Hypostatic Union: Undercover God (Hebrews 2:14-18)

We’re used to seeing an enormous separation between the wealthy CEO and the workers beneath him.  Which may be partly why the TV series Undercover Boss has been hailed as “emotionally stirring” and “an hour of feel-good television for underappreciated workers.”  The “reality” show’s premise is simple enough: find a company, take the CEO, and make the CEO work one or more of the lower-level jobs and rub elbows with the “common worker.”  For example, in one episode, David Kim goes undercover in the kitchen of one of his corporately-owned Baja Fresh restaurants.  The results are both amusing (to see the boss try and tackle menial tasks) and humanizing (to hear the story of real workers).

As we’ve noted before, today’s world is no longer asking: Should I believe in Jesus or not?  Today’s world is asking: What kind of Jesus should I believe in?  But if Jesus truly existed, then we might phrase the question a bit differently: Who or what was Jesus?  What kind of person was he?  How does he help us understand who God is?

The early church reached a staggering conclusion about Jesus: that he was God in the flesh.  The word they chose to use was the incarnation.  Living in Texas, I developed a fondness for Tex-Mex cuisine.  When teaching on this subject to a group of local college students, we found common ground in the phrase salsa con carne—literally “salsa with meat.”  So the incarnation was like that—God with meat.  In Jesus, God put on skin and bone.  He became sort of the “undercover boss,” the CEO of the universe rubbing elbows with us mere mortals.

We find this idea embedded in the pages of Hebrews:

14 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, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 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. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

The author makes this perfectly clear.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is also man.  But how can we possibly put these two things together?

The early church offered an answer that was as simple as it was mysterious.  They called it the hypostatic union.  What does this mouthful mean?  It means that Jesus—in taking on human form—possessed two unique sets of attributes.  He was fully God, in the sense that he was infinitely worthy of admiration and praise.  But he was also fully man, in the sense that he would experience everything you and I would ever experience.  Hunger.  Thirst.  Embarrassment.  Puberty.  Temptation.  Pain. Tears.  Death.

Though the church had (largely) worshipped Christ in this way for years, these ideas became codified in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.  There, the church described Jesus as “complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man….not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same…”

Chris Wiles, "Logos," Oil crayon on paper, 2007.

Chris Wiles, “Logos,” Oil crayon on paper, 2007.

It’s mysterious, really.  Which is why I chose to represent the idea through art (many people forget my studio art background).  The work that you see is an oil pastel piece simply titled Logos, John’s favored word to describe God becoming man (John 1:1-18).  The two blood vessels represent Christ’s two natures.  The blue represents Christ’s God-nature; the red his humanity—colors that were actually quite common in early Christian art to represent Christ’s divinity (blue for heaven) and humanity (red for blood) respectively.  The artery extending and illuminating the scathed darkness represents Christ’s coming into the world through his human birth and life—the fact that it extends from right to left is reflective of his Hebrew origins.  And the intertwining of the blood vessels might also be said to represent the Greek letter chi, the first letter of the word Christ, the Greek word for the Hebrew Messiah  meaning “king” (ancient icons used to depict Jesus holding up two crossed fingers for the same reason—as the crossing of the fingers resembled a chi and the position of his hand would resemble a rho, the second letter of Christ).

But why would such a union even be necessary?  Why would Jesus have come to earth as both man and God?  In the last century, a German writer named Jurgen Moltmann has convincingly argued that the incarnation of Jesus was both necessary and fortuitous—meaning it has great benefit for us.

NECESSARY INCARNATION

In the middle ages, a writer named Anselem worked hard to understand this very concept.  He ended up writing a book called Cur Deus Homo, meaning “Why the God-Man?”  His conclusions were a bit colored by medieval economics, but they still are helpful.

See, according to Anselem, man finds himself in a quandary.  Man sinned in the Garden of Eden, causing damage to God’s character.  Man must work to repair this damage.  But wait, because God is infinite, the damage cannot be repaired.

Think of it this way: you’re traveling down the streets of present-day Detroit.  You lose control of the car.  You swerve to your left and crash into a lot of used Ford cars and damage a sedan.  How much is your debt?  It’s simple: just look at the sticker price, or consult Kelly Blue Book.  But what if you swerve to your right and crash into the Henry Ford Museum, totaling one of the few remaining Model-T Fords?  How much is your debt?  The truth is, that item was a part of history.  We might say it’s “priceless.”

