Fear of Death vs. Freedom in Life

Russell Minick Bible exposition

Fear of Death vs. Freedom in Life
___Drive___ your understanding of Jesus forward. Hebrews 2:1
The fear of death leads to ____slavery______ in life. Hebrews 2:14-15
Jesus brings help that is _empathetic__ and __effective_. Hebrews 2:16-18

  • Intro: Death is worth talking about, and a serious focus on Jesus helps
    • Death is worth talking about
      • we are all mortal
      • everyone we love is mortal
      • our view of death affects how we live
    • A serious focus on Jesus helps
      • a list of the top 3 most influential people of all time that does not include Jesus of Nazareth is not a serious list
      • Jesus is often thought of in underdeveloped ways
        • religious people can get stuck on truisms (bumper-sticker simplicity)
        • non-religious people can get stuck avoiding Jesus because they think he is only as deep as truisms
      • Jesus deals with the most significant ideas of philosophy and experiences of life.
        • Transcendent questions of existence and meaning
        • Personal expressions of love, courage, justice, mercy and hope.
    • My goal is for you to intentionally connect your thinking, identity and actions to Jesus in deeper ways after this message than before.
  • Hebrews 2:1 “We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.”
    • Therefore is a conclusion to the writer’s introduction to the majesty of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God to humanity.
      • greater than any human prophet
      • greater than any angelic being
    • The call is to be focused, not drift in our attention
      • Why do we drift?
        • Most days can be lived in avoidance of death at a personal level.
        • Death is uncomfortable, because it hurts and because we don’t know as much about it as we wish we did
          • We use humor to hide our discomfort. I should do that now. A very old man was using his walker to make his way down the hall. He runs into an unexpected stranger, and mummers a greeting. The grim reaper stands before him, hooded and bearing his terrifying sickle. He announces “I am Death”. The old man responds, “That’s ok, I’ll speak louder.
          • See, death humor helps. But it only helps when it doesn’t involve someone we know and care about. We are not here to work on death in the abstract, we are here to work on the death that matters; my own, and that of those I love, and those that I realize are loved. Let’s not drift, let’s drive our attention toward the problem and the promise.
  • The Problem of Death is a problem between the Ideal, how we sense things “ought” to be, and the Real, how we actually experience life and loss.
    • For the original audience of this Book of Hebrews, really more of a written sermon, The Ideal of life in a Jesus community was challenged by the Real threat of communities who punished Jesus-communities.
      • 49 AD Claudius responded to a riot by forcing people out of Rome
        • They had social and financial loss due to being Jesus-focused
          • rugby team
          • hank and others
          • even Tim Tebow is a reminder of how irrational people can get, for or against our Jesus-focusedness.
        • Why? The problem with being Jesus-focused is that it treats him as superior to other sources of wisdom. IF in fact he is the very Logos of all creation and wisdom who personally rescues me from the hopelessness of loss at death, then he is not one way, he is The Way. That is offenses, both to people who have a different way, and in our pluralistic world, to people who have settled into the comfort that not choosing one way is more polite, gracious, open-minded and sensible.
      • But as this sermon is written, things have changed. The story is not about social and economic sacrifice, it is actually about facing the Fear of Death directly and personally, for you, your family and your friends.
        • 64 AD Nero turned aggressively against the Christian communities, for all the reasons I just mentioned, they were upsetting to urban citizens, and they were offensive to the government, claiming that Jesus was Lord above Caesar.
        • The decision to focus on Jesus was no longer a partial risk, it was a total risk.
        • DO YOU HAVE A VIEW OF DEATH THAT IS CLEAR ENOUGH TO RISK YOUR LIFE FOR? WHY OR WHY NOT? IF IT ISN’T ROME, OR THE ISLAMIC STATE OF SYRIA AND IRAQ, IT WILL BE SOMETHING ELSE. THAT GUY THE OLD GUY RAN INTO IS NOT DEAF, HE IS DEATH. AND THOUGH FUNNY IN CARTOON FORM IT IS NOT FUNNY OR HYPOTHETICAL IN PERSONAL FORMS. WE ALL KNOW IT IS REALITY, BUT I AM AMAZED AT THE PERSISTENT PROJECTION OF SUPERIORITY BY THOSE WHO ARE COMMITTED TO BEING UNCOMMITTED. What if there was a way to change that? Is it possible to make progress on the question of death?
        • Consider ancient Greek wisdom that the subject itself is worthy of attention:
          • “Keep well in mind, then, that this epitome of all human evils, of mean-spiritidness and cowardice, is not death as such, but rather the fear of death. Discipline yourself, therefore, against this. To which purpose let all your reasonings, your readings, all your exercises tend, and you will know that only in this way are human being set free. {Epictetus, Discourses, III, 26, 38-39; as found in Luc Ferry’s A brief history of thought.}
The fear of death leads to slavery in life.  Hebrews 2:14-15
So that is the problem, where is the promise?
    • 14 Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil—15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.
  • The Promise is that God cares about our enslavement to a world without him, enough to enter that world and experience our enslavement, and rescue us from it.
    • This promise began in Genesis 3… it is the whole story of the Bible. We cannot save ourselves, but God can and will.
