Hebrews 2:14-18 A Merciful and Faithful High Priest
What does Jesus do for us? That isn’t a simple question; in fact, it takes the whole Bible to answer it. The book of Hebrews was written to explain why we should remain faithful to the Lord, and a large part of the explanation has to do with what He has accomplished for us.
Hebrews 1 begins to explain the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and Hebrews 2 opens with the first of several warnings to not fall away, but rather to continue in faith.
There is no question that Christians are under attack in our world. At this moment, brothers and sisters in China are being aggressively persecuted. Pastors are being arrested, Bibles are being burnt, properties are being seized. This isn’t a third-world issue. In Canada, preaching that homosexuality is a sin is now considered a hate-crime. The Europe Dignity Watch has evidence of more than 2,200 cases of intolerance or discrimination against Christians since 2006, such as a Christian midwife in Sweden who was not allowed to work there because she would not participate in abortions. It’s almost like clockwork – what happens in Europe happens in the United States within a couple of decades.
But those attacks are not the greatest source of danger. We have an external enemy – Satan – and an internal enemy – our own sin nature – that threaten us far more than any persecution ever could.
So, how does the Lord help us as we stand firm in His Word and Gospel?
He dealt with our external enemy, and He dealt with our internal enemy.
Our External Enemy: Satan
Our External Enemy: Satan
Satan is our enemy. He is a real creature, a created being, a fallen angel, the inventor of sin and rebellion. He is a liar, a rebel, and a murderer. He is the accuser. He is the destroyer. He is God’s adversary, and the adversary of all of God’s people. He is the most vile, worthless, and wicked creature there is. He is the slanderer. He is the evil one. He is the prince of demons, the commander of all fallen angels, although we shouldn’t assume that there is any genuine order among demons; their very nature is one of conflict and disorder. Satan is constantly on the prowl looking for someone who vulnerable to attack. He is the seductive deceiver who has persuaded billions to remain in their sins, and he motivates them to hate and attack those who serve the Lord God.
Satan has always put forth intense efforts to snatch Christians out of Christ’s hand, even though Jesus won’t let Him. And He is the first one on the scene when the Word of God is preached, fighting to keep sinners dead in their sins, as Jesus explains in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.
Jesus is the Creator, the Lord of glory, the Living Word, God Himself. He could have crushed Satan with a single word. Hebrews 1:2 says that Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power. “All things” includes Satan, whose continued existence is maintained by the Lord.
But Jesus didn’t help us with Satan by destroying Satan. Instead, He emptied Satan’s weapons of their power against us. By His own death, He rendered Satan powerless, and freed those who had been enslaved by fear of death.
Simply raising the dead doesn’t cancel out the fear of death. After all, Jesus raised a number of people from the dead, including Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the son of a widow. But those people all died all over again.
Instead, Jesus defeated Satan by dying on the cross, submitting Himself to death when death had no right over Him. Jesus was born without sin, and never sinned during His lifetime, and so death had no power or rights over Him. In fact, death was so powerless over Jesus that it could not take Him even when He hung crucified on the cross. Jesus had to yield up His own Spirit, and He permitted death to hold on to Him for a brief time. And when it was time to take up His life again, death was powerless to stop Him.
Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t simply a reversal of death, but the defeat of death itself. Death was given the opportunity to devour the One it had no right to devour. It could not hold Him, but had to give Him up when He chose. By grace and through faith, Jesus’ death is counted as our death:
· and we are reconciled with God, whose judgment handed us over to death;
· and we are declared righteous with Christ’s own righteousness, who took our sinfulness upon Himself;
· and we are sanctified, set apart, made holy to God, and cleansed of all unrighteousness;
· and we are adopted into the spiritual family of God, made His children;
· and we are glorified, promised that we will share in Jesus’ glory as a resurrected man for all eternity.
Of course, Satan still bites and snarls at us like a roaring lion, threatening us with death, reminding us of our sins and the judgment of God, but Jesus has pulled his teeth. Death will be allowed to gum us for a moment, and then Jesus will make it spit us out. Because of this promise, the fear of death no longer has the power to enslave us.
