- Text: Hebrews 1:1-14
- Series: Christ in the New Covenant, Pt. 1
- Date: Sunday, April 15, 2018 – AM
- Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
- Speaker: Jared Byrns
- Audio: mp3
I once heard John MacArthur introduce a sermon series on the book of Hebrews. He said that when his church finished the book in a few years, they would all be extremely familiar with it. That phrase “a few years” really jumped out at me. Each of you knows all too well that I could easily talk about the book of Hebrews (or anything else) for a few years—but I’m certain that I’m no John MacArthur, so I’m going to go in a different direction.
We are going to study through the book of Hebrews, starting today, but we’re not going to take years to go through every single verse. Instead, we’re going to look at one of the major themes of this book, which is the absolute, unmatched, undeniable, supremacy of Jesus in the new covenant that God has made with man. In the coming weeks, as we follow this theme through the book of Hebrews, I’m going to highlight several of the passages that are most crucial to our understanding of Who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing even today to give us access to the Father.
But there is so much richness and depth to the book of Hebrews that, even as we narrow our focus to this one major theme, there is a mountain of truth to sift through. As I studied the first passage for this morning’s message, there was so much to say that I had to decide whether to keep you all afternoon or split it into two messages and finish up later on.
I won’t keep you in suspense; I decided to give you half today and half in two weeks.
Despite all that we can learn from the book of Hebrews, there are a few things we don’t know about the book of Hebrews. We don’t know for sure who actually took out his quill and parchment and wrote it down, but by some of the statements made, we know it was an apostle or one of their close associates. The most likely candidates seem to be Paul, Luke, Apollos, or Barnabas. I lean toward Barnabas, but I really don’t know. Regardless, the writer, whoever it may have been, wrote to those who came from a Jewish background, and he quoted the Old Testament extensively. He probably wrote during the 60s AD, the last decade that the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it in AD 70. During this time, the gravitational pull of Judaism was strong on those who had left it in order to follow Jesus.
For some of them, the majesty of the Jewish Temple and its rituals was far more appealing and more stirring than the simple, unadorned worship in some Christian’s home. For some, working to fulfill the demands of the Law was more satisfying to their pride than seeking undeserved grace through faith alone. That’s why the writer warns, in Hebrews 10:38, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” The concern throughout Hebrews is that—for one reason or another—believers were going to turn their backs on Jesus and His new covenant and draw back to the old covenant. Throughout the book, those who were tempted to draw back are confronted with the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the superiority of the new covenant that He ushered in. From its very first sentence, this book emphasizes the excellence of Jesus over everything else they were tempted to put their faith in.
If you haven’t already, turn with me to Hebrews, chapter 1. Starting in verse 1, it says:
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
“For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
Now, as we read this, keep in mind that it was being addressed to a group of people who had believed in Jesus but nevertheless were still attracted to their old religion, to their old way of life, and to the things that had always made sense to them. They couldn’t let go of the awe-inspiring majesty of the Temple. They couldn’t let go of the authority of their traditions. They couldn’t let go of the comfort of having a priest to stand between them and God and plead their case before Him. They couldn’t let go of the law and the idea of righteousness that came from their own good works. They couldn’t let go of the image of their blood sacrifices—and the feeling that, by bringing their animals as an offering, they had really done something to make peace between themselves and God. It was a system that made sense to them. It was a system that they had participated in for a long time. It was a system that threatened to draw them back in.
And that is the pull of Christ-less religion on our human nature. We want to feel like we’ve done something, like we’ve contributed in some way to our own salvation. We want something tangible, something that we can hold on to, that assures us we have some connection to God. We want to believe that we can understand God on our own, and approach God on our own. They were still longing for all the trappings of the old covenant.
But the trappings of the old covenant that they longed for in their hearts were never able to reconcile them to God in any lasting way—nor were they ever meant to. They were merely signposts, pointing them to Jesus Christ, Who would bring them a new and everlasting covenant. That’s just what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Galatians 5:24-25, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” This man, who had put so much of his life into obeying the law, said that the whole purpose of the law was to show us our need for Christ. And the writer of Hebrews later drove this point home when he wrote in Hebrews 8:6-7: “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” Jesus completed the demands of the old covenant when He ushered in the new. The new covenant is superior to the old—otherwise the writer says Jesus wouldn’t have brought the new. Yet they were tempted to re-embrace the old covenant anyway.
So the writer began his case by addressing their knowledge of God under the old covenant. Verse 1 says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.” He said that God had a history of making Himself known to Israel at various times and in various ways. But His most common means of making Himself known to Israel had been the prophets. When He had a message for the nation, He had spoken to a prophet, who then relayed the message. Through this system, they knew about God. But God had more to reveal, and in the new covenant, we wouldn’t have to settle for only knowing about God when Jesus Christ made it possible to know God.
