Yesterday I preached from Hebrews 4 in our Advent series. We talked about Christ's temptations on earth and how they encourage us. You can listen to the audio here. You can download a PDF here, as well.
Born to Endure for Us (Heb. 4:14-16) | 12.15.13
How are you going to make it through the flames? Jesus was “tempted,” verse 15 says. That translates a Greek term built off the word for fire. Sometimes it reads as “tempted” in the New Testament. But other times it says, “tested” instead. Experiences in our lives - ones that might appear good or bad - they test us. They tempt us. That’s what those fires do. Our faith is tested to see if is real and if it will stand. We’re tempted to run from that faith to other things. God tests us. He allows Satan to tempt us. They are two sides of the same coin. Both testing and tempting are involved in these fires we’ll experience.
Maybe you’re about to step into the furnace now. Most wonderful time of the year? Not for many of you. Maybe your family looks more like the one on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Maybe you wake up on Christmas Day and find you’re Home Alone. Perhaps you look back at your year and regret how everything went down. Perhaps you look into 2014, and you don’t see much hope at all. How will you respond? Some of you will say, “Things are looking pretty good.” But you’re either going through a trial, you’ve just come through one, or you’re about to hit one head on. How will you deal with the fire? The testing? The temptation?
Today, we see in this passage that, whatever we’ve been through, Christ has experienced it, too. He’s been tested in the same way. He’s wrestled with the same temptations. He was born in that manger so He could say that to us. And so that truth could encourage us.
Before we get back to Hebrews, turn with me to Luke chapter 2. Jesus grows up, just like us. Look at verse 40: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.” Look down at verse 52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” In a sense, Jesus is no ordinary kid. But in another way, He certainly is. God’s grace is all over Him from the beginning. But He still grows up, experiencing life much like we do. Can you picture Jesus as an awkward teenager with pimples? Can you see Him getting teased on the playground? Can you see Him whacking his thumb with a hammer in the tool shop? Can you see Him playing in the dirt? Playing tag with his siblings? Can you imagine him having an awkward, frustrating conversation with a family member? Jesus no doubt had those and felt all those other things, too.
Now we don’t know a lot about Christ’s upbringing. So some in history have tried to replace mystery with heresy. Many today like to ask how the other so-called “gospels” got left out of the Bible. But those writings teach some pretty ridiculous things. There are books called “infancy gospels” that were written much later than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They try to speculate as to what happened in Christ’s childhood.
In the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” Jesus does some cool magic tricks. One Sabbath, at the age of five, He creates twelve sparrows out of clay. Another kid questions whether or not that’s an approved Sabbath activity. Jesus then makes them alive, and the birds fly away. One of Jesus’s little friends falls off a roof and dies. The neighbor parents accuse him of doing it. He raises the kid from the dead and orders him, “Tell them. I didn’t push you off, did I?” The kid says no. One time his dad is making a bed. He’s cutting two boards and trims one of them too short. Jesus grabs one board and pulls it to the right length. As a kid, he also heals many and raises numerous people from the dead.
But some of the things he does are even more preposterous. Jesus creates these pools of water to play around in. A kid takes a stick, breaches the banks, and it all spills out. Jesus curses that boy and he drops dead. Another time, a kid throws a rock at him. Jesus speaks a word and that kid drops dead, too. His parents question it, and Christ makes them blind.
Wouldn’t you have loved those powers as a kid? When the guys gave you wedgies or swirlies in the locker room? When the girls around the locker say mean things? I would have loved it. But Jesus would have done none of that. And He certainly wouldn’t have made his family disappear. They no doubt drove Him crazy at times. He experienced the fires of childhood and adulthood, all the way to the flames of the cross. He is tested. He is tempted. But He stands strong. As a man. And, friends, that’s meant to encourage us.
We’re in a special Advent series entitled, “Born for Us.” Last week, we saw that Christ was born to die for us. He suffered for us, bringing us salvation from sin. Here we see Him suffer for another reason. He suffered for us, showing us the way to fight against it. He endured tempting and testing. In Hebrews 4:14-16, we see two commands, or encouragements, we’re to remember in the face of trials. We also see one truth about Christ’s identity that moves us to respond in those ways. He was born to endure for us, that we might cling to our faith and come close to our Father. Let’s pray.
Christ, Our Triumphant High Priest
I’ll move from Christ’s identity here to our responses. But first, there’s actually another identity here, but we won’t take time to look at it much today. That’s coming later in this series. The author of Hebrews writes, in verse 14, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…” Christ is our triumphant High Priest. He has won the victory and has ascended to heaven. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He intercedes for us before His throne. This should encourage us as we wrestle with trials. He is victorious. We have a friend in high places.
