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“So Great a Salvation”

Hebrews 2:1-18
Bob DeGray
September 30, 2001

Key Sentence

The greatness of our salvation is in the incarnation and suffering of Jesus.


I. So great a salvation message is not to be ignored. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
II. To suffer for us and rescue us . . .
        Jesus became what man was supposed to be. (Hebrews 2:5-9)
        Jesus became our brother. (Hebrews 2:10-13)
        Jesus shared in our humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18)


        In college we knew a guy who wasn’t a Christian but who found himself both intrigued and put-off by the faith of the believers around him. One day a couple of us invited him to sit with us at breakfast. He declined, he said, because all we ever talked about was death. Death. Now it didn’t seem to us that we talked about death very much. We were more into life - eternal life. But death does come up in contrast to that, and we suspected he heard so much about death because it was a burden on his heart and mind. We didn’t have the same issues, so we talked about it much differently.

        Recently, of course, all of us have had to face the fact of death in undeniable reality and with full color video. We’ve seen the sobering effect this has had on a nation which for the most part lived in denial of death before September 11th. There is no doubt that a feeling of false security a safe environment and a polished health care system created were shattered by the sudden revelation that any moment could be your last, and any act, from flying on an airplane to drinking the water carried a certain risk.

        Death is an undeniable reality of life. Our mortality rate is still 100 percent. The French philosopher Montaigne said “You do not die of being sick, you die of being alive.” What is it then that makes our culture so often deny, ignore and sanitize death? There is only one thing: fear. It is the fear of death that unconsciously haunts men, and that was awakened by the evil of the terrorists. And for the most part that fear is well founded: even the Bible calls death the last enemy. The Scriptures testify that death leads to judgement: death seals each person’s eternal destiny. So it is right for non-believers to fear death. Believers, on the other hand, have been freed from slavery to the fear of death by the salvation found in Jesus. It is that freedom, that salvation, that Savior that we want to study today in Hebrews 2. The greatness of our salvation is found in the incarnation and suffering of Jesus. It is through his sacrifice and suffering that we are freed forever from the fear of death.

I. So great a salvation message is not to be ignored. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

        Hebrews chapter 2 is tremendous. It gives a compelling picture of our Savior, the Lord Jesus, who became a man like us and suffered a sacrificial death so that he might free us from death, help us in life, and bring us into his own glory. The chapter begins with an introduction to this great salvation and a warning. Hebrews 2:1-4. We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

        The author has already said that Jesus is superior to the angels. Now he will say that the message Jesus brings is also superior to the message brought by angels. Therefore we should pay careful attention to that message so that we do not ‘drift away.’ The Greek word was used of a ship whose anchor had broken loose from the ocean floor so that it drifted toward the rocks and shoals that would wreck it beyond recovery. This can happen to us if we don’t give heartfelt consideration to the message.

        Notice that the message was spoken by angels. The New Testament affirms that the law of Moses had been given through angels. Stephen, in his sermon before he became a martyr, and Paul in the letter to the Galatians both say that the law came through an angels. And it was powerful, so that every sin and disobedience received a just penalty. ‘Think!’ the author says ‘If this is true, then how will we escape judgement if we neglect, ignore or drift away from an even better message of salvation?’

        Note the contrast: the first message was given through angels, but the second was spoken through the Lord and ‘confirmed to us by those who heard.’ ‘The Lord’ is Jesus, and ‘those who heard’ are the disciples who listened to his words of life. Think for example of the night he was betrayed when he told them the impact of the coming crucifixion. He took the bread and said: ‘this is my body, broken for you’ and then the cup: ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

        That message was passed along as good news to all who were willing to hear. God himself confirmed it in the signs and wonders and miracles and gifts that marked the arrival of the Spirit. Great as the angel’s message of law and justice had been, the Lord’s message of grace and salvation was greater. And if neglect of the lesser brought judgement, what will the neglect of the greater bring but destruction?

