A True Man
“He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17).- Hebrews 2:14–18
Our study yesterday, based on one of the proof texts for question and answer 15 of the Heidelberg Catechism, reminded us that God had to intervene in human history to provide the Mediator we need to reconcile us to Him. No mere creature could save us but only a human being free from the stain of original and actual sin. Our Creator provided this Mediator by sending His Son. Taking a human nature, the Son of God became incarnate as the man Christ Jesus, our Savior who is both truly God and truly human (Isa. 7:14; 1 Tim. 2:5).
But why did the Lord have to save us through the death of One who is a true man? The Heidleberg Catechism informs us that it is because “God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin” (Q&A 16). There is a great deal of biblical truth encapsulated in this phrase. First, we understand that the penalty for sin is death. Our holy God promised Adam that sinners would die, and this death must be understood both as the physical death of the body and the spiritual death of the soul in its banishment from the Lord’s blessed presence (Gen. 2:15–17; 3:22–24; Dan. 12:1–2). For God to remain true to His promise, sinners must die physically and spiritually under the eternal curse of His wrath.
Second, we understand that God cannot die. He “lives forever” (Dan. 4:34; Rev. 4:9–10a; 15:7), and were He to die, everything in the universe would cease to exist. It is a great mystery, but nevertheless we confess that although the God-man Jesus Christ died on the cross, the Son of God, in His divine nature, did not die. As one seminary professor memorably put it: “God did not save us by committing suicide on the cross.”
Finally, only a mediator who is like us in every way that matters can experience death in our behalf. This is the main point of today’s passage. Hebrews 2:14–18 tells us that the incarnate Son of God came to help human creatures, not angelic creatures. His death saved His people because, as a true man, He could take on Himself that which we actually deserve. Matthew Henry writes, “No higher nor lower nature than man’s that had sinned could so suffer for the sin of man as to satisfy the justice of God, and raise man up to a state of hope.”
The humanity of Christ is essential to our salvation, as only a human being can pay the price for the sins of human beings. There are other benefits as well. Hebrews 2:18 tells us that Jesus can help us when we are tempted because He, too, was tempted in His humanity. Let us rejoice that God provided an atonement for our sins, and let us turn to Jesus when we feel the weight of temptation, for He will provide a way out.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 3:16