A sermon on Hebrews 2 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 30 January 2022
The message from Hebrews chapter 2 is like the two sides of a coin. On the one hand, the king of heaven came down and became our brother. And its flip side, our brother, Jesus, is the king of heaven. God doesn’t deal with us through middlemen and bureaucrats. We don’t have to worry whether our concerns or cares ever reach his ears. We have a friend in heaven who understands us better than we understand ourselves. Someone who lived our life and knows it inside and out. His name is Jesus and we can trust him with our lives. We need to listen to him and to follow him.
Verse 1 says,
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
And it is not a stupid question to ask who does the writer mean by the word “we”. Obviously he means himself and his readers. But who were they? What beliefs and concerns did they share that made the writer think that his readers would listen to him?
Well, we don’t know their names or where they lived or what they did. But we do know that the writer and his readers were all Jewish Christians. They had been born as part of the Jewish community in different parts of the Roman empire. The boys would have been circumcised at 8 days old. They would have grown up attending the synagogue each week and worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem each year. They would have believed in the promises of the Bible.
More particularly, they believed that those promises had been fulfilled in Jesus, that Jesus was God’s Messiah, his chosen king. And for that they would have been cast out of their families and of the synagogue. In their previous lives as Jews they would have been protected from persecution by the government. They would have been free to reject the gods of Rome because they practiced Judaism, an officially recognised religion of the empire. But as Christians they enjoyed no such protection. If they dared to say that Jesus and not Caesar was Lord they had to be prepared to lose everything. Their jobs. Their property or their lives.
These Jewish Christians to whom the letter of Hebrews was written would have shared a number of beliefs with the Jews in their community. The first is that God is God. He is the Lord of lords. He is the creator and sustainer of all things.
The second is that we humans are not God. He is high and exalted. We are weak and lowly. He is spirit and eternal. We are flesh and temporary. If we have the hope of eternal life, it is not because our soul is immortal but because God raises the dead and give them life again.
And the third belief they would have shared is that angels are real. They are the servants of God. They are his messengers. They do his will in his creation. And through his angels God reveals his will to human beings. They may not be as high and glorious as God, because they are not God. But because they are eternal spiritual beings they stand between us and God. In the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, God spoke to human beings through his angels. To Abraham. To Jacob. And to Moses. God’s Ten Commandments were written by the hand of angels.
This three level structure of the universe, of God above and human beings below and angels in between, explains why the Jewish Christians had been rejected by their family and friends, cast out of their homes and excluded from the synagogue. Because they had turned their back on the high and exalted God to follow Jesus. They had turned their back on the Ten Commandments which has handed to Moses by angels to listen to a weak and frail human being who was just like us.
Now if you were with us two weeks ago and listened to our message on Hebrews chapter 1 this accusation that the Jewish Christians had turned their back on God and on the angels explains the whole point of chapter 1, which is that Jesus is better than the angels. They are God’s servants. But Jesus is God’s son. He truly and accurately represents God and his message to us comes from the mouth of God itself. Essentially, Jesus doesn’t belong down with us below the angels. He belongs up in the exalted presence of God.
That then is also the point of the opening verses of chapter 2.
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
What have we heard? We have heard the gospel, the message of Jesus. We have to pay more careful attention to it, because if the message spoken by angels, if the law given to Moses by the angels was binding, and every violation received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore the salvation that Jesus brings?
If you were drowning in the surf and ignored the hand offered to you by the life saver, how shall you escape?
If you were stuck in a flood on the roof of your house and ignored the lifeline dropped by the helicopter, how shall you escape?
If you were trapped in a burning building and ignored the only fire escape, how else shall you escape?
So if you ignore the salvation offered through the precious blood of God’s own Son, how shall you escape? Do you think that the Ten Commandments are important? That society would be better off if people put them into practice? That people who deliberately break them should face the consequences? You are right to feel that way. But it is even more important to pay attention to the message of Jesus which offers forgiveness to those who don’t keep the commandments, who can’t keep the commandments, and who will face the eternal consequences if they do not give their life to the Son of God. There is only one fire escape from hell and his name is Jesus.
The only problem with this message so far is that it doesn’t explain why the high and exalted Son of God became weak and lowly like us. Why would the master of the angels become lower than the angels?
The answer in the rest of Hebrews chapter 2 is that he had to. He had to become lower than the angels for a little time, for just enough time. Because he did not come to save the angels. He came to save us.
This is why the writer quotes from Psalm number 8.
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.
It’s a great poem about God’s blessing on us. That he made us in his image and that he cares for us. Though we may be a little lower than the angels, he created us to wear a crown of glory and honour.
Except that isn’t what we see, is it? It’s not what we experience. Yes, a few may have glory and honour showered upon them. But it is worldly glory and temporary. The general rule is that we are weak and poor. We have sinned against our creator and we have brought shame and dishonour upon ourselves. The statement of the prodigal son is our daily prayer:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
For this reason, Psalm 8 is not so much about us as it is about Jesus,
who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
This is why he became lower than the angels, this is why he came and shared our life: that he might taste death for us all to save us from our fear of death and to give us life.
What this means is that the king of heaven became our brother. As the writer explains in verse 14 and 15.
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.
As the high and exalted Son of God he had the power and will and determination to destroy the devil’s hold on us. And as the lowly Son of Man he has earned the right through his own suffering to take up our cause and to represent us. For in his life he did what we could not do. He resisted temptation and he fulfilled his Father’s will. Though he experienced hunger and thirst and weariness and loneliness he did not deviate from the path set before him by his Father. In our own flesh and blood he bore the Father’s wrath so that it may be extinguished in his death so that by his death we may live. Death now holds no fear of us and so the devil has no hold on us. We can freely risk all by putting our faith in Jesus and following him because nothing in life and death, in heaven above or in hell below, can separate us from his love.
The king of heaven became our brother, for a little while a little lower than the angels. He became like us in our weak and lowly state that we might become like him, crowned with glory and honour. The promise of Psalm 8 fulfilled in us but not by anything that we have done, but because of what our brother Jesus has done for us.
The rest of chapter 2 is about the flip side to that coin. Our brother, Jesus, is the king of heaven.
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.
Jesus didn’t come to help the angels. He didn’t come wearing wings. He didn’t come with a halo around his head. He walked on his own two legs. And the only crown he wore was made of thorns. He came to help us. He became like us so that he might become our great high priest, merciful and faithful, like God, representing God to us, like us, representing us to God. That he might patch the difference between us and make us one. God with us. And us with God.
And so the high king of heaven is our brother. He knows us. He lived our life from the inside. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our struggles because for a little while they were his too. So who can we turn to when we need help? Who can we turn to when we need understanding? Who can we turn to when we need someone who understands our point of view? We can turn to Jesus.
His glories now we sing, who died and rose on high, who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.
Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, They are weak, but he is strong.
The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. A royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s brow.
All our songs today have got the exact same message. The king of heaven became our brother. And our brother, Jesus, is the king of heaven. And so we can finish where we started. We don’t have to worry whether our concerns or cares ever reach his ears. We have a friend in heaven who understands us better than we understand ourselves. Someone who lived our life and knows it inside and out. His name is Jesus and we can trust him with our lives. We need to listen to him and to follow him. For how shall we escape if we don’t?