Hebrews 2:14-18 – Why the Incarnation?

Why did the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, come down into this world from heaven to take upon himself a human body like ours?

The answer to this question is given to us in the verses from the Letter to the Hebrews that we have read this morning: he came into this world to be like so that he might help us to be all that God created us to be.

In what ways does he help us?

Jesus deals with the sin that separates us from God

We were created to live in fellowship with God. We have a lovely picture in Genesis 3 of God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, his garden he had entrusted to the care of humankind. God was seeking fellowship and conversation with the man and the woman. We were made to enjoy intimate fellowship and communion with God.

But we wanted to live our own way and to please ourselves rather than to live God's way and to please him. And this rebellion, this sin, has created a separation between ourselves and God. God has said, "Very well we much go our own ways. We can no longer walk together." But that separation has left a deep ache in the human spirit. We were created for communion with God but sin has separated us from God and weighed us down with a burden of guilt.

How can we ever be what we were created to be?

Jesus came into this world to deal with the root of this problem and to bring us back into fellowship with God our Father and Creator. He came and identified himself fully with us, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity" (Hebrews 2:14). He was made like us in every way except for sin – he was perfectly obedient to the will of his heavenly Father. Yet he took upon himself the burden of our sin, he made "atonement for the sins of the people" (v. 17). In the words of the Apostle Peter, "he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). Or in the words of a well-known hymn:

In my place condemned he stood,

sealed my pardon with his blood.

Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

This is what we celebrate together as we come to take communion this morning – his blood, shed for us, cleanses us of all our sins. Through his atoning sacrifice at the cross on our behalf, Jesus brings us back into fellowship and communion with God – we "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

Jesus deals with the sin that separates us from God; he reconciles us to God.

Jesus helps us to resist temptation

Jesus died for our sins, praise God, but he did not stay dead. On the third day he rose victorious over sin and death and he is now alive in the heavens as our "merciful and faithful high priest." (v. 17). And the writer of this letter to the Hebrews tells us that, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (v. 18).

The Lord Jesus was tempted just as we are, but was without sin. He resisted every temptation of the evil one. Remember how he was tempted by Satan after his baptism and forty days of fasting in the wilderness. He never gave in to Satan's temptations: unlike Adam and Eve in the Garden; unlike Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness; unlike us so very often. We so often give way to temptations of anger, of resentment, of jealousy and envy, even of malice. We may know that God forgives us our sins for Jesus' sake, but we still need help to live the life God calls us to live Jesus can help us, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

You might say, "Well, it was easy for him. He was the Son of God!" But think about it for a moment. At the bottom of our garden we have a climbing plant of passion flowers. I had made a frame for it to climb on by suspending a bamboo bean pole between two posts and hanging some plastic netting on it. But the plant grew so vigorously this last year that its weight broke the pole. I am going to have to replace the bamboo bean pole with a much stronger piece of wood. In the coming year the plant is likely to grow even more vigorously and become even more weighty yet I trust that the new and stronger piece of wood will not collapse under the strain but will hold firm.

Jesus endured temptation to a far greater degree than we can ever imagine. We, like my bamboo bean pole, all too frequently crack under the pressure of temptation but Jesus by resisting temptation without giving way endured a far heavier weight than we will ever experience.

And so he is able to help us whenever we are tempted. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians: "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). What is that way out, that way of escape from the power of temptation? It is Jesus. We need to flee to him; to lean on him; to seek his help and depend upon it. "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." We know our own weakness and we need to depend on him; cannot go it alone.

My wife, Liz, encouraged me to read an interview with Stephen Cotterell, the Archbishop of York, that was in the December 2022 edition of Good Housekeeping. In it the archbishop says, "Some people see the Christian faith as a prop… I couldn't agree more. I'm not ashamed to say I lean on Jesus Christ, that I'm trying to live close to his heart, that I need his wisdom and his hope." And I would echo the words of the archbishop. We need our merciful and faithful high priest in life and in death. We need to lean on him.

Jesus helps us to resist temptation and to live to please God; we can't go it alone, lean on him.

Jesus helps us to Persevere in the Christian Life

Jesus, as our merciful and faithful high priest", helps us to go on following him even when the going gets tough and we seem to have run out of the necessary energy to live the Christian life or be troubled by doubts and fears.

How are we going to manage to go on following Jesus day by day and year by year? Where will we get the resources? They are not in ourselves. Our resources are to be found in the Lord Jesus: without him we can do nothing. The writer of this letter to the Hebrews encourages us:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

It's not a matter of just fixing our eyes on him as our example – as one who did not turn back but went on following the call of God to the very end. We are to fix our eyes on him as our present help and strength. He is "the pioneer and perfecter of faith"; he has not only trodden this path before us, he also has the power to lead us on to the very end. As our writer says in Hebrews 4:15-16:

We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Or again, in the words of a song we sang with our children:

When the road is rough and steep

Fix your eyes upon Jesus

He alone has power to keep

Jesus is a gracious friend

One on whom you can depend

He is faithful to the end

Fix your eyes upon him

We need to draw on his strength and on his help to go on following him to the very end. He promises to be with us in every step of our lives as our help and our strength.

And speaking of the end…

Jesus enables us to face death without fear

Do you fear death? In 2014 I had serious heart problems requiring both heart surgery and the fitting of a pacemaker. I was in hospital for twelve weeks during which my heart stopped on several occasions. As staff rushed to my aid and I began to lose consciousness I can honestly say that I did not fear death but rather I was filled with a sense of peace.  I knew that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord and if this was my time to go then so be it.

Now I have to add that I am deeply grateful to the medical staff who got my heart going again and monitored me closely. I am glad to be alive and hope in the goodness of God that I may live many more years and see my grandchildren grow to adulthood.

I must also add that I still have fears about the process of dying, a process that may involve painful injury, disease or disability – disability of mind as well as body. But I do not fear death because I know that Jesus has conquered death not only for himself but for all who place their trust in him:

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. (vv. 14-15)

Do you fear death? Jesus broke the power of death for you. Trusting in him you need not fear death for he has gone to prepare a place for you in glory and will bring you at last to be there in his presence and even to share his glory.

And one day, when he comes again, he will make all things new and there shall be no more death or mourning nor crying or pain. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!


Christ Church Downend

Thursday communion: 2/2/2023