MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Hebrews 2:1 – 3:6
When I first became a Christian at age 19, I would get so excited whenever a musician I liked mentioned God. I assumed that he or she had to be Christian. I remember telling my sister and brother-in-law that a certain popular musician was a Christian. They said, “uh-uh. He’s a believer in God but he is not a Christian. A Christian is one who has stated that Jesus is his or her own personal Lord and Saviour. Talking about God is a good first step but that doesn’t indicate that the person is a Christian. Without bringing Jesus into the mix, a person is not a Christian.”
Hebrews is all about Jesus. It clarifies false teachings such as the one I ascribed to as a new Christian, that the mere mention of God by a famous musician had to be an indication that the singer was a Christian. In last week’s introduction of the letter to the Hebrews, we learned that throughout the letter we see that it is all about Jesus. Chapter 1, which we read through last week, is about how Jesus is far superior to all things and beings, including angels. Contrary to the commonly held belief in both the Greek/Roman world, as well as within Judaism, was that angels were supreme heavenly beings worthy of human worship. But the anonymous writer of Hebrews states otherwise. While we humans are to revere and honour angels, we are never to worship them, for the only kind of worship that angels are involved in is this: the worship of Jesus. So, if angels worship Jesus, so should we. Just as Isaiah the prophet wrote about the folly of worshipping creation rather than the creator, it is folly to worship angels instead of the one they worship: Jesus. In fact, it is utter foolishness to ignore that reality and to go off making up our own suppositions or following false teachings. Point of fact, it is dangerous to do so, the writer of Hebrews says. We will pick up today with the word of warning that we concluded with last week:
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
Have you ever been in a rowboat or canoe or some other kind of boat where there is a current in the body of water you are in? You need to be paying attention or you will drift away. If you stop rowing or motoring and if you don’t put down an anchor to hold your position firm, you will end up drifting far away from where you should be. I have had it happen to me way too many times. The writer of Hebrews warns us to “pay the most careful attention…so that we do not drift away”. Anyone who is minimizing Jesus or his saving power, and who is worshipping other things or beings such as angels is at a dangerous spot. As we go through Hebrews, we will see that understanding correct doctrine is the starting point to spiritual, emotional, and mental health. I know that most churches have preachers who talk about loving yourself, building yourself up, how to get rich or become influential, etc. But the message of Hebrews is all about doctrine and being devoted to Jesus. So, pay attention!
Prefiguring here: we will hear the writer of Hebrews referring to a common belief among Jews/Hebrews, one that we can see in Acts 7 in the speech by Stephen, that first Christian martyr, and that belief was that angels spoke God’s words and, in fact, were instrumental in helping deliver the law of Moses to the Jews, so angels absolutely serve an important purpose but they didn’t and don’t save anyone. Thus, they are not to be worshipped or placed on an equal footing with Jesus, the one and only saviour. However, they did deliver God’s words about His law to Moses, is what Stephen said and the Jews believed.
For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:2,3)
Jesus spoke that word of salvation to the first generation of believers, to those who lived and travelled on this earth with him, to disciples, both male and female, who physically heard him speaking his message of salvation. In turn, that first generation of believers told others, thus keeping the Great Commission as Jesus had told them to, and many of those who heard their message, including the writer of Hebrews, came to believe and they put their trust in Jesus. The fact that the gospel message came from the Lord means that the gospel was not simply a good idea that a bunch of religious philosophers came up with concerning how humans might be reconciled to God but, rather, was a teaching and idea and doctrine that originated with God and came to humans from the mouth of the Lord himself. Though we no longer know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, what we do know about the words he wrote is that we are to “pay the most careful attention” to them, “so that we will not drift away.” Now, we know that no one drifts away on purpose, but if a person is not deliberate, careful, paying attention, the danger of drifting away will always be there.
It seems that the immediate cause of the writing of Hebrews was that those Jewish/Hebrew believers were undergoing trials and persecution. They had begun to wonder if the taunting messages of their opponents were possibly correct, that being that Jesus was not to be worshipped, and that the Christian diminishing of the worshipping of angels and of the great heroes of the Jewish faith was somehow dishonouring of God. Most likely the Hebrews to whom this letter was written were questioning if what their Jewish tormenters was saying was true: that the famine and troubles and economic hardship in Judea was due to God being displeased with them and their belief in Jesus. Thus, it appears that the Hebrews/Jewish believers to whom this letter was originally written were drifting to a dangerous area where people contended that Jesus was not as great as angels nor of the historic giants of the Jewish faith: Abraham and Moses. The writer of Hebrews was concerned that the ongoing persecution of them was weakening the faith of his readers, tempting them to lose their faith and so he called on them to remember Jesus.
Consider Christ who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3).
