One of the things that we all battle in this life is understanding and embracing the fact that lower doesn't mean lesser. We drive by a field and see some foreign workers working in the hot sun and conclude that such people are lesser than we are. Indeed, these people may be paid a bit less than most Americans. Indeed, these people may not speak English very well. Indeed, these people may be living in a foreign land. However, the conclusion doesn't follow that they are any lesser than we are.
Hasn't someone said somewhere, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness"? To be sure, some may be born into different economic situations, but a lower economic status doesn't mean that they are a lesser person. Not at all. Lower doesn't mean lesser.
In the days of David, his countrymen expressed the same feelings. Samuel came to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. When Eliab, the oldest of the sons of Jesse, entered the room, they all thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed is before [Samuel]" (1 Sam. 16:6). But, the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "The LORD has not chosen this one either." Next Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "The LORD has not chosen this one either." Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are these all the children?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep." (1 Sam. 16:8-11).
You can almost hear a bit of doubt in Jesse's voice. "There's one more child, but, he's the youngest. Of course he's not here, because he's not important. We have delegated him to the lowest role. He's out with the sheep. All of the important people are here. Had I thought him to be a king, I certainly would have summoned him." And yet, it was David who would become the mighty king of Israel. This ought to teach us that lower doesn't mean lesser.
It's easy for many to think the same way of Jesus. From all human appearances, His life was nothing special. He was a laborer from the small town of Nazareth, who went into itinerant preaching. When He preached in His hometown synagogue, He wasn't received well. They kicked him out of the synagogue and tried to kill him.
Oh, Jesus may have had some initial success with the multitudes. When He fed the 5,000 upon the Galilean hillside, they were so fond of Him that they wanted to make Him king! (John 6:15). Any followers that He may have gained were short lived after they found out more about Him (John 6:66). Upon His death, Jesus had very little following. Merely eleven disciples and a few women.
His death was terrible. He was rejected by the religious establishment of the day. The Roman government put Him to death as an enemy of the state. He died the worst death that any Jew could die: upon a cross. It was written in Deuteronomy 21:23, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (as quoted in Gal. 3:13).
And then, the mockers of Christianity might say, "What sort of religious leader is this Jesus? He died a defeated man! He died with only few followers. According to His own testimony, He was even abandoned by God, Himself! (Matt. 27:46) So why are you following him today? He wasn't such a great man, was He? Those who say such things don't realize that lower doesn't mean lesser.
The great lesson for us in our text is simply this: Lower doesn't mean lesser.
Now, to be clear, the writer to the Hebrews wasn't so much addressing the mocker of Christianity as he was the doubter, who was listening to the mocker. Remember, this book was written to Jews, who had heard about Jesus and had embraced Him as their Messiah. They witnessed the power of God. They tasted the good world of God. They had come into the church and begun to experience its fellowship, but were in danger. They were in danger of drifting away (2:1) from the Christian faith, and back into the Jewish religion with all of its sacrifices and rituals.
One of the ways in which people were drifting was in regard to their view of Jesus. They were viewing Jesus as a mere man, not realizing that He was greater than the angels. And so, to help those who were drifting to remain secure in their faith, the writer to the book of Hebrews demonstrated (in our text this morning), that Jesus is greater than the angels, even though He became lower than the angels for a time. Or, as I have said, Lower doesn't mean lesser. Let's consider our text:
For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, "What is man, that you remember him? or the son of man, that you are concerned about him? You have made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor, and have appointed Him over the works of your hands; You have put all things in subjection under His feet." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
To understand these words, you really need to go back to chapter 1 of this epistle, where the writer argues that Jesus is better than angels. Verse 4 is the key, "having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."
Chapter 1 is all about demonstrating the truthfulness of verse 4. Jesus is the Son (verses 5), but none of the angels are. Jesus is worshipped (verses 6-7), but the angels are worshipers. Jesus is royalty (verses 8-9), but the angels are part of the king's court. Jesus is the eternal creator (verses 10-12), but the angels are a part of the creation. Jesus is the Sovereign One (verses 13-14), but the angels are servants. Jesus is better than the angels. But, the question comes up, "How can He be better than the angels, being a man who died in weakness?" That's the question that our text answers today. "How can Jesus be better than angels, having lived as a man and having died as a criminal? Angels are powerful. Angels don't die!"
