Hebrews 2:5-3:6: Being Human

Sometimes life is WONDERFUL! Just full of hope and potential.  Like last week at church. We celebrated with Wade and Catherine the new life of Isabella at HER BAPTISM.  She’s got her whole life stretching out in front of her. And what makes it extra special is baptism is a sign of God’s special commitment to her as she achieves that potential.

But that’s just ONE of the joys of life. In a couple of months, Jake and Bernie get married. And while they’re looking forward to the wedding. That day is just ONE day. The FIRST day of the rest of their lives. Stretching out in front of them. A whole new chapter. As a married couple. Who knows WHAT God’s got planned for them. It’s exciting to imagine, isn’t it?

And this week, Dean starts his new life as a stay-at-home Dad. And he’s looking forward to it! He can’t wipe the smile off his face. So many things he wants to do.

And then there’s William and Sarah and Michael. They’ve all started school. And loving it! A whole range of new experiences in front of them.

Jonah and Daisy and Laura have started High School. And Lucy’s started Year 12 at a new school. Not sure whether THEY’RE liking it. But, no doubt, learning new things.

Stephanie Whittaker’s just jetted off to Japan. 12 months in another culture. Another language. A whole new world of experiences.

Then there’s Warren and Jason. Both finishing school. And starting a new phase of life.

Or what about Spence and Robert. Perhaps you’ve noticed the grins on their faces. And the healthy glow on the cheeks? They’ve retired. Men of leisure. Robert’s managed to fill up his week so much, he says he’s surprised he ever found time to work!

There’s so much POTENTIAL in life. Full of possibilities and experiences. Of success and development and growth. Starting something NEW/ is the chance to CREATE.

And God’s MADE it that way. Life is DESIGNED to be rich and fulfilling and satisfying. We’re MADE to CREATE and Cultivate and grow and change the world around us. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image.

But, as good as life gets, as much as there is to achieve, and to experience. There’s always a reminder that trouble and grief aren’t far away. A dark shadow hanging over the good times. A concrete reminder that there’s always A FINISHING LINE.

DEATH. Death is the ultimate brick wall that puts an end to our plans and experiences and achievements.  A few years ago my mum died quite suddenly. She had an aggressive cancer attacking her bowel. She’d only known about it for two months. And the doctors couldn’t do anything. It was all incredibly sudden. And it seemed too early. Mum was only 65. And she’d made plans to achieve lots more things at Goulburn. Build more, grow more. They were only six months into ministry there.

But I know many of you have been through similar things. With family who are even younger, and that are even more sudden.

Late last year, we wept with Jo Steele when she lost her Mum following complications during a heart operation.

A little earlier Rebecca Branson lost her father AND her grandfather.

And there’s others I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks who’ve lost parents at younger ages than mum.

And we don’t need to travel too far from home to learn of heartbreaking stories. Things which make us shake our heads at how unfair it all is. Of children dying painfully to cruel diseases. Of brutal crimes. Pointless loss of life in accidents, or wars, or terrorist attacks, or natural disasters. Or even simple, preventable mistakes.

Death. It’s just not FAIR! It’s not RIGHT! It makes a mockery of the things we work so hard to achieve.

And God AGREES.

Because it’s not the way he DESIGNED us. He made us FOR GREATER THINGS.

And the writer to the Hebrews AGREES. Things aren’t the way they’re SUPPOSED to be. The way they BEGAN. Here in Ch 2, he quotes Psalm 8. A Psalm about HUMANITY. A Psalm that looks backward to creation. Pick it up in v7.

7 You made him a little lower than the angels; YOU CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR 8 and PUT EVERYTHING UNDER HIS FEET.”

The picture is of the Garden of Eden. With Adam and Eve, walking with God, naming the animals, tending the garden. Everything in control. Adam was God’s second-in-command. Nurturing, cultivating, ruling.

It’s a wonderful image.

But it’s one you don’t need to look too far to realize/ is hardly reality TODAY. Which is what the writer to the Hebrews realizes as well. Look at v8.

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. YET AT PRESENT WE DO NOT SEE EVERYTHING SUBJECT TO HIM.

Plenty of things on earth we’ve got NO CONTROL over. The weather, sickness, Natural disasters. The stock market. Even the affections of our husband or wife.

But as we read on, he focuses on ONE AREA IN PARTICULAR. … DEATH. Look down to v14. Talking about Jesus, who we’ll come back to in a few minutes.

14 by his death he might destroy him who holds THE POWER OF DEATH-that is, the devil- 15 and free THOSE WHO ALL THEIR LIVES WERE HELD IN SLAVERY BY THEIR FEAR OF DEATH.

That’s US! Humanity! All our lives, held in slavery by the fear of death! The fear of the unknown. Fear of THE END. The fear and helplessness of something beyond our control and experience. The frustration of knowing that the things we build/ won’t last.

