The Last Word
Bible Text: Hebrews 1:1 – 14 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Hebrews | Hebrews 1
The Son Who Speaks
A voice from beyond the grave?
I wonder if you know what these people have in common?
The scientist James Van Allen,
Playwright Harold Pinter,
And base ball player, Ted Williams?
As far as I know, the only common thread linking these public,
figures, is that, when each of them died and their obituary was printed in the New York Times, the journalist who wrote their obituary had already died, in some cases, many years beforehand.
It’s no secret that obituaries for celebrities are written in advance. Fidel Castro’s obit for the Times was first drafted in 1959, and he died only last year! Naturally this means, that sometimes the person who wrote it, has already passed away by the time it gets published.
So when the journalist’s name runs against the article, it looks like they’re writing from beyond the grave.
But of course we know that doesn’t happen.
Once you’re dead, you stop writing things.
It’s why the author Terry Pratchett wrote in his will that the computer discs containing his unfinished works would be crushed by an actual steamroller upon his death!
Once you’re dead, you stop writing!
What’s all this got to do with Hebrews?!
Well, it’s about locating this letter in history.
In the 2000 years or so since it was first put in the post, we’ve lost the exact details of who wrote it.
According to chapter 2 verse 3, the author wasn’t an eye-witness of Jesus’ life and ministry; He says, This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us, by those who heard him
So he’s like us.
He can be an encouragement to other Christians, and he can point people to Jesus, because somebody one day told him about Jesus, and said, “You really ought to think about trusting in his life and death and resurrection, for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.”
His situation is exactly the same as ours.
We just don’t know his name!
Some people have suggested that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter,
Or Apollos, who we meet in Acts 18.
It’s probably not Paul, but beyond that, we can really only speculate.
But we know, and this is where the advance obituaries come in, we know that this letter was quoted by a guy called Clement, who was bishop of Rome from 88 to 99 AD, so we know the letter was written and circulated well before then.
We often hear so-called “experts” claiming that New Testament was all written down hundreds of years after Jesus,
Well, once you’re dead, you stop writing things.
And Clement died in 99 AD, so that puts an absolute end date on when Hebrews could conceivably been written.
So to say this was written hundreds of years after, it’s utter rubbish, isn’t it?
About 62 years after Jesus’ death, Clement, who’s effectively the pope, the bishop of Rome, refers to this letter.
He didn’t do that after he died! So we know it’s been written and distributed before then, probably even during the lifetime of those who were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life.
Now, there some opening lines in literature, that are kind of famous on their own, aren’t there?
Some set the stage for what’s going to happen over the following pages;, It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
George Orwell’s “1984”
Some opening lines make a statement, that is then verified, proved by every sentence that follows;
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
And there are some opening lines, that make you think, “I really just want to know what’s going to happen next!”;
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
Well, this opening line of Hebrews, I think ticks all of those boxes!
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
This is an enormous statement,
It’s a statement that the author spends the next 13 chapters defending and proving,
And it’s statement, that at least I find, makes we want to keep reading in order to see what’s coming next.
But in just a few words he makes a massive theological point;
In the past, God spoke
It’s one of the foundational planks of the Christian faith; God speaks.
Christianity is not about trying to find God,
It’s not about us saying what we think of God. Christianity is about relating to God as he has made himself known.
If you know the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, think how many times we read the words and God said.
It’s fundamental to the Christian faith, and here the author of Hebrews tells us how God speaks.
In the past God spoke
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
God has spoken in the past.
That is, he identified a particular group of people, the nation of Israel, and chose them to be the means of his blessing flowing to the whole world, and so he spoke to them.
So we’re not talking about what we sometimes call “general revelation”, that is, what can be known about God by anyone. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans that something about God, what he calls God’s invisible qualities, those things can be seen in the created order.
Here there’s something more specific in view, God spoke through his appointed messengers, to the people of Israel.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets.
But God is more than a one trick pony. He didn’t just turn up in the burning bush every time,
God spoke, through the prophets, at many times and in various ways,
So yes, there was the Burning Bush,
But there was also voices from heaven,
Dreams and visions,
There was even a donkey that talked, and a hand that appeared out of thin air, and wrote on wall.
God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways.
See, none of those individual episodes of God speaking, was enough on its own;
It wasn’t enough for God just to speak to Moses at the burning bush. There was more to be said.
