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Review of the year: We started the year off by looking at the State of Theology, a survey conducted by Ligonier Ministries that revealed significant problems with what those who call themselves Christians believe about God and what Scripture declares. Consequently, we taught verse-by-verse through Paul’s magnum opus of theology, the book of Romans, hoping to set a baseline of understanding, just as Paul hoped to accomplish by its writing. We then followed that up with a series exploring the movement from our state of death by sin to life through Christ. That restoration to life came with a purpose, a calling to serve the one who restore our life, and we submitted ourselves to prayer and fasting to discover how God wanted to use us in our lives. One of those missions we learned was to be sent to the nations to make disciples. But who is this Jesus that called us to such a significant mission? That person’s authority, Jesus’ authority is crucial in understanding why we should go, how we should go, and what difference going will make. This is the focus of the next eight weeks. We want to learn what Scripture declares about Jesus. We want to know why it is eleven men and a handful of women were able to turn the world upside down. What is this power that comes through and by Jesus? Who is this person? We are not the first people to ask these questions. Our first point is to recognize that there was a clear expectation already in the minds of the Jews given to them by God through His prophets, in the Law for His priests, and according to the promises made to His kings. Our text today where we find an answer to those questions will be Hebrews 1:1-4, but, we should introduce a few ideas before we get there, after all the author of Hebrews was a master rhetorician, exceedingly fluent in the Greek of the day, and fully immersed in the Septuagint reading of the Old Testament. He was writing to Christians in Rome who had a strong background in Jewish religious tradition and employed their knowledge extensively as he encouraged them to stay faithful to the Gospel of Jesus. We should start at the beginning of the incarnated life of God. The first time Jesus was recognized as the anointed one of God. In Luke 1 we read that before His birth, Mary, Jesus’ mother was told by the angel Gabriel that her son was the Messiah. Luke 2:11 recalls that at the birth of Jesus the heavens opened up and the angels revealed that Jesus, Christ the Lord was born in the city of David. Eight days after His birth starting in Luke 2:26, Simeon recognizes Jesus’ appointment as “the Lord’s Christ” and Anna was “speaking of God to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Another one of the first people to suspect Jesus might be the Messiah was an early first century eccentric religious leader. He had dedicated his life to separation from the community, living as a hermit of sorts in the desert. He clothed himself in camel’s hair and his diet was said to consist of locusts and honey. He was taken by a singular focus in his mission, that is the people had to repent of their attitudes and behaviors because the Kingdom of God was at hand. He gave descriptions of this nearness comparing its arrival to the impending falling of a tree where the axe of the lumberjack is at the very heart of the tree. The sense is just one more swing and the tree will come down, that is one more moment and the Kingdom of God will arrive. There is no time, you must now repent or forever live apart from the God of heaven. He also met hordes of people at the Jordan river who had heard his message and subjected them to a water ritual reflective of what the High Priest would undergo before sacrificing for the sins of the people, or what gentiles would do when they finally committed to becoming Jewish. The ceremonial washing was meant to symbolize purification from those things that kept you apart from God, the unholy things that had contaminated you would be washed away, and you would be acceptable and clean. This eccentric prophet had a message that did not set well with the leaders both of Rome and of his Jewish religion. His outspoken opposition of them landed him in jail where ultimately the seductive dance before Herod Antipas, her uncle and step-father (because her mother married her first husband’s half-brother), cost this prophet his head. So, when John, the prophet I’m sure you have already figured out, was in prison we read in Matthew 11:2-3 “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” We do not get any more background to this question, yet it is apparent that John, Jesus, the disciples of Jesus, and the readers of Matthew’s Gospel had an understanding of the context and background of “the one who is to come.” There are significant clues in the answer Jesus provides in vv. 4-6: “And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’” I encourage you to examine what the Law of Moses declares about offering the blind and lame as sacrifices. Look into what the prophets spoke to the people because they were making such offerings. Consider the demands that the kings of Israel had wrongly placed on the people in taking the choice animals and the first fruits of the harvest. Also, look into the significance of those who were diagnosed with or afflicted by leprosy, and what the Law demanded of them while they were leprous and what they were to do in the event they were healed. We are not going to dwell on those aspects today, however, we are interested to know first what this expectation was such that an entire people had an agreement in some sense of the qualifications and mission of “the one who is to come.” Martha too, we read in John’s Gospel knew that Jesus was the Christ. After announcing that Lazarus would be resurrected in John 11, Martha agrees in principle with Jesus as to the last days, but Jesus presses her further saying that “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26. Martha replied in v. 27, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” That is a strange way to speak about someone who is standing immediately before you in the present isn’t it? Martha tells Jesus that she has believed, meaning her action of believing is in the past completed, but what is it that she has come to believe? In the ESV it sounds like she is expecting a future arrival of Jesus, but this isn’t the force of her expectation. What she is expressing, that we should note is that she has known for her