Merry Christmas. I hope you have a happy new year. I’ve never been sure of what to preach at this particular time of the year – Christmas and New Year’s. It would be easy, I suppose, for me to load a bunch of New Year’s spiritual resolutions on you but that isn’t really Good News to build a life upon. It can come off sounding more like Law than Good News.
We could celebrate, the blessings and challenges of the past year, but that would be somewhat like a Thanksgiving message. So instead, I thought maybe now that the emotional part of the Christmas experience is behind us, why not take one last look at the question we have been focusing upon during the weeks leading up to Christmas: What child is this whose birth we just celebrated?
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has a very insightful and encouraging answer for us today. Like news magazines and television shows that use collages and images to remind people of things that have taken place, the book of Hebrews offers a collage of images to help us understand this child named Jesus. The first picture that jumps out at us is, He’s our brother! Listen to this verse,
“For the one who sanctifies (cleanses from sin) and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”
Jesus is our brother. He became one of us. He is true God, but He’s also true man. He identified Himself with us.
As I look at this verse, I finally understand the third verse of “O Holy Night” when it says,
“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.”
I’ve never been comfortable singing the line of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” that goes, “God our Father, Christ our brother . . .”
Jesus the Son of God, according to this passage in Hebrews, entered our humanity. He became our brother. He partook of our flesh and blood by becoming one of us. He went through everything we go through. He experienced what we experience in life – even such things as pain, hunger, thirst, tears, loneliness, weariness, disappointments, and temptations. He chose to do life His way – His heavenly Father’s way – instead.
Max Lucado wrote a book a few years ago called God Came Near. I like this reflection he used in the book when thinking about Christ’s incarnation:
“The phrase ‘I’ve been there,’ is in the chorus of Christ’s theme song.
To the lonely, Jesus whispers ‘I’ve been there.’
To the discouraged, Christ nods His head and sighs, ‘I’ve been there.’
He entered into every detail of human life.
“Are you poor? Jesus knows how you feel.
Are you at the lowest rung of the social ladder? He understands.
Ever been taken advantage of? Christ says, ‘I’ve been there, too.’
Have you ever felt like you needed to get away from the pressures and demands? Jesus says, “I’ve been there.”
Family tensions? ‘Yes, I’ve been there too.’
Falsely accused? ‘Absolutely!’
The list goes on. ‘I’ve been there,’ Jesus says.
Whatever you are facing, Jesus knows how you feel.”
I find comfort in the thought that Jesus knows how I feel. He has walked a mile in my shoes. He empathizes with us. When I turn to Him, He understands. This passage tells us that He is like an older brother who doesn’t look down on us or tell us to get lost. Instead, He comes to help us.
I’m reminded of a very popular movie from a few years ago entitled “A River Runs Through It.” It’s a true story about two brothers growing up in the beautiful mountains of Montana. The older brother was quiet, studious, and hard-working. He went off to college, got a good job, and was respected in his community. The younger brother was great fun, always in trouble, pushing the envelope on what was acceptable. He had a drinking problem, as well as a gambling problem, and he ended up associating with some guys who got him deeper and deeper into trouble. Finally, he was killed in a back street brawl. His older brother just couldn’t help him; they’d grown too far apart over the years.
It was a tragic story and the most tragic thing about it was this: the older brother saw what was happening to his brother but could do nothing about it. He just couldn’t reach him and rescue him.
The point of this passage in Hebrews is that Jesus, our older brother, could – and did – come to where His siblings were wallowing in the land of sin and death. He came to help us. He identified with us, shared our fate, and rescued us from it.
How did He do it? The next image in Hebrews describes Jesus as the “Pioneer of (our) salvation.” I think of the American pioneers who blazed the way through the wilds of the West for others to follow and then make new homes and new lives in a new place. Or I think of an explorer hacking his way through an unexplored jungle, forging his way through treacherous terrain until he reaches his goal. Once he’s done that, others can follow His path.
That is what Jesus has done. Our pioneer, He has blazed the trail to salvation to lead us to the presence of God. He went through suffering and pain, sin and death, out of love for us when He went to the cross, for we needed to be saved from all those things. Nobody had ever gone to such lengths and come out on the other side. Yet Jesus did, and in so doing He opened the way to God.
A whole new world is here. A world of cleansing and forgiveness awaits those who follow the pioneer, Jesus Christ. And a new eternal life in the presence of God is ours as we go with Him, Jesus.
The next image of Jesus used in this passage describes Him as a liberator. We find battlefield imagery as we see death destroyed by our captain who came to fight for us. His coming was a rescue mission. We needed rescuing. We were captive to the power of sin, death, and the devil. Through Jesus’ own death, Scripture tells us He destroyed the power of death and was victorious over the devil. In His dying and rising, Jesus has taken the sting out of death. It is destroyed. God’s love displayed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus won out over evil.
I like this saying that goes, At the cross Jesus was crucified, but Satan got nailed. Jesus frees those who have been held in slavery by the fear of death all their lives.
I love this little story about an Anglican priest named Joe who lives just outside of London. He tells a wonderful story about a woman and her church. This woman underwent some serious surgery and, because she was elderly, her prospects of recovery were slim at best. Fortunately, however, she survived the surgery. Afterward, as she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the blurred image of a doctor dressed in a typical white doctor’s jacket. She smiled and said, “Hello, God! My name is Mary!” That is the kind of assurance of eternal life we can all have as we place our trust in Jesus Christ.
Some of us have gone through the Christmas experience with an empty chair at the table. A loved one has passed on. This passage in Hebrews is our assurance for them and for us as well as we consider our own mortality. Because Christ lives, we shall live also.
Finally, the last picture used of Jesus is seeing Him as a high priest. “Priest,” in the Latin, means bridge builder. Jesus became like His brothers and sisters, according to this passage, in every respect so He might be a merciful high priest, a bridge builder, in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world. We all are sinners in need of atonement. We need to escape the divine wrath of God. As a high priest who lived the perfect life of obedience as a human, Jesus went to the cross for you and for me to make the perfect sacrifice for our sins and put a bridge between God and ourselves.
What a collage! He is our big brother. He is the pioneer of salvation. He is our liberator who conquered death. He is the high priest who built the bridge of forgiveness for us.
Why does the writer go through this collage of images? We learn the answer in the last verse of the passage where he says, “Because he (Jesus) himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Jesus is our help from heaven.
This last verse seems to be an appeal. I told you all these wonderful things about Jesus, all He went through for you, so you may be certain that He is able to help you as you face the tests of life. The author was writing to people who were being tested by sufferings. They were being tested by discouragement, trials of life, and persecution from the society. The temptation was to give up their faith. The writer wants us to know Jesus is able to help. Help is here – not help was here or help will be here. Help IS here in Jesus Christ.
When you are tempted to give up trusting God and do life your own way, when you think about shrinking back from standing up for Jesus or hanging on to your faith, remember this: He is your help! He is there for you.
We all have times of testing. But Jesus is able to help. As you face the challenges of next year – whatever they may be – Jesus says, You can count on me. I will not leave you orphaned. I am able. Big Brother is here. Help from heaven is here for you and for me.
It’s like the old hymn says,
“Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful?
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Help has arrived. Lean on Him. Trust Him. Big Brother – Jesus – is here for you. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer