Hebrews 1:1-4

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on December 25th, 2016.

radiance-1929-jpglargeHebrews is distinctive in the New Testament literature.  In the letters of Paul and Peter, we recognize the familiar formula of a letter.  Later the writer of Hebrews will describe this work as “a letter of exhortation” (13:22).   As we read Hebrews aloud, we may hear the exhortation, not just from the writer, but from God.  God speaks in answer to our heart cry, “We need to hear from you.  We need a word from you.  If we don’t hear from you, what will we do?”  Are we waiting for a word?  If God could speak to us, what would God say?  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the very same God who spoke in the past still speaks today.

A sermon might explore the ways that God speaks to people.  How did God speak in the past?  Not only did God speak through the general revelation of creation.  No, God spoke to and through the personalities of the prophets.  In the Old Testament, we learn that God spoke to the ancestors of the readers of the Hebrews.  Characteristically, the prophets said, “The word of the Lord came . . .” and then they spoke, “Thus says the Lord.”  The words came over a span of hundreds of years beginning with Moses and going through Malachi. God spoke differently to and through different prophets.  Moses heard God’s voice in a burning bush and also in the thunder of the storm.  Elijah heard the “still, small voice.”  Isaiah saw God high and lifted up in the Temple and heard him say, “Who will go for us?”  Ezekiel heard from God on a field trip to a valley of dry bones.  The heavens were not silent as stone.  God spoke to his people through the prophets.  Now, in Christ, God speaks again, to us.

Our members may find a disconnect or discontinuity between the God who spoke audibly and clearly in the past and the God whom they have sought.  By contrast, the New Testament writers lived with a constant eschatological awareness.  They believed that Christ’s coming ushered in the last days.  Jesus was the Word before he ever spoke a word (John 1:1).  In these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son.  This witness is not lesser than that of the prophets.  The Son is greater than the prophets, greater even than the angels.  In a math equation, the writer of the Hebrews affirms again and again,
Jesus >             .  Fill in the blank.  Jesus is greater still.  This gives gravitas to his words.  There were many prophets, but there is only one Son.  In this sense, Jesus, the first and last Word represents God’s final and ultimate communication.

Who is Jesus to you?  This passage also offers fertile soil for a sermon on the identity and deity of Christ.  Jesus once asked, “Who do people say I am?” ( Matthew 16:13).  Then he said, “But you, who do you say I am?”  Good question!  The writer of Hebrews answers the question of the identity of Christ with a wonderfully majestic portrait of Christ.  God appointed Jesus the heir of all things.  As God’s only Son, Jesus inherits all.  The Son is also the agent of creation itself.  He created by speaking.  We find strong parallels to John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16.  The church sings, “Jesus paid it all.”  The writer of Hebrews prefaces this by saying, “Jesus made it all.”

Jesus is the radiance, the effulgence, the bright outshining and reflection of God’s glory.  John writes, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul captures this by saying “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).   Imagine the brightest light in the universe.  Astronomers assert that our sun is an average-sized star at best.  By contrast, Jesus shines brighter than the brightest.  Jesus is not only the radiance of God’s glory but his exact representation.  This thought is even stronger than the image of God.  When we see Jesus we see who the Father is.  Once again we find a beautiful parallel in John’s gospel, which begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   This Word still speaks.

Who will sustain us in a broken world?  The Son of God sustains all things by the word of his power.  Our Creator is also our Sustainer and our Sustainer is also our Redeemer.  So Jesus provided purification for sins.  Later in Hebrews we learn that Jesus made a once and for all sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:10).  Jesus is greater also than the greatest High Priest.

Where is Jesus now?  After he provided purification, he sat down.  On the cross he said, “it is finished” (John 19:30).  Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty.  Remember God says, “Sit at my right hand . . .” (Psalm 110:1)  This is not so much about Christ’s location as his exaltation.  The descendants of Aaron had to continue to stand because their work never ended (Hebrews 10:11).  Not so Jesus who sat down.  The right hand is the place of preeminence and power.  By assuming this unique place of authority in the universe, Jesus demonstrated his superiority over the angels.  His name is superior to theirs.  His power is superior to theirs.  The comparative adjective “better” is used thirteen times to describe Jesus’ superiority in this epistle.   The angels brought the law, but the Son brought grace.

This simple truth decimates the prevailing angelolatry of the first and twenty-first centuries.  We may be fascinated with the angels, but the angels are absolutely consumed with Christ!  Some years ago, I observed in a bookstore many new books about angels.  The Christian book industry picked up on the fascination and obsession with angels.  “Angel” in the title meant book sales.  Angels are not, however, God’s Son.  Jesus alone is called God’s Son.  The angels adored Jesus lighting up the Galilean sky for the unsuspecting Shepherds (Luke 2:13).  Angels are created as spirits, flames of fire.  Jesus is the Creator himself.  His reign of righteousness endures forever.  Jesus will have the last word . . .  At the end of the Scriptures in we read, “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:20).


brooks_duane_5x7bDuane Brooks
Tallowood Baptist Church, Houston, TX





Tags: angels, radiance, light, Jesus, The last word

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