The Incarnation for a Hurting World
When a family-member, friend, or co-worker is suffering, we’re quick to jump to worldly comfort or perhaps the sovereignty of God. It is wise to remind those to whom we minister that no person or situation is outside of God’s grasp or concern, and perhaps a solid pat on the back is helpful every so often. However, we will find ourselves malnourished if we don’t also consider Christ’s humanity as extremely relevant to a world of hurt. For many of us it is a daily struggle to believe that the God of the universe truly cares about our lives, much less the detail of our personal hurts. Only in Christ do we find a God so concerned with the messiness of our lives that he entered into it. This article will take a short but thoughtful look at Hebrews 2:14-3:6 in order to develop an understanding of Christ’s incarnation and its application for a hurting world.
Though the author of our passage is not identified, the references to Old Testament texts and concepts throughout provide evidence that the original readers were quite familiar with the Jewish-Christian worldview. Given the counsel we see provided throughout the book, the recipients were very likely suffering through some persecution and perhaps in danger of turning away from the true gospel, making it relevant to our topic of study.
In considering the immediate context of this passage, the author begins in chapter two by discussing the danger of ignoring truth, reminding readers of the “just punishment” that may follow from disregarding one’s salvation. It then moves into the humiliation and glory of God’s Son, who had to identify himself with mortal human beings in order to “taste death for everyone.” There is a clear outline of the Son’s perfection through suffering (v. 10) and his solidarity with humanity (v. 11). The text then presents Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17 as support for this truth. From there, in vv. 14-18, the author moves to develops the implications of Christ’s solidarity in order to address the necessity of the Incarnation. Jesus partook of humanity in full in order to break the power of the devil and free those who were held in slavery (all of Abraham’s descendants). The logical connective “so that” in 2:14 expresses purpose, indicating that the purpose of the Incarnation was to “render powerless him who had the power of death” and “free those…subject to slavery.” The Son had to become human in order to become the high priest, and he had to become a high priest “in order to offer the ultimate sacrifice for sins” (vv.17-18).
A new unit of thought develops in 3:1-6 as the author acknowledges Jesus as the apostle and high priest and moves on to contrast Jesus and Moses. The author pulls again from the Septuagint, this time from Numbers 12:7, when Moses’ faithfulness to the “house” refers to his ministry to and responsibility of a “defined group of people in special relationship to God.” In short, the author’s intention is clear: to urge readers to stand firm in their faith. The author encourages this by pointing to Jesus, his superiority, and the importance of his readers’ proper response and commitment to him by shifting focus from a worldly to eternal perspective.
How Do We Counsel the Hurting?
When providing counsel to those we love (or even ourselves) in times of hurt, is this where we begin? Do we start by reminding and being reminded of the truth that God himself has come to earth? Do we marvel that he’s done so as our high priest, identifying in every way with the human struggle of pain, loneliness, grief, sickness, and death? His pain-filled and suffering pursuit of us through the Incarnation ought to act as a well of hope from which we draw in difficult times. In our counsel, we always need to echo the form of Incarnation by starting with God and working down to earth, shifting the perspective from worldly to external.
Hebrews 2:14-18 explains the necessity and value of the Incarnation and Jesus’ appointment as high priest while stressing that human beings have a responsibility to respond to him in a particular way. Chapter 3:1-6 discusses the role of Jesus as the Son over God’s house and his superior role and responsibilities to Moses. Theologically, the entire passage speaks to Jesus’ unity with humanity, the purpose of the Incarnation and the superiority of the New Covenant found in Jesus Christ’s high priesthood. It explains why that Incarnation was necessary—Christ had to “share in flesh and blood” in order to experience death (v. 14) and also render it ineffective in keeping humanity separated from God. Because Christ is now death’s master, we are no longer enslaved by it.
It is worth noting that the pain and hurt caused by our own sin can no longer force us into a downward spiral of shame or repeated poor choices. It is no longer our sin that defines us. It is no longer sin that enslaves humanity. In fact, given Christ’s work as the high priest, we ought to now consider the act of committing sin as less-than-human. In other words, Christ isn’t less-than-human because he didn’t sin, he is truly human because he didn’t sin! Though we still suffer with indwelling sin in the already-not-yet, it does not define our status any longer. To lust, to get angry, to be addicted – all of it is us acting out of a false self. Part of our counsel to those hurting from sinful choices ought to remind them that sin no longer defines them and that their true self is one redeemed and beloved by God himself.
