He Had To Be Made Like Us
Topic: The Glory of Christ Passage: Hebrews 2:1–2:18
HE HAD TO BE MADE LIKE US
An Exposition of Hebrews 2:1-18
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: December 22, 2019 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)
Series: Advent 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“[He] had to be made like [us]” (Hebrews 2:17) and indeed He did become like us! This is a beautiful part of the glorious truth of Christmas. “[The] Word became flesh” (John 1:14). God the Son became the one and only God-Man. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). As the Nicene Creed puts it: “for us men and for our salvation [He] came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
We need to know that He was made like us. We need to know why He was made like us. And we need to receive the gracious help that He alone can give because He was made like us.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Here is the Word of God as it is written in Hebrews 2:1-18 –
1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 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. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
14 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, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 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.18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:1-18)
THE HUMAN SITUATION
In terms of the basic situation in which we as human beings find ourselves, there are three important things you need to know about yourself.
First, you need to know that God designed you for glory. Hebrews 2 quotes from Psalm 8 – and Hebrews 2 shows us that Psalm 8 is ultimately about Jesus. Even so, when David wrote Psalm 8 he was meditating on the privileged place of humanity in God’s creation. David looks up and ponders God’s handiwork in the sky (Psalm 8:3). Then he looks out and ponders God’s handiwork on the earth (Psalm 8:7-8). And David marvels that in this beautiful and expansive creation, God has “crowned [man] with glory and honor” and “given him dominion over the works of [God’s] hands” (Psalm 8:5, 6). David is reflecting on the truth of Genesis 1:26-28, which tells us about God creating mankind and commissioning mankind to exercise authority over the earth. As a son or daughter of Adam, you share in God’s glorious design for humanity. You are created in the image and likeness of God. You are invested with dignity and worth. God intends for you to dwell in His light, enjoy His abundance, and reflect His glory to the world. And even though sin has disrupted this high and holy calling, notice that in Hebrews 2 we see that God is the Redeemer who is “bringing many sons to glory” (v. 10) – which is really a restoration of the glory that Adam and Eve lost in the Garden. God designed you for glory.
Second, you need to know that you are severely afflicted by sin. This severe affliction is highlighted over and over again in Chapter 2. Just start in verse 1 and observe all the indications of our lowly plight: there is the danger of “[drifting] away” from the only message that is able to save us (v. 1); there is “transgression or disobedience” followed by “a just retribution” (v. 2); there is the risk of “[neglecting] such a great salvation” (v. 3); there is the reality of death and the devil (v. 9, 14); there is the “fear of death” and “lifelong slavery” (v. 15); there are “the sins of the people” (v. 17); and there are the difficulties presented by suffering and temptation (v. 10, 18). There is: 1) the temptation to sin; 2) the sin itself; 3) the consequence of sin; and 4) and our enemy the devil who seeks to entrap us in the prison of sin and death.
So although God designed you for glory, our sin has disrupted that design: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Therefore – and this is the third thing you need to know – you need help! You need “a great salvation” (v. 3)! Our passage displays an urgency: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (v. 1) If you put this first verse right alongside the final verse of the chapter – which tells us that Jesus, “is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18) – we could the matter this way: Pay very close attention because you need help!
If you have come to service this morning as an outsider or skeptic or spectator, you need the “great salvation” that the great Savior, Jesus Christ, has brought to our world. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)
If you have come to service this morning as a believer, you need boatloads of help to abide in the “great salvation” that our Lord has secured for His people. Hebrews 2 is a warning to churchgoers not to “neglect” or “drift away” the from the gospel of our salvation. You and I need help to not get tripped up when we are tempted – and we are tempted daily.
The good news of Hebrews 2 is that there is Someone who is able to help us – and yet it might surprise you to learn that this Someone is a Man. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
GREATER THAN THE ANGELS
Chapter 1 tells us over and over again that Jesus, God’s Son, is “superior to angels” (Hebrews 1:4). God’s Son has a name that “is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:4). The holy angels are ministers who run errands for God, but Jesus is God’s Son (Hebrews 1:5-7, 13). The holy angels are worshipers, but Jesus is worshiped by the angels (Hebrews 1:6). The holy angels are servants, but Jesus is Lord and God (Hebrews 1:7-14).
