My Brother is Bigger
He played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers through the 70s. Four time Superbowl Champion, and right here from our own backyard. “Mean” Joe Greene is truly a hometown hero of Temple, TX. They even dedicated a field to him right here in Temple, just over a year ago. And even though I may not be a Steelers fan, or even really get that into football, we all love a good hometown hero! In fact, in my search for more hometown heroes of Temple, TX, I found that a couple years ago a radio station would pick a new “hometown hero” to honor each week. There’s just something exciting and uplifting in being able to say, “He’s from here you know! He’s one of us!”
Can you think of any other “hometown heroes?” Or, are there heroes in your family that you are proud of? Maybe you have a relative who received a special medal or recognition for his or her service to their country. Maybe a family member has a patent on something that is used every day. For me, my family hero is a nurse who helps bring new life into this world. One life, in particular, I’m particularly proud of my aunt for delivering; or rather, thankful for saving. Although I may not have actually been in any serious danger, I’m very thankful my aunt was staying with my family the morning of my birth. You see, I came pretty quickly. I was actually born in the kitchen. And my aunt was able to offer medical help until the EMTs got to the house. For that, my Aunt and I share a special connection. She even took my wife and I through pregnancy and delivery classes and assured us that she was only a phone call away if we needed anything.
With all that in mind, or with your own hero in mind, most of us probably wouldn’t be able to associate too closely with someone who is called the “pioneer of salvation” or “the anointed one” or even “the Son of God.” But, believe it or not, Jesus wants you to think of him as your “hometown hero.” Or, even better, your “big brother.” You see, he came for you. He didn’t remain in heaven seated at the throne of God with all glory and praise. He didn’t come to help the angels, but for you, “Abraham’s descendants,” true children of God through faith. And he went to great lengths to have this close of a relationship with you. He gave up his honor and glory. He gave up full use of his divine power. He was born of a woman so that he had to grow, as the gospel reading puts it, “grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). Can you even fathom that? How the God who upholds all of creation and preserves every life had to be given human life and be held in Mary’s arms. How the God who searches me, knows me, and perceives my thoughts from afar (Ps 139) had to learn how to walk and how to talk. How the God who bound Satan and commands the forces of the world saying, “This far you may come and no farther” (Job 38:11) could be tempted in every way just as you and I are.
In this way, it’s as if you grew up together – you and your brother Jesus. He experienced all the same things you experienced and is able to help you through every trial or challenge in life. That’s why the Bible says, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). Your big brother, Jesus, has been there, done that. He’s experienced it. He knows what you are going through, and he’s here to help you.
That’s why Jesus was born in the flesh. That’s why we needed Christmas. That’s why we needed one who could call us brothers and sisters. It was God’s way of coming to us in our need and in our distress. “So Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). We could never make it to him, or reach out to him, so he came to us.
Yet, he couldn’t simply just be one of us. Just another human being would become entrapped by sin, just as we are. Just another human being would never be able to rescue us, much less himself. So he also needed to be much more. He needed to be holy in every way, so that “both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family” (Heb 2:11). He also needed a special skill set. He needed to be a hero. He needed to be God.
That’s why Jesus had to be born of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we needed Christmas. That’s why we needed “the pioneer of salvation” (Heb 2:10) to come to where we are to rescue us.
It actually reminds me of another rescue mission that happened not too long ago. Even the most skilled described this rescue mission as among the most dangerous they have attempted. The mission was to rescue 12 boys and their coach from a treacherous and submerged cave in Thailand. The group was exploring the caves when a flash flood trapped them. They were about 4 kilometers from the entrance, on a muddy, elevated rock, surrounded by water. They were weak from lack of food, but hopes of rescue were high. In order to make this rescue, however, highly skilled divers had to navigate miles of dark, murky, and narrow tunnels swirling with strong currents. They had to go into the belly of the cave to rescue those who had been swallowed by it. And the hardest part, was bringing the unskilled, untrained boys safely out.