        What do we mean by neglect? Basically, not believing the message. The next 15 verses explain it clearly: Jesus became a man and died on the cross for our sins. He offered a way to escape from sin and death. Is it any surprise that if you ignore that message the result will be sin and death? If you were floating down a river in a boat and I brought a message about a waterfall, what would be the outcome of ignoring that message? Disaster. So with the author of Hebrews I have to encourage you to pay attention. The message we’re about to hear is the message of salvation. You’ve got to get this right or nothing else matters. How will you escape if you neglect it?
        You may ask “Can even true Christians to ignore this message and drift away from it?” We’re going to spend time later in Hebrews on this issue, but let me give a key thought: True Christians can temporarily neglect their faith, but it’s more common among people who have never really trusted what Jesus has done at a deep heart level. They may get excited about this message at one time, but then they ignore or neglect it and drift away from those who shared it with them.

II. To suffer for us and rescue us . . .
        Jesus became what man was supposed to be. (Hebrews 2:5-9)

        So what is the message? It’s about Jesus becoming a man and suffering. In order to suffer for us and rescue us, Jesus became what man was supposed to be. Hebrews 2:5-9 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we speak. 6But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8and put everything under his feet." 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. 9But 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.

        These verses use truths about angels and men to highlight key truths about Jesus. Angels, he says, will have no part in the rule of the world. They may have their angelic orders and hierarchies, but they do not rule. Instead, the ideal world, and the world to come is subject to man. The Psalm the author quotes presents that ideal view of the dominion of mankind over creation. It points out the greatness of the created universe, the moon and stars that God formed, and says that compared to them man is nothing. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” But though man seems insignificant, God “made him a little lower than the angels, crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”

        In the ideal mankind was given this glory, honor and dominion. Yet, the end of verse 8: ‘at present we do not see everything subject to him. Boy, that’s true. The author recognizes that in the real world, because of sin, God’s ideal design for man was never realized. Yes, we do have some dominion over this world and it’s resources, but we don’t control ‘acts of God’ like hurricanes and earthquakes, and the acts of evil men disrupt even the most innocent lives, as we have so recently seen.

        So rather than being in control, mankind has always felt out of control. Rather than ruling righteously mankind has lived in slavery to death, to sin, and to its consequences. We don’t see man in the ideal state. But we do see Jesus. Verse 9 is the first use of the name Jesus in Hebrews. Up to this time he has been the Son or the Lord. Now that we’re talking about his incarnation, we will use his human name: Jesus. He was made a little lower than the angels. In Psalm 8, man is the one created a little lower than the angels. When Jesus was made lower than the angels he was made man.
        Jesus stooped to become what we were. He gave up the glory he had as creator and Son and took on our nature. What is for us an honor - to be little lower than the angels - was for him the supreme act of humility. The creator became a created being. The sovereign became a servant. The Son of God became the Son of Man. He stepped down to where we were. Why? So he could step lower still and rescue us. Verse 9 says he suffered death so by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

        He suffered death. Don’t miss the word ‘suffered’ there - it’s intentional. He didn’t just die, but he took on the suffering of death. He tasted or ate death so that we would not have to swallow it whole. It’s true that in our mortal bodies we still die, but our eternity has been changed. Look down at verse 10: he brings many sons to glory. The outcome of death apart from Jesus is judgment, Hebrews 9:27. But the outcome of human death for those in Jesus is glory. Why? Because Jesus not only stepped down in the incarnation to become a little lower than the angels, but he stepped up to what man was supposed to be. Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor. He has received what man was supposed to receive in the ideal of Psalm 8, because of his suffering and death. Now he brings many sons to that same glory - the ones he died for, the ones whose death he tasted, in whose place he suffered. We are rescued by the great salvation that came through his incarnation and suffering.

II. To suffer for us and rescue us . . .
        Jesus became our brother. (Hebrews 2:10-13)

        The next thing we see is that by his suffering and rescue Jesus has become our brother. Verses 10 to 13: 10In 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. 11Both 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. 12He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." 13And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I and the children God has given me."

        Verse 10 continues the thought begun in verse 9: Jesus has brought many sons to glory. How is this done? Verse 10 tells us that the only fitting way, in God’s sight, was the suffering of Jesus. God’s justice demanded payment and punishment. God could not allow sin, could not ignore sin, could not accept sinners in their sinful state. God is holy: he is by nature separated from sin. So if in love he wanted an eternal relationship with sinners, he had to find a way to cleanse them from sin, to carry out his justice, and yet free them from the eternal separation of death.

