Jesus’ Humanity and Man’s Glory
December 10, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson
Passage: Hebrews 2:5-9
Over the next three weeks until Christmas I am planning to preach through Hebrews 2:5–18. It isn’t a typical Christmas passage, but I believe it is appropriate because it deals with one of the most profound aspects of the Christmas story, the full humanity of Christ. If you want to make your head spin, try to wrap your mind around God’s infinite nature being restricted to a newborn baby.
This thought really grabbed me a couple of weeks ago when our daughter Isabelle was born. I was looking at this helpless baby. She couldn’t hold her head up, and she has very little coordination of her arms and legs. And there are no genius thoughts circling through her brain either. In fact there’s not much of anything going on in her head yet. As I looked at her, I was just amazed to think that the second person of the Trinity restricted himself to such a helpless existence.
We can’t understand the incarnation, but we accept it by faith as an essential aspect of the gospel. Hebrews 2:5–18 meditates on this incredible miracle, and it describes several great benefits we enjoy because Jesus became a man. Over the next 3 weeks, I want to dive into this rich text of Scripture and help us gain a greater appreciation of what Jesus sacrificed by becoming a man and what he provided for us in the process.
This morning we will consider vv. 5–9. Since the argument of this passage is a bit complex, I’d like to give you a quick bird’s eye view of it before we dive into the details.
You might know that one of the primary purposes of Hebrews is to demonstrate that Jesus is better than a number of things that the Jews held dear. Chapters 1–2 begin by arguing that Jesus is superior to angels. We probably think, “That’s obvious, of course he is.” But the Jews held angels in very high esteem; therefore, Hebrews 1 argues that Jesus is God, while angels are merely God’s servants (1:14).
But the author anticipated that some people may object to this claim based on the humiliation of Christ. They might ask, “How can you say that Jesus is better than the angels when he was utterly humiliated in his life and death? Are you really going to argue that a helpless baby or a dead man on a cross is better than an angel?”
God gives a fascinating reply in our text, which I’d like to illustrate with a slide. I hope this illustration will help us understand some of the complex details of the text. This chart is intended to illustrate glory and humility or lowliness. Clearly Jesus possesses more glory than the angels, and we are going to see in our text that God ultimately intends for man to enjoy a greater glory than the angels. Man alone is made in the image of God. And Jesus died to redeem people, not angels.
But that’s not where we are now. Sin has marred the glory of man so that we are now below the angels. Daniel 10 teaches that angels rule over the nations. And Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And so our text is going to argue that man does not currently have the glory God made him to enjoy.
This is where the humanity of Christ enters the picture. By becoming one of us, Jesus temporarily became lower than the angels. He even became the lowest of men by dying in humiliation. But that’s not the end of the story for Jesus or for us. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor.” And the hope of mankind is that this perfect man will one day lead us to the exalted position that God originally made us to fulfill.
Our text describes how Jesus did this. It gives an incredible picture of the victory Christ achieved and of God’s gracious love for mankind.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the text. Notice first in vv. 5–8…
God has given mankind a great purpose (vv. 5–8).
God has decreed that man will rule over his creation.
Verse 5 makes this clear. As I already noted, angels do a lot of ruling in the present age, and the Jews revered them for that reason. But the Scriptures are clear that this fallen, broken world is not God’s ideal. Verse 5 notes that there is another world that is coming. This is a reference to the Millennial Kingdom that Christ will one day establish. And God tells us that angels will not rule in this kingdom.
Rather, God’s people will rule alongside Christ in his righteous kingdom. First Corinthians 6:2–3 state that “the saints will judge the world” and that “we shall judge angels.”
And it’s important for understanding our text that we recognize that this great role is rooted all the way back in Genesis 1. When God created Adam, he commanded him, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We often call this the Dominion Mandate. God made Adam to be a righteous king over a good creation.
But of course sin entered the world and destroyed man’s capacity to rule and cursed all of creation. It’s good for us to remember often that the broken world in which we live is not how God designed it to be. God’s original design did not include aging and disease. It didn’t include sinners who hurt each other. It didn’t include corrupt corrupt politicians, who are anything but righteous rulers. God made man to be a righteous king over a good creation.
This purpose for man really is marvelous, and vv. 6–8, quote from Psalm 8, which reflects on God’s gracious purpose for man. David begins by contemplating the greatness of God, and in v. 3 he contemplates the greatness of God’s creation. David understood that the universe is vast, and today we have an even greater appreciation for the vastness of God’s creation.
In light of the greatness of creation, v. 4 asks a penetrating question, which is where our text begins to quote. “What is man” that God would look on him with favor. And then vv. 5–8 reflect on the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1. God has put man at the pinnacle of his creation, and he has decreed that we are to rule over everything that God has made.
