Just How Great Is Your Salvation?
Sermon Passage: Hebrews 2:1, 5–18 | Preached to SGF | 9-20-2021
By Peder Kling
Why do we Drift from a "Great Salvation"?
In the last several weeks, we have seen that the main aim or goal in the book of Hebrews is to persuade Jewish converts to Christianity not to return to Judaism. You can imagine the pull that the Jewish converts had to return to Judaism. Jesus had told them that “you will be thrown out of synagogues”, “fathers will be turned against son, and mother against daughter”. Essentially, you would become a social outcast if you claimed this false Messiah Jesus to be the true Messiah. And this, of course, is not to mention that you really would be rejecting the glory and privilege of the Jews—the sacrifices that atone for your sin, and the privilege of being among God’s people.
So, you better be really sure that Jesus is the Messiah, lest all these losses would be for nothing. But that’s where Hebrews comes in. Over and over and over again, Hebrews reminds us “Jesus is better”. He’s fulfilled the OT—there’s nothing in Judaism left to go back to! It’s promises and glory is fulfilled! Look! See the Christ! Here’s all the reasons why Jesus is better.
And of course, the exhortation to not drift away from the Messiah comes in really quickly, as we saw last week. Chapter 2:1,
1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
Drifting away from Christ, here, is neglecting his salvation—mindless, wandering back into the things of this world, being distracted by your job or your spouse and family, placing them before Jesus. That’s drifting, that’s neglecting. And here, the warning is “how can we escape [God’s wrath] if we do this—if we neglect such a great salvation”.
So, how do we not neglect the salvation? I am convinced that Christians rarely outright reject God’s salvation—that’s why Hebrews brings this drifting language in. We drift. But we drift not because we neglect (or forget) God’s salvation, but the greatness of it. If only you knew how great God’s works in Christ are, how great are his blessings to you, you would not drift.
It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s famous illustration that many of you may have heard before. Lewis says,
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition [I would add, spouses and properties and other good things God gives us] when infinite joy is offered us… [we are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Is mud good? Well yes, God made it. You can make some pretty cool mud sculptures out of it, and play some pretty cool imaginary games with it. You can throw it in mud fights—I used to love mud fights. But God is offering you a holiday at sea! Are spouses and your properties and—dare I say understanding and speaking politics—good things in their proper places? Yes—but he’s offering you something far better to feed your mind and soul with!
But all too often we don’t understand how great of an offer God is extending to us. As you drift away from God, like the child playing with mud in the slums, you don’t even understand how miserable you as you waste away in the slums of this fleeting world, or the slums of your sin and the stench of God’s infinite wrath hanging over you. And, you don’t know what is meant by an offer of God’s great salvation — you haven’t tasted the greatness of it
Putting Together the Pieces of Our "Great Salvation"
So today, we are going to see some more on-point, specific descriptions of the greatness of our salvation. And what we are going to do is first look at some of the descriptions of our salvation in the sermon’s passage that we read. There are lots of amazing blessings to God’s people here! You might say there are a lot of "pieces" to our salvation.
Then, after we have seen them, we have a job to do. We have to think about them—put them together, so that we can understand how all of these great pieces of our salvation fit together. This is a little exercise called thinking—it’s part of what it means to not neglect our salvation, isn’t it? 2:1 “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift from it”—pay attention. That means think! Or 3:1, “Therefore, holy brothers… consider Jesus”—that’s a call to think about Jesus’s work and how it applies to you, and how it all fits together for your good. And these sorts of exhortations to not drift by thinking continue throughout the entirety Hebrews. If the child in the slums would have just asked a question—“what’s a holiday at sea?”, and used his imagination to capture the beautiful waters and ocean air and beautiful sand that was described to him, he would have suddenly become very discontent with his mudpies in the slums.
So, today's task is to (1) discover the pieces of our salvation in this passage, and then (2) put the pieces together.
1. Discovering the Pieces of Our Great Salvation
Look at some of the descriptions of our salvation, as they begin in verse 10 of chapter 2:
Verse 10, "it was fitting”. There’s a description of your salvation. The KJV says “it became him"—it was becoming to God. In other words—what God did in Christ was fitting, it made sense, it was right and proper according to God’s design. Now when we say that, we often mean that there is a goal in mind. If you have a goal to go to TX, it is fitting that you drive rather than walk. If you want to be a straight A student, it is fitting that you study a lot. Well here, verse 10 says that God’s goal is to “bring many sons to glory”. That’s God’s purpose for your salvation—that you would receive the glory of God’s children. (This could be a whole sermon in itself on adoption, cf. Heb 12). And the rest of our passage is all explaining how that happens.