        How? Through Jesus. He was the author of our salvation. The word in Greek means one who goes in front of others and leads the way. If Jesus had not blazed the way there would be no salvation. Some translate it ‘champion’ or ‘captain’ or, my favorite, ‘pioneer’. Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation. More than an example to follow, he goes before us to make salvation possible through his suffering and death.
        It’s astounding to think that in blazing the trail of salvation, Jesus became perfect through suffering. How can Jesus, who was the Son from eternity past, who fully embodied the perfection of a perfect God, be made perfect? He can’t. But recognize that the English word ‘perfect’ imperfectly translates the Greek word ‘telios’. We could also say ‘complete’ or ‘fulfilled’. The saving mission of this pioneer was fulfilled by his suffering and death. The work Jesus came to do was completed - perfected - on the cross, and in completing his life work, he himself was completed or fulfilled.

        As a consequence something wonderful happens - we become his brothers and sisters. Verse 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, the holy one, became part of the human family so that he could make us holy, so that he is not ashamed to call us brothers: he is honored. He’s glad to have us as part of this family. Isn’t that the intent of the three quotes in verses 12 and 13? Jesus is talking to the Father: ‘I will declare your name to my brothers. In their midst I will sing your praise. I will put my trust in you, for I’m here with the children you have given me.’ How can we neglect a salvation so great that it has this outcome?

II. To suffer for us and rescue us . . .
        Jesus shared in our humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18)

        Finally, in suffering for us and in rescuing us, Jesus shared in every facet of our humanity. Verses 14 to 18: 14Since 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-- hat is, the devil-- 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17For 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. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

        The incarnation of Jesus was necessary because his children, his potential brothers and sisters were themselves flesh and blood. It’s interesting that in the Greek this idiom reads ‘blood and flesh’. The ‘blood’ may refer to Christ’s shedding of his blood, which required him to become ‘flesh’ - the atonement required the incarnation. Later in Hebrews the author will say that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. If Jesus hadn’t become a real ‘flesh and blood’ person he could not have shed is blood for us. There have been many false teachings through the years about what Jesus was like, making the incarnation only a spiritual reality, not a physical one. But the physical was crucial. Jesus took on flesh and blood so that his body might be broken and his blood shed for us.

        The author states the purpose this way: “that through death he might render powerless the one who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Jesus’ death was a victory over the one who holds the power of death. Remember, though, that Satan cannot give or take away life. He cannot choose the eternal fate of any person. What Satan holds and uses is the power of the fear of death. Death and what lies after seem so painful that the very fact of death can be used to paralyze those who are alive. He enslaves either through fear that paralyzes, or through bravado and willful ignorance that says ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.’ He tempts people to an utter disregard of eternity, ignoring death because it is a barrier they can’t see beyond.

         Some of the greatest men the world has known have secretly struggled with fear of death. Many average ordinary people have the same struggle. I remember encountering this fear in the science fiction of author Robert Heinlein. His characters were always obsessively trying to find a way to live forever. To this day his own death has been kept almost a secret, because he didn’t want it admitted to the world he could die. Alfred Krupp, the greatest weapons and explosive manufacturer of World War I wouldn’t let the word death be spoken in his presence, and never attended a funeral.

        In many ways these people are right: death is an enemy. Death is painful to contemplate, often painful and undignified and demeaning to experience, and especially painful when it means separation from our loved ones. Further, death leads to death. For anyone trapped in their own sin, death leads to judgment of that sin and to eternal death, separation from God in a place that is hell because of His absence.

        Satan wields the power of the fear of death with confidence because apart from Jesus death is both a great enemy and an inevitable victor. But verse 14 tells us Jesus destroyed him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil– and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Jesus is the victor over death. In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul writes “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus frees us from slavery to the fear of death because he is the pioneer of life: he has blazed the trail by his resurrection to the far side of death and he has shown that there is life, eternal life, glorious life beyond the grave. If his suffering and death are the payment for our sins, his resurrection is the antidote for our fear. He has not left us to wonder whether death has the final victory: he has risen to show us it’s defeat.

        And who did he do this for? Not angels. The author returns one more time to that subject and says ‘it wasn’t for angels that Jesus died, it was for Abraham’s descendants.’ Jesus rescues people because he himself was made like his brothers in every way. At the end of the chapter the author gives three ways this affects his work on our behalf. First, he was a merciful and faithful high priest. As a man he knew our need of God: he saw the evil, hurt, pain and struggle of life in a fallen world every day of his earthly stay. He himself never sinned, but he knew the depths of need caused by sin, and so he had mercy and compassion on us.