Christ, Our Compassionate High Priest
But we also have a friend who can identity with our low places. That’s the main idea I want us to focus on this morning. He is our compassionate High Priest. See that truth in verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Let’s look at both parts of this sentence. We can learn something initially here from the first half, which describes what Jesus is not like. He isn’t a “high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” He can. He “sympathizes.” He feels compassion toward us.
Why? He’s been there. He understands “our weaknesses.” He has walked in our shoes as a human being. Some of you guys are becoming dads for the first time. If your single buddy comes up and says, “It’s no big deal; you’ll do just fine,” it’s not that encouraging. That doesn’t help much when the kid is screaming all night. If your friend who only runs when he’s chased tells you that you can do a marathon, no problem, it just doesn’t mean that much. He hasn’t been there. He can’t give you tips from experience. He can encourage you, sure, but he doesn’t really understand what you’re going through. But Jesus can. He endured testing and tempting. If you think Jesus hasn’t felt all this, you’re wrong. That truth encourages us as we seek to endure ourselves.
Look at the second half of that sentence. It says, Christ “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Last week, we saw in Hebrews 2:17 that Christ was “made like his brothers in every respect.” Here we see similar language. He was tempted, like us, “in every respect.” Really? Every respect? Yes. In every respect. Tempted to steal. Tempted to worry. Tempted to eat the whole pie. Tempted to sleep all day long. Tempted toward bitterness. Tempted toward envy. Tempted to ignore the poor. Tempted to lust after a woman. Tempted to gossip about someone. Tempted to hit someone in the face. Tempted to cheat someone out of money. Tempted to let his parents have it. He was tested. He passed.
He never cursed and killed the bully. He never made his family disappear. He never did any of those things. He was tempted, He was tested, just as we are, but He was “without sin.” This is taught clearly throughout Scripture. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake, He made him to be sin who had no sin, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.” 1 John 3:5 says, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Hebrews 7:26 calls Jesus “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” 1 Peter 2:22 puts it like this:
1 Pet. 2:22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
As we said last week, Jesus is the spotless lamb of God. He never sinned. He didn’t deserve to die on the cross. Even Pilate knew that when he handed Jesus over. Jesus is like us - He can sympathize with our temptations. He’s like the friend who has overcome the knee injury or who has lived through cancer. He is unlike us - He can deliver us from these trials. He’s like a senior fire chief, and we’re the trainee. He’s been in the fire over and over. He knows where He’s sending us. But He can also get us out of there, too. He never took good things and made them bad things. That’s what sin generally is. We’ll see Him fight that in His first temptation in the desert. He never crossed the line between temptation and sin. And they’re not the same thing. You can notice an opportunity to lust. You can see an opportunity to steal. But then turn the other way. Jesus always did.
How Christ’s Endurance Helps Us
Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because He himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Christ actually “suffered” in these flames. Therefore, He’s our “help.” You might wonder how this helps us. Here’s a couple questions that might come to your mind. First, you might ask, “If He’s God, how could He have sinned anyhow?” I don’t think He could have. Jesus is the God-man. He’s one person with two natures, divine and human. They’re joined together. They’re inseparable. God can’t sin. In fact, James 3:17 says, “God cannot be tempted with evil.” It would have been impossible for Him to do wrong.
So you rightly might wonder, “How can that help me?” Jesus didn’t just rely on His divine nature to keep from sinning. He obeyed perfectly. He resisted temptation - as a man. He did this only relying on His human nature. That way He could obey on our behalf. That way He gives us a model for what to do. He didn’t just push the easy button and lean on His divinity. He didn’t push it to take out His enemies. He didn’t push it to tolerate their abuse, either. It is His divine nature, though, that make it impossible that He would sin. It’s what prevents the divine plan from coming all crashing down.
Bruce Ware illustrates it something like this. You have a swimmer who’s trying to swim across the English Channel. She’s trained hard. She’s determined to do it without help. But just in case, some friends follow her in a boat. They’re there to cheer her on, as well. When she reaches the banks and they’re done celebrating, they could ask her, “How did you keep from drowning?” How will she answer? Will she say, “Because of that boat?” No, she’ll say, “Because I kept swimming!” She did not drown because she trained hard and swam to the end. She could not drown because of the boat. Ware says that it’s like that with Christ. He endures to the end as a man, fighting temptation with all His might. He swam. But He couldn’t have sinned. He’s God in the flesh. That’s the boat. But Jesus was determined to endure as a man for us. If Jesus is not a man, if Jesus just relies on His divine power, He can’t earn salvation for us. But He also can’t feel sympathy for us. He endures. As a man.
