A MAN LIKE US Hebrews 2
“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 . . . and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14–15).Jesus fully understands us and our needs.
We must heed Jesus’ message (2:1–4). It reveals the destiny God gives us through Jesus (vv. 5–13), who took on humanity to break the enslaving grip of death and Satan on our race (vv. 14–18).
Understanding the Text
“We must pay more careful attention” Heb. 2:1.
The warning found in verses 1–5 seems to fit best with chapter 1. God’s Son Himself has delivered the message of salvation, making that message even more binding than the earlier binding revelation given through angels. The image of “drift away” is significant. It pictures an ancient sailing ship, anchored near shore. As the sailors sleep, the wind picks up, and the anchor begins to drag slowly across the sandy bottom. By the time the sailors awake, the ship is pitching dangerously in heavy seas. You and I aren’t likely to consciously pull up the anchor of our faith and abandon the shelter Jesus provides. But unless we give constant heed to Christ’s word, we can drift unaware from our moorings. “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” Heb. 2:2–4 This is the first of several warnings found in Hebrews. These warnings are addressed to believers, and generally deal with our experience of the superior salvation provided in Christ. Here the theme is Jesus as the Living Word. Those warned have heard the Gospel. They are urged to hold to what was heard, for if they do not they will drift from life’s moorings and fail to experience the benefits of God’s great salvation. What a blessing God’s Word is to us. It is a sure message, confirmed by witnesses who heard Jesus teach and saw His miracles, and confirmed by the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yet it is so easy for us to drift. What we need to do is to give Scripture our constant attention—and make sure we respond to God’s Word by putting it into practice. “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Heb. 2:6–7 How do we explain the wonder of God’s appearance in the flesh? The writer quoted Psalm 8, which displays the amazing fact that God cares about human beings. God has chosen not to ignore us, but has concentrated His attention on us that He might lift us up. He “made him [man] a little lower than the angels.” But what we were is not what we will be! We are destined for glory and honor and dominion at God’s side. “But we see Jesus” Heb. 2:8–9. The idea that humanity has been crowned with glory and honor seems laughable to some. Look at the mess we’re in—and have been in throughout recorded history. How does the human condition speak of glory, or of sovereignty? God has “put everything under his [man’s] feet.” How about sickness? How about suffering? How about wars, and crime, and drunk driving, and child abuse? Hebrews answers, “At present we do not see everything subject to” man. But what we do see is God, becoming incarnate in Jesus, suffering death for us, and “now crowned with glory and honor.” In the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus you and I see our own destiny. The glorified Jesus is proof positive that glory lies ahead for you and me. While a skeptical world looks at the ruin man has made of our earth, confident believers look at the triumph of Jesus, and find peace. “Perfect through suffering” Heb. 2:10. Again we have a seeming contradiction. How could God, who by definition is perfect, have been “made” perfect through suffering? The idea of perfection is expressed in the Greek word, teleios. This root is used nine times by the author of Hebrews, and it means “completed, mature, with every potential realized.” Suffering did nothing to add to Jesus character or nature. Yet it did equip Him for His saving work. In suffering as human beings suffer, Jesus shared all that it means to be human. As the writer added in verse 18, “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” In His incarnation Jesus experienced humanness in a way never possible for the preincarnate Son. His suffering as a man was necessary for His complete identification with us. What this means is twofold. It means that Jesus understands you and me in our pain and suffering. And it means that God loves us more than we imagine, for Christ’s exposure of Himself to mankind’s vulnerability was more costly than we can ever know. “I will declare Your name to My brothers” Heb. 2:12. Mark is a missionary to inner-city street people. He works with the addicts, the pimps, the prostitutes, the alcoholics, the homeless that inhabit the night. He lives on the streets with the members of his parish, because he is convinced that only by sharing the life they lead will he gain the credibility required to reach them for Jesus. Hudson Taylor, like Mark, adopted this principle of identification. When Taylor ministered in China he put off his Western dress, adopted Chinese garb, and grew his hair so it might be put in a cue. To reach the Chinese, he became Chinese in his ways. This is what Jesus did for