Before he addresses the issue, the writer pauses for a parenthetical exhortation. Last week we looked at chapter 2, verses 1-4, which was a parenthetical exhortation to us not to drift (verse 1), which was a real danger to the original readers (as is our danger as well). But, I say that the exhortation was parenthetical because you can go right from chapter 1, verse 14 to chapter 2, verse 5, with no jump in thought.
In Hebrews 1:14, he wrote that the angels are "ministering spirits," who serve us, who will inherit salvation. They serve us now. And they will serve us in the future. Because, (as Hebrews 2:5 says), "He did not subject to angels the world to come." Angels are (and always will be) servants. They will not rule. But, Jesus will rule over all things. He has the throne (1:8). He sits at the right hand of God (1:13).
The superiority of Jesus picks up in chapter 2. However, here in chapter 2, the writer is taking a little bit different slant than in chapter 1. In chapter 1, the writer focused his attention upon the being of Jesus and who He is in His essence. He is the Son. He is the King. He is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator, who deserves our worship. But in chapter 2, the writer will focus his attention upon the incarnation of Jesus and His suffering, His death. This is where someone might argue that the angels are actually better than Jesus. They are spiritual beings, whereas Jesus was flesh and blood. They are more powerful, whereas Jesus was a weak human being, who dies. Angels live in the presence of God; Jesus was accursed from the religious community. But, the thing about angels is that they won't rule.
Yes, angels have a high and lofty position in the created world. Yes, angels are strong and mighty and powerful. But, at the end of the day, they won't be the ones ruling the universe. That role is reserved for Jesus, who is better than angels. In fact, Jesus is ...
Look at verse 5, "For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking." Here, the writer makes a simple declaration, of the limited power of angels in the world to come. He doesn't deny their power today. He doesn't deny their righteousness. He doesn't deny their being. Rather, he addresses the future role of angels. God will not "subject to angels the world to come."
The simple reason is this: God didn't create the world for angels to rule. Rather, God created the world for man to rule. Particularly, God created Jesus Christ to rule the world as "Lord of All."
Beginning in verse 6, he backs up his assertion with Scripture, "But one has testified somewhere saying, ..." Now, before we get into these verses, I want for you to notice how he introduces them. He says, "one has testified somewhere saying." Now, it's not that he didn't know where these words come from. Nor is it that he forgot. Rather, it's that everyone to whom he was writing knew. Remember, this letter is addressed to Jewish people. It's addressed to the Hebrews, who knew their Bibles very well. It's a bit like I said at the beginning of my message this morning,
"Hasn't someone said somewhere, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness'?"
Who said that? Our founding fathers. Where was it said? In the Declaration of Independence. We know that. In the same way, those who received this letter knew who said, ...
"What is man, that you remember him? Or the son of man, that you are concerned about him? You have made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor, and have appointed Him over the works of your hands; You have put all things in subjection under His feet."
Do you know who wrote it? David wrote it. Do you know where it was written? Psalm 8. Let's consider the Psalm.
Psalm 8 is a worship Psalm. It speaks of the great glory of God. And then, it brings us in amazement to think that God, being so great, cares for us human beings, as small and as insignificant as we are. And though Psalm 8 speaks about the role of mankind, it has a greater application to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, as we shall see.
Let's walk through this Psalm together, paying special attention to verses 4-6, which the writer to the Hebrews quotes.
O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
This verse talks about the beauty of God, the majesty of God, the wonder of God, the splendor of God. It is how the Psalm begins (verse 1). It is how the Psalm ends (verse 9).
O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
It is the theme of the Psalm. You can see God's majesty in the earth. You can see God's majesty in the heavens, as the next few verses describe.
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
God's splendor is made known above the heavens. On the earth, one merely needs to look to the stars, and you will see God's splendor. One merely needs to look at the mouths of infants and you will see God's majesty. That God can raise up an army from such little ones is a demonstration of the wonders of His ways. In heaven above, or on earth beneath, God's creation tells of His glory.
In verse 3, David begins to bring it from God's glory in the heavens to God's care for us. He says, ...
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?
