To start off, I’d like you to close your eyes. When I say a certain word in a minute, I want you to remember the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? Jesus.
OK, open your eyes. What did you see or think of…? I saw the infant Jesus, probably because we’re still in the Christmas season. There are many, many ways to looks at who Jesus is and what he is doing— [just in our images we shared today we have so many different ones]. There is probably an infinite amount of ways we can see and experience him, because he is God! In the short passage we read this morning from Hebrews alone, in just 8 verses, I could find four images of Jesus! And the images in the passage work together but are also very different.
The first image we read about in Hebrews is Jesus as the “pioneer of salvation.” When I think of pioneers, I think of those trailblazers in America who traveled through unknown territory, not knowing what they would encounter. They had to forge through the wilderness, and start settlements, lots of which grew into the towns and cities of today, probably some towns and cities that we have lived in or visited ourselves.
When I was a kid, I used to play this computer game called Oregon Trail. Anyone else play it, or at least know it exists…? It’s now a card game, too! It was one of those games that was educational, but also happened to be incredibly fun. The person playing was the wagon leader on the Oregon Trail—you bought all the supplies, planned the pace of the wagon, and rationed the food. And it never failed—things would happen that would make the trip difficult.
You’d have to cross a river, and the caulked wagon would tip over and you’d lose the few supplies you had. Robbers would steal things from you. A wagon wheel would break. You’d run out of food and would have to hunt. People in your wagon would get sick, and at least one would die. There would be bad weather, lack of good water, and dwindling resources. Most of the times I played the game, I never made it to Oregon. It was just too hard. And that’s with making the trip through a virtual computer game—imagine being a pioneer and making that trip in real life! I can’t even imagine the difficulties and sufferings the pioneers faced.
Jesus the pioneer also dealt with suffering. The author of Hebrews writes: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, bringing many children into glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” In order to pave the way to salvation for us, Jesus suffered. Like the pioneers who dealt with bad weather, disease, and death, Jesus suffered emotionally and physically, eventually dying on the cross for us. He was the one who, in order to clear the path for us, to open our way to God, loves us so much that he was willing to die. We couldn’t clear the path for ourselves—he did it for us.
Jesus is the ultimate pioneer. He blazed the trail for us to salvation. He is the one who goes where no one has gone before, who navigates the unknown with us as we travel God’s path. We do not know where we are going, or where our paths may take us—but Jesus is our pioneer guide who clears the path and is with us always.
Another image is Jesus as our brother. As some of you may know, I have a little brother. Well, he’s not so little anymore—he’s 28 and he’s much taller than I am. But I will always see him as my little brother.
When we were growing up, I was always kind of embarrassed to have a little brother. If any of you had younger siblings, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s just not cool to have a younger sibling! Since my brother and I are 5 years apart in age, the only time we were ever in the same school at the same time was when he was in Kindergarten and I was in 5th grade. And 5th graders do NOT associate with tiny little kindergarteners. The minute we left our house to walk to the bus stop, I pretended my brother didn’t exist. I would talk to my friends at the bus stop and ignore him. And when we boarded the bus, my brother would sit in the front with all of his other tiny kindergartener classmates, while I would sit near the back with the mature, older 5th graders. When I was outside my home, for all intents and purposes I had no younger brother, because he just wasn’t as old and as cool as I was. Or, not as old and as cool as I thought I was!
Thank God Jesus doesn’t feel that way about us! It says in Hebrews that “Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters.” Jesus could easily do what I did to my brother and be ashamed of us. We mess up, we turn from him, we do the things we know we shouldn’t and don’t do the things we know we should. But Jesus doesn’t see us as embarrassing younger siblings despite our shortcomings. Jesus is our brother who welcomes us with open arms and gives thanks for us to his and our Father. He is our family—together with Jesus we are children of God. He is our brother, who will never be ashamed of us, and loves us no matter what.
A third image we see in the Hebrews passage is Jesus as liberator, as one who offers freedom. At first, this sounds completely unnecessary to us. As Americans, we are proud of the fact that we are a “free country.” We are founded on the peoples’ rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the freedom to peaceably assemble, just to name a few. We are people with rights and freedoms that cannot be taken away.
But we are in need of freedom in many other ways. We are held captive by other things. The teenage girl who looks in the mirror and constantly diets because she doesn’t think people will like her. The teenage boy who gets picked on because he’s different and refuses to be a jerk with the cool crowd. The workaholic whose self-worth is based upon his or her work performance and accomplishments. The parent who constantly feels inadequate. The significant other or spouse who finds it difficult to love because of his or her past. The single person who feels alone. The recent college graduate or recently let-go employee who is overwhelmed by fear of the unknown and change. The hospital patient with a recurring medical condition. The addict who, despite working hard, is struggling to stay clean. The person who continues to do the very thing that he or she knows is wrong but can’t seem to stop doing it.
These are just a few examples, and there are so many more. We are in bondage, in slavery. We are people in need of liberation—we need to be freed from ourselves and from the evil forces that wage war around us.
Jesus offers us this freedom. Hebrews says that Jesus became human, like us, so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” Jesus is the bringer of freedom, the one who liberates us from the powers of sin and death. He offers to step into our lives and free us from those things that weigh us down, to free us from those things that keep us from being who God wishes us to be. Jesus died so that we might be free, so that we no longer have to fear death. Death is no longer something to fear and dread, but a welcome rest with him. Jesus freed us by dying on the cross and continues to work for liberation in our world today.
The last image in the Hebrews passage is Jesus as the high priest. In the Old Testament, the priest is the one who offers sacrifices at the altar to make amends for peoples’ sins. The priest is the mediator between God and the people, the one who helps to restore the relationship between God and God’s people.
When I hear of sacrifices at an altar and a mediator, I always think of the story in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the books (and now a movie) in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Four children end up in the different world of Narnia, in which the White Witch rules with an iron fist and the lion Aslan wishes to restore the kingdom of Narnia to its correct condition. Edmund, the youngest boy in the group of four children, is tempted by the White Witch; sick of being in the shadow of his siblings, he is seduced by the Witch’s offer that he rule over them and crosses to her side. Time and time again, he feeds the Witch information that can ruin his siblings’ and Aslan’s cause. When Edmund finally realizes his mistake and joins Aslan’s side, there is a catch. The White Witch informs Aslan that, because Edmund was a traitor, his life is now the Witch’s. Aslan makes a bargain with the Witch instead—he will die in Edmund’s place. He is subjected to ridicule and torture by the Witch’s followers, until he is killed on the Stone Table. Later that night, after Aslan’s death, the Stone Table is split in two with a loud noise, and Aslan’s body is gone. Aslan returns from the dead and leads the four children and his army to victory against the White Witch.
In Lewis’ story, Aslan is Jesus. Aslan dies for Edmund’s sin, and splits the Stone Table in two—the altar of sacrifice of no longer needed. Jesus is both the great high priest, the mediator between God and ourselves, and the ultimate sacrifice.
Because of Jesus’ sacrificial love, we no longer have constant animal sacrifices like people had to do in the past. Jesus has mediated and restored our relationship with God by dying on the cross. Jesus paid the price for us once and for all.
Jesus loves you and died for you, just as Aslan died for Edmund, so that you can be free to live for him. And Jesus rose from the dead and continues to be in our midst as we live and work for him. Jesus has won the victory over death—and we are raised to new life with him!
And we are proud followers of Jesus-- Jesus, who is our pioneer of salvation, our brother, our liberator, our high priest who sacrificed himself for all people. We can proudly proclaim that we follow the One who is all in all, who can be all this and more to everyone! Amen?