“For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, 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. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:16-18)
5. To Make Atonement for the Sins of the People
The fifth reason Hebrews tells us that Jesus became a human was to forgive our sins. We find many verses in the New Testament that explain Jesus’ ministry of salvation. The meaning of Jesus’ name itself is “to save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21).
Even though Jesus did many things on earth and fulfilled many promises, his most important ministry was to save his people from their sins.
The book of Hebrews also covers Jesus’ ministry of salvation with great importance because that was the main reason Jesus came to the world. We are very familiar with this subject. Jesus’ salvation is probably what we hear most about in church.
But, what is unique about Hebrews is that when explaining Jesus' ministry of salvation, the author compares Jesus to the high priests in the Old Testament. In fact, the word ‘high priest’ appears in almost every chapter in Hebrews. The author’s main focus was to explain how Jesus became our high priest and what he did as the high priest.
And, by representing Jesus as a true high priest, what the author implies to the readers is that Jesus not only acts as God’s representative to his people, but can fully sympathize with us.
There were two religious leaders in Israel—prophets and priests. Both played important roles, but their roles were different. Prophets heard God’s message and delivered it to people on behalf of God, while priests mainly led worship and offered sacrifices on behalf of the people.
Among the priests, the role of high priest was especially important. The most important duty of a high priest was to conduct a service on the Day of Atonement, which we’ll discuss in the latter part of Hebrews.
Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain to stand before God’s throne on that day and make atonement for all the Israelites.
So, by representing Jesus as a high priest, the author is saying that Jesus is superior to all the high priests and that his sacrifice was greater than all the sacrifices that had been offered in the past. And, what the author also implies is the fact that since Jesus is a high priest, he is able to offer a sacrifice for all people on earth.
Even though there were many priests in Israel, only one high priest could exist at a time. The high priest was a representative of all God’s people. Thus, the high priest served as the mediator between God and people.
That’s the image Hebrews applies to Jesus. As a high priest, Jesus stood on our side as the mediator between us and God, offered a sacrifice to make atonement for our sins and to reconcile us with God, and opened the way for us to go into the Most Holy Place beyond the curtain.
6. To Help Us
The last reason for Jesus’ incarnation that Hebrews introduces is to help us. Verses 16 and 18 say,
“For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:16, 18)
Here, Abraham’s descendants don’t only refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, but also to all God’s people who join in the blessing God gave Abraham—to be considered righteous by faith in Jesus.
Paul said in Galatians chapter 3,
“Those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus by faith… So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gl 3:9, 14, 26, 29)
So, in Christ, we became God’s children by faith. The blessing that was given to Abraham now is given to all those who believe in Jesus. In Christ, we became Abraham’s spiritual descendants who also share God’s wonderful promises.
And, Hebrews says that even though Jesus is God, he was born as Abraham’s descendant in order to understand all Abraham’s descendants. And, just as we face all kinds of suffering and temptations, Jesus also suffered and was tempted.
This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation. Before Jesus began his ministry in earnest, he was tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness.
Jesus fasted for forty days and when he was extremely hungry, Satan came to him and tempted him to turn stones into bread. But, even though Jesus had the ability to do so, he didn’t use his power to avoid suffering and meet his physical needs because he prioritized God’s will first.
After that when Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple, Jesus refused to use his authority to prove himself.
And, when Satan told Jesus that he would give him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worshiped him, Jesus overcame the temptation because his eyes were focused on things above, more than things on earth. Jesus’ highest value was to worship God and he didn’t exchange it for anything.
Not only that, Jesus experienced physical suffering, exhaustion, emotional pains, mockery, and more.
Even though we don’t experience exactly the same tests Jesus went through, the essence of the tests and temptations we experience in the world are the same as Jesus’ temptations.
According to Abraham Maslow, who was a famous American psychologist best known for Maslow's hierarchy of needs, all human beings have five different kinds of needs. They are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.
Physiological needs refer to our biological requirements such as food, drink, sleep, and warmth. Safety needs include health, personal security and financial security. Love and belonging needs are our social and emotional needs for relationships. Esteem needs basically refer to respect, credit, and compliments from others. And, self-actualization needs refer to our desire to prove ourselves by accomplishing something.
We all have these needs and we’re motivated to do certain things to meet them. What’s important is that all these human needs are found in Jesus’ temptations.
When Jesus lived alone in the wilderness and fasted for forty days, His physiological, safety, and belonging needs were tempted. And, during the second and third temptations, His esteem and self-actualization needs were tempted.
But, Jesus overcame all these tests by placing God’s will first in his life and trusting in his word. In this extremely difficult and lonely situation, Jesus trusted in God. When all the kingdoms of the world were before his eyes, Jesus didn’t even seek them because his eyes were fixed on God’s kingdom.
When Jesus had the chance to prove who he was by exercising his power in front of many people, he instead chose to be powerlessly caught, persecuted, and crucified. By doing so, Jesus shows us how we can also be victorious over all kinds of temptations in the world, and he helps us to overcome them.
As Hebrews 2:18 says,
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18)
I think this is what makes Christianity very unique. No other religion says that God became a human to be with us, understand us, and help us.
If there had been no incarnation of Jesus, we would have claimed that God can’t truly understand us because he is God who is essentially different from us. But, the Bible says that our God can really understand us and help us because he was also tempted in every way just like us as a human.
So, in the first verse of the next chapter, the author says,
“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” (Heb 3:1)
Whenever we become weary and frustrated because of our situations and temptations, we are to remember and proclaim that Jesus is not far from us but right here with us.
To understand us and help us, Jesus came to the world to share in our humanity. Based on this truth, the author of Hebrews strongly urges us,
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16)
So, for a few weeks, we’ve talked about the reasons for Jesus’ incarnation. God made him lower than the angels for a while so that he could taste death and then break the power of death and Satan. Jesus freed us from the fear of death, made atonement for our sins as our high priest, and now helps us when we’re tempted.
That’s the Jesus we believe in. I hope that all of us can know who Jesus really is and what he has done in our lives so that we can enjoy all the spiritual blessings he has given us and overcome all our sins, fears, worries, situations and temptations with Jesus who is able to empathize with us and help us in our time of need.