Kerry Packer died a few months ago. They held his memorial service at the Opera House on Friday.

He died Australia’s richest man. He’d been having health problems for years. A number of years ago, you might remember, his heart stopped beating. And he was revived only because the ambulance had a heart defibrillator – which was apparently pretty rare at the time.

So Kerry wanted to make sure OTHERS were as lucky as HE was. So he donated enough money for EVERY AMBULANCE IN NSW to be equipped with defibrillators. They became known as the Packer Whackers.

He once said, about his near-death experience, that he’s been to the other side, and there’s nothing there.

A few years later, his health was in the news again. His personal pilot, a long-time friend, DONATED a KIDNEY to Kerry. So he wouldn’t have to spend a third of his day on kidney dialysis. We assume he was suitably compensated. After all, Kerry was a generous man.

And, in the years since his kidney transplant, Kerry’s had MANY medical incidents. Probably spent tens of thousands of dollars to keep alive.

But apparently, near the end, with his body finally shutting down, he decided to refuse treatment, to accept the inevitable. And he died at his home.

I’m not sure if he had a change of heart about the existence of God, or the afterlife, or not. But he’ll know for sure NOW!

It doesn’t matter HOW rich you are, you’ll still DIE.

There’s so much potential to do GREAT THINGS in life. And Kerry Packer did many of them. To achieve. To conquer. To subdue. To build and create. But in the end, there’s only DEATH. And everything you achieve, is GONE. It’s FUTILE.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re as SUCCESSFUL as Kerry Packer. Or as BEAUTIFUL as Nicole Kidman. Or as INTELLIGENT as Albert Einstein. Or as POWERFUL as George W. Bush. Or as TALENTED as Russell Crowe or Delta Goodrem. Or as SACRIFICIAL as Mother Theresa. Or as POPULAR as U2. Or as STRONG as Arnold Schwartznegger.

How EVER much you achieve of your potential. How ever much you MAKE of yourself. You’ll STILL DIE. You’ll never regain that picture from Ps 8. “Crowned with glory and honour. Everything under your feet.” Death will have the last laugh.

The Ultimate Humanity

UNLESS…. You can follow JESUS.

The point the writer goes on to make is that Jesus IS/ all that the Psalm talks about. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE HUMANITY. He’s achieved that TOTAL DOMINION mankind was DESIGNED for. Because he beat the GREATEST FOE. The ultimate spoiler – DEATH.

And what’s more, he’s WON that same success for THE REST OF US.

Look at the logic. The end of v8 “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him (that’s humankind).”

And then he continues in v9

9 But we see JESUS, who WAS made a little lower than the angels, NOW CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR / BECAUSE HE SUFFERED DEATH, so that by the grace of God HE MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE.

Jesus is the one who truly DOES measure up to God’s design for mankind. He WAS lower than the angels – that was during his life on earth.

But NOW, he’s enthroned in heaven. Ruling with God the Father. Why? The verse goes on. Because he suffered DEATH on behalf of everyone. In the PLACE of everyone. He died the death that all humanity has coming/ so that we could ESCAPE that death.

The next verse talks about Jesus as the AUTHOR of SALVATION. The one who INITIATES it. Who INTRODUCES it. Who BRINGS IT IN. The PIONEER.

The way over the Blue Mountains was a mystery for many years after the first settlers arrived in Sydney in 1788. The bush was thick and impenetrable. The mountains were ringed with tall sandstone cliffs with no obvious gaps.

Eventually in 1813 – 25 years later – Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson found a way through. Before long a road was carved out. And not long after that, settlers flowed across the mountains, and poured out into the Western Plains. The PEOPLE followed the PIONEERS. Together, they settled new areas of NSW.

One Family.

And it’s the same with Jesus and us. Jesus is the pioneer. And we’re the settlers who come along after him. It’s because of HIM that we can FOLLOW him.

And there’s a bond between us. Jesus, the PIONEER, and those he’s won salvation for. They’re one family. Look at v11. This verse just blows my mind at the grace of God.

11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Jesus descended to the broken, washed-out, shadow of humanity. Fallen so far from God’s design. And became ONE OF US. Like us in every way. Not ashamed to stand alongside those he’d come to save. Even to call them BROTHERS.

And the family likeness extends even to the great enemy – DEATH ITSELF. Look at v14 again.

14 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- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

You take the bully’s BIG STICK away from him. And he’s powerless. Satan’s strike weapon was the fear of death. But Jesus’ defeat of DEATH/ puts an end to the power of the devil.

And we see how he frees us a bit further down. Look at v17.

17 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.

Two ideas are introduced for the first time here. We keep coming back to them as Hebrews goes on.. Jesus is the HIGH PRIEST – the one who stands between man and God – who represents man before God, and God before man.

And SACRIFICE. He turns aside God’s wrath from us when he bears our punishment. God counts his suffering as a fitting penalty for OUR rebellion. And so, we don’t need to die.