The great long oracles of Isaiah didn’t capture everything God wanted to say.
There was more to be said.
The lesson that Jonah learned, and then taught the people, when God sent a worm to eat the vine that he was sitting under, the worm didn’t communicate everything that God wanted to make known about himself.
There was more to be said.
God spoke, at many times and in various ways, because there was so much to be said, that no one part of that revelation could capture everything that God wanted to say.
And of course, that makes sense.
How could the eternal creator God, immense,
Reveal himself, reveal his plan of salvation that stretches back into eternity past, just through this episode,
Or though just that way of speaking.
It would have to be a pretty remarkable self-disclosure on God’s part, wouldn’t it?, to be able to capture everything that he wants us to know about himself.
To we’re in the process of closing down the church offices, which means I’m packing up my books,
So this week I was looking at a 14 volume set I have of the writings of what’s called the “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.” It’s more or less everything that was written by this group of church leaders from the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, for the next couple of hundred years. It’s considered the definitive collection of theological writing for that time.
So if, in packing up the office, I decide to put 13 of these 14 volumes in a box, but keep one with me, and I say, “Well, I don’t really need the others because this one here is part of the set.”
Well, that’s not how it works, is it?
The one I have is true, and accurate, but if I want to understand what those leaders said, I need the whole set.
None of the many parts or ways communicated the whole picture.
Today God speaks in Jesus
But the interesting thing is that while each of those different means of God speaking were incomplete on their own, the way those 2 opening verses sit, the way the 2 halves of that first sentence face each other, it becomes clear that even as a collection, put all together, the way God spoke in the past, was still, incomplete.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
Do you see the contrast?
In the past, is in contrast to now, these last days.
God has spoken in 2 distinct ways, in 2 distinct eras.
the past, the era of the Old Covenant and the prophets, and these last days, the time that dawns with the coming of Jesus into the world.
This is how we know that God’s not going to speak in a new and different way, at some point in the future, such that we’d need to add a third section to our Bibles;, the newest testament.
These are the last days the author says, and of course after the last days, there are no other days!
The way that God speaks in the last days, is the final and ultimate revelation of God. There’s nothing that comes after.
So how does God speak in these last days?
Well, in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
And if this is the final revelation from God,
If this is the last thing that God wanted to say about who he is, and how he was working to redeem all creation, then we know it’s going to be pretty amazing, a full disclosure.
The final way of God speaking is infinitely greater than even the sum total of everything he’s said in the past.
But the progression from how God spoke in the past, to how God speaks now in Jesus, is not a transition from less true to more true.
It’s not from, not very important to more important.
The change is from promise to fulfilment.
What we sometimes describe as shadow, to reality.
In Jesus, we find fulfilled everything God wants us to know about himself and his plans for salvation.
No way of listening to God or relating to god even comes close, to hearing God speak in Jesus,
Not just in Jesus’ words, because we know, don’t we, “actions speak louder than words”, God speaks to us through everything that Jesus does and says.
And so the author piles up for his readers, the reasons why Jesus is a better revelation of God, than the ways God spoke in the past.
We see why Jesus is worth sticking with, even when things get tough, and allegiance to Jesus starts costing you.
Seven facts about Jesus, the Son
I don’t know whether you heard in the last couple of weeks about David Meade, a guy in the US who calls himself a “Christian Numerologist”. Based on hidden numbers in the Bible, he’d been predicting that the world was going to end last Saturday.
A guy I know of who’s a prominent Christian leader in the US, he got rung up by TV news shows and the like to ask for his take on the all this, and his response was “there’s no such thing as a Christian numerologist!”
And I think the fact that we’re all still here, probably goes to show that he’s right!
Now, the original recipients of this letter weren’t numerologists, but it’s pretty clear from the content that they were Jewish, and in Jewish thinking, the number 7 represented completeness.
So what better way for the author to reinforce his case that Jesus is A better way for God to speak,
Absolutely worth trusting in and persevering for, than to outline for his readers, 7 facts about who Jesus is.
And so if you’ve got questions about Jesus,
Maybe you’re not a Christian, then perhaps this will shed some light on Jesus, and on why the Christians you know think that Jesus is so significant.
