so as we outline it, as we begin to scratch the surface tonight, we pray that You would break forth into our hearts with heavenly light; that we would be amazed by the love of Christ; that we would be amazed by the extent to which the love of God is ready to go for the sake of poor sinners; that we would be changed; and that our lives would be transformed by this truth. We ask it all in Jesus' name, Amen.

Tonight, I want to go back to Hebrews 2:9-18, and especially verses 10 through 18 as it sets forth the reasons why God ordained the humbling of Jesus. That idea that Jesus had been humiliated, that he had served us in a state of humiliation for the sake of our salvation had already been entertained in verse 9 and hinted at in the verses previous to that. Now, in verses 10 through 18 the author of Hebrews is going to tell us why it was that God ordained to save us through the humbling, through the humiliation of Jesus. There are just two things that I'd like to point out tonight.

I. Christ's suffering as our Mediator is the link between discipline and sonship.

The first you will see in verses 10 through 13, and that is this. Christ's suffering, His experience of suffering as our mediator, shows us the link between discipline and sonship. Let me see if I can rephrase that. Throughout this book, for the next several chapters, we're going to see a theme repeated, and that theme is that whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and that discipline is one of the ways that the heavenly Father brings maturity to His children. And the most shocking thing of all is that even in His only begotten Son, the Lord used discipline through suffering to perfect Him. Now every single one of those three words ought to shock us. Discipline, suffering and perfecting. All of those things ought to shock us as we think them applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. And these are ideas that - it's hard to square. I mean if Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God, He's perfect. What do you mean discipline? Why suffering? And what to do you mean perfecting? All of those ought to really leave our heads spinning. And that's why the author of Hebrews is going to take a long time explaining those ideas. But just note for starters here in verses 10 through 13 that we've already got this linkage between discipline and suffering. Look at the verse again. "It was fitting for Him to perfect the author of their salvation (that is our salvation) through suffering." So already we have a linkage between the work of Christ and suffering, the very discipline set out in the plan of God.

In other words, verses 10 through 13 are designed to show us that Jesus incarnation -- and remember again incarnation is just a nice shorthand word to say that Jesus, the very Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on not simply a human body but took on a whole humanity, body and soul. He was not complete in flesh, He was not simply embodied, but He became human. So the second person of the trinity became human. And instead of having to say that every time you want to express the concept, theologians came up with the word incarnation so that you didn't have to say three sentences. You could say one word. So don't be overly impressed by the one word. Just remember it's a code for two or three sentences. Instead of having to say them over and over, you say incarnation, and you know what we're talking about. So Jesus' incarnation and His humiliation, that is, the fact that He lived His life in suffering, and that suffering escalated and culminated in the crucifixion, the death and the burial. This incarnation and humiliation was an appropriate part of the divine plan. So the words of the author of Hebrews is it was busy. However surprising that it may be that the Lord chose for His Son to suffer, and He chose for His Son to be perfected through suffering. However surprising that may be to us, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that it was appropriate. It was fitting. And that's what he's going to talk about in these verses. When he uses that phrase, "for it was fitting," he is showing us a connection between Jesus' suffering and death and the plan of God. In other words, Jesus, because of his suffering and death, is going to be rewarded with an inheritance, and the inheritance is you. So there is reward from the Father to the Son because of His suffering and death. But the author of Hebrews goes further in this passage.

He not only says there is this linkage between Jesus' suffering and death and our salvation in the sense that our salvation is Jesus' reward for his obedience. He goes on to say, in fact, that isn't something that just sort of happened. That was designed by God. That wasn't something that just sort of fell out in the mix. That was designed by God. In fact, you are going to see - by the time you get to the very last chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews is going to make it very clear that the Lord Jesus Christ entered into an eternal covenant of redemption with the Heavenly Father before the foundation of the world to accomplish that for you. He's going to take you right back into the councils of eternity and show you that the love of God had been set on you before you ever came into existence; and that Jesus came in the world with your name on His heart determined to suffer and die for you as His reward in redemption. Now if you're like me, the author of Hebrews is already flooding your mind with concepts that are hard to even get around. But they are glorious nevertheless.

Now notice again the striking words here in verses 10 through 13. "It was fitting for Him from whom are all things and through whom are all things, (that is, God the Father) in bringing many sons to glory to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." It is fitting for God the Father to perfect God the Son enfleshed through suffering. Now that idea of perfection is not one that suggests that Jesus was at some point imperfect, and He later became perfect. Obviously, that's the first problem when we start using the word perfecting that comes to mind. How can you perfect something that's already perfect? How can you perfect something in which there are no flaws? As the author of Hebrews expresses what it means to perfect the author of our salvation, to perfect the Lord Jesus Christ, it is clear that one of the things that he has in mind is that Jesus' sufferings escalated in their intensity and at every point He was a match for that escalated or that heightened suffering and experience of divine punishment on our behalf. And in that way He matured or He grew, not in a sense of going from imperfect to perfect, but from going from strength to strength.