entire life that Jesus’ arrival into the world was inevitable, it was predicted in the past through the prophets, his work of redemption was rehearsed by the priests, and his dominion was represented in history through the kingly line of David. Her people have been expectantly waiting for Him. She is stating that she believes He is the one who is coming into the world, she is not saying He is the one who will be coming into the world. Another time it was asked of Jesus, who he was comes in Matthew 16:13-20 and Mark 8:27-30. Matthew and Mark present this question from Jesus’ disciples in the context of Jesus having just demonstrated great signs in healing the blind and the lame, the crippled and the mute, and proclaiming the good news to the poor with miraculous multiplication of food. That should sound familiar because it was the answer Jesus had given to John’s messengers as testimony to whether he was “the one who is to come. This time was different, however, because Jesus was the one asking if his disciples recognized who he was. And we read this: “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt. 16:16 “Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” Mark 8:29 Finally, when Jesus was asked this question before the council of elders, the chief priests, and scribes in Luke 22:66-67, however, Jesus told them that even with a straight forward answer they would not believe, nor would they answer if He asked. Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man who would be seated at the right hand of the power of God, they asked Him if He was the Son of God and His answer “You say that I am” they counted as blasphemy unto death. So, we can see that at Jesus’ birth there was numerous angelic and heavenly testimony to His identity. The arrival of an anointed one was predicted and expected. Jesus’ activities in His public ministry demonstrated who He was, but there was still widespread uncertainty. So, we pick up approximately thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of the church with the descent and anointing of the Holy Spirit with the first masterful sentence of a sermon that was written to a wavering and oppressed group of Christians. It is said that this first sentence, verses 1-4 of Hebrews chapter 1 in our English bibles, is the most perfect Greek sentence in all of the New Testament. Because this sentence is revealing to us the purpose and theme of the book which focuses on revealing the nature and work of the grandest most perfect person to ever live, it is appropriate that that introductory sentence be as majestic as language could capture. Reading from David Allen’s New American Commentary, he writes “these verses ‘provide one of the most arresting beginnings possible, combining elegance, alliteration, rhythm, rhetorical artistry, and unstoppable force with probably the most sophisticated and stylish Greek in the entire New Testament.’” As readers, we should recognize the literary beauty and loftiness of this first sentence because the meaning is carried both in the words and in the way they are crafted, so let me give you a few examples in English that will hopefully give you an idea of the force of the artistry conveyed in the sentence: In 1963, Martin Luther King gave a speech that is immortal in its tone and message because of the background events that inspired it. He spoke: I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification – one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry V, Shakespeare penned these words that contrasts noble behavior in wartime and in peacetime, calling for the brave actions of his fellow warriors writing these words: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage An example of a sentence that plays on our heartstrings comes from Nicole Krauss’ novel The History of Love where she writes “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” And sometimes a sentence is given meaning because of our knowledge of the one who spoke it. Take for example Helen Keller who said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” So it is in the opening of Hebrews where we read: 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Heb. 1:1-4 Here we have an elegant summary of how God has completed His communication with mankind in Jesus, who the person Jesus is, what work Jesus has accomplished, and what is the current status of Jesus. Verse 1: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” this is giving us the sense that revelation came in small bits over time, incrementally adding up to point to a greater whole. You see in the old way that God in the past used multiple avenues to reveal Himself to mankind. Psalm 19 for example speaks of the revelation of God in the heavens, by the ordering of the stars an in the perfection of God’s Law mankind knows of the perfection and will of God. We should recognize that there is no replacement of the old revelation, there is instead the idea of completion and in a single person, the revelation of all that was spoken culminates in the person of Jesus. Hebrews reads in verse 2a, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” That revelation we also read about in John 1:1 -2a “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” So it is that God used nature, the prophets, the Law, the governing rules of man, and even the governors of man to speak forth His word. But in Jesus, not only does He speak that word as a prophet, but He IS that Word. He is better than a messenger because He is both the messenger and the message. The author of Hebrews having assured us that Jesus is the revelation of God gives us seven truths about Jesus that are important to understand. First, Jesus is the heir of all things. What does this mean, to be the heir of all things? Look with me at Psalm 2:7-8. The Son of God is prophesied in song to receive the nations as His heritage, the ends of the Earth His possession. The author of Hebrews goes beyond that to include “all things.” Everything in all of creation belongs rightly to the Son. And why is this? That is the Second Truth we read that Jesus is the one through whom God the Father has made the universe. Look at John’s Gospel 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” And at Colossians 1:15-16 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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.” How can the creation of the universe be attributed to Jesus, yet still be spoken of as a creation of God the Father? Paul in 1 Cor. 8:6 