Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 6, February 3 to February 9, 2008

Hebrews 1:1-4

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

Last week we began a new series on the book of Hebrews, which is found in the New Testament, toward the end of the Bible, after 1st and 2nd Timothy and before James and Peter. As we noted last week, Hebrews is something of a cross between a letter and a theological essay and is fairly unique as New Testament letters go. It is also a book, which leans very hard on the Old Testament and so expects a little more from its readers in that regard.

The purpose of the book, putting it as simplistically as possible, is drift prevention. In other words, it appears to have been written to a group of Christians who were being tempted to wander away from the faith for various reasons and to return to the Judaism from whence they came. The writer of Hebrews, whose identity is not known to us, clearly wants to stop this drift and, in order to do so, draws his readers' attention to the person of Christ in the opening chapters of the letter. By showing the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ from every conceivable angle the writer makes it clear that going back to Judaism, or anything else for that matter, would mean leaving behind Jesus — God's clearest revelation and expression of himself. This would be a very foolish thing for anybody to do.

This morning we will be looking at Hebrews' opening statements in that regard, focusing on Chapter 1, verses 1-4. Before we look at that, let us pray together:

Great Father in heaven, we see in your word, indeed in the very words before us this morning, that you are a SPEAKING God - that you desire to make yourself known to your creation. We are grateful and thankful for that. And one of the things we know, because you have told us so, is that you are not only a speaking God but also a LISTENING God. You have said that you value, prize, and look forward to hearing from your people. So hear us now when we say that we recognize this moment for the opportunity that it is - to hear from the Author of these words himself. What a great privilege this is. And so we ask that you would help us to listen now — to REALLY listen to you. Cause your truth to lodge in our brains so that it follows us home, so that it changes our perspective, so that it reforms our motivations, so that it draws us back toward you. We ask this in Christ's name. Amen.

(Read Hebrews 1:1-4)

As many of you will know, we are hoping this Spring to bring on board a second, full-time permanent staff person here at South Baton Rouge which means, among other things, that I and the other elders are knee-deep in resumes at the moment. So far, I have reviewed about 31 of these, in all shapes and varieties. Some provide a great deal of information, some are very sparse. Some are very long, some are extremely short. And one thing, among many things, that I have noticed through this process is that a long resume is not necessarily a good resume.

Sometimes, even after many words, you are still not sure what you are looking at. By contrast, some of the most intriguing and promising resumes we have received are also some of the briefest.

In Hebrews 1:1-4, you have what may be the absolute shortest resume on record. In the space of just a few verses, the writer of Hebrews gives us a description of Jesus that is un-paralleled by any other being, human or otherwise, and which demonstrates why he is uniquely qualified to be the supreme revealer of God. Some of the things said about him here include:

that he is the heir of all things.

Christ is identified as the one to whom all things belong, the one whom all things are for. This will be re-stated in chapter 2 of Hebrews in terms of rule and subjection. But in making these statements about Christ in Chapter 1, the writer of Hebrews is echoing truths already found much earlier, in Psalm 2, a psalm which points to Christ, when it says, in verses 6-8,

As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession...

...we are also told,

not only that Christ is the heir of all things, but that Christ was/is the agent of creation.

In other words, the one to whom all things ultimately are given, is also the one through whom all things were initially made. He was God's active and creative agent as disorder and chaos were shaped into order and purpose. These same truths are found in the opening verses of John's Gospel.

...the great truth continues and says,

not only that Christ is the heir of all things, and the agent of creation, but that Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

The word used here for "exact imprint" is the same one used in talking about the die that was created in order to stamp or impress an exact likeness of an Emperor onto a piece of metal in coin-making. The image on the die was perfectly mirrored on the face of the coin. Likewise, Christ is identified in the closest possible way with God the Father. If you see one, then you have seen the other.

...further, we are told

that Christ is the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power.
In short, he is not only the agent of creation, and the ultimate heir, but he is also the sustainer and maintainer of all things. He is actively working now in the operation and oversight of the universe.

