"Superior to angels" by Rod Bayley, 13 February 2011, Heb. 2:1-18

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Danny

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Mar 5, 2011, 1:13:29 AM3/5/11
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
In July of 2009 our family went to the Gold Coast for a holiday. We
were staying in a unit in a resort complex when around 2am the fire
alarm went off. Christine rightly rushed around and was getting the
kids ready, but I was dawdling as I looked outside into the carpark
where we were supposed to meet and there was no sense of alarm or any
real danger. It was the same in the corridor and there was no smell
of smoke at all. On that basis I took my time and got changed and
collected a few more things than you would normally worry about.
Christine was less than impressed, because you should heed alarms -
it’s a warning to get out of the building, and who knows there could
have been a small fire somewhere in the complex. We should respond to
warnings. Well, we all eventually made it downstairs and stood in the
carpark out the front of our complex, looking very bleary-eyed with
the rest of the holiday makers who were waiting for some word. After
standing outside for half an hour, we were told it was a false alarm
and we could all return to our rooms.

I remember another fire alarm far more vividly, even though it was
many years ago. It was also 2 or 3am in the morning and my mother
came running through the house, yelling ‘There’s a fire - get up!’ I
grew up in a suburb called Kentlyn which is a bushland area on the
Georges River. We had a couple of acres of bushland behind our house,
and a bushfire had started and was within 20 or 30 metres of our
house. Well, we were all up and running outside with buckets and
hoses in a flash, as we were about to be fighting for our house and
perhaps our lives. Thankfully the fire brigade turned up after about
half an hour, and the blaze was brought under control, but it was
close thing.

Sometimes we ignore or are slow to respond to helpful warnings, as
we’ve seen demonstrated again through the floods in Brisbane and
elsewhere, or the bushfire in Perth. At other times, people seem to
respond more readily to the warnings, such as for a category five
cyclone like Yasi. But warnings are meant to be heeded - they are
designed to save our lives. This brings us to the first point on your
outline: ‘Paying attention to the message.’ Notice again what the
writer states in verses 1 to 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 mircales, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed
according to his will.”

Here the writer offers a warning - ‘pay more careful attention’ to the
message in verse 1. The message being spoken of is the gospel message
- the good news about Christ’s death and resurrection. It centres on
Jesus, the Lord, who he has declared in chapter one to be the Son of
God, the final word, who has provided purification for ous sins. The
reason for the warning is also given in verse 1 - if the message is
not heeded then there is the danger of drifting away. The phrase
translated ‘drift away’ pictures a Christian in peril of being carried
downstream past a fixed landing place and so failing to gain its
security. The author is warning his Christian readers that if they
yield to the temptation to let go of the solid ground of the gospel,
they’re in danger. Having witnesses the flooding along the east coast
in the last month, with the vivid images of people hanging onto solid
objects and then losing their grasp and being swept along, it’s easy
to picture that metaphor, and grasp how scary that is in a spiritual
sense.

Which begs the question, what is the consequence of leaving the gospel
behind? Why is the warning so urgent and crucial? Well, the writer
wants to say very strongly that there is no escape from God’s
judgement if we reject the gospel. He does this by contrasting the
former message of the Law mediated by angels, with the final word of
the gospel announced by the Son. In Deuteronomy 33:2, Moses said,
“The Lord came from Sinai ... He came with myriads of holy ones” -
here is the law mediated by angels. But notice how in verse 2 he
explains that those who rejected the law received just punishment.
Every violation of the law, every act of disobedience incurred God’s
wrath - it was written into the law. For example, serious breaches
like murder would lead to the punishment of death (Ex.21:12, 14).
Given that the readers realised how dangerous it was to reject God’s
former revelation, then says the writer in verse 3, imagine ignoring
the great salvation revelation of the gospel - there will be no
escape. If the final word of the Son is a far greater and fuller
revelation, the Word in flesh, then the punishment for rejecting the
gospel is inescapable - there is no excuse that can be offered.

In verses 3 and 4 he notes that the gospel was first announced by the
Lord Jesus, but that the message has been passed onto him and his
readers “by those who heard him.” That is, they are depending on the
eyewitness accounts - that of the apostles and their immediate
circle. And so this momentous gospel message which can only be
ignored at our peril, has been confirmed by those who were present.
Of course, the gospel accounts were not written until some 30 years
after the events, but they were written by eyewitnesses who were
enabled by the Spirit to recall the events accurately (Jn.15:25-26) -
it is God’s inspired, or Spirit-breathed record of the life, death and
resurrection of His Son. Not only do we have the eyewitness accounts,
but those accounts were further testified to by God, who worked
various signs, wonders and miracles through the first disciples. The
gospel message was accompanied by God’s power, and the gifts of the
Holy Spirit which were distributed amongst God’s people, as
confirmation of the truth of the message.

