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Jesus: Better and Lower Than The Angels - Part 1

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 20, 1998

Hebrews 2:9-18

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 2.  As we have studied the book of Hebrews together, I find it almost ironic that we come to this passage tonight in light of some of the announcements that we had in our prayer time.  As we have studied this together, we noted in the first two verses of the book, Christ’s superiority was asserted.

Then for the rest of Hebrews 1, that superiority of Christ over the angels, over every other created thing, was demonstrated by a succession of quotations from Old Testament quotations about the nature of the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  And then that truth that Christ is superior was practically applied to our own lives, especially in the first four verses of Hebrews 2, where the significance of Christ’s superiority is brought home in terms of our own responsibility to embrace Him and the gospel of salvation. 

Hebrews 2, beginning in verse 5 all the way to verse 8 continues the theme of Christ’s superiority to the angels; and that passage, that Psalm 8 is quoted where the author of Hebrews reminds us that it is to Christ, it is to the Son, that the world has been subjected in accordance with God’s will.  God created man to rule; but man, because of his fall, lost that ability to have dominion in the world and that dominion is being restored in the work of Jesus Christ.  Then we come to Hebrews 2:9, and in this passage the author is going to stress the reasons why God ordained His exalted Son to suffer death. 

Let’s hear God’s holy word beginning in Hebrews 2:9: 

Hebrew 2:9-18 

“Our Father, we thank You for this word.  It is a rich word beyond description.  It’s a confusing word in the sense in that it is so full of the truth, it’s hard to unpack.  Give us the grace at least to touch in outline the richness of the truth which is taught here.  We ask it all in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

 In this passage, the author of Hebrews combines two things that immediately strike us as opposites.  After spending a chapter and a half proving to you that Jesus is the most exalted being in all of the universe, he is now going to explain to you, not simply the rational, but the necessity that the most exalted Being in the universe should suffer the death of the cross and how Jesus’ glory and suffering are ultimately tied together.  It’s mind boggling to think of those two things tied together — the glorious Christ and the suffering Christ — one and the same.  That theme is going to resonate throughout this passage.  I want to point you to two or three things as we look at it together.

I. Christ has been crowned already with glory, even if we don’t apprehend the evidence for His rule.

First, as we look at verse 9, this passage describes the temporary humiliation of Christ and how that humiliation resulted in His glory, in His being crowned with glory, and, of course, in our good.  And we see in that passage that Christ has been crowned already with glory, even if we don’t see the evidence that He is ruling.

Look at the last sentence in verse 8 so that you can see the logic of the argument.  The author of Hebrews has just finished his exposition of Psalm 8, and in verse 8 he concludes with this sentence: “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.”  Remember his whole argument in those three verses is that Jesus has had the whole world subjected to Him.  He is the ruler that God had given the right to be the sovereign over the world.  And then the author of Hebrews concludes that section by simply observing — now when we look out at the world right now, it doesn’t always look like the world is subjected to Jesus.  He’s not denying Christ’s dominion, he is simply saying that we don’t always perceive that He is in control when we look at the world.  Now that’s very significant, especially since he is going to talk about suffering in just a moment.

When suffering enters into our experience, sometimes that suffering is so intense that it is very difficult to believe that God is in control of the world, especially our world.  And we begin to ask questions, don’t we?  The more intense the suffering often the more clouded our minds are in the experience of that suffering.  But the author says we do not see all things yet subjected to Him and then in verse 9 he says, “But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus.”

Let’s walk through that passage very closely.  The argument here is something like this:  Even though we don’t see the rule of Christ evidenced as we might wish to see it evidenced, yet we do see evidence of His glory even in His suffering.  It is that last phrase that is so mind boggling in this passage.  We see the glory of Christ even in His suffering.

Look at the first part of verse 9, where it is asserted that Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels.  In that passage, Christ’s preexistence and His exalted nature are stressed; and there are several important implications of that phrase “He was made for a little while lower than the angels.”  First, that verse assumes that Christ existed before His incarnation.”  Christ was already in existence prior to coming into the world, prior to being in flesh.  That’s very important to remember.  That is part of the platform in which we recognize the deity of Christ.  He was not a man who became divine; He was not a created man who partook of the Holy Spirit in great measure and therefore became God.  He was already existent before He came into the world. 

Isn’t it interesting that over and over in church history, there have been people who discounted the deity of Christ and who explained Him as a man who knew God so well that He almost became sort of divine.  That’s how Jesus is described by liberals of various stripes today and that’s not new.  Isn’t it interesting that that’s an entirely different picture that is painted by the author of Hebrews?  He already existed and He came into the world.  He already was, but He was made for a little while a little lower than the angels.