Verse 2 says that God “[…h]ath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” The same God who used to reveal Himself through the prophets had gone one step further and revealed a more complete picture of Himself by His son Jesus Christ.
As a word of caution, when he talked about the prophets, the writer of Hebrews was not attacking the Old Testament at all. He wasn’t saying that it has no value or that it should be ignored—He quoted extensively from the Old Testament in what he wrote. He was merely pointing out that Jesus was the revelation of God that completed the work begun by the prophets. There is a huge difference between knowing someone because you’ve read about them and knowing someone because you’ve met them in the flesh. In the old covenant, they had known about God because they had read His Words given to the prophets; in the new covenant, we can know God because He has revealed Himself in the flesh. So, rather than attacking the prophets, Hebrews is making the case that they’re only part of the picture. Therefore, if our understanding of God does not take Jesus Christ into consideration, then we misunderstand Who God really is.
Verse 2 then says that God has appointed Jesus as His “heir of all things.” Some groups want to twist the idea that Jesus is an heir into meaning that He’s less than God, but that’s the exact opposite of what this means, as we’ll see in the next verse. The writer wasn’t indicating that Jesus ever lacked some attribute of God until He inherited it. This is a description of Jesus’ nature. When my parents made their wills, my sister and I were named as their heirs. Why? Because we’re their children. What does it mean that Jesus is the Father’s heir? The Father is telling us that Jesus is His Son, that they are of the same nature, and that everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus.
Verse 2 also says that God created everything by Jesus Christ. That’s not saying that Jesus Christ was merely a tool in the hands of the Father. Instead, Jesus as God the Son was involved in all the work of creation. He played a unique role in creation. He participated in everything the Father did, and nothing was made without His involvement.
So, as their faith in Jesus was wavering, these first two verses reminded them that Jesus is not just another religious teacher. Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, and the very purpose of the old covenant. And as He came to bring a new covenant, He revealed a clearer picture of Who God is.
The writer of Hebrews went on to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, and how the Son’s presence reveals this more complete picture of the Father. Verse 3 describes Jesus as “being the brightness of his glory.” He called Jesus the brightness of God’s glory. You and I can’t even imagine the glory of God, but the glory of God in all its brightness dwelt in Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated as brightness is a flood of light. In Jesus, we don’t see merely a glimmer of God’s glory; we see an overwhelming flood of the glory of God, because, as Paul said in Colossians 2:9, “[…I]n him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” So the readers were meant to understand that if they wanted to know God in all of His glory, they needed to look no further than Jesus Christ.
And just like Paul called Jesus “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15, verse 3 calls Jesus “the express image of his person.” Jesus, in other words, is in every sense the image of God. The word used here is χαρακτηρ, which means that Jesus is an exact replica of His Father. The Greeks would use this word when an engraver would very carefully reproduce an image that would be indistinguishable from the original. The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to explain to the earliest Christians that Jesus is just like His Father. We would expect Him to be something like His Father—most children are. Each of my children is like me in some way: my oldest son thinks he’s always right, like I do; my daughter has a really warped sense of humor, like I do; and my youngest son has trouble going to sleep at night because more interesting stuff to do, like I do. But each of my children is different from me too. You all see how we have to discipline them every week for running in the halls after church. I don’t know where they get that; if you see me running, you should probably run too—because there’s probably a bear coming. That’s when I’ll run. And that’s just one example of a difference.
So we expect children to be something like their fathers without being exactly like them. But the writer didn’t stop at saying Jesus is merely like His Father; he said they are just alike. Jesus said so too; He told Philip in John 14:9, “[…H]e that hath seen me hath seen the Father […].”
Because He and His Father are just alike, His power over the Universe is sovereign. There is nothing in creation over which He is not Lord. Verse 3 says that Jesus upholds “all things by the word of his power.” Just as He created the Universe, He holds it together, He rules over it, and one day He will stand in righteous judgment over it.
Then verse 3 says that He “by himself purged our sins.” He alone fulfilled the Father’s plans and promises by providing Himself as a sacrifice—a once-for-all sacrifice—in order to forgive our sins. He declared, as only God can, that the believer’s sins are forgiven and that He chooses to remember them no more.
After that, verse 3 says He “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” That tells us that Jesus not only returned to Heaven, but that He returned to a place of highest honor at the right hand of the Father—a position for which He alone is worthy.
Verse 4 says, “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Jesus was never less excellent than the Angels. The writer was saying that Jesus returned to a place of honor that is higher than any angel could ever dream—and that place of honor that belongs to Him simply because He is God’s Son. Again, that term inheritance doesn’t mean that He’s lacking in something. It describes His nature as the only begotten Son of the Father—telling us that He is, by nature, the son of God; that He is, by nature, the One Who possesses every attribute that the Father possesses; that He, by nature, possesses a more excellent name and is worthy of more honor and glory than all the angels of Heaven combined.
