Text: Hebrews 2:14-18
Introduction: Had you picked up a daily newspaper in 1809, you would have read the big news that Napoleon I, emperor of France, had conquered Austria at Wagram, annexed the Illyrian Provinces, and abolished the Papal States. However, in that same year, in France … Louis Braille, who devised a way for the blind to read, was born. And in Germany … Felix Mendelssohn, the great composer of symphonies, was born. And in England … William Gladstone, the four-time Prime Minister and the father of public education, was born. Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of Great Britain, was born. Charles Darwin, the most influential scientist of the nineteenth century, was born. And in America … Edgar Allen Poe, the master poet and storyteller, was born. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the writer and physician who developed surgical techniques still in use today, was born. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, and the President who brought freedom to all Americans, was born. But at the end of the year 1809, the only event anyone thought to be important was Napoleon’s conquest of Austria. That was the big news. Today, who remembers what the press determined was the “big news” of 1809? Hardly anyone. Napoleon’s conquest is just a tiny blip on the big screen of history. But the world was changed forever by a few seemingly insignificant births that took place that same year.
Do you know that the year Jesus was born, most people missed it too? Only a few were there to celebrate His arrival in a manger in Bethlehem. Barely visible and hardly noticeable, and yet, this great event makes a huge difference in the lives of people. God became a man! We call it the incarnation. It is the act of God the Son whereby He takes on human flesh (John 1:14 — And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth). Why is it important? The incarnation of God is what makes the salvation of men possible! Listen to these words from Hebrews 2:14-15 — Since therefore the children (all of us) 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 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Since the fall of man, people have feared one thing more than any other … death. We’ll do most anything to try to avoid it. Yet so far, as best as I can tell, the death rate hovers right at 100% with only a couple of exceptions found in the Bible (Enoch/Hebrews 11:5 and Elijah/2 Kings 2:11). But when Jesus came into the world, God’s plan for delivering mankind from the fear of death and the one who lorded it over mankind, the devil, was set in motion. That’s why this teaching is so essential to our faith. If Jesus had never become a man, we would still be living as slaves to our greatest fear. But we’re not because it all happened just the way the Scriptures say it did with God making us the benefactors of His grace, mercy and love in Christ Jesus.
A week ago we began a new series called “Why Jesus?” I chose this topic because it’s my belief, and I think you would agree, that people deserve an explanation as to why a little less than a third of the population of the world (2.2 billion) choose to call Jesus Savior and Lord. What is it that makes Him so special that we would choose to live for Him and, if necessary, even die for Him? In the first message, we looked at Jesus as the Son of God. We saw that who God is, Jesus is (the self-existent one who always has been and always will be). And what God does, Jesus does (He creates, reveals and delivers). Because He is God’s Son with all the same characteristics, we have an obligation to hear and obey Him. Now today, I want to look at what God’s Word has to say about the humanity of Jesus and why that matters to us as well.
JESUS WAS FULLY HUMAN. According to the website, www.thoughtco.com. there are eleven traits that separate human beings from the rest of creation. These include the voicebox, the shoulder, the hand and opposable thumbs, naked hairless skin, the ability to stand upright, the blushing response, our brain, our mind, religion and awareness of death, the fact that we are storytelling animals and certain biochemical factors. While these are interesting, when it comes to the incarnation of the Son of God, the Bible looks at it in this way.
- Jesus had a human birth. What do I mean? He came into the world the way all of us did. He travelled through the birth canal of His mother and came out as a newborn infant. No different than you or me. Now it’s true that Christians believe Jesus was not conceived in the normal way because that’s what the Bible teaches. Before Joseph and Mary were married, before they were ever intimate with one another, while Mary was still a virgin, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. This miraculous means of conception was announced by the angel Gabriel to Mary — Luke 1:31-32, 34-35 — Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High … And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. Jesus did not have a human father. Instead, God by miraculous means placed the seed inside of Mary that would eventually develop into the Christ-child. This is important because it explains how God rescued us from the power of sin and death. What no man could do because of our own inherited sin (for all have sinned — Romans 3:23; the wages of sin is death — Romans 6:23), Jesus was able to do. In Him, God united full deity with full humanity so that He was sinless when He came into the world. That’s what Gabriel meant when he said, “Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.” This allowed Him to die for our sins rather than any of His own.
