Greater: A Series on the Letter of Hebrews
Week 1: Greater
Read Hebrews 1:1-4.
If you’ve been a part of Byhalia UMC for any length of time, you will notice that we cover topics such as prayer, worship, stewardship, faith, and forgiveness through sermon series. But we also cover entire books of the Bible, such as Ephesians, James, Proverbs, and most recently the letters of Peter.
A few weeks ago, much to my surprise and consternation, I felt led to take us to the letter of Hebrews. You would think Hebrews would be the FIRST letter I would preach, given my love for coffee. In fact, I could use THIS slide as my background!
I say much to my dismay because, of all the NT letters —with exception of John’s Revelation—Hebrews is perhaps the least preached and more difficult writings to fully comprehend.
But with the help of the Holy Spirit, I am going to attempt to walk us through this powerful and practical Word of God over the coming 8 weeks or so. We will not dwell on the minutia, but we will also not rush through it. So sit back, buckle up, and let’s roll!
Hebrews was written by an unknown author, but was almost certainly not the Apostle Paul, says most scholars. It was likely written between 50 and 70 AD, although it could have been written as late as 90 AD. The audience to whom Hebrews is written is not fully known, although they were almost certainly a majority Jewish Christians and likely a house church in Rome.
Remember that the early church, both 1st and 2nd generation Christians were terribly persecuted by the Roman government as well as the Jewish establishment. To be a Christ-follower was to have a target on your back. We saw that in Peter’s letters, encouraging them to keep their hope in the resurrected Christ, even though they have to endure trials for a while.
No doubt the author of Hebrews has that in mind when writing to these Jewish Christians, and for good reason. It has been 30-50 years since Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension, and still he has not returned as promised. Some were loosing faith in light of their current socio-political-economic circumstances. Maybe this suffering is not worth it.
Maybe Jesus didn’t take care of my sin on the cross. Maybe there is nothing beyond this life. It is in the midst of these conditions that the author writes what has been called “a single sermonic letter.” And we will look at his sermon over the coming weeks of sermons.
This letter does not begin like most.
There is NO INTRODUCTION of the writer or the audience, like (for instance) Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”
There is NO GREETING, like Peter’s 1s letter: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
There is NO OCCASION that the writer gives for writing the letter, like Jude: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.”
No, the writer of Hebrews jumps right into his “sermonic letter” with what I call a climatic statement. Let me read these 4 verses again that John Bobb read earlier [Read vv. 1-4].
We hear many power-packed words about Jesus that stir our imaginations and our souls: Radiance, Exact Representation, Majesty, Superior, and the like. What is the writer wanting us to know right out of the gate? That Jesus is the Son of God, the very voice of God in these “last days,” and that he is GREATER THAN even the angels. And that’s what we will ruminate on today.
Now, in the book of Hebrews, what we have happening is a failure for these Jewish Christians to hear what God is saying. They are misunderstanding and they have ceased to listen and in so doing, somewhere along the way they have replaced an internal intimacy with Jesus for an outward religious personification. Are you tracking with me? Because where you cease to hear the message of God and where you cease to hear and be connected to God (which WILL change you for God’s glory), you will tend to replace it with some kind of religious appearance without the presence or power thereof. You will put on some kind of religious coat and neglect the inner realities of following Jesus.
And that’s what’s happened to this group of Jewish Christians in the book of Hebrews. They have lost sight of Jesus. They have started to experience despair and anger and frustration and loneliness, and they have missed out on and shut down the reality of God actively speaking in their lives. And so, with that as the back drop, let’s dig a little deeper.
He begins by saying , “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” It’s important to get this. God, who existed before all things and is the creator of all things, has always been speaking to his people.
He walked with Adam and Even in the Garden; and when sin separated man from God, God continued to speak to certain people at certain times and in certain ways:
He told Noah, the only righteous man, to build an ark so that God could save his family and him, along with every specie of animal
God spoke to Abraham, making a covenant that he would have descendants too numerous to count and they would have a place of their own
God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and through Moses to Pharaoh and to the children of Israel as he freed them from captivity and led them around in the wilderness
He spoke through charismatic leaders, such as Samuel, who anointed king Saul and then king David
God spoke to King David, promising that there would be a descendant of his who would rule forever (that descendant being Jesus the Christ)
God spoke through many prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Joel, who warned the people to return to God and obey his commands.
