The perfect Saviour

Speaker : John Johnstone
Scripture : Hebrews 2:14-18

There are several names we use for having bread and wine to remember Christ’s death: ‘the Lord’s Supper’ is one, and ‘communion’ is another. The ‘eucharist’ is also common in some Christian circles. Eucharist is a Greek word for ‘giving thanks’, coming from 1 Corinthians: ‘The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:10-11)

So, this service is a special time for us to give thanks to God for Jesus, the eternal Son of God, leaving Heaven and becoming a human being, living a perfect life for us, and dying on the cross for us. We celebrate and we remember the cross of Christ, and the incalculable benefits which we receive when we place our trust in Jesus. I’d like us to celebrate today by focusing on Hebrews chapter 2:14-18.

The great theme of the letter to the Hebrews is that Jesus is the greatest. He is greater than the angels, than the Old Testament priesthood and the structures of the old covenant. And if he is the greatest, and he is, then we ought to persevere in the faith, continuing to trust in Christ until the end.

Chapter 1 glories in the fact that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. ‘But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever… (Hebrews 1:8) This is quite a statement of Jesus’ divinity! He is truly God. Then we move on to chapter 2 and here it is the humanity or humanness of Jesus which is stressed. ‘Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.’ (Hebrews 2:11)
Or, ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…’ (Hebrews 2:14)

I hope we all know how important it is to hold onto these two truths about Jesus: he is truly God; and he is truly human. These were tough truths for the early Christians to digest, especially those from Jewish backgrounds. How could Jesus be greater than angels if he was a human who suffered and died? This letter explains that far from being something shameful, the incarnation is something glorious. Indeed, it is something for us to celebrate this morning. Let’s consider the following question together: why was it necessary for Jesus to become a human being? It is as we answer that question, that we discover reason upon reason to glory in our Saviour, Jesus, the God-man.

1. Jesus became human in order to destroy the power of Satan and free us from the fear of death.
‘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 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ (Hebrews 2 :14-15)

As humans, we don’t like to admit that we are slaves of anything. We can be proud. But the Bible asserts that those who are not Christians are in a bondage of fear, and what they fear is death itself. Would you agree? Does this ring true to the way things really are? What’s the one topic most people do not want to talk about? Death. We avoid speaking about it. We try to prolong our lives to put off the inevitable. We might even distract ourselves from thinking about it through entertainment, and keeping ourselves busy, but the fact remains, each one of us will die.

I believe one of the main reasons the pandemic has caused so much distress is that it brought death right before our eyes on a daily basis. Each day we are informed how many more people have died from this plague. Usually, death is avoided and sanitised with a very short celebration of life at the crematorium, and then back to the pub for some drinks to numb the pain. Yes, few will talk about it, because deep down they are fearful and anxious about death. They have no answer to it.

Christians, however, do have an answer to death. It is Jesus’ death which frees us from this fear. How does that work? On the cross, Jesus took our sins upon himself. The Bible says ‘the wages of sin is death’ but if Jesus has blotted out our sins, then these unwanted wages have already been paid, by Jesus. It is no wonder unbelievers fear death deep down, because it is a gateway into eternal death, where they must pay the wages of sin. But when Christians die, death is a gateway into eternal glory.

Over the October holidays I read through CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The last book of the 7 is called ‘The Last Battle’ and in the last chapters (spoiler alert) CS Lewis describes what death actually is for believers: It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here! This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.’

Then the book ends with words from the narrator describing the children who have died and passed into glory: ‘All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’

Do you really believe that? How can we be sure death is but the gateway to eternal bliss? How do we know it’s not made up, like unicorns and dwarfs? We can be sure because a human being has already been raised from death and passed into glory – the Lord Jesus Christ. It has happened before, and it will happen again; Christ Jesus is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

John Calvin: ‘God has taken death, which in Satan’s hands is a gateway into Hell, and he has transformed it into a gateway into glory.’

