Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sermon: Hebrews 2: 5-18 Jesus, our Brother

I wonder if you were surprised to discover what day it is today. Now, I don’t mean that it’s Sunday - even though it’s hard to keep track of what day it is around Christmas. And I don’t mean that it’s New Year’s Day, as we begin 2017 - as if you missed all the buzz about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I wonder if you were expecting a new year’s theme today - only to discover that the church calendar brings us to what might seem a strange feast day.

It happens all the time, that the same day means different things to different people. The day that you celebrate as your birthday or wedding anniversary is the same day that someone else remembers a loved one’s death. And so on New Year’s Day, we remember the naming and circumcision of Jesus.

So why do we do this? Why focus on this little piece of ritual performed on the baby Jesus? Well, we’re told that it happened, in Luke 2:21. It’s a verse that we could easily miss, sandwiched between the shepherds and Simeon’s song. It shows us that Jesus was circumcised, like all Jewish boys on the eighth day. (Today is the 8th day of Christmas, with the maids-a-milking and so on...). So if we keep Christmas Day as the 25th December, it follows that today is the feast of the circumcision.

But you might still be asking yourself... WHY? Why does it really matter? And will it make a difference to us in this new year? To grasp the significance of today, I want to focus on our reading from Hebrews.

The letter to the Hebrews is a short letter of exhortation and encouragement, urging Jewish Christians to keep going in the faith. They’re thinking about going back to the temple religion, but time and again the focus in the letter is on why Jesus is better. In the opening verses of Hebrews we’re given an insight into God’s Son, the one whom God has spoken through; the heir of all things; through whom the world was created; the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of his nature, the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power.

As you read the opening verses of the letter, you see the divine glory of the Son, shining through. But now, here, in chapter 2, we discover something amazing: This divine Son took on our flesh and become one like us. As we’ve already sung today - what child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? This, this is Christ the King. The baby lying in the manger; the baby who was circumcised on the eighth day, is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.

Hebrews uses lots of Old Testament references and quotations, and in 2:6 we find today’s Psalm, Psalm 8. The writer quotes from David’s Psalm - the Psalm in which David surveys the wonder of creation; the vastness of the universe; and then asks: ‘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 honour.’

David’s original point is that, even though we’re so small and insignificant in terms of the universe, God is mindful of us and cares for us. He formed Adam and Eve to be the governors of his creation. But the writer to the Hebrews shows us that David was also pointing to the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, who for a little while stepped down from his throne in heaven (where he was higher than the angels), and he stepped down to become man (where he for a little while was lower than the angels).

Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus give up his place in heaven, and take on our flesh to become man, and submit to the full human experience - including circumcision? The answer that Hebrews gives is - he did it for us.

Over the past couple of weeks, the TV has been full of review of the year type programmes. Reminding us of the year that has just gone; bringing us up to speed on where we stand as this new year dawns; showing us where we might be going with Brexit and President Trump and so on. At the end of verse 8, we’re given a review of our current position - what we can see:

‘At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.’ Isn’t that a fair picture of the world around us? Not everyone bows the knee to Jesus. Many disregard him. They go about doing what they want to do. But there is something else we do see: ‘But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’

Jesus came into the world to taste death for everyone. He died so that we don’t have to. He has eaten the bitter fruit to save us from death. In our flesh, Jesus has defeated death on our behalf, for our sake.

There are many names for the Lord Jesus. Over the Christmas period we’ve thought about quite a few of them - Jesus, Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. But in Hebrews 2 we find another name for Jesus - brother. Imagine the privilege of being able to call Jesus your brother - to be part of the family, to share in his inheritance.

Verse 14 shows us why Jesus came to be one like us and with us: ‘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.’

In our human flesh and blood, Jesus submitted to death in order to destroy death itself and the devil. As we trust in Jesus we are delivered from our lifelong slavery of the fear of death. Perhaps you felt the fear of death in 2016; perhaps you saw its power up close and personal; perhaps you feel it breathing down your neck. This new year can be different - no fear - not just in a wishful thinking this year’s going to be different kind of way; no, it can be different when we know that Jesus has destroyed the one who has the power of death. You can be delivered from your fear of death - through Jesus who was born and suffered and died and was raised for us; for you.

But there’s another way in which the Lord Jesus gives us help and strength for the new year. Jesus was made like us in every respect. He has shared our human existence, in every way - as one of the verses of Once in Royal David’s city which we won’t sing this morning puts it: ‘and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.’ Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest, who has made propitiation for our sins, precisely because he was one with us, made like us.

Look at verse 18: ‘For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ We may not know exactly how this new year will turn out, but one thing we can know for certain is this - there will be temptation at every turn. Especially when we resolve to go God’s way; when we make time and sit down to read God’s word; temptations will come. But you are not on your own. Jesus knows what you’re going through! He has been there, endured it, and resisted every time. He is able to help you when you face temptation. He is with you, and for you.

The circumcision of Jesus reminds us that he is one with us - that the eternal Son has taken on our flesh, dwelt among us, and is for us. See him crowned with glory and honour - the one who suffered for us; the one who takes away the fear of death; the one who helps us when we’re tempted. As we start this year, give your all to him, our brother, our Lord, our God, our all.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st January 2017.

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