All this took place “in the past.” But NOW…in these LAST DAYS…God has spoken to us by his Son. What does that mean, “LAST DAYS?” If this was written in the 1st century AD and now we are 20 centuries later, are we still in those “LAST DAYS?” Those are some pretty long, “LAST DAYS!” They are called “LAST DAYS” because there will be NO other era in which God will speak beyond this era of Christ. Jesus is the ULTIMATE EXPRESSION of God’s presence with us. The only thing beyond these “LAST DAYS” is the RETURN OF CHRIST, when the world as we know it will end and the New Heaven and New Earth will be complete. Until then, we are in the “LAST DAYS.”
Let’s talk about the Son for the time we have left. We’re told that God’s Son is not only heir of all things—heaven and earth…the universe…all creation—but He is also co-creator of all things. Through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit tells us in Colossians 1:15-17 15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Some of us need a slight correction in our Christology (our understanding of Jesus Christ). Jesus is not some created man who did really great things and preached like Billy Graham. Jesus is God the creator of all things, including humankind. Later, in the fulness of time, he put on skin (incarnation) and became obedient to the Father, even unto death on the cross. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
The writer then describes the nature and character of Jesus when he says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” The Son radiates the exact representation/imprint of God. The Greek word used here is charaktér, which literally means, “an engraving.” The origins of this word is also used for the word for “sculpture.” In other words, an exact likeness. Jesus told his followers that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father.
Think about our English word, character. When we say someone has good character, what are we saying? They are people of integrity. They keep their word. They are just and fair, honest and faithful. In other words, they possess all the qualities that we think of when we think about our heavenly Father.
It could be said of the Christ-follower that God engraves his image into us through His Holy Spirit. Question: When people see you, do they see the image of God in you? The aim of every believer is to be so identified with Christ that we radiate the glory of God just as the Son radiates the glory of God the Father. The word, Christian, means “little Christs.”
There’s a little phrase that can easily get overlooked when we’re hearing all the power-packed words. Listen, “After he had provided purification for our sins.” The writer will spend a lot of time on this significant aspect of Jesus in later chapters, but I like how he introduces the priestly role Jesus plays in cleansing us from our sins even in the first few verses of this 13 chapter book. WE CANNOT FORGET that the key reason God sent his Son into this world was to save us from our sins, taking the penalty we alone deserve.
It is BECAUSE Jesus paid the price by become sin FOR US that He is SUPERIOR…GREATER THAN…even the angels. The writer goes on to cite several scriptures which point to the superiority of Jesus over angels. For instance, he quotes Ps. 110:1 when says this in verse 13, To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
Hebrews is a letter of comparison. Throughout the letter, we will hear at least a dozen times that Jesus is Superior. Greater. Better…than angels, greater than Moses and the Law, greater than all the priests and the sacrificial system. A better hope, a better promise, a better possession, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. Jesus is BETTER. GREATER. SUPERIOR!!!
So What? That’s a question one of my seminary professors taught us to ask, “SO WHAT?” What’s the implication? If Jesus is superior to all that the early Jewish Christin church had experienced, how does that change my thinking, my actions?
Remember, some were doubting the resurrection. Some were doubting Christ’s return. Some were even falling away from the faith.
So, the writer says this in the open remarks of chapter 2 : “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” How many times have we seen people surrender their lives to Jesus Christ and be so enthusiastic for the Gospel, only to see them drift away as time goes on. There are countless reasons, but maybe the greatest reason is this: we don’t pay more careful attention.
If Jesus is superior to everything—creation, angels, even religious habits—then it stands to reason that we put our faith and trust in Christ not only for salvation but for daily living as well. No matter our circumstances, we can say “It is well with my soul.” “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!” Jesus is Greater! Greater than your bank account (or the lack thereof). Greater than your job (or the lack thereof). Greater than your health (or…). Greater even than your own salvation! Jesus is GREATER than ALL THINGS! And, so, Jesus alone is worthy of our complete devotion and praise.
The radiance of God’s glory dwells within the life of every follower of Jesus. The implications are enormous! What we do, how we think, where we go, what we watch on TV, all should reflect our relationship with the Majestic King of kings and Lord of lords who dwells within us by His Holy Spirit. Are we listening to His still, small, voice? Or have we become calloused to God’s call on our lives? Are we just wearing a religious cloak that covers over our true relationship with Jesus. The outside world might call us hypocrites for that!
Therefore, let us pay careful attention to what we have heard and live victorious, Spirit-filled lives because JESUS IS VICTOR! AMEN!