Sermon preached on Hebrews 1:1-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/11/2018 in Novato, CA.
“Spoken to Us by His Son”
“We preach Christ!” That’s a quote from the Bible that I like to use to describe my goal in preaching. Each week, no matter where I am at in the Bible, I want to preach Christ. Well, arguably there is no better book in the Bible to do that, than this book of Hebrews. Yes, every Scripture drives us to Christ, but some do that very explicitly. Hebrews does just that. It exalts and glorifies Jesus. Chapter after chapter it heralds the excellencies of Jesus Christ and shows how his coming ushers in the eternal and heavenly hope of the ages. It does that especially by looking back at the old covenant and seeing how Christ came as the fulfillment of all the types and shadows and hope of the Old Testament saints. As such, Jesus Christ is compared and contrasted with the old covenant and its institutions. Jesus Christ comes as a better priest with a better sacrifice, coming as the mediator of a better covenant, to usher us into a better tabernacle, and bringing us better revelation. Christ is clearly exalted in this book.
We’ll be seeing this as we dig into the book of Hebrews. Since we are starting a new sermon series it’s typical to begin with a few words of introduction about things like the author, recipients, and date of its composition. The answer to those questions is we don’t know. In terms of its author and recipient, the book itself doesn’t tell us either. I would note that there were a number of fairly early sources that put this book in the collection of Paul’s letters and titles it as a letter “To the Hebrews”, and that very well may be the case. Yet, there has been and continues to be debate over both the author and its original recipients. All sorts of options have been presented. As for the date, it seems a good argument can be made that this was written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, because based on the content of this book you could expect that to be mentioned if it had already happened. But even with the date, let’s not be dogmatic. These are details our curious minds would like to know, but they are not needed for us to study and benefit from this book. We have a beautiful treasure of a treatise that exalts Christ. It calls Christians to see that what the old testament saints eagerly hoped for, we now have in Jesus. It calls us to persevere in faith, not returning to the ways of the old covenant, but embracing in the full the glory we have already begun to experience in the risen and exalted Jesus Christ.
This exaltation of Christ begins in full force in these opening verses. In our first point for today, let’s observe the offices of Jesus Christ that are described here. We can see those three classic offices of prophet, priest, and king; we can see Jesus described as each. In terms of his office of a king, this is the least one emphasized here, but it is here. It is spoken of explicitly at the end of verse 3, when it speaks of Jesus sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. That language of the right hand is a description of the authority he has. That describes what we call Jesus’ kingly session. It is language of authority and reign. It’s not that Jesus will one day reign over all. Rather, it is saying that right now, he as king reigns as our risen and exalted savior. In addition to this explicit statement, the fact that he is described as the Son of God, heir of all things, and having this most excellent name and inheritance, only further implies his royal dominion.
That being said, it is especially his being a prophet and a priest that is highlighted in these verses. Verse 1 speaks of him being a bringer of revelation in these last days. It does this in comparison to the Old Testament prophets. That’s the main focus in these opening verses: that Jesus came as the bringer of divine revelation to this world. God spoke to us in these last days through Jesus. Similarly, we see a clear statement of Jesus being a priest by the reference in verse 3 to him purging our sins. This language of purging is one with ceremonial connotations in dealing with sin, often translated as purification or cleansing. This word definitely describes Jesus in priestly terms. And the wording here looks to the special way Jesus served as priest. As a priest, not only does he give an offering on our behalf, but the offering is himself. By the offering up of himself, he is able to atone for all our sin. No other New Testament book so clearly and repeatedly presents Jesus as a priest. Verse 3 here will be just the beginning of this.
And so, in these opening verses we see Christ in his offices exalted. What I love here and in this book is we see how Christ is all these things. It doesn’t just think about Jesus as a prophet, priest, and king separately. But here and in this book we’ll get to see how he is all these things at the same time. Like in chapter 3:1, Jesus is called the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession”, which brings together his offices of both prophet and priest together. Or, in the reference to sitting down at God’s right hand, later in this chapter in verse 13, it will connect that with Psalm 110:1 which is a psalm about a king who is also a priest. Jesus is all three of these offices in one united way. That’s not something we see in the old covenant, which gave certain limitations to each office. But we do see it here and in this book with Jesus. Jesus is the King of kings, Prophet of prophets, and Priest of priests.
