Do you watch any of those “find out who your ancestors are” kind of shows, where every once in a while someone is absolutely amazed to find out they are a direct descendant of a president of the United States from the late 1800’s, or someone is horrified to find out they are related to one of our nation’s most notorious criminals, the memory of whom makes people cringe and subconsciously want to stay away from them? With joy or in pain someone on that TV show often ends up saying something like, “I’m Related to Him?!” If you yourself are a genealogy person, have you ever been surprised to find out about some famous or notorious person you’re related to way back when? You never know, right?
What I can know, however, is that our lesson for today from Hebrews 2 says something truly surprising about who each one of us here is related to. Verse 11 speaks of a very famous person who went through something extremely notorious and has a huge family line that continues until this very day. Verse 11 says, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Who is the one who has made you holy? These words tells us Jesus is the one. “I’m related to him?!” And who are the “those” who also have been made holy? All those here in this building and elsewhere who believe in Jesus as their Savior. Everybody in here is your family. “I’m related to him in the fifth row and to her in the fifteenth row? I don’t know if I even know them. Maybe I don’t know if I would want to be related to them.” Well, everybody, let’s change that. Let’s see how these words from Hebrews 2 help us know something very special about everybody else here, whether at this time we know them very well or not – something very special that we can know about everybody else that is the exact same very special thing they can know about me – something very special that we get to talk about every single time we gather with our family in a place like this to worship our brother and Lord.
These words tell us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers, his sisters, his family. How in the world can that be? How in the world can that be, when I have to admit that every day of my life I do something that shows I am ashamed of him or something that falls shamefully short of how much I should show I love him, even when I really am trying to show him how much I love him? God answers that question for us in our opening verse, verse 9, when he says, “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.” It is by the grace of God – that means love we don’t deserve in any way, but that we have in every way – it is by the grace of God that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters; it is by the grace of God that we are related to Jesus; and it is by the grace of God that he did the work of tasting death so we could actually be his brothers and sisters. That’s how he “made atonement,” these words tell us, “for the sins of the people” – how he paid the only price that could be paid for the one who created us to be part of his family to say we actually could be part of his family.
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus in such a humble way allowed himself to become less than the angels when he came to earth, the very angels who said “Glory to God in the Highest” when the Son of God was born! No angel ever had to sleep in the hay, but it was the one away in a manger who went to wood on a cross to “taste death.” You and I know from our grieving that death does not taste good in any way whatsoever. And you and I also know there is something about death that makes us not really enjoy thinking about it any way whatsoever. That’s why God comforts us in these words by telling us that what Jesus has done is he has “free(d) those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” You and I have a brother who made us part of a family that is able to look forward to a family reunion that will be far better than the best family reunion we have ever had. You and I have a brother who tasted death so that after our death we will taste all the great food of the wedding banquet of heaven — a brother, these words tell us, who did this by being “made perfect through suffering.”
The words “made perfect” have a very specific picture behind them, and that is the picture of crossing the finish line, of accomplishing the goal. Jesus’ goal was to make us children of God in his special family so we can live in heaven someday. And it took suffering to do that, suffering that we caused him to suffer, but suffering that allowed him to cross the finish line – to be able to say, “It is finished” and to know it really was finished. Until you and I get to the finish line of our life, the Bible tells us we will also go through suffering. And what these words tell us is that we will go through suffering as brothers and sisters — as members of the same family. But by hanging on to Jesus – and by encouraging our brothers and sisters to hang on to Jesus — we will all cross the finish line, too.
How we can hang on to Jesus is what the last verse – verse 18 – tells us: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Isn’t one of the hardest things in life seeing a family member you love suffer, whether it is a child or a parent or a grandparent or great-grandparent who may be nearing the end of life? But during the time of our life there are constant “sufferings” – constant hassles with not feeling as well as we would like, constant pressures of not feeling like we fit in with others at school or at work, constant concerns about how our finances are doing, constant worries about the violence and mayhem that surrounds us, constant prayers that maybe God could do just this one thing or give us this one thing or listen to our request about this one thing.
Jesus tells us, “I know the ‘one things’ you are going through. I know everything you are going through. I went through everything you are going through. And I went through the finish line while carrying on my back everything you are going through. I want you to talk to me about what you are going through, but you can’t get through it by only telling me about it. You can only get through it by letting me tell you what I have gone through for you. And what I have gone through for you makes you related to me – and to the person in pew 5 and to the people in pew 15.” What a reason that is to keep getting to know our brother Jesus better by hearing him talk in his Word like this in worship – and what a reason to keep doing everything we can as a congregation to help everybody get to know their brothers and sisters better. Since we’re going to spend an eternity together, it would be good to know a little bit more about who our neighbors will be – especially because our neighbors are also our family!
In a few moments we will receive the body and blood of our brother with the bread and the wine of the sacrament – and in that way “taste” the death of Jesus. As we come forward, we come forward as members of the same family of faith – brothers and sisters who all need the forgiveness Jesus gives us, and brothers and sisters who all need the strength that forgiveness gives us to deal with whatever life puts in front of us before the finish line finally appears. As you come forward in humility and confidence, and as you depart in peace and joy, remember with joy who you are related to – the Brother who made you holy by his blood – and the brothers and sisters who were made holy with you in the very same way. Yes, I am related to Him – and I am related to him and to him and to her and to her – and to you… It is a joy – and it is an honor – to welcome each other home in the house of God as the family of God!