Christ Jesus has died for us, thereby removing the sting of death. We no longer need to fear death. Let’s, of course, do what we can to fight against covid. But we shouldn’t be those who fear death. Jesus’ death and resurrection has crushed the power of Satan. Let’s celebrate this today.

Donald Macleod writes: ‘From one point of view, Christ’s death was a triumph for Satan. It was his ‘hour’. In reality, the expiatory and propitiatory power of the cross was Satan’s destruction. The atonement broke his power. Where the blood was sprinkled, God could no longer condemn; where God could no longer condemn, the devil could no longer accuse; where he could not accuse, he could no longer hold; and where he could no longer hold, men and women transferred their allegiance from Satan to the Son of God.’

2. Jesus became human to become the great High Priest and deal with the just wrath of God.
To state the obvious, sin has such a devastating impact on all aspects of our lives. We live in a fallen world with so much hate, greed, godlessness, war, and injustice. Our hearts do not work properly. Our desires are always mixed. However, the main problem of sin is not what it does in us, or what it does to other people (awful as that is) but what it does to God. We will never appreciate just how offensive our wrong thoughts and actions are to a holy and perfect God, whose eyes are too pure to look upon sin. He hates sin. And because he is just, he cannot and will not ignore it. To put it simply, the worst thing about sin is that it destroys our relationship with God.

Let me read verse 17 from the ESV, where the word ‘propitiation’ is rightly used instead of the word ‘atonement’: ‘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.’

Notice that we are told Jesus ‘had to’ become a human being. It was the only way to make propitiation, which means the only way to turn away the anger of God. Of course, God could not just ignore all my sins and your sins; that would not be fair. That would not be justice. Instead, God, out of his deep love for the human race, gives us this marvellous way out. Because Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross, God has no reason to be angry with us. He is now our loving heavenly Father.

Only a human being could pay the price for human sin, and so Jesus had to become truly human. Yet because he is also God, this payment has infinite value. Yes, it was necessary for Jesus to become a human being because of our sins. My sins have consequences and so do yours. The biggest consequence is this: these sins made it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die for us at calvary.

3. Jesus became human in order to help us with our daily temptation.
It’s such a precious thing when we find someone who understands us. We don’t have to over-explain everything – they just ‘get it’. Perhaps a teacher speaks to a friend who is also a teacher about the problems they are having at work, and it’s so helpful as your friend has been through it too. They can empathise. They show real compassion. Or someone goes along to an AA meeting, and you quickly realise that everyone else shares your temptation to drink and they understand and you feel supported.

Verse 18 tells us that Jesus ‘gets it’. He understands all our temptations. ‘For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’

But we might think, how can Jesus possibly understand my temptations if he never fell into sin? He never had a sinful nature! And that’s a good question, so let’s pause and ask, who understands temptation more, the person who struggles with it but then quite quickly gives in, succumbing to it, or the person who doesn’t give in, but keeps on fighting and fighting that temptation? The truth is, Jesus knows more about temptation that anyone else, because he never succumbed to it, not once, and so his temptations grew all the more intense.

Doesn’t that make you want to pray more? We can talk to Jesus about the nitty gritty temptations we face and home and at work knowing that not only does he understand us, but he is compassionate and willing and able to help us in them, if we just ask. Are you glad you have a human Saviour? You ought to be. Wherever you plant your feet, Jesus has been there before you. He knows the pressures we face. When we feel overwhelmed and lost and fearful of the future and when we feel like giving up, he ‘gets it’.

Friends, truly Jesus is the greatest. He is the God-man. We cannot improve any aspect of his being. Because of Jesus, we don’t need to fear death because he has removed its sting. Because of Jesus, we need not fear God, if we come in faith and place our trust in Christ. Because of Jesus, we can pray to one who understands and knows exactly what to give us and when.

Let’s celebrate the Lord’s supper as free people, as forgiven people, as those assisted by God himself, and as those for whom death is but the gateway into eternal life, in which every chapter is better than the one before.