So too is the character of God.  So infinite is God’s character that there is no price we can pay to repair the damage.

So God became man.  Why?  First, only an infinite price can satisfy man’s debt.  And only God is infinite.  So God had to be sacrificed.  But second, only man can pay this debt, because man was the one who caused the damage.  So God became a human being.  Do you see the necessity now?  God became man so that a man could make an infinite sacrifice to pay man’s debt.

FORTUITOUS INCARNATION

But Moltmann also insists that the incarnation of Jesus was “fortuitous”—it offers us great benefit.  Why?  Because if Jesus came to earth as a human being, it shows us a new and better way to be human.  And if Jesus experienced every temptation, every stinging rejection, every hangnail, every family crisis, every loss, every tragedy that you and I experience, it changes everything we know about God.  In Harper Lee’s now-classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch sits down with his daughter to talk to her about how to approach people who seem different.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” he says, “You’ve got to put on his skin, and walk around in it.”  Jesus put on your skin and walked around in it.

In the era of WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in a prison cell—guilty of defying the Nazis—and wrote this about Jesus:

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on the cross.  He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which He is with us and helps us…The Bible directs us to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison)

In Jesus, we have a suffering God at our side.  Why is this helpful?  If you’ve ever been through a tragedy, then you know that one of the worst things someone can say to you is “I understand.”

Because usually they don’t.

Jesus Christ is the only person who can sit by you, put his arm around your shoulder and tell us, “I understand.”  At the cross we find solidarity with a God who puts up with outcasts and absorbs the debt and guilt of all mankind.  And standing at the empty tomb we find hope in a God who promises that evil and pain will never have the final word.  Flowers will one day bloom where now there exist only thorns.  And for now—for always—we have a God of love.  An incarnational God.  A God who draws near.

 

Advertisements

What’s Old is New (Hebrews 2:5-13)

I have remarkably few enemies.  Yet there is one in particular that I’d like to introduce you to today.  Her name is Kate Turabian.  If you or your kids have been around school at any time in recent history, you know the name not for the person, but for the classic “Kate Turabian” style of formatting.  This means that everything you write not only has to match the “Turabian” style in both font and spacing, but headings and subheadings require a set number of spaces.  Your citations have to be carefully footnoted in the exactly proper form.  The white edges on the sides of your papers have to be a certain width.  And if you’re a student, you know the perplexing sting of learning you lost points on a paper because—and I’m not exaggerating—your hyphens were too wide.

Turabian.  The name has become synonymous with an environment of strict standards and rigorous literalism.  So it’s actually a bit exasperating to open the book of Hebrews to see the way the author often plays fast and loose with the way he haphazardly quotes Old Testament texts—with no citations, mind you.  It’s no wonder the author remained unnamed—who’d want their graders to see how sloppy this sermon is?

What’s the author doing, exactly?  The author of Hebrews is demonstrating something fundamental about the Christian Bible: that no Scripture is complete until it is understood in light of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that the Bible is open to being interpreted and re-interpreted, but it does mean that we understand the Bible only when we learn to see Jesus on every page.  So in Hebrews 2:5-13, we see the author of Hebrews using a series of Old Testament quotations to explain just how awesome Jesus truly is.  Let’s look at this text with the citations supplied (by me) in bold:

5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,

or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8     putting everything in subjection under his feet.” [PSALM 8:4-6]

 Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For 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. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” [PSALM 22:22]

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.” [Psalm 18:2]

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.” [ISAIAH 8:18]

 In today’s world, it’s tempting to select certain “favorite” verses or passages and make them something of a “life verse.”  There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a few favorite passages, but the author here is saying that the Bible must be read as a continual story of God working in the world.  One author writes:

 “…the author [reads] non-narrative texts against the backdrop of the narrative of salvation history.  He ‘narrativized’ material from Psalms and Proverbs, sometimes taking them as scripts on the lips of Christ or as prophetic words of God in relation to events in the new covenant.  Words in non-narrative genres are read as words within the overarching narrative of salvation history.” (Ken Schenck, “God has Spoken,” in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, p. 324)