Or maybe you are a Christian, but when your friends and family ask you, “What’s so great about Jesus”, aaah, you’re not entirely sure how to answer! then maybe this is for you,
Or maybe you wonder why does Jesus matter for other people, sure, for Christians, Jesus is a big deal, but why do we think people who aren’t Christians need to hear about him?,
Why did we start a new church at Victor 2 years ago?
Why are we committed to starting more new churches in the coming years?
Why do we partner with Warwick and Caroline in Dubai, the Kleins in South East Asia, and the Roes in Namibia?
Why, in the current debate about re-defining marriage in Australian law, do we think that what Jesus has to say is worth listening to, not just for Christian Australians, but for all Australians/?
Well, here, are 7 answers.
The son is the heir of all things (v 2)
Jesus, God’s Son, has been appointed heir of all things.
Don’t worry about the temporal language, as if there was a time when he wasn’t the heir. The point is Jesus possesses everything.
Jesus rules over everything.
Notice, it’s all things, there’s nothing excluded. Jesus isn’t the heir of most things, but all things.
There is nothing in the created order that lies beyond Jesus’ rule or possession.
Think of how the maps of the world used to have countries coloured in pink to show which belonged to the British Empire,
Well Jesus’ maps of the whole universe, have everything coloured in pink, or whatever his colour is.
There is nothing that Jesus is not Lord over.
No patch of ground,
No social structure,
No part of our lives,
No purpose or task to which we set ourselves, that does not rightfully fall under the reign of Jesus.
When we’re told “Christianity has no place in the public life of Australia”, this is how we know that’s wrong. Everything falls under the kind and kingly reign of Jesus.
And so you can see why Jesus is a better basis for relating to God than the Old Testament pattern. Jesus isn’t just the way to God, he’s the one God has appointed to rule over everything.
The word of the prophets was a wonderful gift that enabled people to relate to God. But it was just that;, a means of relating.
When God speaks in his Son, he’s providing not just the means of relating, but the one who holds all power and authority.
I guess it’s the difference between visiting Buckingham Palace, and the Queen sending her footman to open the gate for you, or her sending Prince Charles to let you in and show you around.
Getting let in by the footman is pretty good! But a relationship with the heir is orders of magnitude greater.
The Son is the creator of all things (v 2)
So Jesus, the Son, is the heir of all things but notice he’s also the creator of all things;, through whom also he made the universe the author says.
It’s through Jesus that God brought everything into existence, which goes some way to explaining why Jesus is heir of all things, because he created all things, but also it reminds us that Jesus therefore isn’t created.
He can’t have made the universe, if he’s part of the universe that he made.
The Son of God is eternal, he has always existed!
And again, it’s easy to see why Jesus is a better revelation of God.
Let’s weigh the alternatives;,
If God were to speak in one moment, a vision, a dream, a voice from heaven, and often I meet people who want God to speak like that to them, maybe that’s you! But compare that momentary vision that’s gone in an instant, with God’s revelation of himself in his eternal Son.
One speaks into a moment, the other has been around since before the creation of the world.
The Son displays the glory of his Father (v 3)
The author goes on, and by now we’ve picked up, he’s making quite a case, isn’t? Of how much superior God’s final revelation in Jesus is to the old ways of God making himself known.
Now he says the Son displays the glory of his Father.
See there in verse 3, The Son is the radiance of God’s glory
Every time we see the moon, one of our kids will inform us that the moon doesn’t have light of its own, it just reflects the light of the sun. And I nod and make interested noises as if this is entirely news to me!
But it’s kind of the point that the author is making here. Jesus reflects the glory of God to us.
Throughout the Bible, to see God’s glory, is to get a sense of who God is, his nature and character,
And to have been given the opportunity to be in the presence of God. So it’s quite a remarkable privilege for anyone to see the glory of God.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory
Jesus makes known, all of that about God;,
Who God is,
What God is like,
What it is for God to be present among his people.
Again, do you see the pattern?
If that’s who Jesus is, if that’s what Jesus offers us, then the revelation of God in Jesus is infinitely greater than any other means of God speaking.
In Christ, God speaks through the one who radiates his very glory.
The Son shares his nature and divinity with his Father (v 3)
And the reason that the Son is able to display the glory of his Father in a way that no other means of revelation of God has, is because the son shares his nature and divinity with his father.
See in verse 3, the Son is, the exact representation of his being.
