************ Sermon on Hebrews 1:1-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 9, 2015
"God's Last Word ..."
Although the author of Hebrews is unknown, this book was probably written in the late A.D. 60's. The author of Hebrews identifies his time as the "last days." We commonly think of the last days as the time just before Jesus returns, but in the New Testament, the term last days refers primarily to the first century. These were the last days of the old covenant, and they inaugurated the last age of human history. We are still living in the last days. In a sense, last days means climactic days. The coming of Jesus was the climax of history, and we are still living in that climax.
During this time persecution was a real problem for the church. This letter was most likely written to the Jewish Christians in either Palestine or Rome who were ready to give up their faith and return to the Jewish faith because of persecution. The temple was still standing when this book was written, and all the priestly ceremonies were still being carried on daily. How easy it would have been for these Jewish believers to escape persecution by going back into the old Mosaic system which they had known before.
The book of Hebrews was written to teach these Jewish Christians that the Christian faith is better in every way than the Jewish faith.
I A Word of Encouragement
A Before we start I want to point out the author's method or style by directing you to one of the concluding verses of the book:
(Heb 13:22) Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.Tell me, who writes a 13 chapter letter and calls it short? Aside from this, notice the author identifies what he does as a "word of exhortation." The same Greek phrase is used in Acts 13:15 when Paul and his companions were asked to speak a "message of encouragement" to the Christians of Antioch.
The letter to the Hebrews is meant to be a word of exhortation, a message of encouragement. In other words, it is a sermon. It is meant to encourage the faith of the persecuted Hebrew Christians. It is a book filled with practical spiritual help as well as warnings.
B Notice how the word of encouragement starts. There is no word of greeting. There is no identification of the author. There is no identification of the audience. There is nothing like we have with Paul's letters.
Romans: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle ... To all in Rome ... Grace and peace to you ...
Corinth: Paul, called to be an apostle ... To the church of God in Corinth ... Grace and peace to you ...
Galatia: Paul, an apostle ... To the churches in Galatia ... Grace and peace to you ...
We have none of this with the letter to the Hebrews. Rather, it right away starts with Jesus Christ.
Why does the word of exhortation to persecuted Christians start with Jesus? Hebrews want to convince them that Jesus is better than anything and everything which came before. Better than the angels. Better than Moses and Joshua. Better than the tabernacle and temple. Better than Aaron and the priests. Better than the prophets. All of these were good gifts from God. But Jesus is better. Jesus is superior. Jesus is foremost.
"How can you go back into your former religion?" is what the writer is asking the Hebrew Christians. "Take the time to evaluate what you have in Jesus Christ. He is better than anything you ever had under the Law."
The Book of Hebrews exalts the person and the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When you realize all that you have in and through Him, you have no desire for anyone else or anything else!
We see this exaltation of Jesus in our opening verses: first, Jesus is the best message from God; second, Jesus is the exact representation of God; third, Jesus is God's purifier from sins; fourth, Jesus receives the majesty of God.
II The Best Message from God
A Before saying anything else we need to look at four important words in order to better understand the book of Hebrews.
The word "better" or "superior" is used thirteen times in this book as the writer shows the superiority of Jesus Christ and His salvation over the Hebrew system of religion. Christ is "better" or "superior" to the angels” (Heb 1:4). He brought in "a better hope" (Heb 7:19). He is the Mediator of a "superior" covenant, which is "founded on better promises" (Heb 8:6).
Another word that is repeated in this book is "perfect"; in the original Greek it is used fourteen times. It refers to a perfect standing before God. This perfection could never be accomplished by the levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) or by the Law (Heb 7:19), nor could the blood of animal sacrifices achieve it (Heb 10:1). Jesus Christ gave Himself as one offering for sin, and by this "He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb 10:14).
"Eternal" is a third word that is important to the message of Hebrews. Christ is the "source of eternal salvation" (Heb 5:9). Through His blood, He "obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). He shares with believers "the promised eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15). His throne lasts forever and ever (Heb. 1:8). He is a priest forever (Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21).
A fourth word is actually a phrase: the phrase "once for all." The priests of the tabernacle and temple had to offer sacrifices again and again. But Jesus offered a sacrifice once for all when He offered Himself (Heb 7:27; 9:12,26; 10:2,10). His sacrifice was once for all time and once for all men. It never needs to be repeated. It never needs to be done again. Once for all implies completion. Whenever something needs to be done again and again, that means no one time is complete. One time is not enough. But when something is "once for all" it does not need to be repeated. It is final. It is finished. It is complete. It is full.
When you combine these four important words, you discover that Jesus Christ and the Christian life He gives us are better because His blessings are eternal and they give us a perfect standing before God. The religious system under the Law was imperfect because it could not accomplish a once-for-all redemption that was eternal.
B "In the past," says Hebrews, "God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways." Notice the repetition. Prophets. Many times. Various ways. Think of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, the ceremonies and symbols of the Law, the sacrifices and furnishings of the tabernacle and temple.
"But in these last days God has spoken by His Son." Jesus is God's last Word. Jesus is God's complete Word. Jesus is God's final Word. Jesus is God's full Word. Jesus is God's better, perfect, and eternal Word. Jesus is God's Word "once for all." It never needs to be repeated. It never needs anything else. It is full and complete. All that we need to know and see and learn to live as God's children in this broken-down world we find and hear in the Son.