How is that? We see more specifically how He keeps going in Luke chapters 3 and 4. What happens in Luke chapter 3, verse 22? It reads, “And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Look beginning in chapter 4, verse 1. This is the first temptation at the beginning of His ministry. It says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Christ then is met by Satan who tempts Him hard-core. How does Jesus keep going? How does He stand up during testing? How does He fight off temptations? He has the Holy Spirit. He is filled with Him. He walks dependent upon Him. He also immerses Himself in the word of God. He quotes Scripture to Satan to fight Him off. That gives us a pattern for how to endure ourselves. That gives us encouragement in our testing. We have God’s Spirit, as well. We have His Word.
Here’s a second question: “If He’s God, how could He really have known temptation?” Let me answer that in a couple of ways. Think first about this: maybe what Christ experienced was way worse than what we get from Satan ourselves. Hear Ware here:
…It stands to reason that Jesus was faced with the most difficult and relentless barrage of temptations that anyone ever has received. After all, Satan knows what was at stake in Jesus’s coming. Satan’s offer to Christ of the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8) indicates his knowledge of just why Christ had come. He knew that Christ’s work would destroy everything he had built, that the establishing of Christ’s kingdom would bring an end to his dominion, and so he brought upon Christ the most difficult temptations he could possibly conceive. Furthermore, Satan knew how many sins it would take to make Jesus a sinner. The answer here is astonishing, when you think of the full life that Jesus lived. One sin, and one only, would do the trick. Satan needed to trip up Jesus only once to bring an end to this threat against the kingdom of darkness over which he reigned. So the force and relentless nature of Satan’s temptations against Christ surely surpassed anything Satan has ever done to anyone else.
Tell some of our young ladies around here, guys, that you’re in a ton of pain. You know what response you’re gonna get. “I’ve delivered a child. You haven’t. You have NO idea what pain is, dude.” Maybe we have no idea what real temptation is like! Yes, we have a sinful human nature that Christ didn’t have. Our hearts are constantly looking around trying to find opportunities to satisfy those desires. But the pressure Christ was experiencing from the outside more than made up for our inner turmoil.
Consider this second: why do you think we really know that much about fighting against that temptation? Don’t we usually give in? Don’t we usually give up and feel the “relief” of that when we do? I run quite a bit, but I can never get too far. I really don’t like it. But if I jog 400 yards and quit, but you run past me and go for three miles, who feels it more? Who suffers more? Me, or you? If I grunt just a bit and let the barbell rest on my chest, do I feel it as much as someone who struggles to get it in the air? No. Maybe it’s Jesus who really felt it. Not us. C.S. Lewis put it like this:
A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is . . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in . . . Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist. (C.S. Lewis)
Maybe we know nothing about temptation at all. We still can think, though, “How can Jesus really sympathize if He doesn’t know what it’s like to feel ‘human’ like me?” He didn’t have this sinful nature. He didn’t have these twisted desires. But maybe those inclinations are more devilish, more satanic than human. Adam, before the fall, was fully human. His heart wasn’t messed up. That’s where Jesus was in His time on earth. How Adam messed it up, we don’t know, but Jesus doesn’t. And in His endurance, He shows it what it really looks like to be a man or woman. Without those wicked desires. Doing God’s will.
But here’s some good news. Through His salvation, we’re given a new nature. Now we’re no longer in bondage to sin. We don’t have to choose sin anymore. He’s making us back into real humans again. We can rely on God’s Spirit just like Jesus.
So where are we going here? How does Christ’s endurance here help us? He gives us a picture of a man completely submissive to God’s Spirit and His Word. He gives us an example of a true human being who fights against temptation. He understands our struggles. He identifies with us. Jesus is our compassionate High Priest. That is who He is. He’s been tempted without sin. We can’t say to Him, “You don’t know how it feels.” That’s a great encouragement to us.
Cling to Your Faith
As I said, there are two encouragements also here. Because Jesus is this sympathetic Savior, we should live in two ways in light of that. First, we must cling to our faith. Hebrews is all about encouraging Christians to persevere. Read the end of verse 14. “Let us hold fast our confession.” The author says, “Don’t stop believin’!” Sometimes we think that our life will get to a point where it resembles this idyllic Kinkade painting. But we’re never going to get to a place this side of heaven where we aren’t at least occasionally tempted to pack it all in. We’re not going to arrive at a spot where everything is easy. Where there’s no turmoil. Not in retirement. Retired people are old and cranky, right? Death is near. If anything, it gets harder.
