Hebrews: Our Founding Pioneer

Hebrews: Our Founding Pioneer

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.

While working through Hebrews 2 together, we said that having communicated the first caution of the book, the writer gets back to explaining the message of ministry of Jesus Christ. In chapter 1, he tells us of the Superior Son, the one who has come to announce salvation to us. This messenger is superior to all other messengers that have went before, whether they are prophets or angels. The Son, Jesus Christ, was shown to be superior to the servants, the angels, as a result of his superior name. He has inherited a name that is more excellent that theirs.

In chapter 1 we heard about the Declaration of our Salvation. In chapter 2 we consider the Foundation of our Salvation. 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. In chapter 1 we thought about 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 2 we are given three roles of the Suffering Saviour. We are shown three ways that Jesus Christ acts as Saviour: a Forerunning Prince (2:5-9), a Founding Pioneer (2:10-13) and a Faithful Priest (2:14-18). These are the three parts that he plays, roles that he performs, in saving his people. These functions are the foundation of our salvation, the grounds upon which our great salvation stands.

We previously considered Jesus as the Forerunning Prince in Hebrews 2:5-9. We reminded ourselves that our destiny was frustrated. We were made to be princes, and ended up as prisoners, slaves to sin. We are not what we should be. And yet while our destiny is frustrated, it is also fulfilled. We are not what we should be, but Christ is what we will be. Christ has fulfilled what we failed to do. In both his humiliation and exultation, Jesus Christ fulfils our destiny. ‘All that God intended for Adam has been achieved and fulfilled in Christ.’ (John Riddle) And not only does Christ fulfil our destiny, but we too can fulfil this destiny in the future by faith. ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.’ (2 Tim 2:11-12).

Not only is our Suffering Saviour a Forerunning Prince, he is also a Founding Pioneer. We can see that these two roles complement and explain each other, as verse 10 starts off expanding and explaining what has went before, ‘For it was fitting…’. The three roles are all connected and related to each other, for we shall see that in describing his role as Faithful Priest in verses 14-18, the author picks up from the passage before us.

There are two aspects of our passage that we will give attention to this morning. First, we are told of our Suitable Saviour in verse 10. Secondly, we shall consider our Shameless Sibling in verses 11-13. Our Suitable Saviour – Where Jesus leads, we can follow. Our Shameless Sibling – By Jesus’ service, we are sanctified.

1. A SUITABLE SAVIOUR – WHERE JESUS LEADS, WE CAN FOLLOW

Among other gifts, Sarah gave me a jigsaw puzzle as a present last Christmas. It turned out to be a relaxing way for us to pass a few hours together catching up with other family members, or even just a few minutes while we were waiting for dinner. The only problem was that with 1000 pieces, we were pressed for time to get it finished in the few days we were back in Northern Ireland. We got it 90% complete, but the rest remains for us to do during our next visit.

Hebrews 2:10 in many ways is a kind of jigsaw. We know this because the writer starts by telling us what he is about to say is fitting. It is appropriate or suitable. Like pieces of a puzzle, the pieces of his sentence fit together perfectly. Unlike my 1000 piece Christmas jigsaw, there are only four pieces in Hebrews 2:10. The writer tells of the Planner, the Purpose, the Pioneer and the Pain. In bringing these four pieces together, he states that it was fitting, appropriate, suitable that the Planner in achieving the Purpose should make the Pioneer pass through the Pain. He fits these four pieces together to give us a perfect picture of our salvation. We see a suitable Saviour. A Saviour suited to save us. Let us think briefly about each of these pieces.

A. The Planner – ‘he, for whom and by whom all things exist…’

The first thing you do when constructing a jigsaw is to find the corner pieces. The corners are the pieces that immediately slot into place. You can find the place of the rest of the pieces by starting at the corners. Once you place the corner pieces, the picture starts to take shape.

