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The Humility of the Second Adam

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 13, 1998

Hebrews 2:5-9

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The last time we were together we looked at Hebrews, chapter 2, the first four verses where the application of the first chapter is drawn.  You remember that the first chapter is spent giving us arguments for Jesus’ superiority over the angels.  And we have surmised at least a couple of reasons for that.  It may well be that these people had a view that Jesus was one of many mediators between God and man.  And the author of Hebrews wants to make it clear that Jesus is not merely one of many mediators, He’s not simply another Moses or simply another Moses, but He is the unique and exalted Son of God.  It also may be that these people, like many people in our own day and time, were very interested in angel worship, and they conceived the angels as exalted mediators, and they perhaps saw Jesus on that same sort of level, or lesser somehow than the angels.  And the author of Hebrews wants to make it clear that Jesus is superior to the angels. 

In fact, the argument of the first chapter and of the first four verses of the second chapter is designed to establish Jesus’ superiority over all things.  It’s designed to demonstrate that superiority through showing that He has a more excellent name than the angels, through showing that He has a superior position than the angels.  In fact verses 6 and 7 of chapter 1 say that He was worshipped by angels; that He is the Ruler of the kingdom.  That is, He has the position of God.  Only God is the Ruler of the kingdom as every good Jew knew.  He is co-Creator and co-Eternal with the Father.  And again that’s something that only God does.  Every Jew knew that.  And God never promised to the angels what He promised to Him - to establish the world under His rule.  And so in the first four verses of Hebrews, chapter 2, our responsibility is stressed in that light.  Once we realize who Jesus is, then our responsibility to act accordingly is clear. 

Now Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 5 through 9 continues that same theme.  Christ’s supremacy over the angels and the urgency of our holding fast to Him are both simultaneously stressed.  So I’d like to look at this passage with you today.  Let’s hear God’s word.   

Hebrews 2:5-9

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your word.  We ask that you would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from it today, that you would strengthen our own hearts and lives as we contemplate our Savior.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Now in this passage as we’ve just said Christ’s superiority to the angels and our responsibility to embrace Him and His gospel are both stressed in the passage.  God has subjected the world to come, we are told, to the Lord Jesus.  Christ rules over everything.  Everything has been made subject to Him according to the author of Hebrews, and this is particularly made in connection with Christ’s incarnation.  This rule is connected to Christ’s incarnation.  His taking on human nature, His becoming flesh and blood on our behalf and also His suffering in death.  And I’d like you to see two things in this passage today. 

 I. Man is the crown of creation.

The first thing you will see in Hebrews 2, verses 5 through 8.  That passage, by and large, is a quote from Psalm 8.  And if you were to turn back to Psalm 8 and look at the context, you would see that psalm 8 is a psalm celebrating the fact that though the Lord has made heaven and earth and especially the stars and the heavenly world, and though man is so small in comparison to this huge world that God has made, nevertheless, it is man that is the crown of creation.  If we did not believe in God and we looked out at this massive creation, the only correct inference to draw from the massive creation around us is that we are small and insignificant in the scope of things.  And that’s precisely the kind of inference that people like Carl Sagan have drawn.  Now they have tried to give back some significance through various ways, but you remember Carl Sagan’s famous phrase when he looks at the world, at the universe, he says “The cosmos is all there is, is all there ever was, is all there ever will be.”  And we’re sort of lost in this gigantic machine of which we’re only a tiny part. 

But God’s view of creation is radically different.  It’s different from the very beginning.  When you look at Genesis 1, isn’t it interesting that the biggest things in creation are talked about the least: the sun and the moon and the stars.  The billions and billions of stars that there are out there are given a sentence, a phrase.  And an entire half chapter is given just to the creation of man.  What is the message that God is sending there?  He’s saying, ‘Though I have made massive things in My creation, you are the thing that is the crown of My creation.  You’re the thing that I love the most, that I care about the most.’  That is an incredibly important message in a day and age like ours where unbelief is rife.  Unbelief tears people apart from the inside out whether they know it or not.  You cannot sustain meaningful life in this world thinking that you are simply a tiny cog in a gigantic wheel that doesn’t even know of your existence.  And so Psalm 8 is celebrating that fact that we have learned from Genesis, chapter 1, that though God has made incredibly beautiful and powerful things in His creation, nevertheless, man is the crown of His creation. 

But the author of Hebrews does something really interesting with this passage.  He doesn’t apply it, in the first instance, to man in general; e applies it to the Lord Jesus Christ.  And when you read it, it reads very differently when you read it as referring to, as applying to, the Lord Jesus Christ.  I’d like to look back at this passage with you and ask you, in your mind’s eye, to think about this passage not referring simply to man in general, but to Christ.  “What is man that you remember him?  Or the son of man that you are concerned about Him.  You have made Him for a little while lower than the angels.  You have crowned Him with glory and honor and have appointed Him over the works of your hands.  You have put all things in subjection under His feet.” 