        The second great benefit of the incarnation is that as a man he could in justice pay the price for the sins of men. He was made like his brothers ‘to make atonement for the sins of the people.’ The Greek word is ‘hilaskemos.’ When translated ‘make atonement’ the translators are emphasizing that this word means paying the price for sin. When translated ‘propitiate’ the emphasis is placed on turning aside God’s wrath. When translated ‘reconciliation’ the emphasis is on the outcome of that sacrifice - restored relationships with God. Jesus achieved all these things on the cross.

        Third, there is a very personal benefit to the incarnation and suffering of Jesus. Verse 18: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus did suffer when he was tempted. The drops of blood that fell from his brow in the Garden of Gethsemene were testimony to the anguish of his soul. Knowing that he would soon be declared guilty in his Father’s sight of all our sins, he was tempted to refuse the way the Father had planned, and try one of Satan’s alternatives: he was tempted, as we so often are, to take the easy way out. But he didn’t do it. He bore the temptation though bearing brought great suffering. So Jesus is able to help when we are tempted, first because he understands our temptation, and second because the way he pioneered, the path he opened is the way of escape from temptation. If he had given in to temptation we would have no one to be an example of endurance, no one to sympathize with our weaknesses, and no hope of escape. But because Jesus was victorious over temptation, we have his help.

        How great is this salvation? It is incomparably great, for it was achieved by the incarnation and suffering of Jesus. He was made lower than the angels. He suffered death so that by the grace of God he might eat it for everyone. His work was completed by his suffering, and by it, as the pioneer of salvation, he brings sons and daughters into his own glory. He shared our humanity so that by his death he might destroy the one who holds us in slavery to the fear of death - and free us from that fear. In saving us he proved himself a faithful and merciful high priest, and by his sacrifice he paid the price for our sins. How great is this salvation? When we consider his incarnation and suffering we must agree it is incomparably great.

        The question that confronts us as we close is the one we saw in those first verses: How else can we escape if we neglect or ignore so great a salvation? Jesus offers you and I a way of escape - from sin, from the fear of death that pervades our culture, and from the effects of death: Jesus offers us an eternal relationship with God, instead of eternal separation. Jesus offers us a great salvation: we ignore it to our peril.

        There are three kinds of people in the room today, and I want to point this at each of you separately. First, you may be here today, and this is the first you’ve really heard of this great salvation. My advice is don’t ignore it. If we’ve learned anything from the evil of the terrorists, it is that life is fleeting. Here is your great chance to escape from sin and fear now, from hell and separation later. All you need is to recognize your need and place your entire trust in Jesus, who suffered death so that you could escape it. If you believe he really did that - in the flesh, in his body, on the cross, and you believe he did it to save you from sin and death, then put your faith in him today, and let him give you a whole new life - a changed life, a committed life.

        Second group: you have heard this message many times, but you’ve never really given it your full attention. You may have thought of this salvation as either something you would get to by and by, or something you’ve more or less already received. Let me warn you - unless this salvation has made a great and permanent difference in your life, the odds are that you’ve never really received it. Just having heard it, even being comfortable with it or agreeing with it is not enough: you’ve got to have taken that step of faith, turned a clear corner in your life, headed a new direction. If you haven’t, I believe you’re exactly the person this author was writing to when he said: ‘how will we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?’ If you are fooling yourself about being a Christian, you probably know it - and now is the time to get real.

        Third group: you are a real believer: Jesus has rescued you, and me, and we’re not in danger of losing that rescue. But we can still lose the thanksgiving and joy that ought to characterize our salvation. We can suppress what we know and rediscover the fear of death that gives Satan power over our lives. The greatness of salvation can over time come to mean less and less in our daily lives, thoughts and behavior. God forbid this should happen. You must have seen in this text what a wonderful thing Jesus did in his incarnation and suffering. Why isn’t that the central thing in your life? Why? Everything else comes second to so great a salvation.

        As we turn to communion, I’m asking all of you, all three groups - and myself - to wrestle with these questions before the Lord. Before we leave here today, I want you to know in your own mind where you stand: are you going to ignore, are you going to neglect, to drift away - or are you going to embrace so great a salvation?