In his book Tempted and Tried, Russell Moore talks about this conversation with a friend named Felix who struggles hard-core with his faith. He’s tempted to do really bad stuff. He lives “on the edge of apostasy, all the time.” Moore assures Felix he has the same struggles. His friend isn’t sure that he believes him. Moore writes, “Let me give you a formal theological term for what Felix is experiencing: the normal Christian life.” We can act like we’re past all that and things are fine. But we need to stop. Staying faithful to the Lord in this world is hard. It’s a battle.
If we’re a Christian, there was a time in our life when we confessed Jesus as Lord. We said something like we say when we’re baptized in Karis here. “Do you profess repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?” “I do.” “Do you promise to walk in the fellowship of His church as long as you live?” “I do.” But at times, it’s hard to say, “I still do,” right? Just like you feel sometimes like you can’t put up with another day being married. Satan attacks us like crazy. We wonder if we’ll pass the test. We want to give it all up. In those times, we have to look at what Jesus did. We’re to walk in His Spirit. We’re to soak in His Word. Jesus quotes the Bible to Satan, but He also reminds Himself of what He believes. He holds on to His confession. We must cling to our faith.
Come Close to Your Father
But here’s a second thing we’re supposed to do. We must come close to our Father. Look at verse 16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Because He is this compassionate High Priest, we should run into our Father’s arms and stay there. But this is often the last thing we want to do, right? Come to God? When I’m struggling, feeling really tempted, I want to run from God. I don’t want to get in His word at all. Of course, that makes things worse. Of course it makes us spiral downward. It feels natural. But that doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s really unnatural.
Jesus was tempted to run the other way. But that’s not what He did, right? Think about the major temptation at the end of His life. He’s in the garden, in Luke 22, right before His death. Satan is pressing on Him really hard. We don’t hear His temptations here, but he’s surely telling Jesus, “There’s gotta be a way without the cross. You don’t have to go through all of this pain. Your Father isn’t good if He makes you do this.” Stuff like that.
But how does Christ fight that? He goes to His Father in prayer. We see Christ relies on God’s word. He also approaches His Father’s “throne of grace,” as it says here in Hebrews 4. He goes to Him for “mercy” and “grace” in this, His greatest time of need. He knows His disciples are headed toward their toughest hours, as well. What does He tell them? Do the same thing. Pray. Fight temptation. Go to your God. He says the same thing to us. Lean on His Holy Spirit. Pour out your heart to Him in prayer.
Because Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest. Because He’s gone through it all, too. Because this is how He handled it, we should approach it the same way. We should come close to God. We should come close to Him in others. Community reminds us of our confession. Community helps us to pray when we can’t. God tells us here to look at His Son who endured all this by running to Him and run to Him, as well.
Hear Hebrews 12:1-2. It gives us a picture of what Jesus did.
Heb. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Friends, He understands. Do what He did. Run the race. Endure. But remember, He’s not just the compassionate High Priest. He’s the triumphant one, too. He has ascended. He has won. He’ll make sure we win, too. Because He was tempted, He can identity with our struggles; because He didn’t sin, because He won, He can rescue us from them.
His Identity and Ours
Here’s one last thing I want us to consider before we wrap up this morning. What again is Jesus battling to believe during these tests? During these temptations? It has to do with God’s identity. In the fire, He’s asking, “Is God good? Is His plan best? Is this confession I made true?” His faith is being tested. He’s also being tempted to find hope apart from God.
But it also has to do with His identity. In the desert and in that garden, He’s wondering, “Am I really God’s Son? Does He really love me? Should I really go to Him?” He’s tempted to run away and pack it in.
Friends, that’s what we wrestle with, as well. Who is God? Is all this worth it? Or should we give up and go elsewhere? Who are we? Are we really His? Or should we run the other direction? The Lord says, “Look at my Son. He understands. He’s been through it. He held strong in faith. He kept close to me. Do the same thing, my son, my daughter. My Spirit will strengthen you. My word is truth. I’m real and here for you. Because He never messed up, He can save you, too.”
The Christian life is hard. Jesus doesn’t pluck us out of suffering. But He shares in it with us. That helps us keep battling in midst of the fires. In temptation. In testing. He was born to endure for us, that we might cling to our faith and come close to our Father. Let’s pray.
Born to Die for Us (Heb. 2:14-18) | 12.08.13
I have big dreams for my kids. I have to confess that many times I’ve thought, “What if I heard his name through the Mizzou Arena loudspeakers? What if I heard her song blaring through my car stereo?” In my better moments I’ve pondered my kids in ministry, honoring God, doing far better than I’ve done. Could they be destined for greatness? Sometimes I think about that. But I have to say I’d rather them be ordinary than see stardom and fall from the sky like so many celebrities today. I don’t want him to be the next Dez Bryant. I don’t want her to be the next Lindsay Lohan.
