We are following the great letter called Hebrews written to Christians who are under pressure, temptation and also persecution for being Christians and especially a very strong tug back to Judaism. These are Christians with a background as Jews under very strong pressure to go back to the Judaist faith particularly because it was safer, safe to be a Jew not to be a Christian and partly because it was so tangible and experiential that to go back to the Temple was a feast for the senses.
We don’t know who wrote the Letter of Hebrews. We can guess that it was written before AD70 because it speaks of the Temple and the Temple was knocked to the ground in AD70. The author says in chapter 2 verse 3 that he didn’t get to hear Christ, but he knew people who did hear Christ and the Letter is very loving and a very brilliant letter to help Christians keep trusting and following Jesus.
What we saw last week in chapter 1 is that God spoke in the past through many prophets, but he has spoken in the present through his Son. And there is no greater communication to the world from God than Jesus. If you want great words, read his. If you want great deeds, look at his. If you want good facts, look at Jesus.
And the writer as we saw last week tells us seven great facts about Jesus and also gives us seven great Old Testament quotes that help us appreciate Jesus. Now, this chapter begins (as you see in chapter 2 verse 1) if God has spoken so wonderfully to the world, the writer says chapter 2 verse 1 – “we must pay more careful attention”.
What I want to do this morning is to divide our chapter into two parts – verses 1-9 are called “Christ the answer to our failure” and then verses 10-18 “Christ the answer to our fear”.
Christ the Answer to our Failure
One of the most helpful preachers in Sydney for the last 50 years was the late John Chapman. John never married, but often told the story of babysitting his nephews and asking the boys what they would like to play?
The boys said they would like to play ‘hide and seek’. So they said to John “Uncle John, you sit here and cover your eyes and count to 25 and we will go and hide behind the laundry door and then you come and look for us”. So John sat on the chair, covered his eyes, counted to 25 and then went off through the house looking for his nephews – calling our in a loud voice ‘are you under the bed’? There were shrieks of laughter behind the laundry door. ‘Are you behind the television’? There were shrieks of laughter behind the laundry door. And then he walks towards the laundry and says ‘are you hiding in the washing machine’? There were shrieks of laughter behind the laundry door, and the two boys leap out and say “here we are”!! So there is an interesting take on hide and seek.
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Now the profound point behind that happy little story is that God delights to be found. The Bible says ‘He is Light’ – he is pleased to reveal himself. So he doesn’t play complicated games with us. He has spoken very clearly, and he has spoken very personally, and he has made sure that we have his message and he has effectively come into the world and said ‘here I am’. And therefore the problem between God and humanity is not bad communication on his part; his communication is excellent, the problem is human inattention or disinterest or refusal. And when you read the arguments of popular Atheists, I notice that they never really deal with Jesus. They try to get around him, and if you look at the world’s religions, you will see that they somehow bypass this very clear person of Jesus.
If God has spoken in Jesus, and we know the message of Jesus has flooded our world because we keep rolling round Good Friday, Easter, Christmas – and if the message of Jesus according to Hebrews chapter 1 is huge, massive and we discover that Jesus is the owner of the world and the maker of the world and he is the Son of God, you can understand why the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 2 by saying “We must pay careful attention”.
The argument, he says, in those early verses is that if the Old Testament message which God often mediated through messengers or even angels came with very great power and very serious consequences so that if you ignored God you were punished, and as you read the Old Testament the person who turns their back on God often was disciplined – how much more says the writer “if we ignore such a great salvation”.
How will we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? I thought this was such a good question and such a good verse that when I had the opportunity to choose 1 verse to go on to the Board outside St Thomas that is facing the main road, that’s the verse. So the St Thomas sign just outside there has 1 verse, and it’s Hebrews 2:3 – How Shall We Escape if we Ignore Such a Great Salvation?
You will notice the words that are used in these verses – what do most people do with the message of God?
- Do they listen?