Chapter 2 tells us that the holy angels declared the old covenant, but Jesus declares the new and better covenant of a great salvation (v. 2-3). The logic of verses 2-3 is clear and sobering: If people who neglected or violated the message “declared by angels” were judged for their disobedience, how much more will people who neglect or violate the “great salvation” message “declared… by the Lord” be judged for their disobedience.
The contrast between Jesus and angels occurs again in verse 5: “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.”
There is a “world to come”: the Promised Land of God’s eternal rest (Hebrews 3:7–4:11); “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10); a better and heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16); an everlasting “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). As it says in Hebrews 13: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
This “world to come” is not under the lordship of angels. Now at this point what do you expect the author of Hebrews to tell us? You might expect him to say something like this: God didn’t subject the coming world to angels, but rather to His eternal and glorious Son! And while that is a perfectly true statement, that’s not the point he is emphasizing. Instead he tells us in verses 6-18 what might be called ‘the Christmas surprise’: God didn’t subject the coming world to angels, but to a Man. ‘The Christmas surprise’ is that the high waves of divine glory have become resident in a man: “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) And this Man is the Lord of “the world to come” – and He came so that you might join Him in the blessedness of His coming kingdom.
THE SAVIOR’S HUMANNESS
Does the Savior’s humanness comfort you?
Greg Laurie tells a story that has probably been told hundreds of times:
“I heard about a little boy who was frightened one night during a great thunderstorm. He called out to his father from his bedroom and said, “Daddy, I’m scared. Come in here.”
His dad, who had settled in for the night and wanted to go to sleep, told the little boy, “Son, it’s all right. God is with you in that room right now. You’re OK.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the little boy shot back, “Dad, right now I need someone with skin on.””
Of course, one way of experiencing the comfort of “someone with skin on” is the physical presence that we show to one another. It is a stunning reality that God invites us to communicate His comfort to one another by showing up and serving others in love. The apostle Paul, who enjoyed a close walk with the Lord, said: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the arrival of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6). Isn’t that remarkable?
But the deeper and even more stunning reality is that God Himself showed up in “flesh and blood” (v. 14), with skin on, in the baby born in Bethlehem. God was made tangible and touchable through our Lord Jesus Christ. And by physically touching others, Jesus dignified a leper whom He cleansed, a blind man whom He healed, Peter’s mother-in-law whom He lifted up, a dead girl whom He restored to life, and many children whom He blessed.
As “flesh and blood” human beings, we need something more than mere ideas or abstract doctrines. We need Someone! We need a Person who is like us, with us, and for us.
Historically, it has been difficult for people to wrap their heads around the teaching that the sovereign and transcendent God became a human being like us – and a suffering human being at that. It seems like absurdity, foolishness, weakness. It seems so unnecessary and undesirable. It seems like the sort of thing God wouldn’t want to do. And yet, people may wonder. There is that popular song from the 1990s that poses some really good questions: “What if God was one of us?” “If God had a name what would it be?” “If God had a face what would it look like?” “If you were faced with Him in all His glory / What would you ask if you had just one question?”
The great tragedy of our world is that most people don’t know that God has drawn near to us in order to help us. Therefore, people turn for help to anything and everything else: drugs, gadgets, fortune-tellers, good-luck charms, dead-end ideas, more stuff, and even angels. They do not know that God has drawn near, and has made Himself accessible and knowable, through the baby born in Bethlehem. This God-Man has a name: “you shall call hi name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This Jesus, who was “seen” and “looked upon” and “touched” (1 John 1:1), said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And Jesus remains see-able today, as Hebrews 2:9 indicates, though only those with the eyes of faith are able to see Him.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE
We don’t have time in this sermon to do a detailed walk-through of the passage, but here is big-picture outline of verses 6-18.
1) Jesus reclaimed for humanity the glory that Adam forfeited in the fall (v. 6-9).
2) Jesus reclaimed this glory through suffering and death (v. 9-10).
3) Jesus identifies closely with the human beings that He came to save (v. 11-13).
4) Jesus became a human being like us (v. 14).
5) As a human being, Jesus died in order to destroy the devil and deliver His people (v. 14-15).
6) In order to be a suitable Savior and strong Helper for His human family, Jesus experienced suffering and temptation like we do (v. 16-18).
