Sermon title:  HE BECAME ‘LOWER THAN THE ANGELS’ TO BRING US TO GLORY

Hebrews 1:6; 2:1-10

 

   

                            Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, December 23, 2018

 

 

 

 

It was on the very first Christmas morning

that the heavenly Son of God

“was made a little lower than the angels”

as we just read in our Responsive Reading.

 

 And Jesus came for a purpose: 

so that he could redeem us from among humankind

and take us home to heaven

to rule with him there.

 

2 Timothy 2:12 says,

“if we endure, we will also reign together with Him.”

 

But now, in this life, we are lower than the angels.

 

Verses 6 and 7 in our Responsive Reading explained

that angels are a higher order of creation,

and we humans come next, just below them:

It says,

"What is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him?

7 You made him a little lower than the angels.”

 

So, we humans are a little lower than the angels.

 

And, when our Lord Jesus

was born on Christmas morning,

he joined us in being

“a little lower than the angels.”

 

This reminds us of Philippians 2:6, which says that Jesus,

 

“being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God

something to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

 

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death

even death on a cross!

 

So, when our Lord left heaven

and took on human form

he became “a little lower than the angels.”

 

And our Responsive Reading in Hebrews 2, Verses 9 and 10

goes on to explain why Jesus did this—

why he became lower than the angels:

 

It says,

9 But we see Jesus,

who was made a little lower than the angels,

now crowned with glory and honor

because he suffered death,

so that by the grace of God

he might taste death for everyone.

 

10 In bringing many sons to glory,

it was fitting that God,

for whom and through whom everything exists,

should make the author of their salvation

perfect through suffering.

 

So, it says Jesus became “a little lower than the angels”

“so that...he might taste death for everyone.”

 

But it doesn’t stop there.

 

It goes on to speak of him

bringing many sons to glory.”

 

That’s what it’s all about.

 

That’s the end goal of the Christmas story.

 

Yes, the Christmas story is about

Christ becoming a little lower than the angels,

so that he could die in our place—

taking on himself

the burden and punishment for our sins,

and giving us his righteousness--

so that he can raise us up with him

to heavenly glory higher than the angels.

=====================================

 

 

When we look at a Christmas creche

we see the baby Jesus lying in a manger

as the center of attention.

Statues or little figurines of Mary and Joseph

are right there next to him,

and perhaps some cattle and sheep.

Next come the shepherds,

removing their hats and

bowing to the Christmas child.

We also see three Wise Men carrying their gifts

of frankincense, gold and myrrh,

and perhaps one or two of camels

that carried them,

as they followed the star

that led them to Bethlehem.

The Wise Men actually came

weeks or months after Christmas morning,

but the creche condenses the Christmas story

and summarizes it,

by bringing them into the scene pictured

by the little statuettes.

 

And, overhead, hovering over the whole scene,

or attached to the peak of the stable roof

there is an angel.

 

Again, that’s an instance of artistic license—

summarizing the role of angels at Christmas

and condensing the story a bit

by picturing an angel above the stable.

 

Scripture doesn’t report that anyone

saw an angel above the stable.

But there certainly was an angel—

probably many angels—

invisibly present above the manger

where the baby Jesus lay.

 

The artist who designs the creche

adds the angel

to complete the scene

and to acknowledge the role of angels at Jesus’ birth.

------------------------------------

 

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1,  is the first place

we read of an angel in the Christmas story.

 

It tells about how the angel Gabriel was sent

to announce the birth of John the Baptist

six months before the birth of Christ.

 

Gabriel was sent to an elderly Jewish priest named Zechariah.

 

Beginning in Luke 1:8, it says,

 

8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty

and he was serving as priest before God,

9 he was chosen by lot,

according to the custom of the priesthood,

to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

 

10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

 

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him,

standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

 

12 When Zechariah saw him,

he was startled and was gripped with fear.

 

And, who wouldn’t be startled and gripped with fear

at the sudden appearance of an angel?

 

Matthew Chapter 28 tells us

that, when Christ rose from the dead,

 

2 There was a violent earthquake,

for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven

and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone

and sat on it.

3 His appearance was like lightning,

and his clothes were white as snow.

4 The guards were so afraid of him

that they shook and became like dead men.

 

Those guards were Roman soldiers,

hardened fighting men,

accustomed to wading into battle

in hand-to-hand combat

against the fiercest of foes,

but the appearance of this angel

terrorized them so much

that they shook and became like dead men.”

 

No wonder this old man “was gripped with fear

when he saw the angel.

 

Luke continues in Luke 1:13,

 

13 But the angel said to him:  

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah;

your prayer has been heard.

 

Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,

and you are to give him the name John.