The second thing we see in that little phrase is that it assumes that He was already previously existent in an exalted position.  He had to be made lower.  When you start out at a company sweeping floors, you don’t have to be made lower — you are just starting out.  But if you have been the company’s Chairman of the Board’s (CEO) and then you go to sweeping floors, you have to be made lower to engage in that position.  Jesus, Himself, had already had an exalted position — the second person of the Trinity, the very Son of God, God of God, Light of Lights.  When He enters into this humiliation, it is an entirely different state and experience for Him.

Isn’t it amazing, in that little phrase, “He was made a little lower than the angels” that both of those truths are emphasized — His preexistence and His previously being exalted.  But there is something else we find in there and that is the emphasis that this humiliation He underwent was temporary.  His humiliation was temporary.  He was made for a little while lower than the angels.  That is important, again, for His deity, because it would be possible to look at Jesus in His incarnate state (He was humbled and suffering) and miss the clear testimony to His deity.  It would also be possible to look at “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” in His incarnate state and forget that He is the one who Daniel saw in Daniel 7 and 9, approaching the Ancient of Days and leaving the right hand of God the Father to come on clouds with glory and power to judge the world.  You see, it is important to remember that “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” is coming again and when He comes again, He comes to judge.  He first came to save, to redeem, to bind up the broken-hearted; when He comes again, He comes to judge.  For all those reasons, this verse is packed with spiritual truth for us.

Notice it goes on — “Him who was made lower than the angels, namely, Jesus.”  We said last week this is the first time that the name of the Son is given in the whole book.  We have been referring to the Son constantly as the “Son” from the first time that He was identified in Hebrews 1.  Now, Jesus is named; and when He is named, it is the name “Jesus” which is used.  That is very important because as we see Jesus named, we see the mention of His human name.  Hebrews 2:9 is the first mention of Jesus’ name in the book; it is significant that that human name is used because after all the talk of His exalted state in Hebrews 1:1 through Hebrews 2:8, we might have expected a more exalted title to be used.  He might have been referred to as the “Word of God.”  He might have been referred to as “The Messiah, the Son of God.”  But He is referred to as His human name, Jesus; and that again shows how Christ combines opposites.  He is glorified and exalted and yet He is humbled and He takes on our humanity.  The whole passage revels in the opposites — glory and suffering, divinity and humanity.

Let me mention one other thing about this passage.  Isn’t it interesting that it said that ‘we don’t see all things subjected to Him, but we do see Jesus crowned with glory because of suffering’?  There the linkage between suffering and glory is made.  The glory of suffering and the suffering that leads to glory are both being spoken of there.   Isn’t it interesting that in John 12:23, Jesus is on one of numerous occasions announcing the fact that He is about to suffer the trial of the cross.  Look at the phrase that He uses in John 12:23:  “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.”  The cross being spoken of by Christ as the hour of His glory.  Now the author of Hebrews caught Jesus’ words perfectly there, because he combines His suffering and His glory.  So that there is glory revealed even in Jesus’ suffering and Jesus’ suffering leads to His being crowned with glory in the ascension. 

Notice again in verse 9 that the suffering of death leads to Christ being crowned with glory.  Because of the suffering of death, Jesus was crowned with glory and honor.  In other words, there is a causal relationship between Jesus’ suffering and death.  His exaltation, after His suffering, was reward for obedience.  It is not just that He is exalted to the same exalted status that He had before.  He is hyper-exalted, because He has accomplished something on behalf of His people that had never been accomplished before.  So He is more than exalted.  He is super-exalted as He comes through the experience of suffering and death.

Notice again, in verse 9 it is stressed that His death was a necessary part of His saving work:  “Because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, by the grace of God He might taste death for every one.”  Christ’s death is experienced for our benefit.  It is a necessary part of His saving work.  As His humanity is indissolubly bonded to our humanity, our redemption is sure.  We now share a common destiny with Him; because He died on our behalf; because we have believed on Him in His death.  Because we have believed on Him, Christ crucified, our destinies are now intertwined.  The glory which He now experiences is the glory which awaits us.  That is the hope of the believer.  That our destiny is tied up with the Lord Jesus. 

Now there are so many applications of this truth that it is hard to begin to enumerate them.  Let me remind you of a couple of things.  Surely this passage reminds us again that the way of glory is the way of the cross.  There is no way to that glory, which is held for us in the future, apart from suffering.  That’s why Paul could say, “to you it has been granted, not only to believe, but to share in the fellowship of His sufferings.”  That’s why Paul could revel in the fact that he had the privilege of sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.  He even uses mind-boggling language like “I’m making up that which is lacking in Christ’s sufferings,” because the way that God had ordained to bring all His adopted sons and daughters to glory, the same way that He chose to bring His own divine original Son to glory and that is through suffering. 

