Encouragement for the Rainy Days of Life
Jesus, Incarnation, Encouragement
It is a sad truth that life is full of times that are wonderfully joyous as well as times that seem horribly crushing. There are times when you feel confident and excited for what lies ahead, and there are times when you feel completely worthless, helpless, and hopeless. I hope that when you’ve had those down times you have also experienced someone coming along and saying just the right thing at just the right time. It’s amazing how a few simple words from someone spoken with sincerity at just the right time can give you the strength you need to carry on.
I am fortunate to serve in a church where we have many encouragers—people who work hard to see the treasure in those around them and try to help others see that treasure as well. Over the years, I have started what I call my “rainy day” file, where I keep kind notes of encouragement I receive. I do this because there are inevitably times when I feel down and begin to question whether my work actually accomplishes anything, or if anyone even notices the things I do. On those days, I go to the rainy day file because it reminds me that I am making a difference, and people really do appreciate me. Those notes provide the perspective I need to carry on.
In our passage this morning, the writer of Hebrews is digging into the biblical “rainy day” file. He knew the believers to whom he was writing had been facing hardship, and may have even been questioning whether their faith was misplaced. They were beginning to feel discouraged, as though God had abandoned them and forgotten them. Hebrews 2:5-18 serves as a reminder that God does not abandon believers, and it gives us evidence that we can point to whenever we begin to question that truth.
The Position We Hold
He starts by reminding us of the position that God has given us.
And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them authority over all things.” Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. (Hebrews 2:5-8, NLT)
He begins by returning to the theme that human beings should not worship angels, because God has given us a position of privilege that the angels do not have. He quotes from Psalm 8, which is a psalm of praise in which the psalmist remarks at the vastness of the universe, and yet the care God has for us. The psalmist looked into the night sky and saw thousands of stars. He marveled that God had created all of those things, and yet he also took the time to create us. Not only did God create us, but He loves and cares and thinks about us. Now, with an even greater understanding of the universe, we find ourselves in even greater awe of this fact. When we begin to consider that earth is one small rock in a universe with billions and billions of stars and other planets, it seems overwhelming to think of how tiny and insignificant we are. And yet, when we think about the fact that God loves and cares for us, it reminds us of just how much He loves us—even in the midst of this vast universe, we still matter to Him. The psalmist even goes so far to point out that not only do we have significance because God loves us, but that we are significant because He has put us in charge of the creation—the rulers and stewards of all He had created!
Back in Hebrews, however, the writer anticipates the argument that is sure to come. He says that we are in charge of all things—that nothing is left out—but we can’t control the wild animals, the weather, the growth of plants, or any other of a thousand different things, so how can we say that God has given us such a position?
Because of sin, we lost the authority we were given. There will be a day when it will be restored, but that day is not here yet. God still sees each and every one of us in this vast expanse of a universe, and He still cares for us and has a plan for us…but our position of authority is still yet to come. He tells us that we do not yet see all things put under our authority, but we do see Jesus. Because we see Jesus, we know that God will keep His promise. The writer of Hebrews tells us three different ways that we should see Jesus—each of which helps us to see that we matter to God and that He loves us.
Jesus as a Man
The first way he tells us to see Jesus is as a man. Jesus became just like you and me, coming to earth as a human being. Lots of people get confused on this point. Some think that because Jesus was God, His experience was substantially different from ours. These people imagine that Jesus acted like a human being, but He still exercised His powers as God. As a result they say that Jesus’ experience was different (easier) than ours. But Jesus life was not easier than ours. Though He truly was and is God, Jesus chose to live life as a human being—He chose not to exercise His powers as God, and instead allowed himself to be subjected to the same weaknesses and limitations that we are.
Think about what that means for a minute. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus was given a position “a little lower than the angels,” just like we are. For a human being to be made “a little lower than the angels” is a position of honor. We think of angels as being high and lofty creatures, so to think that we are somewhat like they are seems like a great privilege—and it is!
But for Jesus to be made a little lower than the angels is not a privilege. It is a humiliation. Jesus was and is in very nature God. By definition, nothing should be higher than God. For Jesus to allow himself to be subjected to life as a human being is a tremendous insult to His character. The One who spoke the world into existence with a word had to learn how to speak as a child. The One with the power over disease made himself subject to sickness. The Holy One came to live among sinful people. The One who is eternal allowed himself to be killed at the hands of evil men.
