A sermon on Hebrews 1 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 16 January 2022
We live in challenging times. People seem to have turned their back on God. Faith is fading and church attendances falling. People have turned to material things or sport or gambling or relationships to find their meaning and purpose. In these challenging times it can be hard to swim against that current, to keep our hold on faith when many are abandoning it. In these challenging times, the message of the letter to the Hebrews is what we need to hear.
This letter was written to people who were experiencing their own challenging times. They were part of the first wave of converts to Christianity. They didn’t grow up in a Christian home like you might have. They didn’t go to Sunday school. They grew up Jews, going to the synagogue, sharing in the worship of the temple in Jerusalem. But they had put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. And it would have been exciting at first. But it wasn’t easy. Some of them would have been cut off by their family, disowned as traitors to their people and to their ancient traditions. Some of them would have been put in gaol for teaching that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord. So for some of them the first excitement of their conversion had started to fade. They had given up a lot, some of them had lost everything for Jesus but it was becoming harder and harder to maintain that faith.
So this letter to the Hebrews, was written to these Jewish Christians with one single, comprehensive messaged all summed up neatly in its first four verses. Jesus is God’s last Word. Nothing can replace him. He is all we need from the beginning of time to the end, for all of life’s challenging times.
Verse 1 begins,
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways …
It reminds us that God has spoken. God has not remained a mystery, a puzzle that we have to solve for ourselves. We don’t have to grope for him in the darkness, like when we’ve lost our glasses. Instead God has shone the light of his own revelation. He has made himself known. In the past, he spoke to the ancestors of the Jewish people. He showed himself to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses. He revealed his will through the prophets, through Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah.
He did it at many times and in various ways. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He sent an angel to speak to the parents of Samson. He called out in the middle of the night to the sleeping Samuel. God’s word was always true. But it came in fits and starts, in fragments and puzzles and promises yet to be fulfilled.
What is described in these words is what we call the Old Testament. The message recorded from Genesis to Malachi in the Jewish Scriptures. And if there was one thing I would say about the Old Testament it would be that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Many stories don’t need a sequel. They begin, they end. Everything is tidied up before it finishes and they all live happily ever after. Grease, for example, was a perfectly good movie. There was no reason except greed to make Grease 2. But some stories end abruptly and unfinished. They cry out for a sequel to complete their message.
The Old Testament cries out for a sequel. It is full of unfulfilled promises with God’s people still in distress at the end. For example, the very last page of our Old Testament ends with this promise:
I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.
It is a promise that is left unfulfilled in the Jewish scriptures.
If the Old Testament is God’s second last word needing a sequel, then Jesus is God’s last word.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
There is a deliberate contrast between these two verses. In verse 1 God spoke in the past. But in verse 2 God has spoken in these last days. In the past God spoke to our forefathers. But now he has spoken to us. In the past God spoke through the prophets. But now he has spoken to us by his Son, through the one who in every way is perfectly capable of showing who God really is. For he has proven it from the beginning of time to the end.
Before the beginning of time he was the eternal Son.
In the beginning of time, he was the one through whom the Father created the universe.
And at the end of time, he will be the heir of all things, the king of kings, before whom every person will kneel and will confess as Lord.
The Freemasons call God the Great Architect of the Universe and they use the compass and set square to symbolise the care and skill with which the whole universe has been made. But it would be more precise to say that the Son is the Great Architect. It is the Father who chooses, who plans, but it is the Son who makes that vision a reality, like an architect sitting down with a client and listening to what the client wants and then makes that plan real.
Verse 3 clarifies that role in creation by reminding us that the Son’s work is ongoing. He is still constantly sustaining all things by his powerful word. The universe isn’t just running and running down like a clock that the clock maker built and wound up and left alone. Instead it grows and develops like a garden cared for by the gardener. We may not understand everything that happens, but the person in charge is the same person who stepped into our world and gave his life for us.
This eternal Son, this great architect of the universe and great gardener of the world, is the one who is best qualified to speak for God and about God. He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. If the Father is like the sun, then the Son is like the light which the sun shines, by which we can see the sun, so that even when the sun is hidden by clouds we can still see everything else. Like an imprint in wax shows us what the stamp looks like, so the Son perfectly reveals the Father. So that when we look at Jesus, when we reflect on his nature, when we listen to his words, when we notice what he does, we know what God is like. He isn’t a mystery. He doesn’t hide behind a mask. God is like Jesus, because Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
And this is not the end of the Son’s work, but as the rest of verse 3 tells us, he is our Saviour and our great High Priest. He provided purification for our sins by his sacrifice on the cross. Our sins defile us. They made us unfit for the presence of God. Like grubby little children we must be washed clean before we are able to take our seat at God’s banquet in heaven. But by the blood of Jesus we are purified, cleansed, all sparkling and fresh and new. In his name we no longer indulge in worldly filth but with sincere love and pure faith we take us our cross and follow him.
After providing purification for our sins, he sat down …
He rests from the labour of our salvation. His work is finished. Nothing more needs to be done to complete it. And he sits in a position of honour at the right hand of the Father where he intercedes for us. Reminding us that the important thing in life is not what you know, but who you know. And we know Jesus. Our perfect saviour. And he has influence on our behalf in the highest place.
Jesus is all we need from beginning to end. Through him the universe was created. He reveals the nature of God perfectly. He washes us clean of our sins. He rests in heaven, his work completed. And he will inherit the kingdom of his Father. This is what it means for him to be the Son. Our creator, our sustainer, our saviour, our priest and our king. He is God’s perfect revealer and God’s last Word. He is all we need in this life and the next. No other person, no other power can do what he can do for us.
To drive this message home in the rest of chapter 1, the writer compares Jesus to the angels. The angels are the messengers of God. They are his servants, created to do his will. While the Son sits in the Father’s presence, the angels are busy going about making the sun to rise, blowing the clouds, making sure the stars are polished and shining bright. In fact, the angels exist to serve us. To protect us. To warn us. They surround us and exist to help us but it is a mistake to take our eye off Jesus to offer up prayers to angels or to saints or to Mary. This is the same mistake as any other kind of idolatry as Paul wrote in Romans chapter 1,
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.
Why worship the creature when you can worship the creator? Why worship messengers like the angels, when we can put our trust in the Son Jesus? Why worship those who worship Jesus?
This message that Jesus is better than the angels is continued in Hebrews with other comparisons. Jesus is better than Moses. Jesus provides a better rest than Joshua did. Jesus is a better high priest. Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant. And we’ll come to all them in time. But the big message of the first chapter is Jesus is better than everything. Jesus is better than cricket. Jesus is better than footy. Jesus is better than money. Jesus is better than anything you could worship or serve.
We live in challenging times. But Jesus is God’s last Word. Nothing can replace him. He is all we need from the beginning of time to its end. He is all we need for all of our challenging times.