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Sermons » 10/10/2004 (6.30pm)
God the Son
- Hebrews 1
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
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Today we all recognise the need for good communication. Many of us have a mobile phone as well as what we now call a landline. If the person isn’t in when we call we can always text or e-mail them. Come to think of it even when they are in we can avoid speaking to them by texting or e-mailing them, such is the wonder of modern communication technology! In spite of all this technology there are still breakdowns in communication, still communication gaps which can have serious consequences whether in international relations or in families. The letter to the Hebrews begins by asserting that God has spoken to man through his word in the Bible and through his Son, Jesus. In Christ God has closed the greatest communication gap of all time, that which exists between a holy God and sinful mankind.
So are we listening? Are our mobiles switched off or on silent?! The Jewish Christians to whom this letter was written were listening to other voices who were trying to undermine their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Some were in danger of no longer recognising Jesus’ deity and equality with God - his uniqueness, supremacy and finality - that he is God the Son. So the writer to the Hebrews reminds them and us of ten things about Jesus in these four verses.
1. Jesus is God’s unique and final word
V1: ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…’
How do you get to know what is essentially unknowable? How can that which is finite (us) ever grasp that which is infinite (God)? The answer of course is that we can't. The gap is way too big. But what if the gap were to be bridged from God's side? Well, that is exactly what the Bible claims to have happened. The prophets were God's servants. Jesus is God's Son. They spoke words of God-plural; Jesus is the Word of God-singular: the human embodiment of the divine being, the perfect expression of the divine mind, i.e. God's complete communication with his world.
As the Gospel of John states:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… No one has ever seen God, but [Jesus], God the one and only, has made him known.” (John 1:1,14&18)
Think of it like this: Just imagine you discover that you have a long lost relative who lives in New Zealand. They make initial contact with you by writing. They tell you something about themselves, their likes and dislikes, their home life, maybe something about their character. Then they phone you and you hear what they sound like, and that makes the relationship all the more meaningful. That voice makes the contact more intimate. But finally the great day arrives when they step off the plane and you meet face to face. Then the communication is total. Now that is exactly what the writer is claiming has happened between mankind and God in Jesus. That is why there is no need for a further revelation from God, for he has nothing further to say to us than what he has already said through his Son. Indeed, in relation to both the revelation of God through the prophets and the Son, the writer uses the past tense 'has spoken'; there is no more revelation to be had. If you want to know what God thinks, what he is like, what his purposes are for the world he has made and your place within it, then it is to Jesus you must go, which means it is to the Bible you must turn. And when you do you discover that the Old Testament looks forward to him and prepares the way for him by giving us the pictures, images and categories by which we can identify and understand him. So we find that he is the King who is greater than David. He is the prophet more eloquent than Moses. He is the priest who intercedes for his people and deals with their sin in ways the priests of the temple could only dream about. He is none other than the Lord who made this world and owns it. That is the stupendous claim being made.
2. Jesus is God’s Son
V2: ‘in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son.’ Jesus is God’s Son. Is that what you believe about Jesus? The original readers of this letter to the Hebrews were struggling with this and were probably starting to think that maybe Jesus was just a good man or a brilliant teacher. But without the work of the Son there is no salvation. If we reject the Saviour then how can we hope to be saved?
Jesus once asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Today some say a good man or a good teacher. One of my relatives who goes to church every week tells me that he can’t believe that Jesus was anything more than a good teacher. Others like Peter the disciple, say ‘The Christ, the Son of the living God’. But tonight who do you say Jesus is? It is the most important question you will ever answer.
The writer to the Hebrews asserts that he is the Son of God. Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God – on an equal footing with God. He assumed the authority to forgive sins. He said that one day he would judge the world and that what would matter then would be how we had responded to him in this life. In fact from the evidence we have it is harder to argue that he was just a good teacher. CS Lewis put it like this:
‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher, he would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse…but don’t let’s come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open to us. He didn’t intend to.’
CS Lewis went on, ‘It seems obvious that he was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God’. What about you?
3. Jesus is God’s appointed heir of all things
V2: ‘God appointed Jesus heir of all things.’
The Lord Jesus will inherit not only this earth but also the entire universe. God the Son obviously comes into a rich inheritance. Amazingly those who put their faith in the Son, in Jesus, share this inheritance. Romans 8:17:
‘Now if we are [God’s] children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’
Then the writer to the Hebrews takes us right back to the Son’s role in the beginning of creation. So…
4. Jesus is God’s creative agent
V2: ‘through whom God made the universe.’
Jesus shared actively in the creative work of Almighty God. And surely a Christ whose hands had shaped the universe and summoned the galaxy of stars into being could hold these Jewish Christians in days of testing and guide their steps through times of adversity. Surely he can hold those of you here tonight who are going through it.
So don’t give up. Don’t drift. If the chaos mentioned in Genesis 1:2 could be overcome, surely Jesus could control the destiny of these Hebrew Christians and provide their immediate needs. Surely he can control your destiny and provide your needs.
5. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory
As v3 states:
‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory…’
For the Jews the glory of God was a visible or outward expression of the majestic presence of God. Now, says the writer, in these last days this same glory has been seen in the person of Jesus who is the radiance of God’s glory. Just as the brilliance of the sun is inseparable from the sun itself, so the Son of God’s radiance is inseparable from deity, for he himself is God, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is God the Son. In Him all the majesty of God’s splendour is fully revealed. So here the oneness of the Son with the Father is stressed. And as v3 continues…
6. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being
Jesus is not just an impression of God. He wasn’t doing a Rory Bremner when he was here on earth. No, he is the exact representation of God’s being. He is God’s perfect revelation. Jesus is God. He bears the very stamp of God’s nature. If we want to see God we must look to Christ. Jesus himself said that ‘anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). If people turn their backs on Jesus, like these Jewish Christians were being tempted to, they are turning their backs on God.