We have had recent experience of getting this piece of the puzzle down first. When David started us in the book of Ephesians, this was the first piece that he laid down. Indeed, in the first piece that Paul planted in the opening paragraph of that letter. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons….’ (Ephesians 1:3–6) The writer to the Hebrews does the same here, ‘…he, for whom and by whom all things exist….’ Ultimately, God is the source of our salvation. He was the planner who, before the very beginning, purposed and planned to save us. What was the purpose and plan of this Planner? The author tells us next.

B. The Purpose – ‘bringing many sons to glory…

After putting the corner pieces down, the next thing you do is look at the front of the box. You want to get familiar with the end result, the picture you are trying to piece together. What is the goal that you are aiming? That is the exact approach of the writer to the Hebrews. Having told us of the Planner, he reminds us of the Purpose. He tells us that the goal of God in our salvation is bringing many sons to glory.

It flows so well from what we seen in verse 5-9, where we considered the God’s goal in creation. Our destiny was to be crowned with glory and honour. Here the writer explicitly tells us that God’s goal in salvation is the same. Not only does he desire his Son, Jesus Christ, to be crowned with glory and honour, but that many sons would be brought into that glory. That is the purpose of God in salvation. Paul explicitly tells us this in Romans 8, when at the end of that glorious chapter he explains that God’s purpose that that Christ ‘might be the firstborn among many brothers.’ (Romans 8:29)

We could spend countless hours considering the first two pieces of the puzzle before us. However, I want to spend time thinking about the next two pieces, the Pioneer and the Pain. These are both key themes within Hebrews and building a picture of Christ that will finally peak in Hebrews 12:2 when we are called to look to Jesus ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith…’.

C. The Pioneer – ‘…the founder of their salvation…

The word translated ‘founder’ is widely used in Greek literature to describe a character known as a ‘divine hero’, one who descends from heaven to earth in order to rescue humanity. It is a character type that Jesus fulfils perfectly. Indeed, far better than even the most prominent figure this word was commonly used to describe in Greek literature, Hercules. The word only occurs four times in the New Testament, each time referring to Jesus (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Hebrews 2:10; 12:2). Across these four occurrences in various translations it is translated as Author, Founder, Leader, Prince and Captain. Indeed, there are good reasons you might choose any of those words, as the meaning is probably a combination of them all.

Of all the words that are used to translate this term, I think the best is probably ‘Pioneer’ as it captures the two key meanings. On the one hand, there is the picture of a founder or author, one who brings something new about. Jesus is the author and founder of our salvation; he is the one that brings it about, who establishes it through his heroic actions. On the other hand, there is a picture of a leader or captain, somebody who brings others along with him. Captains in the first century were those who led troops from the front in battle, they were the first through a breach in a city wall, the ones at the tip of charge calling others to follow.

This is the exact image given in the Old Testament of our Founding Pioneer, ‘He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king passes on before them, the LORD at their head.’ (Micah 2:13) Jesus is our Founding Pioneer. He not only breaks through the enemy ranks, but he does so in a way that allows us to follow after him.

That is what a pioneer does, opens up a new way through their exploits. Cockerhill explains that ‘A pioneer is one who by entering a new land enables others to follow.’ Like an explorer finding a new island, a scientist making a new discovery or a sportsperson trialling a new technique, Jesus Christ breaks new ground for us. By entering glory, Jesus has opened up a way for us to follow. It is through bringing the Son of God to glory that God will bring many sons to glory. Where Jesus leads, we can follow.

In chapters 3 and 4 the author will compare Christ to two important past pioneers of God’s people: Moses and Joshua. It was through Moses that God opened up a way out of slavery in Egypt for his people. It was through Joshua that God was able to bring his people into rest in the Promised Land. However, I think my favourite picture of Christ as a pioneer in the Old Testament is not found with Moses or Joshua, but with David as he went out to face the giant of Goliath. The writer of 1 Samuel 17 sets the scene by telling us the whole of the Israelite army were cowering in fear. Not one Israelite dared to go and challenge the giant Goliath, the champion of the Philistines. Against such an enemy, who could possibly be their champion? Who could overthrow Goliath and lead them to victory? They needed a hero, a captain, a pioneer. Enter David, stepping forward as the champion of Israel and delivering them certain death and crippling fear.

