The Lord's Day Morning
January 27, 2013
“By the Grace of God, He Tasted Death”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 2. We’re going to be looking at verses 5 to 9 this morning as we continue this series in the letter or the sermon of the Hebrews. We've seen already in this book, repeated a number of times in Hebrews chapter 1, the theme that Jesus is better. That's the author's way of driving home the point that there's nowhere you can go better than Jesus. No matter what it is that you’re tempted to trust in, Jesus is better. It's the way the author is celebrating Jesus’ all sufficiency, Jesus’ supremacy. He's saying to you over and over, “Jesus is enough,” and “He's more than enough,” and “There's nowhere else apart from Jesus that you can go and get better or get enough. Only Jesus can answer your needs. Only Jesus can satisfy. He's the best; He's better.” And that theme has echoed throughout the studies that we have had so far in this book.
Last week, as we looked at Hebrews 2 verses 1 to 4, we saw the first challenge of the book. And the challenge was for us to take the Gospel seriously. And part of the way that the author in those four verses pressed home the point that we need to take the Gospel seriously is to point to us to the importance of Jesus’ message, the importance of the consequences of ignoring Jesus’ message, and that theme continues on in the passage we're going to read today. He's going to continue to press on our hearts the message to take the Gospel seriously by pointing to us who it is that we're dealing with. We’re dealing with Jesus. And who is He? He is exalted above the angels. The dominion of the world has been put into His hands. And that's emphasized in the passage that we're going to read and the first few verses look especially at verses 6, 7, and 8 by the author quoting Hebrews 8 — or Psalm 8. So the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 and he says, “Look this psalm, which speaks about God giving man dominion, a dominion over the earth that our first parents, Adam and Eve, lost because of their rebellion, God has reinvested that dominion now in a second Adam, whose name is Jesus. And that's why we need to take the Gospel seriously, because the Jesus of the Gospel message is a Jesus who has dominion over everything.”
Now today I want us to look especially at four phrases in this section. This is an exceedingly rich section and even these four little phrases, all of which come from verses 8 and 9 — go ahead and be looking there — these four phrases, you could meditate on them for the rest of your life and not exhaust their richness. But as we read, I want you to be on the lookout for them. The first phrase you’ll find in verse 8 — “He left nothing outside his control.” So He, God, left nothing outside His, that is, Jesus’, control. God left nothing outside of Jesus’ control. Have you ever meditated on that before? God left nothing outside Jesus’ control. Be on the lookout for that because we're going to think about that together this morning.
And then in that same verse, at the very end of verse 8, he goes on to say this — “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Understanding that is one of the great keys to living the Christian life. So I want you to think about that; we're going to be focusing on it together today. Then look at verse 9. Two more phrases — “Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.” Crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death? Yes, in fact, that phrase will prove to be the key to understanding the principles of the Christian life that have been articulated in those two earlier phrases in verse 8. And then it culminates with this word. Look at the very end of verse 9 — “So that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Be on the lookout for those things because we're going to concentrate on them together.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we need it. We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So teach us, Lord. Speak, Your servants listen. We pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, beginning in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 5:
“Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The book of Hebrews is a book about Jesus. The book of Hebrews is a book about the Christian life. Those are not contradictions. The book of Hebrews is about Jesus. We've seen it from the very beginning verses. There is a radical focus on Jesus. This is a book of Jesusology. It is filled with the study of Jesus. But it is also, at the same time, a book about how we live the Christian life and we see that very clearly in the passage today. It's all focused on Jesus, this whole passage is about who Jesus is, what God has bestowed on Him, and what He has done for us. But all of those things are told to us so that we can live the Christian life. Do you understand that if we do not grasp the four truths that are recorded for us, especially in verses 8 and 9, in this passage, we cannot live the Christian life? And all of these truths are about Jesus and they’re about His providential rule. And so I want us to think about them together today because all of us need to know how to live the Christian life. And all of us here today have brought out own troubles and challenges to living the Christian life with us this morning. And we need to hear the message of this word.
