Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Hebrews 2:1-13
Sermon Theme: “Setting the Hebrews, and Us, Straight”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Concordia Self-Study Bible Introduction to “Hebrews” and footnotes; original ideas; Online Kids’ View of Angels; Emphasis Online Illustrations)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is just as much confusion and misinformation today about angels as there was during the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, though not necessarily the same misinformation. And it’s not just kids who are confused, but adults, too. Here are some actual statements by children that show how kids view angels:
Nine year old Olive said, “Everybody’s got it all wrong. Angels don’t wear halos anymore. I forget why, but scientists are working on it.”
Seven year old Mitchell said, “Angels work for God and watch over kids when God has to go do something else.”
Seven year old Sarah said, “What I don’t get about angels is why, when someone is in love, they shoot arrows at them.”
Ten year old Reagen said, “When an angel gets mad, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten. And when he lets out his breath, somewhere there’s a tornado.”
Six year old Sara said, “Angels have a lot to do and they keep very busy. If you lose a tooth, an angel comes in through your window and leaves money under your pillow. Then when it gets cold, angels go north for the winter.”
Nine year old Tonio said, “All angels are girls because they gotta wear dresses and boys didn’t go for that.”
Nine year old Matthew said, “It’s not easy to become an angel! First, you die. Then you go to heaven, and then there’s still the flight training to go through. And then you got to agree to wear those angel clothes.”
Before we go any further, let me say four things about angels to debunk any misinformation, then or now: One, angels are divine; we are human. Two, angels are supernatural; we are natural creatures. Three, angels are holy and sinless; we are sinners. Four, we do not turn into angels when we go to heaven.
In today’s world, that last one is the most widely believed misconception about angels of them all. Our sermon text makes it clear that we are a lower form of creation than the angels. We do not graduate to become angels when we die; we remain human beings, though glorified.
The Hebrews, to whom today’s epistle was written, would have agreed that we are lower than the angels, but the acceptance of that fact triggered an even worse misconception.
Today’s epistle can be very difficult to understand unless we explain a few things. First of all, even though the letter was thought to be written by the Apostle Paul for over 1,200 years, we know today it couldn’t have been written by Paul, since the writer got his information from someone else other than direct revelation from Jesus (as Paul did). The syntax of the Greek is totally different from Paul’s writing style. Martin Luther believed it was written by a disciple of the Apostles, but we don’t know which one.
Be that as it may, it is really important to know to whom the letter was written and why it was written, as answers to those questions would explain the letter’s somewhat peculiar-ness. Didn’t you notice it was kind of peculiar-sounding?
It was written to Jews who had been converted from Judaism to Christianity, and were beginning to have doubts about their new faith. There was a very real danger they would revert back to Judaism. The Apostle Paul had a very similar problem with pagan Gentile converts to Christianity, who could have very easily slipped back into pagan worship. Some scholars even suggest the Hebrews might have been coming under the influence of newer Jewish sects, like the Essenes.
The writer of Hebrews was no doubt a pastor like Paul, and he sounds like a preacher in the text. He begins by saying that the message declared by the angels proved to be reliable, and then he goes on to say, “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking . It has been attested somewhere.” He then quotes a couple verses from Psalm 8, which refers to Jesus as the Son of Man, and which says, “You made him for a little while lower than the angels.”
That reference to the Messiah in Psalm 8 no doubt confused the Hebrews. It seems peculiar that Jesus would be lower than the angels, but “for a little while” explains it, — that is, He was lower than the angels during the time He chose to become fully human. You and I know that He was fully human, yet fully God, during the time he relinquished His divine power, but the Hebrews were confused by that.
The writer to the Hebrews is making a key point in that verse 5, when he said, “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come.” You see, the Jews believed the Messianic kingdom would be ushered in by the Archangel Michael, and some, if not many, thought that the future kingdom would be under the rule of angelic beings. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, some Jews believed the Archangel Michael would rule in such a kingdom.
If that were true, then Jesus would be inferior to the Archangel Michael. The Jews to whom the letter was written would have known the Psalms by heart, and Christian pastors would be eager to point out the references to Jesus, the Messiah, in the Psalms, like the two quoted in our text. Now, this pastor was making sure his converted Jews would understand the true nature of the Messiah.
In the second Psalm, Psalm 22, which the Hebrews pastor/writer quoted in our text, he had to make sure his readers understood this somewhat peculiar idea that Jesus is our brother. He says, “For it was fitting that He [God], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder [Jesus] of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He [Jesus] who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why He [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers.”
You see, Christ became man to identify himself with man and, by his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, to restore the holiness man had lost. Our brotherhood with Jesus is the brotherhood of the Redeemer with the redeemed, who are truly one with Him. By being reborn in Christ, we become an adopted child of God, and therefore a brother to Christ.
Here again, we can see that when Psalm 22 said, “I [Jesus] will tell of your name [my Heavenly Father] to my brothers in the midst of the congregation…,” the Jews might see that statement as reducing the Messiah to beneath the level of angels. Obviously, the pastor/writer of Hebrews had to make sure his readers were not confused by this.
Unlike the pagan Gentile converts whom Paul preached to, these Hebrew converts knew the Books of Moses and the Psalms quite well, but that didn’t make it any easier to keep them from reverting to their old ways of thinking. The Old Testament contains 39 books with over 602,000 words and 638 commandments, to tell the reader how to gain victory over sin and suffering and live gloriously triumphant lives. Yet, after all those hundreds of thousands of words, the world was still in slavery to sin and suffering. So God said, “Let me show you,” and He sent His Son.
This may be one of those texts that meant a lot more to the people it was originally written to than to us, but we can learn from it, too. The misconceptions some of us have about angels may not be as deadly dangerous as the misconceptions of the Jews. We understand fully that Jesus is both our Savior and Redeemer as well as our brother, and salvation comes by grace and faith in that belief. Salvation cannot come through hope and faith in angels, not even in the Archangel Michael.
Our problem is we have faith in other Archangels, — like our money, our prestige, our position in society, our intellect, our “things” which topple out of our closet and attic when we open the door. As Jesus answered Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.