Hebrews: Our Forerunning Prince

Hebrews: Our Forerunning Prince

Please note that this article is derived from a sermon series on Hebrews given in Bermondsey Gospel Hall, the audio of which can be found here.

Are you paying attention? That is what the writer to the Hebrews has just asked his readers. Having spent the whole of the first chapter proving the superiority of Jesus Christ, he stops and asks whether they are persevering in their salvation. Whether they are holding fast to what they have heard or drifting from it. Like that story we considered in Mark 9, the Son of God has been revealed to them, they have become eyewitnesses of his majesty and have heard that voice from heaven declaring, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7). Having carefully communication the first caution of the book, the author now turns back to what he was considering before. If you remember when we spoke about the structure of the book of Hebrews, we said like a pendulum it constantly swings back and forth between exposition and exhortation. Between explaining truth and applying truth. Having explained truth in chapter 1, and applied truth in chapter 2:1-4, the author swings back to explanation.

At first glance is appears that the author picks up in verse 5 where he left off before, immediately he is back to considering angels. However, there time in the spotlight is over. Now a new character is placed front and centre, mankind enters the stage. Having considered the relationship between Christ and angels in chapter 1, in chapter 2 we hear about the relationship between Christ and us. To them he is Superior, to us he is Saviour. This transition was started at the end of chapter 1 when is concluded by considering ‘those who are to inherit salvation’ (1:14). This inheritance is declared to be ‘such a great salvation’ (2:3).

In chapter 1 we heard about the Declaration of our Salvation. How long ago God spoke by prophets, but now he has spoken to us by his Son. How his Son is superior to even the angels of God and how the superiority of this messenger means that all who hear his message must pay attention. In chapter 2 we consider the Foundation of our Salvation. Not only how our salvation was announced to us, but how it was achieved for us. How God’s Superior Son became our Suffering Saviour.

In chapter 1 the author described the Name of the Superior Son, how he is superior to angels. In chapter 2 the author describes the Role of the Suffering Saviour, how he saves us. In chapter 1 we were given three names of the Superior Son: the Divine Son, the Eternal Son and the Royal Son. In chapter 2 we are given three roles of the Suffering Saviour: a Forerunning Prince (2:5-9), a Founding Pioneer (2:10-13) and a Faithful Priest (2:14-18). We see three parts that he plays, roles that he performs. These three functions are the foundation of our salvation. These are the grounds upon which our great salvation stands.

We take up the first role of the Suffering Saviour this week – our Forerunning Prince. That is what our passage describes him as, and it does it in two stages. First it speaks about a Destiny Frustrated and then a Destiny Fulfilled. A Destiny Frustrated – We’re not what we should be. A Destiny Fulfilled – Christ is what we will be.

1. A DESTINY FRUSTRATED – WE’RE NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE

2019 is gearing up to be an exciting year for movies. Captain Marvel has just been released and will be followed by the next Avengers Movie, two X-Men movies and Spider-Man. Step away from superheros and you will be able to see Toy Story 4, a Downtown Abbey Movie, Frozen 2 and the next Star Wars. Not only are a range of new movies coming to a screen near you, but remakes of four Disney classics will be released. Aladdin, Dumbo, The Lady and the Tramp and The Lion King. It is probably the last of these that I am most looking forward to. The Lion King was a childhood favourite of mine and I am anticipating that despite the passing of the years, I may still have to look away in the scene depicting Mufasa being trampled to death by the stampeding wildebeests. If you need any reminder of the classic story, it centres around a young lion called Simba. Lions are commonly known as the kings of beasts, at the top of the world of wildlife. Simba’s father is quite literally the King of Beasts, ruling over a Kingdom set in what he know as Kenya. As the King and Queen’s only son, he is first in line to the throne. He is born a prince and destined to become a king. The movie revolves around this destiny, which he eventually realises at the end of the film after the death of his father, a time of growth and maturing and the eventual overthrow of his evil uncle. The Lion King is a tale about destiny. Indeed so many of the films being released this year, so many of the stories that we read and watch, involve the realisation of potential, the working out of a prophecy, the fulfilment of a destiny.