Think about how Mary the mother of Jesus must have felt. An angel comes to her and says she’s going to have this baby as a virgin who would rescue the world. But then she has to watch him die as a common criminal on a cross. Jesus is born for greatness. But then He dies. It all comes to a screeching halt. Why? We’re going to answer that question today as we continue on in this Advent series, “Born for Us.” He was born to die for us.
The Word Became Flesh to Become God’s Lamb
Before we get back to Hebrews, turn to the book of John with me. John the Apostle teaches us that God comes to earth and becomes a man. In chapter 1, verse 14, he says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” There we learn about Christ’s incarnation. What’s that word mean? In English, we use words like “carnivore,” a meat or flesh eater. Incarnation is a word that refers to the eternal Son coming to earth and putting on flesh. He puts on meat. God becomes a man. He is born.
Just before that statement, a forerunner for Jesus is mentioned. He comes on the scene and calls people to repentance. He tells people to get ready for Jesus’s arrival. John the Baptist teaches us that Christ comes to earth to die. Look at John 1:29. What does he cry out when he first gets a glimpse of Christ? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Here we learn about His atonement. What? In atonement, hear, “at-one-ment.” God and sinners are at odds. But God works to bring them together, to make them one. How? Through the cross! Through His death! God becomes a man. He is born. To die for us. The Word became flesh to become the Lamb of God.
So why did Jesus come to earth? To bring salvation, right? What does the angel tell Joseph before Christ’s birth? In Matthew 1:21: “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” In Luke 19:10 Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul tells us that “Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Back in John, in 3:17, Jesus says He doesn’t come to condemn the world, but “in order that the world might be saved through Him.” He comes to bring salvation. But it’s through His death. The angel tells Mary the ruling part. But she doesn’t get the suffering part until later. His disciples don’t get it either. But Christ teaches it. In Mark 10:45, He says the Son of Man comes to “give His life as a ransom for many.” Salvation comes through His death. It comes by the cross. He gave up His life. And for that to help us, He not only has to be God. He also has to be a man. He was born to die for us.
Here in the Christmas season, if you listen past the songs of consumerism, you can hear words about Christ being born in a manger. But why does it matter to us? How should that impact our daily lives? Tony taught us last week that Jesus was born to obey for us. He lived as Adam should have lived on our behalf. He had to be a human being to do this. He lived a perfect life on earth. This week we’ll look at His cruel death on a cross. He had to be a man for this reason, as well. Jesus was born to die for us, granting us forgiveness before God and freedom from Satan. We see that clearly in Hebrews 2:14-18. Let’s head there now. Let’s pray as we begin.
His Death Brought Forgiveness
I want you to see two things here in Hebrews that His death as a man brought us. Twice here it says that Jesus became a man. Two different reasons for this are given. Both involve His death and what it accomplishes. Let’s look at both, beginning with the second in the text. First, His death brings forgiveness. Look first at verse 17. The author of Hebrews - and we’re not entirely sure who it is - says God became a man. Look at it. “Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” For God to rescue us, He had to become one of us. Now this is like you and I becoming a bug, right? So we can reach bugs? That’s a common illustration that’s used. No. It’s greater than that. Jesus is infinite. He is deity. He becomes one of us. Finite. Human. Mind blowing! There’s no way to illustrate that. It’s difficult to grasp.
But let’s ponder what we can about this statement. It says He became a man “in every respect.” Every respect? Really? He ate and drank. He slept. He worked. He got cold. He grew up. He even cried as a baby. Dang you, “Away in the Manger” song! “No crying He makes?!” You’re wrong. Isn’t that amazing He would do that to save us? That He would put up with all of this? He did.
But look what else it says. He was “made like his brothers.” Really? He considers us brothers? Sisters? Have you thought about that? Do you believe that? The God of the universe? He considers us his family. And He wants to be close to us. Now, He’s different from us, too, for sure. But, He calls us brothers. Let that sink in.
Well, why? Verse 17 says, “so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” He stands as a priest, like that man in the tabernacle or temple. He stands between God and us, making peace. We won’t get into that today. We’ll look at that in more detail later, when we consider that He was born to stand for us.
Here I want to focus on something else. Priests brought sacrifices, right? What was His? Himself! He became the sacrifice! Read on. Why did He become like His brothers? Why did He become this high priest? It says: “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Now there’s another big word - propitiation. No need to fear it, though. We’ll just define it. It speaks of Jesus absorbing the wrath of God for His children. You might not like to hear this. You may not want to believe it. But God is holy and perfect. We’re not. We sin. Who we are and what we do makes God angry. That deserves punishment. And that’s what hell is. God’s anger poured out on sinners forever. When we say Jesus made “propitiation,” it means that God’s anger toward His children was poured out on His Son instead. It was all exhausted on Him. He took it upon Himself.
