We are in a new sermon series during this Lent Season. Pastor Dan is taking us on a short series in the book of Hebrews. A wonderful book which highlights the greatness of Christ – whose suffering we are contemplating during Lent.
To listen to the podcast scroll to the bottom of the page.
Introduction: Since medieval times, Lent has been observed in the church as the 40 day period from Ash Wed to Easter Sunday symbolic of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. It has been a time of preparation for the observance of Holy Week and Easter, Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Historically, some in the Reformed tradition have rejected the observance of Lent because in its earlier forms, some of its components, such as fasting were compulsory – all believers were required to fast meat and dairy products. This smacked of a “works righteousness” mentality that existed in the medieval church. What all the Reformers rejected in the medieval church was the belief that the celebration of the sacraments was a means of salvation – that simply being baptized, whether a person had faith or not, for example, saved a person. The Reformers said that we are saved, not by our works – whether fasting, other good works, or observing the sacraments. Rather, we are saved by grace through faith in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ alone. This is what we believe as well. We are saved by faith in Christ, not by good works. Good works are a result of our salvation not the means to achieve salvation.
So we hold the observance of Lent to be voluntary, not compulsory. Some years, we may continue in our current sermon series right up to Holy Week and Easter, and other years, like this one, we will do a separate series that prepares us for observing Jesus’ death and resurrection in Holy Week.
We will be doing a short series from the book of Hebrews during this season because it celebrates the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ in his life, death and resurrection on our behalf.
- The author of Hebrews is unknown
- Although many of the church fathers initially accepted the apostle Paul as the author, internal evidence has shown there is a significant difference in his style of writing and the vocabulary used.
- Among the Reformers, Calvin was convinced that it was not written by Paul, but did not speculate on who the author might be. Luther also believed Paul was not the author but speculated that it might have been written by Apollos. But the bottom line is that we don’t know for sure who authored the letter.
- However, in spite of that, it was accepted as canonical very early. By 96 AD it began appearing in lists accepted as canonical books by the church fathers.
- The recipients, date and occasion
- The recipients, most likely, were Jewish Christians living in Rome around 64 AD, who were familiar with the OT and were undergoing persecution for their faith, and thus being tempted to revert to Judaism or to merge the gospel and Judaism.
- The purpose of the letter was to articulate the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as redeemer and mediator of God’s grace, and therefore to encourage and warn the readers not to turn back to or continue in the Jewish system under the old covenant.
- The style is not typical of a letter, but rather that of a first century sermon or so-called “word of encouragement.” That’s why we don’t find the typical greetings from the author to the saints in the first few verses.
The first three verses, which we will look at today, serve as the general introduction to and summary of the message of the book. We may not be able to cover everything in it in detail but we will at least give an overview of it.
This passage tells us three things about God’s final revelation in his Son
- How God spoke before the coming of Messiah
- How God spoke since the coming of Messiah
- What God has spoken by his Son
Hebrews 1:1-3 (ESV) 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 his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Let’s look first at
1. How God spoke before the coming of Messiah
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
First, we are told God spoke
1.1 Long ago
Long ago indicates the time past, during the OT or old covenant dispensation, the time before the advent of the Messiah. It is intended to set up a contrast in time with what we will see in the next verse. Long ago indicates the period of time before the coming of Messiah.
Second, we are told God spoke
1.2 To our fathers
To our fathers also indicates the past, before the coming of Messiah. It refers to the time past when the author and readers’ ancestors were still alive. It is also intended as a contrasting parallel to what we will read in the next verse. To our fathers indicates the period of time before the coming of Messiah.
So here we are talking about the period of time before the coming of Messiah – long ago when the author and readers’ fathers were still living.
Third, we are told God spoke
1.3 At many times and in many ways
These are intended to set up a contrast with the one time and one way God has now spoken through his Son. Before the coming of Messiah God spoke in many times and many ways, but when Messiah came he spoke one time and one way.
Fourth , we are told God spoke in the OT period
1.4 By the prophets
This phrase is a shorthand way of referring to all the OT writers. Every dream, vision, mighty act, story, command, exhortation, angelic appearance and appearance of God himself as found written by the various writers of the OT. All their writings pointed forward to Messiah. However, the view through them was still shadowy. Jesus, after his resurrection, had to explain to his disciples in two different situations how all the OT writings referred to him.
Luke 24:26-27 On the road to Emmaus
Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Vv 44-46 to the disciples in the upper room.
Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.
Before Messiah came, God spoke through prophets – through all the OT writers as they were moved to do so by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NLT) …no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. …those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
The Psalms, the first and largest book of the writings section, is often used to refer to all of the writings which include Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
So first we are told how God before the coming of Messiah
- Long ago
- To our fathers
- In many times and many ways
- By the prophets
Second, we are told
2. How God spoke since the coming of Messiah
2a but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
First, we are told that he has spoken
2.1 In these last days
In these last days, in contrast to “long ago” in verse 1, indicates a more recent time, the time after the coming of Messiah. The last days, according to Scripture, are the period of time between the first advent of messiah and his second coming. It is the period of time that some called the continuation of the kingdom between the inauguration of the kingdom at Christ’s birth and the consummation of the kingdom at Christ’s second coming in power and glory. So we are living in the last days right now. It may continue another day or week or a thousand years. In any case, we are to be working for the Lord and by faith, ready for his return at any time.