In verse 11 you see that part of your salvation is sanctification. “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have one” — Jesus sanctifies, and Jesus’s people are the ones who are sanctified. So, your sanctification is part of why your salvation is a “great” salvation. And we will see here that this is not referring to progressive sanctification, necessarily, but sanctification in the sense that you are “set apart”—sanctified from the rest of the world for holy use. You could think of certain items in the OT being sanctified for ceremonial use—cleansed and set apart.
Also in verse 11 (really, through verse 13) you see that part of your salvation includes Jesus being made your brother. “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers”. Think about the relationship of a brother to a brother. Closeness, affection, love. Brothers protect and help one another.
Then in verse 14, you see that Jesus, on your behalf, destroyed the devil and the power which the devil had over you. Verse 14 reads, “through [Christ’s] death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. So, your salvation is great because it involves your freedom from the devil’s power over you.
In verse 15, you see that Jesus delivers you from fear of death—even a lifelong slavery to this fear of death. So, your salvation is great because it relieves you from needing to be fearful of death. We’ll tal about that in a moment.
In verse 16, we begin to see Jesus not as our redeemer from the devil and death, but he is our helper. “He doesn’t help the angels, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Now what does he help us with? We’ll talk about that in a moment. But this concept of Jesus helping us is once again brought up in verse 18—“because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted [that’s us]”.
And finally in verse 17, we are told that Jesus’s salvation is great because in it, he became our high priest who offered himself up to God, to make propitiation for the sins of his people—those who would receive him by faith. Now there’s a lot of big words in that one. The high priest is the Old Testament priest who would offer up sacrifices for the sins of Israel on the day of atonement. When the offering was made, and blood was shed according to God’s requirement, the people’s sins were atoned for, and God’s wrath upon his people was turned away from them. That’s expiation—God’s wrath is turned away.
So, there are at least 7 pieces to our salvation here—all which make our salvation “great”: (1) its goal is that we would be made children of God—even glorified children of God, (2) it involves your sanctification from the world, (3) it involves Jesus being identified with you not as your savior only, but as your brother in flesh and blood, (4) it involves Jesus redeeming you from the devil, (5) it involves Jesus freeing you from fear this fear of death that seems so innate to all mankind, (6) it involves Jesus being your helper in your struggle against temptation and sin, and (7) it involves Jesus being your high priest, who offered himself as a sacrifice for your sins, so that God’s wrath would be turned away from you, that you may be in good fellowship with God as his child.
Lots there. And, we could just leave it all at that couldn’t we? That IS a great salvation, isn’t it?! See! your salvation is great! You don’t need to fear the devil, you don’t need to fear death, God’s wrath has been turned away from you because of what Jesus did as your high priest! And he’s here to help you and sanctify you until you get to glory!
2. Putting the Pieces Together
But all we did was gloss over the key words in this passage—we didn’t look at the logic and think deeply about how all these things fit together. How did Christ do this—and why? How do these pieces fit together? Your salvation becomes great and awe-inspiring to you when you think about all these things. That’s what the author of Hebrews wants from us throughout this entire exhortation—think, think, think. Force yourself to make sense of this, so that you know not only that Christ is better, as he accomplishes these things for you, but that you would know how he is better, even in the way he accomplishes these things for you. These verses draw all these components together for us in an astounding way. So, let’s try to fit these pieces together.
You might say, “Peder this is enough, why put all the mental energy into seeing how these pieces fit together in these passages?” Well, the author of Hebrews knows this is tricky stuff. So do you know what he says? Look ahead to chapter 5, verses 11–14.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
And from there, he goes into a terrifying warning of judgment upon those who fail to move beyond elementary doctrines of Christ. You need to feed yourself with truth—with the gospel. Flex your mind into God’s wisdom and ways in how he saved you, a sinner deserving of his wrath, to his righteous and privileged glory and honor and praise. The gospel is a paradox to be understood—that God’s enemies should become his beloved children; that God should become a man, even a brother amongst his people; that God’s infinite wrath could be poured out upon one man over the course of a few hours. This is God’s wisdom, and we should study it because it is praiseworthy—it’s what we were created for.
