Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 22, 1991
Purpose: To explain how the eternal Son became a man, and why that is so important to us.
What would ever cause a person to give up fame and fortune for obscurity and poverty? Some have done it for love: We've all heard the story of the Duke of Windsor. Love is one of the most powerful forces in the world.
Some have done it out of compassion for others in need: Maybe you've heard the story of William Borden--the book is called Borden of Yale. What an unusual man he was. He was the heir of a fortune that in today's money would be about $50 million. He gave it all away to meet the needs of those around him and boarded a ship to sail for China as a missionary.
Some have done it out of principle: They didn't approve of the way the money was obtained and refused to have anything to do with it. You'll probably be meeting right here in another year or so a man named Adolph Coors. You know who I'm talking about? Adolph Coors IV has nothing to do with the family fortune. He knows Jesus Christ and he took a stand on the basis of principle.
But why would the Person who held the highest and greatest position there ever was give it up for the lowest position? That's the question that hangs over the Christmas story.
Why would God's eternal Son, the gem of heaven's glory, adored and magnified by heaven's host, step down from His exalted position and leave that magnificent place to come to this dirty planet and be disadvantage and disgraced? At least one of our Christmas carols addresses that issue:
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
Why would He do that? Why did God's Son come to earth and become a man?
That's the question I want to talk about today. Why did the most high God take upon Himself flesh and blood? There are a number of Scriptures that throw light on the question, but none so completely as Hebrews 2:5-18. This is one of the finest Christmas texts in all the Bible.
It's actually part of the argument that Christ is greater than angels (refer to Hebrews 2:5), but in it the writer gives us five reasons why Jesus became a man.
What is mankind's destiny anyway? Do you know why God created the human race? He told us back in Genesis 1:28, and King David captured the essence of it in Psalm 8, which the writer to the Hebrews quotes.
"For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one [David] testified in a certain place [Psalm 8], saying: 'What is man that You are mindful of him?'" (Hebrews 2:5-6a).
David must have been out on his patio one night enjoying the beauty and majesty of the heavens, and feeling rather small and insignificant, when he declared:
"'Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet'" (Hebrews 2:6b-8a).
God made human beings to have dominion over the earth. And beyond the earth, to rule the universe--all of it. When David said "all things," he meant ALL THINGS.
"For in that He put all in subjection under him" (Hebrews 2:8b).
And now, no longer quoting Psalm 8, the writer to the Hebrews says, "He left nothing that is not put under him" (Hebrews 2:8c).
That's God's plan for the human race. That's our destiny. That's the purpose for our creation.
But something happened. Sin entered the human race, and that put God's plan on hold.
"But now we do not yet see all things put under him" (Hebrews 2:8d).
Oh, we're trying subject the universe to our control, reaching to the highest mountains, exploring the deepest seas, probing outer space. But we're doing a pretty miserable job of controlling it. Things are out of control everywhere we turn--war, crime, violence, disease, a breakdown of the environment. The world is a mess. And as hard as we try, we just can't seem to bring it all under control: We can't get it together. All because of SIN!
And that's why Jesus came.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).
Though He was far superior to the angels, He took a position beneath them, just like us (verse 7). In other words, He became human being so that He could die for our sins and solve the problem that keeps us from fulfilling our destiny. And the fact that He has been exalted high above the heavens, crowned with glory and honor, demonstrates beyond all doubt that He succeeded in His mission. He did solve our sin problem.
Now we who have put our faith in Him can be assured of reigning with Him in the world to come (refer to Hebrews 2:5; also Revelation 5:10 and Revelation 20:6)--of fulfilling our destiny, of accomplishing the purpose for which God made us.
2. Jesus Became a Man to Pioneer Our Salvation
"For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10).
The One "for whom are all things by whom are all things" is God the Father. His goal is to bring many sons to glory, to bring many people from this race of human beings He created into His glorious presence in heaven. How is He going to do that? Through a person He calls " the author of salvation." That's an interesting word (archegos). It can simply mean "head" or "chief," like the king of a country. Sometimes it means "founder" or "originator," like the founder of a city or a family. But it always seems to refer to somebody who begins something that others can follow. Some have suggested that the best translation would be "pathfinder" or "pioneer."
The pioneers in our country blazed the trail west for others to follow. And Jesus blazed the trail to heaven for us to follow. Just as the pioneers in our country were a special stock of people with the distinctive traits necessary for their unique role, so the Pioneer of our salvation had to be uniquely fitted for His task. That's the idea in that word perfect. Jesus was always perfect in His person, but becoming a man and experiencing suffering is what made Him fully adequate for the task of pioneering our salvation.
You can understand that. Some of you young people are in perfect health, perfect physical condition. But you are not yet perfect when it comes to the work you plan to do for life. You are not yet adequately prepared for it. You need some experience first (Stedman, 26). In a similar way, God's eternal sinless Son was perfect in His person, but He needed the experience of becoming human and suffering in order to be fully adequate to pioneer our salvation and blaze the trail for us.
To make this even more meaningful for us, we are reminded that the Pioneer of our salvation is actually our brother.
