Why We Need to Be Raised (Hebrews 2:14, 15)
Topic: One Lord: What is Man? Passage: Hebrews 2:14–2:15
I. Understanding the Severity of the Problem
It's hard to really appreciate a seat belt unless you've seen or personally experienced how a human body can be mangled by or thrown from an auto accident.
It's hard to really appreciate toilets unless you understand that, according to UNICEF, “without toilets, deadly diseases spread rapidly. Over 750 children under five die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe water, sanitation, and poor hygiene.”
It's hard to really appreciate synthetic fertilizers unless you understand that half of the planet is fed because of the effectiveness of synthetic, nitrogen fertilizers.
It's hard to really appreciate what's called a bifurcated needle unless you understand how hard and time consuming it was to battle the smallpox vaccine before 1965, and how widespread and deadly this disease was (with a mortality rate of 30%—and even higher for babies). From 1966 to 1977, 200 million vaccinations were given annually, leading to the eradication of the disease.
Above and beyond all these things, I think the same thing could be said about the concept, about the possibility, about the reality of... resurrection. It's hard to really appreciate resurrection unless you understand the ugly truth about death.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Of course I understand the ugly truth about death. Who doesn't?” Well, let's just make sure we're all on the same page this morning by actually turning to the same page... that is, on whatever page you find Hebrews 2 in your Bible.
II. The Passage: "And Deliver All" (2:14, 15)
Hebrews 2. Look with me at verses 14 and 15. The context here is dealing with the greatness of Jesus. Some may have asked, “How could Jesus be so divinely awesome if he was shackled with a human body, just like the rest of us?” Well, listen to the author's reasoning here. 14, 15...
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,  and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
What we find affirmed here is that salvation required incarnation. To save us, God the Son had to become one of us. But given our focus this morning, I really want you to notice the three instances of the word “death” in these verses. Do you see those? V. 14... “that through death”... v. 14... “the power of death”... and v. 15... “through fear of death”. In order to make sure we are on the same page in regard to the ugliness of death and the wonder of resurrection, I'd like to unpack each of those three phrases.
1. “The Power of Death”
Let's start with that middle phrase, “the power of death”. Look again at verse 14... Why did God the Son become a human being? That... he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...
Now this is where we need to be very careful. Because there are so many wrong-headed, unbiblical ideas about the devil in our culture, we have to be especially careful to define our terms here and not give the devil more power or status than he actually has. No. The devil is not sitting on a throne in hell with his horns and pitchfork. No. The devil is not the 'yang' to God's 'ying'. So what are we to make of this idea of the devil having “the power of death”?
Well, when I think about the devil and death, three passages and three ideas come to mind:
First, Satan (the Adversary) can take human life, but only when God allows it. Think about this passage from Job 2:4–6...
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life.  But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
This passage assumes that the Enemy could afflict Job to the point of death, but only if God permitted him to do so. And as we just heard, God did not allow that. So death in this passage is used in its most basic sense: the end of one's physical existence.
Second, the devil has a powerful influence over sinners who are spiritually cut off from God. Listen to how Paul explains this idea in Ephesians 2:1-3...
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
As the opening sentence reveals, death in this passage refers to a state of spiritual depravity, rebellion, and insensitivity to divine things. While very much alive to worldly ways and fleshly desires, sinners are dead to God and to the things of God. That gives the Tempter and his associates an inordinate power over us.
Third, our Enemy's influence will eventually lead to our eternal ruin... and his. This is what the Apostle John records about the devil's fate in Revelation 20:10...
...and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Now this is the added description we find a few verses later in 20:14, 15... This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. So this “second death” (i.e., another death after the resurrection of the just and the unjust), is described as an unending state of misery. Sure, “the lake of fire” is Revelation-esque imagery. But it's imagery that clearly conveys the nature of this horrible fate.
So let's stop and think about those three passages in which we find a connection between the devil and death. Think about what they tell us about death. Death, according to Scripture, is more than just 'kicking the bucket' or 'pushing up daisies'. As we've seen, death is being cut off from the blessings of God's world, it is being cut off from the blessings of God's Spirit, and it is being cut off from the blessings of God's eternal presence.
