This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 17th, 2013 – for the 5th Sunday in Lent. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Lent#5 2013.
This morning is the 5 week in Lent. In our lenten journey, as we move towards the cross, we want, this morning, to talk about death and our fears about death and dying. The cross is a symbol of suffering and death – and death is something that we must all face one day. We want to spend some time understanding why death and dying are so frightening (from a Scriptural perspective), and then to talk about how Jesus’ death helps us to face death.
Death is Difficult to Face.
What is Man? First, we need to understand why facing death is difficult for us – why mortality is fearful. This letter is written to those who are suffering persecution and the threat of death. The author begins in vs.8 to talk about what man is. He quotes Psalm 8 – “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” This is an expression of wonder. The Psalmist is, in essence, saying to God: Can you really mean to honor man like this – or – What is man that you should do this for him?
Human beings are the creation and image of God. And the reason why death is so difficult for us to face is that it is unnatural to us. Death is a curse – unfitting for man who is made in God’s image. Man was made to have Dominion, to have Authority over creation (Genesis tells us). Man was made to be glorious. We have embedded in our souls the desire to live and to be glorious.
In fact, this is the point of redemption and our salvation. Salvation is not merely about not going to hell or coming to life again after you’re dead
. Our salvation is about being restored to that which we were made for. Psalm 8 expresses this wonder, that God, who has made us for a little while lower than the angels, will set human beings above all things – “In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.”
Human Beings Live in a Distorted World: “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.” We cannot begin to hope to face death until we see the magnitude of the distortion of this world and our lives. Everything is meant to be subject to human beings. We are meant to be glorious – but at present everything is not subject to human beings. Human beings are subject to sin and the curse of death – and yet we know that this is wrong – something is far wrong.
So we avoid death. We avoid thinking about death – we push it out of our minds. Or we talk about death as a transition to a higher consciousness, as though it were a natural part of life – nothing more than the next stage. Or we fear death and worry about it and become hyper-vigilant over our health. But this is not what Jesus did. Jesus faced the reality of death and the curse.
Jesus Faced Death For/With Us.
Jesus Tasted Death For Us: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus tasted death – he experienced death for us – What does that mean? It means that Jesus passed through the thing we find so unnatural and frightening – and he passed through it as a human being – feeling all the unnaturalness, all the distortion, the mortality, the pain, the fear, the aloneness, the ignobility of death that we are all afraid of. Death feels like being cut off from life – Jesus experienced that… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps.22:1 & Matt 27:46)
In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that in experiencing suffering and death he became our brother and our savior. That doesn’t mean that we will not experience these things in death – in different measures – but the writer is suggesting that we will not experience these things alone. Because Jesus is our High Priest – who understands our suffering and our temptation and who is able, not only to sympathize, but to help those who are being tempted and who are suffering. Jesus tasted death so that he can be beside us (Emanuel – God with us) as we pass through death – as our help and our comfort.
Jesus Tasted the Shame of Suffering With Us: “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect (complete) through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” There is something else being said here as well. Jesus not only tasted death for us, but Jesus was publicly humiliated – stripped and shamefully killed on the cross – a picture of despised weakness – made an example by the Jews and the Roman government – executed as a criminal and a traitor.
Jesus death, in this way, joined him to human beings, for whom death is the fulfillment of the curse of our own sin and culpability. We have all sinned – and the wages of sin (our earnings) is death. We all die as traitors against the one whose image we have born and corrupted through our sin. But see what the author of Hebrews is saying – Jesus was made complete – was joined to us sinful traitors in his death. Isaiah 53 says “he was numbered with the transgressors” – he was counted with the guilty ones. And now Jesus, having shared in the suffering of our humiliation, and having overcome, is not ashamed to call us family – brothers and sisters. We who belong to him, who are being made holy, and yet who will die as traitors because of the curse, will nevertheless be numbered as brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Jesus Faced Death and Broke its’ Power.
His Traitor’s Death Broke the Power of Our Accuser: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…” The death of Jesus, shamefully, accused of wrongdoing though innocent, facing the curse of sin (death) which he didn’t deserve, taking on himself the accusations that stood against us for our sins – broke the power of Satan over us.
The power that Satan holds over us is the power to accuse us of all the ways we have been traitors against God. We know the things we have done – the ways we have failed to do what was right – to listen to and obey the word of God. We have sins of both commission and omission. We have sinned through ignorance (things we ought to have done or not done – that we are not even aware of). We have sinful patterns that persist, weaknesses that we cannot overcome, marquee sins and failures that accuse us.
When we look at our traitorous deeds and failures, both in the past and present, we are afraid and guilty. We live in the hope that we can somehow amend our lives and show God that we have made up for our sins – that we have changed enough to be considered righteous. Yet this is exactly what we are unable to do! This is the “sting of death” that Paul speaks of in 1 Cor.15:56 – “The sting of death is sin”.
We who know God and his word have become increasingly aware of the demands of righteousness – what we are called to be – what we were meant to be. And the more aware of righteousness we become the more we see that we do not measure up to the holiness of God. And though, in this life, we make progress towards righteousness, and are turning away from sin, we can never come to the place where we will be satisfied with our lives. We can never measure up to he standard of God’s holiness. Our accuser, Satan always has more that he can say about us.
But Jesus broke the power of our accuser. By his traitor’s death, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21). Colossians 2:14 says that, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” This means that though we still face death – the sting of death – our sin and the accusations against us have been removed.
Jesus Freed Us from the Slavery of Fear of Death By Going First: “…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Jesus freed us from our slavery to fear in the same way that we often help others to be free from fear – he faced death for us by, in a sense, going first. Jesus became for us, the one we can look at to see how it went. Jesus became the model of death and resurrection – as the Bible says, “the firstfruits of those that slept” (1 Cor.15).
Jesus became like us – an older brother – one who faced death and passed through it. And having passed through death and the shame of suffering, Jesus is able to understand our suffering and fear and shame – and is able to help us when we are afraid, when we have doubts and fears.