There are really no good human illustrations of that. But the closest I could come to that would be to talk about an undefeated football team that still got better as the year went on. Many years ago, our hometown team in South Carolina won the national championship. Clemson. And they beat the University of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl at the end of the season, and they went undefeated. They were 12 and 0. But, in the second game of the year, which they won, they played horribly down at Tulane, didn't score a touchdown and won something like 12 to 9 over that football powerhouse Tulane. Now clearly by the time they beat Nebraska at the end of the year they were a little bit better than when they beat Tulane 12 to 9. They won the game. They had a perfect record, but they were better by the end of the season. There was a matching of the challenge at each point.

Oh, I say that analogy breaks down at so many points, but again Christ again meets the challenges of His heightened sufferings. At every point He meets them perfectly, and He matures in them. But specifically the idea of perfecting the author of our salvation through suffering intends to express the idea that Christ was completed in His ability to be our representative, to be our High Priest. And that particularly in three ways. Let me share those with you briefly.

First of all, by His completely sinless suffering, by His enduring of the various temptations which were brought against Him, He was enabled to offer a perfect sacrifice on the cross. Understand that Christ's obedience was not simply the receiving of punishment on the cross. His obedience entailed actively obeying the whole of the law of God for the whole of His life against increasing challenges all the way to the cross and then offering up a perfect sacrifice on the cross, being punished for our sins. So His being completed through suffering was part of His actively obeying God and His will for His life. And it made Him able to offer the perfect sacrifice on the cross. You see on the cross there's not just another sinner up there. I mean we should have been up there to receive our own punishment. But on the cross there is a perfect human being who has kept the whole of God's law. He is completed so as to be the perfect sacrifice. You remember when the lamb was slaughtered at the Passover, it had to be an unblemished lamb. For the Lord Jesus to be an unblemished lamb. For the Lord Jesus to be an unblemished lamb, He had to endure the temptations of life perfectly so that He could be offered up as a perfect, as a spotless lamb on our behalf. And that's one thing that the author of Hebrews means when He says that He was perfected through suffering.

The second thing He means is that His suffering and death and His completely sinless enduring and experience of suffering and death broke the power of Satan and set God's people free, those who were destined for glory. Through His obedience He broke the dominion of sin that ruled over His people.

And finally, His experience of human suffering enabled Him to be the compassionate and sympathetic High Priest to us who also experience suffering and temptation in this life. And so if we translate that word perfect the way it's often translated in the New Testament in the verbal sense of complete - you've completed - then you see how the Lord Jesus Christ through His life experience was prepared, equipped, filled out, completed for the task that He was going to do on the cross. It is important for us to recognize that Jesus' life on our behalf was not restricted to the cross. The whole of Jesus' life He lived for us, and the cross would have been meaningless, apart from what Jesus did in His life. He lived for us, and He died for us. If Jesus perfect life had not been lived, the value, the infinite value of the cross would not have been there. So everything that Jesus did from the time that He came into the world, He did for you. It's not just a momentary death died for you. Great heroes can do that on occasion. They can sacrifice their lives for other people. It's very difficult to live an entire life for someone. All of us who are married know that. You come home saying I'm going to be nice today no matter how bad a day my wife or my husband has had, and then five minutes after you've gotten in trouble when you've walked in the door, all your good intentions are gone. And Jesus didn't just live a good night for us. He lived His entire life on our behalf, even when we rejected Him, even when we didn't understand what He was doing on our behalf. So His life was on our behalf.

And so, as we see God using suffering to prepare His Son to be our representative, we must not be surprised when He uses suffering in our lives to make us into the sons and daughters that He wants us to be. I mean it just makes sense doesn't it? If that's the message that He used for His own perfect Son. Should it surprise us that that is the message that He chooses for us. We just sang those amazing words of Elizabeth Prentiss who wrote those books last century. Some of you may have read them. Stepping Heavenward is one of them, and she writes the words in the song that we just sang a few moments ago, "Sin, Sorrow and Grief." I mean how many of us pray that prayer? Sins, sorrow and grief. But she recognizes that those are often instruments which the Lord sends for the building up of His people. Let me share with you just a few words from Jim Packer's book, A Grief Sanctified. Many of you have read the book by C.S. Lewis called A Grief Observed, and that book telling about his experiences of the loss of his wife, Joy Davidman. Well, this is sort of a Puritan version of the book A Grief Observed. It's the story of Richard and Margaret Baxter. It's a great love story. Richard Baxter, the minister of Kidder Ministry and his wife, Margaret, who predeceased him. And it absolutely broke his heart when he lost Margaret. He continued to write about her and talk about her for many years after the Lord had taken her home.