This is what Christianity offers. Christianity isn’t just a way of life, a set of moral beliefs that you can follow, a culture for you to cling to, a community for you to join. The heart of Christianity is a hero. Christianity offers you a champion, a captain, a king. One who has gone before you to overcome your greatest enemy and calls you to trust in him and follow him into glory. Just as David slew Goliath and those who followed him to glorious victory, Jesus delivers his people from certain death and crippling fear and leads them into glory. The writer is about to tell us how he destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the Devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (2:14-15). This is our champion, captain, founding pioneer. Jesus Christ, our Saviour. And yet once again the author reminds us that Jesus Christ is not just our Saviour, but our suffering Saviour.

D. The Pain – ‘perfect through suffering…’

Our hero is not a hero like Hercules. It is not his strength, speed or skill that saves us. It is by his suffering. Last week we pointed out that this is the characteristic of the Saviour that the author continues to highlight in each of these roles. He is our Forerunning Prince ‘because of the suffering of death’ (2:9). He is our Founding Pioneer because he was made ‘perfect through suffering’ (2:10). He is our Faithful Priest ‘because he himself has suffered when tempted’ (2:18). Just as David overcame Goliath in a surprising way, with a sling and stone, Jesus Christ is not any common captain. It was because of the pain he became our pioneer.

Or rather, it was because of the pain that he became perfect. That’s what the author writes. He tells us that our Pioneer was made perfect through suffering. That means that before Jesus suffered, he was not perfect. What does the writer mean by that? It is clear that prior to his suffering Jesus was not imperfect in the sense of sin. Hebrews clearly tells us at least three times that Jesus was sinless – he is ‘without sin’ (4:15), ‘without blemish’ (9:14) and ‘holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners’ (7:26). Jesus Christ was not imperfect in the sense of sin, he was imperfect in the sense of service. That is how the author explains this imperfection in 5:8-9, ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation …’. He learnt obedience in his suffering, not meaning that he was previously disobedient but rather he was previously inexperienced. John Piper explains that, ‘It wasn’t that Jesus was defective, but rather that he was untested.’ It’s like trying to use a starhead screw driver on a flat head screw. Or a hardback book in the place of a hammer. The screw driver is a perfectly good screw driver. The hardback book is good as a book. But they aren’t right for the job at hand. They don’t fit the task. They aren’t perfect. Prior to his incarnation, humiliation and crucifixion, Jesus was not able to save us. He was perfect in his potential, but was not yet qualified to save us. Before we could be brought into glory, Christ had to be brought into suffering.

It should not surprise us that prior to his suffering, Jesus Christ was not a perfect Pioneer. He was not suited to save us. How could he be? How could he lead us through death and into glory having never done so himself? Before he could bring sinful sons to glory, he had to pay the price of our sin on the cross. Before he could raise us to new life, he himself had to rise from the dead. By dying on the cross, rising from the dead and ascending into glory, Jesus Christ has become our suitable Saviour. He is now suited, fitted, equipped, to save us. He can lead all who follow him through death and into glory because he has passed that way before. Where Jesus leads, we can now follow.

We have placed the four pieces of our puzzle before us: the Planner, the Purpose, the Pioneer and the Pain. All four pieces come together to present a picture of our salvation to us. We can see it was fitting that the Planner in achieving the Purpose should make the Pioneer pass through the Pain. We have a suitable Saviour, a Saviour who is now suited to save us. A perfect Pioneer.

