Why Jesus Became a Human
We saw last week that Hebrews was written to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament. The author’s thesis is that Jesus is greater than any person or institution in the Old Testament, that he fulfills and replaces the Old Testament way of relating to God. Why is Jesus so great? Heb. 1 & 2 provide two distinct answers:
Chapter one says Jesus is the greatest because he is by nature divine. The Old Testament calls him his unique Son who shares his divine nature. It also calls on the angels to worship him, and it calls him the eternal Creator and rightful Ruler of the whole universe.
Chapter two says Jesus is the greatest for a very different reason—because of the sacrifice he made. Namely, even though he was God, he was willing to become a human being for our sake. Like a king’s son who forsakes his royal privileges in wartime to save his subjects from defeat, Jesus forsook his divine prerogatives and descended into the depths of human suffering and misery to save us from certain ruin. He tells us three reasons why Jesus had to become a human to rescue us. The first of these reasons may seem rather cosmic and abstract to you, but the other two will be very concrete...
To regain humanity’s lost dominion over the earth
Read 2:5-8. He is quoting Ps. 8, where David muses over the fact that God created human beings to rule over the entire created order. We are so small and weak, and this earth is so vast and powerful—yet God created humans to live under his loving dominion and to exercise his loving dominion over the whole earth (read Gen.1:26-28). We catch a brief glimpse of what this would have been like in Gen.2 in the Garden of Eden. But then Adam revolted from God’s authority, and he and his descendants lost dominion over the earth.
Ever since then, humans have been trying unsuccessfully to regain this dominion. While human technology is impressive on one level, I suspect that it looks pitiful to God when he compares it to the dominion he intended us to have. Nature still overwhelms us (DROUGHTS; STORMS; EARTHQUAKES; TSUNAMI’S; etc.). Even our best attempts to control nature create even greater natural problems (FOSSIL FUELS >> POLLUTION; GLOBAL WARMING). And nature, through various sicknesses, still attacks us and wears us down and gets the last word. How right he is when he laments that “We have not yet seen all of this happen.”
What hope then is there for humans to regain this proper dominion over the earth? The only hope is the “son of man.” “Son of man” is a title that sometimes refers humanity in general (descendants of humans) and sometimes to the Son of man—which is an Old Testament title for the Messiah (Dan.7:13). This psalm is not only a lament of what Adam lost; it is also a prediction of what the Messiah would regain. God didn’t scrap his plan for humans to have dominion over the earth after Adam revolted. He sent his Son to become a human, to become the “Second Adam” who obeyed God’s authority perfectly and therefore exercises God’s dominion over the earth. This is why he says 2:9a (read).
Consider the biblical parallels between Adam and Jesus. Both were uniquely “fathered” by God. Both were tempted by Satan—Adam in a perfect Garden, but Jesus in a barren Wilderness. But while Adam obeyed Satan and forfeited dominion over nature, Jesus obeyed God and exercised dominion over nature.
This is part of the significance of Jesus’ miracles during his first Coming. He stilled the storms, he multiplied the bread and fish, and he healed those who were being destroyed by sickness. Through him, God was restoring human dominion over the earth.
This is why the Bible describes Jesus’ Second Coming as a time when nature will again be harmoniously subordinate to God’s King and all of his human subjects (cf. Isa.2:6-9). Then, when humans are back under the loving authority of God, nature will be back under humans’ loving authority.
So Jesus became a human in order to regain humanity’s lost dominion over the earth. But this would have been worthless to you and me unless he also became a human to do something even more radical and foundational—to die for the guilt of our sins...
To die for the guilt of our sins
Read 2:9b. Here is something that the Bible says over and over again—that Jesus’ death was for the human race. His death was a gift from God that we don’t deserve. Jesus died in our place so that in some sense we don’t have to die the death we deserve to die. He repeats this point in 2:17 and explains this more fully (read). Jesus had to become like us (i.e., fully human) so that he could be our High Priest and offer a sacrifice for us that takes away our sins. The author will develop this Old Testament terminology more fully in later chapters—and we will look at this in much more detail then. But let me summarize the main point here:
The heart of Old Testament worship was the offering of animal sacrifices by a priest on behalf of the worshippers. This sacrificial system taught two crucial theological truths.
First, it emphasized God’s holiness. Unlike many pagan religions, God didn’t require animal sacrifice because he was hungry. He required it because his people violated his moral perfection, and because their violations were treason that made them worthy of death.
But it also emphasized God’s amazing mercy. Because he is holy, God couldn’t overlook their sin. But because he is merciful, he paid the penalty of their sin himself by providing a sacrifice to die in their place. The substitute had to be an animal without physical defect and it had to be offered by God’s chosen mediator (priest). When the proper sacrifice was offered by the proper priest, God “covered” their sin and set them free from the penalty of death.