To us, a representation is just that, a representation, not the real deal, but something that reminds us of the real deal.
In Greek thinking and language though, this representation, means the very substance of another. In fact, the Greek word is “charakter”, and this is the only place in the New Testament that it’s used.
In other places the New Testament authors use a different word to speak of Jesus being the image of God, well take image up a notch, and we’ve got charakter, the exact representation of his being.
Maybe for us, the more helpful word is embodiment.
The son isn’t just like his Father, but he embodies his very nature and essence.
To use a very non-technical term, the son is exactly the same stuff as his Father.
He shares in his Father’s nature,
He share in his father’s divinity.
And if at the outset, we were thinking, “I get that Jesus is good, but actually, I’d still like God to speak in a vision or a burning bush or something”, well the author won’t let us think that those are really any kind of comparison to Jesus, the final, ultimate revelation of God.
God can speak through a human being, and that’s wonderful that he did! Or through a dream, or the writing on the wall,
But to speak through someone who shares the very nature of God, someone who is just as much God, as God! Well, now we’re really plumbing the depths of God’s grace!
Now it’s the Queen herself, coming to the gates of Buckingham Palace, to invite us in for tea.
The God who comes to us.
The Son holds the universe together (v 3)
But the author doesn’t stop there, does he?
We find out that it’s Jesus’ job to hold the universe together.
Jesus, the Son, is the radiance of God’s glory,
, the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Jesus is intimately involved in the world that he made.
Once more notice the all things. There is no part of creation that does not depend on the Son of God for its day to day existence.
Sometimes people like to imagine God as a clock maker;
He makes the clock,
He winds it up,
He puts it on the mantelpiece and then leaves it and goes about his business, as the clock winds down
That’s how some people imagine God relating to the world.
But here we see the Son, through whom everything was made, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
You might know the Greek myth of Atlas, condemned to support the heavens as a dead weight on his shoulders.
But we see here the Son is so powerful that merely his word can support the universe, and not just carry it, but drive it towards its proper goal.
The word of the Son of God has that kind of power. No one in their right mind would exchange that, for any other kind of word, would they?
The Son purified us from sin (v 3)
So as we get close to the end, the author tells us that Jesus purified us from sin.
Still in verse 3, After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven
Notice that we’ve moved from the Son’s nature,
To his relationship with his Father,
His relationship to the creation,
And now, to his relationship with people.
Sin separates us from God.
Sin spoils relationships, spoils our world.
Sin is the one problem we can’t do anything about ourselves.
When God speaks by his Son, he doesn’t just say, “you’ve got a problem called sin”,
Part of the way that God speaks,
Part of the way that God reveals his character and purposes, is to act for us, when we were powerless, and remove from us forever the stain of sin and rebellion.
If God speaks in his son, and he does,
If the Son has purified us from sin, and he has,
Then pretty obviously God wants us freed from sin,
God wants us to have nothing to do with sin,
God is not in the business of tolerating or over-looking sin,
But neither is God in the business of leaving us trapped in sin, without a way out.
Perhaps the atonement, the purification for sins that the Son provides in his death, is the clearest and most expressive speech of God that comes to us by his Son.
I think we could argue that we hear God speak more clearly at the cross, than at any other moment
The Son is enthroned in heaven (v 3)
And so, number 7. Jesus, the Son, is enthroned in heaven.
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Here’s how we know that Jesus really did achieve our purification from sin.
He said he would,
He claimed that was the purpose of his life, and death, and resurrection.
And so after his death, he’s raised to life,
Ascended to heaven,
And enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, that is, at the right hand of his Father.
I’m sure you’ve heard this week about these public servants, senior executives, who faked their qualifications, invented achievements, so they could end up in a good position.
Well, as we’ve seen, you get found out.
Jesus wouldn’t be enthroned in heaven, if he hadn’t done what he said he was going to,
If he hadn’t achieved, what he claimed his death achieved,
If he wasn’t who he claimed to be, as recorded in the Scriptures.
God speaks by his Son, even today, because the Son’s pre-eminent place enthroned in heaven, assures us, guarantees us, that Jesus didn’t fake his CV, or invent accomplisments.
He really did achieve, purification for sins.
He really does make it possible, for you to be welcomed into God’s presence.
Jesus has done it all!
Well, what great news! Little wonder that the author makes such a point, about the greatness of Jesus, in comparison to the ways that God spoke in the past.