So why the incarnation? The author provides several reasons starting in verse 17.
First,Christ’s humanity was necessary in order for him to become a “merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). Only because Christ was fully human could he stand in as the high priest for humanity. The function of the “chief priest” or “high priest” was to act as a representative of the people, making access to God possible through the sacrificial system. The author sees Jesus as the “one, true, faithful high priest,” which highlights his unity with humankind and his leadership of God’s people into God’s presence. As the high priest, Jesus was uniquely qualified to make atonement for the sins of the people. Christ’s work of reconciliation, where he turns aside God’s wrath by taking away the sins of the people, made the OT ritual of atonement obsolete and brought about the New Covenant community.
Second, Christ reconciles humanity to God, accomplished through his sacrificial death, which was necessary to make atonement for the sins of the people (v. 18). The author then assures his readers that Christ is able to help them in their temptation because he himself suffered when he was tempted. The tense of the verb “suffered” is significant here. The perfect tense is used and emphasizes that even though the temptation of Christ is a past event the effect continues to be felt in the present. To clarify, even though Christ suffered temptation in the past, we are continually being helped by him in our present time and can experience his help as an ongoing reality in the future. The author finishes by explaining that the readers’ perseverance in faith will act as the ultimate sign of their commitment to Christ.
The Purpose of the Incarnation
This passage addresses the reason and purpose for the Incarnation and the superiority of Jesus’ faithfulness as the Son. The author’s explanation of the Incarnation provides readers with a wonderful summary of the logic behind Christ’s humanity and his suffering. It was because Christ became human and lived a sinless life that he could stand in our place in order to make propitiation for our sins. His role as Apostle and High Priest was only made possible in the Incarnation and Christ’s opportunity to remain faithful to God. Jesus’ faithfulness to his role as Son over all God’s house establishes the superiority of the New Covenant and now provides humanity with total access to God.
This passage speaks volumes to a hurting world. Our natural response to a hurting person is often lacking, leaning mostly on worldly counsel to “cheer up” or perhaps we’ll dress it up with “God’s in control!” Maybe, when needing to counsel our family or close friends, we simply take them out to a movie in order to get their mind off things. As trite as it sounds in writing, this is the extent to much of our counsel, and though there are some good aspects in these methods, those who need true Christ-like counsel will be left wanting.
Hurting people—whether they are feeling lonely, depressed, angry, or suffering through intense pain—need to continually be assured of God’s tremendous concern for every aspect of their being. Pointing to the humanity of Christ allows us to call out two major, comforting truths: 1) Empathy; and, 2) initiative.
To start, we can find empathy in Jesus because he was “made like us in every respect.” Christ is human, which means he stared sin and shame and darkness in the face. He knows loneliness. He knows fully well the temptation to retreat and turn from God, but he, uniquely, was able to stand in power against that temptation and honor the Father in victory. Only Christ can teach us what it is to be fully human. He alone can offer us a picture of true empathy and an empowering model for fighting through temptation all the way through victory through the power of God, which is now alive in us via the Spirit.
Also, we’re given the encouragement in the truth of initiative. This person, though they doubt that God might care for them, cannot stare at the Incarnation long without being wooed away from sorrow. The God of the universe, who is unique and utterly transcendent, came to us! As fallen, mortal human beings we cannot possible “get” to God. He must first come to us, and he proves his love and concern by descending his throne and being made like his brothers and dwelling with us. We cannot possible claim that God does not care. He has first pursued us in the person of Christ, taking immense measure to dwell among us just as the Spirit does today. What worship is brought about when one considers the extent that God went to reconcile himself to us!
Ultimately, it’s worth quickly noting that neither our sin nor all the hurt in the world can or does detach us from God. Sin no longer necessarily separates. Christ bridged the gap as the true man and high priest. We can freely counsel others to turn away from sin patterns and darkness and to their loving Father who is absolutely concerned with their life.
Evan Perkins served as a teaching pastor at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, CO for three years before transitioning to a professional sales role in Austin, TX. He holds an MDiv from Denver Seminary and currently serves as a lay-leader and elder candidate at City Life Church. He is the husband of Lauren and the father of their son, Eli.