 

14 He will be a joy and delight to you,

and many will rejoice because of his birth,

15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

 

He is never to take wine or other fermented drink,

and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit

even from birth.

 

16 Many of the people of Israel

will he bring back to the Lord their God.

 

17 And he will go on before the Lord,

in the spirit and power of Elijah,

to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children

and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—

to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

 

What an amazing announcement!—

by an amazing messenger from God!

 

But Zechariah doubted the word of the angel.

 

18 Zechariah asked the angel,

 

"How can I be sure of this?

I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

 

When the angel speaks again,

we learn that his name is Gabriel,

and that he is apparently a very high-ranking angel:

 

19 The angel answered, "I am Gabriel.

I stand in the presence of God,

and I have been sent to speak to you

and to tell you this good news.

 

20 And now you will be silent

and not able to speak until the day this happens,

because you did not believe my words,

which will come true at their proper time."

 

God didn’t send just anybody to make this announcement;

he sent the angel Gabriel,

who stands “in the presence of God.

 

And God sends this same important angel Gabriel,

to the young woman Mary,

as we read beginning at Verse 26.

 

26 In the sixth month,

[that is, the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John]

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth,

a town in Galilee,

27 to a virgin pledged to be married

to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.

The virgin's name was Mary.

 

28 The angel went to her and said,

"Greetings, you who are highly favored!

The Lord is with you."

 

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words

and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

 

Remember, this was the same angel Gabriel

whose appearance in the Temple

had terrified Zechariah.

 

So, as angels usually have to tell humans they visit

 not be afraid:

 

30 But the angel said to her,

"Do not be afraid, Mary,

you have found favor with God.

 

31 You will be with child and give birth to a son,

and you are to give him the name Jesus.

 

32 He will be great

and will be called the Son of the Most High.

 

The Lord God will give him

the throne of his father David,

33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever;

his kingdom will never end."

 

34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel,

"since I am a virgin?"

 

Now this was not a lack of faith

like Zechariah exhibited,

when he expressed doubt

that an elderly couple could have a child.

 

Mary was simply looking for more information

about how this virgin birth would happen.

 

35 The angel answered,

 

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

 

So the holy one to be born

will be called the Son of God.

 

36 Even Elizabeth your relative

is going to have a child in her old age,

and she who was said to be barren

is in her sixth month.

 

37 For nothing is impossible with God."

 

38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered.

"May it be to me as you have said."

 

Then the angel left her.

 

The next angelic appearance is found at Matthew Chapter 1,

when Joseph learns

that his wife-to-be is pregnant.

 

Beginning at Matthew 1:19, it says,

 

19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man

and did not want to expose her to public disgrace,

he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 

20 But after he had considered this,

an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream

and said,

"Joseph son of David,

do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,

because what is conceived in her  

is from the Holy Spirit.

 

21 She will give birth to a son,

and you are to give him the name Jesus,

because he will save his people from their sins."

 

22 All this took place

to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

 

23 "The virgin will be with child

and will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel"

--which means, "God with us."

 

24 When Joseph woke up,

he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him

and took Mary home as his wife.

 

25 But he had no union with her

until she gave birth to a son.

And he gave him the name Jesus.

 

We don’t know if it was Gabriel

who appeared to Joseph in that dream.

 

Scripture says just that it was “an angel of the Lord.

 

The same is true of the next appearance of angels,

when Jesus is actually born.

 

One angel appears to the shepherds,

followed by a multitude of angels.

 

Luke, Chapter 2, records this event.

 

It takes place in the grazing fields

just outside the town of Bethlehem.

 

Luke 2, beginning at Verse 8 says,

 

8 And there were shepherds

living out in the fields nearby,

keeping watch over their flocks at night.

 

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them,

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were terrified.

 

10 But the angel said to them,

"Do not be afraid.

I bring you good news of great joy

that will be for all the people.

 

11 Today in the town of David

a Savior has been born to you;

he is Christ the Lord.

 

12 This will be a sign to you:

You will find a baby

wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

 

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host

appeared with the angel,

praising God and saying,

 

14 "Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

 

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,

the shepherds said to one another,

 

"Let's go to Bethlehem

and see this thing that has happened,

which the Lord has told us about."

 

16 So they hurried off

and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby,

who was lying in the manger.

-------------------------

 

Going back to Matthew Chapter 2,

we find another appearance of an angel,

once again to Joseph in a dream.

 

Sometime after Jesus’ birth,

while baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph were still at Bethlehem,

wise men came from the East to worship the holy child.

 

Matthew 2:13 says,

13 When they had gone,

an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

"Get up," he said,

"take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.

