February 4, 2018
The world is a mess. Our country is a mess. I would be hard-pressed to name a time of more political animosity and unrest in our nation’s history. Starting at the top – the President gave his State of the Union address on Tuesday. As is normal, one side of the aisle clapped, the other side sat on their hands – but, much more than usual. Their expressions of contempt were startling. Divisions are deep and acrimonious. Accusations are flying from every quarter, leaving we, the people of these United States, scratching our heads, unsure of who or what to believe. You can go to CNN and Fox News – reporting on the same story – as if the facts are polar opposites.
So how do we define the primary problem of this country, of this world, and what is the solution? It seems to me if we’re going to fix anything, we all have to agree on the fundamental problem. So what is it? Is the problem, as some suggest, that people are ignorant? Is it that people are basically good, and the solution to our collective problem is simply education?
Or, is the problem that people have had bad childhood experiences, and that dysfunctional environments have ruined otherwise healthy and good people? If that is the case, perhaps some social reengineering is the appropriate solution to our collective challenge. Lift people out of their polluted environments, and they’ll be fine.
Or again, is poverty the problem? Is it because so many people’s basic needs are not being met, they never have a chance to become productive citizens, developing skills and behaviors that are good for society? If that’s the case, then surely a redistribution of wealth is the solution – only, socialism has never really worked in any society. Is it racism, bigotry, prejudice, intolerance? Maybe it’s a certain gender, or is it religion?
Again, it’s not just our country, the world is a mess. If the problems identified and solutions offered have not made a difference, as our world and our country spiral out of control, is there a deeper, common, human problem? Well, this is church, and I suppose most of us know the answer to that question.
Our collective, common, human problem started way back in the Garden of Eden. Having created the heavens and earth, on the sixth day, God created man – a man named Adam. He placed Adam in the Garden, giving him the responsibility to tend the garden. We read these familiar words in Genesis 1:26-28:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. [We know that after God created Adam, He created Eve from a rib He had taken from Adam – both equally created in the image of God.] 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
That’s great. Everything was good – wonderful in fact. Now, when God placed them in the Garden, He told them they could eat anything they wanted – except, right in the middle of the Garden, He placed a certain tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can eat of any tree, but that one. In fact, the day you eat the fruit from that tree is the day you die. Well, most of you know the story sadly progresses. In Genesis 3, we read:
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”
4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!
5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Their actions plunged this world into sinful rebellion and brokenness, such that, to this day, the world is a mess. In fact, our dominion over the world was also ruined. Oh, it’s still there, but broken – we can’t rule over the world when we can’t even rule ourselves. Now, sometime later, King David wrote in Psalm 8:
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
4 What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Does that sound familiar? It should – it’s right out of Genesis 1. One day, probably when gazing up into the night sky, as David considered the vastness and magnificence of the universe, remembering Genesis 1, he penned these words. He was overwhelmed that God would create all his eyes could see, and make little, insignificant man special – to rule over all the works of God’s hand. But, does it seem like we are ruling well over the works of God’s hand, when we can’t even rule ourselves? We can’t – because our problem – the common, universal problem is sin. So then, what is the solution to our problem? I will tell you this – the solution is not to be found within – since the problem is us. It is not to be found in better education, social engineering, or solving the issues of poverty and prejudice. It’s a pipe dream, because even the best people you know are miserable, dirty rotten sinners.
The author of Hebrews addresses this very problem and offers the solution in our continuing study of the book – chapter 2:5-9. Read it with me.
This is a magnificent passage of great hope. Yes, the world is a mess, but there is a solution to our problem. The author is continuing his argument that Jesus and the New Covenant, the gospel which He brought, is superior to the angels and the Old Covenant they mediated. In doing so, this time he says Jesus is the solution to humanity’s problem. In fact, he applies Psalm 8 to Jesus – no one else in the New Testament does that. It’s amazing. Let me outline the text as we go through it, appropriately preparing us for Communion:
- The Subjection of the World to Come is Not to Angels (5)
- The Subjection of the World was to Humanity (6-8)
- The Subjection of the World is Fulfilled in Jesus (9)
In keeping with the superiority of Jesus to angels, the author starts in verse 5 with, “For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking.” Please notice the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, For. That ties to something he said previously – and the verse ends with, concerning which we are speaking. So, what has he been talking about as it relates to the world being in subjection? He’s actually going back to verse 13 of chapter 1, “But to which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’”
We remember that was a quote of Psalm 110, and God the Father says to God the Son at His exaltation after His death and resurrection, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool” – that is, until all things are subject to You. Now remember, in chapter 1 the author is proving the superiority of Christ to angels – namely because He is the eternal, sovereign Son of God, and angels are merely servants. Because that is true, the author then gives a warning. Because of who Jesus is, don’t drift. Now, in verse 5, he returns to his train of thought. For He, the Father, did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking, that is, the subjection of all things under Jesus’ feet. Do you see that?
Now, why does he say, the world to come? Lots of discussion about that, but most agree the world prior to the coming of Christ was subjected to the rule of angels. For example, in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:8 in the Septuagint, we read, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the angels of God.” The verse indicates the administration of the nations had been parceled out to angelic beings.
