Hebrews 2:1-13 “Less Than Angels”
When you are growing up and you first learn about how to play games, one of the most exciting times is when you discover the wild cards in poker, or that you can get “kinged” in checkers, or that if you take your pawn to the other side of the board in chess you can actually choose to become any piece you want. Everybody always chooses the queen of course. Is not the game always more fun when someone says “deuces and suicide jack are wild cards”?!
If you think that humans are no better than beasts, then you are taking humanity at face value. Jesus is the wild card. He is the one that gives us unforeseen value in the game of life. He is the one that crowns us in checkers. He is the one that allows the lowly pawn to move all the way to the other side of the board to become the most powerful piece that we can choose.
Just when we think the game is over and that we have lost, God moves us to that other position that allows us to triumph. If you are playing Scrabble and all of your letters are consonants such as Q, W, V, Z. You know, you can throw all those back in the bag. You might need to skip a turn, but God has new letters for your life. Sometimes you just have to let go of what you think you have or who you think you are. God wants you to be more. God wants you to keep playing. God wants you to know that you have more value than you think you do.
This last week we got a whole bunch of new books for the library cart in the Narthex from the Uenos. As I was putting them up on the shelves, one of the books caught my eye. It is called When God Winks at You by Squire Bushnell. The book starts with the idea that if we knew already how everything was going to go in our lives, then we would not have any need to pray to God, and conversely God would not have to answer us. Life would be a simple mathematical equation. Whatever value we are given at birth is all we will ever be.
One of the stories Bushnell shares in the book is that of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show. Of course, the actor who played that part was Don Knots. At the age of fifty he was still an unaccomplished ventriloquist waiting for a break in acting. One day while he was sitting at the drugstore counter at NBC, he overheard that a casting call had gone out but that it was soon to end in half an hour. He dashed out the door and into the subway. The train was late, but he was able to just dash into the agent’s door right at the close of the call.
Now, you have to imagine Don Knott’s face. He pursed his lips and went wide-eyed while shaking his head slightly. “Finished? You mean I rushed all the way down here her to find the auditions are closed?!” In anger he turned and headed out in a slump.
“Wait!” The agent yelled to him from a window as he was about to cross the street. As it turned out, his little display was exactly what the agent had been looking for as a character to play against Andy Griffith in “No Time for Sergeants.” The was the beginning of a classic comedic relationship.
Why did God wait so long? Why did Don Knotts have to go through all that he did for most of his life, the struggles and the pain? What if he had not gotten angry at the agent’s assistant? You see, that is kind of a God wink. Don Knotts of course died about a decade ago. So, Barney Fife is now an angel in heaven! Last week we were talking about what an angel might look like: hey, Barney Fife!
What happened with Don Knotts is that suddenly in a split second his life was re-evaluated, revalued, or validated. This seems to be the real job of angels by the way. They seem to come into our lives and re-value us.
Last week I pointed out the story of the three angels coming to visit Abraham and Sarah. What exactly did they do? They told Abraham and Sarah that these two old people would still have a baby together and that they would be the mother and father of a great nation that God would bless. We can read that in Genesis 18. That is super cool. They were near the end of their lives, but the angels come and say that now is the time that God’s plan for you kicks in.
Last week I mentioned Mary at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke who is visited by the angel Gabriel. Again, what exactly happened there? A young girl is told out of the blue that she has the greatest value to God for the redemption of humankind. She is re-valued.
One of the greatest mysteries of the Bible and the story of the gospel itself is what happened to Jesus from the time of his birth to the start of his ministry. The bible only tells us of his one time reading a scroll in the Temple when he was twelve. Then, it happens that he is recognized by the prophet John the Baptist as being the Messiah, the anointed of God, and all of the sudden this thirty year old man who has apparently lived a mostly unremarkable existence is blessed—re-valued as it were. The voice of God from heaven comes down and states “This is my beloved Son.”
I want you to join me in re-reading now verse two of the scripture that we have today in Hebrews: “For if the message declared through angels is valid. . .” The word for “valid” here is translated in so many different ways from the Greek into English. The word is βεβαιος in the Greek and comes from a Greek verb that means “to walk without stumbling on sure foot.” Just imagine that you are sinking in the slime and the mush of your walk through this life and all of the sudden the angel comes and make sure you are sure-footed and on the solid path once more.
Maybe you do not even see the angel but the donkey you are riding sees the angel and makes sure you take the righteous path again. Okay, that is a reference to Balaam’s donkey in the book of Numbers 22:21 and on. Balaam does not see the angel and gets angry for stopping and going in a new direction. The donkey was right. Saved Balaam. Thank you angel from heaven. So, even the donkey is re-valued by the angel. He becomes the instrument of salvation for Balaam, right?
I think this reference to angels validating the message is to that set of angels that we see after the Resurrection of Jesus. You know which angels these are right? They are the ones that tell us that Jesus did not just die as a criminal on a Roman Cross two thousands year ago. They are the ones that say to Mary of Magdala and the disciples “You are looking for Jesus? He is risen and has gone ahead of you to Galilee as he foretold you.”
These are the same angels that validate or re-value Jesus at the time of the Ascension in Acts 1. You will recall that the Jesus is being lifted up to heaven, and the angels tell the disciples who are there with their mouths open, “this Jesus who has been taken up into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go up into heaven.”
Then, we see these same angels in the vision John receives from an angel in the Book of Revelation all gathered around the throne of Jesus in heaven. Revelation 7:11, “And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped. . .”
Now how are we to apply this to our lives today. I really want you to hear this. The value that we have in this world is not the value that this world gives us. The value that someone has in this world is the value that God gives that person.
Some of you will know that we are in the process of looking at new insurance quotes for the church after the insurance costs went up by more than a third last year. We had two options, cut our coverage, or go looking for a new insurance company. You know, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more” ha ha. Well, we got a quote from another insurer that said we will NOT insure your buildings for the amount you have listed on your previous policy. They tripled the value of this sanctuary, for instance. And, you know what, I valued them more highly because they valued us more highly! By the way, they came in 30% less expensive than the previous policy, too. That much more grace, and that much more value!
Isn’t wonderful if everything in life were like that! Wouldn’t it be great if you boss came in and told you that you are worth three times as much as what we are paying you! Or maybe your spouse comes into the room and says, you are worth like three wives or three husbands to me!
The angels are speaking to us right now. God has put a new value on his people. You are worthy because Jesus is worthy. You follow Jesus and you will make it to the other side of the checkerboard and will be crowned in heaven. You are of value to God.