Hebrews 2:10-18

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on January 1st, 2017.

The youth of jesusChrist is both transcendent and immanent, perfectly divine and completely human.  Jesus was not a demi-god who was part human and part God.  In the first chapter, the writer of Hebrews showed us the exalted Savior who created the world and then saved it demonstrating that Jesus Christ is greater than everything and everyone.  Most Christians these days seem to intuitively understand the divinity of Christ.  We stand ready to defend Christ’s divinity.  This is the way it should be.  But have we any hope at all in his humanity?  We do.

We might focus a sermon on the necessity of Christ’s humanity.  Why did Jesus have to be completely human?  Only as a human could Jesus suffer and become our perfect Pioneer.  So the necessity of Jesus’ humanity rests upon Jesus’ total identity with humanity.  God is not out to make his family into one big happy family, but instead to make us one big holy family.  Jesus could not make us holy without entering fully into our humanity.  Thus, he did not merely pretend to be fully human.  No.  He actually became our elder brother and unashamedly called his followers brothers and sisters.

Both ancient and modern Christians were willing to wink at the thought of a human Savior.  To this day many act as though Jesus’ humanity was some sort of cosmic ruse.  Jesus put on the mask of humankind to act out the role of Savior.  Remember in the Gospel of John, for example, there is a transcendent portrait of Jesus as Savior and Lord.  But in that same gospel, Jesus gets tired, thirsty and sleepy.  Was this mere pretense?  Like John, the writer of Hebrews wants us to see the necessity of Jesus’ humanity in accomplishing the redemption of humankind.

Only as a human could Jesus suffer and be made perfect or complete.  The writer picks up this theme again later when he describes the Son who in reverent submission became perfect by learning obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8).  How does Christ’s suffering as a human form and inform our suffering?  Through his suffering, Jesus became the source of salvation for the world.  Do our hearers understand that we, too, may suffer on the path to holiness?  This clashes with the idea that Jesus suffered so that we would never have to suffer at all.  If Jesus experienced suffering and death, so will we.  As Peter put it, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

If Jesus endured suffering through temptation, then we too may find grace and power in the relationship with our fully human Savior to face our temptations (10:18).  Jesus can offer real help. His divine advocacy and intercession for his children finds strength in his voluntary experience of our temptations and suffering.  Later we learn that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses, tempted as we are, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  This very fact enables us to cry out to him boldly when tempted knowing he will give both mercy and grace in our time of need.  What does it mean that Jesus was tempted as we are in his humanity?  He was never tempted to run a red light in a car.  One can scarcely imagine him speeding on the donkey as he rode into town.  How was Jesus tempted sexually?  Clearly, temptation is not sin because Jesus never sinned.

Another possible tack to take in preaching this passage is to focus on the meaning of the atonement.  How did Jesus atone for our sins?  What did his death actually accomplish?  We sometimes hear the simple theology, “Jesus died for my sins.”  What does that mean?   In our zeal for substitutionary atonement, we may well miss the “Christus Victor” atonement theory.  We find a clear teaching in the words: “by his death he might break the power of him who hold the power of death – that is the devil” (10:14).  Jesus “tramples over death by death.”  By dying a human death, he eviscerated death and vacated its power.   Jesus did not barter with the devil for souls.  Instead, he snatched life from the very ugly jaws of death itself.  In the writer’s cosmology,  the devil holds the power of death and death enslaves people with fear.  On the cross, Jesus removed death’s victory and sting.  Now believers have no need to fear death any longer.  We win in the end.

This reading of the atonement does not by any means exclude the traditional atonement for sins.  As the Old Testament priest sacrificed an animal to symbolize atonement or reconciliation with God, so the great high priest, Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people.  Jesus did not die to save the angels but the descendants of Abraham.  So he became fully human in order to embody the role of High Priest.  This sacrifice for sin not only removes past guilt but also strengthens for present temptation.  Convinced that Jesus really suffered temptation, we can call upon him to help us with our temptations as well.  Jesus’ humanity remains finally quintessential for our sanctification.  God pretending to be human could pretend to save us.  But God, fully human can save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).  Knowing that our salvation costs God so much helps us not to ignore so great a salvation (2:3).


brooks_duane_5x7bDuane Brooks
Tallowood Baptist Church, Houston, TX





Tags: transcendent, immanent, Jesus

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