Pr. Eric Swensson

October 4, 2012


photo of Pr. Eric SwenssonPeople who make determinations solely on appearances may find the Christian faith undecipherable. They may think that Jesus was a great teacher and focus on his moral teaching before giving a lament that only if Christians would follow this teaching the world would be much better off. There is just so much that is utterly different from anything else they are taught, and while they may have heard hymns and even been to a worship and because our culture is still well-versed in biblical themes, they might be able to picture Jesus and know that he was crucified, the Big Story is unknown.

On the other hand, believers are able to judge inwardly, that is, those who have faith and the inward presence of Christ know that Scripture is essential to having life and having it eternally. They know it cannot be understood merely by reading words on a page and look to the One who is the Decipher, that is, how the Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture. But even many whom we can well assume to be believers, what is it that they truly believe and what do they know of things seen and unseen?

This brief message addresses fellow workers who try to communicate a text like the second chapter of Hebrews which I am sure is pretty undecipherable to people who have not been catechized, may be fairly challenging to regular worshipers and I am suggesting here, should be understood as a challenge to the basic assumptions of a lot of preachers today. However, because Christ poured out His Spirit onto His church at Pentecost, we can read, think, meditate, pray, study some more, and come into a fuller understanding of what God communicates through the Word and make determinations about the scope of God’s great gospel of salvation and know what that means about the life of those who receive our Lord.

Hebrews 2:1-14: Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

5For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...

What must those who judge by appearances, that is, by human wisdom, think about all this information? Here is what I think God is trying to communicate, but we must help break it down for people. What God intends to communicate is the Gospel, His great love for His creatures and that it is not His will that any should perish. Now the Gospel is about salvation, and in its way the Book of Hebrews is a Gospel. Oh, it doesn’t tell the story of the ministry of Jesus like Mathew, Mark and Luke. It is more like John, but it is its own thing. Perhaps what it is could be called a prequel in that it talks about the preexistence of Christ. Hebrews begins telling the Big Story, how the universe hangs together, and surprisingly it is upheld by a Word.

What must those who judge by appearances, that is, by human wisdom, think about all this information? Here is what I think God is trying to communicate, but we must help break it down for people. What God intends to communicate is the Gospel, His great love for His creatures and that it is not His will that any should perish. Now the Gospel is about salvation, and in its way the Book of Hebrews is a Gospel. Oh, it doesn’t tell the story of the ministry of Jesus like Mathew, Mark and Luke. It is more like John, but it is its own thing. Perhaps what it is could be called a prequel in that it talks about the preexistence of Christ. Hebrews begins telling the Big Story, how the universe hangs together, and surprisingly it is upheld by a Word.

To be clear, it is saying that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not just communicated by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was also communicated by Jesus. This may seem like not an “Aha!” moment but a “Duh” moment but it is a wonderful thing because He is the author and perfector of this Gospel. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say as it were, “And me, too, me and my brothers and sisters, this salvation was heard and was made known to us, that is, we experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ.

Pause here and think about salvation, what it is, how it is experienced and therefore what it is we are to communicate. What is this power for salvation God wields through Jesus? After I have done some exegesis and thought about a text and made a beginning to help people apply it to their lives I often like to turn to Luther and see what he has to say for multifarious reasons. Let’s pause to consider what Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Hebrews in 1527 about this throne in chapter one and what it has to do with our salvation:

“Everything that is said in this verse is so inconsistent with all understanding that those who want to grasp the truth of these things have need of an exceedingly robust faith. For if considered according to the outward appearance, nothing is more unlike a throne and the throne of God than the people of Christ, since it does not seem to be a kingdom but a place of exile, or to be living but to be constantly dying, or to be in glory but to be in disgrace, or to dwell in wealth but to dwell in extreme poverty, as everyone who wants to share in this kingdom is compelled to experience in himself. The ornaments of Christians are poverty, tribulations, and afflictions. This is the way God’s throne, which is man, should be adorned.”

What is it we preachers communicate today about the Gospel? Do we preach a gospel that people desire to experience outwardly, that is, in being successful in getting their life together, or is it something experienced inwardly, in being born-again, as we say? Let’s hear some more from Luther n his comments on the next verse that address the scepter:

For Christ rules the church with no other power than the Word, as it is written (Ps. 33:6): “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made.” But it is called “a staff of justice,” that is, a Hebrew idiom, “of just guidance”… Therefore it is called “the staff of Thy kingdom” to distinguish it from all other kingdoms…For absolutely no doctrine, be it civil, ecclesiastical, or philosophical can direct man and make him upright, since it leads only so far that it establishes good behavior, while man remains as he has been of old. And so of necessity it makes nothing but pretenders and hypocrites; for those dregs of the heart and that bilge water of the old man, namely, love of himself, remain…But the Gospel says: “Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). And thus the Gospel preserves nothing of the old man but destroys him completely and makes him new, until hatred of himself utterly roots out love of himself through faith in Christ. Therefore all boasting of erudition, wisdom, and knowledge is useless; for no one is made better by these, no matter what good and laudable gifts of God they are. Indeed, besides the fact that they do not make a man good, they become a covering for wickedness and a veil over the disease of nature, so that those who are pleased with themselves because of them and seem to themselves to be good and sound are incurable.”

Therefore, we need to be communicating the Gospel of salvation that entails a change, not just of heart, and not just a spiritual change; our lives do change as God’s Word works to root out love of self. Remember, “The ornaments of Christians are poverty, tribulations, and afflictions.”

Friends, it sounds like the Theology of the Cross to me. If we do not embrace the troubles of this life, spiritual and temporal, of ourselves and of others, we are not experiencing the Gospel. How often we look longingly at things Scripture tells us quite clearly and not good things but evil. Luther says “erudition”. Well, be honest, are you not like me and you long to hear praise for the way you preached or the way you dealt with an argument? Erudition, wisdom and knowledge are useless Luther says. To be sure, he is speaking of human wisdom, but it is a good warning for preachers.


1 Luther, M. (1999). Luther's works, vol. 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Heb 1:8). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

This is a good lesson in the Theology of the Cross, in what the Word teaches us abut the futility of gospels of glory and also the way that it drives us to the cross, and that is in the lesson, that by the grace of God Jesus Christ might taste death for everyone. May God bless your witness to the transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we might taste of the suffering of Jesus, not that we would hang on a tree, but that on seeing our pride, selfishness and love of worldly things that we might hang our heads, invite Him into our mess and help us straighten out so with changed hearts and wills we might be of service to Him. +Amen

There is much to do yet to unpack the Big Story found in the first two chapters of Hebrews. This is only a start and people who preach on this have much to do to make it accessible for their listeners. This message, like the author of Hebrews says his message is, is not so easy to digest.