Let me begin by asking you to conjure an image in your mind:
In Psalm 63:8 the Psalmist says to God : ‘My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.’
Do you see the image? I’m holding on to God. I need to. But really, underneath, He’s got a hold of me. My soul does cling to you LORD. But deep down it’s Your strong right hand that upholds me.
We have started looking at the NT book of Hebrews - written (by Barnabas) to Urban Christians who are under huge pressure in a pluralist non-christian culture to drift, disobey, give up on their faith.
And Chapter 2 begins with a stark warning to hold onto God
v1 “We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” And v3 “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation.” Pay attention, says Hebrews. Don’t drift. Don’t ignore this. Hold fast to God. Salvation is at stake.
But if that’s all we read here, we might go away thinking – oh boy, I don’t think I have the strength. I don’t think I can do it.
Well if that’s how we feel, the rest of Hebrews chapter 2 will give us a much bigger perspective. Yes, verses 1-4 our souls must cling to God. But verses 5-18 are all about the Strong Right Hand of God holding on to us. Ultimately your salvation is not down to your grasp of God. As we’ll see in these verses, Ultimately your salvation is down to His grasp of you.
And We were saying this last week that the way that you can hold onto God, in the midst of the problems and temptations of this life, is by contemplating, looking at, fixing your eyes on ..the Glory of Jesus Christ. It’s the only antidote that will expel all the poison that will otherwise perplex and enslave us..”
So that’s what the book of Hebrews is all about - showing us the glory of Jesus. Ordering all our joys under His primary joy. Because.. the way that we hold on to God is by gazing at the God who has taken hold of us. That’s what Hebrews 2 is gonna show us: Salvation is about being taken hold of by Jesus.
Look at v16. I’ll read to you literally what it says in the original language “Surely it is not angels that He (Jesus) lays hold of but it is the descendents of Abraham (humans) that He lays hold of.”
The word ‘help’ there in our church Bibles is a really weak way of translating a very strong word. This is the word for ‘seize’ or ‘arrest’ or ‘catch’. It’s got the idea of being taken into custody. Jesus Christ taking Abraham’s descendents into His hands, up into His possession. That’s the kind of ‘help’ Jesus offers. He lays hold of us.
It’s a bit like people with cats. I’m not a cat person. I’m unfortunately allergic to the feline. But I’ve observed this. When you decide your cats really should go outside. You ‘help’ your cats make that transition. But here’s how you help them. you don’t simply provide instruction. You don’t simply command or cajole.”Ginger, outside..” You don’t simply open the way, clear the path and make safe passage. No it’s very hands on the ‘help’ you give. You seize the cats; catch the cats, gather them up. And then you walk across the threshold carrying them under each arm. And in this way You deliver them into a whole new realm. That’s how You ‘help’ the cats make the transition.
Well it’s the same with Jesus Christ. He looks on a humanity that needs delivering. . And so He “helps” us make the transition. And He doesn’t simply provide helpful instruction about how we might do that. He doesn’t simply command or cajole. He doesn’t simply open up the way, clear the path and make safe passage. No. He is very hands on in the help He gives. He gathers us up and He strides across the threshold Himself to deliver us into a whole new realm.
He takes hold of us to restore us, rescue us and represent us
so point number 1. Jesus takes hold of us to restore US vv5-10
The writer to the Hebrews (Barnabas) seems a bit obsessed with angels doesn’t he? Perhaps the church he was writing to was a bit obsessed with them.
Angels are 1v14: Ministering spirits sent to serve those who are inheriting salvation. (Fiona and I have a theory that our estate agent, Max, through whom we’ve secured somewhere to move into is in fact an angel - we’ll invite him to our house warming and you can see for yourself).
In Hebrews chapter 1 the writer compares Jesus with the greatness of angels to demonstate Jesus’ greater glory but now here, he seems to compare Angels with humans
Have a look
5 It is not to angels that [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place (namely Psalm 8) where someone has testified :
‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
[but] you crowned them with glory and honour
8 and put everything under their feet.’
we humans may be weaker than angels but we were made to steward the earth. that was the command given to adam and eve in Genesis 2, fill the earth and develop it, graciously rule over all nature and animals. That’s true humanity.
And of course we’ve blown it haven’t we? From Adam and Eve’s first disobedience we, humanity, the family of Adam, ignore God and his word.
v8 describes the tragedy
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.
v9 we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death..
Where humanity failed. Jesus succeeded. Jesus the Son, God eternal, second person of the trinity for a little while was MADE lower than the angels. God became a human being in a stable in Bethlehem and walked on earth. And because of his spotless life and his selfless death for us (end of v9). God made Jesus (end of v10) perfect through what he suffered. That is, God exalted Jesus, raised him from the dead - crowned Him to be ruler of all. Jesus restores humanity. As a human he does what humanity has failed to do..
And then look at the family language in vv11-13
Jesus became human inorder to be a new Adam fathering a New humanity, a family that we can become a part of as we put our faith, our trust in him, Jesus. We can leave Adam’s race and be joined to our Jesus our brother and joined to a new human race! The first part of which - our pioneer Jesus - is already restored and ruling in glory. And when he appears again on this earth we shall be raised like him and will rule with him.
Jesus takes hold of our humanity and carries us over the threshold to restore US
A big part of joy is having things to look forward to. It might be a holiday or a wedding, the birth of a child. The reality for a culture that is lost and has no real concept of the future - is that our hopes can be very weak. But in Christ we have a living hope. We have A Future. We havd A world to come. Where it is not even angels that shall rule and govern and steward but US! Take heart. Rejoice in hope..