- Jesus had a human body. He grew from an infant to a child and eventually into adulthood. He thirsted and hungered the same as any of us. Sometimes He became tired and required rest (Matthew 4:11). He felt pain just as we would when He was flogged and crucified. His body even died just as ours will at some point. Jesus had a real physical body that could be seen and touched. He was not just a spirit that appeared and disappeared to people. Even after He was raised from the dead, His resurrection body was still made of flesh and bone. He could still eat food and He even invited some people to touch Him to see that He was not a ghost.
- Jesus had a human mind. The Bible tells us that He increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52 — And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man). He went through a continual educational process just like the rest of us do. He had to learn to crawl, then walk. He learned how to talk, how to read and how to write. He learned obedience just as any child does who has parents that care. He even learned to obey His Father in heaven (Hebrews 5:8 — Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered). This isn’t to say that there was a point where Jesus was disobedient. It simply means that every time He encountered personal suffering, Jesus obeyed, deepening His resolve to always do His Father’s will. In summary, He participated in the ordinary learning process just as all of us have, reflecting the fact that He was fully human.
- Jesus had a human soul and emotions. He mentioned His soul in John 12:27 — Now is my soul troubled. Just before Jesus was arrested He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” — Matthew 26:38. So great was His sorrow and suffering that, if it were to increase, His soul would leave His body. Jesus marveled at some people, like the Roman centurion who demonstrated more faith than anyone in Israel. He shed tears when people lacked faith and at other times He had joy — John 15:11 — I have told you this so that my joy may be in you. Illustration — Jesus was as much of a human being as any of us. He came into the world the same way. He had a human body, human mind and human soul and emotions. Seven years ago, a New York Times article stated that the U.S. government had been grappling with a difficult question: what is the value of a human life? Or to be more precise, these government agencies were trying to find what’s called “the statistical value of life.” Their answer would influence how much we as a society (especially businesses) should spend to prevent a single death. The S. government’s Office of Management and Budget had already told the agencies that they should pick a number between $1 million and $10 million, although it also warned that any figure under $5 million would be too low. So the following agencies offered their price tags on the worth of one human life: (1) The Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a life at $9.1 million; (2) The Food and Drug Administration declared that a life is worth $7.9 million (up from the $5 million of 2008); (3) The Transportation Department has determined that one life is worth $6 million. That’s not too shabby for you and me, but how do you put a value to the body of Jesus? I’m not really sure you can given that He is the Son of God who became a living, breathing person. As one theologian put it: Remaining what He was (God), He became what He was not (a man). There’s no way to put a dollar value to that!
JESUS CAME FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE. He came to reverse the effects of the fall. This is what is written in 1 John 3:8 — The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. And it all started with His obedience.
- He came to do His Father’s will. As a human being, Jesus represented all humans when He obeyed His Father, something that our first parents, Adam and Eve, failed to do. They disobeyed and ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s when sin in all of its ugliness entered our world and corrupted virtually everything. But Jesus never faltered even once. This is important because of what the Bible says in Romans 5:18-19 — Therefore, as one trespass (of Adam and Eve) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Jesus had to be a man in order to represent us and obey in our place. The moment we put our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord we exchange our sin and condemnation for His obedience and righteousness.
- He came to mediate between God and man. Every time we sin, we thumb our noses at God and declare that we want to be lord of our own lives. This puts us in the awful place of being enemies of God (Romans 5:8). If we’re ever going to be reconciled to Him, we need someone to come between God and ourselves and bring us back. This is what Jesus does when He acts in the role of a mediator who represents us to God and God to us (1 Timothy 2:5 — For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus). Jesus is the only One who can represent both because He is the Son of God and a human being.
