This is an edited manuscript of my sermon for April 26, 2015. It is based on Hebrews 2:1-15. Last week we walked through Hebrews chapter 1 and discovered how Hebrews sets up Jesus as being “greater than the angels.” Here in chapter two we begin to discover why this matters. As I pondered the passage this week, I determined that I’d work through it “back to front,” because the last bit is really the point, and I’d like to show how it works through the entire passage.
What’s the last point made in Hebrews 2:1-15? Simply put, Jesus has broken our slavery to the fear of death. We may not often think of it, but the fear of death plays a huge role in how we live as humans. So much so we even see it on display in our popular culture and literature. The fear of death, for example, is what drives the entire conflict in the Harry Potter trilogy. It’s a central plot point in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. It’s even the reason why Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force 1. The popular understanding, at least in Western Culture, is the fear of death leads inevitably toward enslavement to evil.
We need to see, however, this danger of enslavement not just in the lives of our fictional heroes and villains, but in our own lives as well. Why do you think we resent change, or struggle with guilt? It’s because these things remind us that, some day, we will be gone. And even if some people don’t happen to believe in a future judgement (which is kind of a key concept for Christianity) folks still tend to be concerned with what type of legacy they will leave. There are quite a few people who look back at their lives – chances they could have taken, things they should have done, things they wished they hadn’t done – and feel crushed by the weight of their reflections. Many folks fear they will be forgotten or, worse, remembered with hostility – so we mere humans hide from the reality of death and try to ignore the call to heed it’s inevitability.
The preacher who authored Hebrews points out that this fear is how the devil enslaves us and keeps us from seeking God. Through this fear we begin to see God as a tyrant who serves only to remind us of our both temporal nature and our failings. It’s how the hero becomes the villain and how people we may have known our whole lives become transformed into someone unrecognizable.
A big part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was to break this terrible power and set us free. He accomplished this in a rather interesting way. The Son, as was pointed out in Hebrews chapter 1 is greater than the angels. Yet, when it came time to for God to speak the final word of revelation the Son took on our flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who became lower than the angels for a time. As Jesus walked as one of us he suffered death on our behalf. Jesus broke our chains of enslavement by experiencing the power of death’s sting. Because of Jesus’ work everything was subjugated to him and, while we don’t see Jesus’ rule fully manifested over everything in the present (if you are wondering what I mean, just go to any news site and see what’s going on in the world – an earthquake in Nepal, war in Yemen, Isis, protests against another death of a black man being taken into custody [this time one who apparently committed no crime and was beaten so severely his spinal cord was al but severed]), we do see Jesus. We see him in the words of testimony which have been passed on to us, we see him in the wonderful deeds of God done through and around us, we even see him in the images of the body and blood of Christ in Communion.
The most wonderful thing about Jesus is, despite all he suffered through on our behalf he is not ashamed to consider us his siblings. This is something people can have difficulty believing. “God doesn’t want me, you don’t know what I’ve done” is something I’ve heard expressed – both in real life and in fiction.
Here’s the thing, Jesus already knows us, and died for us anyway. This is the launching point from which begin to explore both God’s nature and Jesus’ revelation of that nature. It’s a nature we are called to explore. You see as disciples, we must focus intently on this great salvation or else we’ll drift like a ship sliding off course from inattention, slipping into the trap of enslavement.
Sin, folks, really is a big deal and Hebrews even points out the transgressions of Israel’s past were justly punished. The “words spoken by angels” (this is probably Hebrew’s way of referencing the Torah) were binding. They were meant to be followed so Israel could enjoy a growing relationship with the God who had delivered them.
Israel disobeyed. Over, and over, and over, and over again they disobeyed. And you get the sense the preacher intimates that each time the cycle of disobedience started up again the chains of slavery to the fear of death grew tighter – Israel ran away from God instead of toward their redeemer. And so God stepped in to break that cycle.
This shows us something about the character of of our Creator. God doesn’t want to met out punishment, even if those punishments are just (though we know God will punish sin, it’s not God’s great desire to do so). God wants break the frightful power of the fear of death and bring us into fellowship with Him. God accomplishes this through the gift of the Son.
Why should we believe this? Well, the author of Hebrews points out the testimony of Jesus has been confirmed. First, it’s confirmed in the words of those who heard Jesus – the people we call “The Apostles.” So it’s good to read the words of what we now call the New Testament – to learn, ponder, and put them into practice.
The apostles aren’t the only testimony about the truth of Jesus’ ministry. Hebrews points out God personally adds to the testimony about Jesus through “signs and wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” I know, especially for people who suffered through the Charismatic battles of the 80’s, that verses like this can be contentious. I think this is mostly because we’ve used the idea of things like “signs and wonders” as a testimony about how great we are, instead of a testimony of how wonderful God is.
The truth is this. When we see a life transformed, or a person healed, or spiritual gifts manifesting in places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them – this is a testimony from God about the truth of Jesus Christ. When we learn to live in the truth of the freedom Jesus died to procure for us, the testimony of God breaks into this world through us. Death has no power over us to make us afraid – so live, live like the one who took on our flesh. The one who isn’t ashamed to us brothers and sisters even as we call him, “Lord.” Amen.
- I make no apologies for the list of geeky references. ↩