Born to Die
December 24, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson
Passage: Hebrews 2:14-18
We will be in Hebrews 2 this morning, but I’d like to begin by reading Luke 1:67–79. This is the prophecy Zacharias, gave after hearing about the coming birth of his son John the Baptist and of how he would prepare the way for Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.
I think it’s helpful to frame this reading with the understanding that Zacharias felt the darkness and pain of this world. He lived under the oppression of the Romans. He and his wife Elizabeth had dealt with infertility for years and were now feeling the effects of getting older. And as a priest Zacharias was daily confronted with the reality of sin and death as he offered bloody sacrifice after sacrifice to atone for sin. In light of this darkness, you can sense his great hope at what Jesus would do (read).
Verses 76–79 are especially impactful. John the Baptist will go before Jesus to declare the good works Jesus will do. According to v. 77 he will bring salvation and forgiveness. And v. 79 is especially significant for where we are going today. John would declare that Jesus came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Zacharias looked forward to a day when Jesus would undo the effects of sin that he felt every day—a day of forgiveness, spiritual renewal, and life! Zacharias understood that Mary was carrying much more than a baby. He understood that Jesus was here to resolve the terribly dark conditions of life in a sin-cursed world.
And our text for today speaks of how Jesus birth allowed him to destroy the darkest effect of sin—death itself (read). This is our third week in Hebrews 2. We’ve seen throughout this study the incredible wonder of Jesus’ humanity. The second person of the Trinity took on a human nature so that he could lift his people out of sin and the effects of sin into a bright and glorious future.
Verses 14–18 conclude the text by describing two more incredible benefits that we enjoy because of Jesus’ humanity. The first blessing is…
Jesus freed us from the power of death (vv. 14–16).
Death is a powerful enemy isn’t it? It is absolutely certain, and we can’t escape it. And just about everyone in this room has at some point been deeply hurt by the sting of death. This will be a different Christmas for Heidi’s family because her dad died this summer. Some of you are having a similar experience this year.
Death hurts, but notice in v. 14a that Jesus became fully human so that he could die like us.
Jesus became fully human.
Remember that the purpose of this section is to answer the concerns of some who, because of their worldview, really struggled with the concept of God becoming a man and suffering as a man. Therefore, v. 10 says that it was fitting for God to do this, and v. 14 builds on this by noting that the only way Jesus could help us was to become fully human.
Verse 14 couldn’t be any clearer about the humanity of Jesus. God made Adam out of the dust of the earth to emphasize the fact that people are physical beings. We are made of “flesh and blood.” And we live every day with the limitations of physical bodies. We begin our lives as helpless babies. We cannot survive without food and water. We get tired, and our bodies will age and die.
And when Jesus became a man, he took on all of these limitations. God says he “shared in the same.” He was still God, but he restricted himself to the form of a helpless baby who was weak and dependent and had much to learn. And throughout Jesus’ life on earth he continued to endure the pains of human existence.
What a sacrifice for him to make! But why did he do it? The Bible gives several reasons, but vv. 14–15 mention one basic reason. The only way Jesus could rescue us from death was for him to die, but God can’t die because he is eternal and unchanging. Therefore, the only way Jesus could die and rescue us from death was to take on a human nature and a human body.
This is truly remarkable. Our society spends billions and billions of dollars each year running from death. But Jesus ran toward death. He became a man so that he could die. Therefore, when Jesus heart stopped beating on the cross, his divine nature didn’t die because it couldn’t. But his human nature died, like any other man. And in the moments leading to his death, Jesus had as full of an experience of the agony death as any man has ever experienced.
He made a tremendous sacrifice for us. And v. 16 notes that he did so to “give aid” to us. The Greek verb here literally means “to seize, to grab hold of.” It speaks of aggressive help. Think of a firefighter pulling someone out of a burning home or a soldier grabbing a wounded comrade and pulling him to safety. This is what Jesus did for us.
