WHERE PURPOSE BEGINS

 

Week of September 11, 2005

 

Background Passage:Psalm 8:1-6; Hebrews 2:5-18.

Focal Passage:Psalm 8:1-6; Hebrews 2:8b-10, 14-15.

 

Biblical Truth: God created people for a special purpose and through Christ empowers people to fulfill that purpose.

 

Our Original Purpose (Psalm 8:1-6)

 

[1] O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! [2] From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. [3] When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; [4] What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him? [5] Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! [6] You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet. [NASU]

 

The psalmís theme is the greatness of God and the place of man within Godís universe. The hymn has four obvious parts: celebration of the surpassing majesty of God [1-2]; confession of the insignificance of man [3-4]; astonishment at the significance of man [5-8]; and a concluding refrain that repeats the psalmís first lines [9].

 

[1-2] The psalm begins with a celebration of the surpassing majesty of God. It is a way of saying from the outset that we will never understand human beings unless we see them as Godís creatures and recognize that they have special responsibilities to their Creator. One responsibility is to praise God. David begins with two great names for God: Jehovah (Yahweh) and Adonai (Lord). Here is a recognition of the majesty of Godís name, or nature, which his works reveal in both earth and heaven.

 

[3-4] What is man? The question was prompted by a consideration of the night sky. There can be little doubt that David is referring to the experience of his youth. In his shepherd days, tending his fatherís flocks in the hills near Bethlehem, he often slept under the stars. He recognized that the heavens, with the moon and the stars, were the work of Godís fingers, and as he contemplated their greatness and mystery, he cried out: What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him? These two exclamations (take thought and care for) highlight the divine grace implicit in the four that follow (made him, crown him, make him to rule, and put all things), for all is of Godís giving. ĎTake thoughtí has a compassionately purposeful ring, since Godís remembering always implies his movement toward the object of his memory. And Ďcare forí (literally Ďattend toí) similarly implies his action as well as his concern.

 

[5-6] Not only does God think of us and care for us, he has also crowned us with glory and majesty. David makes this point in two striking ways. First, he uses the word glory, which he first used of God, of mere man. This is an effective way of identifying man with God and of saying that he has been made in Godís image, reflecting Godís glory in a way other parts of the creation do not. The second way David emphasizes manís special significance is by speaking of his role as Ďrulerí over the world and its creatures. God has invested man with royal sovereignty by delegating to man the control of his works. The connection of Godís image with ruling over Godís works reminds us of Genesis 1:26-28.

 

But do you see the problem that confronts us in this psalm? If man is crowned with glory and majesty, why do we not act like it? Why are our actions so opposed to Godís glory and majesty? Although made in Godís image and ordained to become increasingly like the God to whom they look, men and women have turned their backs on God. Of course, we know that this is due to the damaging impact the Fall has upon mankind. But what is the solution? Will mankind ever recapture the greatness that David describes in verses 5-6? Let us now turn to Hebrews and see what that writer offers as a solution to our problem.

 

Our Restored Purpose (Hebrews 2:8b-10, 14-15)

 

[8b] For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. [9] But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. [10] For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. [14] Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. [NASU]

 

The application to Christ of what Psalm 8 says about man is explained by the fact that the incarnate Son was the perfect, indeed the only perfect, man. And the intention and achievement of his incarnation was precisely to restore to fallen man the dignity and the wholeness of his existence as he reintegrated in himself the grand design of creation. The incarnation not only confirms the value of man in Godís eyes but also displays the love of God for his creatures and his power to rehabilitate the world which man in his fallenness has dragged down with himself. After the time of abasement the incarnate Son, and in Him mankind, is crowned with glory and honor. Being one with Christ, His redeemed share in the glory of his reign (2 Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17; Rev 22:5); and everything is placed in subjection under his feet; so that in Christ the dominion for which man was originally created is everlastingly established. The perfection of the Sonís sacrifice and the indefectibility of His rule guarantee the fulfillment of the destiny of mankind in Him. While it is obvious that enemy forces are still active and as yet unsubdued in the world, yet the gaze of faith penetrates to the great reality that Jesus is already enthroned on high.

 

[8b] Here the writer to the Hebrews sets forth our problem for us. God has subjected all things to man, but now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. Human beings had been given the status of creature-sovereign with responsibility for the ordering of the creation for God as expressed in Genesis 1:26-28. But that goal has been frustrated by sin and death brought on by the Fall. The recognition of the present unfilled state of affairs prepares the writer to see that the promised subjection has reference not to humankind in general (v. 8) but to Jesus (v. 9), whom God has appointed heir of all things (1:2).

 

[9] The writer now applies Psalm 8:4-6 to Jesus: but we do see Him. He points out that Jesus, by His humiliation and exaltation, has regained what Adam lost, the original calling for human beings to rule over Godís creation. So the solution to our problem is that human beings will rule over creation, but only through Jesus Christ. This truth is brought out by the use of four clauses in verse 9. The purpose of the incarnation stated in the first clause is expressed by the use of so that in the fourth clause. Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels Ö so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Here, everyone must be understood in the light of the context and of the results of Jesusí death described elsewhere in Hebrews. It refers to the many sons (10) whom God brings to glory, whom Jesus calls brethren (11). So manís failure to achieve his destiny is corrected by Godís provision of a redeemer through whose death many will be led to the experience of sonship and glory. The two clauses that stand in an emphatic position in the middle of the verse also expresses a sequence in thought: because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor. First the Cross, then the Crown: the exaltation of Jesus was the consequence of His humiliation at the Cross.