When you see how great this is—how great God’s wisdom and salvation is—this will keep you from drifting, from returning to your mud-pies in the slums. Again—we get distracted by and glorify in and are satisfied by great things. So, this is all driving us to faithfulness and steadfastness, as Hebrews is all about.
So. We need to somehow understand how Hebrews intertwines those 7 pieces of our salvation according to God’s wisdom, so that we would grow in righteousness and in praise to God.
So, how do we fit these pieces together?
The first question we have to ask is, “what glory, or salvation, are we dealing with here?” (verse 10). God’s goal, as we have said, is “to bring many sons to glory”. What is that glory that God has in mind there? Or to ask it another way, “to bring many sons to glory by making the pioneer of their salvation” — salvation, there. That’s the glory that God’s sons are bringing brought into. What salvation, what glory are we referring to?
We can refer to our salvation in two simple ways—we can look back, or we can look forward. We can look back at what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross—dying for our sins, turning God’s wrath away from us, granting us his righteousness and Holy Spirit to believe upon him by faith. That’s all done. It’s glory, it’s salvation, and it’s accomplished.
But we can also look forward to our salvation when the blessings which Jesus accomplished for us on the cross come into full fruition—“when we see the gates of glory”, as it were. That’s the salvation and glory that the author of Hebrews has in mind, here. God’s desire is to "bring many sons to glory", into salvation. Look back at chapters 1 and 2, where this salvation has been already described for us.
For example, in 1:14—after declaring that the angels serve Jesus rather than the other way around—Hebrews says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”. So there, salvation is something we will inherit. That is, in the future.
Now what are we going to inherit? Keep reading! For those of you who were here last week, this part will sound familiar.
After the author of Hebrews tells us to not neglect our great salvation which we will inherit, he begins to describe that salvation in verse 5 (chapter 2) with reference to what we might call an inheritance from God. Look at verse 5—
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere… [then he quotes Psalm 8].
What is Psalm 8? Psalm 8 is a Psalm that declares how awesome it was for God to create the world, and give it over to puny little, seemingly insignificant humans. He (i.e., God) gave to us (little humans) the world, to exercise dominion over it. I mean come on—consider the glory of the horse, or the ox, or the myriads of other impressive creatures in comparison to mankind. Yet we are made in God’s image, and we are to exercise dominion over the ox. Psalm 8 begins in verse 1—
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. [and yet] Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength…
You, O God, have set your glory above the heavens! And yet, (verses 4–8)
what is mankind [in the grand scheme of the universe], that you are mindful of him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
It really is amazing, isn't it? But there's a problem, if you really think about it. The problem is the same problem Hebrews picks up in our passage—verse 8 (chapter 2) “at present we don’t see everything in subjection to him”. That’s talking about humanity there in Hebrews 2:8, not Christ. At present, we see mankind subjected to the world. That’s the curse. “By the sweat of your brow you will work in frustration, as the ground betrays you”. Sure, this isn’t absolute subjection. God in his kindness still allows us the means to build and create and domesticate animals—but who is really in charge, a cowboy or his horse? Who is really in charge—a meteorologist or the tsunami? Who is really in charge—a doctor, or the certain immanent death of a patient? “at present we do not see everything in subjection to him; to mankind, as it was to be at creation”. And of course, the most obvious sign that we are subjected to nature is that nature always wins. We always die—a brutal reminder of God’s wrath upon us, and our subjection to nature.
But now, let me ask you this. Who was in charge: Jesus, or the waves he called to silence and peace? Jesus, or Lazarus’ tomb? Jesus, or those mocking him (remember, “I could call down a legion of angels”, or, “no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own accord”)? The man Jesus Christ, or 3 days in the grave?
You see, the world to come will be different. Why? Because God gave mankind the perfect savior—even a pioneer or captain of a new humanity, as the argument in Hebrews continues. How did this savior reverse the course of nature—even to reverse man’s slavery to death? Verse 9 gives us the preliminary statement, and then verses 10–18 explains verse 9 in greater detail. So verse 9—
[we don’t see everything in subjection to humanity…] 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.
