Children of God
05/06/2011 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by David Holloway
This morning we have reached chapter 2 verses 10-18 in our studies in the great epistle to the Hebrews. And after some words of introduction my headings, are, First, THE PURPOSES OF GOD; secondly, THE REALITY OF THE INCARNATION; Thirdly, THE DEVIL’S DESTRUCTION, Fourthly, FREEDOM FROM THE FEAR OF DEATH
There is very little to say by way of introduction to his epistle. For one thing we do not know who the author was – although there have been a number of guesses. Nor do we really know to whom the letter was written. However, it seems the recipients were threatened with violent persecution. So life was hard, and there was a danger of them drifting away from their new found faith under such pressure. That is why this letter’s teaching is so valuable in every age. The human condition is one of stress, strain and suffering. The Bible’s teaches this is the result of the Fall – of men and women ignoring God and going away from him. But this letter is good news in a dark world.
So first, THE PURPOSES OF GOD
Thomas Carlyle the 19th century Scottish social commentator said,
“A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.”Bertrand Russell in the 20th century said:
“Unless you assume a God [which he famously did not], the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.”And the tragedy today in the 21st century is that for many in the UK, and other parts of the world, life is purposeless and meaningless. Most seriously, God is no longer being assumed in many of our schools. So the philosophy of purposelessness or meaninglessness is that into which too many of our children and young people are being indoctrinated. That is why as Christians we need to take action.
Perhaps you will pray for some of us this week as we seek a practical response to this and other similar problems relating to our church, the wider church and public life. And I’d value your prayers as I am having to speak at a London conference on these issues later in the week and in Derby next Sunday. Thank God Christians are wanting action. For it is quite clear that our God has clear purposes. His purposes are summarized here in verse 10 as that of “bringing many sons to glory”. Look at verse 10:
“In 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.”So if “bringing many sons to glory” is his purpose, our life purposes should be in tune with that great purpose of a God who is training us for, and leading us to, glory. That raises three questions.
One, are your own subordinate purposes contributing to that great purpose, of equipping you for glory? Some younger people will soon be leaving Newcastle with some decisions about work, where to live and who to marry – yes, great issues of life. If that is you, will your decisions, in so far as you have decision, contribute to that purpose of God? But also there are more regular issues for everyone with a similar question. Do your purposes let you have time for God and his church? And what about the way you steward your money, as well as your time? And what about your attitudes to other people at home and at work as well as in the church?
And what about being open in regard to your faith? And if you are medical or teaching, understanding why the Christian ethic in line with the purpose of God is, on average, more reasonable and more in your patients’ or pupils’ best interests. It has better outcomes than the folly of a utilitarianism that is the best the pagan world can come up with. Recently it was reported that, now, 1200 studies and 400 reviews have shown an association between faith and a number of positive health benefits.
The second question is what does “glory” mean – in this phrase, “bringing many sons to glory”? Some will remember Alice in Wonderland and when Humpty Dumpty said “glory” meant “a nice knock down argument” or, as he said, “just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”. But you can’t just let “glory” mean anything.
In the Bible it is a word that refers to the presence of God and much that is associated with his presence. In our chapter it especially refers to the good and glorious existence God intended for men and women as seen in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. As we saw last week, for humankind that good and glorious existence was lost through the sin of our primordial parents and all subsequent sin. But Jesus came to be the first man to live fully as God intended without sin. So, as verse 9 says, he was
“Crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”Christ has now truly fulfilled human destiny, but through suffering. He can now help sinful men and women progressively move towards that same creative and, ultimately, heavenly glory and honour.
So the third question is why did Christ have to go the way of the suffering, which for him meant the Cross? The answer is in verse 10 which simply says,
“it was fitting [or appropriate] that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”Why was it fitting? Why did God choose the way of the Cross to bring many sons to glory? We cannot absolutely say. There are a lot of questions we never will be able to answer fully. We are talking about our God “for whom and through whom everything exists”. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts than ours. But somehow it all fits together. Paul in his epistles argues that the Cross was so important for maintaining God’s moral order.
Our author will explain that Christ needed to be identified with his people to be able to help his people as they begin to live, however imperfectly, in the present for God’s glory. So as they would suffer in doing this through their own and other’s sin, it was fitting that Christ should also suffer but without sin. He could help them from his own experiences.
So much then for the purposes of God. That brings us to our …
… second heading, THE REALITY OF THE INCARNATION
In chapter 1 our author has been teaching that Jesus Christ is fully God. In chapter 2 he is teaching that he is fully man. That is what is meant by the incarnation. And that too is beyond our finite understanding. But the writer of this epistle is not concerned with theological debate. He simply wants to show how closely Jesus Christ is identified with his people.