Now the phrase ‘Son of Man’ may well be one of the things that is sparking the author of Hebrews to appeal for this passage, because he could have just as legitimately appealed to Genesis, chapter 1, to establish this particular point.  But at any rate, he stresses that in spite of the dignified status of the angels, the world to come has not been subjected to them, but God has subjected the world to come to the Son of Man.  He has put all things under His subjection or He has subjected all things under His feet.  These phrases are full of meaning.  The phrase “world to come” or “age of the kingdom” may refer either to a present reality or to the future culmination of God’s work, or to both.  But clearly this reminds us that this new order which Christ came to set up is under His control.  God has put Him in charge of it.  He reigns from the right hand and the author stresses that this world to come is not subjected to the angels, and this continues to show Christ’s superiority.  His exalted position is never promised or given to the angels.

Now when you look at Psalm 8 applying to man in general, we are reminded of several important lessons.  We are reminded that in light of the glories of the created order, man may seem to be insignificant, but that nevertheless God has crowned him with glory and with honor and has made him to rule.  He’s put everything under his feet.  And so, man’s status at his original creation was both glory and rule.  But we lost that by the fall.  We lost that by the fall and our nature itself and our work was compromised, and therefore we do not now reign over the world as God originally intended for us to do.  That makes the application of this passage all the more appropriate to the Lord Jesus Christ because He came to do what we did not do, and He came to undo what we had done.  And so all these things that were originally intended for us, but lost by us in the fall, Christ comes to restore, and He fulfills them perfectly.  So there is as it were a double meaning or a double reference of Psalm 8, verses 4 through 6.  On the one hand it originally applies to man in general. 

But the author of Hebrews points out that it’s only  fulfilled in Christ.  We, as human beings, cannot experience the glory and rule spoken of in Psalm 8, apart from a vital, a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  Everything given to the first Adam and compromised by his fall, by his sin, is restored for everyone who has a saving relationship with the second Adam, who is Jesus.  And so everyone who trusts in Jesus receives the restoration of holiness and responsibility, glory and rule.  Those two phrases.  Glory and rule; holiness and responsibility. 

And the author here points out that even though we don’t see Christ’s present reign like we might want to see it, we must not fail to realize that Christ is in fact ruling.  And as we think about that, that means that it makes all the difference in our lives.  If we recognize that in our lives that Christ’s rule is already ongoing, it changes the way we look at life.  We cannot be ultimately pessimistic if Christ is ruling.  We may feel like there are experiences in our lives that contradict His rule.  If He’s ruling and He’s ruling for our good, we might think that things would be relatively smooth.  And yet the author says when we look around, at the end of verse 8, and we don’t see everything yet subjected to Him, don’t think that that means that He’s out of control.  Don’t think that just because you don’t see everything subjected to Him yet, that Christ is not ruling from the right hand.  There’s a reason for that.  The author of Hebrews isn’t going to tell us the reason for that right now, because he’s interested in something else.  But he does want us to remember that even when it looks like Christ is not in control, is not ruling, that we must never, ever, doubt that the second Adam rules, and we rule with Him and in Him and only in Him.  That’s the first thing that we see in this passage.  God made man for rule, but man sinned and lost what God had originally intended for him.  And so man’s rule can only be restored in Jesus Christ and, in fact, is restored for all those who trust in Him.  So these are the implications of God’s subjecting everything under Christ’s rule.  That’s what we see in verses 5 through 8. 

Then the surprising thing that the author of Hebrews wants to think about in this passage is the way that God established Jesus’ rule.  This is what he’s really interested in.  He wants you to see that the way God established Jesus’ rule is the most surprising thing in all the world.  God’s way of victory was the humbling of Jesus.  And here in this passage, for the first time in the book of Hebrews, but not the last, you are going to see a connection between suffering and glory.  And in God’s economy those two things go together and on this side of glory, they cannot be separated.  And so we see this phrase in verse 9: “We do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus.  Because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” 

By the way, Hebrews 2:9 is the first time that the word Jesus is used in the book of Hebrews.  He’s referred to in various titles throughout Hebrews 1:1 through Hebrews 2:8.  But in Hebrews 2:9,  the word ‘Jesus’ is spoken.  Now, how is it that God is going to reverse the effects of the fall?  How is it that God is going to restore our glory and honor?  He’s going to do it through Jesus’ humiliation, His incarnation.  And look at the various steps that are spoken of in verse 9. 