This may be T.M.I., but this next week I have to have a procedure. A camera goes into a place I’d rather it never go. But to get ready for this, I have to drink some fluids. And that’s what I really fear. The last time I did this, I thought it was going to kill me. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. I’d put this cup of this thick, disgusting liquid to my mouth and I thought I would either throw it up or lose my mind.
Remember in the garden when Jesus is about to die? He’s asking the Lord, can you “let this cup pass from me?” What’s in that cup? It’s worse than any fluids I’ve ever consumed. It’s the cup of God’s wrath. That’s what we learn in the Old Testament. All the wrath of God for the sins of His people, Jesus is about to drink it up. He asks, “Isn’t there another way?” He knows there’s not. He doesn’t get the better prep drink the doctor promised me this time. This is why He came. To drink this cup. To drink it for us. Man, I wish I could get my wife to drink the stuff for me - especially after the way she messed with me the last time. But she can’t. But Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for us, if we believe.
One of my favorite movies is Home Alone. Someone recently interviewed a doctor, asking him what would have really happened to the burglars Kevin McAllister took out. The iron to the face would have fractured all the bones around his eyes, probably messing up his vision. Grabbing a red door knob, at what must have been 751 degrees, could have caused his hand to burst into flames. It definitely would have destroyed his hand. The blowtorch to the head - especially standing there for 10 seconds - would have basically destroyed the bones in his skull. The paint cans to the head would have fully fractured their faces. It would have knocked them cold and certainly would have knocked out more than one tooth. And then they get hit by the old guy with the shovel in the face! The article’s author mocks the fact that that’s what takes them out - after all the wrath from Kevin they experienced.
But those burglars had it coming, right? And for picking on a kid, they deserved more than the slapstick abuse they received. And even though it’s not popular, we deserve punishment for our sins. If we acknowledge that at all, we’d properly come up with something for us that would amount to a slap on the wrist. But we deserve far more than we think for what we’ve done and haven’t done. But Jesus took all that abuse for us, if we trust in Him.
Here’s the main idea. He became our substitute. He took the penalty we deserved in our place. On the cross, He took hell upon His shoulders on our behalf. He was separated from God, when that’s what we deserved. All God’s anger was thrown at Him. And that should have been us. And because of that, if we believe, we can be completely forgiven.
Now hear this: for that to happen, Jesus had to be a man. To truly be a substitute, that had to be the case. It had to be. Jesus had to be a man. He couldn’t be an angel, as the author here says. He’s not trying to save angels. He had to come down and live the way we were supposed to live. He had to die the way we deserve to die, too. For us.
But no mere man would suffice either, right? How can just a dude pay for the sins of others? Particularly for many, many others? Grab me and kill me but it won’t do anything for you and the human race. Hell is forever for a reason. We’ve committed an infinite crime against an infinite God. And that’s all of us - together. If I was punished for you, I’d theoretically have to suffer forever and forever. And that’s just for one of you. Who alone can do this? Who can make a once-for-all, infinite sacrifice? Only an infinite person! God himself! Jesus!
But take it another way. Jesus was made like us in every respect, it says. But was He? Not really in every respect. He was without sin. What kind of lamb did they find when they went to make the sacrifices in the Old Testament? A perfect one. One without a spot or blemish. He’s the perfect man. He isn’t dying for His sin, too. That wouldn’t work. He dies for ours, for those who trust Him. Jesus is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God. Only He can take away the sins of the world. Notice in verse 18 another key detail: all of these sufferings Christ experienced make Him able to help us in ours. But we’ll get to that later. Next week, in fact. He was born to show for us how to endure suffering.
Jesus became a man to die on the cross that we might have forgiveness. Are you a Christian? If not, embrace Him now. If so, are you living in light of that fact? Here’s the first point of application for this morning: you don’t need to be afraid of God. That is, if you believe. Picture this with me. You get a new job. You go into it thinking it’s going to be great, but you’re not sure. You’re not sure what to think of your boss. You’re not sure if he likes you. You know he fired the guy you replaced. You’re nervous anytime you go near him. But he invites you over to eat with your family. You go to the stadium and watch the Mizzou game together. Before you know it, you’re friends. You’re no longer afraid.
That’s the way it is here with our Lord. There is a proper fear of Him. We should respect Him, for sure. We should do what He says. The Bible talks about the fear of God everywhere. If we’re not Christians, we should tremble, for sure. But through the cross, if we believe, we can draw near to Him. We don’t fear Him like we fear an angry boss. We fear Him like we do a Father. And that makes all the difference. Fear gets replaced with joy. Do you experience that?