    • Why? It is because the evil and darkness of this world comes to a great degree from within us. Martin Luther taught that human nature is in curvatus in se, curved in on itself. We are so instinctively and profoundly self-centered that we don’t believe we are. And this curved-in-ness is a source of a vast amount of the suffering and evil we experience, from the violence and genocides in the headlines down to the reason your marriage is so painful. Philosopher John Gray is an atheist, but on this point he agrees with the book of Genesis. In comparison with the Genesis myth, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is mere superstition. As the Genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means only that we have greater scope to enact our fantasies… The message of Genesis is that in the most vital areas of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature” - John Gray, atheist philosopher.
  • Jesus comes to for us what we cannot do for ourselves, by becoming one of us.
    • Not just in these brief verses, but throughout the book of Hebrews, quoting from a variety of sources in the Old Testament, Jesus as our champion is presented with this idea in mind. He not only accomplished what is necessary to free us from the ultimate threat of the irreversibility of death, he has done it in a way the magnifies his compassion because he has intensely experienced the very real challenges of mortality.
    • The imagery of the Bible is graphically illustrated because all communication is at some level through metaphor. I learned this in part when I was living in China, studying Chinese language. I saw the concept more developed through the work of philosopher and linguist Jamin Pelkey. We speak meaningfully of things, events and persons, but nowhere near as directly and accurately as we presume. The practical import of this realization was to realize there are layers of meaning in the construction of stories throughout the Bible, that without undermining its surface reading, yield a rich and complex and profound connectivity I had frequently missed.
  • This reading of Jesus of Champion is what is meant by the pinnacle of the book of Hebrews 12:2 announcing the driven focus of
    • “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source (ἀρχηγὸν/archegon) and perfecter τελειωτὴν/teleioten) of our faith…”
  • Back in Hebrews 2:10 we have the same words laid out:
    • For in bringing many sons to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—all things exist for Him and through Him—should make the source (ἀρχηγὸν/archegon) of their salvation perfect (τελειῶσαι/teleiosai) through sufferings.
    • The perfector is the completer, the one who brings things to culmination. This is the base wordtelos. The other word is much more interesting. It is only used twice in Hebrews and twice in Acts by Peter.
  • Acts 3:15 “You killed the source [prince, or ruler] of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this.”
  • Acts 5:31 “God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
  • The idea is that Jesus is not just the source, or the start, he is the “prince”, the champion of the people. Consider Isaiah 42:13
    • The Lord (YHWH) advances like a warrior; He stirs up His zeal like a soldier. He shouts, He roars aloud, He prevails over His enemies.
  • or Isaiah 49:24-26
    • Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of the righteous be delivered? For this is what the  says: “Even the captives of a mighty man will be taken, and the prey of a tyrant will be delivered; I will contend with the one who contends with you, and I will save your children.
  • Jesus is that champion who rescues the captives, who takes on death itself. Luke 12:21-22
    • When a strong man, fully armed, guards his estate, his possessions are secure.But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes from him all his weapons he trusted in, and divides up his plunder.
  • Ominously he continues with this:
    • Anyone who is not with Me is against Me,and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters. – Luke 11:23
    • Stockholm syndrome is what happens when hostages lose hope of escape and begin to identify with their captors. Jesus warns us to focus ~ to realize that our anger against death is appropriate and that there is HOPE.
  • Picture Jesus with Lazarus
Warfield, relying on Calvin, writes:
It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, “as a champion who prepares for conflict.”. . . What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.224
So Jesus is furious at evil, death, and suffering and, even though he is God, he is not mad at himself. This means that evil is the enemy of God’s good creation, and of God himself. And Jesus’ entire mission was to take evil on and end it. - Keller 137/356
  • John 10:10 has Jesus declaring that he is not like the thief; he is for life lived fully. This is the freedom to live aware of death but not enslaved to it.
Jesus brings help that is empathetic and effective.  Hebrews 2:16-18
For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. 17 Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.

We should focus on Jesus, because he has focused on us.
Abraham was told that he was blessed to bless others. That is what human life is all about. By receiving God’s gift of life, and then his gift of eternal life, we become the blessed who bless.
Jesus was successful in his life to accomplish several things.
1. he was like us - he really understand us as one of us. He is empathetic.
2. his sacrifice for us satisfied our debt to death; a debt of turning from the Author of Life.
propitiation - It is finished, tetelestai - paid in full.
3. he represents us to the Father who loves him.
he is a high priest who connects the people, the sacrifice and God.

So what should we do with Jesus, our champion; the greatest hostage rescuer ever? We should drive out attention to focus on him with our thinking, we should focus our identity in him, and we should focus our activity, how we live our lives, on living through him.

let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.
3For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart. 
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