One of my favorite commercials of recent years is one about undershirts – featuring Michael Jordan and an “average Joe” carpet salesman, who happen to be seated next to each other on an airplane. The guy says to Jordan – referencing a person across the aisle, “That dude keeps looking over here; I must have sold him some carpet or something.” Oblivious to the obvious, the salesman nonetheless does observe that, unlike he and Michael Jordan, the dude across the aisle has an undershirt that wrinkles at the neckline – which he calls a bacon neck. He says of their shirts, “Ours lay flat … we’re like twins!” Jordan sort of laughs and says, “No we’re not.” (A video link to the commercial is HERE.)
The passage we read today talks about how Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. We are siblings with Christ? Is he like us? Yes, he is! No, he’s not! Which is it?
This early portion of the book of Hebrews is addressing the issue of identifying exactly who Christ is – as both divine and man. Here, speaking of his humanity, a couple of Old Testament Scriptures from Psalms and Isaiah are quoted. And the writer defines how it was necessary for Christ to be fully human like us if he was to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. He had to be of the same flesh and blood substance to be an adequate substitute – as it would say later, that the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient for a final payment.
Yet at the same time, for Christ to be the perfect sacrifice, he had to be … perfect (possessing righteousness – to use another “cross word” we’ll talk about a lot later on in this series). And the only way he could be perfect is if he was deity. And the only way he could be both perfect God and perfect man would be if he was born of a virgin birth, conceived not by man but by the Spirit. This is why precise theology is important.
There is another Greek word, besides the one referenced the past two days in 1 John, that also carries the meaning “to placate, appease, propitiate.” And this word (hilaskomai) is used in today’s passage in verse 17 when it speaks about how Christ was “… fully human 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.” (In all of these passages, we begin to note how the words “propitiation” and “atonement” are closely connected.)
But here is the main idea for today: The reason God is able to be satisfied (propitiated) with the offering of Christ is because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice to pay the price to cover the debt of sin and placate God’s wrath toward sin – because he was fully man … and therefore, in Christ, we are his brothers and sisters in the fullest sense within God’s family. Yes we are!
The only other occurrence of this word translated “make atonement” in today’s passage is over in Luke 18:13, where the repentant tax collector said, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He was saying in essence, “Lord be propitiated toward me, a sinner.”
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14 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— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human 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. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
We add two more words of identification to the puzzle:
Tomb – The reality of the true death of Christ is important … that he was indeed in a tomb for three days. A tomb was necessary for a resurrection from the grave to occur.
Tree – The wooden cross is often referenced as the “tree.” … as in Galatians 3:13 about the curse of anyone who hangs on a tree.