We should. Jesus took it all for us. He took the blows. He drank it up. So we don’t need to do it to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can look in the mirror and then try to smash my head with the paint can. But it doesn’t accomplish anything. And it’s not necessary if we believe. What’s the solution? Stop looking at yourself. Start looking at Jesus. See Him in the manger. See Him on the cross. Ponder your forgiveness. Run into the arms of your Father.
As McCheyne says, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. Live much in the smiles of God. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love.” Sing to yourself those lyrics from the carol: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be born for me and you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the son of Mary.” Because He was born, we can be forgiven. Rejoice. Worship.
His Death Brought Freedom
What’s the second thing His death brings us here? It’s freedom. Look now at verse 14. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” Again, no illustration can really grasp this. How does He partake in our humanity? Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.” A lot of people have debated what that means. But it doesn’t mean he emptied out His deity. No. He added a human nature. He took the form of a servant. He poured Himself out by putting on flesh and blood.
Think about what that means. Many of you are going home for the holidays soon. You’re going to be around your “flesh and blood.” It probably doesn’t excite some of you too much. Jesus puts on humanity. He becomes flesh and blood with men and women like us. Let that encourage you for a second. But kick it up another level. If you’re a believer, you aren’t just connected to Him via your humanity. You are are spiritually united to Him. Blood may be thicker than water. But Spirit goes deeper than blood. He’s our brother. We’re in His family.
Again, though, what’s the purpose for this? There are a couple of reasons here, too. He comes first to destroy Satan. Why does He put on flesh and blood? Verse 14 again: “that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil.” Now God is the one who really has power over life or death. But He has allowed some measure of power in this world to our Enemy. God did it so His Son could stomp on Satan’s head and be glorified. We’re heading to Colossians here soon. Check out what chapter 2, verses 13-15 say.
Col. 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
On the cross, Jesus is like an emcee in a rap battle who throws down the mike, glares at his opponent, and walks off. He’s like a wide receiver who spikes the ball and glares in the faces of the opposing crowd. He destroys Satan on the cross.
But He comes second to deliver us from slavery. Look at verse 15. He comes to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In our culture, if someone starts talking about death, we usually want to change the subject. We start calling him or her morbid. We tend to leave the room. Is that person just breaking social taboos? Sort of. But why do we have those? Death freaks us out! We don’t want to talk about it.
My wife about punches me in the night sometimes. I’ll wake up. She’s had all kinds of physical problems, so I worry about her. I’ll reach over and put my hand on her stomach, making sure she’s breathing. Sometimes she wakes up and tells me to not be so stupid. I’m going to the doctor this week because two years ago I had some strange cells up in my intestines. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I’m a pastor. When I think about dying, I freak out a little bit. I usually want to get that out of my head, too. Those fears control us. They enslave us. Jesus came to let us go to sleep thinking, “If I die before I wake,” it’s all good.
Back to the greatest movie of all time. Know the scene where Kevin McAllister encounters and conquers his fears over the furnace downstairs? Every time he had gone down in the basement before, it had roared at him like a lion and made him flee up the stairs. Finally, as he’s prepping for the bad guys to show up, he looks at it and says, “Hey, I’m not afraid anymore. I said I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me?” That’s what we can say thanks to the death of Christ. We will experience death. But we don’t have to fear. It’s not final. He rose from the dead, too. We’ll be with Him. One day, we’ll rise. Shout that at the devil.
Again, how does Jesus bring this victory about? Through some impressive Judo maneuvers. Judo is a Japanese term that means “gentle way.” It’s a school of martial arts where a key part of the strategy is to try to use your opponent’s momentum against himself. He lunges at you, you guide him behind you to the ground. He punches at you, you grab his arm and throw him off balance.
What does Satan do? He comes at Jesus with death. He works through wicked men who nail Christ to the cross. It is that very maneuver that Jesus uses to defeat Satan. He grabs what seems to be a death blow and throws Satan straight toward hell. The death of Jesus was God’s plan. It says He puts death to death there on the cross. “Through death!” He rose again. Now we can get a good night’s rest. We’re free.