The salvation Jesus gives is so great that angels could not bring it about nor could Abraham or Moses or any other giants of the Jewish faith. “So, pay attention to what I am writing”, is what the author was contending, “and keep your eyes focused on Jesus.” As a further proof of the unique power of the gospel message of salvation that Jesus brought, the author adds this:
God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4)
Those signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit witnessed to God’s salvation brought to earth, but that salvation was not for angels but for humans. Thus, the bible teaches that there is something unique about humans. The author of Hebrews explains what that is:
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. (Hebrews 2:5-8; Psalm 8:4-6)
Humans and their children, the singular “son of man” being used in Psalm 8, have been given a more significant role than angels, even though they are below angels in the ranking of beings, nevertheless, they/we have been blessed with having all things subjected to them/us. That fact is certainly an honour and responsibility which means we must be good stewards of what God had given to us, faithful tenders of the garden” and “keepers of creation”. Having elevated humans in that way, the author of Hebrews then writes about Jesus, the ultimate “Son of Man” who did a very surprising thing: he left his home in heaven and his throne there and took on human flesh by being born a “son of man” (*to use old English) or a “son of a human”. However, Jesus did not come to earth to look around as a tourist, or a sightseer. He came for this reason: to identify with us, and to die for us, and, in doing so, he dealt with our sin, removing from us that one thing that was preventing humans from being with God. What he did for us is known as “salvation”, being saved.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, 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 and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:9-11)
As you know, our new king, King Charles III, has a wife, Camilla, who is called the Queen Consort. Well, in the late 18th century, King Louis XVI of France also had a wife, the Queen Consort of France, the infamous Marie Antoinette, who had reportedly been warned by her advisors that the French peasant people and masses were restless because they were hungry. They had no bread to eat, and they were starving. Showing how out of touch she was with the suffering of the peasants, Marie Antoinette (though most likely the phrase I am about to tell you, attributing it to Marie Antoinette, was not said first by her but by an earlier Queen Marie, the wife of King Louis XIV one hundred years before) is quoted as replying to her advisor’s warning that the French people were restless because they were starving and had no bread to eat, it was to that news that she uttered the famous line, “then let them eat cake”, cake literally being a French brioche, a more expensive delicacy, a round loaf which is like a pastry. The phrase was attributed to Marie Antoinette because it is a fact that it was widely known she was so out of touch with the suffering of her subjects and so it was believed that she would have thought, “well, if the people don’t have bread to eat, that’s no big deal. Let them eat pastry, brioche, because surely everyone has pastry, brioche, even if they don’t have bread. After all, we royalty have both bread and brioche pastries. Surely, everyone else does, as well.” The starving masses were furious with such elitist, uncaring, out-of-touch thinking and revolted against Marie Antoinette and her King Louis XVI. The seeds for the French Revolution with its bloody overthrowing of the king and queen had been planted.
Now, when those who are far above their subjects do not care about them, the result can be bad. However, the message of the writer of Hebrews is that God – the one who is so high above we His human subjects – is not out of touch with the plight and suffering of humans. Jesus’ leaving of his heavenly throne to live as a human proved that. Jesus, God incarnate on earth, God with us on earth, fully understands what we are going through. He is not out of touch with us or what we need.
Paul Harvey, on his radio show, “The Rest of the Story” told the following story: The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmastime. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite, that he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so, he stayed while his family went to the Christmas Eve midnight service. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So, he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide-open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the breadcrumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn. And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
Returning now to the New Testament, in his using of the Greek term for Almighty God – Logos in Greek and “The Word” in English – the apostle John described Jesus becoming one with us:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
The result was that he became our brother, one able to understand what we are going through. We can trust him in this. God knows us and we can trust Him to look after us. Quoting from the Old Testament authoritative writings that his Hebrew/Jewish readers would pay attention to, the writer of Hebrews explained it this way:
He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Hebrews 2:12; Psalm 22:22)
And again, “I will put my trust in him.” (Heb 2:13a; Isaiah 8:17)
And again, he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13b; Isaiah 8:18)
The conclusion for the writer of Hebrews? Jesus came to earth for the specific purpose of sharing in human existence to save us from slavery to the devil and from the power of death, freeing us to live for God – or, not – and granting free will to humans everywhere.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of 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. (Hebrews 2:14,15)
The significance, power, and potency of the truths contained in these verses cannot be over-emphasised. The devil – who held humans in captivity to him and his wishes – was defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross. The devil was not destroyed by Jesus but incapacitated and now humans have the freedom to choose who to live for. Jesus thus did something both angels and humans were unable to do: bring about freedom and salvation. The writer of Hebrews, writing after the death of the apostle Paul, was no doubt very familiar with Paul’s writings and so where Paul stated:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)
The writer of Hebrews then follows up on Paul’s words by explaining that this salvation was not for angels but for humans only.
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human 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. (Hebrews 2:16-18)
It is well known that the ancient world looked to angels for this service as angels were the demigods of the Roman and Greek pantheon, but historians tell us – and the writer of Hebrews intimates – that followers of Judaism had also reached a place of worshipping angels. But angels were never humans, thus, they can not save anyone but also, they cannot identify with our human struggles when we are tempted to sin. Only Jesus, the Almighty God who took on human flesh in his incarnation, can do those things. Jesus brings about our “atonement” with God, our “at oneness with God”, having dealt on the cross with, and done away with, the awful effects of our sins.
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. (Hebrews 3:1-5)
So, Jesus is superior to angels, but Jesus is also superior to Moses, the one to whom angels helped give the law and he is superior to any human being. But, significantly in this passage, by taking on human flesh, we can say that we know that he knows, understands, and cares for us.
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Hebrews 3:6)
The Christian message is all about Jesus. Subthemes exist, certainly, but the message is only about Jesus. He is greater than angels, greater than Moses, greater than anyone or anything. Don’t get taken in by any teaching that diminishes that truth. Pay attention. Be anchored! Do not drift!