This cave rescue is not unlike the predicament that you and I were found in. They were trapped about 1 kilometer under a mountain, you and I are trapped under a heap of sin and death. They were weak from lack of nourishment and some suffered from illness, we are weak from a lack of spiritual food and the sin that infects us. A rescue mission was dangerous, required perfect planning, and would even cost a life – in both cases.
Like the cave divers who rescued the boys needed to be able to navigate the swirling currents and murky waters of the cave to bring, not only themselves home safely, but also the boys, so Jesus had to be able to navigate the pulling temptations of sin and the valley of the shadow of death to bring “many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). We are not able to rescue ourselves from sin. We aren’t able to prevent our own spiritual death. And every moment we remain trapped in sin is one moment closer to our eternal condemnation. We need a rescue. We need one who can come to where we are, perfectly execute a rescue plan, and strengthen us along the way as we await the complete fulfilment of that rescue.
In all of this, the birth of Christ that we just celebrated can never be separated from the passion of Christ that lies just months ahead in the church year. His coming into our lives is closely tied with him saving our lives. The baby of Bethlehem is the future victim on Golgotha. The Author and Source of our salvation could not win that salvation unless he was born so that he could die. And in order to be born and die, he needed to become our brother, yet bigger in every way.
Remember how I said that Jesus was like your big brother in that you grew up together and experienced all the same things together? Well, there’s a couple more things that he’s experienced that you haven’t yet. They are pretty big things. The first, will sooner or later happen to every single one of us. It’s death. I don’t know if you have thought much about your own death yet. But in a way, death enslaves us all. In fact, the Bible even says that Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:15). Yes, I think of death enslaving us because there is no escaping it. But are you really enslaved by the fear of death? I didn’t really think so until I began to ask myself questions about what if it happened right now? Often I don’t fear it because I put it out of my mind and I know where I am going. But what if it happened right now? What will happen to those I’ve left behind? What if it was a long, drawn out process of hospital visits, and stays in a nursing home, and a huge toll on me physically, emotionally, and mentally? Then it becomes a little more real. Death, is not something that is glorious or glamorous as many heroic tales would have us believe.
However, your brother Jesus has been there. He led the way. He went in first. And he took upon himself the ugliest part of death. There certainly wasn’t anything glamorous about the way that Jesus died. His body was disfigured and stained from the beatings he sustained before he even went to the cross. And as he hung on the cross, he suffered dehydration and suffocation. But that wasn’t even the ugliest part. That wasn’t even the worst of suffering. The worst was having God the Father turn his back on him. The worst was being abandoned by God so that he would not save him from the tormenting pits of sin. He would not be rescued, but God laid on him the iniquity of us all. That’s the ugliest part of death. Not the physical pain you may endure or the mental instability, but the guilt of sin and condemnation from God. These things you will never know because your brother took the blame for you and was punished in your place.
And he did it so that you could share in the last thing with him. The first verse from the reading today, verse 10, is a little bit hard to order – a little bit hard to read. There’s a number of different thoughts all heaped upon one another because they are all so tightly connected. But I’m going to read it in a little different order to bring out the sense for this last part of the sermon. “It was fitting that God should make the pioneer of your salvation complete through what he suffered by bringing many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb 2:10). The last thing you and your brother will experience together is glory. Because he was born in the flesh to call you brothers and sisters, because he gave up his life in your place but as true God took it back up again, you will pass through dangers and death to inherit the same kind of glory that you brother Jesus inherited. That’s what the word “help” depicts in verse 16. “surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants” (Heb 2:16). The word there is “laid hold of.” “Laid hold of to draw out.” I picture one of those Thai Navy Seals laying hold of one of those boys, looking him squarely in the eyes and saying, “trust me,” as they go under the water and he draws him through the tunnels to the surface. It’s your big brother Jesus laying hold of you, looking you squarely in the eyes and saying, “trust me.” So that as you breathe your last here on earth, the next will be your first breath with him in glory.