us. He came, became one with us, and called us “My brothers.” By identifying Himself fully with us, He made it possible for us to put our trust in Him. If you want to reach others, don’t consider how different you are from them. Instead consider all the ways you are one with them. The more closely you can identify with others, the more clearly they will see the Lord Jesus in your life. “Him who holds the power of death” Heb. 2:14. Scripture speaks of two realms: a realm of darkness and a realm of light; a realm of death and a realm of life. While God is the ultimate authority in the material and spiritual universe, Satan is the present ruler of darkness. Where Satan reigns death, as spiritual insensitivity, selfishness, and guilt, hold sway. Human beings who live in Satan’s realm are captives of their own sin natures—and of the fear of death. It is the terror of the unknown, and the fear of extinction or of final judgment, that keeps humanity enslaved. The writer does not explain this imagery. But we can understand it. We know how fear petrifies and inhibits. Like the tiny animal held motionless by the gaze of the cobra, the terror of death keeps man from seeking God. No man aware of committing a crime is likely to search out the sheriff. No person fearing punishment for sin is likely to set out to find God, the Judge, and risk the death he knows he deserves. What Good News then the Gospel is. The Gospel trumpets Satan’s defeat, and announces a pardon available to all. Because Jesus lived and died as a man, and so defeated Satan, we no longer fear death. The paralysis caused by fear is broken, and we run, exulting, into God’s presence, eager to live the rest of our lives in His presence.
Merciful and Faithful(Heb. 2:14–18)
Nobody likes “have to” very well. Around our house, “You have to practice your music lesson now” meets with almost as many squeals of protest as, “You have to go to bed.” Actually, I’m not all that wild about “have to” myself. I often find myself saying or thinking, “I have to get my day’s work done first,” when I’d rather go fishing or just take off and play some tennis. But “have to” takes precedence. If the more important goals are to be reached, discipline is required. That’s what Hebrews 2:14–18 tells us about Jesus. His goals were so important that He did whatever He had to in order to reach them. And what Jesus had to do really hurt. First, He had to become a real human being, and suffer the pressure of all those temptations that trouble humanity, if He was to be a merciful High Priest. Philo, the first-century Jewish philosopher, held that the high priest must not show his feelings, but “have his feeling of pity under control.” But Jesus endured the human condition just so that He might display the depth of God’s compassion for us. If we were to know for sure that God loves us, we had to be shown a Saviour who was willing to suffer. Because Jesus did what He had to, you and I know that our High Priest is merciful. But Jesus also had to endure the ultimate suffering of the Cross to “make atonement for the sins of the people.” The Greek word here, hilastekesthai, means to make a propitiation—to satisfy and thus turn aside the wrath of God. He was faithful in this obligation which He as High Priest had to God. If Jesus was to accomplish the purpose for which He was sent, He had to offer up His own life. And, faithful in His commitment to God’s will, He did exactly that. For Jesus, the goal of satisfying God’s justice and showing mercy to mankind was so important that “have to” was transformed into “want to.” He chose freely to suffer for us. And we can learn from the voluntary suffering of Jesus. Let’s make the goal of doing God’s will so central in our lives that when you or I “have to” suffer in order to obey, we will want to respond, no matter what the cost.
When you truly “want to” please God, the things you “have to” do will become a joy.
“I will be Christian. Like a crimson line running through my life, let the covenant bind me to the will and way of Jesus. “I will be Christian. My body, mind, and spirit Christ-centered, that I may learn His will; that I may walk His way; that I may win my associates; and that ‘in all things He might have the preeminence.’ “I will be Christian. My voice of passion in an age grown cold and cynical because of faltering faith and shrinking deeds; my answer to the Macedonian call of spiritual continents unpossessed and unexplored. “I will be Christian. In my heart, in my home, in my group, in my country—now, to help save America that America may serve the world. “I will be Christian. Across all lines of color and class, into every human relationship, without respect for temporal circumstance, in spite of threat and with no thought of reward. “I will be Christian. That Christianity may become as militant as Fascism; as terrible toward wrong as God’s hatred of sin; as tender with the weak as His love for little children; as powerful as the prayer of the righteous, and as sacrificial as Calvary’s Cross. “I will be Christian . . . So help me God.”—Daniel A. Poling