 

[10] The conjunction ďforĒ indicates that our author is now explaining more fully what he has just said concerning the purpose of the incarnation of the Son, namely, that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. The purpose of this and the following verses is to show how fitting this method of salvation is. The fittingness of the divine action in Christ is suggested, to begin with, by the manner in which God is designated here as he for whom and by whom all things exist. This designation describes God as both the efficient cause (by whom) and the final cause (for whom) of all things: all creation flows from God and all creation flows to God. The incarnation and death of Christ were fitting as the effective means to the achievement of the Creatorís grand design, namely, the restoration of all things. The humiliation and death of Christ are fitting because this was the effective means of bringing many sons to glory. The redeemed are described as sons, not in their own right, but by virtue of their union with Him who is the only Son and with whom alone God is well pleased. It is fitting that our Redeemer should have been made perfect through suffering: first, because His completely victorious suffering of temptation of every kind (4:15) was essential to his achievement of that perfection which qualified Him to offer Himself on the cross as the spotless Lamb of God in the place of sinners (1 Pet. 1:17-19); second, because His suffering and death at Calvary annulled the power of Satan and set free the many sons who were destined for glory (2:14-15); third, because His own experience of human suffering in the body He assumed has enabled Him as a compassionate high priest to aid and strengthen at all times those who are afflicted with trials and temptations (2:17-18). The word for author signifies one who is both the source or initiator and the leader, one who first takes action and then brings those on whose behalf he has acted to the intended goal. The bringing of the many sons to glory is more than assured, it is to all intents and purposes a reality now because of their union with Him who is crowned with glory and honor. The glory that is now His is the glory also of those who are one with Him through faith.

 

[14] This verse is both a recapitulation and a development of what has gone before. The conjunction therefore makes it clear that there is a logical link with the preceding argument. The noun children is resumed from the text just quoted from Isaiah. The necessity and purpose of the incarnation are now defined with more preciseness than before. The genuineness of Christís humanity is now affirmed in the most unequivocal terms: flesh and blood, a common synonym for human nature. Moreover, that the incarnation was the divine Sonís free act on our behalf is indicated by the tenses of the two verbs share and partook. The first, a perfect, describes the constant human situation: all men and women, of every generation, have this in common that their nature is flesh and blood; whereas the second, an aorist, points to the historical event, unique in itself, of the incarnation when the Son of God assumed this same human nature and thus Himself became truly man and accordingly truly one with mankind. This assertion of the common humanity by which Christ is linked to us and we to Him is followed by a statement of the primary purpose of the incarnation, namely, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil. The power of death is held by the devil only in a secondary and not in an ultimate sense. God is still supreme in his sovereignty. The necessity of Christís death on the cross is bound up with the demands of the moral structure of Godís world. In Christ, the Son of Man and only law-keeper, dying in the place of man the guilty law-breaker, the justice and the love of God prevail together. Thus the death of Christ for us was the defeat of the devil; but it is not the end of the story, for it was followed by His resurrection, ascension, and crowning with glory and honor. This is the great vindication of Christís saving work, the assurance of its perfection and its acceptance by God, as well as its eternal efficacy for man.

 

[15] The defeat of the tyrant naturally means the setting free of those whom he holds in bondage. Rescue is the whole point of the operation. The writer to the Hebrews affirms that the Son of God assumed humanity in order to become their champion and to secure their release. Through His death, He crushed the antagonist who had the power of death and so brought deliverance to the captives. ďHe who fears death or is not willing to die,Ē says Luther, ďis not sufficiently Christian. As yet such people lack faith in the resurrection, and love this life more than the life to come.Ē Calvin writes similarly: ďAlthough we must still meet death, let us nevertheless be calm and serene in living and dying, when we have Christ going before us. If anyone cannot set his mind at rest by disregarding death, that man should know that he has not yet gone far enough in the faith of Christ.Ē

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††† Read Psalm 8:3-8. In this psalm, David expresses astonishment at Godís concern for man. What does 8:6-8 say about manís God-appointed role on earth? Why does the writer of Hebrews apply this psalm to Christ?

 

2.††† How does Hebrews 2:10 connect with v.9? What does v.10 say about the purpose of creation? Note the connection between glory and salvation. What does this say about the purpose of salvation? Meditate upon the truth that Godís fixed intention is to lead many sons and daughters to glory. What should our response be to the depth of Godís love and caring for us, which prompted this intention?

 

3.††† Since Jesus was sinless, suffering did not make him morally or spiritually perfect. How did suffering make Christ a perfect author of our salvation (10)?(See 2:18; 5:8-9; 7:25-28).

 

4.††† In verses 14-15, how does the incarnation free us from the fear of death? What do you think about the quotation from Luther where he connects the fear of death with lack of faith in the resurrection?

 

5.††† From these two passages, describe Godís purpose for mankind. How do we see this purpose being brought to fulfillment?

 

 

References:

Psalms, volume 1, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.

Favorite Psalms, Growing Closer to God, John Stott, Baker Books.

Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans Publishing.

Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 47, William Lane, Word Books.