Let’s turn next in our second point for today to see the two natures of Jesus Christ that are presented here. The New Testament reveals the glorious mystery of the incarnation, that the eternal Son of God became man and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, the glory as the only begotten Son of God. And so, Jesus was and is both God and man; he is both human and divine. Here in these opening verses we again get a glimpse of these two natures. His divine nature is most clearly asserted, even beginning by the way Jesus is described as the Son of God. And then you get to the last part of verse 2. There it describes how God made the worlds through his Son. And then in verse 3 it describes how the Son of God upholds all things by the word of his power. In other words, the Son of God is responsible for both creation and providence. This world exists in the first place because of the eternal Son of God. This world continues to exist because of him. This is like what John says in John 1:3 and what Paul says in Colossians 1:16. When we think of essential qualities of deity, these would be on the top of the list: God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe. And then notice the first part of verse 3. Here’s where we get some mystery. This Son of God, Jesus, is described as both the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” That’s talking about God’s glory and God’s person. It’s saying how the Son has this divine glory and at the same time is an image or representation of God’s person. When you take them together, you realize there’s some of that Trinitarian doctrine coming through; the Son is fully God yet also distinct from God the Father. This language in verse 3 expresses both of that. And so here and elsewhere in Hebrews, the divine nature of Jesus is so wonderfully expressed.
Yet, we also have details of his humanity here too. The other references to the Son in these verses really describe him as the Messiah, as the God-man who came as the Christ to save a people unto himself. Notice for example in verses 2 and 4 that there is language there of being an heir and of inheritance. The language in both those verses is of something that Jesus obtained. Now, in terms of Jesus’ divinity, he’s always been heir of all things and by inheritance possessing the name that is above all names. Yet, Scripture at places speaks of him obtaining such things; that’s in terms of Jesus being the human Messiah. In other words, in his humanity, he secured those things through his suffering and obedience in his messianic mission, in going to the cross and dying in our place. So, for example, Philippians 2 explains that in humble obedience Jesus suffered and died on the cross, but in that sacrifice God then exalted him to the highest place. Similarly, talking of the Messiah, Psalm 2 speaks of God giving the Messiah the nations and the earth as his inheritance, a psalm quoted here in the next verse, verse 5. Similarly, in verse 3, when it speaks of his work in purging our sins, clearly he accomplished in his human nature. He couldn’t have accomplished that in only his divine spirit; he needed to become human in order to suffer and die as such a sacrifice. It then has this victory in mind when it immediately talks about him sitting down at the right hand of God. Again, from his divine nature, he always had such authority. Yet, in his exalted state as the Messianic savior, and thus in terms of his humanity, he is placed as the God-man in that place of authority. As we’ll see later in chapter 2, this explains the dynamic of how he at one point can be made a little lower than the angels, yet here in verse 4 be said to now have a name that is greater than the angels. All of these things look to Jesus work as the God-man Messiah. All these things remind us how God exalted him in his victory at the cross and over sin. Thus, all these things infer his humanity. I wanted to point this out, because Hebrews will go on to develop this too as it exalts Christ. Yes, we’ll see more about his divinity. But we’ll also see more of his humanity in the incarnation, like in 2:17 when it says that he has been made like us his brethren in all things. Or like in 4:15 that he thus is able to fully sympathize with our weaknesses because of the incarnation.
So then, in our second point, we’ve seen the dual natures of Jesus Christ. He is both divine and human, in a glorious, yet mysterious union in the one person of Jesus Christ. I look forward to seeing together how Hebrews unpacks why both of those things are significant as it pertains to our faith and salvation. All of it serves to exalt our Lord, praise be to God!
I’d like to turn now in our third point to see the comparison made here between the revelation in the old covenant and the revelation we now have today in Jesus Christ. What a wonderful passage to introduce this book of Hebrews. I’ve said this book exalts Christ. I’ve also said it does it in comparison to what the Old Testament saints had. This comparison begins with the revelation they had versus what we have. Note the timing element. The old revelation came in time past, verse 1. Now, this new revelation in Jesus Christ came in these last days, verse 2. That’s the time and era we live in. Jesus came in the finality of all things, to usher in the end. God has spoke in these last days in Jesus! These are the days that we live.
Now, in making this comparison, let’s not miss the good fact that God really did speak in the Old Testament. That’s what verse 1 asserts. God did in fact speak in the former days. It was true and valid revelation. In the same way, here and throughout this book, we don’t want to do this comparison and think that somehow we are in such a different place than these Old Testament saints that they are somehow disconnected from us. No, we see that even in verse 1 the people who received the revelation in the former days were the “fathers.” Remember, that even to Gentiles, if you have become a Christian, father Abraham is your father now. The comparisons made here and elsewhere in this book between the old and the new will describe how much better things in Christ are under the new covenant. Yes, there will be differences stated. But there is also connection. There is both continuity and discontinuity. We need to see the supremacy of Christ and the new covenant without completely divorcing ourselves and our relationship to the saints of old. Rather, it’s this book that will help us to see our connection with them. They represent our spiritual heritage. And this book will help us to see how it is actually Christ himself that connects us together. They too were putting their hope in Christ! And so in each comparison that is made between the old and the new, let us look for both the connections and the differences.
