Rev. Reddit Andrews preaches in chapel at RTS Jackson on Hebrews 2:14-18, “Our So Great Salvation.”
Let’s turn in our Scriptures to the letter to the Hebrews, and I invite you to think with me from chapter 2:14–18. Beginning in verse 14, down to verse 18.
You’ll find written there these words:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
What an encouraging and cheering word to the saints.
Here, obviously, the writer’s concern is that of drift and neglect. It was the problem or challenge of these Hebrew Christians. This letter was written somewhere in the Roman Empire to a struggling band of Christians who were in danger, under the withering winds of persecution, not of throwing off their faith, for few do that, but of slowly succumbing to the pressure that would cause them to drift away through neglect of the things that were primary, that make for our happiness and our joy and our peace.
And when I say that it should occur to every one of us that in some respect, that is every Christian’s mortal fear. Most of us are not afraid of throwing our faith off overnight, but all of us have known the sort of cold chill in the middle of the night that comes from that deep-seated fear that somehow because of the pressures of life, we might begin to drift away from the things that are primary by neglecting them because of the pressures of life.
Now here the writer’s solution to that perennial problem in the Christian life is a cultivating of an appreciation for the extraordinary privileges that we all enjoy as Christians. He points us to our Lord. He directs our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, and as he does, he has two things mainly in mind that he would like to cast a bold light upon if we were to be those who would not drift in our lives.
The first is what we’ve been given. He wants us to have a sense of appreciation of the incredible privileges that have been bestowed upon us. You’ll notice in the chapter, a couple of times he mentions it by way of contrast. So, for example, back in verse 5 of the same chapter, he says to us that it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come. He speaks that way because he wants us to appreciate the the privilege that has been extended to us. We are enjoying extraordinary privileges as Christians.
But then the second thing he wants us to appreciate is the one through whom it comes to us. You’ll see from 9–13, his focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ and how these extraordinary privileges, which we all enjoy as believers, come to us through what Christ has done for us. In verse 9, he speaks of the sufferings of Christ. He describes Christ as the one who was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. It goes on to say that by the grace of God, he might taste his death for everyone.
Christians Receive Immense Privileges Through Christ’s Suffering
Now, given the broader context, the writer knows that that statement is one that might be a bit shocking, because remember, in chapter one, he described Christ as the subject of the worship of the angels and described him in terms where it could be said that he was equal with God, that he could address God in a way in which God acknowledged his godness. And here he introduces the element of Christ’s suffering and even tasting of death, and he knows that to make a statement like that suddenly is going to require some sort of explanation, some sort of amplification, some sort of context if we are to understand that aright. What happens in verses 9–18 is his explanation.
As we approach the text, what I want you to appreciate is that in verse 10, the way he starts the explanation is intriguing isn’t it? In verse 10 where he says it was “fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” In other words, he’s commending it. He is saying that it was right, it was appropriate, it was wonderful that God did it the way he did it.
And that’s similar to what the Lord Jesus Christ said, isn’t it? When Christ, bursting with resurrection life, was on the Emmaus road with Cleopas and here he was dejected because of the crucifixion, and Christ appears to him and slightly upbraids him for his discouraged condition. And what does he say to him? He says, “Was it not necessary? Don’t you get it? Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into glory?” And here he says, “It was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, and bringing many sons to glory,” that’s you and it’s me, “should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
A great question is, why was it fitting? Why was it appropriate? Why does the writer commend the way in which God brings us to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ? We get a hint of it in the way in which he describes it in verse 10 because he describes Christ as the founder of our salvation.
Now, many of you know that the word that is behind that is the word archegon. Sometimes we render it pioneer; it has the overtones of a champion. Here it’s described as founder because the writer wants to emphasize the fact that Christ is the one who not only established this movement that you and I are part of now, but he is the one who continues to lead it. Both those elements are involved in the word the founder of our salvation, not in just the sense that he establishes it but that he establishes it and he goes on to provide leadership to it, and in a broader context to the very end of the age.
