************ Sermon on Hebrews 1:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 30, 2015
"Christ is Superior to the Angels"
When we first looked at Hebrews we started with a verse from the last chapter. There we find the author describing his letter as a "word of exhortation" (Heb 13:22). Remember what that means? That means Hebrews is a sermon.
So now a question I didn't ask a number of weeks ago: A sermon on what? A sermon always has to have a basis. Sometimes, as one of my friends put it, there are sermons in search of a text; but, that is not the case here. So, what is the text or passage that the author of Hebrews is explaining?
I A Sermon on an OT Passage
A Let me answer the question by pointing you to my Greek Bible. At the back of my Greek Bible is an index of Old Testament passages quoted by the New Testament (HOLD IT UP). Take a guess at what Old Testament passage is quoted more often by the New Testament than any other passage? Let me lay out some possibilities.
What Genesis 2:24 says about a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife is quoted a lot in the New Testament. Same with Deuteronomy 10:17 which tells us that the "Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords." Another popular Old Testament passage is 1 Kings 22:19 -- "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left" (cf 2 Chron 18:18). Psalm 47:8 is highly popular in the New Testament as well. And, you might be surprised to learn that Sirach 1:8, an apocryphal book we don't consider to be part of the inspired Bible, is quoted eleven times in the New Testament.
B So, what Old Testament passage is quoted more often by the New Testament than any other passage? The most popular passage is Psalm 110. The second most popular passage is Psalm 2. Both psalms are quoted repeatedly by the book of Hebrews. Both are psalms about the reign and rule of the Davidic King. However, "in these last days" -- as Hebrews 1:2 puts it -- the psalms look past the Davidic King to the Messianic King, to the ascension and reign of King Jesus. So, it is believed that the book of Hebrews is an inspired sermon on either Psalm 110 or Psalm 2 or both. Therefore, it should not surprise you that we find both Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 quoted in today's Bible reading.
II Superior to the Mighty Angels
A Do you remember the four words or phrases which are important for our understanding of Hebrews? Let me restate them for you: "better" (another translation is the word "superior"), "perfect," "eternal," and "once-for-all."
The emphasis of our text this evening is that Jesus is "better" than the angels. Jesus is "superior" to the angels:
(Heb 1:4) So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Isn't this an amazing teaching? Hebrews is talking about a flesh and blood Jesus, a Jesus Who took on our flesh, a Jesus Who suffered and died, a Jesus Who was made like us His brothers in every way (Heb 2:17). This Jesus, as hard as it may be for some to believe, is superior to the angels.
B Why angels? Why does Hebrews mention angels at all? Why make a point that Jesus is superior to angels?
As the name indicates, the letter in front of us, the sermon in front of us, is addressed to "Hebrews" -- that is, to Jewish Christians -- in order to encourage them in the faith. Some of these Christians, remember, in the face of persecution were returning to their Jewish roots. So Hebrews was written to teach them that the Christian faith is better in every way than the Jewish faith. Hebrews was written to tell them that Jesus is better than anything in Jewish faith and practice. More specifically, this evening's text tells them that Jesus is better than the angels so loved in Jewish theology and mysticism.
To see this, I need to spend a few moments telling you the place of angels in Jewish teaching and popular thought.
We start by acknowledging that the Old Testament mentions angels at many times and in various places. Look at the angels we see in the book of Genesis: the devil tempting man into sin, angels guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden, angels foretell the birth of Isaac, an angel stops Abraham from killing Isaac, an angel goes before Abraham's servant as he selects a wife for Isaac, angels ascend and descend Jacob’s ladder. There is also a whole body of literature which teaches the Law of God was mediated through the angels (cf Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2).
Though the Old Testament is the Jewish scriptures, this does not mean that all Jews accepted the existence of angels. For instance, at the time of Jesus the Sadducees denied their existence. As for today, most Jews do not believe in angels anymore.
I must also point out that the Jews have never worshiped angels the way some Christians worship saints or other creatures. In fact, there was always a fear among the Jews that a belief in angels would rival God.
How do the Jews view angels? According to Jewish literature, the angels pointed to themselves and their infinite number and told God that humans did not need to be created.
Did you know that rabbinic literature reworks the whole book of Esther? It has the angel Gabriel preventing Queen Vashti from going to the king when he summons her. Three angels go to Xerxes' palace with Esther. One of the angels moves the king’s scepter to let her into his chamber, another angel points Esther's finger at Haman rather than King Xerxes, and it is the angels who throw Haman on Esther’s couch.
In Jewish literature angels speak, sit, stand, walk, climb ladders, fly, ride horses, use weapons, escort people to heaven or hell, bring prophecy, dialogue with God, act as God’s cabinet, worship God, sing in God’s heavenly choir, do God’s bidding, record our deeds in the Book of Life, carry divine messages, act as heavenly janitors and security guards, lift people's spirits, help people in time of need, and serve as God’s escort service to heavenly realms and even to Sheol. They are God's servants. As such, Jewish texts make clear that it is God Who chooses when the angels act and appear.
To sum up: Angels are powerful, dreadful, and endowed with wisdom. Now along comes this sermon and the Hebrew Christians are told Jesus is "superior to the angels." That is, Jesus is superior to powerful, dreadful, wise angels.
C To us this is a no-brainer. Of course He is superior. Of course He is better. After all, look at the things Hebrews has already told us about Jesus in verses 2 & 3:
-He is God's last word for these last days
-He is heir of all things
-He made the universe
-He is the radiance of God's glory
-He is the exact representation of God's being
-He sustains all things by His powerful word
-He provided purification for sins
-He ascended and sat down at God's right hand in heaven
The conclusion of Hebrews: Jesus is superior to the angels, Jesus is better than the angels. Not only is Jesus better than the angels, but the words He spoke are superior to the words spoken by the angels. The author of Hebrews takes pains to establish the full authority of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.