It's easy to imagine David, the shepherd-boy out in the wilderness at night, looking up at the stars and contemplating the greatness of God. And in light of the incredible greatness of God, who are we? Who are we, that God would look down upon us with favor. Who are we, that God would set His great and awesome mind upon us? And yet, here's the great reality of life: God cares for us. He is concerned about us and our welfare. But, it goes further than that. Not only is God concerned about us, He has also given to us honor. Men and women are the glory of God's creation. Look at verse 5, ...
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
At this point, we need to stop and consider the difference between this verse and what was quoted in Hebrews, chapter 2. Here in verse 5, we see the translation, "You have made him a little lower than God." But, back in Hebrews, it was translated, "You have made him a little lower than angels." The difference in translation comes from the difference in texts. The Septuagint (or, Greek translation) translates this with aggeloV (angelos), while the Hebrew translation is "Elohim." It's one of those difficulties in translation that we encounter in the book of Hebrews. We saw a few of these in chapter 1. As a pastor, I would rather you see them and struggle with them, than merely pass them by.
The New American Standard helps you out a bit here. They put a marginal reading, "angels" in verse 5. In some sense, the point is the same. In creating man, He placed him upon the earth, making him "lower" than both God and the angels. And yet, the remarkable thing comes in verses 5 and 6!
And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
Though God created man lower than the angels, they have a dignity that none of the angels will ever have. We are those who rule over the creation. You can go back to the book of Genesis and find exactly the same thing. On the day of the creation of man, God said, "Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Genesis 1:26).
Human beings are the crown of creation. We are created to be the kings of the earth. This is exactly what David wrote in verses 7 and 8, ...
All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
All things are under his feet. Whatever being walks or swims or flies or crawls upon the earth is to be under our rule. Back in the book of Hebrews, we see that the extent of the rule goes far beyond merely ruling over animals. Hebrews extends it to "all things." Turn back there. We read in the last half of verse 8, ...
For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
It's right here that we see the tension of the interpretation of these verses. Are they addressing Jesus? Or, are they addressing all of us (as human beings). As I read the commentaries, they were almost split right down the middle. Half of them took verse 8 to speak of human beings in general. The other half of them took verse 8 to speak of Jesus. If you push me, I think that they are both right. Now, don't worry, I'm not becoming post-modern. Rather, I see these verses functioning much the same way that many of the passages in chapter 1 worked.
In chapter 1, many of the verses quoted had initial reference to some human figure that we could identify, like Solomon, like any of the kings of Israel. And yet, there was something transcendent about each of the passages that pushed it to refer to the Messiah. It's here in this passage as well. Man was created to rule the creation. And in some measure, we have messed up. Certainly, our forefathers, Adam and Eve messed up, bringing us all into sin. And thus, the entire creation was "subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20). G. K. Chesterton said once, ...
"Whatever else is, or is not, true, this one thing is certain. Man is not what he was meant to be. Instead of having the mastery, he is mastered. Instead of ruling, he is enslaved. Instead of being characterized by strength, he's characterized by great weakness. Instead of being an ally of the Lord God, subject to Him, the Scriptures tell us that he is a rebel against God. Instead of being characterized by glory, he's characterized by shame." 
Now, the hope of the Scripture is that someday the creation will know freedom from its slavery (Romans 8:21). And the creation will only know its freedom as Jesus Christ, the perfect man rules over all perfectly. And that's the call of verse 8, ...
"In subjecting all things to him" [That is, to man, and in the perfect way, to Jesus Christ, the perfect man], "he left nothing that is not subject to him." [But this issue now is that] "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him."
We live in this tension between the current world and the world to come, when all things will be fully subjected to Christ (Eph. 1:21), when we will Him upon the throne. We will see Him openly reigning! We will see His enemies under his feet! Jesus is indeed Lord of All. But, right now, that Lordship isn't fully exercised. As chapter 1, verse 13 says, He is sitting ... waiting ... "until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."
See, all things aren't fully subjected to Jesus at this moment. Rebellious sinners are not subject to Jesus at this moment. Satan himself is not subject to Jesus at this moment. There is at one thing more that isn't subjected yet to Christ. Do you know what it is? 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 gives us the answer, ...
1 Corinthians 15:25-27
For [Jesus] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet
What else is not yet subjected to Christ? Death. And that's right where the writer to the Hebrews heads in verse 9. He addressed this issue of death, ...
