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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Christ Removes Our Fear of Death
Text:Hebrews 2:14-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-05-11
Updated:2022-05-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Worship Christ, The Risen King!

The Lord My Shepherd Holds Me

My Faith Looks Up to Thee

Jesus Lives and So Shall I

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


02/07/2016
“Christ Removes Our Fear of Death”
Hebrews 2:14-18
 
Biblical names speak volumes. The name “Adam” sounds like the Hebrew word for “ground.”  Abram means “exalted father”; Abraham, “Father of many.” Joshua means “Jehovah is salvation,” and points us to the greater Joshua, Jesus Christ.
 
But the significance of biblical names is evident, not only for people, but also in the many names for Satan. He has a variety of descriptive names, including: the adversary, the angel of the bottomless pit, a liar from the beginning, the prince of the power of the air, and a murderer.
 
While that is just a small sampling of the many descriptive names for the evil one, it gives us an inkling of his deceptiveness and power. By ourselves we can never stand against him, and that is one of the reasons why the eternal Christ came to this earth in human flesh. As verse 14 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil.”
 
It is the devil who by his temptation of Adam and Eve brought death into the world. It was God who gave the warning that in the day that our first parents ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. But it was the devil who brought them to that point of death. It is the devil who incites sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
 
It is because of the work of Satan that death in all its forms has entered into the world. Physical death separates body and soul. But, more importantly, spiritual death separates all humanity from God. Unless you and I are born again with a spiritual birth we face eternal death. Eternal death is eternal separation from the love of God in the reality of hell.
 
In other words, we face a formidable foe who is much stronger than any of us. And his goal is to eternally separate us from the love of God. It is a predicament that no human being, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, could ever resolve. But Christ can, and did solve the greatest predicament any of us will ever face. Verse 14 tells us one reason why the eternal Christ – God Himself – took on human flesh. Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…”
 
Verse 14 teaches us that flesh and blood were necessary for the eternal Christ to destroy the devil’s power of death over us. Through His own death and resurrection Jesus has indeed taken the power of death from the devil. Because the devil brought sin into the world, we all face a physical death, but through the work of our Savior and Lord, physical death no longer has power over us. As Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even though he dies.” (John 11:25)
 
In a similar way, the apostle Paul gives us that great exclamation mark toward the end of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. He describes how Jesus rose again from the dead and how those who believe in Him will also rise. He writes: “‘...Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  
It is by the work of Christ – through His life of perfect obedience, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection – that Satan's doom is sealed. But we also take comfort in knowing that the power of death has always been regulated by God. God has allowed the evil one the power to bring death, but only under the permissive will of God. As Psalm 139 teaches us, the exact number of days for us to live were written in God's book before one of them came into being. As the Lord says in Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”
 
Although the Lord has allowed the evil one to have the power of death, it is yet the Lord who has always had power over the devil. We see that in a verse like Job 2:6, where the Lord says to Satan concerning Job, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” The Lord always clearly sets the limit on what Satan can do.
 
In much the same way, Moses, in his prayer recorded in Psalm 90, acknowledges the Lord’s sovereign power over death. He prayed, “You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” And we see the same truth – that God holds the ultimate power, and not Satan – in those words of assurance in Revelation 1:17-18 where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
 
Because Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades, and because He came in human flesh to destroy the work of the devil, He takes from us our fear of death. Verse 15 gives the natural result for those who believe in Jesus: He came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” As Matthew Henry points out, “He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet into the grave.”
 
Jesus frees us from our fear of death, not only physical death but spiritual death and eternal death, described in Revelation 20:6 as “the second death.” Revelation 20:6 assures us: “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them...” And Revelation 21:8 describes unrepentant sinners whose “place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
 
But as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we need not fear death in any of its forms. Those of you who have saving faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ can say with David of old, as he looked ahead to the Messiah by faith, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
 
Consider the dying words of Dwight Moody the well-known evangelist of the 1800s. As he lay on his deathbed, he said to a friend who stopped by to visit:You will read in the paper someday that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I will be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that’s all. Out of this clay tenement house into a house that is immortal, a body sin cannot touch or taint, a body fashioned like His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born in the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die but that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
 
For those who have true saving faith in Christ, physical death is just the doorway to heaven. It is the putting aside of an earthly tent to take up a heavenly home. It is the end of all sinning and the culmination of all glory. By contrast, unbelievers, even though they deny it, carry a great fear of death with them which intensifies as they grow closer to their death bed. But if you have life from above through saving faith in Christ, nothing can separate you from the eternal love of the God who holds you secure in His hands and indwells and empowers you by His Spirit.
 