This is why the division between “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is somewhat misleading.  The division came in the early centuries of the church, when a man named Jerome noted the contrast between the “old covenant” described by the prophets and the “new covenant” described by Jesus and his followers (the book of Hebrews will later make fuller explanation of this difference).  So, he concluded, we should call the earlier scriptures the “Old Testament,” and the writings featuring Jesus and his followers the “New Testament.”  But really, we need to recognize that the kinds of quotations we find in Hebrews aren’t that unusual.  In his commentary on the Bible, A.E. Hill estimates that about 32 percent—yes, a third—of the New Testament is composed of quotations from the Old Testament (!).  That’s a lot.  And it highlights the way that the Bible is meant to be one unified story.

This also helps us understand how the Bible differs from other ancient and other religious writings.  Even now we’re seeing some friction (to put it mildly) between Western cultures and the nature of Islam.  Two articles from The Atlantic magazine (both in the last month or so) have been particularly telling.  In the first, called “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graeme Wood highlights the deep connection of Islamic beliefs and the recent escalation of violence.  In a counter-article, called “The Phony Islam of ISIS,” Caner K. Dagli notes the ways that ISIS has really just hijacked religious language—the Quran, after all, is a starting point, and must be coupled with other writings such as the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad).  The result is a confusing web.  We needn’t get stuck in the details of this, only to note that when a religious text is intended only to reflect a person’s experiences, we are left only with questions of interpretation.   Does Islam promote violence?  Or peace?  Even these questions are partially obscured by the Muslim doctrine of “abrogation,” where certain texts are thought to “replace” pre-existing ones (!).

The Christian Bible is radically different.  Yes, there are passages that generate confusion.  Yes, there have been passages used (inappropriately) to justify violence and oppression.  But the overarching story—the one the writer of Hebrews bids us to lose ourselves in—is one of salvation and redemption, a promise fulfilled in the arrival of Jesus.

But what about you and me?  Sometimes it’s easy to flounder in our Bible reading because, well, we’re separated from the original culture by a few centuries or more.  There’s a book on my shelf called The Hermeneutical Spiral.  It’s one of those books you only read once, but the author’s central image is extraordinarily helpful.  Grant Osborne (the author) suggests that when we read and interpret a part of the Bible, we’re really sort of drawing circles around it.  The more we read, the more we interpret, the more our circles will spiral closer and closer toward the center—that is, toward the exact meaning.  We may start of spinning in circles around a particular text, but with time, with experience, with community, we draw closer and closer toward the truth.  This is partly why attending a Sunday morning worship service is so spiritually vital—because it is there that we grow in our understanding of God’s word as we hear it unfolded and explained.  This is partly why a mid-week community group is important—because it is there that we see how God’s word impacts the everyday lives of those with whom we share life.  Everyone loves a good story.  And the Bible is the greatest of all.

Signs, Wonders, and Spiritual Boredom (Hebrews 2:1-4)

“Belief” is a funny thing.  In today’s world, the degree of your belief is often seen as a reflection of your character.  Specifically, we tend to admire those who make a “leap of faith,” and the greater the leap the higher the admiration.  Faith, we assume, is about making a commitment independent of intellect.  And it’s no wonder, then, that Christianity’s harshest critics have specifically targeted this aspect of Christianity.  In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris defines faith as “nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.”

But historically speaking, Christianity has not rested on “blind faith.”  Rather, faith was deeply, intricately connected to the human experience, touching our intellects, our emotions, and our actions.  God’s earlier followers had been commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5)—that is, to connect faith to our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Later in Christian history, the “reformers” of Christianity (the guys that brought us the Protestant reformation, that is) defined faith as having three essential components: (1) knowledge—that is, the knowledge of God, (2) agreement with that knowledge, and (3) a trust—usually a trust that emphasized some sort of response.  So Christianity has no history of “blind” faith or leaps in the dark.  On the contrary; Christianity has historically emphasized a holistic form of faith, one that defies our tendency to compartmentalize ourselves—or worse, to overemphasize the intellect to the neglect of obedience.