The writer to the Hebrews opens this passage by providing us with a piece of prophecy. He reminds us of a destiny that was described over 1000 years before he was writing, but goes all the way back to the beginning of time. The piece of prophecy is found in Psalm 8, a song written by David to praise God for the glory of his creation. ‘O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…’. (Psalm 8:1-6) In looking up at the greatness of the heavens, the stars in the sky above, set in place by the very hand of God, David wonders what it is about man that has attracted God’s attention. What is it in man that has meant that God would care for him? Think about him? Not only set the stars in their place but set mankind in their place, a place that is just a little bit lower than the heavenly beings. And if mankind is just below the heavenly beings, he is above all earthly beings. While the Lion is known as the King of Beasts, man should be known as the King of Creation. It is we whom God has crowned with glory and honour, it is to mankind that God gave dominion over the works of his hand, all things that he had created put under his feet, within his control. Our destiny was to be Kings of Creation, Rulers of this Realm.

I said that this destiny was described in Psalm 8 but goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Indeed, back in Creation we are told that God set up Adam and Eve as rulers of his created realm. ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”’ (Genesis 1:26–28) Exercising dominion over every living things on this earth. That is our destiny. That is what we were made for. To reflect the rule and reign of God over all things in heaven and earth by ruling and reigning over all things on this earth. Kings and Queens of Creation, crowned with glory and under with all things placed under our control. This is what Adam and Eve were, and this is what we were meant to be.

When commenting on our destiny as described in Psalm 8, the writer to the Hebrews emphasises its extent. ‘Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.’ We were to be in control of all creation, it was all placed in subjection to us. And then he raises a difficultly. He provides us with an obvious observation that none of us can challenge, ‘At present, we do not yet see everything in subject to him.’ Our destiny is not our reality. We are not Kings and Queens of Creation, we are anything but that. At present we do not see everything under the control of mankind. What do we see? Well, if you had been reading the news this week you might have read about a string of tornadoes in Alabama killing 23 people or a major earthquake taking place on the border between Ecuador and Peru immediately sparking fears of a tsunami. We are not in control of creation, indeed creation is often the one controlling us. We are subject to it, we are at its mercy, under its rule.

Our destiny is a destiny that has been frustrated. It was first delivered in Genesis 1, but was frustrated in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, the rulers of this realm, decided that the destiny God had given them wasn’t good enough. They rebelled against God, disobeyed his direct command, tried to move up the pecking order from being placed a little lower than heavenly beings to becoming like God himself. Sin entered the world, and as Paul tells us, death came in through sin (Romans 5:12). Our destiny was changed from everlasting dominion to everlasting death. Our rebellion resulted in our realm, this realm of creation, being cursed and taken from our control. What a glorious destiny was laid out for us at the beginning. And yet it is a destiny frustrated, we are not what we should be.

Sometimes we forget this. Amidst the technical advances and steady sophistication of our society we kid ourselves into thinking that we are rulers of this realm. And yet no matter how much we develop, we will never deliver on our original destiny. We will never get back to the way things should have been. The obvious observation of the writer is as true today, after two thousand years of development, as it was then. We do not yet see everything subject to us. There was a story this week that so clearly showed this to us. ‘A man has been mauled to death by a pet lion he secretly kept in his backyard in a village in eastern Czech Republic, police have said. Michael Prasek owned the nine-year-old lion and a lioness for breeding, and kept them in an enclosure on his property, authorities said. Police were called to the site on Tuesday, where they found two lions in an enclosure with the body of a man. Police said the victim of the attack was the 33-year-old owner of the lions. World Animal Protection, an animal welfare organisation, said the tragic event was an example "why wild animals such as big cats, are absolutely not to be kept as pets".’ (Evening Standard, 7 March 2019). Wild animals are absolutely not to be kept as pets. Michael Prasek forgot that though we were destined to rule over even the King of Beasts, that even lions were subject to us and it was once safe for lambs to lie down with them, we do not see that today. We’re not what we should be. Our destiny was frustrated by sin.