wrote, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” You see there is one God with distinct persons. This is the mystery of the Trinity. The Father has an eternal role in creation as the one from whom existence is and the reason for their existence. The Son has the role of being the active agent creating and sustaining that creation. It is the Spirit who is said to be the power by which these things are accomplished. Even in the incarnation of Jesus it was the Spirit who in Luke 1:35 was said to “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” So, in addition to being both the message and the messenger, we also learn two truths that Jesus is the heir of all things because He is the creator of all things. And what would be an appropriate title for someone who rightly holds the deed to all the land, establishes the laws of the realm, and is divinely appointed to that role? We call such a person a king, and this leads to the Third Truth which is actually found in the second half of verse 3, is Jesus has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High, that is He is reigning beside the Father. Psalm 110 is appealed to here and throughout the New Testament. For the author of Hebrews, this fact of Jesus as divinely reigning alongside the Father as the King of kings is demonstrated and supported by the final four things revealed about Jesus: The Fourth Truth is that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His being. So, I cheated a little bit in numbering because there are actually two things here, but they are collectively trying to express the same idea. God’s Glory was on display in Jesus as John 1:14 reveals “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.” Glory is the Greek word doxa which is the first part of our word doxology. This is an expression of the glory of God, perhaps the most famous of which you may know was written by an Anglican priest, Thomas Ken, in 1674 whose words are, and feel free to join me if you know the words, “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” For the author of Hebrews, he is reminding us that you can neither separate the brightness of light from the light itself. You need the brightness in order to see the light, it is in fact that part of light which you can see. So too with the Son of God, he is that part of God we are able to see. He reinforces this with the idea of Jesus being the “charakter” of the Father. The word was used to describe the imprint made by a coin stamp upon the blank. We might say that a good modern expression would be to say Jesus is the spitting image of His Father. If you want to know what the die looks like, you have to look at the impression it makes. When we today talk about the character of someone we are talking about their substance, the important and meaningful part that either makes them reliable or untrustworthy. Because Jesus so closely and accurately represents the Father, it is true that what we know of Jesus is also true of the Father and vice-a-versa. What we know to be true of the Father is found fully and accurately in the Son. The Fifth Truth is that Jesus sustains all things by His powerful word. This conveys the thought that it is the moment-by-moment will of the Son that permits the world to continue. It will not always be, there will come a time where the world as we know it, including the heavens and the Earth will be rolled up like a scroll, destroyed by fire. Isaiah 34:4 and Revelation 6:14 speak to this. This will be no more difficult for Jesus than the first part of creation. So, like the doxology we just sang suggested, we and the heavens above should sing praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Because when that time comes, we will either have our names in the book of Life or we will not. That distinction will determine our eternal destiny. Live with God eternally rejoicing in the new creation, or a life of eternal suffering and damnation in the lake of fire, separated from God enduring the just and righteous penalty for our offenses against our creator and for refusing to accept the freely offered gift of forgiveness earned through the sacrifice of the Son. This sacrifice is the Sixth Truth, that is Jesus provided for the purification of sins. Hebrews 9:1-10:18 expand on this truth demonstrating that not only was Jesus the Priest who sacrificed the offering, He was also the Sacrifice that was made. Similar to how Jesus is the prophet and the Word prophesied, the promised King from the line of David and the King who has the right to appoint Kings, Jesus is also both the sacrifice and the greatest high priest. His is a sacrifice that is fully sufficient, never expires, and cannot be out-sinned. The reason for these things is because “the name” is not a name like we would think of a name, but this is instead a title that refers to God Himself. It is the status of Jesus as God, which is our seventh point. The Seventh Truth is that Jesus has become much superior to the angels because of the name He has inherited. Paul wrote to the Philippians in 2:6-8 that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Psalm 8:4-5 reads “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” However, after this time of humbling to make atonement for mankind, the Father restored the Son to His rightful place in glory and the rest of Philippians 2:9-11 reads, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the message of Hebrews 1:1-4. Jesus is the divine God, creator of heaven and earth. He is the prophet of the Word and the Word Spoken. He is the great high priest who sacrifices for all of mankind and the sacrifice that was made. He is the promised king, the root of Jesse’s stump, and the One who rightfully appoints Himself as that King. He is the one we look to for hope, He is the one who is able, He is the one who was promised, He reigns with the father in heaven, He is coming again to establish His kingdom here on Earth, and we have one lifetime to look to Him, repent of our sins, embrace Him as our savior and through His love find freedom in following after His way. Jesus is divine, and in His divinity, He looked across all eternity with love upon His creation who disobeyed Him and bound themselves to sin and made a way to restore them to Himself. As the praise team comes back to the stage, I want to ask you, Do you have eyes to see and ears to hear that 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Heb. 1:1-4
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