So then, in terms of revelation, we see some of the differences in verse 1 when it describes the various times and various ways that God spoke before. We can think of how on the one hand he spoke so clearly, face to face with Moses, while with others he would speak in dreams and riddles (Num 12:8). Sometimes he used angels in transmitting his messages, 2:2. We saw him reveal himself during Moses’ time to the people as he covered Mt. Sinai in smoke and descended upon it in fire. Later, to Elijah he spoke in a still small voice. To Balaam he even spoke through a donkey! God spoke in so many times and in so many ways. Yet in comparison to that, the emphasis here goes from the many to the one. Instead of many prophets, God’s word in these last days has come through his one Son. There’s a sense of finality here too. In contrast to the many times and ways God spoke before, now he’s given his final Word in Jesus. (You thought I was finished with my miniseries on cessationism, but here it is again in a subtle way.) There’s also a sense of completeness here too. Before, human messengers gave bits and pieces here and there over time about God. But now God has spoken through the one who himself is God’s perfect representation to man. If revelation is ultimately to reveal God to man, then certainly Jesus has done that in a way superior to any prophet before him. It’s like what he said in John’s gospel, if you have seen him, you’ve seen the father!
To further paint the contrast here, I think of what one of those olden day prophets said. The great prophet Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15 that one day God would raise up a new prophet like himself to speak to the people on behalf of God. Moses commands them in advance to listen to that prophet. Well, many prophets came after that. But clearly at the start of the New Testament the people were still expecting a greater prophet, the one Moses spoke of. And he finally did come; Jesus! In Matthew 17:5, God the Father speaks from heaven at Jesus’ transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Moses, a prophet of old, said this final great prophet would one day come. He has come in the Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
And that’s really the climax of this all. In all the various times and ways God spoke in the past through the prophets, they were all ultimately speaking about this Son who would come. In a real way, we could say that he was the ultimate content of their revelation. 1 Peter 1:10-11 says that the prophets of old prophesied of the grace that would come later to us when Jesus Christ came into this world, first to suffer and then to bring glory. Or in Luke 24, the disciples on the road to Emmaus learn from Jesus that all the Scriptures from the Law of Moses, to the Prophets, and the Psalms all spoke of Jesus, of his sufferings and then his subsequent glories. This is confirmed several times in John’s gospel. John 1:45, the law and prophets wrote about Jesus. John 5, Moses wrote about Jesus. John 8:56, Abraham was looking forward to seeing Jesus.
Hopefully you see my point. Jesus comes not only as the final deliverer of revelation. But Jesus himself is the revelation from God. At their best, the former revelations spoke of Christ to come. Now, in his final word, God has spoken Christ to us. It’s kind of like how Jesus is both the best priest but also the best sacrifice. Well, Jesus is the best prophet but is also the content of the prophetic revelation as well. Christ came revealing the father to us. And Christ came as the revelation of God’s love and mercy toward us, in order to save us from our sins by his sacrifice on the cross. Christ, therefore, comes as the superior revealer and the superior revelation to God’s redeemed people. Or to say it yet another way. The prophets of old spoke of the promise of Christ to come. Jesus’ coming is the substance of all those many promises.
Brothers and sisters, let us be excited as we dive into this new book series. Today we’ve gotten a taste of what we’ll be exploring further in this book. If you have become a believer in Jesus Christ, the Bible says that you are therefore united to him in that faith. You are united to this supremely exalted Christ. You are one with this Holy One of Glory and this exalted Messianic Savior. The Old Testament saints shared in this connection with Christ through types, and shadows, and promises. Even their offices looked forward to a greater prophet, priest, and king that they, and us, would need.
So then, in light of our union with Christ, I would call you to live as prophets, priests, and kings. As a prophet, speak the words of Scripture to one another and to the world around us – not with new revelation since we have the final Word in Jesus. But instead let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. As a priest, go daily to our Lord in prayer and praise, presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. As a king live in justice and righteousness as those who bear the great name of the High King of Heaven, knowing that you belong to his royal family now as adopted children and co-heirs with Christ of all things. Live before a watching world as a prince of heaven, for that is what you are in Christ, knowing one day we will reign with him in glory, forever (Rev 22:5).
The end is at hand. Christ, the final word of God has been spoken. Trust in this word until the day of Christ’s return when the final day of these last days arrives.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.