Subject: Why did Jesus need to be made like us, lower than the angels?
Complement: Jesus fulfilled the divine plan for humanity by identifying with us, breaking the power of sin, removing the fear of death, making atonement, and paving the way to eternal glory.
All of these ideas are in the passage. The authors seems to be most pre-occupied with the notion that Jesus identified with us by becoming fully human and for a time, lower than the angels. As human he can be a priest and make atonement. But those ideas come around again later in the letter, so I did not center the sermon on that point. The unique idea in this passage is that Jesus is our champion, the pioneer of our faith. He not only breaks the power of the one who “holds power over death – that is the devil” but he also frees those who were “held in slavery” by their fear of death. Looking back on the sermon I really did not address at all the personal evil of the devil and his place as the one who has power over death. I concentrated on Jesus being fully human and on our fear of death. The sermon could have flowed in many directions but the notion of Jesus’ humanity and how that makes him “one of us” is central to the exegesis.
Preaching Idea: Jesus broke the power and fear of death so we are free to live.
I went to the mall with Debbie on a Friday night and I forgot to bring my phone. There was of course that moment where I had to realize that I had lived most of my adult life without a cell phone. I would be okay. Debbie had to return something, so the first stop was a women’s store and I told Deb I would wait outside. If I had had a phone I would have buried my face in it checking baseball scores but I didn’t, so I just sat and watched people go by, which is a fascinating thing to do. People are amazing. I saw every variety imaginable, every age, race, size and shape. And each one has a story. They were all so normal, flawed, preoccupied, insecure, rushing, talking, posing for others. There were awkward teens standing in circles, busy young families navigating strollers, couples hand in hand, older people sensibly dressed walking purposefully as if they were hunting something. They were all very normal and in their own way wonderful.
But they we were all in a mall, so while they went about their normal lives they were surrounded by images that pointed out how imperfect we all are. All the people in the photo displays are gorgeous. All the clothes displayed are new. Everything is neat and organized. All the displays are designed to make us feel old, chaotic, lost, desperate and ready to buy something that will change us. We are all susceptible because we realize our flaws.
So are we wonderful or are we deeply flawed and broken? The answer of course is “yes.”
No matter what code religion or path you choose to follow in life, everyone has to face this question: what is a person? As I watched the people in the mall I though about Psalm 8 which the writer of Hebrews quotes in chapter 2, the passage we are studying this morning. Psalm 8 says
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens…
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Humans are pretty great since they are little lower than the angels but really only Jesus fulfills that calling
Psalm 8 at says this: God is great; he is the creator of everything and it is amazing that he care hears and cares for us. In Genesis 1-2 God places humans over all of his creation. The writer of Hebrews quotes this, but reminds us that we don’t see this now. This is a reality of our world; for every great expression of the unity of humanity and endless possibilities of our cooperation there is another showing how scary the world is and how incapable we are of running it.
Not everything is under humanity’s feet as the Psalmist says:
The closing ceremonies of the Olympics is an example of how beautiful it is when people from diverse backgrounds and different ethnic groups gather together in peace. When the Olympics close the competitions are over and all that is left is the camaraderie of the athletes.
The continuing conflict in the Middle East is on the other extreme. A group like ISIS makes the world a scary place for everyone. Their governance of the world would not be a good thing.
We do not see people ruling the world as God intended. But we see Jesus – he is what humanity is supposed to be since he was crowned with glory and honor. The writer of Hebrews reads Psalm 8 and sees Jesus. God has not only placed all things under his feet but he has been crowned with glory and honor. However Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor because he has suffered and “tasted death.” This would seem contradictory both to ancient ears, that knew the scandal of crucifixion and to modern ears that consider dying the worst thing about being human.
Why was Jesus crowned with honor just because he tasted death for everyone
He not only is crowned with glory he takes others with him to glory
The writer declares that Jesus is not only crowned with glory and honor but that he is taking “many sons and daughters” to glory as well. He explains this by showing that Jesus identified with us as human and that he is our champion, our pioneer, because of what he suffered. But first we need to explain what the writer means when he says that Jesus was made perfect by what he suffered.
Jesus was made perfect by what he suffered because he experienced everything, every temptation including injustice and death and remained sinless. He was, to use a simple illustration, undefeated. A boxer may be considered great when he retires undefeated. While he is still boxing there is the chance he will lose. But if he retires after a long career and is undefeated, we can talk of him as great, maybe the best ever. In this way his retirement caps off, or “perfects” his career. In the same way Jesus can only be made perfect as a representative of humanity after facing our greatest foe, death. When he faces death as sinless and defeats it through the resurrection, then he is fully perfect.
But how to we benefit from that death?
Jesus broke the power of death through his resurrection and exaltation and broke the power of fear because he was our champion
First, the writer continues to wonder that since we have flesh and blood Jesus took on flesh and blood. His identification with us is amazing to him. But it is important because this is what allow him to be our champion. This notion of “champion” goes back to the word “pioneer” in verse 10. He is our pioneer in that he plows a way for us.
He is our champion. His identification with us means his victory is our victory. It is like watching an Olympian. If she is from your country you rejoice because you feel part of what she has done. Her victory is your victory. But an even better example is the account of David and Goliath. This narrative is about representative warfare. Each side sends out their champion – one on one. If your champion wins your nation wins. The writer of Hebrews is declaring that Jesus has conquered the Devil’s champion, death, so we don’t need to be afraid.
The writer makes several other points about Jesus being fully human. If he was human he could be our priest because only men can be priests. If he is a priest than he can offer atonement for others. If he is human than he can understand our temptations and, more importantly, help us in our time of need.
But these points will be developed in the chapters ahead. For now we want to focus on what the writer means when he says that Jesus’ victory will remove our fear of death.
Conclusion and Application: Fear of death manifests itself in many ways than can be destructive or sinful.
You may think you don’t have a fear of death. You say “death is there but I don’t fear it.” However there are many ways that fear motivates our behavior without us knowing it.