January 14, 2018
2017 is in the history books. For some of you, it was a good year – a memorable year. Perhaps you became a Christian. Someone else for whom you had prayed a long time came to faith in Christ – and for that person, it was nothing less than miraculous. You were sick, and God healed you, or someone close to you. You finally gathered the courage to come to Freedom Farm, and it’s been a good year. Or, He healed a long-estranged relationship with a family member.
And speaking of relationships, your relationship with God was good – you read through the Bible, you prayed – He even answered some of your prayers. It was a good year. You graduated from high school or college. You got married – and everyone knows that first year is good. You had a baby, the apple of your eye. Or maybe that baby finally graduated from college. You got a new job, you got a promotion, you got a good raise. You bought a new car or a new house. The stock market is at an all-time high. It was a good year – one for the history books. And so, it’s kind of easy to come to church and smile and sing all those upbeat Christian songs about how good God is.
But for others of you, maybe many, you are frankly glad 2017 is history. It is a year you’ll always remember, but for different reasons. Truth be told, that’s the only thing for which you are thankful about last year – it’s finally over. You could not bear the thought of repeating it. Even directing your thoughts toward it now brings you great pain, sorrow, grief, anxiety. You are depressed, struggling, desperately hoping, praying that 2018 is better. You lost a child, you lost a parent, a brother, a sister. You lost a job, you lost your marriage, you lost your health. And you ask quietly, because you can’t say it aloud, is it supposed to be this way?
And through it all, you’re wondering, where God has been. Why has He been so absent, so silent? Your prayers have become routine, mundane, empty, or non-existent. Does He hear – and if He hears, does He ever answer? Does He even care? And if further truth be told, you’re wondering if it’s worth it. You’re wondering whether Christianity really even works. Maybe you’re considering quitting the whole thing. The only reason you’re here today is because you were here last week, and the week before. But there is no life, and certainly no hope.
Or, perhaps you’ve begun to understand Christianity doesn’t make everything peachy. You came to faith in Christ, and things didn’t get better. In fact, much got worse. Things are not good. You can’t say it, what would people think. Oh, you would never quit – but you’re just going through the motions – depressing week after week, month after month, year after year.
Statistics show that depression and anxiety are at an all time high in our country. Counselors and therapists are overrun. Psychiatric hospitals can’t meet the growing demand and turn people away. One of our elders said last Wednesday, the next major expansion of Cannon Hospital is to add beds in the psychiatric wing. Self-medication through illegal drugs and alcohol are rampant. Why, some states have even approved the use of so-called recreational marijuana. That should help. Prescription anti-depressants are found in almost every family’s medicine cabinet. According to the latest statistics available, published last August, the National Center for Health Statistics says anti-depressant use has skyrocketed by 65% in the last 15 years – such that 13% over the age of 12 use them. One is six Americans is actually prescribed some kind of psychiatric drug, to include anxiety medications.
On Friday, day before yesterday, NBC Health News, in response to this epidemic and in conjunction with the New Year, offered the following suggestions to “reverse course and change unhealthy habits for good”:
- Exercise your will power. Just say no – that works, right?
- Just breathe.
- Imagine what success looks like.
- Be your own best friend.
- Set your sights right.
- Find your why.
- Buddy up.
- Have fun and stay positive.
- Get more workout motivation.
Wow, if only I’d known. Please notice how me-focused most of these suggestions are. Because that’s the only thing the world has to offer – you. The answer to your problems is to be a better you. And yet at the end of 2018, you will still live in a broken world.
Now listen, as it relates to some of this, don’t misunderstand me – I know there is a place for prescription medication – but my question is simply this, are they, or are these suggestions, the ultimate answers to the challenges of life? Especially for believers in Jesus?
Last week, we began a new book, Hebrews, where the readers were facing some severe difficulties. Some had become disenfranchised or even bored with their new faith. And so they had begun neglecting their salvation, ceased to grow in their faith, deserted their Christian family. Some had deserted the faith. Some had paid significant costs because of their new faith. They’d lost homes, family members, social status, acceptability. There appeared on the horizon potential loss of life – martyrdom for their faith. As a result, they were thinking about quitting. Maybe Christianity isn’t worth it after all. Maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe a return to their old way of life, their old faith, which wasn’t so bad, was enticing. In fact, some had already quit and returned. Again the question, does this Christian faith really work – does it have the answers?
And so, the author of Hebrews writes to both encourage and warn them. His warnings are some of the strongest in the New Testament. He says things like:
2:1,4 – For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it…how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
3:12-13 – Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
4:1,11 – Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to come short of it…[What does that mean? Does that mean I can be on the road to the Celestial City, and not make it?] Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the example of disobedience.
5:11-12 – Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. [That sure sounds like he’s calling them a bunch of babies.]
6:4,6 – For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift…and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance…[That’s ominous.]