- He came to die as a substitute for our sin. If Jesus was not a man, He could not have died in our place and paid the penalty for our sin. That’s what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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” — Hebrews 2:16-17. Jesus had to become a man, not an angel, because He came to save men, not angels. But to do this, He had to be like us in every way. In Ancient Israel, the High Priest ministered on behalf of the people to God. Jesus became our faithful High Priest when He offered Himself on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God aimed at our sin and rebellion.
- He came to be our example and pattern in life. Jesus talked about the value of human beings a lot. Listen to His words: Matthew 12:11-12 — Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! Again in Matthew 6:26 — Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Obviously, His view of people rubbed off on His followers to the extent that they experienced a compassion makeover. Because He cared for the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised (people like women, children, slaves and the downtrodden who lived on the fringes of acceptable society), Christians, too, have adopted similar priorities. You may not know this but believers are credited with inspiring the establishment of the nursing profession and places to care for the sick (the precursors to hospitals). They were the ones responsible for the abolition of slavery. They pressed for prison reform so that inmates received better care. Because Jesus elevated the status of children, Christians started orphanages to house those who had no parents and schools to educate them. Even here in America, most every Ivy League University was started as a training center for pastors and missionaries. During Jesus’ three years of public ministry, His priorities became apparent for all to see. When He ascended to heaven, His followers turned their attention to the needy.
- He came to help us overcome temptations (Hebrews 2:18 — … because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted). If Jesus had not been fully human, He would not have known what it was like to be tempted to do evil. Remember when He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil? That’s why our Lord can understand better than any of us just how strong a particular temptation to sin can be. After Jesus had fasted from food and water for forty days, Satan said to Him, “If you’re the Son of God, command these stones to be turned into bread.” And again when they were standing on the pinnacle of the temple, the devil challenged Jesus, “If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself down for it is written — He will command His angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.” A third time, Satan took Jesus to a high mountain for a final temptation — “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” In each case, the enemy was seeking to get Jesus to take a shortcut to accomplishing the will of God, but He refused to give in. Some people argue that the Lord did not feel temptation as strongly as us, but that doesn’t align itself with the facts. Think about it. Which is harder to do? To continually resist a certain temptation and never give in or to be tempted for a while and then give up the fight and sin? Jesus never sinned and demonstrates that we don’t have to give in to sin either.
Conclusion: I hope you can see that the incarnation (the act whereby Jesus became a real human being) is very important to Christians. If Christ had not become a man, we would still be trapped in our sin. James Edwards, in his book Is Jesus the Only Savior, tells this true story to illustrate our need for the incarnation of Christ. In August 1957 four climbers—two Italians and two Germans—were climbing the 6,000 foot near-vertical North Face in the Swiss Alps. The two German climbers disappeared and were never heard from again. The two Italian climbers, exhausted and dying, were stuck on two narrow ledges a thousand feet below the summit. The Swiss Alpine Club forbade rescue attempts in this area (it was just too dangerous), but a small group of Swiss climbers decided to launch a private rescue effort to save the Italians. So they carefully lowered a climber named Alfred Hellepart down the 6,000 foot North Face. They suspended him on a cable a fraction of an inch thick as they lowered him into the abyss. Here’s how Hellepart described the rescue in his own words: As I was lowered down the summit … my comrades on top grew further and further distant, until they disappeared from sight. At this moment I felt an indescribable aloneness. Then for the first time I peered down the abyss of the North Face of the Eiger. The terror of the sight robbed me of breath. …The brooding blackness of the Face, falling away in almost endless expanse beneath me, made me look with awful longing to the thin cable disappearing about me in the mist. I was a tiny human being dangling in space between heaven and hell. The sole relief from terror was …my mission to save the climber below. That is the heart of the Gospel story. We were trapped, but in the person and presence of Jesus, God lowered himself into the abyss of our sin and suffering. In Jesus God became “a tiny human being dangling between heaven and hell.” He did it to save the people trapped below—you and me. Thus, the gospel is much more radical than just another religion telling us how to be good in our own power. It tells us the story of God’s risky, costly, sacrificial rescue effort on our behalf.