1st Sunday After Christmas
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests!” In the name of Jesus who counts each of you as part of His own family and as His own brothers and sisters, dear friends in Christ,
Our lives revolve around relationships, don’t they? I mean as a young baby we first had a relationship with our parents, we were dependent on them for our survival, but as we grew older we began to be more independent from them and our relationships expanded. If you had siblings, you bonded to a greater or lesser degree with them. Then there was classmates or friends at school; teammates on your team. Then if you went away to college you had either a positive or negative relationship with your roommate. Now you have your coworkers and getting along with them makes work enjoyable. Then we also have relationships with fellow church members, our church family, getting to know our fellow church members provides us with a broader spiritual support system and helps ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks.
To a greater or lesser degree we all depend on relationships. But there is one relationship that is absolutely essential for us to have. A baby can be raised by his or her grandparents or adopted parents and turn out fine, a person who doesn’t have very many friends at school can turn out fine, a person who doesn’t get along with their boss can make it and keep going, a church member can remain a strong Christian without strong relationships with other members, but there’s one relationship that no person can successfully do without. No one will go to heaven without having a close relationship with the true God.
And it’s for that reason that today on this Sunday after Christmas we turn our attention back to that manger in Bethlehem, back to who exactly it was who came there, and why exactly Christmas happened in the first place. That Christ-child came in order to guarantee for us a close relationship with God. And as our text for this morning tells us, He achieved this by coming as our true brother.
Now, we’re actually not 100% sure whom God used to record the book of Hebrews for us. Some say it was Paul, some Barnabas, some Paul’s companion Apollos, but finally, we don’t know. We do know, however, that it was written to Jewish Christians, Christians who were very familiar with the Old Testament and the various sacrifices and regulations of the Old Testament or Old Covenant. But the problem these Jewish or Hebrew Christians were having was that they were being tempted to revert back to Judaism, they were being told that Jesus wasn’t all that great or important, that since He was a human who suffered He must be lower even than the angels. So the writer to the Hebrews shows in various ways how Christ is far superior to all things and that as true God and true man He’s our perfect brother. He shows how all the OT practices find their fulfillment in Christ.
He starts out, “In bringing many sons to glory” – finally, this is what is at God’s very heart, to bring His sons and daughters to glory in heaven with him. “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists” – Everything that exists is God’s and everything properly exists to give Him glory and here something is fitting or proper for God to do. In fact, every single thing that God does is fitting and proper, you and I might make a decision or do something that is not fitting or proper, but God on the other hand, everything He does is fitting and proper, God can’t do something that is unbefitting to Him. Well, what exactly is it that is proper for God? That He “should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Jesus is the “author of their salvation” and “perfect” is the sense of “complete or brought to a goal” (as in when you put the last piece of the puzzle together then the puzzle is “perfect”). From the very beginning after Adam and Eve introduced sin into our world God promised that there would have to be a “bruising and a crushing.” Jesus was “bruised” by suffering death, the penalty of sin, but by that very suffering Satan was crushed and salvation was won. Do you understand what this means? What is fitting and proper for God is to undergo suffering in order to bring you, his sons and daughters, to glory! That means at God’s very essence is a kindness and compassion for sinful human beings, such as you and I, that we are never going to get to the bottom of!
But in order to make this possible God had to come to us as our own brother: “both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” And then he quotes Jesus speaking through the prophets. Jesus will declare God’s name to His brothers and sing God’s praises in their midst. His whole life on earth He would have perfect trust in God, just like humans are supposed to. And what amazing grace that He included himself among God’s children, among us as our own brother. Now think about that. Having a relationship with God does not involve friending Him on facebook, it doesn’t involve making sure you’re warming a pew on Christmas and Easter and that’s it, it doesn’t involve hours of meditation or contemplation. In fact having a relationship with God is completely NOT something you or I can do, and that’s the real miracle of Christmas; not so much that a virgin could give birth to a Son, but that God would come as our own brother in order to rescue us!
Having Christ as your own brother and having a close relationship with God is more important than anything else in your life: it’s more important than your money, your job, your clothes, your human relationships, your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, your toys. If any one of those things finds a spot higher than God in our hearts, we’re committing the sin of idolatry. But it’s so easy, isn’t it? To foster a friendship, we forsake our God. To make more money we move further away from our Maker. To tinker around with our earthly toys we take time away from our God. But none of those earthly relationships can keep us out of hell.
So what did God do? “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- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendents” –that is those who believe in the Savior as Abraham did. Have you ever thought of that? God didn’t devise a plan of salvation for the angels when they rebelled, but He did for you and me when our first parents fell into sin! Here sin is like a prison, the devil loves to tie us up with sin and then haul us to God’s courtroom and say, “God get ‘em!” and lodges accusation after accusation against us, pointing out our sins, and demanding that God’s justice send us to hell when we die. Pretty intimidating, huh? But that very power the devil has to lodge accusations against us has been ripped away from him! Why? How? Christ came into the world as our own brother, to pay our price, to die our death in our place, He satisfied God’s justice. The devil has nothing on us anymore!
“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way” – Except for sin, He was fully our brother, He was born as fully human and yet fully divine baby, he grew in favor with God and men, he walked on our ground, ate our food, he fully obeyed his parents, he fully obeyed God, he was like us in every way, why? “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.” He became like us so that he could take our place and lay himself down as the perfect sacrifice for sins in order to make us one with God again.
And finally, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus doesn’t just stand on the sidelines and sympathize with us and say, “Boy, you sure are having it hard.” No, He is our true brother, He’s been there done that, in everything that we’ve experienced He’s felt it, He knows what it’s like to have a friend turn his back on him, He knows what it’s like to be tired working all night, he knows what it’s like to lose a loved one, feel temptation, suffer pain. As our brother He knows what life is like in this sinful world and yet as God He knows what we go through and He helps us with His power and His love!
And finally, Jesus did it willingly, not drudgingly or dragging His feet, but He willingly became our brother to rescue and save us and to help us as our brother who’s been there and done that!
I don’t know what relationships you have or don’t have or who has disowned you. Finally, it doesn’t matter what relationships you’ve lost. No matter what you have the best relationship possible- Christmas proves it- no matter what you can say, “I have a true brother. He is Christ the Lord, He is Christ my Lord!” Amen.