Born to Rule
I’m curious if any of you at home have ever heard the phrase, “Jesus, take the wheel!” It’s a modern expression meaning, “God, I can’t handle this on my own. Help me.” Country music fans might remember Carrie Underwood’s Grammy-winning song by the same name back in the mid-2000s. Typically “Jesus, take the wheel,” is used to express surrender to the Lord’s divine plan when things don’t go your way… or repentance after realizing you’ve gone astray and need God’s help to get right again… or acknowledgement that you are unsure what to do and so hope God will somehow make your decision for you. And sometimes lazy Christians just use it when they merely haven’t done enough prep work: “Jesus, take the wheel on this chemistry midterm, because I definitely did not study.” But my favorite interpretation of Jesus taking the wheel was a comic I saw long ago, where a person got lost while driving. Praying aloud, the lost driver cried out, “Jesus, take the wheel!” Immediately the driver is in the passenger sheet, as Jesus materializes as the new driver. But then Jesus’ eyes grow wide and he grips the wheel white-knuckled. And as the car careens over a cliff, Jesus screams in horror to his passenger, “I never took driver’s ed!”
Times like these, however, I really do wish Jesus would take the wheel. Because we definitely cannot handle this disease alone, whether medically or socially or psychologically. Nobody is exactly sure what to do yet, besides the basic safety practice of avoiding other people. And things are definitely not going the way any of us were planning merely a few months before. Back at the start of 2019, I thought the upcoming election would be the biggest source of stress and drama in my life. Back in January of this year, I thought the Australian wildfires were going to be the major disaster of 2020, as the Australian fires left thirty-four dead, over thirty-five hundred without homes, over forty-six million acres burnt, over a billion animals killed, and several species now on the endangered list. But in March, COVID-19 hit the United States, and while it began with jokes over toilet paper and hand sanitizer, in April we settled into a drudging routine. Now in May there’s reports that an invasive insect has landed out west in Washington state, these so-called “murder hornets” that can devastate friendly honeybee hives and give us humans a nasty sting. I am not optimistic about June, and I’d give July a raincheck and just go straight into August if I could. Times like these, it’s hard to see a clear end in sight. It’s hard to know what to do apart from muddle forward. Looking at the state of the world, sometimes all I can think is, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Because I am tired of all this.
Chapter two of Hebrews describes the story of how Jesus took the wheel to save us eternally. If you recall, chapter one explored how Jesus is superior to angels. But a clever debater might naturally counter, “But Jesus can’t be superior to angels. He was a human, and angels are clearly better than us.” So in chapter two, Hebrews lays out a preemptive rebuttal, “Jesus was made lower than the angels for a little while but is now crowned with glory and honor… Since we have flesh and blood, Jesus shared in our humanity, so that by his death he might break the power of death and free us… For this reason Jesus had to be made like us, fully human in every way: in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest… and that he might make atonement for our sins.” In other words, Jesus is superior to angels in glory and worth, but he set that honor aside temporarily for our sakes, that we might be restored to God.
One year while working at a summer camp, a fifth grader was playing where they were told not to: on a muddy bank overlooking a creek gulley. Inevitably, the kid slipped and fell into the gulley, scraping legs and arms against rocks on the way down and landing in poison ivy at the bottom. It was impossible to safely climb down from the ledge the child fell off, and many campers and counselors simply gawked at the wounded child, wondering what should be done. But one counselor immediately ran upstream along the ledge, slid down a gentler slope into the gulley, ran downstream (getting their shoes and jeans waterlogged in the process), picked up the child from the poison ivy patch, and then carried the child out of the gulley and over to the nursing station. Looking at the counselor afterwards, his clothes were a ruin, he got poison ivy himself, and he got scraped up getting the camper out. But the kid was safe and back on their feet soon after. And though all the other counselors looked better, smelled better, and had an easier go of things, it was the one who waded through the muck, rocks, and poison ivy who had the most honor and praise that week.
Hebrew’s description of Jesus is similar. He set aside his glory to wade into the muck and slime of this confusing, painful, uncertain, and hard life… so that we could escape the dangers with him. Or as Hebrews says, “Because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And so though he was lower than the angels for a little while, like that brave counselor, now that his mission is completed, Christ’s glory is greater than ever. When humanity was—spiritually speaking—lost, unsure what to do, tossed about by fate and generally looking for help… God in Jesus took the wheel by adopting our human nature, living a life much like yours or mine, dying as you and I inevitably will… but then rising from the grave in glory, since Jesus was still God after all. When we forgot what it meant to be human… Jesus took the wheel, showed us what humanity was always meant to be, and enabled us to embrace this new life through his perfectly lived life.