Listen to these sweet words from the Lord Himself:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this? Do you have this hope, that the Lord Jesus Christ took on flesh and blood, and surrendered Himself to death, and then raised Himself from the dead, and will raise YOU from the dead if your faith is in Him?
If you believe that, then what power could Satan possibly have over you? Not the fear of death; that weapon has been shattered.
Our external enemy has been defeated.
Our Internal Enemy: Sin
Our Internal Enemy: Sin
Even in Satan’s defeat, and the shattering of his favorite weapon – fear of death – he has a trick up his wicked sleeve: temptation.
He continues to tempt us to sin. The pressure of temptation is really unrelenting. Here is a tree growing in a massive boulder on a shoreline. That boulder has withstood thousands of years of wind and rain, heat and cold. But it couldn’t resist the tree. Why? Because the seeds of that tree found a place to rest and germinate, and it slowly, almost imperceptibly, sent out feelers and roots, probing for even the tiniest crack, the slightest opportunity. It found that opportunity, and made the most of it.
This is how temptation defeats us. Successful temptations are not sudden and violent, but subtle, slow, undetectable. Satan didn’t approach Eve in the garden and say, “So, why don’t you sin against God so He’ll kill you and then you can suffer in hell for all eternity.” No, he coaxed her along, just suggesting a line of thought, probing for a vulnerability, and found one. He didn’t tell her anything about the fruit; she reached her own conclusion.
The epistle of James describes the growth cycle of sin, and it sounds like a plant:
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Temptation sends down roots into our hearts and minds, and when those roots are established, it eventually grows into sin and brings forth death.
Hebrews 2:18 says that Jesus comes to the aid of those who are being tempted. How does He do that?
Hebrews 2:17 tells us:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
He became a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.
Those last five words are really important: Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God. He didn’t give His life and rise from the dead to make us popular, or solve our financial difficulties, or give us a good harvest, or make us talented.
Social justice has become a frequent topic, and some religious people have literally rewritten the Gospel, but Jesus didn’t come to change earthly systems, either. Want proof?
Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
Instead, Jesus came to become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to solve our real problem: God’s wrath. He made propitiation for the sins of the people; that means that He satisfied the wrath of God against sinners.
You know, people say “I forgive you” and similar phrases all the time. But propitiation is not simply God saying, “Well, you hurt My feelings, and I was mad, but I forgive you … I guess.”
No, propitiation means that God’s righteous, legal, judicial wrath against us has been completely and utterly satisfied. Sin doesn’t hurt God’s feelings, it violates His holiness.
Some seem to think that sin is no more serious than kids playing on someone’s lawn.
But sin is a violent, hateful attack on the very nature of God. Every sin says to God, “If I had my way, You wouldn’t exist.”
God’s judgment against sin is right. It is just. It is holy. And it is deserved.
Propitiation means that God’s righteous judgment against our sin has been satisfied. The forgiveness obtained by Jesus is not God ignoring our sin, but accepting that a just penalty has been paid for us, and wiping the slate clean, clearing our debt, changing our very identity from convicted murder to beloved child.
Jesus comes to our aid when we are tempted. He certain warns us about sin in the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit cautions us when we are contemplating sin. But Jesus comes to our aid in an even more concrete way. When temptation comes, and we yield to it, we have a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.
For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Jesus knows the power of temptation because He Himself faced it. He knows the power of temptation. He knows the pressure of temptation. He knows that Satan is like a skilled sniper who aims at the place where we are most vulnerable. And Jesus comes to our help in those times, warning and cautioning us when temptation is pressing us, and taking away the judgment of God when we do sin.
Bringing it Home
I hope I don’t have to explain very much about what this means to us.
We are born already enslaved by the fear of death; we just don’t know it for a while.
Jesus took on human flesh and blood in order to defeat Satan, free us from slavery to sin and death, and help us when we are tempted (and when we fail to resist that temptation).
He fights for us with love and ferocity, and will not let Satan snatch us out of His hands.
He helps us with mercy and faithfulness, urging us to turn away from sin, and then washing us clean from it when we don’t. The whole time He is building us and changing us and teaching us and training us.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.