Why Jesus Became Man, part 5 (Hebrews 2:16-17a)

We have been exploring Hebrews 2, which starting in verse 10 expounds our solidarity with Christ through His incarnation.  The progression of thought is like this: the fact of solidarity (2:10, 11), the character of solidarity (vv. 12, 13), the liberation that comes from solidarity (2:14–16), and now the significance of the Church’s solidarity with its high priest (2:17, 18).  Thus, the weightiest truth, in terms of comfort for the storm-tossed church, is given last.

The magnificent train of thought in this famous text presents Christ as a being who is at once a perfect priestly mediator, propitiator, and helper.

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.

Here is the mystery:  Jesus is both God and man.  He is not 50% God and 50% man, but fully God and fully man.  There is no salvation unless Jesus is undiminished deity and undiminished humanity.  He must be fully both.

1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh…”

How can it be that…

Perfect deity took on sinful humanity?

Omnipotence becomes weary?

Omniscience grew in wisdom?

Sovereignty became a bond slave?

Omnipresence was confined to a womb?

HOW He was both God and man is a mystery; but WHY He came as the God-man is at least partially explained for us here.  Our passage gives us three reasons in vv. 16-18.

First, to rescue us from sin (v. 16)

Second, to represent us before God (v. 17).

Third, to relate to us in temptation (v. 18).

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

Verse 16 is actually the reason, or grounds, for which Christ “share[d] in flesh and blood” (v. 14).  Christ did not come to help angels, but rather “the offspring of Abraham,” He had to become like them, taking on human flesh.  Only in this way could He die for them/us.

Angels do not need to be saved.  One third of them fell with Satan in rebellion.  But there is no Savior for them.  They’ve made their final choice and there is no recourse for their defiant rebellion.  Some of them have already been confined to hell, only to be let loose during the great tribulation.  Most of them are present and active in our world (Eph. 6:12).  Yes, they need to be saved, but there is no Savior for them.  Jesus did not come for them.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” Jesus said in Matthew 25:41.

Peter tells us: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;” (2 Peter 2:4).

And in Jude 6 we read: “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”

How gracious God is to give us a Savior!  He didn’t have to.  Do you realize that?  He could have left us to judgment after Adam sinned.  He could have left the whole human race in condemnation because we chose to rebel just as Adam did.

But He didn’t.  He sent a Savior.  God in flesh.  Jesus Christ.

We just sang at Grace Bible Church this past Sunday:

  1. “Man of Sorrows!” what a name
    For the Son of God, who came
    Ruined sinners to reclaim.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  2. Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
    In my place condemned He stood;
    Sealed my pardon with His blood.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  3. Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
    Spotless Lamb of God was He;
    “Full atonement!” can it be?
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Christ gave “help the descendants of Abraham.”  This is not his physical seed, but his spiritual seed, those who believe in Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 3:29 Paul says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed…”

The word “help” here is epilambano, an intensive word.  It is the same verb used in Hebrews 8:9 where God recalls how he “took hold” of his people Israel by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, and in both places it carries with it the idea of delivering help.

Used in Matthew 14:31, when Peter was sinking, Jesus reached out his hand and “took hold of” or “grabbed” Peter and rescued him from drowning.

It reminds me of a story.  I don’t know if it is actually true or not.

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in an old swimming pool behind his house.  In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks and shirt as he went.

He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.  His mother, who was in the house and looking out the window, saw the boy swimming towards the alligator.  Petrified, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son to get out as loudly as she could.

Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.  It was too late.  Just as he reached the bank where his mother was, the alligator reached him.  The mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs.  And then began an incredible tug-of-war between the two.  The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was totally consumed by her passion for her son and was gripped by a holy strength.

While this terrible struggle was going on, a farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, and saw what was going on – he took his gun, raced from the truck, and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived.  His legs were badly scarred by the vicious attack of the alligator.  He also had deep scratches on his arms where his mother’s fingernails had dug into his flesh in her efforts to hang on to the son she loved.

The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars.  The boy showed him his legs.  And then, with great pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms.  I have great scars on my arms, too.  I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”

Jesus Christ came to our rescue.  Satan, the great dragon, had us firm in his grip.  But Jesus rescued us and now holds onto us and will not let go.  The only difference is that the scars are His, not ours.

Salvation is not us reaching up to God and pulling ourselves to safety, but Christ reaching down to us and rescuing us when we were helpless to save ourselves.

I was sinking deep in sin
Far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within
Sinking to rise no more
But the master of the sea

Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me
Now safe am I

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

There is no other way for us to be rescued from sin and Satan and judgment and death.  Only Jesus could have done that.  Only His deity was of infinite value to pay for our sins; only His humanity made Him vulnerable to death.  Only His life and death offered a sufficient sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins.

