This past week I was in St. Louis for two days with some people from Oklahoma City talking to the National Benevolent Association about a project that we are working on together. While in St. Louis I had the opportunity to spend some time with a friend who works for the NBA and who has been such a blessing to my life. Kevin McKinney was a young Mayor in Jonesboro, TN. and was married to a beautiful young woman named Jackie when they found out that they were going to have a baby. The young couple was excited about welcoming their first child into their home and they were making plans for their future. During Jackie’s pregnancy, she noticed something wasn’t right so she went to see her doctor and he decided they needed to run some tests. When the tests were run the doctors came back and told Jackie that they believed she had a rare form of cancer and that they needed to do some more tests. When all of the tests were finished and the doctors had confirmed what they had feared they gave Jackie the bad news – she had a rare form of cervical cancer. Only 2% of the women who get cervical cancer get the deadly kind of cancer that Jackie would have to deal with, and during her pregnancy.
The doctors told Jackie that she could abort the baby and then they could treat the cancer, but they could not treat her cancer as long as she was carrying the baby. Jackie decided to keep the baby and wait until after her delivery to worry about what she and Kevin would do about her cancer.
After their little girl was born they named her Courtnie and then turned their attention to Jackie’s cancer. By this time the cancer had taken its toll on Jackie’s body and she and Kevin knew that she was not going to make it. They talked about her condition and the prospects for the end of her life. Jackie was at peace knowing that she was going home to be with the Lord. She and Kevin agreed that they didn’t want to utilize extreme measures to save her life, but they would trust in God. They would enjoy her last months and trust God for what would take place. Within nine months after Courtnie’s birth, Jackie passed away and left Kevin to raise Courtnie as a single father.
As Kevin told me the story for the first time on Wednesday of this past week my heart broke for him. I can’t imagine the pain that he has gone through and that he must still experience today — thirteen years after his wife’s death. I told Kevin when we were talking on Wednesday. “Your wife gave her life so that your daughter could live.” Kevin said, “Yes, she sure did.” What a gift Jackie gave to Courtnie. I gift that cost her the life that she loved, but she loved her daughter even more.
Without the sacrifice of Jackie’s love for her daughter, Courtnie would not be living the life for Jesus that she is living today. Jackie’s sacrificial love opened the gates of life, brought about the possibility of knowing the love of Jesus, and of sharing that overwhelming love with those she meets every day. What a picture of Jesus’ love for you and for me.
Today, we are continuing our study of this incredible letter to the Hebrews. I hope that you are beginning to get a glimpse of the magnitude of our precious Savior. He is bigger than big! No angel can begin to compare to His glory. No prophet can speak with such authority and power. No mind can fathom His unfathomable love and mercy. No mighty man can begin to compare with His matchless power. No humanitarian or philanthropist can give a gift that even begins to compare to the gift that He has freely bestowed upon all that will trust in Him. Oh what a Savior! Let’s take a look at our Scripture lesson for today and we can see another side of His matchless glory. Take out your Bible and let’s look at Hebrews 2: 9-18.
9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10In 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. 11Both 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. 12He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” 14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17For 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. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18 NIV)
In these verses that we are studying today in the Book of Hebrews we see that Jesus is the matchless, perfect and only Savior of God. Jesus is the Pioneer who has blazed a trail to the salvation of God for those who will trust in Him. In saying those words I am sure there are some of you who are thinking, “How can you say that Jesus alone is the Savior when there are so many good people who do not believe in Jesus? How can you be so narrow as to think that you know what is right and that those who think there is another way to God are wrong?” Oh, you ask such good questions. Let me ask you a question – “If Jesus is not who He said that He is then please tell me what other avenues we might travel to enjoy fellowship with God?”
I asked that question to a man many years ago that use to go to church here. He had been in worship on Sunday and heard me preach. When he left the sanctuary he said, “I would like to go to lunch with you and ask you some questions.” I said, “That would be great. Let’s do it this week.” When we met for lunch we made small talk for a little while and then he popped the question. He said, “You don’t really believe that Jesus is the only way to God do you? I mean that is so narrow-minded.” I said, “What other ways are there to God?” He said, “Well, you have to believe that those who follow other religions are sincere in their beliefs and they believe that they know God as well as you do.” I said, “Which religions would you put into the category of ‘other ways to know God?'” He said, “Well, I would say that the major religions of the world would fit into that category.” I said, “So you are talking about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam?” He said, “Yes, those are the major religions of the world.” I said, “Boy that sounds pretty narrow-minded to me.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, you are only validating five religions – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Do you know how many different religions there are in the world?” He said, “No.” I shook my head and said, “Well, I know that Shirley MacLaine, Baghwan Shree Ragneesh, and Rev. Sun Myung Moon are just as sincere as anyone who believes in any of those religions that you’ve just named. You’ve just left out millions of sincere people who are seeking to know God.” He said, “But those folks are kooks.” I said to my friend, “You are just as narrow-minded as I am. It is just that you are narrow-minded in a way that you have absolutely nothing to base your narrow-minded mentality upon. I believe that Jesus is God’s only Son, our only Savior based upon what Jesus has said and not upon what I may believe about whether someone is a kook or not.” I think my friend got the point.