But Packer tells us at the very end of the book that he wrote the book for several reasons. One, because he wanted to show a wonderful model of what marriage ought to be, but also he wanted to show a Christian model of how you deal with suffering and a loss like that. And listen to what he says. He's writing in his epilog to the reader. "Why did I put this book together? For three reasons." And here's his third reason. "I wanted you to see something of the Christian way of handling the grief that bereavement brings. The secular grief counseling of today is of little help here. The secular grief counselor or the secular theory commonly expects the bereaved to feel rage at their loss, and to be angry with God, if they believe in God, for letting it happen. Secular theory seems to suppose that Christians expect their faith to shield them from suffering pain, all forms of loss and in particular the death of anyone that they care for, so that they will feel bereavement as a threat to their belief and an occasion for panic anger in which the question why becomes a stone throne at God repeatedly. No doubt some self-styled Christians feel and act like this, but such reactions are not biblical or Christian any more than the idea that the life of faith will be trouble free is a Christian idea.

Richard Baxter models the Christian path through grief when he reaffirms to himself as well as to his readers the good and wise and just sovereignty of God. This is the meaning of his echo of Job 1:21. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. And He hath taken away but that upon my dessert which He had given me undeservedly for nearly nineteen years. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Now that's his response to the loss of the love of his life. He gave her to me for nineteen years, none of which I deserved. And so before he took away, he gave. Blessed be the name of the Lord. As the first half of Richard's tribute to Margaret is a beacon for all who would find God, the second half is an inspiration for all who are married. So Richard's own attitude permeating the whole book and made explicit by such passages as this one we've just quoted, is a lifeline for bereaved grievers. I wanted to put this lifeline in your hands, for there will come a day when you as well as I will meet and have Packer speaking to us. Richard buried Margaret in her mother's tomb. Ever the evangelist, he had the following verse inscribed on it. "Thus, must thy flesh to silent dust descend. Thy mirth and worldly pleasure thus will end. Then happy, holy souls, but woe to those who heaven forgot and earthly pleasures chose. Hear now this preaching grave without delay. Believe, repent and work while it is day."

I want to leave you with this. Is it doggerel? Yes, certainly. Is it gospel? Yes, just as certainly. A word in season? Yes. A message whether well expressed or not. For our time, think about it and give your own answer to my question. I hope I have piqued your interest at looking at that wonderful book called A Grief Sanctified by Packer. In our losses and crosses, we must remember that Christ chose suffering for us, and hence, we must not be surprised when God, for our good, chooses suffering for us. And we must remember that we never go into those trials alone. Christ has preceded us into those trials, and because we're united to Him, those trials now become His trials. That's why Paul could talk about fellowship of his suffering. That's why Paul could talk about the fact that Christ's sufferings are in some sense incomplete, and we are filling up that which is lacking in His suffering. That doesn't mean that there's something insufficient about the suffering of Christ. It means that we're so closely united to the Lord Jesus Christ that now our sufferings are His sufferings. And that's why there can never be meaningless suffering in the Christian life.

That's the one thing I can't understand how unbelievers can get up and face the next day, realizing that their suffering has no value, no meaning, no ultimate purpose. I don't know how you'd go on realizing that, because in the midst of all my pain, that problem is not the one that I have to face. There's nothing unredeemed for me in my suffering. It will all be caught up in glory in the end. That link between discipline and sonship in Jesus life explains the length between the difference between discipline and sonship in our lives. We've been sons and daughters of God, and that means we're going to experience that divine and loving and tender discipline. I mean let's face it, friends, we can't look at the cross and think that God the Father is unmoved by the spectacle of the suffering of His Son. Can you possibly believe that He is not moved by the spectacle of your suffering? He's not uncompassionate in his discipline. Are you uncompassionate in your discipline? Doesn't it break your heart to have to bring the disciplining hand to your child? And yet, there is that linkage between discipline and the blessing of fellowship with God. We see it in the life of Christ. We see it in our own lives. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.

Father, again we thank You for this profound, this deep word of comfort. It's so easy to speak and every single one of us know experiences that make it hard to even begin to embrace, to be able to think through these truths that we easily embrace in times of joy and gladness. Father, in those times we pray that You would so engrain in us a conviction that You love us, and that whom the Lord loves He disciplines that we would be able to go through those times with hope and even joy. For Your glory and our good we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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