So He came to rescue us from sin.  But secondly He came to represent us before God.

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.

In this verse Christ is presented as a mediator and a propitiation.

The writer introduces these thoughts with a memorable reference to Christ’s incarnation, saying, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (v. 17a; cf. 2:11).  Jesus did not merely resemble humanity in some qualities of human nature, but “in every respect”—“in all things” (NASB).  Christ did not just “seem” to be human (Docetism), but really was human.  Christ’s likeness to us was not simulated but absolute and real (Philippians 2:7)—except for sin (4:15).  “In every respect” means in every way, specifically by experiencing human life and by suffering.

The result of becoming fully human is that he “might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…”  Eli was a high priest, but he was neither merciful nor faithful.  He interpreted Hannah’s prayers as drunken ravings and allowed his sons to misuse the offerings and rebelled against God.  But Jesus Christ is merciful towards sinners and faithful towards God.  He never fails in His priestly ministries.

Mercy is more than an emotion.  It might begin there, but it ends in action—action which helps relieve someone’s misery.  We are in misery because of our sin.  We don’t always realize that, but we are.  We are in a miserable condition.  And Jesus did something about that.

Mercy doesn’t just rubberneck as it drives by, nor does it merely express sorrow or hope that someone else helps, but mercy moves to give help.

Christ our mediator actually feels the pangs of human existence in himself.  And thus, his compassion is not simulated but perfectly real.  Even more, from the depth of Christ’s compassion springs mercy as he acts to meet our needs.  This in turn involves his faithful priestly mediation between us and God as he bears our sins and infirmities, interceding for us with tender mercy.

He is faithful in that He always lived in obedience to God, therefore was imminently qualified to serve as our high priest.

Jesus implicitly expressed this when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).  As Leon Morris says, “It is not simply that he does not act in independence of the Father. He cannot act in independence of the Father” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p. 312).

His faithfulness to God is seen in two ways.  First, he was faithful as mankind’s sin-bearer.   He did everything required.  Nothing deterred him from the cross.  He drank the bitter cup to its dregs.  “Our hell he made his, that his heaven might be ours” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 120).  Never has there been such faithfulness!

Second, he is faithful in representing us to the Father.  At God’s right hand his blood is applied to man’s sins.  There he faithfully prays for his own with compassion and tender mercy, honed by his human experience.  This is a truth every informed heart holds dear, as did Paul when he encouraged Timothy, reminding him, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

As our high priest He must deal with our sins.  He couldn’t just turn a blind eye to our sins.  Because of His holiness and unchanging hatred of sin, it had to be dealt with.  Sin cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored.  The Father’s just and righteous character demanded the death of the sinner.  Jesus became human, took on sinful flesh so that He might become a sin offering and die in our place.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson, Arwen, a female elf, exchanged her immortality for mortality, out of love.  Talking to Aragorn, a human, she asked him if he remembered what she had said when they first met.  Aragorn replied, “You said you’d bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people.”

Arwen committed again to give up her immortality out of love.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.  I choose a mortal life.”

In essence, this is what Jesus said when he took on humanity.  He became mortal.  He gave up His immortality so that He could live with us and die for us.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world without you.  I choose mortal life.”  That is what the incarnation is all about.

Jesus “became a…high priest.”  This will be a major theme of the center section of Hebrews and a major motif throughout.  A high priest was commissioned by God to represent the people of God before God.  The prophet represented God to the people; but the priest represented people to God.

Once a year he made atonement for the people, spreading the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sin of the people.  Only the high priest could do this.  What one man did had an effect for all the people of God.

Throughout Old Testament history, from about 1445 B. C. to the coming of Christ, for 1,500 years, the high priest had been entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice to God.  But it was always an inferior sacrifice, only temporarily remitting sin, until the Perfect Sacrifice appeared.

Jesus, at the cross, went into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled His blood on the mercy seat.

Jesus represented us before God.  He took our place, bearing the judgment and condemnation of our sins.  To represent us, He had to become like us.  He had to take on flesh, to become human, so that he could be qualified as a high priest for us.

Hebrews 5:1 makes this clear.  “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

No angel, no God, nor the Holy Spirit, could represent us.  Only Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Here is what is so wonderful about Jesus Christ.  Many high priests came before Him, representing the people before God.  But they were all fallible sinners, bringing imperfect sacrifices, and therefore sin was never fully and completely and finally removed.

But Jesus, the God-man, could represent me as man, but offer a perfect sacrifice because He was God.e was GodH

He became a man to become my high priest.  I can’t be my own high priest.  I cannot argue my case before God.  I needed someone to represent me before God, to plead the sacrifice for sin on my behalf.  And Jesus did just that.  Through His shed blood my sin has been fully, completely and finally removed.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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