...finally, in addition to all these things, we are told that,

he is the one who made purification for sins.
In his role as High Priest, he accomplished in himself what no mere human priest had been able to accomplish. This, of course, will be expanded on later in this letter, but here we have a foretaste of that truth and the accompanying result that, after accomplishing these things he sat down at the right hand of God. In other words, the place of highest honor and authority and privilege.

With these and other statements, the writer of Hebrews makes it clear, in just a few verses, how and why Christ was/is uniquely qualified to be the supreme revealer of God to his people. No one else even comes close. Simply put, there is no better portrait of God than that which we have received in Jesus.

Keeping in mind, then, the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ, we return to the first two verses of Hebrews and read them again with these thoughts running through our heads - and they should read a little differently this time.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by......

....the one who is the heir of all things

....the one through whom he created the world

....the one who is the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature

....the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power

....the one who made purification for the sins of God's people

....the one sits in the place of honor at the right hand of God

....who is superior to angels and whose name is higher than any other

In other words, by His Son...He has spoken to us by the one who is all those things....and more.

When you take into consideration the character of Christ, and the person of Christ, then you see all the more clearly the great contrast that the writer of Hebrews is making between God's former speech — through the prophets —and his subsequent speech — through Jesus. You see where the writer of Hebrews is taking you in all of this. His goal, of course, is not to denigrate God's revelation of himself through the prophets or in the Old Testament. That revelation was/is inspired, powerful and authoritative for God's people in every age. There is no question about it.

Nevertheless, as wonderful as God's revelation of himself was through the Old Testament prophets — it was still incomplete. The incompleteness was not a flaw or a miscalculation on God's part. It was incomplete by design necessarily and even intentionally unfinished until the right moment came along — the moment when God purposed to send his son Jesus to be the fulfillment of all that was promised in the Old Testament, to be the "Word made flesh".

Therefore, it is that we see side by side here two different eras of God's revelatory activity amongst humankind, each with its own distinct characteristics. Before Christ came, Hebrews tells us, God spoke "at many times and in many ways" through his various prophets. We think about how this was so — calling to mind such figures as Moses, and Elijah, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

In contrast to that, Hebrews tells us that while that was what God did "long ago", in these last days he has done something different. He has not spoken to us by a mere prophet or series of prophets — although Jesus certainly is a prophet. Instead, he has spoken to us by his majestic, divine, one and only, powerful Son. A Son who, even when he was not speaking, was still revealing volumes about God by his very life.

And we are meant to notice here not only the contrast between God's speaking by many prophets and his speaking by his One and only Son, but we also need to pay attention to those very important words "in these last days", because there is a further significance to them. Clearly, the writer to the Hebrews saw that a fundamental shift had taken place with the coming of Christ. A former era of prophetic revelation was left behind and had been replaced with a new one —indeed, the "final" one.

While a lot more could be said about this notion of "the last days", the point not to be missed here is the way that these words signal the finality of God's revelation in Christ. In other words, there is not going to be another era after this one. There is not going to be a new phase in the history of God's self-revelation after this. This one is it. We are in the final, ultimate phase of God's self-revelation. Jesus is God's final word, his sufficient word. He is not going to say it any better or any clearer than he already has in Jesus.

As God's final word, it was a perfect word — as perfect as the person of Christ himself. Moreover, if it was a perfect word, then it was a sufficient word. That means that God's people, his Church, is not lacking anything with regard to God's revelation of himself. We do not need any upgrades or supplements or special installments to bring our revelation quotient up-to-date. We already have everything that we need in Christ.

This is a point that seems to be lost on those who have become ensnared in such false religions as Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses and even Islam — all of which either denigrate the person of Christ and/or assert that there has been a need for a further prophetic revelation from God - either through Joseph Smith or Mohammed — or whoever — but a further revelation has been needed to make up for what was lacking in God's revelation of himself in Jesus. Nevertheless, the Letter to the Hebrews simply does not leave any room for that sort of nonsense. Jesus is God's greatest, fullest, and supreme revelation.