"For both He who sanctifies [that's Jesus] and those who are being sanctified [that's us] are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:11).
Since we are both of one Father and share a common humanity, we are brothers. And Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers. That's amazing! Some of you have black sheep in your family. You're not even sure you want to acknowledge that he's related to you. You keep it quiet. But even though we have been sinful and wayward, Jesus is not ashamed to own us as part of His family and call us His brother. (That goes for the women, too. We're all brothers in a spiritual sense.)
The three Old Testament quotes that follow are intended to show the identification of the Pioneer with His people. But it would not have been possible for Him to be our brother and to pioneer our salvation apart from the incarnation.
He had to become a man in order to assure our destiny, and to pioneer our salvation. And there is a third reason for the incarnation: He had to become a man to defeat our adversary.
"Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).
"Flesh and blood" is a term that occurs five times in the New Testament and simply refers to humanity. That's what we are: human beings, flesh and blood. And since we, "the children," are flesh and blood, that's what our Savior had to become. He came to die. But God can't die. In order to die he had to become a man.
This is the third time in the passage we are reminded that Jesus came to die (cf. Hebrews 2:9). Why is it so important to understand that?
Death was the just penalty which God had to impose on the human race because of sin. And Satan held the power of death in that he had the right to keep reminding God of man's sin and just penalty which man deserved. But when Jesus died for our sins, the grounds for Satan's accusations were removed and his power over death was thereby made ineffective.
"Destroy" is not a good translation, because Satan has certainly not been destroyed. I like the New King James, but in this case "destroy" is not a good rendering of the word. Satan is very much alive and active. So the way the New American Standard (NASB) puts it is better: Satan's dominion over death has been rendered powerless, because Jesus paid the penalty in full at Calvary. Satan has no more right to accuse us before God and demand our death. That right has been done away with. Jesus paid the penalty so on what grounds can Satan accuse us? Because God's Son became a man and died in our place, our adversary has been defeated.
4. Jesus Became a Man to Relieve Our Fears
Since the one who had the power over death has been defeated, we no longer need to fear death. And that's the next thing we see.
"And release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15).
There are people who live their lifetime in paralyzing bondage to the fear of death. They literally dread the thought of growing old and dying. Men in mid-life crisis do stupid things to prove their attractiveness and virility. Women (and sometimes men) spend fortunes on cosmetic surgery to recapture their youthful good looks. Some try to anesthetize the pain of growing older with alcohol or drugs. Some spend money foolishly trying to do everything they ever wanted to do, have everything they ever wanted to have, and go everywhere they ever wanted to go, lest death overtake them before they can experience it all. Some go to pieces with every new little ache or pain--"Could this be it? Am I going to die?" That's bondage of the worst kind.
And it's so unnecessary for the child of God. Jesus took the string out of death. Spiritual death cannot hold us anymore. Jesus suffered it in our place. He was forsaken of His Father. Physical death cannot keep us in the grave. Jesus' resurrection guarantees that we, too, shall rise.
Sinicia, the pagan philosopher, once said, "Only Christians and idiots are not afraid to die." He was right! It doesn't put us in very good company, but it's true! Without Christ we have every reason to fear death. It would idiotic not to. With Christ, all fear of death is gone.
A Christian who always had a secret dread of death prayed fervently that God would remove it. One night he was walking past a graveyard and he saw a little girl about to go through the gate. "Don't you dread crossing the cemetery alone when it's dark?" he asked.
"Afraid?" she replied. "Oh, no! My home is on the other side."
And immediately the man realized that his prayer was answered. He saw it: There is no need to fear the so-called "grim valley." It's only a momentary shadow, and on the other side is home (Our Daily Bread, May 26, 1986).
Jesus has blazed the trail to our heavenly home. You don't fear going home. Jesus has defeated the enemy and removed all fear from death. That's why He came. That's why he partook of flesh and blood. That's why He died. And that's why He rose again.
To assure our destiny, to pioneer our salvation, to defeat our adversary, to relieve our fears. There is one more reason given here for the incarnation: Jesus came to earth to be our high priest.
Now remember, this whole passage is part of the argument that Jesus is greater than angels. The writer referred to that in Hebrews 2:5, and he does it again here in Hebrews 2:16:
"For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham."
Jesus became a man, not to help angels, but to help human beings--particularly believers, spiritual descendants of Abraham. And how does he help us? By becoming our High Priest.
"Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
A priest is somebody who represents people before God, and in order to do that, he has to be one with the people he represents. He has to be like them. He has to be identified with them. So if Jesus is going to be our High Priest, then He has to be like us. He has to be human. He has to be made like His brethren in all things.
And now, because of Christmas, we have a High Priest who is like is, with all the benefits which that brings to us. There are three benefits mentioned here.
a. Jesus Sympathizes with Our Weakness
He's a merciful and faithful High Priest--merciful in the sense that He can feel with us in our hurts, faithful in the sense that He will never let us down. That same idea is repeated in Hebrews 4:15:
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
He couldn't sympathize with our weaknesses unless He were just like us and experienced just what we are experience. He had to be a man.