We’ll revisit these ideas in the weeks ahead. But the main point TODAY. Is that Jesus is our PIONEER. The one who makes a way through death. Who achieves the dominion humanity was DESIGNED for. And who leads us into a life and a future WE were designed for. And so we become BROTHERS with Jesus. Co-rulers with him.

At the moment we don’t see much of that rule. That’s the whole point of the letter. Written to PERSECUTED Christians. To encourage them to STICK AT IT through the troughs and valleys.

There’s not much VICTORY in view for THEM. There’s fear. There’s suffering. There’s death.

And it’s the same with us.

But we can begin to journey TOWARD it. We can BEGIN to achieve our potential. The potential we were MADE for. To be freed from the slavery of the fear of death. To trust our pioneer. To be crowned with glory and honour, with everything under our feet. To live life with the perspective of heaven. Of eternity.

3. Therefore

Well, that’s all fairly heavy. I hope you’ve been able to stay with me. Hebrews is quite a solid theological book. But what’s so GOOD about it/ is that it’s always theology WITH A POINT. With a practical application! Because it was really written AS A SERMON.

And you can see where the writer wants to APPLY what he’s been saying. He often does it by beginning with the phrase “therefore”.

Like the start of Ch 2.

2:1 We must pay more careful attention, THEREFORE, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Or the start of Ch 4

4:1 THEREFORE, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

Or 4:14

14 THEREFORE, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, LET US hold firmly to the faith we profess.

And there’s a similar application here at the start of Ch 3. Have a look at it. V1.

3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON JESUS, THE APOSTLE AND HIGH PRIEST WHOM WE CONFESS.

When the FAILURE of life looms large. When sin seems to be winning. When DEATH and FEAR are knocking at the door. Focus on Jesus. The one who became a man. Who was crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death for us. And who calls us BROTHERS. Who stands before God on our behalf. Who brings US into glory. Frees us from death.

And trusting in Jesus having dealt with THE FUTURE. Affects OUR PRESENT. Affects our view of THIS LIFE. The things which seem so valuable and long-lasting. Are REALLY worthless. And transitory. That eternity is where our true potential and identity is found. Reigning with our brother Jesus.

He is our Pioneer. Our leader. Cling to HIM.

There’s only one route through the Blue Mountains of LIFE AND DEATH. It’s been carved out by Jesus. Follow him. Every other track leads to DEFEAT.

But that’s not always EASY, is it. Far from it! It can be incredibly difficult following Jesus through life. Because the track is often hilly, and rough. There are roads that look much less trouble – flatter, smoother, more exciting, better views.

We can sometimes think it was EASY for Jesus to do what he did. To become man, to resist temptation, and to suffer and die. After all, he was God. And that it’s almost impossible for us to follow after him.

He’s like the superhuman leader powering off into the distance up the track. While we plod along after him, getting further and further behind.

Many of you know Ben Johnson. He’s the minister at Blacktown East Presbyterian. He and I both like running. A couple of years ago, the State Assembly was at Stanwell Tops, and Ben and I decided to run down the bush track to Stanwell Park beach and back. Going DOWN was fine. But coming UP, it wasn’t long before my legs started feeling like lead.

The problem was/ Ben is REALLY FIT. He looks after himself. He used to run ultra –triathlons. And as we went along, Ben was getting further and further ahead.

Finally, just as he was about to turn a corner in the distance, I managed to summon up enough breath to yell out. Hang on a minute Ben. Let’s walk.

But it’s not like that with Jesus. Look back to the end of Ch 2. When we’re really feeling the weight of the journey. More of the blisters and sores/ than views and successes. Wondering whether God really IS there. Whether he knows what he’s doing. Or whether he CARES what we’re going through.

Whether the track is headed in HIS DIRECTION, or in the opposite direction. We need to remember that Jesus was like us in EVERY WAY. V18

18 Because HE HIMSELF SUFFERED WHEN HE WAS TEMPTED, he is able to HELP THOSE WHO ARE BEING TEMPTED.

Jesus achieved his victory and reign through suffering and death. It’s the way God’s designed things.

And his plans for YOU will include temptations and suffering.

God KNOWS. He experienced it all through his son. Jesus UNDERSTANDS. He pleads our case with compassion and empathy.

And when the temptation includes the temptation TO GIVE UP. To turn away from Jesus. To stop meeting with his people. Or reading his word. Or talking to him. Or living in obedience to him.

Remember that he experienced nothing less. In fact, he experienced MUCH MORE. Suffering and temptation – just like us. And he won VICTORY AND GLORY AND ETERNITY for us.

There is no other way we can achieve our God-given potential.

Our MARRIAGE will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ marriage.

Our CAREER will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ career.

Our MINISTRY AND SERVICE TO OTHERS will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ ministry.

Our plans and desires will never be all they can be unless they belong to Jesus.

So fix your thoughts on Jesus, and don’t give up.

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