Hebrews 2 – Greater Than Death

1So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.

This statement, perhaps,  defines the importance of the book of Hebrews more than any other that is contained in it.

As stated in chapter 1, Hebrews is about Jesus. However, it’s not just about Jesus…it’s also about something he cared about more deeply than he cares about anything else under the sun. It’s about us. It’s about his church. It’s about the people he died for.

This becomes more evident toward the end of book, but here in this verse and in the one previous in chapter one, we get our first glimpse of the church as well as our first charge.

Remember the end of chapter 1?

14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:14

There’s our description…those who will inherit salvation. Now for the charge in verse 1 of chapter 2…we must listen carefully.

Listen to what? The truth we have heard. Which truth is that?? The The truth of who Jesus is. That truth is proclaimed throughout the pages of this book. In chapter 1, he is greater than the angels. Equal with God. What could possibly be an appropriate follow-up to that? In other words, once you’ve established that Jesus is greater than angels, what more is left to conquer?

Quite a bit actually.

2For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished.

You see, this other creation, the crown of all creation, made in God’s own image is subject to something angels know nothing about…death.

Death in many ways is the most powerful force in the universe. At the very least, it’s power seemed to be a pretty good match for God’s. Just as David wondered aloud in Psalm 139 “Where can I go to hide from your presence?”, death is an enemy that will eventually conquer us all.

Romans 6:23 tells us that death is a direct result of our sin. That because of our sin, each man is “destined to die once” (Hebrews 9:27), and after that, we will be judged. People then, and even now, lived knowing that no matter how much good they do, eventually the bad stuff they’ve done will be all that matters. No matter what they do, death, the punishment they deserved, will eventually claim them.

This was the sobering reality that was implicitly understood by everyone on the planet at the time of Christ.

However, that was not the end of the story, as Christ was crucified and on the third day HE ROSE AGAIN, conquering death for all of us!

There’s an interesting verse in the book of Genesis…

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”” – Genesis 3:15

Depending on the version you are reading, it might say, “He will crush your head and you will bruise his heel.” Perhaps this is the more appropriate rendering of the passage as traditionally, scholars have indicated that this passage is about much more than the obvious physical relationship between snakes and humans.

It makes sense obviously, that when a snake attacks a human, he will likely go for their feet simply because he’s already on the ground. It’s the closest thing that he can get to.

A man would be unwise to attack a snake anywhere but the head as that is the most dangerous part of their body. They are killed when their head is separated from the rest of them.

This verse has a deeper meaning though…a meaning that has one foot in the physical realm and the other in the spiritual.

Remember chapter 1 when we talked about which is greater between the physical and spiritual world? Remember how this world we now live in is like an old shirt that you throw away and forget about? That’s what is being spoken of here.

Just as the physical realm is temporary and the spiritual eternal, so it is with the power of death versus the power of resurrection.

Satan has been given the power of death. He lords it over us and uses its power to make us afraid and stop us from living in victory. No matter how much he succeeds in his efforts however, his victory will be as insignificant in the light of the resurrection as this life is but a breath in the scope of eternity.

The serpent represents Satan…he will bruise your heel, but we will crush his head. He can take your life, but you will be resurrected thereby stripping him of his power. He’s as good as dead. You crushed him.

Let’s put it plainly…the worst thing that Satan could ever do to you is to take this broken, temporary, physical world from you. That’s it. That’s the scope of his power. That’s the limit of his destruction. That’s all that he can take hold of.

IF, and only IF you believe in the resurrection of Christ…

3So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

I’m sure that you’ve heard this before: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Catchy, huh? It’s a 12-step mantra, and is something most all of us can relate to on some level.

Here’s the problem with humanity – in spite of a track record that spans milleniums, people still have to be convinced of their own mortality.

How many times have you heard someone talk about a near-death experience, or a sickness that left them a shell of their former self and they express how all-of-a-sudden they are acutely aware of the fragility of life? As if they hadn’t truly considered how fleeting life is until this very moment?

This genetic trait of humanity is not lost on the author of Hebrews. Why do we believe we won’t suffer the same fate? Why don’t realize that our only hope is in the own who conquered death?

It’s because death is not an enemy that we are universally familiar with.

You see, this is the problem with people accepting God’s free gift of salvation. The hard part isn’t acknowleging that there is a God. Oh no, the truly difficult task is admitting that we need him. Perhaps the 12-steps put it best with step 1 – accepting that we have a problem and that we are powerless to fix it.

The problem we have is sin. Our need is for a Savior.

Hebrews then begins to establish the authority of the message that the apostles are teaching at that moment in history throughout the world. How we be sure of the truth of the apostles message? Because they don’t claim to be its source. The message they speak came directly from Jesus himself. Not only that, but the power of that message was put on display at Pentecost and throughout the Book of Acts.

These are stories that the audience would have been intimately familiar with. You may think that the lack of formal recognition of a letter like this would have taken away from it’s credibility. On the contrary, the author uses a very convincing argument to support his claims of hope in Christ: the lives of the apostles themselves.

The Hebrews know these men. They have seen them, heard them and read their writings. Perhaps more important though, they have heard the news that the apostles are being killed and persecuted for the message that they are preaching.