HE LEFT NOTHING OUTSIDE OF HIS CONTROL
And the first one I want you to see in verse 8. It's actually emphasized four times in these few verses. It's a theme that culminates with the words, “He left nothing outside his control,” but I want you to look back at verse 5 and then down to verse 8 again and I want you to see four times in this passage God pressing home the same truth — “God subjected the world to come,” by implication in this passage to Jesus. Then look at verse 8 — “putting everything in subjection under his feet” — God subjected the world to come to Jesus. God subjected everything to Him. He put everything in subjection under Jesus’ feet. Then again, “now in putting everything in subjection to him” — there's the third time. And the fourth time, “He left nothing outside his control.” Do you hear what God is saying over and over just in case you and I, who can be a little bit slow might miss it, do you hear what He's saying? God has put everything under Jesus’ feet. Do you believe that? That God has put everything under Jesus’ feet? That Jesus is in charge of absolutely everything and that God has given Him that authority? Do you believe that? Do you believe that is true almost all the time, most all the time, some of the time? No, no, no. The author of Hebrews is saying that is true all of the time. There are no categories outside from under that which is in subjection to Him! Everything has been put under Jesus’ feet. That truth is so important for living the Christian life. You can't live the Christian life unless you believe that truth.
You understand the point of quoting Hebrews 8 — of Psalm 8? The author of Hebrews is saying, “Look, when God created Adam and Eve, remember He gave them dominion over this world. He said to Eve and to Adam, ‘Rule the world! I'm putting the world in subjection to you!’ And what did they do? They rebelled against God and their dominion was wrecked.” And the author of Hebrews is quoting Psalm 8 to say, “But in God's kindness, He has given us a second Adam who is flesh and blood, a Man, not an angel but a Man, just like us. And He has given Him dominion over this world. He's got the whole world in His hand.” That's what the author of Hebrews is saying to us. God has given Jesus dominion for us to restore it to us. He's got the whole world in His hands. And my friends, believing that is one of the great challenges of the Christian life.
AT PRESENT WE DO NOT YET SEE EVERYTHING IN SUBJECTION TO HIM
And that becomes much more sharply focused when we see the second thing. Look again at verse 8 because the very next thing that the author of Hebrews will say is this. “At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” And you’re saying, “Tell me about it! That's the understatement of the century! I look out at this world and it's going crazy. I look at my country and I wonder, ‘Is this the same country I grew up in?’ And I look around my family and my life — unfaithful spouses, unhappy marriages, wandering children, unbelieving sons, rebellious daughters, estranged parents, broken friendships. You mean, that's under subjection to Jesus too? It doesn't look like it.” “At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Do you understand what the author of Hebrews is saying? He's saying that every obscene thing that you can imagine, though it doesn't look like it, is in subjection to Jesus. There is nothing that is outside the realm of the control of His power. And my friends, we have to know this just to be able to wake up in the morning and keep on going. And the author of Hebrews is telling us about this because he wants us to know who this Jesus is who is at the center of the message of the Gospel. He's not just some kindly spiritual man giving you some tips on how to live a little bit better life. He rules this world because the Father has given Him that authority.
Now that's got to cause you some tension. You know, you say, “Well Ligon, you Christians tell me that I've got to believe that Jesus is in control of this world but I'm looking at my life right now and it doesn't look like Jesus is in control of my life and it doesn't look like Jesus is in control of this culture or of this world. It doesn't look like it.” The author of Hebrews is waiting for you in this next phrase. Look at verse 9. This phrase is absolutely essential to you learning to live in the tension of those first two phrases, that Jesus has had everything put in subjection to Him but it doesn't look like it yet.
CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR
BECAUSE OF THE SUFFERING OF DEATH
And here's what he says. “Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.” We see Him. We don't see everything in subjection to Him but we do see Him, “Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.” In other words, the author of Hebrews says, “Okay, you’re living in this tension, you know that you’re supposed to believe that everything is in subjection to Jesus, but there is something in your experience that has broken your heart. It has crushed you. And you can't put it together with the idea that Jesus is in control of everything.” And he says, “Okay dear friend, this is what I want you to do. I want you to look at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I want you to look at His experience and I want you to see this. I want you to see that God bestowed glory and honor on Him because of His suffering and death. And I want you to bring that truth to bear on your own experience.”
In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying this. The God who bestowed glory on Jesus is the God who ordained suffering for Jesus. The God who bestowed glory on Jesus is the God who ordained suffering for Jesus. And not only that, He bestowed glory on Him because of the suffering. And my friends, if we're believers we're united to Him in His life, death, and resurrection. And do you know what that means? Do you know what that means for us? It means this. It's not only Jesus Himself who gains glory through suffering but all of His followers. So when you look at your experience and you say, “This shouldn't be happening to me!” The Father points to Jesus the Son and says, “Do you think that should have been happening to Him?”