Atonement for Sin
 
While verse 14 and 15 give us great assurance that we need not fear death, verse 17 points us directly to how Jesus has freed us from our fear of death. It says, “For this reason He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
 
The word translated “make atonement” in the NIV is translated “make propitiation” in the ESV and some other translations. It is because Jesus “made propitiation” for sinners, that sinners like ourselves have atonement.
 
Propitiation means to cover what is offensive to the person looking at it. Propitiation comes from the biblical word that was used to describe the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. It was there that the high priest on the Day of Atonement would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat. Beneath that seat were the two tablets of the law, along with Aaron's staff which had budded and a jar of manna. The Lord symbolically dwelt above the mercy seat between the outstretched wings of the cherubim.
 
As such, He would see the tablets of the law and know the infractions of the people against every law all that was given. He would see the jar of manna and be reminded of their many complaints against His gracious providence in bringing them out of Egypt. He would see the staff of Aaron and remember how Aaron formed the golden calves and credited them with deliverance from Egypt instead of the faithful Lord who had given him power in the staff.
 
But when the high priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, the Lord would see the blood of the sacrifice and His righteous and proper wrath against sin would be appeased. That imagery, which took place every year on the Day of Atonement, was looking ahead to the shed blood of Jesus which makes propitiation – covers – your sins and mine and thus appeases the righteous and proper wrath of God against sin.
 
It is because Jesus has made a propitiation with his blood, covering all the transgressions of the law that we have committed, that we now have atonement. The word translated “atonement” in the NIV originally meant “at-one-ment”. It describes two who were reconciled as one after being alienated and separated from each other. Specifically, it is speaking of sinners like ourselves who are reconciled to God the Father because of saving faith in Jesus the Son, who shed His blood as a propitiation for our sins.
 
If Christ had not come as the truly human person, Jesus, He could not shed his blood on the cross of Calvary. Without the shedding of His blood there would be no propitiation; there would be no atonement. Without shedding His precious blood, the devil would still have power over death – not just physical death, but the much more terrible power of eternal death, which is eternal separation from the love of God in the reality of hell.
 
Jesus Himself said, in John 15:33, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what He has done for you and for me. There is no greater love than that demonstrated by God in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
 
We see that pinnacle of our Savior's love for us in verse 16. There we see that Jesus took on our humanity and willingly died for us because, “surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.”
 
There is no plan of salvation for the angels. Instead we read in Jude: 6, “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”
 
But there is not only a plan of salvation for fallen sinners like ourselves. There is also an out-stretched hand to us. That is the essence of what the Greek manuscript says when verse 16 points out, “For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham's descendants.” The word translated, “He helps” is the same word used to describe someone reaching out their hand to help someone up who has fallen. It presents to us the most tender of pictures, the picture of our Lord Jesus Christ reaching out His hand to rescue us, to provide salvation for us, even though, as we saw previously in this chapter, in this life we are made lower than the angels. It is His hand, not ours, that pulls us up out of our sin and misery.
 
Imputed with the Righteousness of Christ
 
However, there is a qualification to receiving the gift of salvation; there is a qualification to receiving the hand of the Lord that reaches down into our sin-stained life and lifts us up through His work of atonement. The qualification is in verse 12 which tells us that we must be a descendent of Abraham, “for surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants.”
 
Abraham believed God, Genesis 15:6 tells us, and “it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:23-25 adds: “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
 
In the New Testament, especially in Romans 4 and Galatians 3, we see that those who believe in Jesus are Abraham's true descendants. Galatians 3:6-7 says, “Consider Abraham: he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.”  Verse 29 of that same chapter declares: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
 
There is a plan of salvation for people – there is the outstretched hand of the Lord and the shed blood that covers the sins of His people – regardless of their nationality. Whether Jew or Gentile, whether yellow, red, black, brown or white – if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with true saving this evening then you are of Abraham’s seed. You can have full assurance that our Savior took on human flesh – not to help angels – but Abraham's spiritual descendants. But you must, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation and adoption into God’s family, into “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16)
 
Our Faithful and Merciful High Priest
 
Another reason why Jesus took on our humanity and willingly died for us is there in verse 17 where the author of Hebrews describes our Lord as “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.”
 