I don’t think anybody here is likely to consider keeping a lion as a pet. However, we are perhaps prone to making the same mistake as Michael Prasek. We forget that we’re not what we should be. We kid ourselves into thinking that we can somehow realise the destiny that God has for us. That we can somehow, by our strength, willpower, hard work or simple good intentions please God and become what he made us to be. If that is you today, I don’t think you understand the nature of your destiny. You do not understand the purpose for which God made you. God did not simply make you to be a kind person, he made you to be a king. God did not simply make you to do the best you can in the circumstances, he made you to rule and reign over the circumstances. How are you ever to going to realise that destiny? How could you ever do enough to undo all the effects of our rebellion against God? You are not what you should be. Not only do you misunderstand tha nature of your destiny, but you misunderstand the nature of your depravity. Not only are you under the control of creation, but we are all born slaves of sin. We are unable to please God because even the best things that we do are tainted by the stain of sin, our selfishness, greed, pride or anger. Even if there was something you could do to realise your destiny, you could not do it. You could never be what God made you to be. All of us have sinned and fallen short of that glory that we were initially given and called to and we can never catch back up. Ours is a destiny frustrated, we’re not what we should be. We were meant to be princes and have ended up as prisoners.

2. A DESTINY FULFILLED – CHRIST IS WHAT WE WILL BE

Let’s be honest, it’s not a particularly positive picture that the writer paints for us in verses 5-8. Looking around we sees that we are not fulfilling our destiny, but it is frustrated through sin and the curse. And yet in verse 8 he tells us that he sees something that gives him, gives each one of us hope. Speaking of mankind he states, ‘we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour…’.

The writer sees us, frustrating our destiny, and then he sees Jesus, fulfilling our destiny. He fulfils it firstly in humiliation, ‘him who for a little while was made lower than the angels’ and then in exultation ‘crowned with glory and honour’. Both of those phrases come out of Psalm 8 and point to Jesus Christ doing exactly what we were unable to do. He became like us, the one who was superior to angels, as we thought in chapter 1, became inferior to them. He became, either for a little while or in a little way (depending on how you translate the phrase), lower than the angels. His incarnation is a key theme of this section, for in taking on flesh and blood Jesus Christ put himself in the position to be able to save us. Because he becomes part of mankind, he can fulfil the destiny of mankind. And fulfil that destiny he does, for he is ‘crowned with glory and honour’. The sign and seal of him realising that which was intended for us. ‘All that God intended for Adam has been achieved and fulfilled in Christ.’ (Riddle) If we were to look upon Jesus now, as this writer is able to do, we would see him seated on a throne at the right hand of God, crowned with glory and honour, ready to reign and rule over this realm.

Having drawn out eyes to the one who has fulfilled our destiny, the writer then reminds us of the way in which he did this. In describing the way in which our salvation is achieved, the writer points not only to the fact that Jesus is our Saviour, but that he is our Suffering Saviour. Rather than the cross being an obstacle to his success, it is the very reason for it. Why is it that Jesus Christ is crowned with glory and honour? It is ‘because of the suffering of death’. In order to fulfil our true destiny, he had to fulfil our new destiny. He had to pass through eternal death so that he could receive eternal dominion.  The cross was the way to the crown.