The word 'representation' speaks of a precise copy, like when you stamp a seal in wax. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) But whilst sharing the divine nature with the Father, Jesus is not the Father. John 1 states that ‘the Word was God and the Word was with God’. He is God the Son. Though by his own distinctive personhood he perfectly mirrors to us what the Father is like. Note again that Jesus is 'the exact representation of his being' which means that every aspect of the divine character is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus do we see someone who is tender with the broken hearted? So is the Father. In Jesus do we see someone who has total control over nature? So does the Father. In Jesus do we see someone who hates sin and all that corrupts and demeans and is determined to do something about it? So does the Father. We are not to play one off against the other in our minds, as if God the Father is a bullying God associated with the OT and Jesus is the kind God we see in the New. Whilst distinct, they are yet one in their divine character. Jesus is, if you like, the human face of God. He is God the Son.
7. Jesus is God’s cosmic sustainer
V3: ‘The Son…is sustaining all things by his powerful word.’
The writer moves on to Christ’s present work in the universe. He keeps the planets in orbit by his authoritative and effective word of power. In him (not in world leaders) all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). The writer is emphasizing Jesus’ equality with God. He is not only creator but sustainer. We can depend on and trust in him.
8. Jesus is God’s supreme sacrifice
V3: ‘After he had provided purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’
At this point the writer to the Hebrews turns our attention from who Christ is to what he did. You see Jesus is ceaselessly the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being. He continuously upholds the universe by his word of power. But when he gave himself up on the cross Jesus shed his blood once for all at a single point in time. No repetition of this saving act will ever be necessary. And there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Many people still think that if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds they will go to heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ – it is the gift of God and not by works (Eph 2:8&9). Jesus is God’s unrepeatable sacrifice, provided for the greatest problem of mankind – sin.
Jesus came into the world, fully God and fully man, to take on himself the death and judgement that we deserve so we could be forgiven. That’s what happened when he died on the cross. Because he was God, he’d never sinned. Because he’d become man, he could take our place, face our judgement. So that sins have been punished. He has paid. And rebels, such as you and me, can be forgiven if we repent and believe in him. God the Son is the only way to God the Father.
When this eternal work of purification was brought to its triumphant conclusion in Jesus’ death and resurrection, he sat down at the right hand of God. The first readers of this letter would have understood the significance of this. The OT priest’s work had to be constantly repeated because it was only temporarily beneficial. Whereas Jesus, ‘offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.’ On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” The priest stood as his task was never complete. Only Christ’s sacrifice could be eternally effective. He sat down to indicate that his work was complete.
9. Jesus is risen and reigning
V3 again: ‘After he had provided purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’
Jesus is unique in his teaching, nature and work. He is also unique in his status. He is risen and reigning. He has ascended to the throne of God. The right hand is the special place of honour. The Son who was humiliated on earth - for you and for me - is enthroned in heaven. There he is interceding for us and he is able to help us when we are tempted for on earth he was tempted in every way, just as we are – but he did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus is the perfect King who lovingly rules over every area of our existence.
Jesus is unique. There are no human rivals to Christ and neither are there any super-human rivals, which brings us to point ten and to v4.
10. Jesus is superior to the angels
V4: ‘So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.’
Perhaps some Jewish Christians were being encouraged to think that Jesus was something other than man, but not quite God. Maybe he was the greatest of the angels, sent on a special angelic assignment. So the letter writer explodes that myth. Jesus is the Son of God and therefore superior to angels. He can’t be relegated to the rank of an angel because the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. Do you believe in angels? Angel means messenger and at times they were wonderfully used as God’s heralds. Jesus was strengthened by angels in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11), and later in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). Angels were sent by God to release prisoners, instruct preachers, encourage believers, judge blasphemers and help travellers. But they were still messengers. That was their name and that was their function. Christ has a name superior to the best of angels. He is far more than a mere messenger. He is the Son of God. He is God the Son.
And all this teaching in Hebrews 1 also has a very urgent pastoral application, which I’ve been hinting at and which we see in v1 of chapter 2 of Hebrews. 'Therefore', it begins in the original, 'we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.' You know in all my 26 years as a Christian, I have never known a person who claiming to be a Christian one day woke up and decided to jack it all in. Not one. But I have known many claiming to be Christians who have simply drifted away. Perhaps you are aware of the drift that is happening in your life. Maybe other things have begun to crowd in- the new-found freedom of university life, a wrong relationship, a new career, the house, the family. For others it has been wrong expectations: 'I thought being a Christian would be the end of all my problems.' And all of this drift, says our writer, can be traced back to the simple failure to fully appreciate who Jesus Christ is and what he’s done. So if you are drifting, then beware and take the writer's warning to heart. More importantly, take up his remedy and allow your mind and imagination to be captivated by the majesty and supremacy of Jesus, God the Son. Ask God to enable you to be consumed with a holy passion for him- his glory, his mission, so that you will get up from sitting on your hands and serve him, and your heart will be moved to praise him in self-less adoration.
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