If we will allow God to teach us from His Word we will see so clearly that Jesus is the perfect and only Son of God whose life was offered as a gift of salvation for all who would trust in Him. Let’s begin our study by looking at verse 9.
9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
In verse 9 we see the irony of God. On a human level we view success by how prominent a person becomes, how wealthy they are, or by skyrocketing fame and acclaim. Here in verse 9 we see that Jesus is crowned with glory and honor not because of any of these measures of success, but because He has suffered death. The Scriptures are very clear in teaching us that Jesus was born to die. Long before He was even born, the Scriptures pointed out the fact that one day a Righteous Savior would be born and that He would offer his life for many. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s promised One coming to take our sin upon Himself when he says in Isaiah 53,
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:1-10 NIV)
These words of Isaiah stop me in my tracks and overwhelm me. Why would God do such a thing? How could God love me, when I willingly walked away from Him? How could His love cause Him to give His Son so that I could be reconciled with Him? I have to confess to you that it has been twenty years since I bowed before His throne for the first time, confessed my sin, and accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior, but I still do not understand His love. God’s love overpowers me! God’s love overwhelms me!
The writer of Hebrews says, “So that by the grace of God, He might taste death for everyone.” He who never sinned, took my guilt upon Himself. He who didn’t deserve to die, died on my behalf. Because of our lack of familiarity with God’s Word today many of us wonder what difference it makes that Jesus has died for us. They also wonder what death has to do with anything. After all, death is just a normal part of life…right? Let me explain to you what we are dealing with here. Death has been brought about because of our sin. Ezekiel said, 4 “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son-both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4 NIV) Because of sin death has come into the world. In the New Testament we read in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” Left to our own devices death is the end result of a life lived. There is nothing that we can do about it. No act of kindness can alleviate the guilt that we possess. No deed well done can absolve our sin. Sin is a stain on our souls that Tide can’t even take out.
That is bad news. That fact would leave us utterly hopeless if it were not for the grace of God that has acted in history in sending His Son, the perfect Son who never sinned and was not guilty of anything. Jesus has given His sinless life to pay a debt that we could never pay.
There is no gift that is like a gift given to someone who does not deserve it. Richard could attest to that fact. Richard Wright tells the story in his book, Lover of My Soul. One winter’s night in North Korea, Richard Manning and Ray Brennan huddled inside a bunker a hundred yards behind enemy lines. It was January, 1952. Snow was falling on the two marines who happened to be best friends. They were preparing to crawl through enemy territory and sweep the trail for mines so their troops could move forward in assault at dawn. Here’s how Richard described what happened next.
We were passing a chocolate bar back and forth. Ray took the last bite when a grenade lobbed by an undetected North Korean landed squarely in the center of the bunker. Ray was the first one to spot it. Almost nonchalantly he flipped the candy wrapper aside and fell on the grenade. It detonated instantly. His stomach smothered the explosion. I was completely unharmed, untouched. He looked up at me, winked, and rolled over dead.
Eight years later, after Richard had left the service, he took his vows to become a Franciscan priest. The Franciscans had always required a priest to change his name to another saint’s name as a symbol of his new identity. The year that Richard took his vows the Catholic Church decided to let priests choose their own first names. There was no question what Richard would do…and he did. Today you and I enjoy the books of Brennan Manning, the man who lives because his buddy was willing to suffer for his sake.
Brennan Manning’s friend comes from a long line of people who have willingly given their lives for those they loved and who loved them. The stark contrast between all of these individuals and Jesus is that Jesus gave His life for us while we were still sinners, shaking our fist in the face of Almighty God. What is truly amazing is that the writer of Hebrews describes this act of love and reconciliation as “fitting” or “normal” for God’s character. In verse 10 he writes,
10In 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.
It is “fitting” that God, through His Son Jesus, would bring many sons to glory through the death of God’s own Son. Jesus is called “the Author” of our salvation in verse 10. The word used for “author” means “captain” or “pioneer.” Jesus cleared the way through the densest forest that has ever been encountered, which could never be navigated or traveled by you or me. Jesus has cleared the way for all who will trust in Him. This pioneering effort was accomplished through Jesus’ suffering.
The phrase “should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” has led some to believe that Jesus was less than perfect before His suffering. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Jesus was the sinless Son of God who lacked nothing, but He was made the perfect offering of God for our sins through His suffering. This fact is clearly stated in God’s Word as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5,
21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
Jesus did not become perfect morally, He was not making up for any sin that He had committed, nor was God “making” Jesus perfect as a person. What happened in the suffering of Jesus is that He truly tasted of the life that you and I experience because of our sin – He entered into our suffering and became the perfect offering of God because of that fact. For Jesus to truly become one of us He had to taste of man’s struggles and it was through His sufferings and struggles that He became the perfect author of salvation for those He came to save.