When we understand this truth, we surely find ourselves asking why? Why would Jesus subject himself to such humiliation? Doesn’t He deserve better? He does! But because of His love for us, He subjected himself to the same trials and struggles that we face because in doing so, He could provide salvation for those who would trust in Him.
Jesus as Our Perfect Leader
That leads us to the second way the writer of Hebrews tells us to see Jesus, as a pioneer or a perfect leader.
God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. (Hebrews 2:10, NLT)
He describes Jesus as being made the perfect leader because of his suffering. The term we translate as perfect leader is a rich term that carries with it a couple of different ideas—someone who blazes a trail that others may follow and also a champion. In the ancient world, a champion was a soldier who was sent to fight on behalf of his army against another soldier—if he won, so did his army; if he lost, his army did too. This is the idea that the writer has in mind when he calls Jesus our perfect leader. Because Jesus experienced all of the same things that we do, but was without sin, He made it possible for each of us to have salvation through Him.
Look at what it says later in the passage,
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Hebrews 2:14-15, NLT)
Jesus lived and died as a frail and mortal human because it was the only way for Him to set us free from sin and death. Our greatest confidence in life is that we know death is not the end because Jesus died and rose again. We know that because He was able to conquer death for himself, He is able to conquer death for us as well.
I find verse 15 interesting—it says that human beings live as slaves to the fear of dying. Think about just how true this statement is. Apart from Jesus, and the promise of life after death, dying is an incredibly scary proposition. For the person who has no hope of resurrection, nothing good can happen from dying. Either you die and then you cease to exist or you spend eternity in Hell.
There are many people who try to comfort themselves with the belief that this life is all there is. This seems better than having to follow God. The problem is that death still looms like a black cloud over their lives. If this life is all there is, then the idea of this life ending is incredibly depressing. Everything you have worked for will ultimately be lost. There is no real purpose to anything in life. The only hope is that maybe you will be remembered by others. This is why so many people do whatever they can to avoid death, giving everything they have to live just a little longer. Think about the things people do to avoid death: taking extreme medical measures, cryogenics, crazy diets, obsessive exercise regimens, or constantly chasing the latest fad or “research” in order to ensure they stay healthy. People do this because they fear death and they feel like they are in control when they are fighting to keep death at bay. The problem is that death is unavoidable—no matter how much we do every one of us will die.
This is why it is good news that Jesus was our perfect leader. He conquered death once and for all. Jesus himself died, but came back from the dead, and He promises that those who believe in Him will also live even though they die. That means we don’t need to fear that this is all there is. We can live with perspective, knowing that there is more to life than just what we see. Christians still may worry about how they will die, or what will happen to their families after they’re gone. There may even a bit of a fear of the unknown. But we know this, because Jesus has blazed the trail for us, we do not need to be slaves to the fear of death any longer—because He has made it possible for us to live even though we die. He subjected Himself to death in order to give us life.
Jesus as Brother
The third way to see Jesus is as our brother. In verses 11-13, Jesus is described our brother, and we are told He is proud to call us his siblings. Now, if you are familiar with Mormon beliefs, your ears may perk up when you hear Jesus described as being our brother, because you know this is how Mormons describe Him. But it’s important to understand that we mean something very different than the Mormons do.
What Mormons mean is that Jesus was a human being like us and he became a god. They describe Jesus as our brother to indicate that we can do the same thing as him. We too can become gods if we follow the footsteps of Jesus. This is a false teaching, and it is not at all what this passage in Hebrews is saying.
Jesus has always been God. There has never been a time in all of eternity where the Son (Jesus) was not God. But Jesus became like us, a son of man, in order to bring us to salvation. He did not become God—He was God. In the same way, we will not become gods—but we are loved by God.
Here’s what the writer of Hebrews is trying to tell us—we are now part of Jesus’ family. He loves us the same way a brother loves his younger siblings and is proud of them and wants the best for them. Jesus is not ashamed of us, no matter how badly we mess up. He does not look at us like the members of your family you’d rather not claim. Instead he looks on us with love and pride that we are His. I hope you understand that—no matter what you may think about yourself, Jesus loves you and is proud of you. No matter what is in your past, no matter how inadequate you feel, no matter how much you feel like you don’t deserve it, Jesus is proud to call you part of His family!
