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Jesus Our Older Brother
Our Flesh And Blood Older Brother Who Brings Us Safely Home To The Father
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
And again, “I will put my trust in him.”
And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
The romantic epic Legends of the Fall is a tender story about Colonel William Ludlow and his three sons, Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel and the people whose lives they touched.[i] While growing up in a Montana ranch away from the madness of civilization, Alfred and Tristan both looked after their youngest brother Samuel with the utmost of care. They watched over him like a treasure.
As war erupts in Europe, Samuel is outraged and decides to enlist and help England in its effort against evil in the world. Colonel Ludlow is against Samuel’s idealistic decision fearing for his life. But the young man has made up his mind and is anxious to follow in his father’s footsteps to glory while his older brothers volunteer to follow after him. It’s their desire to protect him from the perils of war and bring him safely home to their father.
Before the brothers depart, they bid their father goodbye one by one. When it came to his favorite son Tristan, Colonel Ludlow, inhaled a deep emotional breath and whispered to him, “Take care of Samuel.”
On the battlefield, Tristan does his best to watch over his youngest brother like a nursemaid. In spite of his effort, an unexpected opportunity presented itself to Samuel. The young man readily volunteers for a dangerous reconnaissance mission and is tragically killed in action. Tristan is rendered helpless to save him. When Tristan returns to Montana, he is still mourning his brother’s death. Alfred blames him for not doing a better job of saving Samuel in the battlefield. He failed to bring his brother home safely to his father.
The point of our scriptural passage is that Jesus, the older brother of a much larger family, could and did follow to where his siblings were, unprotected in a battlefield of sin and death. He identified with them, shared their fate, saved them from the dangers of the world, and brought them home safely to the Father in heaven. Above all other passages in early Christian writings, this one clearly speaks volumes about Jesus as the oldest brother, the firstborn, of a larger family.[ii]
Unlike some older brothers who are resented because they are the favored firstborn of the family, always succeeding in getting things right, while the younger brothers fail in measuring up to the model child—the “can’t do no wrong” niño bonito[iii] of the family. Jesus, on the other hand, is the kind of older brother that has no air of arrogance about him. He doesn’t stare down his nose at us, but seeks us out where we are and saves us from certain death.
As the author of Hebrews sets out to sketch the picture of our spiritual older brother as he renders Jesus with three descriptive qualities: (1) Jesus is the pioneer of salvation; (2) the destroyer of death; and (3) the high priest of God.
Jesus Is The Pioneer Of Salvation
First, Jesus is seen as the pioneer of salvation—the one who leads the way back to God. And humankind today is likened to the Israelites of old in their Exodus experience. The people of God found themselves at a loss as to how to maneuver and make it through this impossible terrain. Someone who possesses a pioneering spirit is necessary to make a way where there is no way—someone who is able to go ahead and discover the end from the beginning. A pioneer is somebody who goes into previously uncharted territory with the purpose of exploring its mysteries, overcoming the great obstacles, and carving a path through the deep unknown. Once he has forged a way, others may follow him safely through difficulties and dangers that lay ahead.
The world before us is a great and terrible wilderness[iv] of suffering, pain, sin and death. Jesus entered into the world for this pioneering purpose: to go where no one has ever gone before and to come out the other side. He fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied in that he would make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[v] By breaking through this impossible wasteland, this impassable dark barrier, he opened the perilous path straightaway into the undiscovered heavenly country—God’s new world. Leaving the wilderness in his wake, he cleansed the world of the sin that clung to the fallen human race. Jesus afforded his brothers and sisters a means by which they too could follow him and overcome the world. In verse 11 the author of Hebrews tells us, “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.” Jesus is the one who “sanctifies” or makes holy and separates his siblings from sin and prepares them to enter the holy presence of the Father. Pioneers are known to pursue new worlds for many reasons like fame, fortune or to selfishly satisfy sheer curiosity. Jesus pioneered our salvation out of love.
Jesus Is The Destroyer Of Death
Second, Jesus is described as the destroyer of death. In verse 12 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Jesus did not simply tell or proclaim to his siblings the good news of the kingdom of God. The bad news is broadcast in the first 21 verses of this Psalm. The reader will discover that Jesus suffered a horrifying death in our stead in order to bring us to the Father. In the midst of this heart-rending account of suffering, the salvation of men and women is accomplished. God’s kingdom is coming and a great multitude of humanity will give praise to the LORD.
Thanatophobia, or the fear of death and dying, is a very complex type of phobia. It ranks among the top ten phobias known to men and women. Most people are afraid of dying. Some people fear being dead, while others are afraid of the actual act of dying. Many people’s fear of death is bound to their religious beliefs. This fear becomes more painful if they happen to be going through a dark period of questioning their faith. Some people think that they know what will happen after death, but worry that they may be wrong. Some believe that the path to salvation is very straight and narrow, and fear that any sinful detours or deviations may cause them to be eternally condemned.