We don’t have time for an in-depth look at all 14 verses this morning, but we’ll see in two weeks how Hebrews goes further in comparing Jesus to the angels and showing Jesus is superior. But angels came into the discussion because First Century Jewish people (with the exception of the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in them) tended to revere the angels. They didn’t worship them, but they had a certain reverence for them because of their access to God and their role as divine messengers.
But to those believers who were at risk of drawing back, these first four verses were written to question their reasoning. They were tempted to draw back to the old covenant and try to understand God by old covenant means. Hebrews reminded them that everything changed with the new covenant that Jesus brought. Why then would they have wanted to go back to peering at God through the shadows when Jesus had brought to light a fuller picture and more complete understanding of God? These verses tell us that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Who God is. So, if you want to know God, look at Jesus Christ.
In their old covenant way of thinking, they revered the angels because of their access to God. But there was no one closer to the Father than Jesus Christ. They revered the angels because they carried revelations from God. But Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. His very existence reveals a clearer picture of God’s nature and plans than mankind had ever had in the previous 4,000 years. They revered the prophets because they, too, brought messages from God. But Jesus is the One their messages were about.
By this comparison we see the incredible foolishness of clinging to their old covenant, when Jesus in the new covenant had revealed God before their very eyes. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Who God is. He surpasses the messages of the prophets. He surpasses the messages of the angels.
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Who God is; if you want to know the Father, you have to know the Son.
There are still people who want to know or understand God on their terms. To say that Jesus Christ is the only way to God sounds narrow-minded or even hateful to some people. But if Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, as Hebrews chapter 1 shows that He is, then any attempt to understand the nature and character of God apart from Jesus Christ will inevitably come up short and ultimately end in failure.
If you want to know God, it makes no sense to reject what He has revealed about Himself. It makes no sense not to use every bit of information available to us. Based on what we read in Hebrews chapter 1, trying to understand God without Jesus Christ makes as much sense as trying to drive your car while looking through the little holes in tanning goggles. Sure, you can see some things, but you miss the big picture, and the ultimate results are messy.
Without Jesus, our understanding of God will always be incomplete. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Who God is. He shows us what God is like, what He does, and how all of His divine attributes work together in perfect harmony.
If you’re a believer, someone who’s already trusted in Christ for salvation, this passage is a reminder to you—just like to those early Christians—not to draw back from Jesus and start trying to build a relationship with God on your own terms. There’s a new covenant, and the road to the Father goes through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about your Heavenly Father, the Son shows us Who He is. If you want a closer fellowship with your Heavenly Father, the Son made it possible. If you want to honor your Heavenly Father, the Son taught you how. If our understanding of God and His will doesn’t reflect Jesus and what He taught, we are at best worshipping an incomplete picture of God and at worst an idol of our own making. Don’t draw back to a god who fits your ideas; keep looking to Jesus and the God He revealed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.
Maybe you’ve never considered Who Jesus is or the role He plays in the Father’s plans. Maybe you’ve never considered that He’s God’s Son: God in human flesh, Who came to make the Father known and to reconcile you to Him by dying for your sins. Maybe you’re trusting in your own understanding of God and how He operates. Maybe this morning you’re looking for God somewhere other than through Jesus.
A lot of people believe very sincerely that they can come to God without looking to Jesus. They think God will just overlook the wrong they’ve done if the good outweighs the bad. But Jesus said, “[…E]xcept your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Even the Pharisees with all their rules and rituals weren’t good enough. If you’re thinking this morning that your goodness will be good enough for God, Jesus said it isn’t.
I would challenge you, instead of trusting in your own standards and thinking you’ll be good enough, to look at where Jesus said God’s standard was; one of the things He revealed about God was His perfection. He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God is perfect and His standard is perfection. But none of us is perfect. We have all disobeyed God, and the Bible calls this disobedience sin. Sin separates us from God and keeps us from experiencing a relationship with Him. Because of our sin, our disobedience, and our outright rebellion against Him, God could have easily abandoned us to an eternity in Hell. But, here again, Jesus reveals something about the Father—His incredible love. God could have left us to our fate, but His plan instead was that Jesus would come to Earth, that He would live a sinless life so that He would count as a perfect sacrifice, and that He would take responsibility for our sins to be punished in our place. God’s love and undeserved kindness for you was on full display when Jesus was nailed to the cross, shed His blood to pay for your sins in full, and died. Then, showing the power of God over death, Jesus rose again the third day, proving He was the Son of God and able to forgive us.
Now, not because of any good you can do, but because of what Jesus has done, God offers to forgive your sins this very morning, to receive you as His child, and to give you eternal life with Him. And you can take hold of this salvation that God offers if you’ll simply admit your sin and your inability to save yourself, trust in Jesus alone for your salvation, and ask God to forgive you for your sins.
The above text is a rush transcript of the message and may contain errors.
© 2018, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.