Epistle: Hebrews 2:1-18 (Proper 22: Series B)
The doctrinal locus for this Sunday is marriage, which points to the greater marriage of Christ and the church or the marriage of Christ and the believer. You might expect Ephesians 5 to be the Epistle for this Sunday, but Hebrews 2 forces us to consider our own creatureliness in light of Christ, who for a little while was made a little lower than the angels and has now been exalted, so that we too would be exalted with Him (Psalm 8:5). We preachers are often tempted with these texts to go for the quick application and patch up the fractured culture in which we and our people live. You may think, “Finally, I can preach on why same-sex marriage is a distortion of God’s will!” Well, of course it is, but by having Hebrews 2 in the mix of a marriage-focused Sunday, the church draws her attention back to the thing that marriage is about, namely, our redemption in Christ and the restoration of all things in Him.
The “therefore” in 2:1 could refer to everything that precedes it. Broadly, Jesus is greater than the angels and the ministers of the Gospel (the angels, Moses, and all the prophets). But it seems to me that everything rests on the question in 1:14: “Are they [the angels or prophets (see 1:1)] not ministering spirits [λειτουργικὰ πνεύματα] sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” A whole sermon could be preached on, “therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard,” from the liturgical spirits, who hand over, “such a great salvation” (2:3). Christ sends them, “for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”
Notice how verses 2b-4 is a summary of Christ’s ministry through His earthly life and the sending of the Holy Spirit. I would start by meditating and praying through John 3:12-15, Romans 10:5-17, Ephesians 4:7-17, and Colossians 1:17-20. The Holy Spirit is teaching us something similar in all these passages. Christ is the source and sustainer of the entire cosmos, yet His ministers are sent to preach, to deliver the gifts of the risen, the ascended, and, to summarize Luther, the closer-to-you-than-you-are-to-yourself Christ. The fact that everything holds together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) is not merely a comment on the First Article of the Creed, but it is an ecclesiological statement as Paul makes clear in the following verses. Colossians 1:18: “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” In other words, we are now, by faith, what Christ is and soon we will fully become what He is. He is true humanity wrapped into one person.
The writer of Hebrews wants us to see this truth. God the Father has given the Son all authority. “He left nothing outside of His control” (1:8), that has to do with our salvation. What part could we control anyhow? Yet the reality is we cannot yet see His preeminence. We cannot see the completion of all things in the eschaton, but we believe that all things will come to completion in Him. As for now, it is the hope of things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1).
A bump in the text is the writer’s concrete statement, “We see [βλέπομεν] 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” (2:9). The contrast between what we see and what we do not see is striking. Here seeing is synonymous with knowing, as it is in John’s Gospel. We do not see Christ’s rule in the cosmic places, but we see Him in suffering. We know Him in our weakness because He meet us in our weakness and became one with us in that same weakness. Even now, He who is exalted in the heavens is in our midst, in His church through the ministers of the New Testament and available to us in His own body and blood.
If you had in mind to preach Hebrews 2 on Sunday, or at some point during the week (especially for homebound members and for those suffering with physical, psychological, and spiritual attacks), I would suggest magnifying the writer’s point that Christ is with those who suffer, and He will not abandon them. The Son in whom all things hold together is not abstractly Lord of all creation. Rather, He is the Lord of His church and her High Priest, who intercedes for her to offer her to God as blameless and holy (speaking of marriage and Ephesians 5). Verse 12 may be a powerful theme verse: “For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one [ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντες].” To put that another way, God the Father has adopted us in the Son (Holy Baptism!). Christ, who took up our humanity, shared in our weakness and has rescued us, has also promised to take His own flesh and blood with Him to the Father. From Hebrews I would press the fraternal imagery given in the text and the effect of Christ’s incarnation and passion, but the marriage analogy of Christ redeeming His bride is not far from the theme of the Sunday and would also unpack how intimately close Christ has come to redeem us. No angel has come so low and no angel has ascended so high as Jesus.
The text may seem too rich to preach in just one offering, I admit. Luther would often complain that certain epistle lessons were too lofty for the middle of Trinitytide when there should be basic catechesis going on, but because some needed to hear it and the church arranged it that way, he would let loose on the congregation the lofty doctrine of Christ as our High Priest, even during the Trinity/Pentecost season. This may be just one of those occasions for pastors and their congregations to contemplate this lofty doctrine of Christ.
J. D. Lane