- Do they mishear it?
- Do they forget it?
- Do they go seeking and looking for it?
The times that I spend sitting with somebody whose life is unravelling and trying to explain to them the Good News of Jesus and I discover that there is every possible reason and excuse under the sun for steering away from Him – this strange desire to ignore Him.
And then how do most people give up on Christianity, most people drift away. They just slowly float away. Whatever they had as a child suddenly it just drifts out.
- a secret sin comes in the person discovers they can’t walk with Jesus because they have brought a secret sin into their life
- laziness coming along to a Fellowship once every few weeks and once every six weeks and then suddenly it just becomes a nothing, and it’s gone
- pride – just being too proud for things.
What’s the result of this according to chapter 2 verse 1-4? Is there going to be no consequence? Does it not matter? Is it no big issue? Is God going to treat these people the same? No – chapter 2 verse 3 “there is no escape”. There is inevitable trouble for the person who walks away from Christ.
And the reason is that Jesus has come to bring a Rescue so that a person who comes face to face with God, the Judge and has all their sins brought out into the open might be wonderfully spared and forgiven. But if you turn your back on that provision, what is left but to come face to face with God the Judge with your sins and no forgiveness.
So the great John Owen in the 17th Century said: “can anyone perish more justly than they who refused to be saved?”
No wonder the writer is saying ‘friends don’t stop listening, keep listening, pay attention to the Word and the message of Christ’.
From verse 5 the writer raises another important issue if the Son of God is so great, why is the world like it is? Why is the world such a mess? Where are the Kingdom and the rule of Christ? What’s going on?
You’ll see the first answer in verse 5. Christianity is about the world to come primarily. It’s also about this world but it is about the world to come, and if you want to understand Christianity, the great future is the world to come.
This is true Christianity – that’s why we are told in chapter 1 Jesus is the heir of a great inheritance for eternity and we are told in chapter 11 we need to be people of faith and look forward to a great world to come.
The world to come, that’s one of the great secrets of Christianity. We are in a brief world now but there is an eternal world to come, and if you want to know why the world is such a mess, you can see if you look at verse 6, it is primarily the human race. What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? And the writer is quoting Psalm 8 from the Old Testament where King David looked up at the night sky, and he said ‘you are so great, we are so little, how do you even notice us and why would you care for us?’
Incidentally for those who come regularly and you like to know these little things, in verse 6 it says ‘there is a place where someone has testified’. I used to think that this meant that the writer who wrote this letter was not very good at remembering where things actually came from and didn’t really know which passage, which verse but what the writer is saying is he is interested in the fact that the Old Testament is the complete Word of God, he’s not so interested in the little details or the verses or the technicalities, he wants the readers to know there is a place where God has said, and he begins to talk about humanity.
He describes humanity as having been given great honour. ‘You made him a little lower than the angels’ (verse 7) ‘you crowned him with glory and honour’.
Friends the human race has been put into this world by God with a tremendous privilege and responsibility. We are just a little bit under the angels; we have a tremendous role to play.
We are God’s representatives in the world, and there is a sense in which we can pretty well control most things, they are under our feet.
- We know how to tame the beast
- We know how to mine the mines
- We know how to work in the desert
- We know how to harness the water
There is a sense in which we have tremendous power, and it is the plan of God that we would be his representatives. But in verse 8 the place is a mess. ‘We do not see everything under control’ says the writer ‘we do not see everything subject’.
What an understatement. The world is a mess.
- Do you think families in our great country are going well at the moment?
- Do you think leadership is going well?
- Do you think the priorities of our nation are great?
- Do you think we have our costs all worked out?
- Do you think we have our morals all worked out?
The writer says humanity is not much good at the job that God has given us. We are not just that good. We don’t do it that well.
But (verse 9) we see Jesus and Jesus fulfil exactly what God wanted the human race to do. He fulfils Psalm 8.