Christ Entered into Our Human Condition
So does he want us to think about as we contemplate this tendency that we all have towards drift because of neglect of the things that are primary, especially when we find ourselves busy and when we find ourselves harassed and harried by life? He wants us to appreciate two things: what Christ initially accomplished for us and what he continues to be on our behalf.
If you look at verse 14, especially down in verse 16, you’ll see the writer pointing our attention to what Christ initially accomplished for us. See where he says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.” He goes on to describe who he destroyed. It is the devil. That he might “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps us, the offspring of Abraham.”
The writer is saying to us that the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, he was incarnate, for two reasons. One is because we needed it. You see that bound up in verse 14 where he says, “Since therefore the children share,” it’s koinonia, since we partake of flesh and blood, of a common law in humanity, Christ, he says, partook of the same thing. The word there has connotations of him joining a club, as it were. In other words, he saw us in our plight, in our predicament and he came down, and in the mystery and marvel of the incarnation, he took our nature into himself. He joined us fully in our humanity. He came for one reason: because we needed it. And so he points us to a portrait of the plight of the Lord Jesus Christ joining us in our condition.
Jesus came down, and he actually joined us, not on a short-term basis, but on a permanent basis.Now the thing that we want to recognize here is that it’s not like a short-term missionary trip. Sometimes we go on missionary trips, and when we do, you know what is said about us sometimes on foreign soil. Sometimes it’s resented, the way we show up. There are crushing realities that people are dealing with, and we set up a missionary compound on the outskirts of it and we make sort of forays out there and we help them in their poverty. And that’s good because we don’t have to do that, but we do it.
Well, what I’m trying to communicate this morning is that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus came down, and he actually joined us, not on a short-term basis, but on a permanent basis. He didn’t set the compound on the outskirts of the slum, he came down into it and got involved in the muck and the mess of what it means to be human in a fallen world. Paul puts it wonderfully for us in 2 Corinthians 8:9, where he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He came down into it and he joined us.
One of the things that we want to pause and linger over and appreciate is the infinite gulf, the infinite chasm which he spanned to do it. He who in chapter one it says God addresses as, “Thy throne O God is forever.” That one who is equal with God is the one who here, we’re told, has come down and took our humanity unto himself.
C. S. Lewis likes to describe that as something comparable to an archangel in glory becoming a slug worm in the garden. And I say C.S. Lewis begins to approximate it, but he doesn’t come nearly far enough. There are no words, there are no categories at all that could help us begin to approximate what’s involved in that utterance. Jesus, very God of very God, light of light descending down into his creation, not just to become one with us, but one with us in our fallenness as we are subject to death. Why did he do it? Because we needed it. He looked beyond our faults, saw our need, and he responded. He was drawn by the desperate aspect of the situation, and he came down into it.
God had to become something that he never was without ceasing to be what he always was.The second element that we wouldn’t want to miss is that not only did we need it, but if he were going to help us, he needed it. What do I mean by that? I mean that God at the right hand of the Father, that Christ as one with God in his eternal godhood, in his original condition as God, could not do anything for us in the condition of sin. It required one to come down who had a life to give, and none but God had a life to give. No angels could join us in our predicament and help us at all because their life, like our lives, were borrowed from God. They just had life on loan from God. It required someone who had life in and of himself, who was willing to come down and to help us, and in order to do that, God had to become something that he never was without ceasing to be what he always was. So he took humanity into his divinity and came down into human history to help us.
It’s interesting here, the writer uses what for our first-year Greek students we call a hine clause. An expression of necessity, of purpose. “He himself likewise partook of the same things so that through death.” In other words, he needed to die, and he needed to take a human nature to enable him to do it. And he did. The testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ is that the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. Why did he come? To die.
Paul writes to the Philippians, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). That’s why he came: so that he could bleed and die on behalf of desperately needy sinners.
