We talked about this topic yesterday, but today’s passage has so much extra insight into our High Priest’s nature and work that I felt the need to spend an extra day on it.
One of politicians’ favorite poses is that of “the common man,” that he’s “one of us.” He might’ve gone only to private schools and elite universities, and he might have a dad who’s a senator and multi-millionaire, but the last thing he wants is to have people think he’s “out of touch” and doesn’t understand their daily problems. In most Presidential elections, the one who's less rich has an advantage over the one who’s wealthier, even though both of them are white-collar and far more wealthy then 90% of the American public. It has a lot more to do with image than reality, like most issues in politics.
Before we get to the passage, let’s back up for just a moment. Jesus left the glories and worship of Heaven, and most of the privileges of being God. He took on human flesh in joyful submission to the Father’s will. For 33 years he was not only 100% sinless but 100% righteous, always consciously choosing to obey the Father.
So in what sense did he become perfect? That’s a good question. In another part of Hebrews it says that he learned obedience from what he suffered. How could he learn obedience? How does this comport with what we read in the last paragraph? Although he never rebelled against the Father’s will, it was during the Incarnation--culminating in the Cross—that he experienced obedience to the ultimate degree. He said “Yes” to the Father while in Heaven, but I’d expect that’s a very different prospect from saying “Yes” in the Garden moments before the soldiers arrived. When going through a mockery of a trial. When being whipped to the point of barely looking human anymore. When looking at the soldier positioning the nail above his wrist. That’s when his obedience was perfected.
But this is where his humanity meets his divinity to our eternal benefit. The most amazing verse in this passage to me is vs. 11: “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” I know with all the horrible things I’ve done in my life, he has every right to be just a little reluctant to acknowledge me publicly as his brother. But he’s perfectly fine with associating with the likes of me.
But the best part comes in vs. 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” He had to become human so that he could die. By his death (for us) he broke the power of the one who held the power of death. All throughout history, we’ve been frightened of this universal enemy, this cold embrace which awaits all of us. But since his death and resurrection, our Lord now holds the keys to Death and Hades. He now owns them. His human nature and his divine nature did this.
And there’s even more here: “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because of the Incarnation, he’s a merciful and faithful high priest, meaning he can sympathize and be compassionate with us when we’re tempted. And because of the Incarnation, he was able to make atonement for our sins. Only a fully human man could be our substitute, and only God could carry our sins.
I know we observed Christmas a few days ago, but according to some calendars in the world we’re still in the Christmas season. That’s what we celebrate: God who squeezed himself down to a human embryo, which was just the first in a long line of humiliations—big and small—he endured. For you and me.
Father God, I’m in awe of your perfect plan which worked in perfect precision for your glory and my benefit. “Thank you” seems so inadequate.