This essentially means that God sent a man, Jesus, to be the captain, or the pioneer of a new humanity. Jesus came in, was made a human (a little lower than the angels, Ps 8), and get this—he “was crowned glory and honor”—the "glory and honor" which God gave to humanity in Psalm 8. Jesus, here, fulfills Psalm 8. He is the pioneer of the human race which Psalm 8 speaks of. He is the pioneer of a human race which is not subjected to this world, even to death. And that’s what Hebrews is telling us about Jesus’s salavation—he 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.”. Jesus pioneered a new humanity that will be completely free from the frustrations of this cursed and dying world. And that’s the reality that verses 10–18 take us through in detail. That’s the great salvation verses 10–18 explain.
So, let’s continue to press in. Verse 10,
For it was fitting that he … in bringing many sons to glory [i.e., the new heavens and new earth], should make the founder [some translations: "pioneer", "captain"] of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Picture the noble captain of an army going into battle—the first one in and the last one out, wholly to ensure the victory of his troop. Or picture the American pioneer heading west, bush-whacking his way through troublesome territory, leaving a path behind for his people to follow. That’s Jesus, here.
Now, of course, what exactly did Jesus have to do in order to be that perfect pioneer, or captain of his people, who would create the way to a new humanity? He had to do two things, as the author of Hebrews tells us. First, he had to become like them in every respect. That’s verses 11–13. If you are going to make a new humanity—if you’re going to be a second Adam, you yourself better be human! That’s the point of verse 11—he who is sanctified—or set apart—for this new humanity, and those who are sanctified—or set apart—are one [ESV "one source", NIV "one family", KJV “one”]. I think the NIV has it right there—we are all set apart for the new family, or humanity, wrought by the work of Christ. He is the pioneer of our salvation, our new humanity, our glory and our eternal inheritance.
But of course, the point here is that God, Jesus Christ, had to become like us in every respect. That’s the point of the brother language, there. Brothers are kindred spirits—only, he is our older brother, the first-born who protects and provides for his little siblings.
But Jesus didn’t merely have to identify us as humans simply that he would be able to be the second Adam—the pioneer or captain of a new humanity. He had to become a human in order to deal with our sin. That’s the second thing Jesus had to do to be our pioneer/captain. That’s the point of verses 14–18. Verse 17 marks the high point of this part of the argument with the words “therefore”. —
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.
You see, Jesus Christ died as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of his people, his brothers, for he alone could offer the blood that would definitively atone for sin, and so turn God’s wrath away from those who receive Jesus. He had to pave a path through death—and the only way he could do this was to die as a righteous man, for death is a punishment against sin. It cannot hold perfect righteousness.
And herein we see what it means for Jesus to be “the pioneer of our salvation who was made perfect through suffering”. Jesus suffered in his humiliation as he underwent the pains of this curse—broken fingers as he worked carpentry, wicked people who reviled him during his ministry, an unjust death sentence in the last moments of his life. He knew the temptations and pains of this world, yet he endured it all without sin. He was perfectly faithful, bringing nothing but righteousness to the cross, a righteousness that would likewise make him to be the perfect captain who would sacrifice himself to God on the cross for the sins of his people. He suffered the pains and temptations of this world to bring righteousness to his people; he suffered death to bring forgiveness to his people.
Now, there are two remaining questions that pertain to the seven pieces of our salvation. And frankly, these two remaining questions deal with what I would call happy, God-ordained consequences to everything we have just said so far.
First, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he took our guilt, and thereby disarmed the devil, and the devil’s power of death. That’s why Hebrews brings death and the devil into this whole equation in verses 14 and 15—to illustrate how great Christ’s salvation is. Christ’s salvation doesn’t simply give us a hope for the future in glory, he gives us a hope that ought to effect us here, now, today.
Look again at verses 14 and 15. You see there one immediate consequence of Jesus’s death that applies to us today—Jesus destroyed the devil, and the devil’s power over you. Now of course, this doesn’t mean he annihilated the devil—he’s still alive and at work in this world (Eph 2:2 makes that clear). Rather, he destroyed the devil’s power over God’s people who are identified with Christ. He disarmed the devil—that’s what it means to destroy an enemy. It doesn’t mean wipingout every sing soldier behind enemy lines. It means disarming them, rendering them not a threat.