And so as we celebrate Christmas today and tomorrow, we should be amazed that Jesus really was born to die. He wasn’t born because he was bored or because he was curious about what its like to be a man. He wasn’t born so that he could experience all the fun things about being a man. No, he was born so that he could experience the worst part of being human. He was born to die. How we ought to praise him for his incredible love.
And we also ought to praise him because through his sacrifice…
Jesus destroyed the power of death (vv. 14b–15).
Verse 14 describes death as being in the hands of Satan, but it is important to recognize that Satan is not the ultimate lord of death. We don’t ultimately die because Satan possesses some kind of independent authority over us. No, we die because we have violated God’s justice, and we are accountable to him.
But God has permitted Satan to wreak havoc, and one of the ways he does so is through intimidating us with the fear of death. The Greeks actually considered the fear of death to be a form of slavery.
And we can certainly see that fear in our society. It’s good to take care of your body, but if you go to a gym, you will see many people who are running as hard as possible from the doom that awaits us all. Others cling to youth by continuing to act and dress children kids long into their adult years. And you especially see the fear of death at a funeral with unbelievers. They feel deep despair and hopelessness.
Verse 15 describes this fear as a form of bondage, and v. 14 notes that Satan uses this fear to intimidate mankind and to lead him into all sorts of wickedness. He drives some into deep grief or depression. He drives others to neglect responsibility or to hurt those around them.
Folks, death is a terrible enemy and an effective tool in the hands of Satan. But it doesn’t have to dominate our lives anymore because Jesus came to do something about it. Through his death and ultimately his resurrection, Jesus destroyed the power of death and by extension, Satan’s ability to use it against us.
Of course, the author is not saying that death has ended. We all still die, but for those who are saved, 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “To be absent from the body (is)…to be present with the Lord.” Therefore, Philippians 1:21 says “to die is gain.” This is because death is not the end for a Christian; rather, it releases us from the pain of this life, and it is a gateway to something far better.
And because Jesus died and rose again someday death will die itself. You could say that the resurrection of Christ has given death a terminal cancer that will ultimately destroy it. God promises, “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26), and “Death is (will be) swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54). And this is all because Jesus was born as a baby and died as a man. he was born to die so that we would not need to fear death.
But maybe you fear death because you aren’t sure what will happen to you after death. That’s a legitimate fear because you need to be ready to die. But God tells us in his Word that you can “know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Our text says, that you can be freed from the fear and power of death through Jesus. Please don’t leave today without knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life.
But maybe you are a Christian, and you still fear death. Sometimes our faith is weak, and we aren’t sure what all is ahead. I hope that you will look at the cross today and be assured that Jesus loves you. He will be faithful. You don’t need to fear death or run from death; instead, live for Christ.
Or maybe you are mourning the loss of a Christian loved one this weekend. Whether this is the first Christmas or the 30th, there’s a hole that you can’t quite fill. Take comfort today in the fact that your Christian loved one will rise again, and he or she is right now in the presence of the Lord. It’s okay to miss them, but praise the Lord that you do not have to sorrow as those who have no hope.
In sum, vv. 14–16 tell us that Jesus was born to die. And because he died, he has freed us from the power of death.
Verses 17–18 follow with a final benefit we enjoy because Jesus became one of us.
Jesus serves as our high priest (vv. 17–18).
These two verses highlight 4 works that Jesus did. First…
Jesus became fully human (v. 17a).
It says that Jesus “had to be made like his brethren.” In particular, the author has in mind that Jesus suffered like his brethren. We’ve already talked about the fact that he suffered like us by dying like us, and Jesus death is again in mind based on the fact that v. 17 mentions that he is our propitiation.
But the author is also thinking of how Jesus suffered like us by enduring human temptation (v. 18a). As I said last week, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane pondering the agony that awaited him on the cross, he had to fight temptation so hard that was sweating blood drops. Jesus agonized against temptation.