Look at verses11-14a:
“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. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."[This is from Psalm 22 - the Psalm Jesus applied to himself when on the Cross. And it stresses the identification of God’s Suffering Servant with his people as “brothers in the same family”.](Verse 13) And again, "I will put my trust in him."[Like all God’s children Jesus lived by faith in his Father.]And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me."In Hebrews our writer quotes from the Old Testament and you need to see the gist of what he is saying, rather than worry over the minutiae. The gist here is clear. It is endorsing the conclusion of verse 14:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”Now, of course, many try to deny the Incarnation. In the early church there were those who were confident of his deity but not of his humanity. They said he only seemed to be a man. At other times (including today) you have people confident of his humanity but not his deity. However, human beings seem to have, as it has been put, an “instinctive craving for the presence of God in human form”. Think of the mythology of Indian and Greek religion. Paul and Barnabas were on the receiving end of some Greek mythology on their first missionary journey. When a cripple was healed we read:
“the crowd … shouted …’The Gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus and Paul they called Hermes” (Acts 14.11-12).But a great distinction between Christianity and other religions is that, of course, Jesus wasn’t a mythological figure. He was in real-life history and himself pointed to his divine nature. So verse 14 again:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”And we now hear from our writer, why that is such good news, and our …
… third heading, THE DEVIL’S DESTRUCTION
Look at verse 14b and 15. The incarnation was …
“so that by his death [Jesus Christ] might destroy him 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.”The purpose of the Cross here is seen as twofold. First, the destruction of the devil and, secondly, the freeing of those “in slavery by their fear of death”. The devil is real. In the same way as there are those who deny the reality of the incarnation, there are those who deny the reality of the devil. They say “the devil is just a primitive myth from Persian religion.” But forgetting for a moment the teaching of Jesus, it makes more sense to believe in the devil. To say that the evil in the world is adequately accounted for by adding together all human sin, just won’t do. It makes more sense to say that here is something over and above – a “super-plus” of evil. And the Bible says that that is not a force of nature. It is due to an evil intelligence. And so we are to resist the devil as real.
But you’re not to be pre-occupied with him because Jesus has “destroyed [or started to destroy]” him. The word literally means “render inoperative”. And that is what Christ came to do –
“render inoperative him who holds the power of death that is the devil”.Yes, the devil’s kingdom is all to do with death and killing and ultimate death. But on the cross “by his death” Jesus had the victory. Calvary, therefore, was “the death of death”. And remember the word Greek word “devil”, like the Hebrew “satan”, means “accuser”. There is a great prophetic vision in Zechariah 3 where the devil digs up sins and accuses a godly man. That is one of the ways he creates a fear of death because of a fear of God’s judgment. Anyone know all about that this morning? The devil has been raking through the muck of your past history and accuses you. Don’t let him!
Remember that on the Cross Christ bore your sin and “rendered the devil inoperative”. As you accept God’s forgiveness, there need be no fear of death and judgment. So that leads us to the second purpose of the incarnation and …
… our fourth heading, FREEDOM FROM FEAR OF DEATH
Look at verse 15. It says Christ’s death (that required his human life) led to the freeing of …
“those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”There are two sorts of fear of death.
First, there is what we may call “the natural fear of death”. This is common to all (including Christians). This is the fear of (so to speak) “leave taking”. People are worried for their families – “are they provided for? Will a widow, or a widower, be able to cope?” Old F.B.Meyer put it well:
“If we could all go together, there would be nothing to it. But its separate dropping off, this departing one by one, this drift from the anchorage alone!”There’s a natural fear of the process of dying. And Christ can help you with that.
But, secondly, there is what we may call “the spiritual fear of death”. As someone else has put it:
“there is one thing worse than the belief that death is the end; it is the hope that death is the end.”For there is a real fear of judgement. So for these reasons and especially this last one people are said to be
“all their lives … held in slavery by the fear of death.”And this touches every stage of life.
With many young people, it is an indirect fear, if I may put it that way. It is slavery through other people’s fear of death. Their education (planned by their elders) is now denying the reality of an eternal world. Often this is because their elders want to deny it through this fear that death may not be the end.So with young people having no hope beyond the present, the good life is what is pleasurable immediately. So you have a sex, drink and drug culture, with, of course, disastrous consequences for everyone.
Then this slavery from the fear of death with the middle-aged people can show itself in a “now or never” attitude. They begin to see death as the end, as their parents and other loved ones die. So they either repress their fears by climbing various ladders in such a way that their marriages and then their lives can disintegrate. Or else they can fear they haven’t made it and have no future to look forward to, and get depressed.
And with older people, they can become introspective and negative as they experience, as death draws near, new problems not least because of, yes, the sins of children and grandchildren and a younger generation. Well, the Bible here calls all this being in “slavery”. But it is the normal fallen human condition without God.
However, this is where the good news is seen most clearly of all. That is why we want this church to grow in every way and plant more churches. For the good news is that Jesus, and Jesus alone, came to bring liberation from this slavery and hope. His mighty resurrection from the dead and his ascension, as we celebrated this week, proves that he is the victor. Yes, death is still at the end. But this life is a preparation for what lies beyond.
If only people will open their spiritual eyes, they can see that it is by this preparation process that
“God is bringing many sons to glory”.And the process involves two things - two, not just one, but two vital elements. One is our faith in Christ for forgiveness, and then, two, it is God letting us go through times of trial and testing to mature us as we live for Christ, but with Christ’s help. Look at verses 16-17:
“For surely [or, of course] it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants [or, those with faith now in Christ].” For 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.Christ has secured the atonement and so forgiveness of sins – including all those sins that come directly or indirectly through the fear of death. But, also, and of such great importance, once you are forgiven, verse 18 says:
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”What do we know of Christ’s temptation? Well, in the wilderness, he was tempted, first, to doubt his identity as a Son of God. So is the devil tempting you, to doubt that you are his child – his son or daughter? Well, the risen Lord can give you by his Holy Spirit great assurance that you are.
Secondly, Jesus was tempted to take various easy ways of pleasing himself and others rather than going God’s way of the Cross. Yes, he found that supremely hard. He suffered when he was tempted. But every follower of Christ, in lesser ways, is also called to go the way of the Cross in this period when God is “bringing many sons to glory”. However, the good news, and with this I conclude, is that Jesus Christ (verse 18)…
“is able to help those who are being tempted.”
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