Folks, God has given us a grand purpose that he didn’t even give to angels. But it’s not because of something great about us. We are small and in many ways inferior to angels. We aren’t as smart or powerful. Rather, we have this privileged position simply because God is gracious. Therefore, the psalm ends not by declaring man’s greatness but God’s.
God has been so good to us, and our text quotes this psalm in order to meditate on this grace. Verse 6 quotes that powerful question. Why would God look at sinners like us with such care and concern? And vv. 7b–8a again states that God’s purpose is to put “all things in subjection” under his people.
Now to some interpreters this sounds too good, and so they claim that the author of Hebrews is reinterpreting Psalm 8 as a prophecy about Jesus, not about God’s people. But nothing in Psalm 8 indicates that David is thinking about Messiah. He is thinking about himself and mankind.
But Jesus will ultimately be included in the fulfillment of this psalm because Jesus became a man. He is one of us, and v. 9 is going to describe how Jesus will lead mankind in fulfilling this psalm. And so God has a truly incredible purpose for man, and we ought to wonder with David, “What is man, that you are so mindful of weak people like us?”
But while God has given us a great purpose, our text notes that…
Man has failed to fulfill God’s decree.
Notice the commentary on Psalm 8 in v. 8b. Again, God says that his purpose is to put all of creation under the dominion of man. But, God’s purpose has yet to be fulfilled. “We do not yet see all things put under him.”
We live in a terribly broken world. Nothing in creation functions at the level of God’s original design because everything is affected by the curse. The animal world is often violent and nasty. Insects do tremendous damage and drive us nuts. Weeds grow in the ground and ruin its productivity. The weather is often harsh and works against flourishing life.
And people have been deeply affected by sin. We try to rule in keeping with Genesis 1, but man’s rule is often greedy and nasty. We hurt each other, and we use the natural world poorly.
Therefore, the dominion mandate has never been perfectly fulfilled. We live in a broken world with broken leaders. As a result, v. 7 states that in the present age man has been made lower than the angels. We are not lower in terms of ultimate value because we are made in the image of God and Jesus died for us. Rather, we are lower in the sense that the angels rule over us, and we are mortal while they are not.
These are problems that we don’t think about all that much. Typically, when we think about God’s purpose for the world and of Jesus incarnation, we think only in terms salvation from sin. And certainly salvation is very important. But God’s purpose is much bigger than just saving us from sin. God’s purpose is to establish a kingdom where righteousness dwells.
This kingdom does not exist yet, but notice that someday…
Man will fulfill God’s decree.
Notice again the royal language of vv. 7–8. God is very clear that his intention is for man to rule over his creation. And the fact that man has yet to do it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Verse 8 says, “we do not yet see all things put under him.” And Revelation 20:4–6 are clear that it will happen. During the Millennial Kingdom, God will finish his purpose for creation, and mankind will finally achieve the Dominion Mandate.
As a side note, this is a major problem for amillennialism, or the idea that there will be no Millennial Kingdom. The Scriptures are clear that God is not just working to save man from sin; he is determined “to reconcile all things to Himself” (Col 1:20) so that he receives glory from all creation.
And so I hope we see in all of this that God has given mankind a great purpose. And in that purpose, we see his great love. With David, we ought to say, “What is man…” God has looked at us with incredible grace and kindness. We should be humbled, and we should give thanks.
We should also be filled with hope because this is not all there is. If you are really feeling the weight of life in a sin-cursed world today, take hope. God will bring about something better that is according to his original, perfect design.
But of course, this raises the question of how? How is God going to lift mankind to his original purpose, and how will he lift all of creation to its intended purpose? The answer is in v. 9 where we see that God hasn’t just given mankind a great purpose.
God has given mankind a great Savior (v. 9).
Jesus’ name is very prominent in this verse. Verse 8 ends with a note of despair. Man has failed to fulfill his purpose, and he has no answer for how to get there. “But we see Jesus.”
The first stage to Jesus’ rescue is…
Jesus became a man and died a humiliating death.
It’s very significant that v. 9 uses Jesus’ human name. Throughout chapter 1, he is referred to as the Son, but here is referred to by the name he was given when he was born as a baby. He is Jesus. And when he was born, he was still 100% God, but he was now also 100% human.
And as a human, v. 9 then adds the incredible statement that Jesus “was made a little lower than the angels.” We already saw that phrase in v. 7, and it comes directly from Psalm 8; therefore, God is saying to us that in the incarnation Jesus took on himself a status that was lower than the angels.
