Gone Camping? (Hebrews 2:18)

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

If you are reading this, then the Day of Judgment did not come on Saturday, as predicted by Harold Camping. Not being familiar with Camping’s exact claims, I’m not sure he would assert that the Internet would be wiped out by now, but I’m pretty sure that if Judgment Day has come, you won’t be saying, “Hey, I wonder what that Browning guy has to say about Hebrews today!”

As we attempt to live as peculiar people, separate from the world yet dwelling in the midst of the world, it is very tempting to say, “Hey Lord, how about coming back right now?” The Christian life has wonderful rewards, but, lived properly, it pretty well guarantees frustrations and suffering. Why do I have to live through several more decades of toenail fungus and Geico ads? Why can’t the whole thing just end now? I suppose that’s the sort of mindset that allows a believer to commit suicide. Dwelling on and longing for the return of Christ is a sort of cultural suicide wish.

But Christ did not call us to wish it all to be over. He didn’t call us to forfeit whatever remains of the game. His return has been promised, but it has not been promised in our lifetimes, regardless of what various “experts” like Camping suggest. Our call is to soldier on, to suffer as necessary through the remainder of our lives.

Happily, the writer of Hebrews assures us, we need not suffer alone. Jesus, having faced temptation, having endured suffering, can help us through it. He did not provide cryptographic clues to pinpoint the end of the suffering, but he did prescribe the life and values that can help us ride out the storm.

A Different Sort of Hero (Hebrews 2:16-17)

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:16-17)

I’ve been thinking about superheroes lately. Most of them, it seems, appear to be normal people but they have something special added to them. Spider-man, a normal–perhaps even sub-normal teen–becomes remarkable with the aid of a radioactive spider’s bite. The relatively normal (albeit immortal) Wolverine has an indestructible skeleton grafted into his body. The Fantastic Four start out quite ordinary but then react in distinct and useful ways to cosmic rays. How convenient is that?

Even the father of superheroes, Superman, is essentially a normal human being who happens to possess a set of quite useful qualities. Why he feels it necessary to pursue journalism, I’m not entirely clear.

This model of superhero is nothing new. Homer, in creating Achilles, crafted a character who was a great human warrior with the added benefit of (near) invincibility. Hercules follows a similar model.

While superheroes typically represent humans who add something extra, there is another model available. What if someone who had incredible powers chose instead to make himself perfectly human in every way? Could that hero fight Lex Luthor or the Green Goblin? He wouldn’t be able to shoot spiderwebs or fly or stretch his arms a quarter mile away. What sort of a hero would that be?

Quite out of keeping with the models of superheroes created by man, Jesus becomes completely human in order to accomplish what only a human can do. The notion that Jesus was completely human leads to the idea that we as humans can attain to all of his accomplishments. We too can resist sin. We can work miracles. We can live self-abasing, self-sacrificing lives.

Such a view of Jesus does not diminish him. Instead, it glorifies him. For Spider-Man to do amazing things is expected, but for a completely human figure to do them is more so. And if a completely human Jesus could live in this fashion, what is our excuse?

Speeding to Somewhere (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Let me tell you about my Internet connection. When we first moved to Shamayim Hill, our online options were fairly few. We could opt for expensive, slow, and limited satellite Internet. We could choose expensive, slow, limited, and unreliable cell-based Internet. We could select cheap, slower, and even slower dial-up connection. What a feast of possibilities.

Eventually, we chose the first option. Our bill was high. The speed was reasonable, but we could download only 225 megabytes each day. Any violation of this limit slowed the system down to a crawl for 24 hours. That meant that any use of YouTube or Netflix streaming video was a great risk to the domestic tranquility.

But happy day! We broke out of the cage imposed by the evil purveyors of satellite Internet, making our way to freedom in the realm of DSL. It’s wonderful. This computer just finished downloading a 500 meg update. No big deal. We watch Netflix movies that we don’t even want to. We download gigantic files with no apparent purpose. I love it. But mostly I love not having to worry about hitting the limit and being put into the Internet “penalty box.”

As liberating as my DSL connection feels, it’s nothing compared with the liberty that we have through Christ. Death simply poses no threat to us. We have to remember this fact. The people whom Jesus healed during his ministry, have all died again. But those who were delivered from the bondage of sin have escaped sin once and for all.