In the next section of Scripture we learn something that blows me away. In verses 11-13 we read,
11Both 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. 12He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
There is an incredible change that has occurred my friend. The change that has taken place is marked in history by a cross. Before the cross, the death of Jesus on Calvary, we were not of the same family, we were not brothers and sisters. Before the cross Jesus calls us friends. After the cross Jesus no longer calls us friends, but brothers and sisters who are of the same family.
In verse 11 we see that Jesus is the One who makes people holy, and we, those who trust in Jesus, are the ones who are made holy. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are of the same family. It is through Jesus that we have become part of the family of God. In John we read,
12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
I don’t know if you are thinking the same thing that I am thinking, but I must confess to you that I don’t know why Jesus would want to claim me for a family member. Everybody has a family member, a brother, an aunt, a cousin that everyone kind of winces at when they consider that they are from the same gene pool. Jesus has every reason to wince when He considers me as a family member and yet I read in Hebrews, “so Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Jesus is not ashamed to call me “brother” and He is not ashamed to call you “brothers” and “sisters” not because we so good, but because of what He has done to make us perfect in His sight. He is not ashamed of you and me!
A small town high school decided to sponsor a hayride and cookout for their students on a Friday night after the local high school football game. On the night of the hayride the home team won and everyone was excited about going to the hayride and cookout. When the kids and their sponsors showed up at the farm where the hayride was to take place they were stunned to see so many students from the school. The farmer and sponsors got creative and rigged up two of the farmer’s tractors with hay wagons connected behind as well as a large flatbed truck that they quickly loaded with hay and attached side panels for safety. The kids loaded up and they headed out deep into the farmer’s field where a fire and cold wieners were awaiting. The atmosphere was pretty wild as everyone was so excited about the big win. Kids were yelling, singing songs, and cutting up all along the way. There were sponsors on each of the wagons to make sure that things didn’t get out of hand, but they weren’t needed – they were just kids having a good time and reveling in their victory.
Then, on the big truck that had been made into a makeshift hay wagon some boys began to pick on Billy. Everyone knew Billy from school. He was slow. Some said he was retarded. Billy was always picked on and made fun of, but he wanted to go to the hayride so bad that his dad decided he would go with him. Some of the boys began to mock Billy. Others were needling him about girls. All the while nobody knew that one of the sponsors sitting on the edge of the bed of the truck was Billy’s dad. He heard his son’s name mentioned and then realized what was going on. He started to get up and intervene and then he thought, “No, Billy’s going to run into this his whole life and he needs to learn how to handle it.” Dad sat and listened even though his heart was sinking.
The boys continued to make fun of Billy. They called him names and some picked and punched at him. Then, Billy’s dad heard his son begin to cry. Dad stood up, made his way through the crowd of kids who were having fun at his son’s expense, and finally reached his boy. When he got to Billy the big man wrapped his arms around Billy and leaned into his son. He whispered into his ear, “I love you Billy. You’re my boy.” Dad, with Billy’s face buried in his chest, turned to the kids who had been ripping his son’s heart out and said, “He’s my son.”
Not only is Jesus not ashamed to call us “brothers” and “sisters,” but He is our Satan Conqueror. Take a look at verses 14-15,
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Jesus took our nature upon Himself so that He could disarm Satan of the greatest weapon he had to destroy us – death. Jesus took our nature upon Himself in order that He might die in our place and overcome death for us. By Jesus rising from the dead we now know that we who trust in Jesus will also rise. Death shall not win! Death is defeated! Death has lost its power over us and Satan no longer has death to hold over our heads. Paul writes,
54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory. Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV)
Our inheritance, our future is eternal life in the presence of Almighty God. Death will come for you and for me, but death is not the end it is only another experience of life, a doorway that leads to the arms of the Father. It is this truth that led the Apostle Paul to say, 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 NIV)
God has freed us from the slavery of fearing death through the death and resurrection of His Son. I was watching television this past week and saw a man who had an advanced case of prostate cancer. They have discovered a treatment made of some different herbs and the man had tried it and was experiencing some success. When they interviewed him on television he said, “I would be willing to jump off of a building if it would mean that I could keep my life.” I was struck by the difference between the mindset of the man and what I was learning from God’s Word.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider something. Think of all of the wonderful things you have to experience and enjoy in this life. If you are like me then you can come up with quite a list. Now add to your list all of the heartache and sorrow that is brought to you and me in this life. That is also quite a list. Now consider all that is awaiting those who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life in this life and when they leave this life to experience the very presence of God. No contest.
What is truly amazing is that those who trust in Jesus do not have to wait to go home to be with the Lord to know the joy and comfort that comes from knowing the Savior. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17For 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. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus is not a theorist or counselor who does not know firsthand what you and I are going through. He has suffered Himself, He has been tempted, and because of His suffering and temptation He is able to empathize and help us like no other. The writer of Hebrews says, 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. I pray that this morning the Lord has broken through to your heart and revealed to you the deep need that you have to surrender your life to Him today. He has blazed a trail for us this morning to the very presence of God and He will empower you and help you as you walk the path of this life to your final destination. Won’t you invite Him in?