Believe Jesus: The Perfect Man
Last year I was at a wedding where both the beauty and the fragility of humans were brought home to me. The beauty was obvious, with all the pretty girls dressed up in their pretty clothes, and in the dancing and fun of being together. The fragility was also plain in a friend of the groom’s, who had lost both legs, several fingers and suffered significant facial damage when he stood on a mine while serving with the British Army in Afghanistan. Yet at the same time there was something profoundly beautiful about the way in which this physically disfigured young man was held in the affection of his mates.
We human beings know we are important – we talk about ourselves all the time and our actions indicate we think the world is all about us, even if philosophically we dispute that. This might just be because we are evolutionary numero uno, or it might be for the reason set out here in the letter to the Hebrews – a reason that is shocking.
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
“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 honour
and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews is here quoting Psalm 8, a psalm that describes the smallness of man. The reality is, that for all our global dominance, on a cosmic scale we are nothing. This is all the more true at the level of the individual, and leads to the existential question, What am I?
Hebrews was written to Christians who felt small, who were under pressure and for whom life was difficult. Under such circumstances it is only human to ask, “What are we? What are we worth?” The shock of Hebrews 2 (and Psalm 8) is what God thinks of us, because it is describing Man – us!
God is mindful of us
Objectively, this doesn’t make much sense. When we consider the greatness of God who made all things and the greatness of all that is made, the logical response is one of, “Surely God wouldn’t care about me, or what I do…” So for the scripture to declare that God is mindful of us is, well, Wow!
We were made to rule!
At the moment we look considerably lower than angels but it is our destiny to rule, not theirs. This feels all the wrong way round. It’s like watching The Lord of the Rings and thinking, surely it should be the elves who stay in charge! But it won’t be.
Already (vv7b-8b) there is “nothing outside his control.” Wow again! This is an absolute shocker – what we thought was our over-inflated species-ism doesn’t go nearly far enough! What we see here is a reflection of God’s creation intention (Gen 1:27-28). Who are we? Made to be like God. What is our purpose? To rule! We are meant to have complete control – something that as the owner of two dogs and father to four children is almost beyond my comprehension.
That is the shocker, but here’s the kicker – at the moment we don’t see our ability to rule (v8c). More often, what we see is see our inability to control things. This works out on the personal level (dogs and children) and on the global level (wars and climate change). This actually becomes a gospel-testing question: If scripture says we are meant to have total rule, but we don’t, can we trust the scriptures to be true? Thankfully, the scriptures also provide an answer to this question.
Rebelling out of control
God’s original intention for us has been compromised by our rebellion. We messed up and have been living in a mess ever since. Our ability to rule was always conditional on our mirroring God, and where we have failed to reflect him our powers are compromised. So often (if we are honest) we look at ourselves and see us doing a bad job of trying to be in control. What is the solution? A man who has not messed!
Jesus, the perfect man
Hebrews 2:9 is the first time the name “Jesus” is used in Hebrews, and its use is emphatic. Jesus is our Joshua – “the Lord saves.” He is one who is like us; who, like us, was for a time made “a little lower than the angels” but one who is now “crowned with glory & honour.”
The great claim, cry and appeal of Hebrews is: Believe Jesus! Jesus is the perfect man. In Jesus the original and ultimate intention for Man was accomplished. But, and this is where the story becomes all the more remarkable, the accomplishment of all that Man is meant to be was by the “suffering of death.” Christ’s exaltation was dependent on his humiliation. As Calvin expresses it,
He means that Christ died for us, because He took on Himself our lot, and redeemed us from the curse of death.
Death is the ultimate demonstration of our inability to control life and the claim made by the writer of Hebrews is that Jesus suffered death in order to deliver us from death. Christ’s death and resurrection have qualified him to fulfil God’s original and ultimate intention. Jesus is our promise! He is what man should be, can be, and will be. His rule is perfect because he is the perfect man, and in him, we too, will be perfected.