Tragically today’s North American church has done precisely that: we have overemphasized emotion above all else, and in many ways rendered ourselves indistinguishable from a culture in which “feeling is believing.”  In his book Bad Religion, Ross Douthat of the New York Times cites religious scholar Mark Lilla, who notes the way Christianity has turned not downward, but inward:

“A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers…Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers…But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated.”  (Mark Lilla, cited by Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, p. 177)

So what does this have to do with “signs and wonders?”  Well, if we take another look at Hebrews 2:1-4 (yes, the passage from yesterday), we see that the author of Hebrews places and emphasis on “signs and wonders and various miracles:”

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

Biblical writers used the phrase “signs and wonders” in several different ways.  It was a term used to describe God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt (Exodus 7:3, 9; 11:9-10), it was used to describe true prophecy (Isaiah 8:18; 20:3), and to describe the works of Jesus (John 20:29-31; Acts 2:19, 22). In his commentary on Hebrews, F.F. Bruce notes that the emphasis the New Testament places on such activities is “impressive in its range.”

But what’s it doing here?  In her commentary on Hebrews, Marie Isaacs helps us understand that such “signs and wonders” “are the means whereby God corroborates the truth of the definitive word spoken through his Son…the verbal testimony of those who originally heard Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel and the Spirit-inspired deeds of his contemporary followers validate the truth of his message.”   In other words, God’s Spirit was active in that climate as God’s way of “proving it.”

No doubt such miraculous signs had an impact on the community.  But if we understand this text correctly, the focus remains on what was “declared at first by the Lord”—a message of “such a great salvation.”  The gospel remained the primary focus.  The “signs and wonders” were a means to a much greater end.

Here is the point.  I know many people who have had tremendous religious experiences.  And I would never wish to rob them of these memories or from this intense joy.  I’m reminded of a fellow grad student who came to know Jesus after “meeting” him in a dream.  But the writer of Hebrews never made these experiences the focal point of his faith or ministry.

And neither should we.

Now mind you, I’m not suggesting our experiences should not be shared.  In fact, there is enormous value in sharing your faith story—what we often call our “testimony.”  But if our story never moves beyond our subjective experience to God’s objective truth, then spiritual outsiders might politely respond by saying: “That’s good for you.”  Only an emphasis on the gospel—the concrete truths of our need for Jesus and God’s power to forgive—can reach into someone’s heart and bring those far from God near to him.

If I were to identify any one significant problem with today’s Christianity, it would be the corrosive nature of spiritual boredom.  So much of contemporary Christianity seems bent on chasing an experience.  For some it might be literal miraculous encounters.  For others it might be chasing the spiritual “high” you felt when you first encountered God.  Is there any wonder why our Christian bookstores are bulging at the seams with the latest (and thereby greatest) books, worship albums, and DVD studies?  Whether we recognize it or not, we’ve put God inside a box: he’s only as real to me as his ability to keep impressing me with his tricks.

What, then, is the solution?  The solution is not to dismiss our experiences—this only stifles us emotionally and runs the risk of ignoring God entirely.  Rather, we must continually learn to connect God’s truth with the larger wealth of human experience—our own, as well as that of others.  Think about this for a second: how did you encounter God?  Maybe it was through a Sunday School lesson, a close friend, maybe even through some miraculous encounter.  But how did you come to understand God?  To encounter God without understanding him is to anchor one’s faith to the unstable moorings of human experience.  But to understand God without encountering personally is to pin him down to a lab table, treating the life-giving Savior as if he were a med-school cadaver.  We need both, you see.  We need knowledge.  We need feelings.  We need men and women of action.  And, as the writer of Hebrews continues to tell us, we find this radical unity by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

 

“Clinging or Drifting” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

Most of us know Stephen Colbert as the former host of the popular late-night comedy show The Colbert Show—and still more will come to know him this Fall as Letterman’s replacement on CBS’s Late Show.  But only a handful of 7-year-olds know him as their Sunday School teacher.  In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Colbert revealed that he teaches Sunday School at his Catholic church.