Jesus Died to Destroy the Devil and to Deliver His People
What did he accomplish by doing it? And here the Apostle or the writer—I’m sort of betraying my old-fashioned view in terms of the authorship. But why did he come and what did he accomplish? Well, we are told here by the writer, he sums it up in two words: he came that he might destroy and that he might deliver.
And you’ll notice here that there are a marvelous overtones to the garden. One can barely read these words without thinking of the original promise that God gave when the devil appeared in the garden and seduced our first parents. And God said that the seed of the woman would crush the head of a serpent, that he would destroy and dismantle his empire. That’s what he describes here. He says that through the mystery and marvel of the incarnation and the passion of Christ, through his person and his work, he destroyed the one who has the power of death, which is the devil. And he delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Here we want to see that the devil is named as our primary concern, isn’t he? Which is to say that here we are in our human condition and our lives are bereft on every side by all types of problems and difficulties. And one of the things that the writer would have us appreciate is that what we commonly think of as our problems are not really our problems. Our problem isn’t busyness. It isn’t broken relationships. It isn’t even mental illness or some of the more serious things that can afflict us in life. Our problem is the servitude and bondage that the human race suffers under the dominion of the devil. That’s the condition that has to be dealt with first and foremost if we are to know peace and happiness and joy and prosperity in any meaningful sense at all.
You and I know that nothing is more common these days than for us to put the weight and the emphasis on the symptoms instead of the real actual problem. Aren’t you thankful this morning that the Bible never does that? It treats symptoms, yes, but it is more concerned with getting to the heart of the issue. Our problem is the devil. Our problem is the fact that we as human beings in our original parent ceded that high place and those extraordinary privileges that God gave us in creation to the tempter.
And the good news of the gospel is not that Christ came into the world to give us better relationships (he does), to fix us economically or politically (he will do that), but to deliver us from servitude and bondage to the devil.
Now here the description is beautiful, isn’t it? It’s the picture of the devil’s empire dismantled by Christ. It’s similar or analogous to what happened when Israel was taken out of Egypt as the first type given us redemptively of our salvation. Israel fears Pharaoh and his armies and God comes down in judicial majesty and with 10 plagues he breaks the power of the most powerful nation on earth. And when Pharaoh regathers his army and seeks to destroy Israel, God parts an ocean and brings his people through on dry ground, and he crushes the host of Pharaoh on the shore. So Israel looks back from the far side of the ocean, and what did they see? They saw the massive army of Pharaoh, all of his chariots, all of his spears and swords and implements of war, smashed and broken up on that far shore. And they rejoiced. And Moses’s song and Miriam’s song, and they grabbed the tambourine, and they worshiped God because they had been delivered from servitude, centuries of it.
The good news of the gospel is not that Christ came into the world to give us better relationships (he does), to fix us economically or politically (he will do that), but to deliver us from servitude and bondage to the devil.Brothers and sisters this morning, what is that beside this picture here? The devil tyrannized the whole of the human race. The author behind genocide and rape and war and murder and disease and sickness stalking the Earth, generation after generation, slaying with none that could oppose him successfully. Smashed and destroyed. If Moses should sing over Israel’s deliverance, I will ask you this morning, is it strange that we should we lift up our voices as Moses did? “The Lord is my strength in my song and he has become my salvation. This,” he says, “is my God and I will praise him. My father’s God, and I will exult him.” And he not only destroyed but he delivered us.
Now, the logic here is impeccable, isn’t it? It’s scriptural, it is the gospel. What is he thinking about when he describes us not now subject to the fear, but through fear subject to death, subject to the dominion of the devil is what is described here. And what’s the logic? The logic is here: the devil is portrayed as he who is the one who introduces death into the creation so that we as sinners are all subject to it, and there’s nothing we can do as we watch it like a mighty host stalking the earth, claiming one life after another. There’s nothing we can do but wait for our turn. Because he who is a sinner is subject to death. The only answer, the only remedy, is if somehow the sin that makes us subject to death is dealt with. We can’t do that.