This warning in verses 1 to 4 applies directly to us, just as it did
the first readers, and so the confirmation of the gospel message is
just as important for us. We ignore or reject the gospel at our own
eternal peril, and so we will also be assured by God’s supporting
testimony of this final revelation. One application for us from this
first section is how does such confirmation work today? In a large
sense, it’s no different - we are reading the same apostolic record in
the biographies of Christ’s life and the letters of the apostles and
those closely associated with them. We’re no different to the first
readers of Hebrews who were convinced of the historicity of the events
given the eyewitness nature of the accounts. Just as decisions are
made in a court of law today based on the testimony of eyewitnesses,
so are faith is based on the eyewitness accounts which form the
bible. We can be assured that the bible is God’s word and is
completely trustworthy, not only because of his superintending of what
was originally written by the work of the Spirit, but because he also
ensured it was copied accurately over time. If there was ever any
doubt about the accuracy of the copying and the transmission of the
bible down through the centuries, it was completely removed by the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1949, which showed the amazing
accuracy of the OT scriptures. Scholars were able to compare 10th
century AD copies with 1st century BC copies and find 99% agreement,
with any differences so minuscule that there was no change in meaning
for even one sentence. We can trust the bible.

This brings us to point two on your outline: ‘Comparing Jesus and
angels.’ Notice again what is written in veres 5 to 8a:
“It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about
which we are speaking. 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 honour, 8and put everything under his
feet.”

In verse 5 the writer makes it clear that Christ is the ruler of the
world to come, that is the new heavens and earth, just as he has
stated in chapter one that Jesus is the ruler of this present world,
having sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (1:3).
Although angels have some responsibility in this world, Jesus is far
superior to these ministering spirits who are servants of God. He
then quotes Psalm 8:4-6 in verses 6 to 8 to strengthen his point that
all things are subject to Christ’s rule. On first reading it seems
like a strange passage to quote, as the Psalm in its original context
is talking about the place of mankind in relation to the creation and
angels. In the Psalm, King David is amazed at how God created humans
to be only a little lower than angels, and to rule over creation under
God. Mankind was honoured and everything was subject to us. What the
Psalm is doing is reflecting on Genesis 1 and 2 and the perfection in
the garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:28 we read: “God blessed them and
said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and
subdue it. Rule over the the fish of the sea and the birds of the air
and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Of course, as we look around at our world today, it is anything but
subject to us. The past month has been a startling reminder of our
lack of rule - floods, fires, cyclones, and that on the back of a
decade of drought. Beyond that we battle to grow enough food to feed
the world, as thorns and thistles infest the ground, droughts reduce
crops and water is often insufficient - our own dams were almost empty
6 months ago. This lack of control over creation is what the writer
of Hebrews affirms in verse 8: “Yet at present we do not see
everything subject to him.” The reason that there is no evidence of
our rule as pictured in Genesis 1 and 2 and Psalm 8 is because of
Genesis 3. The Fall landed us outside the garden where the ground is
cursed because of our sin (Gen.3:17), and we are subject to death.
God has subjected his creation to frustration because of our rebellion
(Rom.8:20), and we know the outworking of that truth only too well.

Given all of that, at first blush Psalm 8 doesn’t strike us as a
passage which highlights Christ’s rule and his superiority to angels.
However, this Psalm which was originally addressing humans, is seen to
be fulfilled by the perfect man, the God-man Jesus. Psalm 8, says the
author of Hebrews, is finally fulfilled in the person of Christ.
Notice what verse 9 states:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now
crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by
the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
He is the one who has been crowned with glory and honour, and he is
the one who has had everything placed under his feet from Psalm 8.
Christ’s incarnation did make him temporarily ‘lower’ than the angels,
in the sense that he took on flesh and faced suffering and death,
though as the eternal Son he was always of greater honour than any
angel. But then in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, the
Father crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his
feet in subjection to him. Jesus represents all humanity as the new
Adam (1 Cor.15:20-28), and as the first-fruits of the resurrection he
is also a forerunner of humanity’s restored dominion over the earth,
which will occur in the new heavens and earth.

For Jesus, suffering preceded glory. Verse 9 tells us that he is now
crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death. In
Philippians 2:8-9 we read the same: “And being found in appearance as
a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on
a cross. 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him
the name that is above every name.” One application of this section
is that the same pattern is true of us, his followers. So often the
lie is sold that Christ and the apostles promised the good life now -
and so the prosperity gospel has boomed because it’s often what our
itching ears want to hear: ‘Come to Jesus and be healthy, wealthy and
wise now.’ For some spruikers of this false gospel, the blessings now
are so great, you’d wonder why anyone would want to go to heaven. But
the testimony of the NT over and over again is that like Christ, we
will suffer in his life, but glory awaits. Just one example - the
apostle Paul states in Romans 8:18-19: “I consider that our present
sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be
revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expection for the sons
of God to be revealed.”

