The roots of the Lutheran Reformation lay in Luther’s uncertainty about God – especially God’s disposition towards him. A product of late medieval nominalism, Luther was deeply influenced by the distinction between God’s absolute and ordained power and the question whether God’s character determined his actions or whether God’s absolute freedom allowed him to determine his character by his freely chosen actions. If we don’t know how God will act what confidence can we have in the benevolent disposition of God towards us? The writer of Hebrews was, of course, not concerned with nominalist questions about God’s freedom. But he does provide us with an answer to their dilemma and, perhaps, ours as well.
Our starting point is found in Hebrews 1:1-4 where the writer lays out a critical principle for understanding the importance of what will follow. In these (last) days God has spoken to us “by his Son.” The nature and authority of what he has “said” is grounded in the truth that Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (vs. 3) In other words, Christ is the expression of the very character and being of God. In Christ we have seen the Father. This is critical for understanding the revelation to be more than a mere revealing of what God may be doing at a given point. Rather, God has revealed himself in Christ so thoroughly that we can reliably “see” what God is like, his very character. This means that God’s revelation in Christ discloses to us an insight into how and why God acts, including how and why he will continue to act in the future, because his actions are grounded in his very character.
This makes Hebrews 2:5-12 more than interesting. Recalling Psalm 8:4-6, the writer considers the amazing reality that God takes a special proprietary interest in Mankind despite our lack of any inherent basis for that interest. Despite our insignificance God has elevated us in his order of creation and his regard for us. Even more striking is Christ’s sacrificial actualization of that divine interest by suffering death for our sakes. (vs.9) Through that sacrificial act of love “the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family…[even] brothers.” (vs.11) This recounting of the Gospel is ground for praise and thanksgiving on its face. But because of the “baseline” the writer of the Hebrews established in 1:1-4, it conveys an additional message.
How can we know what God will do? How can we anticipate his disposition towards us? The answer the Writer of Hebrews gives us is that how he has acted is the revelation of his very character and life. He not only “came down.” He is a “coming down” God. His very nature bends down, reaches out, gives himself, embraces the unworthy, makes us his own. Christ revealed God’s glory, expressing the “exact representation of his being.” So, God’s movement in the incarnation and our redemption through Christ is a revelation of who God is, his very being.
We can expect God to act and be disposed toward us, then, in this way. As Christ, though he was in very nature God, emptied himself for our sakes, so God in Christ will forever empty himself for our sakes, reaching out to us, embracing us, loving us. We can be confident of this because it is written is his very nature.