Framed, on a wall at my parents’ home, is the front page of the New York Times, from February 12th 1999. It was my sister’s 21st birthday, we were in New York, and so she kept a copy of the Gray Lady, as a memento.
On the top of the front page, appear the words, “All the news, that’s fit to print.” That’s the motto of the Times, and despite some competition from other potential mottos in the early days of the paper’s life,
“A decent newspaper for decent people”
“Full of meat, clean and neat”
“Cheerful, clean, with glossy sheen”
“Fresh Facts Free From Filth”, and others, equally forgettable! that motto has lasted for over a hundred and 20 years. They’ve been called the most famous 7 words in journalistic history.
But in that vein, we could say that Jesus Christ tells us, “all the news, that can be known”, that is, everything that is knowable about God, is communicated in Jesus.
Isn’t that astounding?
There is nothing that can be known about God,
There is not a single thing, that God wants to say about himself, that he hasn’t said in Jesus,
In the work,
The death and resurrection of Jesus.
All the news, that can be known.
If you want to hear God speak, it is to Jesus that you can turn, knowing that you will get the complete message.
God speaks to us today,
In his Son.
Hebrews is for us
I said earlier that we don’t know who wrote this letter, but we only need to take a quick glance to find out that the original recipients were Christian people, who were Hebrews, Jewish people.
They were familiar with the Old Testament, even with the folklore that grew up surrounding the Old Testament.
And so these were Jewish people who had come to faith in Jesus.
But by the second part of the first century AD, so within 2, or 3 decades of Jesus’ death and resurrection, living as a Christian became hard.
I’m sure you can imagine, that if you’re the only Christian in your Jewish family or community, then there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you to give up your faith in Jesus, and go back to trying to relate to God, through the rituals of Old Testament Judaism.
Judaism was a recognised, legal religion in the Roman Empire, Christianity wasn’t.
The pressure to drift back into Jewish religion and ritual was huge.
It’s easy to see then, why Jewish Christians may have been tempted to turn their backs on Jesus, and just blend in with the much more popular and widely tolerated pattern of life around them.
As a Christian, you stick out like a sore thumb, or as I heard someone saying recently, Christians stick out like a healthy thumb, among all the sore thumbs!
And we know this! Sometimes it’s easiest just to blend in, to not stick out.
Maybe you’ve seen the photos from those marriage protests;, “burn churches.”
There are people who want to put you to death, if you follow Jesus, because of what Jesus has to say about marriage, and gender, and sexuality.
Sometimes we can feel that, yes, Jesus is good, but following him,
Being identified with him,
Taking seriously what he says, it’s just too hard,
And I’d be better off stepping away from Jesus, and trying to blend in unnoticed, with what’s much more popular and much less controversial.
Friends, that is why this letter, what the author calls a brief word of exhortation, is included in our Bibles, for us, when we’re not, most of us, Jewish,
We’re not at risk of sliding back into the system of sacrifices,
And holy days,
But we are only ever one news cycle away,
One mocking conversation away,
One rejected friendship away, from the temptation to think that, maybe Jesus isn’t really everything,
Maybe Jesus is good, but not ultimate,
Maybe following Jesus is not really worth it, and I’d be better off trying some other way to relate to God.
Hebrews is, for you.
God speaks today
One of the most unusual films I’ve ever seen, is one by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, called The Seventh Seal.
Full disclosure, I haven’t actually seen the whole thing! That’s how weird it was!
But it’s the story of a knight named Antonius Block, who comes home after fighting in the crusades.
And in one scene, in the midst of all this trauma that he’s experienced, Block goes into a church, and encounters death, personified as a man. I told you it was a strange movie!
And in their conversation, Block says to death, “I want knowledge., Not belief. Not surmise. But knowledge.
I want God to put out His hand,
show His face,
speak to me.”
And Death replies, “But God is silent.”
Block says, “I cry to Him in the dark, but there seems to be no one there.”
Death replies: “Perhaps there is no one there.”
To which Block replies, “Then life is a senseless terror”
Friends, I’d hate for that to be you.
To exist in a world where God is silent.
To live in senseless terror.
Because in a way that neither Bergman nor Block, neither creator nor character, understood, that terror truly would be, senseless.
Because God, speaks, today, through his son.