If there is a purpose to the book of Hebrews, it would seem that it is to inspire faith in the lives of the Hebrew believers. Faith that holds firm when trials come, and perseveres when help does not. Faith that will wait on the Lord.

5And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6For in one place the Scriptures say, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? 7Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 8You gave them authority over all things.” Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority.

This passage is directly quoted from Psalm 8:4-6, and we get a more full understanding of its meaning when we study it through the lens of the Book of Hebrews.

The challenge to us is simply that while it’s true that God has crowned us with glory and honor, it’s also not in a sense. At least, not yet. We spoke at length in chapter 1 about God’s desire to make us “co-heirs” with Christ and to give us a share of the inheritance that is due to his children.

This particular inheritance has a really interesting twist to it though. Normally when one has a large inheritance, it is passed on to his children upon his death. However, with the inheritance that Christ offers, it is paid out upon the death and subsequent resurrection of the heirs!

This is what is meant when the author says that we haven’t yet seen the inheritance that God offers to us delivered. That will only come when he finally elevates our position, from lower than the angels to co-heirs with Christ. As a sign of these things to come, we have Jesus, who witnesses saw ascend into heaven after his resurrection…

9What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

See that? It’s the mirror-image of Psalm 8, only Jesus is shown here in the place of man to demonstrate how this inheritance is claimed.

Jesus was made lower than the angels. Why? So he could be equal with us. He then suffers death, as we all must, and ascends to his rightful position in heaven where he is crowned with glory and honor as a Son in the house of the Father.

Jesus demonstrates for us the path that each of us will take and gives us the hope that when this mortal body finally gives up, we will receive a new, incorruptible body and live with him forever.

This was the truth that Paul wrote about to the church in Corinth…

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1

So now we come full circle, and just as the author argues for Jesus’ position in chapter 1, he now defends our position in chapter 2…

11So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.” 13He also said, “I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

Jesus, who is holy, and us, the ones he makes holy, are sons and daughters in the same household with the same Father. Co-heirs with Christ, and like him, crowned with honor and glory.

Can you imagine that? After all we’ve done to disappoint him, he ushers us into his kingdom, places a crown upon our head, puts his arm around our shoulder, gestures toward the kingdom that he has built and says, “I built this for you.” Welcome home, son! Welcome home, daughter!

This hope is sure, and there can be no doubt that this is what God has always intended. In Psalm 22, we get a glimpse of the Messiah, and the details of his death are amazing to consider, having been written centuries before he was ever born. Verse 12 is quoted here and is proof of this doctrine that we are like brothers and sisters to Christ himself.

Then, a phrase is used that seems to confuse things a little. Scholars agree that the writer here in verse 13 is quoting from Isaish 8:18…

I and the children the Lord has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies who dwells in his Temple on Mount Zion. – Isaiah 8:18

This is really an interesting thought, isn’t it? In the same section of scripture, we are referred to as both siblings of Jesus as well as his children! This further affirms the oneness between the Son and the Father and the mystery of exactly how the concept of the “trinity” works. Regardless of what you may believe, one truth that must be universal among true believers is this: Jesus is equal with God.

14Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

This is where it starts to get exciting right? This is where we get some answers. Haven’t you ever wondered why God had to be made human to die? Beyond the theological implications that only a blood sacrifice could atone for sin, there is hinted at here this idea that Christ’s death served to set us free from another kind of bondage…the bondage of fear.

The passage here refers to us as being slaves, not to death, but to the fear of death. No, that’s not a typo or a variance in the particular translation that has been used here. It’s right there in the original greek. There we find φόβος, or ‘phobos’. It’s a word used to describe a kind of terror. In fact, the word comes from another word, ‘phebomai’ which means to ‘put to flight’.

Altogether, Jesus willingness to suffer death was to empower us to live our lives without fear. To not cower or run. To boldly face life and yes, even death with a sense of boldness because we know this is not the end! The apostle Paul would write…

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.58So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. – 2 Corinthians 5:56-58

You know that abundant life that Jesus said he came to bring to each of us? This is the secret to it.

If you fix your eyes on this world and on the life here in the physical realm, you won’t be able to keep them focused on the good things. Eventually you’ll notice the evil, the heartache, the loss of life, the hopelessness and the things of this world will make you depressed and fearful and cause you to live a life that isn’t really a life at all.

But…If you turn your eyes upon Jesus…

Take notice of how he went to cross. It was without hesitation because he knew that by the power of God he would eventually conquer the grave and give hope to many that would believe in him, that he would one day call his brothers and sisters, and even his children. Yes, if you turn your eyes toward that man, our Savior, then “the things of this world will grow strangely dim…”

16We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

I don’t know about you, but I am overwhelmed by the thought that God thinks so much about me. You and I are so special in his eyes.

My wife has stood by my side through some pretty tough struggles. She has had to witness my depravity in ways that lesser women would left me for a long time ago. However, even amidst the security and comfort of that love, I sometimes become afraid because I wonder if I will ever do anything that is just too much for her to overlook. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is a limited capacity to the love that my wife, or anyone else in my family for that matter, can possibly have for me.

Not true with God. How do I know this? Because God’s standards are higher, he knows everything I’ve ever done wrong and even knows my thoughts, and yet he says that not a thing in the world could ever come between us. This is the extent of God’s love…

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.35Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36(As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.38And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39

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