These two verses contain a vast number of truths, but not a one of them compares in its ultimate importance to my existence and yours.

Brother or Parent? (Hebrews 2:13)

And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13)

As I write this, I am entering the end-of-semester grading version of the Bataan Death March. Papers have accumulated on my desk and in my email inbox. I run a very real risk of having a pile of term papers topple over and pin me to the floor. A week from now, though, this ordeal will be nearly ended. I will have tamed the paper beast to a reasonable nuisance. By the end of next week, I’ll be dealing with a few whining, stumbling stragglers.

When it all ends, I will have brought 50 people through Composition I, 25 through Composition II, 1 through World Literature, 25 through Drama, 25 through Bible as Literature, and 10 through American Literature. Yes, it’s been a full semester. In a sense, these students are my intellectual or at least academic children. Some of them, like some normal children, don’t much appreciate my efforts at scholastic parentage. Others, happily, do.

Yesterday, I saw a former student–I’m pretty sure he was a former student–at Burger King. I couldn’t put a name to him and he showed no sign of recognizing me. That’s pretty poor parenthood, wouldn’t you say.

Jesus, it seems, is not simply our brother, the firstborn of God’s family, but is a parent as well. Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but no metaphor can contain the fullness of God’s being. As such a parent, he brings uncounted sons and daughters to holiness and glory. He will not forget us, nor will he think the labor too much. In fact, the labor–the “paper grading”–has been finished for centuries.

Family Outcast (Hebrews 2:11-12)

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,    “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Hebrews 2:11-12)

I have a cousin. For discretion’s sake, I’ll just refer to him as Bluto. Since we grew up and lived in the same town, I fairly often encounter people who, learning my name, look at me and say, “Oh, are you related to Bluto Browning?”

Whenever I hear that question, I pause, contemplating the potential pitfalls of my answer. Invariably, I reply in the same fashion: “Do I want to be?” More than once, my questioner has smiled at that reply. They understand, even if they like Bluto, what I’m getting at. He’s–how shall I say–a little hard to take for many people.

In the Vacation films, the hero Clark Griswold, one of my favorite on-screen personalities, has an embarrassing cousin, Eddie, played by Randy Quaid. Clark attempts to avoid Eddie when he can and keep him at arm’s length when he can’t. Eddie is considerably different from Bluto. For example, Bluto has never dumped the contents of an RV’s sewage tank into a storm drain only to blow up part of the neighborhood. But the feeling is similar, I’m sure.

What’s beautiful about our family relationship with Christ is not that we don’t have to be ashamed of him. After all, why would we be ashamed? What’s beautiful is that after making us holy he doesn’t have to be ashamed of us. We are the awkward cousins in the relationship until Jesus gets hold of us and renders us perfect family. That’s my prayer for Bluto.

Suffering Makes Perfect (Hebrews 2:10)

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (Hebrews 2:10)

I suffered this weekend. Actually, the suffering started on Tuesday and ended on Saturday. On Tuesday, I noticed that problem with my truck’s wheel–you know, the lug nuts about to come off releasing the front-left wheel into the wild. Replacing the lug studs–the bolts that you screw lug nuts onto–proved more difficult than I would have expected.

First, I had to get the axle nut off. Before this week, I had no idea what an axle nut was, but I learned. Then I realized that I didn’t have a socket, wrench, or other grabbing device large enough to fit on the axle nut. I managed to procure the proper socket. Then I pushed and pulled on the ratchet with all of my might. I tried standing on the bar. No good. Eventually, as the sun beat down on my, I thought to use my jack to turn the ratchet. Amazingly, that worked.I suffered monetarily when I bought eight new studs and nuts.

Still, my ordeal had not ended. I had to remove the old, stripped out studs. I had to get the new ones in place. None of this happened easily. All the while, the sun was hot on my back and head. Eventually, I mounted the wheel and turned those new nuts as hard as I could. I drove the truck and tightened them some more. My plan is to keep tightening them after each drive until they don’t budge. So you can see that I suffered.

But my suffering was of my own making. My suffering was well deserved. What Jesus suffered in 33 years of life and 18 hours of outright abuse, was not deserved in the least. As I sweat and fret through this life of mine, I need to remember that pioneer of my salvation. He was perfect already, before his birth, yet he was made perfect as my salvation–and yours–through his suffering. That ought to get me through my next flat tire.