Sermon: Christ, Our Prophet, Priest And King: Hebrews 2

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 110

“A Psalm of David. The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.” (Psalm 110, ESV)

Sermon Text: Hebrews 2

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him. And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children 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. 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. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2, ESV)

Introduction

There are many in this world who will give honor to the Jesus of the nativity who want nothing at all to do with the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures and of history.

The world will honor Jesus provided he be confined to the nativity scene.

The world will honor Jesus provided he remain only meek and mild.

Jesus of the nativity seems acceptable to the world – a babe lain in in a lowly manger, born to poor and humble parents, surrounded by poor and humble shepherds – that Jesus the world will have, for that Jesus, if considered only in this way, demands little of us.

And we will have that Jesus too! For we are not ashamed, as some might be, of the lowliness of Christ, for we know that it was by his humiliation and through his suffering that he did accomplish our redemption. Indeed, we rejoice in the fact that he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV).

So we are happy to give honor to the Jesus of the nativity, but we are also happy to bow before the Lord of glory, the Christ of the Holy Scriptures and of history. We give honor to the whole Jesus – Christ, both in his humiliation and in his exultation. For the scriptures reveal that the same Jesus who was lain in the manager is also the one, who before this, “was in the form of God, [and] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself…” (Philippians 2:6-7, ESV). The Jesus of the nativity is also the one who, after his humiliation, was “highly exalted [God having] bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV).

Friends, it is good that we give attention to the nativity of Jesus, but we should not loose sight of his glory. In considering Jesus’ birth we must also remember all that the scriptures have to say concerning the significance of his person and work.

Hebrews chapter 2 is one of those places in Holy Scripture that does help us to understand something of the glory of Jesus Christ.

The book of Hebrews was written to those who were Jewish, who had be raised in Old Covenant Judaism, and had professed faith in Jesus as the Christ. It appears that they were, for one reason or another, tempted to return to the Judaism that they had known from birth. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, therefore, to compel them, not to go back, but to remain true to Jesus as the Christ, for Jesus the Christ is better, and the covenant of which he is the mediator is better covenant than that of the Old, being founded on better promises.

The arguments in the book of Hebrews are many and they are complex, but here in chapter 2 we find Jesus Christ held forth as our great Prophet, Priest, and King. Under the Old Covenant there were many prophets, priests, and kings, but under the New there is one. Christ is the Prophet, the Priest, and the King.

My concern on this Christmas Eve is that, as we direct our minds towards the nativity of Christ, we remember also his glory, so that we might bow humbly before him.

And so let us consider from Hebrews chapter 2 Jesus the Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King.

This theme of Christ in his threefold office is actually found at the very beginning of the letter to the Hebrews. Quoting the commentators Kistemaker and Hendriksen, “In the first chapter, the writer [to the Hebrews] describes the Son as the person through whom God spoke prophetically (1:2), a high priest who ‘provided purification for sins’ (1:3), and the one who in royal splendor ‘sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (1:3).”  The author continues this emphasis in the second chapter by portraying Christ as ‘the Lord’ who as a prophet announces salvation (2:3), the king crowned ‘with glory and honor’ (2:9), and ‘a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God’ (2:17).”

Let us now take each section in sequence.

Christ Our Prophet

It is in verses 1-4 of Hebrews 2 that Jesus is described as our great Prophet.

In verse 1 we read, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1, ESV).

The word “therefore” in verse 1 indicates that the author is here building upon principles that were established beforehand. In particular the author is building upon what was said in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1. The opening words of the letter to the Hebrews are, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but [in contrast to this] in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV).

Under the Old Covenant God communicated to his people through the prophets – prophets like Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. “But”, the writer to the Hebrews says, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” This “Son”, we learn, is the one whom God has appointed as “the heir of all things.” This “Son”, we learn, is the one “through whom [God] created the world.” The revelation that we have received through Jesus Christ, therefore, is far better than the revelations given under then Old Covenant through the prophets. Indeed, the revelation given through Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, was supreme and it was final. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV).