II. Our relationship is restored though the humiliation of Jesus the Son.

First of all for a little while He’s going to be made lower than the angels.  That phrase “for a little while” reminds us that Christ’s incarnation and His state of humiliation was temporary, but it also reminds us that He pre-existed in glory.  It was not that God took a human being and made Him divine.  It was that the divine second person of the trinity took on a human nature so He came from His pre-existent glory and He took on Himself human nature.  Okay, it’s not — ancient heresies taught that Jesus was simply a human being that God’s Spirit took  hold of and divinized.  That’s exactly opposite of the stress of the New Testament which stresses that Christcame.  And so He took on human flesh rather than adopting a human who was already pre-existing and divinizing him.  That’s very important. 

At any rate, the second thing you see is that we are told that “He was for a little while made lower than the angels.”  And that is, He assumed the position of humanity.  And we’re told that He not only was made for a little while lower than the angels, that He also suffered death.  This is listed as the lowest humiliation that He had to undergo.  But it’s very interesting that it’s made clear that that suffering of death is explicitly said to be the reason why He was crowned with glory.  Because of the suffering of death, He was crowned with glory and honor.  And so the connection between Christ’s suffering and His glory, and Christ’s suffering and our glory is made.  And it doesn’t take an Einstein to take one more leap there.  Because if we’re united with Christ, that means that even our suffering, even our suffering is connected to our future glory.  And so that link is made there in the very early verses of Hebrews, and he is going to meditate on this for chapter after chapter after chapter.  In fact he’s going to talk about how Christ learned obedience through that which He suffered when he gets to Hebrews, chapter 5.  And there are going to be many other passages of this same stripe. 

The family crest of the Duncan clan has the Latin motto, Disce Pati. No, it doesn’t mean “disco on.” It means “learn to suffer.”  I think that’s a good motto from the book of Hebrews when we recognize the connection between suffering and death.

And then, of course, the phrase goes on to say that he has suffered death for everyone.  That is, Christ has taken our place, He’s suffered the cost of our sin, in order that those who believe on Him might be freed from the bondage of death.  Francis Schaeffer was fond of saying this: “If Jesus is the answer, then what was the question?”  Now that is exactly what Brian Habig was getting at the other day when he mentioned his third diagnostic question for EE.  If your answer to God when He asks you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” was “Because you trusted in Jesus Christ” and if God said, “So what?” what would you say then?  The third diagnostic question.  What is that getting at?  We are so indoctrinated to say ‘Jesus is the answer’ to any question that’s being asked in the children’s devotional.  We are so indoctrinated to say the right answer when the preacher asks the questions about what we’re trusting in, that it’s important for us to pull back and ask the question, Why is the gospel the way it is?  Why is it that Christ had to die on the cross?  Why is it that I have to trust in Him for salvation?”  And the author of Hebrews is making it very clear for us here.  He tasted death in our place. 

The reason why we have to trust on Him is because we deserve to be condemned to death, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to extract ourselves from that mess.  And, therefore, the only way we can be extracted from that mess is by what He does.  In that sense our salvation is by works.  Not by our works, but by His works.  Our salvation is accomplished by what Jesus does and because it’s accomplished by what He does, we cannot trust in our works at all.  We can only trust in Him because He’s done the only thing that can get us back into fellowship with God.  And so the author of Hebrews is putting that glorious truth in front of us right at the beginning.  And again this makes good sense for His original audience and it makes good sense for us.  It makes good sense for the original audience because they’re thinking, “Hmmm, you know that ceremonial system of righteousness.  We kind of like that.  I think I’ll go back to that.”  And He’s saying, “No.”  And He’ll explain later on that that ceremonial system of law itself was simply pointing forward to Christ.  So after Christ comes why would you go back to the pointer?  If you’ve been longing for your sweetheart, and you’re out on the front lines and you pull her picture out of your pocket every once in a while, and you’ve been reunited at the end of the war, you don’t long to go back to the picture.  You long to hang around and hug her, you know.  The picture is nice, but you’d rather have her.  Okay?  And so he’s going to make that argument later on.  So that’s one reason why that’s a bad idea to go back to the ceremonial law. 

But an even better reason why it’s a bad idea to go back to that is if you’re thinking that going through those ritual motions are going to get you into a relationship and fellowship with God.  They’re not.  His point is, only Jesus who died for you can accomplish that.   And so the author of Hebrews here in Hebrews 2, verses 5 - 9, shows us how Jesus is the one who accomplishes all those things for us that God had originally intended, but which we lost by the fall.  And He reminds us again of the linkage between suffering and glory.  Jesus’ suffering means His glory and ours.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father we thank you for Christ’s redeeming office.  That He’s the appointed heir; that He became superior; that He inherited a name and that He’s now crowned with glory and honor, and we pray oh Lord, that we would trust in Him completely this day, even in what we do for Him in the service of the kingdom.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.

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