Here we delivered and how are we delivered? By the one who came and joined us in our humanity, who lived a sinless life, who met all of the righteous requirements of God, and then with a resolute that is fearsome to behold, he marched to the cross and laid down his life as a substitute. So that he who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ.
When we stand face to face with the fearsome march of death, it has nothing that it can say to us at all.God did it in Jesus Christ. Laid on him the iniquity of us all, so that when we stand face to face with the fearsome march of death it has nothing that it can say to us at all because the wages of sin is death, but the wages have been paid in Christ. So that now in him the gift of God becomes eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The apostle Paul brings this together wonderfully in Colossians, where he writes, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with his legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:12–14). O, brothers and sisters hear this this morning: “He disarmed the rulers and the authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them him” (Col 2:15).
Christians Need to Celebrate What Christ Has Done to Prevent Drifting
And notice what happens in verse 16, the way in which he calls us or exhorts us to appreciate it and celebrate it. It’s the second time he speaks in this way in verse 16, where he says, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” What does he want us to think? How does he want us to respond? Do you know what he wants us to see? He wants us to look, as it were, to the plight of the whole of the angelic host who sinned against God, just like we did, and not a ray of light or hope has ever reached them in that nether region of doom where they are. They just fearfully wait the day of judgment, but not us.
We are those whom God has had extraordinary mercy on. He sent his Son out of the courts of heaven to take his place by our side that he might cleanse us and raise us up to a fellowship with God. That did not happen for the angels, and it never will. But it happened for you. And it happened for me. And it happened for everyone who was chosen by God to belong to Christ and to be redeemed. Mercy was bestowed upon them. What does he want us to do? So appreciate it that it never allows us to drift or neglect the primary things.
Christ Still Acts as Our High Priest Today
Well, quickly, what he continues to be for us in verse 17 and 18. And you’ll notice 17 and 18, theologically they’re parallel to what we just covered. He repeats the structure, but he adds something that we wouldn’t want to miss. You see in verse 17 he says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect”—that’s similar to what he said in verse 14, isn’t it?—”so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” And in verse 18, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
We now have a fitting representative at the right hand of the Father on an ongoing basis.What is he thinking about here? Well, I think he is thinking about two things. He’s thinking about the ongoing, divine representation that we have now in Christ and the sympathetic intercession that we enjoy as Christ is now the risen one who is at the right hand of the Father. So that in verse 17, what he wants to highlight is the abiding nature of his priesthood, he partook of the same things, but he didn’t give the human nature back. He didn’t divest himself of it. God raised him in it and glorified him so that he, risen into heaven, is now with the right hand of the Father, both God and man forever, so that we now have a fitting representative at the right hand of the Father on an ongoing basis. And he intercedes for us.
Sometimes piano tuners talk about sympathetic resonance, where if you take two pianos and put them face to face, you hit a note on one, that note resounds on the other. Brothers and sisters this morning, whatever struggle you have, whatever problem or difficulty confronting you, no matter how harassed and harried you might feel yourself to be, you have a high priest now in the heavens who is touched with the feeling of your infirmities, knows your trials, knows your sorrows, knows your difficulties because he’s been through it all. And unlike us, he never failed so that he knows the full power of the temptation you deal with. He has passed right through onto the other side. He can help us now. He’s at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf.
Do you know what often causes drifting under pressure? That sort of cursed phenomenon that has us when we find ourselves pressured to go home and zone out and begin to watch more TV and leave behind ourselves the things that are primary so that we sort of cycle down in our lives. We forget what we have, what we’re leaving, and we cease to draw on what’s available to us.
The letter to the Hebrews would say we should never do that because we have a great High Priest who has passed to the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, and because we do, let us hold fast to our confession.