10:26-27 – For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment…
These are hard words – and perhaps just what some of us need to hear. Yep, I’m been wondering if it’s worth it. I’ve kind of dropped out. Show up on occasion. Don’t read anymore, don’t pray anymore. Maybe you need to hear these severe warnings and wake up.
But, the author also gives us some faithful words of encouragement. Consider these:
2:17-18 – Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. [Struggling, suffering, tempted to quit? He’s there for you.]
4:14-16 – Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
6:19-20 – This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever…
10:19-23 – Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us…and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…
On and on the encouragement to persevere comes – in the midst of challenges, heartache, difficulties, loss, threats, seeming hopelessness – press on, brothers, and sisters, because, we have what it takes – a great high priest.
Did you notice – our hope is not found inward. It’s not found by looking at ourselves, dwelling on our miserable circumstances, exercising our willpower, breathing, becoming our own best friend. It is found in fixing our eyes on Jesus. And please see how Jesus is the Son of God and our great high priest. The author’s encouragement throughout this letter is Jesus is better than anything this world has to offer. He’s certainly better than returning to a Christless way of life – even if that way of life is a religious life. Even if that religious life is Judaism. Jesus is better. Why would you go back?
Which brings us to our text this morning. Right out of the gates, the author lays the groundwork for the rest of his letter – Jesus is better – so don’t quit. Oh, and by the way, the best is yet to come. Those Old Testament saints kept their eyes fixed on the promise, though they never saw its fulfillment. We’ve seen the fulfillment – keep your eyes fixed on Him.
The author begins his letter in a most unconventional way – as we saw last week, without identifying himself or his recipients. No, he begins with the central figure of Scripture – Jesus, the Son of God. The way he begins is stunning. Verses 1-4 are one sentence in the Greek – read it with me. Hebrews 1:1-4.
This is a most glorious passage in which the author exalts Jesus to the highest degree. When Charles Spurgeon preached this text in May, 1882, he began with the words, “I have nothing to do tonight but to preach Jesus Christ.” That’s what I will do today – because Jesus and His supremacy is the answer to all our pains, sorrows and grief. He is worthy, and so deserves faithful adoration and glory – and we get joy and fulfillment in exchange. Our outline will go like this:
- God’s Final Revelation in His Son (1-2a)
- The Supremacy of His Son (2b-4)
We glanced at that first point last week, when we rejoiced in the truth that God spoke. We are not left to wonder or wander in the dark – God has revealed Himself to us. Here, the author draws a contrast between God’s past revelation (as found under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament) and God’s final revelation (as found under the New Covenant in His Son). Note the contrasts. God spoke:
- When? long ago (in the past) in these last days (in the present)
- To Whom? to the fathers to us
- By Whom? in the prophets in His Son
Long ago, God spoke to the fathers in the prophets. Again, this speaks of God’s revelation through the Old Testament. To the fathers is a way saying, to our ancestors – remember, the author’s primary audience is Jewish believers. God used prophets to speak His truth in a variety of ways – notice, in many portions and in many ways. God moved or prompted prophets to write by His Spirit, He spoke through history, through visions and dreams, through His actual voice, through writing with His own finger, once through a donkey, through thunder and lightning at Sinai, through a still, small voice at Horeb. God used a variety of ways to communicate His self-revelation to us.
But now, in these last days, He has spoken to us in His Son. These last days refer to the time extending from the ascension of Christ to His return. He has spoken to us – that is, those under the New Covenant which Jesus came to bring – we’ll be talking about that in the months to come. God spoke or revealed this New Covenant or Testament in His Son.
Now, to be clear, that’s not to say there was something wrong with the Old Covenant. It was just partial, incomplete, progressive, unfulfilled, until Jesus came as its fulfillment, as its supreme and final expression. You see, another thing were going to find is all the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. So, the Old Testament looked forward for the promises to be fulfilled in Jesus – we look back to the promises having been fulfilled in Jesus. And in that way, Jesus is better. He’s greater, because He is the fulfillment of all that to which the angels, and Moses, and Aaron, and the priesthood, and the high priests and the sacrifices pointed. God has spoken to us in His Son.
But now, having mentioned the Son, the author changes subjects. We have been talking about God speaking, but now, the focus changes to the Son, which brings us to our second point – the Supremacy of the Son. The author lists seven things about Jesus that highlight His greatness – that lay the foundation for the rest of the book. These seven are likely intentional, since he then goes on to list seven OT passages that speak of Jesus. And we remember, seven is the number of perfection in Scripture. So, look at these seven things in verses 2 and 3:
- First, He is appointed heir of all things. This is no doubt an allusion to Psalm 2 which says God will give His Son the nations as an inheritance, the ends of the earth as His possession. But here, we go further – He is the heir of all things – He will inherit everything. We remember that the firstborn has the right of inheritance, and as God’s only, firstborn Son, He will inherit everything. Incredibly, that includes us – those who believe in Jesus. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that “ the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what it the hope of His calling, what are the riches of His inheritance in the saints.” You, in the midst of your challenges and struggles, are His inheritance. You belong to Him.