But Jesus… doesn’t take all the wheel forever. In fact, Hebrews goes on to offer something far greater than sitting in the passenger seat passively watching Jesus speed through turns. In the afterlife, who is greater: humans or angels? Who gets more glory, honor, and authority in that new heaven and new earth the Bible promises? We once-imperfect humans now made perfect in Jesus… or the angels who never fell in the first place? Most pop culture references to the afterlife either have us becoming angels… or taking marching orders from angels as if they’re our spiritual chaperones in eternity.
But listen to what the Bible says, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” While the Greek is a bit fuzzy in this section, what’s happening is the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 and says it’s speaking about us—i.e. mankind—and also Jesus—who often called himself Son of Man, a phrase the poem also includes. Hebrews leans into that ambiguity, blurring them lines between us and Jesus when it comes to receiving greater glory than the angels. But Hebrews then goes on to interpret Psalm 8 thusly: “In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.” Hebrews says God will one day put humanity back over creation as its caregiving stewards once more. Just as humans were created to tend creation back in the Garden of Eden, so shall we care for all creation forever in that new life Jesus offers us. But someone could obviously point out we clearly aren’t in control or harmony with nature right now. So what gives?
That’s why Hebrews goes on to say, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them… But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters…” Hebrews admits it doesn’t seem like creation is subjected to us right now. Any newspaper would tell you the same. But Hebrews then pivots to show how creation is under Jesus’ rule already, as if to say Jesus is showing us how it’s done and what we will do for creation ourselves one day. That’s why Hebrews calls Jesus the pioneer or trailblazer of salvation: he forges the path you and I are meant to follow, including his dominion over creation. And it’s why Hebrews calls us sisters and brothers of Jesus: we are meant to share in his kingdom as subordinate rulers, who rule over creation and are ruled by God in turn.
All this is to say that, just as Jesus rules over creation, you and I in the next life shall follow the path he blazed, as younger siblings and lower rulers. Recall the opening chapters of the Bible: God created the world and set humanity over it as caretakers. We were meant to connect to each other, creation, and the Lord above as a kind of pipeline for God’s grace and love. That was humanity’s purpose when God created us. But sin and the fall of humanity broke that pattern. So Hebrews is saying, “Jesus has done what humans were always meant to do. He lived the perfect lived that you and I were always meant to live. But more than that, he gives us a restored relationship to God, so that life we missed out on is open to us again. Jesus is restoring our old status and job, because our destiny is to take back up that mantle of ruling over creation, loving each other, and serving God, like a kind of grace-filled connective tissue for reality. We’re not there yet. But we see Jesus doing it already, and we know that in eternity this is our destiny.” Unlike angels, rocks, plants, animals, and every other created thing, you and I have the dual privileges of sharing our unique creaturely, human nature… with God Almighty incarnate in Jesus Christ… and having that God specially launch a spiritual rescue mission in Jesus to return us to our divine calling when we lost our way. These are things no other created being can claim. This is our destiny, our calling, and our special glory as humans created in the image of God.
Because of Hebrews 2, I see Jesus taking the wheel in a slightly different sense than before. Yes, Jesus still steps in to save us, to heal us, to bring us peace, and give us hope. But Hebrews here reminds me that Jesus also takes the wheel… to ultimately help us become better drivers. Jesus becomes human so we can gain some of his glory. Jesus become lower than the angels for a little while so we can shine brighter than all the heavenly host in eternity. When someone believes in Jesus, we often say Jesus “saved” them. And you don’t save something for no reason: you save things for a purpose, whether it be hoarding toilet paper for fear of shortages or saving up pennies for 2 Coins a Meal. You save things for a purpose. So Hebrews tells me today that Jesus saves us, yes, and saves us continually. But the destiny Jesus has in mind for us… is that in eternity you and I eventually resume our place as caretakers of all creation, as the love of God, each other, and the world flows through us in a giant web of grace and joy. So yes, Jesus takes the wheel when we are in trouble. But I think he takes the wheel like a parent teaching a child to drive: the goal is that we can steer better ourselves in the long run, as we learn Christ’s wisdom, righteousness, and compassion ourselves.
So times are bad right now, yes. We’ve got fires and disease and new pests and no clear end in sight for our troubles. But Hebrews gives us this good news. God in Jesus shares our humanity, knows our struggles, and did what we could not… so that we can be at peace with God. But moreover, God in Jesus trailblazed a path for us to resume our status as stewards over all creation under the reign of God, as he already is doing. So do not despair, even though the end may not be in sight yet. Because Hebrews reminds us, “We do not see all things as they should be yet. But we do see Jesus living out our destiny ahead of us.” Keep your eyes fixed on that promise restoration of all that was broken so you can have courage and hope for living today. We may not see the end in sight yet. But we do see Jesus, who gives us hope. Amen.