A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He made a sign advertising the pups and posted it in his yard. Shortly after, a boy showed up in response to the sign. “Mister,” he said, “I want to buy one of your puppies.” “Well,” said the farmer, “these puppies cost a good deal of money.” The boy reached deep into his pocket, pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. “I’ve got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?” “Sure,” said the farmer.
The farmer whistled and called, “Here Dolly!” Dolly ran out of the doghouse, followed by four little pups. The little boy’s eyes danced with delight. As the dogs approached, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little pup appeared, but this one was considerably smaller. The little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up.
“I want that one,” the little boy said, pointing to the runt. The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would.” The little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down and rolled up one leg of his pants, revealing a steel brace. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, “Mister, I don’t run too well myself, and that puppy needs someone who understands.”
Once the hoopla and confusion of Christmas fades and the wonder of Christ’s birth fades, Christians consider the harder questions that arise from the Incarnation-questions such as “Why did God have to come to us in this way?” and “Was it necessary for Christ to suffer during His life and especially in His death?” The short answer is that Jesus came not only to show God’s love and presence with us, but He also came to bear our mortality so that He could die to save us from our sins. God is revealed in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the irony of the Incarnation-that God is revealed only in human vulnerability.
As a baby, Jesus was born to a teenage girl whose heart agonized at the oppression of her people. He drank the milk of her breasts while her innermost being throbbed with a passion for liberty. As a lad, He walked streets that were occupied by foreign troops. Swaggering or standing spread-legged in haughty arrogance, with weapons slung over their shoulders, they reflected their ruthless authority in their cold looks. As a teenager, Jesus knew the frustration of having parents who did not understand His radical calling. As a young businessman, He understood the difficulty of meeting payroll and dealing with adamant customers who demanded unreasonable service. He periodically heard the belligerent knock of the tax collector on His door demanding exorbitant taxes for a foreign oppressor. As a leader of a new movement, He was pained by the slowness of His disciples to grasp the true meaning of God’s kingdom and His servant identity. He felt the rising tide of hostility from the religious establishment and recognized the tightening vise of political power that was determined to squeeze all the breath out of His new movement. He seethed at the corruption of an illegal trial. He knew the stinging pain of the lash and the thong, the exhaustion of carrying a heavy cross, the cruelty of the soldiers pounding nails through His hands and feet. As He hung on the cross for hours, His bones began to pull from their sockets; His mouth was parched with the loss of blood and relentless heat. He experienced the alienating weight of the world’s sin, the yawning chasm growing between Him and His Father. He quietly watched the shades of death pull over His eyes until finally He gasped His last breath and gave over His life to God in a final act of submission. Then His limp and lifeless form was laid in a borrowed tomb.
Yes, in the midst of all of this He was truly one of us. Never again can we cry out in the midst of discouragement, opposition, or pain, “But God, you who are secure in Your heavenly sanctuary with all Your massive resources, what do You know of our human struggles? What do you know about living down here in the stench of human decay? Amidst all your power and glory, you have no idea of the powerlessness and helplessness of our human experience!”
On the contrary, Jesus does know how powerless and helpless we are. Jesus was and is our great High Priest. The first high priestly qualification of being identified with us comes through sufferings. There was no escape for Jesus. He had to be our brother in full identification with our feelings and our pain. He had to take on human flesh not only to become the sacrifice for our sins, but also so that He could experience what it is like to be one of us. He did not judge our human weaknesses. He felt them in His own human flesh.
Jesus has been there. He was angry enough to chase the moneychangers from the temple. He was hungry enough to eat raw grain, upset enough to weep in public, fun loving enough to be called a drunkard, winsome enough to attract kids, weary enough to sleep in a storm-tossed boat, poor enough to sleep on dirt floors and borrow a coin for a sermon illustration, radical enough to get kicked out of town, responsible enough to care for His mother, tempted enough to know the smell of Satan, and fearful enough to sweat blood.
Why would heaven’s finest Son endure earth’s toughest pain? So we would know that He is able to help us when we are tempted. Most of us can remember a time when a good friend or a loved one empathized with us during a difficult situation. “I know how you feel. I’ve been there. I get what you’re going through, and it’s going to be okay.” These words give us comfort and solace. They make us feel less alone and they offer hope for recovery and healing. This passage from the Letter to the Hebrews remind us that Jesus is that friend. He faced temptation when He spent 40 days alone in the desert. He suffered sorrow, pain, grief, and even fear. Jesus gets it. Because He gets it, and because He knows what suffering feels like, He offers us real comfort, reassurance and hope.
Union with God-which was shattered by the sin of the first Adam-could not be restored without suffering. The sufferings of Jesus the Captain of salvation were fitting because they completed the work of bringing many people to glory.
Believers are declared holy at the moment of salvation, but God also progressively sanctifies them through the Holy Spirt as they grow in their faith. Although Christians participate in this process of sanctification by reading and obeying the Bible, ultimately they increase in holiness through the work of God.
Before His crucifixion, Jesus called His followers “disciples” or “friends” but never brethren. The cross changed all of that. When Jesus saw Mary on the day of His resurrection, he told her to go and tell the brethren. By using this term Jesus showed His willingness to identify with people in their humanity and suffering. He challenges believers to consider who they are: members of God’s family.
We inhabit flesh and blood, so we are subject to death. Death was not part of God’s original plan for humanity. God wanted to save us from death, so He destroyed the power of the devil, who used death to frighten us. God was like a fireman who runs into a burning building to save people who are trapped.
When someone has a more powerful weapon than their enemy, the enemy’s weapon becomes useless. Satan’s weapon was the power of death, and it was destroyed with God’s weapon of eternal life through Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Jesus came to earth to die. By dying, He conquered death in His resurrection. He rendered Satan powerless against everyone who is saved. We don’t have to fear death because Jesus broke the power of death over our lives.
Theologian Charles Ryrie defined the word propitiation as “the turning away of wrath by an offering.” Christ’s sacrificial death in our place turned away God’s righteous anger toward our sin, satisfying His holy requirements. Propitiation has two parts:
- It makes guilty sinners favourable before God by satisfying the wrath of the offended party.
- It leads to reconciliation.
Both were accomplished through Christ’s death.
We have to build our faith and confidence in God’s ability to protect and deliver us before we are faced with a difficult situation. Then when we are in danger we can fight the good fight and win. Jesus walks beside us to give us strength, courage and hope.
- Evans, L.H. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 70-80)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1691-1692)
- Vikki Burke, “Become Fearless.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- David McCasland, “He Walked in Our Shoes.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “Rescued Through the Flames.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Allister Begg, “Come to Your Tempted Savior.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Jim Liebelt, “Someone Who Understands.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Mary Luti, “A Sibling Empathy.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Micah Jackson, “Commentary on Hebrews 2:10-18.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary+id=3129
- The Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, “Light Overcoming Darkness.” Retrieved from http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2013/12/light-overcoming-darkness.html