Of course, the whole thing was only a picture of something still future. The priests were sinful humans and the sacrifices were only animals. According to the Old Testament prophets, the real payment would have to be made by a sinless human Priest who would offer himself as the Sacrifice (Isa.53). That’s why the real priest/sacrifice had to be both human and divine. He had to be human to truly represent us and to be able to die—but he had to be divine so that his death could pay for all of our sins (not just one other human’s).
The author is saying that Jesus is that promised High Priest and Sacrifice. And because he has become a human and died for our sins, we can experience two wonderful benefits:
First, we become eligible to be adopted into God’s new family. Read 2:10-13. Note the recurrence of “family” terminology: “sons;” “brethren;” “children.” God’s wants a great family of humans who experience his love. The point is that because Jesus was willing to become a human and die for our sins, we can be adopted into God’s family.1
This was God’s plan from the beginning, but Adam’s revolt spoiled it. From then on, according to the Bible, we are born physically through our parents’ choice into a human race that is alienated from God. But because Jesus has become a human and died for our sins, we can be born spiritually through our choice to receive his forgiveness into the new family of God. Read and explain Jn.1:12. The moment you make this choice, you are adopted permanently into God’s family—and you can personally experience God’s love—both directly and through your new brothers and sisters (EXPLAIN).
And since Jesus has become a human and paid for our sins, he delivers us from something else. Read 2:14,15—we can be delivered from the enslaving fear of death. According to the Bible, the root of our fear of death is not fear of pain or loss of control or the unknown—it is the awareness of our guilt and fear of God’s judgment (1Cor.15:56). Satan uses this fear to enslave us in various ways (distraction through hedonism and materialism; deception through false religions; despair when these don’t work). But when we receive forgiveness and reconciliation to God through Jesus, we no longer have to fear God’s judgment, and we can be freed then from the terror of death.
I experienced a powerful illustration of this truth through a friend this past year. He was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam, and he contracted cancer from the Agent Orange defoliant that he sprayed while there. Last summer, as he was running out of treatment options, he asked me to go to breakfast with him. He asked me if I would speak at his funeral, and he asked me to take care of a common friend after he was gone. Then he got very quiet and said, “I have another question... Can God forgive me for what I did in Viet Nam?” He then told me some of the horrific situations he was thrust into during that war, and how guilty he felt for some of the choices he made. Now that he was coming to the end of his life, he feared God’s judgment. He said, “I have tried hard to live a good life since then (and he did), but nothing can make up for what I did during that time.” I agreed with him, but then I told him about the Apostle Paul—how he had made terrible choices and yet had experienced complete forgiveness through Jesus. I gave him passages like this one to read and I urged him to trust Jesus’ death to forgive his sins. And over the next year, I talked to him over the phone and marveled at the peace and hope that replaced his fear of death. He knew he was forgiven, and that made all the difference. Just two days before he died, he told me: “I’m not afraid to die anymore because I know I am forgiven.”
You don’t have to wait until you are close to death to be freed from the terror of death, and you don’t have to distract or deceive yourself about it. You can face your own mortality with peace and hope by receiving forgiveness from Jesus...
To help us when we suffer
Here’s one more reason why Jesus became a human—read 2:18. When you are suffering and are tempted to despair, who do you go to for help? If you’re like me, you go to someone who has been through what you’re suffering and who came through it intact. The last person I go to is someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to suffer in this way.
That’s why many people don’t go to God when they’re suffering. They think, “What good is his advice? How can his advice help when he’s been up there is his problem-free, pain-free heaven, not down here in the mess I have to live in. He can’t help me because he can’t understand what I’m going through.”
But because Jesus became a human, he does understand and he can help. Jesus came down from heaven into the depths of human suffering, and he experienced every kind of suffering we will ever know (CHILDHOOD ABUSE; POVERTY; DEATH OF LOVED ONES; REJECTION BY FAMILY; MISSING OUT ON MARRIAGE; DESERTION & BETRAYAL BY FRIENDS; INJUSTICE FROM CIVIL AUTHORITIES; PHYSICAL TORTURE; “PREMATURE” DEATH; FORSAKEN BY GOD). He understands what it feels like, he trusted God as he went through it—and he is able to help you trust God in whatever suffering you’re going through. I have found him to be faithful in every situation of suffering I have experienced in the 36 years since I met him. His track-record of faithfulness in this area is the “rock” that continues to stabilize me as I continue to suffer in various ways. Go to him and to your brother and sisters in Christ. Talk to him alone and with them. Tell him your pain and suffering. Then listen to what he says—both his comfort/encouragement and his instruction/reproof. He won’t necessarily take away your suffering, but he will take you through them to a place of deeper confidence in God.
1 Both of these Old Testament passages (Ps.22 & Isa.8) speak in context of the Messiah’s death. Ps.22 describes his crucifixion in vivid detail. Isa.8 calls him the stone who became a sanctuary for his people but a stone of stumbling for those who rejected him.