Freedom Flows From Forgiveness
But that freedom flows from our forgiveness. Bruce Ware illustrates it this way. I’ll mix it with a key CoMo recent event, though. Ryan Ferguson, who was in prison for murder, was recently released, right? Why? They could no longer say he was guilty of the crime. The evidence of guilt wasn’t there. So the bondage had to end. Ware says, “Remove the guilt, and you remove the just basis for bondage.” He then writes this:
Similarly, Satan’s power over sinners is tied directly to their guilt through sin. His hold on them is because of their sinful rebellion against God. But remove the guilt through Christ’s payment for their sin, and you remove the basis for Satan’s hold on them. So it is through Christ’s death and its payment for sin that the rightful hold that Satan had upon us is necessarily broken. Forgiveness of sin’s penalty and freedom from Satan’s prison go together. Remove the guilt, and you remove the bondage. As Christ bought the former—forgiveness of the guilt of our sin—he won also the latter—victory over the bondage of our sin. Praise be to our Savior for his gracious and complete forgiveness that accomplishes also this glorious and powerful deliverance from Satan’s dominion, bondage, and death (Colossians 1:13–14). (Ware, Big Truths for Young Hearts)
Some like to talk about Jesus defeating Satan and giving us liberty. But they don’t much like to talk about Christ absorbing the wrath of God. Friends, that freedom comes from the Lord Jesus dying as our substitute, granting us forgiveness. That’s the bullet in the gun. Satan holds the power of sin and death. Jesus blows it away on the cross. The guilt is gone. Now the bondage is gone, too. That’s why Jesus is the cute baby in the manger. So He could be the bloody man on the cross. And bloody up Satan in the process. Through the cross, we find freedom through the forgiveness He won there.
Again, Jesus had to be a man to give us this freedom. We as humans deserve physical death due to our sin. We deserve eternal separation from Him and wrath for what we’ve done, too. Jesus had that hell poured out on Him at the cross. But He also experienced the pain of His body dying, as well. Look back at verse 9.
Heb. 2:9 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.
He drank the cup for us. But He also tasted death. As a human being. How crazy! Death is unnatural. It’s often painful. But He took it on for us. As a real man. What grace! But again, He is God, too. Only a divine sacrifice was enough to buy our freedom. Only God could bust out of that tomb near Jerusalem and cause the tombs to shake and open in the last day, as well.
Jesus became a man to die on the cross to bring us freedom. Not a Christian? Run to him today. Are you in Him? Are you living in light of that reality? Here’s the second point of application for this morning: you don’t need to be afraid of Satan. Imagine that you’re at a zoo and suddenly you see a Tiger running around. You freak out and run for a tree. You stop. Maybe you’re not supposed to run. You lay down and play dead. Who really knows anyhow? You know you’re sunk. He comes up to you. You know you’re going to be his dinner. He opens up his mouth and roars. You can’t help notice in his mouth: he has no teeth. No teeth at all. Suddenly, you’re not scared. All growl, no bite. That’s the way it is with Satan. We can say, “I’m not afraid anymore.” This frees us toward sacrificial living. Eric Papp is getting ready to go to Brazil. He’s going to be hanging in the favelas there. Those are dangerous places. You and I can go into the hardest parts of town, too, and we don’t have to fear. That’s because Satan is a toothless hillbilly.
You also don’t have to walk around fearing you’ll die. It’s easy for me to fear just about everything - car wrecks, tornadoes, everything. You and I don’t have to do that. We can truly live. We can serve Him with confidence. We can risk. We can serve Him with joy. We don’t have to be in bondage to the fear of death.
But one more angle, not so much the angle here, but what we see dominant elsewhere in Scripture. When we say we’re free from Satan, it means we don’t have to sin anymore. He is no longer our slave-master, telling us what to do. We are servants of Christ. We can do what He says. We are no longer in bondage to sin. Remember that the next time you’re tempted. We are not only free from death - the consequences of our sin. We are free from sin itself.
Freedom and Forgiveness from His Death
Freedom and forgiveness. All this comes about because Christ is born and dies. But think back to Jesus’s mom looking at him at the cross. Remember those soldiers mocking him as he gasps for breath. It looks like another celebrity crash and burn. We get tired of those. But, man, we love underdog stories, don’t we? Our football team who wasn’t ready for the SEC playing for the championship yesterday. The small town girl from hard circumstances who wins American Idol. The kid from the inner-city who gets into Harvard and ends up in Congress. We like that kind of stuff.
Christ is born in this humble stable, not in a palace. His crown is made of thorns. It is pounded on his head with a mallet. He goes out in an even more humbling way than He comes in. He dies the way the worst of criminals in the Roman Empire did. That’s why He came. To go out like this. Really?
But things are not as they seem. On that cross, this man wins a great victory. Three days later, He rises from the dead. It is there that His greatness is seen. And forgiveness and freedom flow out toward us. Bend over and drink from those streams, Karis. Draw near to Him. Believe. Follow Him. And He’ll begin to pour His greatness into us, as well.