So—What is the devil’s power? What’s the only thing the devil’s got over you? Is it death? No—it is the power of death. It is that fear that every human being experiences—a lifelong slavery to death and all that death reminds us of (God’s wrath). Romans 1 tells us that every man deep in his heart knows that death is God’s judgment over us, and that God’s wrath follows death. That’s why people are constantly trying to come up with reasons why they’re not afraid to die. “I feel ready, I’ve lived a good life”. “I saw Jesus once”. The Bible says nothing about any of these things being able to free you from death’s power. Death’s power, ultimately, is your guilt of sin, and God’s wrath against you for your sin. And that is the devil’s weapon. He is the accuser. If you get rid of a man’s guilt before God, you totally disarm the devil from being able to wave death before you as an accusation of your guilt, and as a cause for fear.
Right now, brothers and sisters, you put on the breastplate of righteousness—Christ’s righteousness—and the devil’s arrows will ding right off of you. Death has no say before you. You will die—but your death is not a sign of God’s judgment, but rather as a sign of your union with Christ who also died so that he could bring many sons to glory—even you.
Now again, one last remaining question that pertains to the seven pieces of our salvation. Why does Hebrews bring in this concept that Jesus helps us? Look at verses 16 and 18—
16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.
18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Well, the first reference to Jesus’s help, there, in verse 16 is supporting this idea that Jesus rids us of our fear of death. Verse 15: He frees us from our lifelong slavery to death. Verse 16: for he helps us as Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Is not an emancipator a helper to the slaves he frees? So, that’s one way Jesus helps us—his salvation gives us hope right now, the sort of hope that looks at death as an invitation to glory.
But I have always struggled to really feel the weight of the next reference to Jesus’s help in verse 18, which says—“because he himself suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”. What I struggle with this one is that when two people who have suffered the same thing get together, a lot of times they get together and talk about how awful their experience was. It almost turns into a fuss-fest. I almost want to say, here, “ok, Jesus experienced the trials I am experiencing. How does that help me?” Is it supposed to make me feel warm that another person experienced suffering like I did? Doesn’t that sound self-serving, as if I am comforted by other people’s pain? That’s why this has always been hard for me to land home into my heart. But I think I have an answer for us.
The reason why it is comforting to know that Jesus experienced the temptations you and I experience every day is that Jesus is our commander—he is our captain, our pioneer standing in glory with infinite resources at his disposal that he can commandeer to your aid. Do you remember what Jesus said to the disciples? “I am sending a helper—the Holy Spirit”. Would you rather have a commander working for your victory who knows nothing about your experience, or a commander who has identified with your experience in ways you cannot even fathom? You hear this all the time from people lower-down in the chain of companies, “Oh that CEO, he don’t know about us and our misery, he don’t care, he’s just after money and power”. But then there’s a difference when a CEO worked his way up, and remembers the pains of his workforce, isn’t there?
Romans 8 reminds us that
Likewise the Spirit [of the risen Christ] helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This Spirit is sent out on your behalf by the risen Christ who is working faith and power and salvation into your soul, according to your every need. He weeps over your misery, and rejoices over your victories, and intercedes for you as a perfect high priest who has identified with you in every way, without sin, so that your sin would be dealt with as he brings you to that glorious inheritance, your salvation.
Conclusion: Don't Neglect Such a Great Salvation.
So, the various components to your salvation have been brought together. Brothers and sisters, do not neglect this salvation—we have only begun to touch the surface of how great Christ’s salvation really is. You could go into deeper and richer study into all of these concepts we have talked about today. But for now, let me remind you, lest you forget and drift away, that your salvation is truly great and worthy of your joyfully eager meditation because —
(1) its goal is that we would be made children of God—even glorified children of God,
(2) because it involves your sanctification, your being set apart for something special [new humanity]
(3) it involves Jesus being identified with you as your brother, that he might be your savior; even the second Adam who would bring forth a new humanity to glory.
Your salvation is great because
(4) it involves Jesus being your high priest, who offered himself as a sacrifice for your sins, so that God’s wrath would be turned away from you, that you may be in good fellowship with God as his child.
Your salvation is great because—
(4) as Jesus dealt with your sin as a faithful high priest, he freed you now, today from the devil’s power over you. You do not need to fear death due to God’s wrath upon you for your sin, which the devil is ever so often to accuse you of.
And lastly Christ’s salvation is great because
(6) as a result of all this, Jesus is able to help you when you are being tempted, for he himself was tempted, and came out victoriously so that he could help you as you press on to glory, by his grace, with an infinite supply of resources at his disposal
Don’t be children of this world, who play with mud in the slums. Be children of God, and satisfy yourselves with the glory he presents to you in this wonderful, great salvation and inheritance he offers to you.