When we read the gospel accounts we read of many high priests, but usually they are corrupt, condemning and self-righteous. It was the high priests and the teachers of the law, the scribes and the Pharisees, who put heavy burdens on the people of their day with many rules and laws. They were also the chief accusers of Jesus.
 
By contrast, Jesus is the merciful and faithful high priest who understands exactly what it's like to be tempted. He understands completely because, as verse 18 points out, “He Himself suffered when He was tempted.” Consequently, He is merciful to every sinner who comes to Him, whether it is a cheater like Matthew the tax collector, or whether it is the immoral woman at the well, or Thomas with all his doubts, or you and me with the innumerable sins we have succumbed to.
 
We can bring the confession of our sins to Jesus knowing that He is merciful. He knows exactly what it's like to be tempted, and therefore He will not condemn us when we confess our sin. Instead He forgives us.
 
I love the imagery of a bruised reed and a smoldering wick. It is a prophecy from Isaiah 42 pointing us to Christ. It is quoted in Matthew 12:20 which describes how Christ fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out…”  Our faith at many times is ready to be extinguished. It is like a wick that has no flame but is only smoking. It is like a fragile reed that can be so easily crushed.
 
But when we come to Jesus, confessing our sin and acknowledging our need for salvation, He fans that smoldering wick into the flame of vibrant faith once again. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, gives us assurance of forgiveness and He instills gratitude for the grace and mercy extended to us by Jesus Christ.
 
No matter what sin you have committed, you can confess it to the Lord being fully assured that He is merciful, that He has been tempted in every way as you are, yet is without sin. You can go to Him with the complete confidence that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out…”
 
Our text also teaches us that Christ is faithful in service to God. Our triune God decreed salvation for His people, and Christ Jesus is perfectly faithful in fulfilling that decree. He faithfully did the will of His heavenly Father. He faithfully offered Himself as the only sacrifice for sin. He faithfully lived a life of perfect obedience to credit to the life of everyone who, by God’s grace, believes in Him with saving faith.
    
He has been faithful to us, and always will be faithful to us. His faithfulness led Him to the cross. There is no greater demonstration of faithfulness than the faithfulness of one who will lay down his life for others. And that is what Jesus has done for us. And now He faithfully serves as our Intercessor and Mediator, as our great High Priest, the Surety of our salvation. Because Jesus is merciful and faithful, having been fully tempted as we are, He is able to help us in our temptations, as these verses so clearly assure us.
 
It is true that we face a powerful foe in the evil one. He brought death into the world as he tempted Adam and Eve and they were expelled from Paradise. But Christ took on our humanity so that He could destroy the power of the devil, take from us our fear of death, and assure us that He is a merciful and faithful high priest who has sacrificed Himself for us and will always help us in the face of temptation.
 
No wonder the hymn writer penned these words of comfort:
 
1. Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
 
5. Jesus lives, and death is now
but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou
hast a crown of life before thee;
thou shalt find thy hopes were just:
Jesus is the Christian's trust.  Amen.
                       (Christian F. Gellert, Jesus Lives and So Shall I, stanzas 1, 5)  
 
 
sermon outline:
 
Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity
so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power
of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held
in slavery by their fear of death. –Hebrews 2:14, 15
 
                        “Christ Removes Our Fear of Death”
                                         Hebrews 2:14-18
 
I. By His death and resurrection, Jesus:
    1) Destroyed him who held the power of death, the devil (14), whose
         power has always been regulated by God (Job 2:6; Psa. 90:3; 139:16)
 
 
 
 
     2) Takes from us our fear of death (15)
 
 
 
 
     3) Propitiates – makes atonement – for our sin (17)
 
 
 
 
II. Jesus took on our humanity and willingly died for us because:
     1) It is not angels He helps, but the spiritual descendants of Abraham,
          that is, those who have true saving faith in Christ (16; Gal. 3:6, 7, 29)
 
 
 
 
     2) He is both merciful and faithful (17)
 
 
 
 
     3) By being tempted, He is able to help us in our temptations
         (18; Hebrews 4:14-16)
 
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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