You know, here's the interesting thing my friends. Even when I experience things in my life that are not due to my sin, and all of us experience hard things in this life that have nothing to do with our personal sin. Our personal sin hasn't brought them upon us. We may sin in our response to them but they are things that none of us would have chosen and none of us are — they’re just part of providence. But you know, even when those things happen to me, I can always say this. “I have gotten better than I deserve.” No matter how bad it is, I can say, “I have gotten better than I deserve.” You can never say that about Jesus. Jesus never got better than He deserved in this life. You do understand that? You and I always, no matter how bad it is, have gotten better than we deserve. Jesus never got better than He deserved. And so the Father, He's pointing us to Jesus and He's saying, “When you can't make sense of your trial, of your trouble, of your suffering, I want you to look at My Son on whom I bestowed glory and honor, but I did it because of His suffering. And I want you to trust that just as His suffering was under My sovereignty and thus in subjection to Jesus, your suffering is under My sovereignty and thus in subjection to Jesus.”
Now at that point, Christians start doing something like this. “Okay, Lord, I really, really, really want to believe that. I really do. I want to believe that. I want to believe that everything has been put into subjection to Jesus.” But when we start, when we take that first step of really, really wanting to believe that, what starts welling up in our throats? “Why?!” Did you hear it? When Billy was reading the passage this morning where Jeremiah is given the responsibility to preach this message of judgment and Jeremiah, finally it comes out of his throat, “Why this ceaseless pain, Lord?” And I don't know whether the Lord ever answered that question to Jeremiah; I really don't. I'm pretty sure He never answered Job's, “Why?” You know, you say, “Lord, I want to trust You. I want to believe that Jesus is in charge. I want to believe that everything is in subjection to Jesus but I want to know why this is happening to me!”
SO THAT BY THE GRACE OF GOD HE MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE
And that's where the fourth phrase comes in, my friends, because the Lord doesn't always explain to us why what is happening to us is happening to us. But here's what He does. He says, “I'm going to explain to you why what happened to Jesus happened to Jesus so that you can trust Me when you don't know why. I'm going to explain to you why what happened to Jesus happened to Jesus so that you can trust Me when you don't know why and when I haven't given you an answer for what is happening to you.” And here's what He says. Look at these incredibly rich words — “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” You do understand that in that little phrase you have the Gospel in a nutshell. And here's the Father's answer to you. The “Why?” has choked up in your throat and the Father says, “Child, look at your elder brother, Jesus, look at My firstborn Son, My only begotten Son, Jesus. Look at Him. Why did I ordain suffering and death for Him? So that He could taste death for you and you could finally be alive. That's why. Why the suffering in His life? For your everlasting joy. Because in My grace and love I refused to allow you to be destroyed by your sin, and instead, My Son suffered and died in your place so that you might have life.”
And you say to me, “But it's still hard because there are so many ‘Whys?’ in my life that I want an answer for and I don't have an answer for and I've cried out to God and He's not told me. And the Father is saying, “Yes child, that's right. The many whys that you have cried out to Me, like Jeremiah and like the psalmist in the middle of the night and I've never answered you, but I have answered this and it's a bigger question — Why did I ordain that My Son would suffer? I ordained that My Son would suffer because I loved you and so that My grace could save you. Now you can trust Me knowing that with the whys that I don't answer because if I can have a good design in that I can have a good design in very unanswered prayer that you have ever uttered.”
Do you realize how that changes our lives? Suddenly we are not the victims of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, nor of a cruel and capricious God. But our suffering and our troubles and our trials, they’re meaningful. And what's more, if I understand this passage, they’re necessary to the glory that God plans to bestow on us like He bestowed on His Son. And there will come a day where it will all come clear. As clear as it is now to us in God's design with Jesus, it will all come clear. And all the whys will be turned to praise. That's why we need these four truths to live the Christian life, because we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. So how are we going to live in that? By faith in the Jesus who rules everything, absolutely everything, even when it doesn't look like it, knowing that His suffering and death led to Him being crowned with glory and honor and so it will certainly be the case with us, because we're united to Him. And what was God's good purpose in that suffering? That a multitude that no man can number, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, would be gathered to be with Him forever.
Our Lord and our God, thank you, in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you take your bulletins in hand and look at the bottom of the Morning Guide and we’ll sing Psalm 8 to God's praise.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.