Further, in the book of Daniel we find one angel over Persia, another over Greece, and Michael the archangel over Israel, implying their respective territories. Further, when Paul writes of angels, he speaks of ruler and authorities. All leads to the idea, held by most in New Testament times, the world was overseen by angels.
But, in the world to come – that is, the world of the gospel since Jesus finished His work, or the world to come when He returns, will not be subject to angels. To whom will it be subject?
Point two, the subjection of the world was supposed to be to humanity. In verse 6, the author writes, “But one has testified somewhere, saying…” That’s an interesting way to quote an Old Testament passage. We know where it was – Psalm 8. Did this guy not know? Did he forget? No, he’s magnifying divine authorship of the Scripture and diminishing the human author. It doesn’t matter who wrote it – what matters is Scripture ultimately comes from God.
Well, what passage does he quote? Psalm 8, from the Septuagint, that is, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He starts with verse 4 – what is man, that You – God – remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him? David was overwhelmed with this divine attention. How in the world – literally – of all things in the universe – can You be concerned about insignificant man? He goes on to basically summarize Genesis 1 as we saw earlier – it’s because humankind was created in the image of God. Angels by the way were not.
In fact, You made man for a little while lower than the angels. This verse is how we know he’s quoting from the Septuagint. You may have noticed when we read Psalm 8 earlier, it said, a little lower than God. But that could be translated heavenly beings or gods speaking of angels – and that’s the way the Septuagint took it, which this author quotes. So, you made man a little while lower than the angels. In the grand hierarchy, if you will, in their abilities and oversight, you made humanity lower than angels. But that is not intended to be forever. Notice, for a little while lower than the angels.
Further, you crowned him with glory and honor. How did God do that? Because, humanity was created in the image of God. And as such, You appointed man over the works of Your hand; and have put all things in subjection under his feet. You’ll remember both Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, which is a quotation of Genesis 1, lists those things over which man rules – that is, those things under his feet. God gave humanity dominion over His creation – the animal kingdom, for example, birds, fish, etc. But in the middle of verse 8, our author just sums it all up – for in subjecting all things to him – wow – all things. What all things? Everything, for He left nothing that is not subject to him – that is, humanity. Amazing. Does it feel that way?
Not exactly. You see, through the Fall of man into sin by the first Adam, that dominion was marred. One called is Paradise Lost. It was ruined, such that our world is a mess. We can’t rule over it well – in righteousness – we can’t ever rule over our own selves. That’s why the end of verse 8 ways, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” Do we? No. We have made a mess of this world – we don’t rule over it well, all things are not subject to us, we can’t even get along. Pastor Kent Hughes writes:
“Adam sinned, and as a consequence his God-given dominion became twisted. Man’s rule over creation has through the centuries become an ecological disaster. His reign over the animal world is superficial….The problem is, he cannot rule over himself, let alone others….Chesterton was right: ‘Whatever is or is not true about men, this one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.’”
But – verse 9 – point three – the author makes a stunning change. We don’t see all things subjected to mankind, but we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus. Stop right there. He makes a right turn, knowing one was needed. Because of our failure – the failure of the first Adam, there was need for a second Adam. We don’t see things rightly subjected to humankind, because we blew it. But we do see Jesus.
Now, when was Jesus made for a little while lower than the angels? At His incarnation, when He took on human flesh. One author suggests that no book displays both the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ as clearly as Hebrews. Others point out when the author mentions Jesus alone in this book, without His title of Christ, he is often drawing attention to His humanity – especially in His suffering.
But we see Him – Jesus. Made for a little while lower than the angels. That is incredible. This is God – the second person of the Trinity – the Creator of all things, to include angels – we see Him willingly made for a little while lower than angels – His servants. The author applies Psalm 8 to Jesus. Since we failed, Jesus, the second Adam, did not.
Because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor – that’s right out of Psalm 8. As we have seen all along, this doesn’t mean Jesus was not crowned with glory and honor before the incarnation. He has always been the glorious Son of God. But, due to His finished work, He was exalted to the highest place – the right hand of God – and crowned for all to see, with glory and honor. Oh, to be sure, we don’t see that in its fullness yet, but make no mistake about it, we will. We cannot help but think of Philippians 2 again:
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, [Do you see? He already existed as God before the incarnation – it wasn’t something He had to grasp or hold onto – He already had it.] 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. [incredibly, being made for a little while lower than the angels] 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself [can you even fathom the depth of that humiliation? To be made like the creature – like a man – lower than the angels He created – His servants. He humble Himself] by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Do you see, He endured the suffering of death – not just any death, but death on a cross.] 9 For this reason also [because of His finished work on the cross and through His resurrection], God highly exalted Him [crowned with glory and honor at His right hand], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [do you see? The subjection of all things will ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus.] 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Why did Jesus do this? So that, Hebrews 2 says, so that by the grace of God – this was act of God’s glorious grace on our behalf – He might taste death for everyone. The Hebrew idea of tasting is not like we might sample something – no, He tasted it, He experienced it is the idea, for everyone. Why everyone? Because everyone failed – from the first Adam, through all humanity – we all have the same problem, namely sin. But the solution offered by God is the very work of His Son through His suffering of death, and glorious resurrection.
We will see next week how His death, and only His death could accomplish our redemption. There is no one else who could have done it. He was it. Which brings us to our time of Communion.