That ought to tell us again that teachings like the ‘victorious life’ that says once you become a Christian you have complete triumph over sin and over suffering, and the ‘health-and-wealth gospel’ that says that if you really have enough faith you won’t have any problems and if you have any problems it’s not because that is the way God has made the Christian to grow in the fallen world, but it is because you don’t have enough faith and if you just had enough faith, you wouldn’t have that problem, are totally against the teaching of the book of Hebrews.   And, of course, are against the whole of the New Testament which stresses that the way that God brings us to the glory which He has for us is through that whole process of the experience of suffering in this fallen world.  That ought to change the way we approach suffering.  It’s one reason why, whether we are in the hospital or home ill or experiencing difficulty on the job or whatever trial we are undergoing, that we ought to look in that trial for the message of grace which God wants us to learn and receive.  God wastes nothing in your experience.  Recognize that.  When you were united to Christ, you and your sufferings were redeemed; and, therefore, there are no wasted sufferings in your experience. 

Now I say that not to minimize your suffering.  It doesn’t make your suffering any less painful. That is not my point; that is the opposite of my point.  But your pain is not wasted.  You see, an unbeliever can’t say that.  Those who are not in Christ, those who do not believe on Him, those who do not trust in Him, their pain, their suffering, it is wasted.  It is meaningless.  It does nothing of benefit for them.  The believer’s suffering, however, is meaningful. 

Let me also remind you, as we look at this passage which describes Jesus going from this exalted state to this humiliated state of suffering and death, and then back to this state of hyper-exaltation, we are reminded that our salvation is by the obedience of Christ.  Notice in this passage that we are told that God crowned Christ because of His suffering and death.  In other words, Christ’s faithful obedience merited God crowning Him with glory.  And crowning Christ with glory is not an act of grace, it is an act of justice.  It is only right that the Heavenly Father crowned Christ with glory and honor.  Now, it’s an act of grace that we would benefit from that work, but it is not an act of grace that Christ benefited from that work.  And, my friends, that makes your salvation secure.  Because if God must, in order to be just, crown His son with glory and honor, and if Christ must receive the inheritance promised to Him by God the Father because He has fulfilled the stipulations of the covenant of redemption, and if you have trusted on Jesus Christ for salvation, then it is just that God saved you.  Do you understand that?  It is not just God’s mercy; it is just that God saves you.  That is the beauty of the covenant; because our salvation is not only merciful, it is just.  And that makes our salvation secure; it is not a divine whim.  It’s something which is based on the very justice of God. 

Look how over and over in the Book of Hebrews, Christ’s obedience and the results of that obedience are catalogued.  In verse 2, He is appointed heir.  In Hebrews 1:4, He became superior because of His work.  In verse 4 again, He inherited a name.  In Hebrews 2:9, He is crowned with glory and honor.  Each of those is linked to His work.  Because of what He did, He received those things.  He earned these privileges.  That is why it is wrong for people to talk about earning salvation themselves.  Not because it is inherently impossible to receive blessing from the Lord because of obedience, but because (a) we are fallen and sinful and we never fully obey and (b) Christ has done it on our behalf.  And so, for us to suggest that we ought to be accepted by God because we have obeyed is suggesting that Christ was unnecessary.  That is nothing which God the Father will hear.  He would not have given His son over to suffering and death if it were not necessary.  And so it is offensive for you and me to say, “Well, Lord, I don’t need Jesus.  I’m going to be good.  You’ll accept me because of that.”  That’s saying in as many words, “You didn’t need to send Your Son, Jesus.  I can handle this myself.”  God wouldn’t have delivered His son over to suffering and death if it were not absolutely necessary.  And, that by the way, is one of the themes in this passage. 

I’m going to stop right there and we will come back and look at verses 10 through 18 next time, remembering that Christ’s experience of suffering as our Mediator is going to show us the link that always exists in the Christian life between suffering and glory.  That’s so important.  Not so that we can belittle the struggles that our brothers and sisters go through.  It’s not so that you can say, “Well, I know that you have lost a child, but you know it’s really not that bad because that’s part of God’s glorious plan.”  That’s not the point.  Or it’s not to say, “Well, I know you have lost your job, but it’s not really that bad because this is all a part of God’s wonderful plan.”  That’s not the point.  The point is there are visitations of God’s glory to us in our suffering that we never get anywhere else.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see God in His glory and the glory which awaits for you in those moments of suffering.  That is not to belittle the suffering.  It is to recognize that there are visitations of God’s love that we have, that if we miss, we miss out on the great blessing of what we’re experiencing with Him, even in suffering.

Let’s look to Him in prayer.

“Our Father, all these are hard things to get our heads around and yet they are a part of the truth of Your word.   You mean them.  These truths for our edification.  Teach us by Your Spirit to understand them.  Help us to hang onto to these truths when our minds are clouded because of the pain which we undergo, whether that pain is due simply to the fact that we live in a fallen world or whether we are actually being persecuted because we love You.  We ask, O Lord, in all these losses and crosses that You would reveal Yourself to us and that we might love You above all else as our highest good and aim.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

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