The writer of Hebrews reminds the beleaguered church that in the midst of their struggles, in the times when they feel they are all alone and have been abandoned to the world, they need only look at Jesus to remember that they are loved and not left alone. The principle that applied to the early church applies to us as well. Rather than falling into the trap of believing the lies that the world tells us about ourselves, we should remind ourselves how Jesus views us. Jason Gray gives us a good picture of how we should view ourselves when we see Jesus: “Forgiven, beloved, hidden in Christ. Made in the image of the Giver of life. Righteous and holy, reborn and remade, accepted and worthy, this is our new name.” This is how Jesus sees us; not as failures but as dearly loved children.
The concluding verses of this passage sum up most everything that came before.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:16-18, NLT)
There are a few concluding points we see from these verses. First, is that we, not angels have been offered salvation through Jesus. Human beings and angels have a lot in common. Both are given a great deal of responsibility. Both have some degree of freedom. Both are created and loved by God. Both humans and angels have been tainted by sinful rebellion. But this passage reminds us that God has given to fallen human beings a gift that was not given to the fallen angels—forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to help human beings, not angels, so though in a sense we are “a little lower than the angels,” in another sense, we hold a position that is much higher—dearly loved children of God.
Second, is that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for us. We say this so often that I fear that it can lose its meaning, but we must constantly remember what Jesus gave up to save us and why he did it.
Every year at VBS I end up having to do some sort of crazy thing. Over the years I have had to: paint my fingernails and wear a dress, get a pie in the face, eat pickled pig’s feet, and kiss a live pig! These things are popular with the kids, and each year it seems like we try to come up with something just a little bit more humiliating than the year before. Now, I’m in charge of VBS, so it seems like I shouldn’t have do this stuff, right? If I have the power to stop it, why do I subject myself to such silly behavior? Because I’m willing to be made a fool of if it will accomplish something greater. The reason I’m willing to do this is that I hope it helps the kids see me as a real person, as someone who cares about them, someone who is approachable and not scary. My hope is that someday down the road, these silly things at VBS will open the door for me to help those same kids, because they will feel comfortable with me.
I realize that this is a huge stretch, because my doing silly things at VBS is nothing like Jesus going to the cross, but there is a similarity. Jesus allowed himself to be subject to humiliation because He knew what it would accomplish. He had every right to demand that He be treated as He deserved, but instead He willingly submitted to this humiliation…all because He loved us and wanted to provide a way for us to be saved. In the times when you feel hopeless remember that there is life beyond the grave—and that the reason you can have it is that Jesus humbled himself because of His love for you.
Third, is that Jesus is still there to help us. This passage reminds us that Jesus experienced the same temptations and struggles that we do, so he understands exactly what we’re going through.
Think about it like this. Most husbands are very supportive of their wives during pregnancy. They know there are all sorts of struggles their wives face…but they can’t fully experience them. Imagine how supportive men would be if they could experience the full measure of pregnancy and childbirth for themselves! In that case, the men would know exactly what their wives needed, because they’d been there before.
That’s how it is with Jesus—He knows what we need because He has been there before. He knows the sting of rejection. He knows all about the frustration of feeling like your work is in vain. He knows the hurt of being misunderstood and attacked for things He didn’t really say or do. If there is anyone who understands what you are going through, it is Jesus. Because Jesus understands your pain, He won’t leave you alone when you face trials. He won’t roll his eyes when you pour out your heart before Him.
When we come to Jesus in the midst of difficult times, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He’s going to make everything better—any more than a husband would stop his wife’s pregnancy—but He gives us the support and strength we need to endure. He is there to help us through life—because He’s been there before.
Hebrews was most likely written to people who were facing untold trials in their lives. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe you feel like you’ve been struggling for so long that you begin to wonder if God has forgotten about you, or if your faith is simply a fairy tale. This passage points us to the Christian “rainy day” folder. It reminds us that the person and life of Jesus Christ clearly demonstrates God’s love for us. Looking at the cross, we see just how much God values you and me. Because of Jesus, we can be sure that God ultimately does have a plan for each of us. He will one day bring an end to our suffering and set things back as they should be. That day has not come, but if we will fix our eyes firmly on Jesus, we can continue to carry on living faithfully until it does.