Last days also indicates the finality of God’s word, as if to say, since these are the last days, this is God’s final word.
Second, we are told he has spoken
2.2 To us
He spoke to our fathers before the coming of Messiah, but since his coming now he has spoken to us – to the church in Rome in the first century, to the church in Perrysburg, to the church worldwide today.
Third, we are told he has spoken
2.3 By his Son
He is no longer speaking in many times and many ways. In these last days he has spoken one time and one way through his Son. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no man comes to the father except through me.” No longer are the OT sacrifices offered over and over, year after year for the remission of sins. Christ offered himself once for all time to remove our sins.
Also, God is no longer speaking primarily through the prophets, the OT writings. In these last days he has spoken by His Son. Now the gospel is crystal clear for everyone to see. He lived, he died, he rose again. The NT writings record his actual words and deeds and provide instruction in how to live in response to what he has done.
We are told in this passage not only how God spoke before and after the coming of Messiah, finally we are told
3. What God has spoken by his Son
In the original language, verses one through three are all one sentence and the subject of the sentence is the Son. I’ll read the remaining verses as one sentence.
2b [the Son] whom he [God] appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world, [who being] the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and [upholding] the universe by the word of his power [having made] purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
What God has spoken in these last days by his Son, along with our response to him, is the subject of the rest of the book of Hebrews. But first, in vv 2b-3 the writer outlines the various topics he will cover in the rest of the book.
We’ll go into these in more detail in the weeks ahead, but we’ll touch on each one briefly now before we go to the Lord’s Table.
First, we are told the Son is
4.1 God’s heir
whom [God] appointed the heir of all things
The author likely had in mind Psalm 2:8 when he wrote this. (ESV) Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, (or inheritance) and the ends of the earth your possession.
The inheritance of the Son is not limited to earth; in includes the universe and especially the world to come. We see this again in Hebrews 2:5-9 where Jesus, the last Adam, has all things put under his feet.
Because he has been appointed heir of all things, all who believe in him are fellow heirs with him. Romans 8:17 (ESV) and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:29 (ESV) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Second, we are told the Son is
4.2 God’s co-creator
through whom also he created the world
This agrees with what we read earlier in John 1:3 (ESV) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. And also with Colossians 1:16 (ESV) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
Also, in Prov 8.22-31 the creation is said to be accompanied by the Divine Wisdom, and we know that in the early church, Christ was identified with that Divine Wisdom who is co-creator with God.
Third, we are told the Son is
4.3 God’s glory
[who being] the radiance of the glory of God
As the brilliance of the sun is inseparable from the sun itself, so the Son of God’s radiance is inseparable from God himself, since he is God, the second person of the Trinity. As the radiance of the sun reaches the earth, so in Christ, the light of God shines into the hearts of men and women and children. As we read earlier in John 1:14, 18 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus] has made him known. The Son is the radiance of the glory of God.
Fourth, we are told the Son is
4.4 God’s image
the exact imprint of his nature,
Another translation says, “the exact representation of his being.” This phrase expresses the Son’s unity of essence with the Father and the distinction of divine persons. The Son’s being exactly corresponds with the Father, so that he accurately reveals him. Jesus is not merely an image or reflection of God, because the Son is himself God.
Fifth, we are told the Son is
4.5 God’s power
[upholding] the universe by the word of his power
Christ not only creates the universe by his word, but he also sustains that same universe by his power. Colossians 1:17 says (ESV) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 2 Peter 3:4-7 (NLT) says, They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command… And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment. The Son of God is upholding the universe by his powerful word.
Sixth, we are told the Son is
4.6 God’s sacrifice
[having made] purification for sins
Here we shift from Christ’s cosmic role to his relationship with men and women and children. The point here is that by making purification for sins he has accomplished something that no one else could accomplish. Because this is in the past tense, this purification is continually applied to believers by Christ’s priestly intercession. Hebrews 7:25 (NLT) says, Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. Hebrews 9:14 (NLT) says, Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. And as a result of this accomplishment…
Seventh, we are told the Son is
4.7 God’s exalted
sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
This exaltation was promised in Psalm 110:1 (NLT) The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” His superiority is revealed in two ways: 1) at the “right hand” of the majesty, he ministers in the true, heavenly sanctuary, no in the earthly copy; 2) he “sat down” because he had died once for all time, unlike the continual offerings of the Levitical priests.
Finally, we find Jesus’ exaltation as a reward for his obedience also in Philippians 2:8-9 (ESV) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…
How should we respond? Not by falling away because of persecution or other temptation. Not by giving up, but by pressing more and more into Christ, through whom God has spoken fully and finally in these last days. Have you looked deeply into who he is and what he has done for you? Have you seen him in every page of both the Old and New Testaments, in every writer’s words, in his creating power, his sustaining power , in his sacrifice for our sins, and in his exaltation and as your faithful high priest in heaven?
As we go in a few minutes to the Lord’s Table, re-consider, re-member who he is and what he has done for you.
Summary: God has spoken in these last days, finally and fully in Christ who is: God’s word – God’s heir – God’s co-creator – God’s glory – God’s image – God’s power – God’s sacrifice – God’s exalted.