Stay there until I tell you,

for Herod is going to search for the child

to kill him."

 

 

And, finally, Matthew 2:19 says,

19 After Herod died,

an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream

to Joseph in Egypt

20 and said,

"Get up,

take the child and his mother

and go to the land of Israel,

for those who were trying to take the child's life

are dead."

 

21 So he got up,

took the child and his mother

and went to the land of Israel.

 

So, angels played a big part in the Christmas story.

 

An angel announced to Jewish priest Zechariah

 the coming birth of John the Baptist,

and then announced to Mary

the coming birth of our Lord Jesus.

 

An angel appeared in a dream to Joseph

and explained to him

the miracle of Mary’s virgin pregnancy.

 

Angels appeared to shepherds outside Bethlehem.

 

But the miracle of Christmas morning

was that the eternal Son of God

was made “a little lower than the angels”

when he left heaven to be born as a human baby. 

 

He left his heavenly glory

so that he could save us from our sins

and so that he can elevate us to heavenly glory with him.

 

Christmas helps us appreciate the message of Romans 8:18,

 

“that our present sufferings

are not worth comparing

with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

 

Christ’s human birth was a miracle of Spirit becoming flesh.

 

And he did it to make possible the miracle

of our re-birth by the Spirit

as children of God, headed for heavenly glory.

 

If we open our Bibles to the book of Hebrews,

where our Responsive Reading was taken from,

we’ll see that the whole purpose of God for us

is summed up there.

 

The opening chapters of Hebrews

talk about the events of the first Christmas

from heaven’s standpoint,

as well as what Christmas means for us.

 

Hebrews talks about Christ being far above the angels,

then being made lower than the angels.

 

And it talks about us being lower than the angels,

and Christ giving us a “heavenly calling”

that will elevate us above the angels.

 

Hebrews Chapter 1, Verse 2, says

that God “made the universe” through the Son.

 

It’s already obvious,

but Verse 4 says that Christ is “superior to the angels.”

 

Only God is entitled to receive worship,

and Verse 6 shows that the angels worshiped Jesus

on that first Christmas,

when he came into the world as a human baby.

 

It says,

6 And again,

when God brings his firstborn into the world,

he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

 

And then, moving along to Hebrews Chapter 2,

beginning at Verse 6,

we read that God made man—humankind—

a little lower than the angels.

 

And in Verse 9 we read

that Jesus—at his human birth on that first Christmas—

was made a little lower than the angels.

It says,

9 But we see Jesus,

who was made a little lower than the angels,

now crowned with glory and honor

because he suffered death,

so that by the grace of God

he might taste death for everyone.

 

10 In bringing many sons to glory,

it was fitting that God,

for whom and through whom everything exists,

should make the author of their salvation

perfect through suffering.

 

So, in those two verses—Verses 9 & 10—

it summarizes Christ’s work toward us,

beginning on that first Christmas

when he was born as a human,

and completing when he raptures us to glory:

 

Step 1:  He “was made a little lower than the angels.

 

Step 2:  He “suffered death, so that

he might taste death for everyone.

 

Step 3:  He will bring “many sons to glory.

 

Because we believers have been born again—

born of the Spirit—

Hebrews Chapter 3 begins

by saying we “share in the heavenly calling.

 

Hebrews 3:1 says,

 

1 Therefore, holy brothers,

who share in the heavenly calling,

fix your thoughts on Jesus,

the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

 

We have a heavenly calling.

 

Christ came to earth on Christmas,

so that he can call us to heaven with him.

 

Jesus is no longer “a little lower than the angels.”

 

He now sits on the throne of God.

 

And he calls us to sit there with him—

in a position higher than the angels.

 

1 Corinthians Chapter 6 says, beginning in Verse 2,

 

“Or do you not know

that the Lord’s people will judge the world?

And if you are to judge the world,

are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

3 Do you not know that we will judge angels?”

 

Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 both say

that we will be “kings and priests”

and will reign over the earth.

 

We will judge the world.

 

We will judge angels.

-----------------------------------

 

So, when we think about Christmas—

the angels of Christmas

and the Christ child of Christmas—

we should also call to mind

what it’s all about.

 

Christ came at Christmas,

knowing he would suffer and die for us,

and knowing he was doing it all

so that he can take us home to himself,

to live with him in glory forever.

 

That thought of having us with him in heaven

was the joy that motivated Jesus

to go through all that suffering on the cross.

 

Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus “endured the cross

for “the joy that was set before him.”

 

And, in the same way,

we can endure our sufferings now in this world

for the joy that is set before us.

 

Christmas helps us appreciate the message of Romans 8:18—

“that our present sufferings

are not worth comparing

with the glory that will be revealed in us.”