There is a similar principle communicated in John 1, isn’t there? There we read,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… [Verse 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… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1-3, 14–18, ESV)

The principle found both at the beginning of John and of Hebrews is this: Under the Old Covenant God did reveal himself truly through Moses and the prophets, but in Christ and under the New Covenant we have something better. Christ is the eternal Word of God – the Word that was “in the beginning”, the Word that “was with God”, and, indeed, the Word that “was God” – come in the flesh. In Christ we have God incarnate. In Christ we have the Word incarnate. In Christ we have truth incarnate.

This is why I say he is not a prophet, but the Prophet of God. And this is why the writer to the Hebrews says in 2:1, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” In other words, what we have now received in Christ Jesus is so much greater than what was before given, how could we not “pay much closer attention” to it?

In verse 2 we read, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2–3, ESV).

When the writer to the Hebrews talks about “the message declared by angels” he is referring to (quoting Kistemaker and Hendriksen again) “the law that God gave to the Israelites from Mount Sinai. Although the Old Testament in general and Exodus in particular give no indication that God used angels to convey the law to the people of Israel (Exod. 20:1; Deut. 5:22), Stephen in his address before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:35–53) and Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians (3:19) mention the instrumentality of angels. There is, of course, a reference to angels, present at Mount Sinai, in the blessing that Moses pronounced on the Israelites before he died [“He said, ‘The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand’”(Deuteronomy 33:2, ESV).]

It is conceivable that oral tradition preserved this information for Stephen, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews.”

If the law of the Old Covenant which was declared by angels proved to be reliable and true and binding so that those who broke it were justly punished, what will happen to us if we refuse to listen to this message communicated, not by angels, but by the Son himself?

Christ is the Prophet of whom even Moses himself spoke saying to the people of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—” (Deuteronomy 18:15, ESV). Christ is the Prophet. He is the one who has revealed God to us most fully and finally – it is to him that we must listen!

And what did Christ reveal as our Prophet? Among other things, he has revealed to us the way of salvation which is through faith in him. He came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. What will happen to us, reasons the writer to the Hebrews, if we neglect “such a great salvation?”

In verse 3b we read, “It [our salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3–4, ESV).

How did the Hebrews to whom this epistle was addressed come to have this message of salvation?  Was it declared to them by a prophet in their midst? No, this salvation was declared “first by the Lord” Jesus himself. It was, after that, “attested to [them] by those who heard” the message, namely the Apostles of Jesus Christ. And God himself did bear witness to the truthfulness of the Apostles message “by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” There were miracle workers present during the Apostolic age when eyewitness of Jesus’ life and teachings were still alive in order to validate that the message they delivered was true. The “signs and wonder and various miracles” that the eyewitness of Christ preformed functioned as a stamp of approval from God himself that the message they were conveying was true.

You and I, like those to whom the epistle to the Hebrews was addressed, did not have the privilege of hearing the voice of Christ our Prophet directly, but we do have record of his words, attested by those who did hear him, and validated by the signs and miracles that God did work through those eyewitness of Jesus, and o preserved for us in the pages of Holy Scripture. It is this word – the word of Christ the Prophet as declared by his Apostles and preserved in the Holy the Scriptures – that we must pay careful attention.

Christ Our King

It is in verses 5-9 that Jesus is described as our great King. There we read,

“For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:5–9, ESV)

The kingly language is hard to miss.

The writer to the Hebrews is talking about one to whom the world to come has been made subject. A king has subjects. And the writer to the Hebrews is talking about the king of the new heavens and new earth. He remarks that “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come”, but rather it was (quoting from Psalm 8) the “son of man”, whom God did “for a little while” make “lower than the angels” that he crowned “with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Who is this “son of man” who, for a time was made lower than the angels (made human) who, having been crowned with glory and honor, now has everything in subjection to him? In verse 9 the writer to the Hebrews is most clear when he says, “namely Jesus.”

