Sermon for December 29, 2019

Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9 • Psalm 148 • Hebrews 2:10-18 • Matthew 2:13-22

This week’s theme is God always with us. Isaiah speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord who became our Savior, took on our afflictions, redeemed us and lifted us up. The author of Hebrews reminds us Jesus is the one who sanctifies and became the atonement for our sins. He is our help. The psalmist reminds us this is why we praise the Lord: he has raised up a horn (a symbol of strength) for his people. Matthew reminds us that Jesus is the one who was prophesied—even going to Egypt to fulfill a scripture reminding us that God’s plan was to be with us. The sermon reminds us we are never alone—God is always with us.

Never Alone

Hebrews 2:10-18 NRSV

Author Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Nowhere is this truer than in leadership. Whether in business, the military, or any other organization, good leaders understand that to be respected, they must be willing to share space, tasks, and hardships with those they are leading.

Last week we celebrated Christmas—the birth of Jesus—the beginning of the incarnation—when God became flesh. He remained physical flesh for a bit more than 30 years and then he became a glorified human. We do not know exactly what glorified human means, but it tells us Jesus is still in the state of incarnation. He is still a human. Incarnation was not an event, but a new beginning of God with us.

“God with us” is the name Isaiah used in prophecy that referred to Jesus—Immanuel or Emmanuel. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” God became flesh for us—not just to save us, but to show us he loves us so much he was willing to live just as we do, to suffer with us, to face injustice just as we do, to show us he is fully with us and we are never alone.

Martin Luther said this about Jesus:

In his life Christ is an example showing us how to live; in his death, he is a sacrifice satisfying for our sins; in his resurrection, a conqueror; in his ascension, a king; in his intercession a high priest. ~ Martin Luther

The example we set determines whether or not someone will hear us, and there is no better example than God with us—Jesus. Throughout the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles, we see how the second Person of the Trinity became human in part to understand human suffering and be our comfort.

Before we continue, let me share four more quotes on the importance of example, and I ask you to think of Jesus when you hear these quotes.

“The three most important ways to lead people are: … by example… by example… by example.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” ~ Paul Wellstone

“People may teach what they know, but they reproduce what they are.” ~ John C. Maxwell

Now let’s read our text for today:

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:10-18 NRSV)

In this passage we see that Jesus is considered the “pioneer” or leader of our salvation, who was made “perfect” through suffering. This wording doesn’t mean that Jesus lacked moral perfection or that he wasn’t fully divine. Maclaren’s Expositions has this to say:

Christ’s perfecting is not the perfecting of His moral character, but the completion of His equipment for His work of being the Captain of our salvation…, He was not ready for His function of Leader and Originator of our salvation until He had passed through the sufferings of life and the agonies of death.

What an example for us! Jesus willingly went through everything we face to show the depth of his love for us. But not only that, his example takes away any argument that Jesus doesn’t understand, “God can’t know what I’m going through because he is God.” God knows the heart of every person and what is necessary to reach into the depth of our doubts and our fears. Maclaren’s Expositions also makes the point that Jesus “cannot lift us up into a share of His glory unless He stoops to the companionship of our grief.” Because he first loved us—and proved it by his words and his example—we can love him. By Jesus becoming human, he shows us compassion and that he understands how to best comfort a suffering world. He shows us we are never alone.

Let’s consider these ideas from the passage:

  • Jesus’s humanity means he understands the joys and sufferings of human beings. And because Jesus understands, we know he stands in solidarity with us as we rejoice and as we weep. We are never alone in our human experience. We have each other and Jesus, and when we show compassion to each other, we are the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Jesus breaks the power of death by succumbing to it, taking it to the grave, and allowing God to transform it. At first, the disciples thought Jesus was dead until the final ressurection. They didn’t understand that sometimes winning means giving in and letting God redeem and resurrect. This way of breaking death’s power over us is completely contradictory to our human nature. Our survivor instinct tells us to fight, but if we’re quiet and listening, we will figure out that resting in God and letting God transform a situation might be the best course of action.

Application:

When you suffer, know that you are never alone. Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through, and he is as close as your next breath. Know that your experience of suffering isn’t wasted because you will be able to comfort someone else as Jesus (and other people) have comforted you.

  • Following Jesus’s example, the best leaders are those who aren’t afraid to be on the same level as those they’re leading. This might mean taking the initiative to serve and work alongside others rather than delegating. It definitely means exercising kindness and compassion, and it means encouraging those you are leading. Francis of Assisi said, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”
  • When faced with a challenging situation, consider accepting it rather than fighting against it, and give God space to transform it. While this certainly doesn’t apply to situations of abuse or life and death, many times we are faced with a reality that is different than what we think we want. We often resist and fight against this reality, either consciously or unconsciously, by complaining or making sarcastic jokes. Think about Jesus’s example of giving in to death in order to break its power and allowing God to transform it. By waiting on God to resolve the situation when we cannot do it ourselves, we make space for transformation to happen, both in us and in our circumstances.

Not only is Jesus the “pioneer” or leader of our salvation, but he is our comfort in the midst of suffering and loss because he has been there. It was God’s intent to lift us up, to bring us into a relationship with the Triune God, but to do that, God’s Son had to become one of us. And by becoming one of us, Jesus also was equipped to break the power of death and our fear of death by giving into it and making space for God to transform it.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From “Speaking of Life” and the sermon:

  • In v. 12, Jesus calls us “brothers and sisters” and points out that he has been sanctified by God just like us (v. 11). How does this make you feel to know that God’s Son has placed himself on the same plane or level as us?
  • Can you think of a situation where you as a leader “lowered” yourself to the level of those you were leading? If so, tell about that experience and what you learned about being a good leader.
  • Share a time a leader “lowered” him or herself in order to walk with you, to explain something to you, or to experience something with you. What did that teach you about leadership?
  • The sharing of experiences (either good or bad) creates a bond between people. Knowing how someone feels helps him/her feel understood. How can we use this in ministering to people at church and in our daily life? How can this shared experience lead to deeper conversations about God?
  • It says that by going through death, Jesus “free[d] those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (v. 15). Why would Jesus’ experience free us from fear of death? Despite this freedom, we still sometimes struggle with the fear of death. Why do you think that is?

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