Read Hebrews 2:14-18 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
Wally was big for his age; few people actually believed he was only seven years old. Until he opened his mouth, that is. Wally’s halting speech gave away his age and the fact that he was a slow learner. When it came time to assign parts for the annual Christmas pageant, his Sunday School teacher agonized over what to do with Wally.
She seized upon the idea of giving him the innkeeper part. He had but one short line, “There is no room at the inn.” She would work with Wally to memorize this brief line.
On the night of the performance, the young Joseph and Mary approached Wally the Innkeeper. “Joseph” said clearly, “Please, sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”
All eyes focused on Wally and he was aware of every one of them. He turned as white as the sheet he was wearing when nervousness drove the line right out of his head. His mouth went dry as his mouth worked soundlessly.
Wally’s embarrassment grew as someone chuckled. Finally a sudden inspiration brightened his face. He blurted, “Aw, why doncha come home with me? We got plenty of room there!”
Though he gave the wrong line, Wally had the right idea. We must all invite Jesus to come live with us. This Christmas will have real and lasting significance as we give Jesus room in our hearts.
Jesus became one of us to free all of us from slavery to sin.
1. We were slaves. (14-15)
There are two reasons for our slavery to sin. The first is our fear of death. Fear is an inhibiting and enslaving emotion; it intimidates and coerces us to obey the object of our fear. It can become a kind of idolatry. Fear keeps us in service to the status quo; we prefer “the devil we know” to the unknown, even if it potentially good for us. The fear of death/dying can be especially debilitating. If all you have is here and now, that is “the devil you know.”
Hope is the antidote to fear as it causes us to look beyond self, here, now; to see opportunity. Hope is faith’s window; through it may look beyond death.
A second reason for our slavery to sin is our appetite for sin. Our appetite for sin comes from our SIN NATURE, which we inherit from Adam. This is appetite that is neither emotional nor logical, seemingly having a mind of its own; it is akin to spiritual evil. It is our SIN NATURE that is crucified with Christ on the cross (see Galatians 2:20). A believer is so completely free from it we are dead to it.
However, even as believers, we still have an appetite for sin that comes from our HUMAN NATURE, which we inherit from our parents and our culture. In contrast to our sin nature, our human nature creates an appetite for sin that is emotional and logical; it must be controlled by means of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and spiritual maturity. Regarding the struggle to resist this appetite, 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises a God-ordained limit to temptation to what we can overcome and provides a DOOR OF ESCAPE from all temptations.
Similarly, the author of Hebrews asserts we have been ruled by two masters, the first of which is the devil. The DEVIL wields a broken power, the POWER OF DEATH, that is, the fear of death.
The good news is that Christ has DESTROYED the devil’s power. In this case, the word DESTROYED does not mean to eliminate or annihilate; it means “to render powerless,” or “bring to naught,” as if it never existed. As the POWER OF DEATH has been nullified, we have no reason to fear death.
Our sinful nature is mentioned again as our second master. Paul wrote about our SINFUL NATURE in Romans 8:12-13.
The Bible teaches we have three natures – we’ve covered the sinful and human natures – the third is our spiritual nature. Our spiritual nature is the point of our personal interaction with God. When the Bible talks about our soul or spirit, it is referencing this immaterial part of who we are.
2. Jesus is our Redeemer. (16-18)
Powerless to save ourselves, we need to be rescued. A “redeemer” is someone who pays the purchase price for a slave and then sets them free. THE ANGELS are mentioned here as a point of comparison.
The first point of comparison is in the differing natures of the two races. THE ANGELS are a race of spiritual beings, humans are a race of physical and spiritual beings.
The second point of comparison is that the Incarnation (Jesus as God becoming a human being) was not for the benefit of THE ANGELS, but for the benefit of the human race. They didn’t need to be saved: we did.
The third point of comparison is this: all believers are CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM because we share his faith in God (see Galatians 3:7, 9 & 29). This is a distinction THE ANGELS will never achieve.
The author explains HOW Jesus saved the human race; He came to HELP us. The word HELP means “to take hold of” or “hold by the hand.” This word is used in Jeremiah 31:9 to show God as a Father leading His child Israel out of Egypt by holding his hand.
Jesus rescued us by His atoning sacrifice. Logically, He needed a physical body to have blood to offer as a sacrifice for atonement. The text plainly says HE HAD TO do this; it was the Law and the will of God the Father. In the original language, this phrase implies a moral obligation to do what was required.
But there was also a legal obligation: according to the Law, blood sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sins. The blood of the sacrifice represented its life, a life given in exchange for the death penalty resulting from guilt of sin.
Verse seventeen tells HE [Jesus] HAD TO BE MADE LIKE HIS BROTHERS IN EVERY WAY, but elsewhere in the New Testament, we’re notified of three exceptions; three ways in which Jesus is unlike the rest of us. The first is Jesus’ Virgin Birth. This circumstance meant that unlike us, He did not inherit a sin nature, which the Bible writers believed was inherited from one’s father. Without a human father, there was no such transmission of a sin nature.
Second, Jesus was tempted, but never gave in. Jesus was morally perfect.
Third, He died for our sins, not for His own. His sacrifice will never be repeated.
God’s Law required the high priest to conduct an annual sacrifice for the atonement of the people. Jesus once and for all time accomplished our ATONEMENT with God. Atonement is necessary because sin breaks relationships, especially our relationship with God. Atonement restores our relationship with God and improves our relationships with one another.
Jesus’ sympathetic experience qualifies Him to be our MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST. He is MERCIFUL, in part, because he personally experienced temptation and knows how it feels. He is FAITHFUL because He was obedient to God, even to the point of death. Being both God and man, He mediates between us and God the Father, as a high priest was supposed to do.
Having the experience of being human means Jesus shares our humanity. Like us, Jesus SUFFERED. He knew hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sadness, and pain.
Like us, Jesus was TEMPTED. Unlike us, He never gave into temptation and sinned, but He knows their persuasive power from firsthand experience. This means that the Incarnation was also necessary to qualify Jesus to be our High Priest.
Jesus became one of us to free all of us from slavery to sin.
One of the enduring legacies of the ancient Roman empire is its cruelty. For example, it is recorded that at times Roman authorities required a captive to be bound face-to-face with a corpse, condemned to carry it about for days. The poet Virgil described this macabre torture with this verse:
The living and dead at his command
Were coupled face to face and hand to hand;
Till choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,
The lingering wretches pined away and died.
Apart from Jesus Christ, every human being is shackled to a corpse: their own sin nature. Only God’s forgiveness sets us free from carrying around that deadly burden.
Because Jesus was born a human being, because He lived a human life, and because He surrendered that life on the cross, we are free from the fear of death and the appeal of sin. Our slavery to evil is ended and our service to God has begun. We celebrate Christmas because the glorious light of Jesus’ birth banishes all the shadows of evil and gives us life!