Jesus the Christ is our great King! Everything is now in subjection to him. God has left nothing outside of his control. And, though it is true that “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, we, through the testimony of the Apostles, have seen Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” at his resurrection from the dead and ascension to the Father’s right hand.

How did Christ come to be our victorious and conquering King? We are told at the end of verse 9, “Jesus [was] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, ESV).

It was through the “suffering of death” that Christ did conquer as our great King. It was through suffering – particularly the sufferings of the cross – that Christ did win a the great and decisive victory for all who belong to him. It was there by dying on that cross, and by raising from the tomb on the third day, that Christ defeated Satan, the enemy of God and the people of God, and even death itself, which is the just penalty for sin. Christ faced our most formidable foes on that cross. He went to battle for his people. Just as David (who would become king) confronted Goliath, not only for himself, but for all Israel, so too Jesus the Christ, confronted Satan himself and did taste death itself, not for himself, but for all his people. Failure would mean failure for all. Victory would mean victory for all.

It is because of the victory won by King Jesus that we are able, along with Paul, to say, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39, ESV).

There were very many kings under the Old Covenant, but Christ is better than them all.

Christ is the King that David spoke of in Psalm 110, saying, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.”

Jesus Christ is the supreme King who’s kingdom shall never come to an end that was promised to David by the mouth of Nathan the prophet, who said, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12–13, ESV)

Christ is our great King. He is the King of the new creation. He, after suffering, has been crowned with glory and honor. All things are in subjection to him. Nothing has been left outside of his control.

Christ Our Priest

Lastly, it is in verses 10-18 that Christ is described as our great Priest. There we read,

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children 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. 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. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:10–18, ESV)

There is a great deal that could be said about this beautiful passage, but time will only allow for a few remarks.

Let me simply ask this: Why the incarnation? Why did (quoting our confession) “The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him… when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” Why the incarnation? Why Jesus Christ the God-man?

The answer that is given here in Hebrews 2 is that it required one with a human nature to redeem those who were by nature human.

We are told in verse 10 that the mission of the Christ was to bring “many sons to glory”.

“It was fitting (or right) that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Christ came to save sinners and he did so by sharing in our suffering. This was “fitting” or right.

Christ calls us brothers because he does truly share our nature. We have flesh and blood, and “he himself likewise partook of the same things.”

He truly died as only humans can die so “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.” God cannot die. Angels do not die. Humans die. And Christ dies because he did truly “take upon [himself] man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof.”

Why did the Son of God take upon himself a human nature? So that he might save those who are by nature human. Verse 16: “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, ESV).

Jesus the Christ, the God-man, is our High Priest. He shared in our humanity. He suffered as we suffer. He died, which is something that we humans do. And he died, not for his own sins, for he had none, but for ours. He made “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, ESV). This means that his death atoned for sins. His shed blood covered sins. His death wiped the sins of is people away.

Under the Old Covenant there were many priests, but they themselves could not remove sin. They offered up sacrifices to God on behalf of the people which did symbolize the removal of sin. Those sacrifices did also work to make the people right with God. But Christ, who is the High Priest, offered, not the blood of bulls and goats, but his very own blood. And shed blood did actually atone for the sins of many.

Conclusion

Friends, I’m glad that we do once a year give special attention to the nativity of Christ. It is good that we remember his long awaited arrival and consider the lowly and humble way in which he came. But let also remember his glory. This babe that was lain in the manger was, from birth – more than, from before the foundation of the world – destined to be the Christ, our Savior, our great Prophet, Priest and King. And we do need him.

“In respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of his prophetical office; and in respect of our alienation from God, and imperfection of the best of our services, we need his priestly office to reconcile us and present us acceptable unto God; and in respect to our averseness and utter inability to return to God, and for our rescue and security from our spiritual adversaries, we need his kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, uphold, deliver, and preserve us to his heavenly kingdom.” (London Baptist Confession 8.10)

Let us trust in him, worship him, and serve him in this world.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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