Now, all of this can be confusing a first glance. Wasn’t Jesus already God, and one with the Father, and therefore, the owner of all things? Yes, but the author making a point concerning Jesus eternally being the Son of God, but becoming our High Priest through His work on the cross. And having completed the work the Father gave Him to do, He inherits everything, to include us. And listen, since we belong to Him – in Him we inherit all things – we are co-heirs with Christ.
- Notice second, through Him God made the world – actually, the word is ages, and speaks of all things in time and space. This is consistent with John 1 and Colossians 1 which claim that Jesus was the agent of God’s creative action. God created the world through Jesus. Look at those passages in John and Colossians:
John 1:3 – All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Colossians 1:16 – For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
That’s an interesting phrase – All things were created through Him – and for Him – because God appointed that He would be the heir of all things.
- Third, and these next two are incredibly important – He is the radiance of His glory. That is, Jesus is the effulgence, the radiance, the expression of God’s glory. Now, some translations has it, He is the reflection of His glory – much like the moon reflects the glory of the sun. But that is not the author’s point. God has spoken, revealed Himself must fully, supremely, completely in His Son, who as God in the flesh shares the radiance of God’s glory.
Now listen. There is a teaching out there that Jesus emptied Himself of His deity when He came to earth. That is frankly heretical. Jesus still possessed all the attributes of deity – when Paul says in Philippians 2 Jesus emptied Himself – He simply means that He emptied Himself of the glorious display of His still-possessed attributes. He was fully man with deity – He was fully God and fully man. Such that John could say in chapter 1, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him,” or revealed Him, or made Him known, because He is the radiance of His glory.
- He is the exact representation of His nature. This is an incredible statement. The word is used of an imprint or a die for a coin or a seal. The stamped coin is the exact imprint of the die. So also, Jesus is the exact imprint, representation of God’s nature. The word is only used here in the NT – it’s the word from which we get our word character. He is the exact character of God’s nature – such that Jesus could say to Philip, he who has seen Me has seen the Father. This is one of the clearest declarations of the deity of Jesus Christ.
- Having created the world – indeed, the universe – He continues to uphold or sustain it by the word of His power – or by His powerful word. This is similar to Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:17, “in Him all things hold together.” Jesus holds together the entire universe, which takes quite the powerful word to do so. This means more than Jesus hold the world up like Atlas on his shoulders. No, most explain the words imply that He, by His power, in guiding all things to their appointed end. He not only sustains it, upholds it, and is accomplishing His perfect purposes for it.
- Sixth, this Son of God, who is the heir of all things, who made all things, who is the radiance of God’s glory, who is the exact representation of God’s nature, who is upholding the universe by His power, this God made purification of sins for us.
This is an incredible statement, and the author will have much to say about Christ’s purifying work in our lives. He will also make clear that Jesus is the only one who could have done so. We were sinners, living in rebellion against God – and if God in the person of His Son did not step in and do something about our condition – no one else could. How did He make purification? By Himself becoming the substitute and sacrifice for our sins – through His cleansing blood. Right at the beginning, the author is tipping his hat to the high priestly work of Christ.
- Finally, having completed His work, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is an allusion to Psalm 110, the most quoted Psalm in the NT. “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” (Matthew 26) The Majesty on high is a way of speaking of the Father. The right hand is a place of highest honor and power. And the fact that He sat down indicates His work is finished – and there remains no work to be done. The author will make a big deal about this later, so I won’t elaborate other than to say – under the Old Covenant, the priests made sacrifices while standing, year after tedious year. But Jesus, having made the complete, supreme and full sacrifice sat down. It is finished.
And so, verse 4, since Jesus is and has done and is doing all those things perfectly, He has become much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. Now again, at first reading, this can appear a confusing. Jesus has become better than the angels – hasn’t He always been better than the angels? Yes – He has – remember, He created them – all thing in heaven and on earth. But again, the author is talking about God’s ultimate and final revelation in His Son, through His finished work. He has always been, and always will be the glorious Son of God – but He has become our great High Priest – and as such, has inherited a more excellent name than they. We’ll talk about that more next week. But we remember the words of Paul in Philippians 2:
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The ultimate answer to life’s difficulties and challenges is the person and work of Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews will spend the rest of the book proving it. Let me close with illustration. One of the most often quoted works is The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Many of you have read the series, as have I. In the allegory, Jesus is represented by the great lion, Aslan. In one scene, Lucy, one of the four main human characters, sees Aslan – shining white and huge in the moonlight. In a burst of emotion, Lucy rushes to him, burying her face in his rich mane, lying between his large front paws. She gazes up into his large wise face:
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
That is my passion for you. In this new year, in this new study, with last year in the history books, you fill find Jesus bigger – and the answer to all your needs, sorrows, grief, and pain.