For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:10-18 ESV)
The Christians in Rome, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, are enslaved to a ruthless captor.
Rejection was ruining them. There was a serious toll for being separated from the resources and protection of the family. A certain kind of death hangs over their heads. Relational death.
And at the same time existed the threat of a real physical death by persecution. Bloodthirsty Rome was no place for the carefree Christian. Literal starvation and execution lurked around every corner.
And something more subversive than the others, certainly more personal, constantly nagged at these Christians: the ever-lingering question, “does God really love us?” “We are suffering so much, how can God be for us? Look at what’s going on around us and more than that, look at us. We’re beginning to cave into the social pressure. What kind of faith is that? How can God love spineless backsliders like us? Truth be told, he probably doesn’t love us much. He’s the last one you want to find out about your sin. That’s holiness for you. ”
Being pressed in on all sides, these struggling Christians were losing faith. Death in its different forms was taking them captive. This story sounded very similar to a part of their Jewish history.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph…Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens…they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exodus 1:8-11, 13-14)
And for 400 years, the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. But the story of the Hebrew exodus was one filled with hope and promise:
…And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25)
Literally held captive, what could they do? Nothing. But God saw, and God knew. And God sent Israel a savior (Moses).
The reality for the Christians in 1st century Rome was they were just like their captives ancestors in Egypt. With their sin, suffering, and a hostile society pressing in, they were subjects to slavery, but a different slavery. Slavery that is spiritual, emotional, and psychological. But, like before, God saw, and God knew. And once again, God sent a savior. And of course the new story’s savior was better than the other’s.
The first chapters of the letter to the Hebrews carefully argues that Jesus Christ was no mere man. Jesus Christ is the divine Son, the “appointed the heir of all things”, and the “creator of the world”. He is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus Christ cannot be compared to any other being, including angels. This is what we think about when we think about God. He is without equal with regard to his holiness, his power, his knowledge, and in every other conceivable way. But the God of incomparable attributes was lacking, so to speak. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The God of incomparable attributes, was made perfect through suffering.
How fitting is it, that just as Moses, a Hebrew son, was sent from the mountain into Egypt freeing Israel from Pharaoh (bringing many sons to glory), so Jesus Christ set aside his majesty for the weakness of flesh and blood? That God himself became a brother to those enslaved by sin and Satan. and through his own suffering, delivering his brothers and sisters from captivity? Our perfect savior wasn’t perfect because of his incomparable attributes. Jesus Christ is perfect because he took on flesh and blood, and suffered for sinners.
Too many times I continue to find myself controlled by Satan’s accusations. I operate under an assumption, that if I’m good, I’ll win at life. I think that if I’m good, everyone around me will be happy and happy with me. Then If I’m good, and people are happy with me, I’ll like myself. Failure and the opinions of others too often rule my wicked heart. Satan knows our sin and weaknesses and goes after them. He knows we fear losing relationships. He knows we struggle with liking ourselves or thinking too much of ourselves. He knows we all have perfection complexes and we hate to think we’re worse than we actually are.
And yet we think God is the last one who will be gracious with us in our weakness. The reality is, the Devil is the last one you want knowing about your sin. He’s a tempter and a tattle-tale. He wants you to sin and then gloat over your fall.
But Jesus Christ knows what it is to face Satan’s temptation and prevail without sin. And his victory over temptation was not simply an example we should follow. There’s something to be said about faithfully enduring temptation. But how clean are our records? The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews we failing and falling away? Am I better than they?
Jesus victory over Satan’s temptation is not only an example for us to follow. His victory is the payment made for those who stumble when tempted. His victory is something for us to have. Jesus had a perfect record against Satan. And while our record of sin screams against us, and Satan continually whispers “not loved, not good enough, you should just give up”, all condemnation is forever silenced by the voice of Jesus calling out, “My record, not theirs.” Jesus sets us free from the relentless fear of death, giving us his righteousness, and taking rightfully deserved punishment. The prisoners have been emancipated. He dies. They’re released. He gives his life so we can go free.
I love to sing Martin Luther’s great hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God. In fact, this hymn completely sums us what Hebrews is telling us. When we’re struggling to find peace because of the frequent reminders we get that death lurks around every corner, it lets us declare where our help comes from. It reminds us that we have a strong savior. And not just a strong savior, but also a perfect brother who stands in our place. The right man on our side. Christus Victor.