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. –Hebrews 2:9
What is so significant, great, valuable, or important that you would trade Jesus Christ to possess it? Would it be a million dollars? Would it be a relationship you’ve waited many years to have (or to have back)? How about influence? What about an easier life? What would you be willing to do? Would you be willing to tweak Christianity if it changes the quality of your life? Would you drop the “Jesus” bit altogether if it made things better?
When I was 20, I had just re-started college after a disaster first semester at the community college and some other traumatic life events (for a 20 year old). Before I left for school, I made a teary-eyed recommittment to Jesus and dedicated to get life back on track. And now there I was three hours from home on the campus of a Christian university. I had no friends. None. The homesickness was terrible. I desperately missed the friends I had left back home. I remember praying one night that I would meet some people. In those weeks, I was trying really hard to do everything the right way. And I was actually doing pretty well. I was taking classes very seriously. I attended all the events going on. I was staying out of trouble. As days turned into weeks, though, my bitterness toward Jesus grew as I never met anyone I felt I could be friends with. How could he put me in that place and not even give me a single friend. How much had I committed to him that I was going to turn things around. How could he let me down over such a small thing like that? What good was being good? Before the semester ended I dropped out and started partying again, just like before. Just this time very much hardened by the experience. If Jesus wasn’t going to give me what I wanted, I knew where I could get it myself.
Imagine a similar scene just before the letter to the Hebrews arrives to the Christians in Rome. “There’s gotta be a better way. If we tone this down a little, maybe it takes some of the heat off us. Maybe we just understand this whole thing wrong to begin with? What if Jesus was just an angel? It’s possible. Look at all other times God has acted through angels. It could be we just misunderstand all this. If he’s just an angel, maybe people will understand us better and things won’t be so hard for us.”
That’s the conclusion the Christians in Rome had made. Taking Jesus as he is, isn’t working. The suffering, the doubt, the oppression are becoming too much. Something must change. Either the situation changes, something about Jesus changes, or if comes to it, they go back to their old ways of living.
The truth is we can’t change Jesus to fit our situation. He simply is who he is. But can you see what’s going on? Something is ruling this person. A need is controlling the person. This is exactly what was occurring when this letter reached the Hebrews. It what was happening with me at the Christian college (and a theme I continue to frequent now almost 20 years later.) It’s what’s at work at the root of every sinful inclination that occurs. There’s an idolatry issue happening. Who Jesus actually is, simply isn’t enough. This is the reason for such a focused comparison between Jesus and the angels. Life had become much too difficult. The recipients of Hebrews had demoted Jesus to angel to escape the pressure of life between their former Jewish faith and ruthless persecution from the Romans. Jesus’ usefulness was wearing thin.
Hebrews has something to say to these people ready to throw in the towel. It’s that Jesus is better that anything they can compare him too. It’s that Jesus is so much better than any other options they’re considering. It’s that Jesus isn’t just useful…Jesus is beautiful. And this is the difference. An idolatrous life or religious life (in the worst sense of the word) just finds Jesus useful. But what Christianity actually is, what worship really is, is finding Jesus beautiful. When suffering presses in on a person, the death Jesus suffered on the cross is the actual source of strength and hope for that person. His death makes sense of the suffering and brutality in this world. When the guilt of sin is overwhelming a person, Christ’s forgiveness of sins and gift of righteousness is their comfort and great assurance. That’s whats hopeful about receiving Jesus as he actually is. When everything is falling apart, we see not just the difficulties around us, but ourselves raised up with him, our lives hidden with his in God.
And here we need to take this somewhat further. The recipients of the letter are not just being put on notice for demoting and dishonoring Jesus. They certainly were dishonoring Jesus and in a very real sense forfeiting the force that comes with trusting Jesus as he actually is. But instead of a word of condemnation, letter’s message comes like a strong hands plunging down into dark water to rescue drowning sinners. The news it brings: “See how much he is for you.” How greatly dishonoring it is to demote Jesus, and here he is supremely ruling over all things, and yet “made…for a little while lower than the angels” for them (Heb 2:7).
This is the beautiful picture we’re left with. Because of the suffering of death, Jesus is “crowned again with glory and honor”, victory over his enemies in hand. And he is taking them just as they are—suffering, sinful, weak, and tired. He is saying, don’t give up on me…all things are under my feet. He is saying, don’t throw away your confidence in me…nothing is outside of my control. He is saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) He is saying, “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
He is saying come, I know your weakness and I receive you as you are…receive me as I am.
(Hebrews 1:5-14) For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
(Hebrews 2:5-9) For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 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.