- He came into the world as a man; in fact, he came into the world as the Son of Man
- He voluntarily placed himself under the angels although he deserved to be above the angels
- He then voluntarily placed himself under the leaders of the world, although he deserved to be over them
- He voluntarily placed himself under the judgment of God, although he did not deserve to be under the judgment of God
- He voluntarily came down.
And then we read the Scriptures “having done his great work he has been crowned with glory and honour and he sits on the throne King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has all the answers.
And so you see what the writer is telling us and we can’t work this out by using our eyes he has to tell us. What we have failed to do here, Jesus has succeeded in doing for eternity. That is his answer to our failure. He has succeeded in living the way God wanted. He has succeeded in bringing into this world a brand new home. He is the answer to our failure.
Christ is the Answer to Our Fear
The second point this morning is Christ is the answer to our fear (verses 9-18).
I don’t know what your view is about dying and death. Somebody said to me this morning they were absolutely looking forward to their death and they had no fear whatsoever. I don’t know if you have seen the Terracotta Soldiers, the Chinese Terracotta Soldiers whether you saw the photos of them or whether you have seen the Exhibition itself.
This is 7000 life-size terracotta soldiers discovered in 1974 and what lies behind these terracotta soldiers, as you may know, is that they were made to guard the body of the 1st Chinese Emperor to bring total rule to China. So once this Chinese Emperor had got rid of the other eight rivals and he took charge of the whole of China, he had one enemy that frightened him and that enemy was death.
And so what did he do? He commanded 700,000 people to basically build a tomb for himself in which would stand around his corpse eventually 7000 terracotta soldiers to guard him. It’s very different situation isn’t it from say Psalm 23 – The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
The Terracotta Soldiers were built 200BC; Psalm 23 was recorded 1000BC. A very, very great contrast isn’t there?
In this little section of Hebrews, the writer is going to show the secret of not being insecure about the grave and the future.
In verse 10 he deals with shock that someone as great as Jesus would die. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering”.
Now friends you just can’t imagine how difficult it was for the Jews of the day to believe the Messiah would die. We are pretty used to it – we’ve heard this for a long time – Jesus died – Christ died – we’ve heard this and heard this, but for the Jews, it was a very, very difficult thing. It was bizarre and you could imagine a Jewish uncle sitting with his young nephew who has just become a Christian and saying to him “Listen my boy, we know that if somebody strung up on a tree, someone is put on a cross they are cursed by God and this Jesus you are talking about – he’s gone, he’s gone, and we don’t even see him – don’t put your trust in him – come back to the temple”.
And the Hebrew writer says – No, no, no. God who made everything and who controls everything knew that it was fitting that the work was to be done through Jesus’ suffering. For those of you who are here this morning and you are going through some suffering and you ask yourself the question – “why doesn’t God just remove it all?” well the Biblical answer is he will one day but in the present he greatly uses it, he does wonderful and gracious, loving and powerful things through suffering. In fact, we read in verse 10 “He made Jesus perfect for his role through suffering”.
You see, it says it made Jesus perfect – it doesn’t mean he made Jesus morally perfect – he was morally perfect. It made Jesus vocationally perfect for his role. And I will give you four quick examples before we close.
Firstly, verses 9-10 – through Jesus’ suffering he took the death penalty for us. He himself faced the firing squad of God’s judgment so that we who believe in Him might walk free. That makes him a perfect Saviour and when a person lifts up their prayer to Christ and says ‘would you forgive me, would you save me’? Jesus is able to say ‘I can because I paid it for you and I will’. There is the first great work of God through Christ’s suffering – take the death penalty for his people.
Secondly, verses 11-13 – through suffering Jesus collects a new community. Once people start believing in Jesus, he gathers them to himself and the wonderful thing about Jesus is you see he has come into our sinful world which we have mucked up, he then produces a fantastic salvation, and he draws us into his success at his expense. And so there are some quotes there that remind us that when Jesus did his work, he looked on his people as his children, his brothers. He drew us into his faithful work.