That brings us to point three on your outline: ‘Jesus and his
people.’ Notice again what is stated in verses 11 to 13:
“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. 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.”
The assumption of this part of the chapter is that Jesus is ‘one of
us,’ that he shares our humanity. Jesus is the one who makes us holy
through suffering death and rising on the third day, and we are those
who are made holy, who have been set apart, forgiven, aceepted,
brought into God’s family, adopted as Christ’s brothers and sisters
through faith in his finished work. It is pure grace, Christ’s
undeserved kindeness, that he would not be ashamed to call us brothers
and sisters. To readily rescue and adopt rebels, sinnners who had
rejected him, who were not lovable, is astounding. It’s more than we
will do for each other at times.

In 1952 a probation officer in New York City tried to find an
organisation that would assist in the adoption of a twelve-year old
boy. Although the child had a religious background, none of the major
denominations would assist in his adoption. The officer said later:
‘His case had been reported to me because he had been a truant. I
tried for a year to find an agency that would care for this needy
youngster, but no-one would take him. I could do nothing constructive
for him.’ If someone had adopted him, despite his troubles, and
provided hope, it might have changed history. You see, the boy was
Lee Harvey Oswald, who would go on to assassinate John F. Kennedy in
Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. After a difficult childhood that
involved being put in an orphanage for 12 months when he was two, and
eventually residing at 22 different locations and attending 12
different schools by the age of 17, Oswald was to shoot the
President. We’re all sinners, who are no better before God than Lee
Harvey Oswald, and yet we’ve been adopted into God’s family, and Jesus
is not ashamed to call us family.

In verses 12 and 13 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:18, and
again sees these words fulfilled in Jesus. Instead of the Psalmist
declaring God’s praises to fellow believers, he has these words on the
lips of Jesus, who is declaring the Father’s name to us, his brothers
and sisters. This is because the Father did not despise the Son’s
suffering on our behalf, but listened to his cry (Ps.22:24), and
raised him victorious on the third day, that we might be offered life
too.

And so the writer goes on in the final, climactic paragraph from verse
14 to 18, to further highlight the extent of Jesus’ identification
with us through him taking on flesh, and also the freedom he has won
us through his atoning sacrifice. Notice that Jesus took on our flesh
and blood in verse 14 in order to die, and by his death destroy the
devil. And in so doing he won us freedom from the fear of death.
That is, the fear of the judgment to come which death ushers in, the
fear of the devil our accuser, rightly pointing out our sin which
should disqualify us from entering God’s presence. But our accuser
has been silenced, because Jesus bore the punishment that our sins
rightfully deserve, and so we fear this no longer. The logic of the
Father’s plan is recapped in verse 17 as it’s made clear that Jesus as
our priest perfectly bridges the gulf between sinful human beings and
God. He serves the Father, and is faithful to Him as our go-between
or priest; but he is merciful to us, and makes atonment for our sins.
The term ‘atonement’ or ‘propitiation’ refers to the turning away of
God’s wrath from us - Jesus himself pays for our sin by exhausting the
Father’s anger in his own body.

One of the arresting applications from this final section, which the
writer points out, is that because of Christ’s incarnation, through
which he suffered and was tempted, he can not only relate to us but
help us. Jesus is our “helper” in verses 16 and 18. In verse 18 we
read: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to
help those who are being tempted.”

Last February, Christine and I saw the film ‘Avatar.’ The movie is
set in the 22nd century and is about an indigenous population called
the Na’vi on a planet named Pandora, and the so-called “Avatar”
program of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Na’vi’s village happens to be
resting on a rich mineral deposit which the U.S. wants to obtain, and
so they want to invade. To get intelligence information before the
invasion, the U.S. marines create genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids
known as Avatars, because humans are unable to breathe the air on
Pandora. They seek to infiltrate their community and learn something
of the Na’vi’s primitive lifestyle, and one is accepted and trained,
Jake Sully, despite them knowing he’s a clone. However, Jake so
identifies with them that he leads them in a fight against the earth’s
attack. His incarnation, his taking on of their flesh, leads to him
acting to help them and save them.

Christ’s identification with us through taking on flesh and blood
makes him alone able to to help us as our ‘merciful and faithful high
priest.’ The writer of Hebrews wants to encourage his readers, and so
he unpacks Christ’s saving work, and explains the continued help as he
intercedes for us in our struggles against temptation as our high
priest. Time and again the temptation afflicted him to choose some
less costly way, whether through Satan, or the words of his own
disciple Peter who rebuked Jesus for speaking of the Cross, to the
agony of Gethsemane. But he resisted it to the end and accomplished
his purpose. I don’t know what struggle you might be facing this
morning, some trial that is perhaps causing you to doubt your faith,
as the first readers of Hebrews did. But I do know that you have one
in Christ who understands your struggles and stands with you. What a
source of strength - to be assured that in the presence of God we have
Jesus as our champion, our helper. Hold firm.
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