Now, we need to add a couple of qualifiers here so that we don’t believe heresy. First, Jesus in no way ceased to be God or sacrificed his divine attributes when he became a man. Colossians 2:9 states, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Jesus did not sacrifice his attributes; he simply limited the exercise of them. Second, v. 9 is clear that he only did this temporarily. Both vv. 7 and 9 could be translated as saying he “was made for a little while lower than the angels.”
But still it is truly incredible that Jesus would do this. He is infinite God. His power and knowledge are beyond our comprehension, and yet he restricted himself to a helpless baby, and he placed himself under the angels within the authority structure of God’s creation.
But Jesus humiliation was not yet complete. He became a man “for the suffering of death” so that he “might taste death for everyone.” The verb translated “taste” provides an especially powerful picture. Have you ever had someone put some kind of really nasty food in front of you with the expectation that you will eat it or at least try it? Your gag reflexes kick in because it’s so disgusting, but you have to take a sip or put a little on your tongue.
That’s not what this verb means. It means to take a big bite, chew it thoroughly, and then swallow. Folks, that’s how Jesus experienced death. He endured the most excruciating, humiliating death we can imagine. And he did it for us. We could never lift ourselves out of the hole that v. 8 describes, and so Jesus lowered himself down into our hole and identified with all of pain, hardship, and humiliation that comes with being human.
And remember, it’s not just that that he became lower than the good angels; he also took on restrictions that made him lower in some respects than the demons. I can imagine one of these evil demons looking down on Christ when he got tired and laughing at Jesus because he couldn’t stay awake. An angel can’t comprehend being tired.
Think of Satan shaking his head at Jesus’ physical weakness after his 40 day fast at the beginning of his ministry. And imagine how the demons must have felt as they watched Jesus struggle to carry his cross to Calvary, and then as his body slowly gave out while he hung on the cross. I’m sure that they mocked his weakness.
Folks, Jesus was absolutely humiliated in his earthly life and death, and he went through all of it so that he could identify with us and so that he could rescue us from our terrible plight.
But praise the Lord that Jesus’ humiliation is only the first stage of Jesus’ rescue. The second stage is…
Jesus was exalted to the Father’s right hand.
Verse 9 states that Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor.” Hebrews 1:3b–4 expands on this idea. Jesus did not stay dead. He rose again, and 40 days later he ascended to heave where he now sits at the Father’s right hand. He is “crowned with glory and honor,” and he is “so much better than the angels.”
1 Corinthians 15:25–28: This passage is clear that Jesus is reigning at the Father’s right hand even now. He is exalted, but his work is not yet complete. Evil still exists. The Dominion Mandate has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be. Someday Jesus will crush every enemy, even death itself. And once he has done so, v. 28 says that he will hand the kingdom over to his Father and all glory will belong to God.
Folks, this is a very important aspect of Christmas. What did the angels proclaim when they visited the shepherds? They said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Jesus didn’t just come to save us from sin; he came to fix the world. We sing about this at Christmas. The third verse of “O Holy Night!” states, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.
That hasn’t happened yet, and the apostles didn’t even try to make it happen right now. Our purpose for today is to make disciples. But one day, Jesus will crush every effect of the curse. And what a great hope that is.
But that’s not the final stage of Jesus rescue.
Jesus will lead mankind into fulfilling our purpose.
The phrase, “crowned with glory and honor” comes directly from v. 7, which is a statement about mankind in general. And the clear implication of v. 8 is also that God still intends for mankind to fulfill the Dominion Mandate.
Therefore, our great hope is not merely that Jesus will rule and reign, but as we saw in Revelation 20 that we will rule and reign alongside him in the Kingdom. Those of us who are saved can look forward to the fact that we will judge the world, and we will help Jesus manage a good world. We will exercise perfect dominion “over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And we will enjoy the blessing of living in a righteous kingdom without the effects the curse. We truly have a great hope.
But I want to be clear that this hope does not belong to every person. It only belongs to those who believe on Christ for salvation. The rest of humanity will not enjoy the blessings of this kingdom; instead they will be destroyed to pave the way for this kingdom. Therefore, if you have never received Christ, I hope you will see today that Jesus became one of us so that he could save you. If you come to him today, you can have hope that a better day is coming—a day without death or pain or sin. I hope you will receive Jesus today.
For those of us who are saved, we should marvel at the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. He was humbled like we can’t even comprehend. And he took it because God loves us, and he has a grand purpose for his people that is an astounding testimony to God’s grace and love. And we should also be filled with hope. Something better is coming. There will be peace on earth. And in light of that hope, let’s be encouraged to press on in faith. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulties of life, and certainly don’t doubt the goodness of God. Instead, let’s look forward with great anticipation to the righteous kingdom that is coming.