This is of course another great contrast with the picture of Christ we get in the first chapter. There we see him seated as a superior on a throne, here we see him nailed as saviour to a cross. ‘Chapter one fills our minds with the glories of the deity of Christ. Chapter two does the same with the glories of his humanity and of his sufferings.’ (David Gooding) This is the undoubted emphasis of this section of Hebrews. In each of the roles of our Saviour, the writer emphasises that he is the suffering Saviour. In verse 9 we see that suffering is the reason that he is crowned. In verse 10 we see that suffering is the reason that he is our captain. In verse 18 we see that suffering is the reason that he is our comfort. In order to become our Saviour, Jesus Christ had to suffer. It was because of the suffering of death, or translated differently, the suffering that consists in death, that Jesus Christ triumphed over death and took dominion for himself. ‘Death was dethroned’ (Schreiner). The scarlet robe, the crown of thorns and the reed placed in his hand by the soldiers when they were mocking him with were prophetic pictures of what they were really doing. By crucifying him they were crowning him.

And not only crowning him, but crowning us as well. Jesus Christ is not only a Prince, he is a Forerunning Prince. He is our Forerunning Prince. He not only fulfils our destiny, but he enables us to fulfil it as well. He goes before us and we follow after. Christ is what we will be. This suffering of death, who did he endure it for? What was the point of him suffering? Not only for his own exultation. Not only for his own coronation. Jesus Christ suffered ‘so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone’. His experience of death is described as a tasting. Tasting death points to him passing through it but not being overwhelmed by it. He tasted death for those days in the tomb, but it was only a taste for on the third day he rose from the dead. And all those who die with him, will also be raised with him (Romans 6:5). The Son of God suffered so that he could bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). His suffering was for us. ‘Jesus was our forerunner into death and into glory – death is now a door to glory.’ (John Piper).

If you go back to the start of the passage you can see this. Whose destiny is this? Well ‘it is not to angels that God subjected the world to come.’ This is not the destiny of angels, but the destiny of Adam. And yet Adam failed to fulfil it. And not only Adam, but all who are in Adam. All those who are descendants of Adam, all mankind fail. In Adam all are destined to die. However, in Christ all are made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). The destiny that he has fulfilled is still our destiny if we are untied to him by faith. If we are in Christ, he is what we will be. By faith we can fulfil this destiny in the future. The author of Hebrews holds out this hope when he declares, ‘At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.’ Someday creation will be under our control, we will reign and rule in this realm. In the coming world of which the author is speaking (verse 5), we will be kings in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). Paul tells us this is a trustworthy saying, ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure,’ that is pay attention to what we hear, hold fast in our faith as the author pleads with us to do, ‘we will also reign with him’ (2 Timothy 2:11-12). He is our Forerunning Prince, whom one day we will rule with.

If you are not a Christian, do you realise that you can never fulfil your original destiny? You were made to imitate God’s perfect rule, by ruling in this realm. To look after this world and by doing so, worship God. Because of the fall, you can never do that. You are not what you should be. And not only do you fail to fulfil your original destiny, but you have been given a new destiny – everlasting death. The suffering of death, which Jesus experienced on the cross, awaits all who do not accept the life that is offered in him. In Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive. Why don’t you change your destiny today? Why don’t you move from everlasting death to everlasting dominion, return to the original purpose for which you were made. By faith in Christ you can be what you were made to be. Trust in him, turn from your sin and you will one day reign with him.

If you are a Christian, do you appreciate the glorious destiny awaiting you if you hold fast. ‘If we endure, we will also reign with him.’ It is a challenge for us to persevere. But it is also a comfort. We aren’t left to find our own destiny or purpose in this world. We are blazing our own trail in our lives, trying to find significance and purpose. The destiny for which we are made is being fulfilled in us. In becoming more like Christ, we draw closer to our eternal destiny. These years on this earth aren’t about trying to suck out as much fun and fulfilment as we can, they are about preparing for the eternal position in which we will be placed. Worry less about whether you are achieving your purpose and more about whether you are being faithful in following Jesus. He was the one that has fulfilled your destiny, and by holding fast in faith you will one day fulfil it to. Be faithful to Christ, follow our Forerunning Prince, and the Lord will fulfil his purpose for you.