Heidi and I moved to Detroit in 2005, and there was a lot of buzz around town because the 2006 Super Bowl was going to be played in Detroit. And of course the Super Bowl is much bigger than a game. All sorts of big money stars come into town and throw extravagant parties. But Downtown Detroit had been ravaged by economic decline, and there were a lot run down, empty buildings in the area. Of course, the organizers didn’t want guests who were spending big money to experience the dark side of Detroit. And so they were very careful about where they put Super Bowl events. They even put fake fronts on some buildings to hide their decay. They wanted their red carpet guests to experience Detroit, but not all of it, just the good parts.
But that’s not how Jesus experienced humanity. He didn’t get the guided tour through the best parts of town. He felt every pain of being a man including our battle against temptation and death itself.
Jesus became fully human, and because of this, a second work Jesus did is that…
Jesus became our priest (v. 17b).
The most basic responsibility of a priest is to act as a mediator between God and man. As our priest, Jesus gives us access to God. And he is described here as both a “merciful” and a “faithful” priest.
The fact that he is faithful means that he is dependable. Jesus will always be there. He will never grow old or tired, and he will always have the authority to meet my spiritual need.
And the fact that he is merciful means that he is compassionate. This is because he experienced human suffering and temptation, and he understands how hard we have it.
This is so encouraging to remember because I have days where I feel like a terrible spiritual failure, and I feel ashamed to come to God for forgiveness and grace. I’m embarrassed that I’m back again looking for more grace. In those moments, it is great to know, that Jesus understands, and that Jesus is merciful. Therefore, I know that he will always respond with tender compassion when I fail.
We have a great priest. The third work is…
Jesus removed the wrath of God (v. 17c).
The word propitiation calls to mind the work of Israel’s priests on the Day of Atonement. Once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. That blood functioned to satisfy God’s wrath against Israel’s sin and to renew their relationship with him. But God was always clear that a better sacrifice was ultimately necessary.
And Jesus provided that sacrifice when his blood was shed on the cross. His blood permanently and completely satisfied God’s wrath like no other sacrifice ever could. Therefore, the fact that he is our propitiation means that for those who are in Christ, they will never have to face God’s wrath because the blood of Christ covers them.
Again, Jesus was born to die, and his death is the only way you can ever be made right with God. You could never be good enough to earn heaven, and you could never do enough good deeds to satisfy God’s wrath. Therefore, I must ask. Are you covered by the blood of Christ? Have you ever put your faith in Christ alone for salvation? If you never have, I hope that you will see today why Jesus came. He came to fix your problem that you could never fix on your own. Trust in him today and be saved.
For those of us who are saved, we should celebrate today because we will never face God’s wrath. Jesus was born to die for us, and he removed God’s wrath.
Jesus’ fourth work is…
Jesus provides help against temptation (v. 18).
Hebrews 4:15 expands on this idea. Isn’t that an incredible statement? Jesus endured every kind of temptation, and because of that, he is sympathetic with our struggle. Therefore, when I am battling sin, I know that Jesus is not in heaven shaking his head in disgust. Instead, he is thinking about how hard it was for himself. There is so much comfort in this reality.
But our text adds that he is much more than a shoulder to cry on. Rather because Jesus endured temptation and defeated temptation, he is able to help us conquer our own temptations. We can go to him and find the wisdom, strength, and encouragement we need to win the battle.
Maybe as you look back on 2017, it was largely a year of spiritual defeat. You lost a lot more battles than you won, and you are discouraged and embarrassed. I hope you won’t stop fighting. I hope you will see that there is hope in Christ. He is sympathetic, and he is powerful. And so look to Jesus, get back up, and by his grace look forward to how he will help you move forward in 2018 to greater godliness. What a blessing it is to know that Jesus has been in our shoes, and that he can help us go forward in our Christian walk. Jesus is a great high priest.
And so as we celebrate Christmas today and tomorrow, let’s rejoice in the full humanity of Jesus. Let’s not just see a cute baby in a manger; let’s see the God in human flesh. And let’s give thanks that he was born to die. And because he died, we don’t have to fear death, and we can live today in comfort of knowing we have a great high priest who is advocating for us before the Father.