2. A SHAMELESS SIBLING – BY JESUS’ SERVICE, WE CAN BE SANCTIFIED

Jesus as both pioneer and perfect are key themes throughout the rest of the book. Of the two, the theme of perfection is actually the one that is more prominent. This is because Christ’s perfection not only relates to him as Pioneer, but more importantly it relates to him as Priest. Indeed, we shall see over the coming chapters that it is Christ as priest that is given prominence throughout the book – in fact, in a merger of the roles set out here in Chapter 2, he is presented as a Princely, Pioneering Priest.

If we were more familiar with our Old Testament’s, we would recognise the language of being made perfect through suffering is distinctly priestly language. It is being consecrated for a special task, or in another word being sanctified – set apart for special service. In 5:8-9 we see that through suffering Jesus is prepared to be our priest. In Chapter 10:14 we are told that his priestly perfection result in our sanctification, ‘For by a single offering he had perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.’ Here in 2:11 it is the sanctification arising from his perfection that the author draws out and brings along with him towards the next section. ‘For the one who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified all have one source.’

This is a notoriously hard verse to translate, but given the emphasis on family in verses 12-13 and the next section, I think the safest way to understand it is by translating it ‘have the same Father and belong to the same family’ (Schreiner). Like his priestly perfection, this is a theme that doesn’t reach its full development until we get to verses 14-18. However, it is important for us to see how the groundwork is laid here. He has already been preparing us for this, in describing the purpose of God as ‘bringing many sons to glory’. Now we see that in order for the sons of God to join him in glory, the Son of God had to join them on earth.

This association with us however doesn’t make him identical to us. The writer develops a clear distinction between the Son of God and the sons of God. He is the one who sanctifies. We are those who are sanctified. He has already been sanctified, that is set apart for his service to God, he has been perfected for that through suffering. He is the priest, we are those who are being perfected. Having been sanctified, he can now sanctify us, bring us into the full glory of our salvation – perfect as he is perfect. By Jesus’ service, we can be sanctified.

He is the sanctifier, we are the sanctified. Yet despite this distinction, there is a clear connection as we are all of one source, part of the same family. Meeting Mary in the garden after his resurrection, he could tell her, having been perfected through suffering on the cross, ‘go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (John 20:17) Because we are part of the same family, he is not ashamed to call us brothers (2:12), for that is what we are.

The author uses three quotations to show that this shamelessness is displayed exactly when we least expect it. The first quotation comes from Psalm 22, the psalm that begins with those words that Jesus himself would cry on the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It continues by speaking of Christ’s crucifixion, being surrounded and encircled, stripped and beaten, stretched out and pierced. Towards the end of the psalm, the tone changes completely and the psalmist expresses a joyful expectation for the future, ‘I will tell of you name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ (Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12). While suffering in shame on the cross, our Saviour was not ashamed to call us brothers. Though his father forsook him, he did not forsake us. Instead, he looked forward in hopeful expectation to the day when he would lead all the sons of God in praise.

The same theme continues in the second and third quotations, which are really one single quotation from Isaiah 8:17-18. Here gain we have a shameless sibling. First stating his personal trust in God, we are reminded that Christ’s service to God was given by faith. On the cross, the final cry of the accusers is ‘He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”’ (Matthew 27:43). The final cry of Christ is one of complete trust in his father, ‘Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”’ (Luke 23:46). Truly even in the midst of his deepest sufferings, his trust remained the same. ‘I will put my trust in him’. Though the Father forsook him, he did not lose faith. The very next verse widens the scope of this trust to the children placed into Christ’s care. ‘I will put my trust in him. Behold I, and the children God has given me.’ They, like him, must tread the path of trust.

It would be so easy for Christ, our sanctified sibling, to be ashamed of the weak brothers and sisters coming along behind him. However, instead of being ashamed of us, he associates with us. Just as Joseph went before his brothers into Egypt, passing through suffering and being perfectly placed because of it so that he could serve and save them, Christ Jesus passes before us. As our Founding Pioneer he is a suitable saviour, where he leads, we can follow. So too is he a shameless sibling, by his service sanctifying us, perfecting us until that purpose of God is achieved in bringing many sons to glory.