Hebrews 2:10-18 (NIV)
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.”[a] 13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”[b] And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”[c] 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[d]the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
- Hebrews 2:12 Psalm 22:22
- Hebrews 2:13 Isaiah 8:17
- Hebrews 2:13 Isaiah 8:18
- Hebrews 2:17 Or and that he might turn aside God’s wrath, taking away
It was really my brother who talked me into playing football. I think I can fairly say that I never would have done it if he hadn’t pushed me. I just had too many reasons to feel embarrassed about it. I mean, I never played real football. It was always two-hand touch out on the Kinney Elementary playground. And even then there was always some argument on the field about the actual rules of football, and I never had any idea what they were talking about. Downs, receptions, touchbacks—I pretty much had end zone and touchdown handled, and that was about it. I couldn’t even imagine trying to figure out a real position with real pads and real tackles and real rules. I figured that I would be too ashamed of my ignorance, too ashamed of my weaknesses.
No doubt there’s been something in your experience that has produced much the same feeling. Perhaps you struggle with multiplication or fractions, so you’re ashamed to do math in front of the class. Maybe you’re no good at public speaking, so you’re ashamed to get up in front of people. Perhaps you’re really out of your element watching over little kids, so you don’t like to get caught doing any kind of babysitting—or even watching over little tykes for just a couple of minutes.
We’re ashamed to admit when we’re weak, ashamed to admit that we need help. We would like to believe that we can take care of ourselves. Our heroes are self-sufficient because that’s how we want to be. We want people to turn to us when they need help, not the other way around. Who looks up to a person who needs help from them? Thus we become ashamed of weakness.
In that sense it’s understandable that the Jewish people to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed had a hard time seeing Jesus as a hero. You may not feel that way yourself, but when you consider how much shame there is among us—especially among the adults—when we appear before people all needy and desperate, you may understand how these descendants of Abraham struggled with that baby being more important than angels. He was helpless. He needed to be fed, coddled, changed and bathed. This baby couldn’t even bring the blessings of a warm hotel room to his parents on the night of his birth!
You know, we may well understand their reluctance to honor him in his weakness better than we think. Check out your bulletin cover, for example. It sports a feature of religious art that I was really trying to avoid when I looked for a fitting picture on Friday. See the little glow around the boy Jesus’ head? That’s called a halo, as you are probably aware. Why is it there? Did Jesus’ head really glow like that? Of course not. But we can’t help but think of his power and holiness when we picture him in our minds, so we think of things like that.
And what about the people who lived in his time, who knew him by name and saw him day to day? You see, they wouldn’t even be able to picture a halo being there. Do you know why? Because it wasn’t there. What they knew wasn’t even a particularly good-looking kid. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,” Isaiah prophesied, “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:3). The people who knew Jesus by sight knew someone who was so normal in appearance that he was not physically noteworthy at all. No glow of power. No attractive outward qualities. Just a baby (or a kid or a guy).
Besides which, we do the same thing with his Word. It’s not flashy or full of pictures, so we have great difficulty paying attention to it, despite the fact that it is the powerful Word of Life. I doubt we would enjoy seeing a tally this year of how many hours we have spent studying God’s Word versus reading news stories, novels, or even watching TV.
Somebody who didn’t know us might well think that we were ashamed of this plain-looking guy and his boring, old book. Yet he as God was not ashamed to have his infinitely wise and powerful thoughts expressed in plain, human language for us. Likewise, the book of Hebrews says, “In 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 [reach his goal] through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy [referring to Jesus, the Savior] and those who are made holy [us] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” And he has three Messianic quotes to demonstrate it, too.
The Jews that the author of Hebrews wrote to had some trouble with that, as evidenced by the fact that they were having difficulty ranking the all-too-familiar and all-too-human Jesus of Nazareth as more important and powerful in their minds than the bright, flashy angels who announced his birth and appeared and disappeared all over the place throughout the salvation story. And we have trouble with Jesus of Nazareth being as weak as we are as evidenced by our inability to imagine him not looking handsome or glowing or doing a miracle—despite the fact that the Word of God speaks of only three years that he actually did miracles but ten times more where he just ate, drank, slept, studied, learned a trade and was generally just human.
But he was not ashamed. Despite the fact that saving us meant being the Almighty God on his heavenly throne ruling all things and then in the very next moment becoming a helpless, thoughtless, microscopic, single-celled fertilized egg, he was not ashamed of that weakness. Even though saving us meant being so weak that there were times when his strength actually reached its limits and he had to be helped by angels (whom he created and whom he sustains by his very will!), he was not ashamed. Yes, even though our salvation meant that he would have to subject himself to death—“even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)—he was not ashamed. He was not ashamed because that was the only way to “make men holy,” to set us apart from the sin we were born in and the death we are by nature destined for. He was not ashamed because being clothed in our weakness was the only way he could be faithful to his own Word about sinners deserving eternal death while still having us live with him forever in heaven.
There is a lesson in this about ourselves that is hard to learn. It’s about our pride and about the ridiculous foolishness that follows it. It’s about that desire I spoke of earlier, about the desire to be self-sufficient, to not to have to need help from anyone else because we can figure things out for ourselves, handle things ourselves. We want to be important by being strong and heroic, and, you know what? This is going to be hard to hear and you may not immediately understand it, but I’m going to have to say it anyway: Our heroes are self-sufficient, independent and always able to think their way out of their own problems because we are still tempted by the original deadly desire that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to fall prey to back in the Garden of Eden. And do you know what that original deadly desire was? It was the desire of creatures to be like God, to be independent of God, to not need God. It was being ashamed of our weakness and wanting to have God’s unique, almighty, completely independent way of being. We want to be gods and resent that he “took the job” first.
It’s just so evil. And it really makes no sense, but it’s the way we are. We are so corrupted by that evil that we need his help now even more than we needed it before our race fell into sin. We not only need him to supply for our existence, which we always needed, but now we also need him to supply deliverance by joining us in our weakness, living the perfect life of trust in God that we owe him but never at any time actually provided him, and we need him to provide a way out of the eternal separation from him that wanting to live independent of his power and providence truly deserves.
And that is why he was not ashamed to show up in our world just as weak as we are. That is why he was not ashamed to be a helpless, cold little baby. That is why he is not ashamed to call us brothers. For “Since 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—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For 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. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
I tell you, by all outward appearances, that boy in the temple was truly just a boy—a weak, normal boy. But we needed true, human flesh and blood to destroy sin and death. We needed it for our salvation, and God, without shame, provided it. Amen.
Christmas 1 Unashamed Weakness
December 27, 2009
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Hebrews 2:10-18