Thirdly, verse 14 – Jesus destroyed the one who can make death terrifying, and that is the devil. He deprived the devil of his boast. The devil could boast, here’s a sinner, the sinner must die, and Jesus took the boast out of the devil’s mouth. He took the keys out of the devil’s hand, and the way he did that was by becoming flesh and blood for us and paying for us so that the devil has nothing more to say. Who has he done this for (verse 16)? He has done it for believers, the children of Abraham.
Fourthly, verses 17-18 – Jesus has made himself into a perfect High Priest. A High Priest is a person who you go to if you want to deal with your relationship with God and Jesus is the perfect High Priest, and one of the reasons he is a perfect High Priest is because he has come into the world, he knows what it’s like to live in this world, he knows what it’s like to be flesh and blood, he knows what it’s like to be tempted, persecuted and he is able to listen to the prayers of his people and he is able to not only say ‘I completely understand, but I can give you resources beyond this world’.
The wonderful thing about being able to go home from church this morning is that we are not dependant on this building or anything else, we are dependant on Jesus Christ, and we can go back to our room, and we can sit on our bed, and we can speak to him and say to him ‘I have this dreadful sin, I have this dreadful fear, I have this dreadful problem’ and there is nobody in the whole universe more sympathetic or more resourceful because he suffered and knows what we’ve been through. All of this has come through his suffering.
We, of course, do know that many people today don’t fear death and part of the reason many in our community don’t fear death is that they have grabbed the promises of a future, but they have rejected the person who can provide it. It’s one of the perversities of being an Australian today is that we have a lot of talk about how the future will be wonderful, which is what Jesus says, but then the person says ‘we don’t need the one who can make it happen’ which is just a complete non-sequitur and a disaster.
Some Christians may still be fearful of death, but you are not in danger. The sting has been taken by Jesus who died and paid and frees you.
So you see this wonderful passage is simply telling us that Jesus Christ is the answer to the present and the future. It’s a very complicated passage, and I’m sorry in a way this morning that we didn’t have something that was just a little more simple and jovial, but we don’t actually adjust the Preaching Roster for the Congregation, we bring the Congregation to the Preaching Roster.
I want to finish by just saying is there anybody this morning, maybe the sort of person this morning and you are just beginning to think about Christianity. I want to encourage you in the words of our chapter “to pay careful attention to what Jesus has said and done” by either pulling your Bible off the shelf and reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for yourself or by coming to the little Christianity Explored Course and having all your questions at least listened to if not answered.
But most people this morning are believers and what is the message for us this morning? The message for us this morning is this – we are all so capable of being very inattentive – we are very attentive to other stuff, graphs and crises and house prices and carbon tax – very attentive. We need to pay very careful attention to something which is eternally significant.
It always saddens me that sometimes on Sundays you deal with things that are really big and weighty and then I suddenly find myself talking with somebody and they want to talk about something SO trivial and SO mystical. But here the writer says we need to pay careful attention to:
What God has done through Jesus because Jesus has made it possible for us to have the death penalty lifted off us
To be brought into a community of believers – this will last into the next world
The devil himself is powerless to affect us
And we have in the present a High Priest who is able to listen and help us every day along the path.
And friends if that isn’t worth having and knowing and listening carefully to and sticking with, I’m greatly surprised.
So let’s pray and ask God to help us to be good attention givers to Him.
Our Father we thank you this morning for this wonderful reminder in the Scriptures of the Lord Jesus, the answer to our failure, the one who is able to make a new community and a new world. We thank you too for this reminder in the Scriptures that he is the answer to our fear, able to lift away the death penalty, bring us into your family, deliver us from the scoffing of the devil and be for us every day a faithful and sympathetic High Priest.
We pray our Heavenly Father that you would help us to be such good listeners to this great message that we would never drift or fall away. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.