2. Jesus takes hold of us to rescue us vv14,15 and 17
In order to rescue us, Jesus had to become one of us. Only a human can pay a human debt.
v14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil
here’s the first enemy that jesus takes hold of us to rescue us from: darkness from below. Death is God’s holy punishment for our sin – but the devil holds the power of death because he accuses us before God. His is the darkness below us.
But then there’s the darkness within us. FEAR of death. Verse 15 says we are slaves to our fear of death. Everything we do is overshadowed by the grave. Now, very few of us face that shadow head on, we don’t dwell on it. But fear of death is the root fear out of which all other fears grow. And it’s a slavery: There is a driven-ness to a life without Christ that ultimately dances to the tune of this fear. Before Christ gives us an answer to death, we are captive. It is a great darkness within us.
And finally there is a darkness above us. God’s anger at us in our sin. Verse 17 recalls the Old Testament temple. In that building there was a Most Holy Place where the LORD dwelt, there was a Holy Place where priests worked, and outside there was an altar where sacrifices were made. And the sins of the people required atonement. A sacrifice that would turn God’s anger away.
This is so important. Our problem is not just that we sin. Our problem is that sin is an offence to a holy God, and He is righteously angry at us. If our problem was simply that we did bad things then the solution would be in our grasp – we could just stop doing bad things. But the real problem is above us. God’s anger at us in our sin – that is a problem that’s out of our hands. God’s wrath is the dark cloud above us.
And so without Christ’s rescue, there’s darkness from below, from within, and from above.. But.. the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. Jesus comes to lay hold of us in our darkness. He takes up our humanity in Himself in order to rescue us.. and he does so by his sacrificial death on the cross..
v17 ‘Christ had to be made like his brothers in every way that …he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’
The picture of v17 is really of the LORD sending all the priests and all of the sacrifices out of the temple. And He Himself climbs off His throne in the Holy of Holies (this is the meaning of the incarnation) He climbs down off His throne. He descends down through the Holy Place and out to the altar. There He lays down and is slain as the Lamb.
And in His death, the death-sentence for our sin is truly and finally satisfied. God’s anger at us in our sin is turned away from us because it has been turned on Christ and exhausted in Him. Christ laid hold of us, summed up our predicament, took responsibility for it,faced the anger it deserves, paid for it in full and put it away for good.
And then he rose again. He crossed the threshold, coming into a new realm beyond the darkness of sin, fear, and wrath. And He’s done all this, as one of us, laying hold of our humanity, carrying us with Him.
In Ian McKewan’s novel Atonement Briony Tallis is a 13 year old girl with an active imagination – she is an inventor of stories. After a sexual assault occurs near her country home – a combination of misapprehension and malice leads her to accuse her sister’s lover. The teenager’s evidence sends an innocent man to prison. And as she enters adulthood guilt for her actions begins to consume Briony Tallis. She is torn by regret and nagging remorse throughout her adult life. Longing to make amends, to set matters straight, to make some kind of Atonement. But she is unable to do, and so, and haunted by remorse, she resorts again to her imagination – an attempt to find a way of becoming at peace with herself.
Guilt and shame are a real weight upon us. Some of it imposed upon us by others. Some of it our own. But Jesus in his death has taken responsibility for all our wrongs and he has made atonement. Jesus has taken hold of you to rescue you from the dominion of darkness and bring you into his kingdom of light. So will you not now please stand in his light as free of guilt and shame..
3. vv17-18 Jesus takes hold of us to represent us.
Jesus has dealt with the darkness of our human failure, fear and shame, but we can still feel isolated in this world. There is still a darkness around us. Temptation and suffering is our daily experience. Does God really have any idea what it’s like to be human? Is there any point in praying? Does he know what we need?
If you were part of a minority people group in a country and you felt your culture was misunderstood and overlooked and you weren’t being helped. What would you need? What you’d need is to get one of your own high up in the government of that country – to represent your people before the president or prime-minister or whoever it is who has the power to change things.
v17 says that Jesus was made like us in every way ‘in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God.’ It’s temple language again. Every year in Israel there was a special sacrifice of atonement of a spotless lamb made outside on the altar. And then the blood of the sacrifice was brought by one of the people - the High Priest - through the Holy Place and into the Most Holy Place. On the basis of the blood the High Priest could enter. And He entered with the names of the tribes of Israel written across his breast-plate. The High Priest literally carried the people of God on His heart before the LORD.
It was another picture, foreshadowing what Jesus would do for real. Jesus is both the sacrifice and the great high priest. He laid hold of our humanity in order that he might lift it up to God and represent us there before the one who has power to change things. Even now – there is a man - seated at the right hand of God. Jesus - Humanity represented in the Trinitarian Godhead!!
And here’s the thing - Jesus is a merciful high priest. ‘Because (v18) he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’
Jesus is able to sympathise and help you like no other friend can. Because he suffered every suffering he alone knows what you are suffering, and because he was tempted in every way (though he is without sin) he knows your temptations… he understands.
And Because he has removed God’s wrath towards your sins past present and future Jesus now has only love, compassion and deepest affection for you. When you sin, his grace abounds to you all the more as he graciously maintains your justified status. His heart is filled with nothing but love for you and he longs for you to repent and confess so that he might run to you and show you the gracious and forgiving love that has been in his heart all along. If there is any grief in the heart of Jesus when you sin it comes from the fact that in your moments of sin you are not receiving the fullness of his love for you.
Gospel primer. Have a gospel on the go.
Jesus has taken hold of us.. that we might take hold of him
To restore us - living hope
To rescue us - freedom from fear and guilt
To represent us - our merciful high priest… there for us
Oh jesus - how wonderul you are. Source of all our joys