One of the themes that runs through this entire passage is how absolutely crucial it is that God’s Son became a Man and that the Man Jesus accomplished certain things for our salvation. According to Psalm 8, the kingly crown belongs on the head of a man. But no man is worthy to wear it, because every one of us is corrupted by sin – except for Jesus. But it wouldn’t have been fitting for God’s Son to reclaim the crown in an un-human, un-earthly, other-worldly way. The sin, the corruption, the suffering, the death – this is what is happening down here where we live. And the only fitting thing is that the Savior who would lift us out of the muck and mire, would first join us in the muck and mire.
“HE HAD TO BE MADE LIKE US: THREE STAGES”
I titled this sermon ‘He Had To Be Made Like Us’, taking my cue from verse 17: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” So let me take that as a starting point to highlight three important stages of our Savior’s life and ministry.
Stage 1: The Incarnation
First, God’s Son had to became a Man in order to rescue mankind. (v. 14) Verse 14 says: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” God’s Son partook of “flesh and blood.”
Many of us are familiar with the phrase ‘born to die’ – meaning that God’s Son was born into this world as a man so that He could die as a sacrifice for our sins. This statement is quite true, as our passage shows. But our passage also shows that His experience of humanness, temptation, and suffering leading up to His sacrificial death is also very important.
Stage 2: Human Suffering and Temptation
So second, the Man Jesus had to experience human suffering and temptation. We see this in verse 10 and also in verses 17-18. Verse 10 tells us that Jesus, “the founder of [our] salvation” was made “perfect through suffering.”
In the infinite wisdom of our God, it would not have been fitting for the Savior of mankind to be unfamiliar with suffering. After all, life in this fallen world is so much suffering in the trenches, and we needed Someone to join us in the trenches. We needed “a man of sorrows” who is “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). We needed a man who would walk the path of faithful obedience, not in “the world to come,” but in the messiness of this fallen world where obedience to God’s will is costly. We needed a man who would be perfected by “learning obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
Don’t trip up over the language that Jesus learned and was perfected. The point isn’t that Jesus had moral flaws that needed to be patched up. The point rather is that the sinless Jesus had to be ‘tested and tried’ so that His true moral perfection and moral worth would increasingly shine forth against the backdrop of temptation and suffering. He didn’t parachute down from heaven as a thirty-three year-old man and go straightaway to the cross. He had to live the life of a man and build a human resume with moral capital related to actual and ordinary human experience: trusting the Father, loving people, speaking truth, enduring hardship, and bearing the cost. Then, as the perfect and perfected Man who passed every test and was completely surrendered to the Father’s will, He offered Himself upon the cross as the pure and spotless Lamb.
Of course, if the mission of God’s Son had been to bring salvation to angels, then He wouldn’t have had to be incarnated as a man. But look at what verses 16-17 say: “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” (v. 16) “[The] offspring of Abraham” doesn’t refer to every human being, but to those who have an Abraham-like faith in the Lord (Galatians 3:7). “Therefore,” in order to help Abraham’s family of faith (which includes you, if you trust the Lord), “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.” (v. 17) We need someone like us, a man and a brother, to help us, intercede for us, and make things right between us and God. After telling us that Jesus is “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” (in v. 17), the next verse indicates that “he himself has suffered when tempted” (v. 18).
Now it is important to say that the man Jesus is not like us in one crucial aspect: He was and is without sin (Hebrews 4:15). But being truly human and being sinful are two different things. That familiar quote ‘to err is human’ is not quite right. In reality, to err is humanity in rebellion against God – which means that to err is actually sub-human. By contrast, to do rightly is humanity in submission to God. “[In] every respect [he] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Because He is without sin, He is able to help those who are slaves to sin and death. Because He is “a merciful and faithful high priest” who doesn’t have to be saved from his own sins, He is able to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Apart from sin, which is not an expression of true humanness but is actually a beast-like departure from it, God’s Son was “made like his brothers in every respect.” (v. 17) God’s Son became a man: He was born a baby, the son of Mary; He grew up through childhood and youth; He lived in submission to His earthly parents; He experienced ordinary human life in the ordinary town of Nazareth; and He came face to face with an entire array of temptations that are common to mankind.