In keeping with the theme of the Exodus in Egypt, the author of Hebrews parallels our situation as slaves saying in verse 15 that Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” For the first six months of my pastoral ministry in the Bay Area I have had the privilege of visiting and praying for the members of our church who were about to cross the threshold of death. In each instance, I sensed the fear of death grip them as well as their loved ones. For death denies them the beauty and goodness in the world that we have known all our lives. And for many people this awful reality enslaves them in a fear that comes directly from the power of the devil as it is revealed in verse 14. The devil has come against everything that is good in God’s creation. He has always hated life in this world and is at work against the new life in the world to come. But God’s new world will come to pass for his promise to Abraham, the father of many nations is sure. Verse 16 tells us that it is through the descendants of Abraham that this new world will be populated with a great family. These are the siblings that Jesus, the Savior of the world, has come to rescue from slavery by the fear of death.
Jesus Is The High Priest Of God
Third, Jesus is exalted as the high priest of God. In suffering and dying in behalf of God’s people, Jesus has become the true high priest who makes atonement or payment for our sins and reconciles us to God. Based on the Old Testament, the true high priest is someone who is able to act as God’s representative to his people. On the one hand, he embodies God’s mercy and faithfulness (verse 17) and on the other hand, he sympathizes with those to whom he ministers (verse 18).
In Jesus Christ, the great gulf between God and humankind has been breached.[vi] He is the Great Go-between, the only mediator who bridged the impassable chasm by giving himself as human ransom to God.[vii] He is not a distant brother, but one who has drawn near to us. Our brother’s name is Emanuel, “God is with us.”[viii] He not only shared in “flesh and blood” by becoming flesh and living among us,[ix] but also shared in death itself (verse 14). He came close and closed the gap that separated us from God to rescue his siblings.
In the western drama Wyatt Earp, Nicolas Earp, the father of Wyatt, counsels his young sons saying, “Remember this, all of you. Nothing counts so much as blood. The rest are just strangers.”[x] If a brother’s blood counts for so much more and a stranger’s blood counts for nothing, the question is, “What will we do with the blood of Jesus?”
God has said that the life of every creature is in the blood.[xi] God also said that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.[xii] The call of repentance is for all the lost brothers and sisters who have come to their senses and desire to change the rebellious ways of their lives. Today you can confess your sin before God and receive his forgiveness through the death of his Son. Has the blood of Jesus that was spilled on the cross of Calvary cleansed you from all sin?
Like Jesus himself who was tested, he will help us who are being tested (verse 18). We are all subject to God’s divine blood test—a test that will reveal if we are rightly related to his Son by our faith and obedience in him. The discovered DNA will surely prove if Jesus is our blood brother. Remember that nothing counts so much as the spiritual blood of Jesus Christ that saves our lives. Everything else that we offer to God, apart from a life cleansed by Jesus’ blood, are just strange sacrifices. Jesus’ spiritual blood is a thicker more powerful cleansing agent than earthly water. In 1 John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins, he [Jesus] who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Remember that the destroying angel passed over and spared the lives of the Israelites in Egypt whose house doorposts and lintel were touched by the blood of a slaughtered passover lamb.[xiii] The blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,[xiv] saves the whole household of the family of God from slavery by the fearful power of death.
Jesus is our pioneer of salvation who made a way for us through the wilderness of the world, our destroyer of death who freed us from the slavery of the fear of death, and our high priest of God who offered his own life for us to save his brothers and sisters from sin. As we go forward and grow up in our faith, Jesus, our older brother, will look after us with the utmost of care. He will watch over us like treasure on earth—his divine possession. He will not fail to rescue us from the battlefield of this world. He will not fail but fulfill his promise to bring us safely home to the Father in heaven.
[i] Edward Zwick, Legends of the Fall, 133 min., TriStar Pictures 1994.
[ii] Paul doesn’t quite develop this familial theme in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”
[iii] The Spanish title “niño bonito” which is translated pretty and/or beautiful boy who is perceived as a threat by his siblings as a goody two shoes.
[iv] Deuteronomy 1:19; 8:15.
[v] Isaiah 40:3; 42:16 (cf. Mark 1:3).
[vi] Luke 16:26. A great impassable chasm lay between Lazarus and the rich man making it impossible for any to cross over.
[vii] 1 Timothy 2:5-6.
[viii] Matthew 1:23.
[ix] John 1:14.
[x] Lawrence Kasdan, Wyatt Earp, 191 min., Warner Brothers Pictures 1994.
[xi] Leviticus 17:14.
[xii] Hebrews 9:22.
[xiii] Exodus 12:23.
[xiv] John 1:29.
© 2010, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.