All of which, of course, begs the question of the relationship, then, between the person of Christ and the 27 books which make up the New Testament and which came after the Lord Jesus had completed his earthly mission and ministry, and returned to heaven. If Jesus is God's supreme and sufficient revelation — how ought we to regard the New Testament which came afterward, including the book of Hebrews itself which is the source of our understanding of Christ as God's final, sufficient word?

Well, as with many, if not most things, there are long and detailed responses that one might make to that sort of question. However, a simpler and shorter answer is to say that the relationship between Jesus and the New Testament is the same as the relationship between the prophets and the Old Testament. Let me try and explain that.

As Hebrews tells us, God spoke at various times and in various ways through various prophets. Then, at some time subsequent to those revelatory events, there came an inscripturation process whereby God's acts and God's words, mediated through the prophets, were reduced to writing, where the histories of what God had been doing — beginning with the creation — were recorded, the story of his people was written down, the songs that sustained them and by which they worshiped, and the wisdom that guided them, and the many warnings and pronouncements of judgment that came to them during the time before and after the exile. All of these things were recorded and reduced to writing and became the collective canon that we know as the Old Testament.

But what we need to see in all of that, without getting lost in all the details, is this pattern of God revealing himself by events and/or words — and the subsequent recording and inscripturation of those things, which are then collected and over time become a recognizable and distinct body of Scripture.

Then, years later, along comes God's Son, Jesus Christ, who, in addition to being God's final and sufficient word and an act of revelation himself lends his authority and stamp of approval to this whole process which I have just described. Christ himself was a student of, and a master of, and preacher of the Old Testament Scriptures. He spoke of them and regarded them as the very words of God. He treated them as something which had divine authority — the authority of God Himself. In so doing, he places his "seal of approval", as it were on this whole sequence and pattern of events where God acts/speaks and then brings about the recording and preserving of at least a portion of these things through the process of inscripturation.

In the New Testament, we have that same pattern continuing whereby God, through his Son Jesus, reveals himself in both words and deeds. Then subsequently superintends the process of inscripturation which will preserve for all time, everything that his people will ever need to know about what he did and said through his Son; what it all meant and means and the implications of all of this for the people in whom Christ would come to dwell by His Spirit, until the day arrived that he returned to judge and rule the world in glory.

Jesus is God's final, full and sufficient revelation of Himself and the New Testament is the God inspired, authoritative and sufficient record of that historic revelation. Thus, it has immediate on-going, and future implications for all those that belong to the Lord Jesus, and worship him in spirit and in truth.

Finally, if the supremacy of Christ as the Son of God implies the sufficiency of Christ as the Speech of God, then it seems to me that we can move one step further to say that the sufficiency and perfection of Christ as the Speech of God, calls for careful and trusting submission by the people of God.

Now, in making this point, it should be acknowledged that we are, in fact, anticipating the conclusion found in Chapter 2:1- 3, which we will look at more closely in a few weeks. But for now please notice the obvious application that we are meant to draw from all of this: that given the lengths to which God went to provide us with this revelation, and given the matchless quality and complete sufficiency of it, we would be foolish to ignore these things. Indeed, we can go so far as to say that the nature of this revelation demands and even commands that we submit ourselves to it.

This relationship between God's former self-revelation through the prophets and his latter revelation by the Son, can be further illustrated by comparing it to the relationship between the distant stars and our own Sun. What we learn of God through his pre-Jesus revelation can be likened to the knowledge of the stars that we might gain from observing Alpha Centauri or one of the other "close" stars, which, nevertheless is still breathtakingly far away. We can gain a lot from studying these things — at a distance — no doubt, but what we learn is limited in its scope. The same thing could be said of our knowledge of God through the Old Testament alone. It is good, helpful, perfectly accurate — but limited.

By contrast, what we know about God through his self-revelation as Christ can be likened to the knowledge of the stars that we gain by looking at the sun, which is a great deal closer and which gives us an understanding about stars that simply would not be possibly otherwise. The same thing can be said about our knowledge of the planet Jupiter, now that the Titan space probe has landed. What we learn of this planet, up close and personal, through this probe will be exponentially greater than any knowledge we have gained at a distance.