Sometimes people go off the deep end when they think about Jesus’ temptations – and people assume that Jesus struggled with the junk in His heart just like we struggle with the junk in our heart. But that is a misunderstanding of things. We need to understand that Jesus was not tempted by His own sinful desires, because He didn’t have sinful desires (there was no junk in His heart). Jesus’ temptations were not internal enticements arising from His own heart, but were external pressures arising from the difficulties of following God in a broken world. Think about the various pressures that came hard against Him: He experienced hunger and thirst, He knew what it felt like to be weary and tired, He was often misunderstood or misrepresented, He was not properly thanked for many of the kind things that He did for people, He faced bitter opposition, He was rejected by many people, He was overwhelmed by the job that the Father had given Him to do, He was betrayed by one disciple and deserted by many others, He was ridiculed and scorned, He was falsely accused and unjustly condemned, He was mocked and turned into a laughingstock, He was physically abused by cruel men, He was publicly shamed on a cross, and He was crucified to the point of death. And not one trace of sin ever came out of His heart! A thousand traces of sin can race out of my heart in the face of unremarkable inconveniences, but in the face of sharp suffering no sin came out of Him!
Stage 3: “The Suffering of Death”
In the first stage, God’s Son became a Man.
In the second stage, the Man Jesus experienced human suffering and temptation like we do.
In the third stage, the Man Jesus – tested and tried, perfected and proved – had to die for us. He became like us so that He could do something for us: “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.” (v. 14-15)
Once again we come face to face with the incomparable wisdom of God. In God’s wisdom, it is a man who had to destroy the devil and deliver humanity from the devil’s grip. Further, in God’s wisdom, a man had to destroy the devil and deliver humanity from the devil’s grip by dying. Do you see that? It is “through death” (v. 14) that the devil is destroyed and the people are delivered. God’s wisdom is contrary to our expectation: we would have expected God to decree victory from His heavenly palace, and not enter into the battlefield of earth. And yet, if people had read their Bible rightly, they would have known: as early as Genesis 3 the Lord God said that a future male descendant of Eve would crush the serpent. God always keeps His word!
So Jesus, as the Savior who was perfected and fitted for His merciful and faithful high priestly role through suffering, died for our salvation. Do you see how Jesus’ death is woven through this passage?
Verse 17: He made “propitiation for the sins of the people.” He satisfied God’s justice by standing in our place and suffering the judgment that we deserved. He bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we don’t have to bear their guilt and punishment.
Verses 14-15: “through death he [destroyed]… the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” By His loving and sacrificial death, He disarmed the devil and turned the devil’s enslaved subjects into the Father’s sons and daughters.
Verse 9: “by the grace of God [he… tasted] death for everyone.” He tasted death for us, so that whosoever believes in Him will never have to face death under the judgment of God.
Verse 9: it is “because of the suffering of death” – and what He accomplished by it – that the Man Jesus is now risen from the dead and is “crowned with glory and honor.” “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus conquered sin and death and reclaimed for humanity the crown of glory, not by a power play from heaven or by leading an army against the Roman Empire. Instead He did it by slipping into a manger, riding a donkey into Jerusalem, and being crucified by the soldiers of Rome.
YOU WHO NEED HELP, BE ENCOURAGED!
Do you feel your need for help?
Here, brothers and sisters, is true help.
Be encouraged: Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. It is a decisive and eternal victory. Don’t carry around guilt because of your many sins, but rest in the grace of the sin-bearer.
Be encouraged: Jesus has shown us by example that, with His help, we also must endure suffering and resist temptation. Fix your eyes on Him; see Him “crowned with glory and honor”; look at Him calling you to join Him in the glory of “the world to come.”
Be encouraged: Jesus offers us whatever mercy and grace we need in order to navigate and overcome our trials: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Be encouraged, you who trust in Jesus: Jesus “is not ashamed to call [you] brothers.” (Hebrews 2:11) Jesus is not ashamed to own you as family (Hebrews 2:12, 14).
I saw a quote on Facebook just as I was about to print off this sermon, and I thought I would include it in this sermon. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
The incarnation of God’s Son is Exhibit A!
Just think of it: the songwriter asked the question “What if God is one of us?” But Christians proclaim the truth that through Jesus Christ, God has indeed become one of us. And we can honestly and humbly say, ‘We are brothers and sisters of the God-Man Jesus Christ.’
 My understanding is that this is a commonly told story. I found Greg Laurie’s telling of it online.
 Joan Osborne, “One of Us.” Eric Bazilian wrote the song.