The Incarnation in Hebrews, Part Two

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A Qualified High Priest

Suppose you knew that someone was hidden around a corner, but you could see the shadow. If you really wanted to know something about the person, you could learn a good bit by examining the shadow. The shadow would reveal the outline of the person, but the revelation would be limited. It would lack details and it would probably distort the form. One thing you would know, however. The head of the shadow would correspond to the head of the person, chest to chest, knees to knees, and wherever the feet of the shadow ended, the feet of the person would begin.

The Old Testament high priests functioned as shadows of Christ. They gave people a glimpse of an outline that they would never otherwise have seen, even though they distorted the particulars. How could the details not be obscure when finite and sinful men were used to foreshadow the priesthood of Jesus?

Hebrews 5 is structured like a shadow that leads to a person. The shadow—the Levitical high priests—appears in the first four verses. Point by point, the writer describes certain essentials of their priesthood. Beginning in verse five, however, the reality appears, and the reality is Jesus Christ. In a striking mirror image, the writer reverses the same points that he has already covered, using them to explain the priesthood of Jesus. Along the way, the writer teaches an important lesson about the incarnation.

The point at which the shadow switches to the reality occurs in verses 4 and 5. That comparison has to do with the authority for high priesthood. First, the writer reminds his readers of what they all knew, namely that no one takes the honor of high priesthood for himself. Only those who are called by God can be priests.

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The Incarnation in Hebrews, Part One


The Seed of Abraham

The epistle to the Hebrews raises an interesting problem in 2:5-8. The writer opens with the observation that God did not subject the world to angels (5). In other words, angels were not given dominion over the created order. For proof he cites Psalm 8:4-6, which clearly declares that, though God has made the human race a little lower than the angels, He has crowned it with glory and honor and has placed everything under the feet of humans. Quite reasonably (for the author of Hebrews is an able reasoner), he infers that if everything was subjected to human dominion, then nothing in the created order was left outside human control (8).

The author notes a jarring discrepancy, however. While the psalmist declares that everything is under human dominion, experience teaches otherwise. Whereas nothing is supposed to be exempted from human control, what we observe is that many things are not subject to humans. This apparent contradiction requires explanation.

The explanation consists in two parts. First, the writer uses the expression, “not yet,” when he speaks of human dominion. While humans do not presently exercise the full rulership of creation, some day they will.

Second, the writer points to Jesus Christ, who is already crowned with glory and honor (9), the very dignity that Psalm 8 confers upon all humanity. Yet he notes that it was not always so. Surprisingly, he declares that for a little while, Jesus Himself was made lower than the angels. How can this startling declaration be true? In what respect was Jesus made lower than the angels? The writer gives a clear answer: for the suffering of death. No angel can die, not even a fallen one. By taking a mortal nature into Himself, God’s Son stooped to an experience that no angel will ever share.

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Christmas: Redemption Provided

The second Person of the triune God added a human nature to His divine nature a little more than 2,000 years ago. This stupendous and miraculous event was revealed to God’s people from the beginning of the world. God announced to Satan not long after the creation of Adam and Eve (which occurred “at the beginning,” Matt. 19:4): “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed [the unbelieving community of mankind] and her seed [all true believers represented by their Savior]; [He] shall bruise thy head [a fatal, judicial blow delivered to Satan at the cross—John 12:31], and thou shalt bruise His heel [the crucifixion of Christ]” (KJV, Gen. 3:15).

Especially noteworthy is the emphasis on “the woman” (rather than “the man” or even “the man and the woman”). If Adam was the responsible head of that family unit (“by one man sin entered into the world,” Rom. 5:12; and “by man came death,” 1 Cor. 15:21), what function was Eve to have in the light of this prophetic announcement? Adam perceived that his wife, though instrumental in the fall (1 Tim. 2:14), would, by the amazing grace of God, be instrumental in bringing their Savior into the world. Therefore he named her Eve (i.e., “life” or “living”) “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

Our first parents could not, of course, have understood when or how this wonderful seed would accomplish their delivery from the power of Satan. Eve may have thought that her first son would be that person (“I have gotten a man from the LORD,” Gen. 4:1). And the name Adam gave to her (“life”) shows that he also believed God’s promise. This is confirmed by the fact that “the LORD God made coats of skin, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).

By shedding the blood of innocent beings in order to symbolically provide coverings to protect them in their sinful state from His holy wrath, God demonstrated to Adam and Eve that their sin was atoned for—temporarily covered or passed over.

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Giving Thanks While Remembering the Incarnation

O God of God, O Light of Light, O very God of very God, toward You I cast my mind as the tempest casts waves from the sea. Like breakers upon ancient crags do my small thoughts dash against You and fall back into themselves. In You I find—and fail to fathom—height above height and depth beyond depth, eternal and incomprehensible.

Lover of my soul, You veil Yourself from prying eyes. You hide Yourself from the curious and You rebuff the inquisitive. You hold Your radiance as a precious treasure, not as merchandise to satisfy faithless seekers who peer into the transcendent.

O Alpha and Omega, O Uncreated One, O First and Last: You are the only-begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, begotten before all worlds, begotten but not made. You made all things, both visible and invisible, whether things in heaven, or things on the earth, or things under the earth, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. By You all things consist, for You uphold all things by the word of Your power. You are before them all, and they all are by You and for You and in You.

Divine Poet, creation is Your stanza. Though You are altogether above the things that You have made, yet through Your handiwork You disclose Yourself. In the created world have You shown Yourself. By it do we clearly see invisible mysteries. Throughout Your poem have You spoken a message of eternal power and Godhead. The very skies declare Your praise to every eye. Day speaks to day and night whispers to night, and no ear is deaf to their voice.

Let the whole creation sing to Your glory! Let the fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea, the beasts of the field and the trees of the forest cry out Your praises! Let the sea roar and the fields rejoice in Your presence! Let the mountains tremble at Your majesty and the heavens be afraid under Your dominion!

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The First Christmas: Why Did God's Son Come to Planet Earth?

Is there anything special about planet Earth that God the Father would send His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, through Whom the universe was created (John 1:3), all the way down from the third heaven to this tiny speck in the ocean of space?
First of all, how far did He have to come to get here? The psalmist asks, “Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!” (Ps. 113:5-6, KJV).

If God must humble Himself to behold the universe, how much more must He humble Himself to find the Milky Way (one of billions of galaxies), and the solar system of planets orbiting our sun (one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy) and then planet Earth (one of the smaller planets)? The universe is infinite in its magnitude as far as human beings are concerned, for God has assured us that “if heaven above can be measured … I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD” (Jer. 31:37). Which means, of course, that we can never measure it! No, “the host of heaven cannot be numbered” (Jer. 33:22), for “the stars of the heaven” are as numerous as “the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17).

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