So, to return to our analogy, for someone who wanted to understand stars, ignoring the sun would be foolish. Likewise, for someone who wants to know God — ignoring Jesus, who is God-come-near — is foolish. The very nature of this revelation, and the accessibility of it, carries within itself an almost moral imperative to pay careful attention to such an obvious and magnanimous gesture on God's part. Ignoring such a thing would be crazy and would invoke a justly deserved condemnation.

Yet, this is the very thing that some of God's people were doing, or at the very least, being tempted to do; that is to ignore the more detailed, clearer picture of God in Jesus and go back to the equally authoritative, but less clear, less complete, still developing portrait of God that we find in the Old Testament scriptures by themselves. To make such a move, because of fear and/or persecution, whatever reason there might be, but to make any move that takes Christ away as the supreme focal point of God's revelation is simply not appropriate. Any move that marginalizes or trivializes that revelation in any way is simply not a wise or workable option for God's people, in any age.

Right. Not for a few implications to think about it as we wrap up here.....

1) Notice the connectedness and continuity of God's revelation from the former period to now. God spoke in the previous era — through his prophets — and in this final era — through his Son. But notice that it is the same God who is speaking in both places. The Old Testament is not less-inspired than the New, and is therefore meant for the people of God in every age. Theological systems or interpretations that do not recognize this are deeply flawed and are to be avoided at all costs.

2) That being said, while the Old and New Testaments are both authoritative revelation coming from the same God, the relationship between them is one of incompleteness and completeness, or promise and fulfillment, of clear and clearER. As a result, there IS an interpretive priority to be given to the New Testament.

What this means is not that we should study it more, but that in our studies of scripture, and especially of the Old Testament, we always have to be looking ahead to see how God's further and fuller revelation of himself in Christ sheds light on what was said and done in the Old Testament era. We have to run it through the "New Testament" grid, if I can put it that way, if we are to have any confidence in our interpretations. This, of course, is exactly what was modeled by Jesus himself, in Luke 24, and is modeled by Paul in many places, and what will be modeled in the Letter of Hebrews itself on numerous occasions.

3) The centrality of Christ and the revelation concerning him, as the interpretive key to the Scriptures, needs to be guarded and protected by the church in every age. The shape that this battle takes will vary from time to time and place to place. At the time of the writing of this letter, the temptation for many was to lose Christ at the center by returning to a former way of belief and practice in Judaism. In our own day and age, the temptation is different, but the result is the same.

One of the challenges to the centrality and priority of God's revelation in Jesus for the church in the 21st century continues to be the massive threat of pluralism where God's self-revealing speech in Jesus is slowly being drowned out by other voices who are being allowed to have a similar place of authority in people's hearts. Jesus, for many, has ceased to be the sole, unique voice of God, but is instead one of many voices that speak for God.

People who take this view often imagine that they are paying Jesus a high compliment by including him in their personal pantheon. However, they are doing nothing of the sort and, in fact, are giving him one of the deepest and gravest of insults.

The other challenge to the centrality and priority of God's revelation in Jesus, and the one that we are most likely to face in our context here, comes not from pluralism but from subjectivism. This is the challenge that comes when Christians increasingly ignore God's objective revelation of himself in Christ and the concrete, objective revelation that are the New Testament scriptures and give these a subordinate status to other things which are given the priority — such as internal, subjective leadings and impressions that function like some sort of invisible, portable tele-prompter providing you with lines and stage cues on a moment by moment basis. To be sure, the objective revelation of God in Christ and through the scriptures is given a polite nod, but the subjective feelings and impressions and promptings which are afforded a kind of revelational status — these things are allowed to have a priority and influence that they should never have been given.

4) The fourth and final implication I would draw your attention to is simply the response of praise and thanks that God's amazing revelation in Jesus calls for from his people. God has spared no expense, has not foregone any personal sacrifice or cost, to clearly reveal himself to his creation. Let us then respond — in word and deed — in ways that such a great revelation calls for — paying careful attention to it — motivated not by guilt but by love and wonder at the One who has loved us so well, and who came all the way to earth to tell us something very important.

In these last days, God has spoken by his Son. So Listen....with your eyes.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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