Do you understand how incredibly awful that is? This is far, far worse than how the world often thinks about death. And the world has been thinking more and more about death, haven't they?
2. “Through Fear of Death”
And yet, just the basic idea of one's physical demise is frightening and powerful. Isn't that what Hebrews 2:15 goes on to tell us? You see, the passage itself goes on to reveal something important about our Enemy having “the power of death”. It tells us that Jesus can (v. 15) ...deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
We learn here that one of the most effective tools in the Tempter's toolbox is this “fear of death”. In fact, in addition to our God-hating disposition and self-grasping impulse as sinners, fear of death is just another metal from which the shackles of our spiritual slavery are forged.
But what exactly does that mean? How is one controlled by a “fear of death”? Well, God's word gives us a couple examples:
First, when we believe this life is all there is, death simply adds fuel to the fire of our self-grasping drive. In I Corinthians 15:32, Paul quoted Isaiah 22:13 to make this point. He wrote...
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Some back then and some today think, “If death is inevitable and none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow in this world, then I should do everything in my power to enjoy myself; to make myself happy; to do what makes me feel good; to live life on my terms, while I still can.” Now for some, that sounds perfectly reasonable. But it's hard to miss the me-centeredness of such statements; in addition to the worldly definitions of words like “enjoy”, “good” and “happy”.
So what are we witnessing here? Slavery through fear of death. But here's another example.
Second, the fear of death simply deepens our infatuation with idolatry. When talking in Isaiah 44:17 about a piece of wood that a man uses to cook his dinner, God goes on to reveal:
And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
Just like those in Isaiah's day, our world is longing for deliverance from death by means of its idols. From the rites and rituals of false religions to the promises and prospects of science and medicine, people today are hungry for hope... but too often, they want the kind of hope that keeps self 'on the throne' and not God.
But these idols simply lead us deeper under our Enemy's influence. So what can we do in light of “the power of death” and our “fear of death”? Well...
3. “That Through Death”
This is precisely why that final phrase of those three phrases from Hebrews 2:14, 15 is so glorious. Remember how this passage told us...
...that through death [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,  and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
The Apostle John makes the same declaration in I John 3:8: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. Similarly, the Apostle Paul prayed for our earthly opponents, that God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (II Timothy 2:25–26)
But how is this destruction/deliverance possible? Strangely, we are delivered from death “through death”. Who's death? Christ's death. This wonderful truth points us back to Heb. 2:9...
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Stop and savor that final phrase: so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. One pure, earthly, human life died so that many impure, earthly, human lives might live. Grace.
III. Ugly Truth, Beautiful News
What has God done for us? For you? In a world so inundated with bad news, He has given you Good News. As Paul expressed it in II Timothy 1:10, God did this ...through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel... Does it get any better than that?
Remember my opening proposition: it's hard to really appreciate the idea of resurrection unless you understand the ugly truth about death. And as we've seen, the ugly truth about death is that, according to Scripture, death is being cut off from the blessings of God's world (physical death), it is being cut off from the blessings of God's Spirit (spiritual death), and it is being cut off forever from the blessings of God's presence (eternal death).
Is that how you think about death? This morning, maybe God is helping you to see that you are shackled in the very way Hebrews 2 describes: that you are a slave through fear of death (whether that looks like dread and depression, or a 'you only live once' fervor). Or maybe... maybe Jesus has set you free... and yet, you are not living each day in the wonder of resurrection.
In the coming weeks, we are going to discover how God's word addresses those three aspects of death. And we'll do that by looking at three key passages which all include the word “raised”. What has God shown us this morning? He's shown us why we desperately need to be raised. Would you pray with me that God will help us feel that need? That we would genuinely experience the heaviness that should come when someone understands the ugly truth about death? Only then, brothers and sisters, friends, only then will we experience the wonder of being raised... by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Let's pray.
More in Raised
April 26, 2020"The Dead Will Be Raised" (I Corinthians 15:50-52)
April 19, 2020"And Raised Us Up with Him" (Ephesians 2:6)
April 12, 2020"God Raised Him Up" (Acts 2:42)