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
And right here in Hebrews, we face for the first time the death of Jesus. Until this point, the author has been writing of the high and glorious and exalted Jesus. But now, the writer addresses His death. And He does so in a way that shows the glories of His death. Death is not a glorious thing. I attended a funeral yesterday. The realities of life and death in this world are painful. And there is nothing particularly glorious about it. But, the book of Hebrews does speak of the glories of the death of Jesus, beginning right here.
Jesus is Lord of All (verses 5-8). And in verse 9 we see that Jesus
2. Lower than All (verse 9).
You can see that phrase right there at the beginning of verse 9: He "was made for a little while lower than the angels." This verse is talking about His incarnation, when Jesus became a man. And as a man, He became (for a little while) "lower than the angels." And, if you look a bit more closely, you will discover that this text goes beyond His incarnation.
Verse 9 speaks of "the suffering of death." Indeed, His death was a "suffering" death. He didn't die by lethal injection, with no pain. No, He died with great pain and suffering. Dying upon the cross brings with it much suffering. It was designed to inflict suffering upon the criminal. And Jesus suffered greatly. His death would be labeled today "cruel and unusual punishment." But, His death was the very means by which Jesus became greater than the angels.
Look once more there in the middle of verse 9, "Jesus, because of the suffering of death [was] crowned with glory and honor." This is the paradox of the Christian faith. The way up is down. The path to greatness is the road of service. We gain our lives by losing our lives. Death is the way to life. And in the case here of Jesus, the cross was the way to the crown. The truth here is simply this: "Lower Doesn't Mean Lesser."
So, don't drift from your faith because Jesus appears to be so lowly. Realize that going low was the means through which Jesus was "crowned with glory and honor." Several times in the book of Hebrews, we read of how Jesus was exalted and how He "sat down at the right hand of God." And more often than not, it comes immediately after a description of suffering.
Hebrews 1:3, "When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
Hebrews 10:12, "[Jesus] having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God."
Hebrews 12:2, "Jesus, ...endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
The tie is strong, because the means of His exaltation was His death. Paul speaks of this connection more clearly than anyone else in the Bible. He wrote in Philippians 2:8-11, ...
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice how clearly Paul's words clearly connect the death of Jesus with the exaltation of Jesus. The suffering death of Jesus was the "very reason" (verse 9) for His great exaltation by the Father. He ascended higher than all, because in His death, Jesus was lower than all. The "Lord of All" became "Lower than All."
I make this point, "Lower than All" because we read here in verse 9, that He tasted death "for everyone." "To taste" something means to "experience" it. And here is the great reality of the gospel of Christ: Jesus has experienced death for every one of us here this morning who believe in Him. Jesus experienced death for you.
In fact, there will be nobody in heaven who will ever be able to claim that they sank lower than Jesus. His earthly suffering was far greater than any of us will ever experience. He bore the wrath of God in our place. We know nothing of the wrath of God, because He took it all upon Himself.
Perhaps the greatest words here in verse 9 come toward the end of the verse, it was "by the grace of God" that He tasted death for us. The great reality of the gospel is that we are saved by God's grace. Not by works of righteousness. Not because of merit. We are nobody's! That is the point of Psalm 8. Why would you come and die for us?! He came to die for us to show His grace. This is the thing that makes our salvation so great - it is by grace! God has given it to us. It is ours to possess by faith.
The way to possess it comes in the beginning of verse 9, by seeing Jesus. In verse 8, we see that all things are not subjected to Jesus. I believe that we all can see this. Look around you; read the newspaper; feel the hurt of people. There are plenty of things around us that show us that all things are not yet subjected to Jesus. We can all see this. But, here's the question for you today, "Do you see Jesus?" Do you see the suffering One? Do you see the One who has tasted death for you? Do you see the lower One?
Our faith is in Jesus Christ. Our faith is in the lower One, who is crowned with glory and honor. Heed the warning from last week in Hebrews 2:3: Don't neglect so great a salvation. We have a wonderful, merciful Savior. Look to Him!
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church
on November 8, 2009 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.
 Quoted by S. Lewis Johnson at http://www.sljinstitute.net/sermons/new testament/general/pages/hebrews7.html.