C There are so many voices competing for our attention in this world: advertisements, voice-mail, email, snail mail, text messages, posts on Facebook, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet, LiveStream, Twitter. So who do we listen to? Listen to the Son. He is God's final Word, God's last Word, God's complete Word, God's better Word, God's perfect Word, God's eternal Word. All that we need to know for God's glory and our salvation we find in the Son.
We talk in Reformed theology about the three-fold Messianic office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. Here we see Jesus as the chief prophet and teacher Who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance. So what are the Hebrew Christians being told to do? They -- and we -- are being told to hold on to Jesus the chief prophet. Cling to Him. Listen to Him. Obey Him. Because He alone has the words of life.
III Exact Representation of God
A The second thing we learn in this introduction to Hebrews is that Jesus is the exact representation of God. He is fully the image of God. Listen to how Hebrews puts this:
(Heb 1:2-3) ... his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (3) The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
We see five excellencies of the Son. First, the Son is the heir of all things God has made. Humanity is the image of God, and thus humanity should be God’s heir. But because of Adam’s sin, we have been disinherited. In Christ, however, we become heirs once again, rulers of the cosmos God created for His children. Christ has inherited the rule over the universe from the Father, and in union with Him, we also participate in that rule.
B Second, the Son made the universe in the beginning. You know how John puts this:
(Jn 1:1-3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning. (3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.Telling us what? Telling us Jesus is God. Telling us He is the Creator. Telling us He is almighty.
C Third, the Son is the radiance of God’s glory. Glory is the visible manifestation of God’s own essence. Glory is what shines forth from God. Here the idea is that the Son is the shining that comes from the Father. God cannot help but be glorious, and we see His glory when we look at the Son.
D Fourth, the Son is the exact representation of God’s being. Human beings are the created images of God, but the Son is an exact, uncreated image of God the Father. Being fully God, the Son is an absolutely authentic representation of God’s being. There is, in a sense, no need for us to see the Father because the Son perfectly represents Him.
E Fifth, the Son sustains all things by His powerful Word. The Son sustains all things. By His Word, the Son keeps the universe running, the planets and galaxies moving, the law of gravity and physics constant so season faithfully follows season, so trees don't become cows and float off into space, so each morning we are greeted by sunshine and not by the light of the moon.
Think of this description of the Son: heir of all things, maker of the universe, radiance of God's glory, exact representation of His being, sustainer of all things. Think of this and think again of the four words: better, perfect, eternal, once-for-all. Truly, He is superior to anyone and anything else.
IV Purification for Sins
A The third thing we learn in this introduction to Hebrews is that Christ the Son "provided purification for sins."
Yes, Christ is the Word of God. Yes, Christ is fully the image of God. But we need more than revelation. We need more than an image. We especially need atonement. We need propitiation. We need forgiveness.
Now, remember, the audience is Hebrew Christians. Jews. People more than acquainted with the tabernacle and temple and their sin offerings and guilt offering. Ask anyone of these Hebrew Christians, "What is needed for purification for sins?" And they will tell you blood needs to be shed. A bull, a heifer, a goat, a lamb. Whatever it is, bloodshed is necessary.
Christ the Son "provided purification for sins." In this phrase one of the major teachings of Hebrews is introduced to us. Namely, that Christ shed His own blood. That He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. That He makes atonement for us who are sinners.
B Now, think about this in terms of what we have already been told. The Son Who took on flesh provided purification. He Who is God's last Word in these last days. He Who is the radiance of God and the exact representation of His being.
Wow. God provides Himself as purification for sin. It is the blood of the eternal Son of God that provides purification. Something better, far better, far superior, to the blood of bulls, heifers, goats, and lambs.
Think of what this said to the Hebrew Christians. In the face of persecution, some renounced their faith in the Lord. Some stopped assembling together on the Lord's Day. Some deliberately kept sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth. They are being told up front that there is forgiveness, propitiation, atonement through and because of Christ. No sin is too big for Christ to forgive. No temptation is beyond His ability to handle.
So come to Jesus, believe in Jesus. Find in Him all you need for the purification from the filth and dirt and pollution of sins. No matter how big or how many your sins.
V The Majesty of God
A The fourth thing we are told is that Jesus receives the majesty of God.
(Heb 1:3-4) After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (4) So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.After He provided purification. After the cross and the grave. After the shedding of His blood!
B Hebrews is talking, of course, about the Ascension. Hebrews is talking about Jesus going up into heaven and sitting at God's right hand. Hebrews is talking about Jesus' throne, Jesus' rule, Jesus' name of Lord. Therefore, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Son Who took on flesh, the Son Who is the Word, the Son Who is the radiance of God, the Son Who provides purification, is now also the exalted Son. He is King. He is Lord. He is Ruler. He is the Exalted One. He is at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. His is all power, all rule, all authority. He comes over Caesar. He comes over the Jewish religious authorities. He comes over soldiers and armies and generals and kings. He, the King Who died for you, is over all. He, the King Who is God's image, loves you. So keep heart as you face opposition.
Hebrews, as you can tell is about Jesus. And it is a calling to us to persevere in Jesus. Because He is better, He is perfect, He is eternal, and what He does is once-for-all!
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