Colbert was raised Catholic, but by his own admission he’s “highly variable in [his] devotion:”

“From a doctrinal point of view or a dogmatic point of view or a strictly Catholic adherent point of view, I’m first to say that I talk a good game, but I don’t know how good I am about it in practice. I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I’m moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.” (Neil Strauss, “Stephen Colbert on Deconstructing the Colbert Nation” in Rolling Stone Magazine, September 2, 2009)

You see, there was a time when Colbert had lost his faith.  In a separate interview, he describes it initially as “a college angst thing,” but when pressed by the interviewer he goes a bit deeper:

 “I had very sad events in my childhood. The death of my father and my brothers was understandably a shattering experience that I hadn’t really dealt with in any way. And there comes a time when you’re psychologically able to do so. I still don’t like talking about it. It still is too fresh.” (Neil Strauss, “The Subversive Joy of Stephen Colbert”)

For many, suffering proves the crucible in which faith is tested.  I use Stephen Colbert as a positive example, in that while he’s gone through a period of questioning his faith, he’s on an upward journey.  We could easily name others—celebrities and otherwise—that aren’t so lucky.

The writer of Hebrews understands this all too well.  Recall that we’ve been examining an early Christian community that experienced enormous pressure from the surrounding culture.  The author of Hebrews intends to encourage his readers to endure, to maintain a clear focus on the gospel even as they were increasingly regarded as social outcasts.  But, as Marie E. Isaacs notes in her commentary, the author’s encouragement is “both carrot and stick.”  Some of his encouragement comes in the form of several “warning” passages, such as the one we’ll look at today:

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

If you read closely, we’ll see hints of the two dangers that dominate the writer’s thinking.  First, we see a clear warning against those who become spiritual burnouts—that is, who “drift away” from “what we have heard” (v. 1).  Second, we see a (subtle) warning against those who become functional atheists—that is, who “neglect such a great salvation” (v. 3) and live life as if God were never present.  These themes reappear in a total of (at least) five distinct warning passages throughout the book (2:1-4; 3:7-4:11; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:14-29)—though we could probably name more depending on our exact interpretation of “warning.”

What point might we make here?  The author understands that the gospel is something that we either cling to or drift from.   What about you?  Would you define yourself as clinging to the gospel, or do you find yourself drifting now and again?

The good news is actually embedded in the very structure of the book—though we have to take a step or two backwards to notice it.  If you look at the larger context here, we see this “warning” embedded in the book’s larger scope of the majesty of Jesus.  Take a look:

HIGHER THAN THE ANGELS (1:5-14)

  • The Son of God (1:5-6)
  • The King of Israel (1:7-14)

WARNING! (2:1-4)

LOWER THAN THE ANGELS (2:5-18)

  • The nature of the incarnation (2:5-9)
  • The purpose of the incarnation (2:10-18)

The author is making a broader point about the person of Jesus—the One who steps from heaven’s glory to the sullied streets of humanity.  We’ll address this a bit further next week, but for now do you see how this “warning” serves as something of a “hinge” between these two themes?  It’s as if the author of Hebrews is saying: Keep holding on!  Jesus—though worthy of honor—endured the same shame you’re going through.  Keep going.  Endure. 

Sadly, we can all think of those who slip away far too easily.  The good news is that through God’s grace each of us can find our way home again.  Stephen Colbert had this experience earlier in his life:

“…once I graduated from college, some Gideon literally gave me a box of The New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs on the street in Chicago. I took one and opened it right away to Matthew, Chapter 5, which is the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. That whole chapter is essentially about not worrying. I didn’t read it – it spoke to me, and it was an effortless absorption of the idea. Nothing came to me in a thunderbolt, but I thought to myself, ‘I’d be dumb not to re-examine this.’” (Strauss, “The Subversive Joy…”)

If I sat down with Stephen, I don’t know that he and I would find perfect agreement on Christian doctrine.  Still, we may rejoice at the trajectory he seems to be on, and being “moved by the words of Christ” has often been a first step into a larger world of faith.  It will be interesting to see what influence—if any—this will have on CBS’s future Late Show comedian, but for now we can say simply this: there are many for whom faith is a prolonged journey.  Along its path there are many ups and downs, the ratio of which depends entirely on the person.  But what endures—what we cling to—is the person of Jesus, who stands fast regardless of culture or circumstance.  Wherever you are on your journey, my prayer is that you find joy, find life, find hope in the message of Jesus, whose death and resurrection provide the promise of forgiveness and transformation.

Brothers and Sisters of Christ? Really? (Hebrews 2:10-17)

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.”

Hebrews 2

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.

Puzzle day 4