I can certainly understand that. For most of the years of my pastoral ministry, I tried to sympathize with people who had incurable diseases, to feel what they were feeling. I thought I was doing all right at it, until I got multiple myeloma. Then I realized that I hadn't even begun to understand what it was like. There's no way I could without being there. And it's obvious to me from the things people say to me now that some of them have no idea what it's like. I don't hold that against them. They can't be expected to know what it's like without having been there themselves.
But Jesus was there. He was human, just like us. And what He suffered was more agonizing than anything we could begin to imagine. He knows what we are going through. That's one of the greatest blessings of the Christmas story I know. God became man, so that He could feel what we are feeling and truly sympathize with us.
b. Jesus Takes Away Our Sins
"Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
When Jewish people read those words, "to make propitiation for the sins of the people," their minds would have gone back to the Day of the Atonement when the high priest entered into the most holy place of the temple and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat, covering their sins for another year. But that's all it did: cover them for another year.
The writer of this book tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). The reason Jesus came was to accomplish in reality what the Old Testament priest did only in a symbolic and token way. He came to offer a sacrifice that would take away sins. He came to remove the barrier between God and us and open the door to heaven.
But this High Priest not only came to offer sacrifice, He came to be the sacrifice that satisfied God's just penalty for sin. He was to be the one punished for man's sin. Since it was man who sinned, the penalty had to be executed on man. So the eternal Son had to become a man. That's the significance of Christmas. That's why Jesus came.
We have seen the reference to death all through this passage. That's the heart of the matter: He came to be our High Priest and give Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He came to die, and by means of that death, to take away our sins.
c. Jesus Helps Us with Our Temptations
"For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
If you want somebody to help you resist temptation, it's best to have somebody who has been there, who has experienced the same temptation. That's why Alcoholics Anonymous uses recovering alcoholics as counselors. They've been through it. They know what it's like. And our High Priest, our spiritual counselor has been there. The temptation He experienced in His humanity were just as powerful as any we have ever been exposed to. Since He was God as well as man, He obviously could not yield to those temptations.
By the way, I get a lot of calls from Caring Groups asking about that. "Could Jesus sin?" Well, let me explain that to you the best way that I can--and I borrow this from a seminary professor who explained it in a way I've never forgotten. Jesus was one person with two natures: a human nature and a divine nature. Those natures were welded together in one person. Now in His humanity, He could sin. He experienced every temptation we feel. My professor illustrated that by holding up a wooden pencil and a steel bar. If you took that wooden pencil, you could snap it in two with no problem at all. But put the pencil up against the steel rod and hold the two together tightly. If you're holding it tightly, you can't break the pencil. The pencil is breakable but the steel rod is not.
The point is that since He was human, He felt the full impact of those temptations, and He resisted then in His humanity.
Now He can help with our temptations, if we are willing to go to Him. An alcoholic has to call on his helper when he is tempted. And we have to call on our spiritual Helper when we are tempted. So focus your attention on Him. That's what Hebrews 3:1 says:
"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus."
"Consider" (katanoeo) means to give serious attention and careful study to something, to immerse yourself in it. NIV translates it, "Fix your thoughts on Jesus." That conveys the idea pretty well.
Sometimes we can learn some valuable lessons from animals. For example, if you put a bit of meat on the floor near a dog and say, "No!" so that he knows he must not touch it, he will look away from the meat and keep his eyes on his master. He seems to know the temptation will be too much for him if he looks at it, so he focuses instead on his master's face.
You know, some of us aren't that smart! Let's keep our eyes on Jesus, our great High Priest and Master. He came to earth and became a man so He could suffer the same temptations we suffer and help us when we are tempted.
There will be so much else to focus on throughout our lifetime and especially during this Christmas season. But keep Him at the forefront. He's the reason for the season.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Don't forget what's been woven as a scarlet thread throughout this passage: He came to die. It was His death that paid the penalty that God demands for sin. His death and resurrection provides us forgiveness and eternal life. Have you acknowledged your sin and trusted Him as your Savior? If you haven't done that, we invite you to do it right now.
Maybe there are some who came to church this morning because it's the Christmas season and you thought it was the thing to do. Maybe you know all about Jesus and His death on the cross, but maybe you've never personalized it. Maybe you've never trusted Him to save you from your sin. There is absolutely nothing you can do to earn God's favor and merit entrance into heaven. You've got to acknowledge that. And the wages of sin is eternal death--separation from God. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Have you received that gift?
Talk to the Lord in the quietness of your own heart right now and review these three things. Tell Him:
- I'm a sinner.
- I acknowledge that Jesus died in my place and paid the penalty that I deserved.
- I'm placing my dependence and trust and faith in Jesus alone. Come into my heart right now.
If you will do that, Jesus will save you and will come into your heart in the Person of His Holy Spirit.
Father, I pray that in this large congregation right now, those who have never addressed this problem of sin and trusted the Lord Jesus as their own personal Savior will open their hearts to him. Thank You for the promise if we open the door, Jesus will come in. Oh God, I pray that some hearts will be open right now and that the Lord Jesus will gain eternal entrance. For it's in His name we pray. Amen.