III A Superior Name (vs 4-5)
A In verse 4 the author continues making his point about the superiority of Jesus by telling us He has a more excellent name than the angels.
We are given the names of some of the angels. There is "Michael" -- whose name means "who is like God." But Jesus, remember, is "the exact representation of God's being" (Heb 1:3). There is "Gabriel" -- whose name means "God is great." But through Jesus God "made the universe" (Heb 1:2). There is Lucifer -- the name of Satan before he fell. His name means "morning star." But Jesus "is the radiance of God's glory" (Heb 1:3).
There are some 256 names in the Bible for Jesus. Which name is in mind when Hebrews tells us "the name he has inherited is superior to theirs" (Heb 1:4)? What is the name that is more excellent? The more excellent name -- in fact, the most excellent name -- is "Son."
In the Old Testament angels are called sons of God, as in Job 1 and 2. Never, however, is any angel called the Son of God. As Hebrews asks,
(Heb 1:5) For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father " ? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?The answer, of course, is NONE. No angels -- mighty and awesome though they be -- are called the Son of God. Only the second person of the Trinity is the eternal Son of God.
The first quote -- "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" -- comes from Psalm 2. In this Psalm, God is addressing the Messianic King. The words do apply to David and Solomon, but never in the fullest sense. The Jews knew from reading the Psalms that a King was being spoken of Who had absolute power and before Whom all nations would bow. They further knew that the kingship of David and Solomon was only a foreshadowing of this greater kingship. Thus, they knew that the person addressed in Psalm 2:7 was not David, was not Solomon, and was not an angel. Our passage argues that it can only be the Messiah Who is superior to the angels.
The second quote -- "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" -- comes from 2 Samuel 7:14. There God told David that He would be Father to David’s greater son to come and will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. This can refer only partially to Solomon since Solomon was a sinner. The full reference has to be to Him Who is the Son of God in the fullest sense. Again, the person being addressed was not David, was not Solomon, and was not an angel.
"You are my Son ... I will be his Father." Does this sound familiar? Hebrews would have us take a close look at Jesus' baptism. Remember what happened? As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove, and the voice of God from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:16-17).
We are also being directed to Jesus' transfiguration. Again, remember what happened? While Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Mt 17:3-5).
"This is my Son ... I will be his Father" Were these words ever said to any of the angels? Absolutely not. These words were said only to Jesus. Because He alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. The point? Jesus is superior to the mighty angels.
IV A Superior Birth (vs 6)
In the next section, Hebrews directs our attention to Christmas Day and to Jesus' superior birth. It says,
(Heb 1:6) And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."Do you remember what happened with the angels on Christmas Day? They were messengers who announced the birth of Jesus. And then they sang praises to God: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Lk 2:14). They are messengers about the Son. They praise God for the Son. They sing praises to the Son.
Jesus is never shown worshiping the angels but they are shown worshiping Him. Look at the book of Revelation. There we see worship scene after worship scene with the angels worshiping the Son. There we also see angels warning us not to worship them but to worship the Son (Rev 19:10; 22:9).
The point? Again, Jesus is superior to the mighty angels.
V A Superior Calling (vs 7-14)
The final section of our Bible reading concludes by quoting Psalm 110 -- remember, Hebrews is probably a sermon based on Psalm 110. Here we see the superior calling of the Son.
(Heb 1:13-14) To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? (14) Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?What are we being told? The Son reigns. The Son rules. The Son has authority and power. His throne lasts forever. And we know why: because He provided purification. He provided purification -- He died for our sins and was raised for our justification -- and then He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 1:3). So His is Kingdom, Power, Authority. As for the angels, they are ministering spirits who serve the throne, on which the Son sits. The Son is superior.
Here is the conclusion of the matter as we find it at the beginning of the next chapter. Hebrews 2:2 tells us the message spoken by the mighty angels was "binding." Remember what that message was? It was the Law. The Law, delivered by the mighty angels, was binding. It must be obeyed. It must be listened to. It must be followed. And, we are told "every violation and disobedience received its just punishment" (Heb 2:2).
But now one mightier than the mightiest angel has come. He is God's last word for these last times. We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard. If you listen to the angels, then you must listen even more carefully to Jesus.
Remember the original audience? They were Hebrews who, because of persecution, were thinking of going back to their Jewish roots and Jewish faith. Do you think they listened to the angels? Of course they did! No matter how many times they heard the Law, they never could hear it enough. No matter how many times they heard its demands, they wanted to hear it again and again and again. They loved the Law.
If you listen to the angels, then for sure you will want to listen to the Son Who is greater than the angels. If you listen to the angels who condemn you and leave you in your sin, then for sure you will want to listen to Him Who provided purification for sins. If you listen to the angels who are simply ministering spirits, then for sure you want to listen to Him Who sits at the right hand of God. If you listen to the angels, then for sure you will want to listen to the Son. Which reminds me of the last phrase of what was said at the transfiguration: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Mt 17:3-5). He is the Son. Listen to Him!
What do you think those beleaguered and persecuted Christians heard? They heard something like this:
You got to be kidding me! Can it be possible that you are actually considering a return to Old Testament religion? Can it be possible you are choosing angels over the Son? Can it be possible you are choosing the lesser over the greater? Can it be possible you are going back to a rules based religion: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (Col 2:21)?
Jesus is greater, congregation. He is greater than the mighty angels. He has a superior name. He has a superior birth. He has a superior calling. So, listen to Him. SO THAT WE DO NOT DRIFT AWAY. So that we don't leave the faith. He is the Son! Listen to Him!
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