We are beginning a new sermon series, so if you are new to Stonebrook, you have come at a great time. For the next 16 weeks, we are journeying through one of my two favorite books of the Bible: Hebrews. (Ephesians is my other favorite.)
Last Fall we went through the OT book Exodus. Exodus lays out the Covenant, or “The Testament,” God made with Israel through the prophet Moses. We now called it the “Old Covenant” or the Old Testament because when Jesus Christ came to earth, a New Covenant was initiated that essentially fulfilled and replaced the Old. (We’ll read about this in Hebrews chapter 8.). The Old Testament was and is not bad. It is the very words of God. Holy and true. But before time began, the Lord had a plan to send his Son into the world to accomplish something that the First Covenant couldn’t do.
So I’m excited that we get to follow Exodus with Hebrews because they connect with each other so well.
This morning we are going to read only four verses. But these four verses are not a typical introduction to a letter, like Paul writes to the Ephesians. Immediately in four verses we hit the gas pedal and accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in four seconds as we are quickly confronted with the Son of God. He is no ordinary person. Certainly he is a good teacher and prophet and moral example, but he is infinitely, eternally, and gloriously more than that.
Hebrews 1:1–4 (CSB)
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways.
2 In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him.
3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
4 So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.
These four verses are among the more concise, concentrated, weighty truths in the Bible. And they give a glorious foundation of the Book of Hebrews and actually to the entire NT. These verses pack in seven glorious descriptions of Jesus’ supremacy. We will see there is no one like him. But before we dive into the details, let’s zoom out.
Overview of Hebrews
First, why is it called Hebrews? It’s possible it was written to Christians who were Jewish by descent. So “Jewish Christians,” or “Hebrew Christians.” They would have grown up in the Jewish culture hearing about Moses and the covenant God gave to Israel as revealed in Exodus. But then Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah came, and everything changed. They believed in Jesus and were walking in him. But life began to happen. Problems in life arose. Persecution happened. And some of them are wondering, “Is all this stuff about Jesus true? Maybe we should go back to the ways of Moses, like revealed in Exodus.”
So this book was written to answer those questions with powerful wisdom and authority. And to urge people, “Hold fast to Jesus. Don’t let go of your faith. He is the Answer, the only Answer, for life.”
If I could give you just one word that would summarize this book, here it is. A one word summary of Hebrews is this: BETTER. The new covenant of Christ…the message of the New Testament…the Person of Jesus the Son…is better than what God gave Moses.
It’s better because Jesus is better. About ¾ of the book hammers on this point: Jesus is better than at least six things:
- Angels (chapters 1 & 2)
- Moses (chapter 3)
- The physical Promised Land and the rest it came from (chapter 4)
- The priesthood of Aaron (chapters 5,6, and 7)
- The new covenant of Christ is better than the old covenant given to Moses (chapter 8)
- Jesus’ blood is better than the sacrificial blood of animals (chapters 9 and 10)
So because God’s new plan, this New Covenant, is so much better….and because it is God’s plan for eternal life with him… the author of Hebrews also has one other frequent main message: Hold on to Christ. Don’t give up on him. Don’t reject him. Yes, you are suffering through many hardships. But don’t turn away from him. Pay attention to the message of the gospel. Don’t harden your heart.
As an aside: One thing I love about Hebrews is that it talks extensively about the Old Covenant. It talks about the things we learned in Exodus. If you don’t understand the OT very well, you’ll learn more about it from Hebrews. Throughout Hebrews, the Old Covenant is contrasted with the New Covenant. The New Testament. We will grow in our appreciation of how beautiful the entire Bible is. We’ll see that God has had a remarkable plan of salvation that ultimately was leading up to his Son, Jesus. The Old Testament and all that God gave Moses and Israel was not bad or defective. God’s Word is holy and true. We see in both the OT and in Hebrews that the problem was with the people. So a new and eternal plan was needed. God’s eternal plan of salvation through his Son is now unfolded and fully revealed.
So that’s a bit of overview of Hebrews. Now let’s get back to our text this morning, the first four verses.
First, and importantly, God speaks. He reveals himself. Thus we call it, “the revelation of God.” God makes himself known to his creatures.
Second, how has he spoken in the past? In the past, God primarily spoke to his people through the prophets. Like Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. And he did this in a variety of ways: miracles, visions, and more.
But something is different now. He says, “In these last days”— I believe this is speaking of the general Christian era: from Christ’s first coming until his second coming. These past 2000 years. God is speaking differently now. In these last days, God is now speaking through his Son. All the prophets of old pointed to the Son of God. God’s Son is the revelation of God. The Son reveals who God is. His nature. His heart. His attributes. His passions. His deeds.
Interestingly, Jesus is called only the Son here. The name Jesus is not used until Chapter 2. And the author could have easily called Jesus, “the Prophet”, which he was, since he is now the spokesman for God. But instead, to immediately bring us into the heart of the Book of Hebrews, the author intentionally calls him the Son which is a greater and more glorious title. The Son is the complete and final fulfillment of all previous revelation.
So we should now ask, “Just who is this Son?” This is where it gets exciting.
Let’s walk through these seven descriptions of the Son of God in vs. 2 and 3. Each description declares the greatness of the Son. And together, they provide irrefutable evidence of the Son’s necessity in our salvation. And seven attributes of the Son seems to be no accident. “Seven” in the Bible is often an indication of completeness and the fullness of God. So the Son is the complete and full revelation of God to the world.
The first description of the Son is that he is:
- Heir of all things
As the Son of God, he is the Heir of God. Jesus himself said in his last words on earth, in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The Father has given the Son all authority to rule, to judge, to reward. He is now the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He rules over all that belongs to the Father, that is, things in heaven and things on earth. No human authority—not a president, not a prime minister, not a king—can ever match him. And when he returns to earth in his Second Coming, he comes to establish his kingdom. The kingdom of God where all things will be subject to him. There won’t be any caucuses or primaries or elections to vote him in. He inherits all that is the Father’s, and he will rule over you and me with all authority for all eternity.
Anything we mere mortals inherit on earth will fade away in time, particularly at our death, but the eternal Son inherits all things unfading and forever from God the Father.
One powerful implication is that the Son has authority over me. And over you. He is my Lord. My Ruler. My King. I must obey him and follow him.
Another powerful implication is that Son is the Judge of all the earth. Everyone is accountable to him, and he will judge the world in righteousness and equity. All wrongs will be made perfectly and gloriously right on that Day.
So when a follower of Christ says, “I believe in Jesus,” this is the Person we trust in: The heir of the kingdom of God. Our faith is no casual fan-following, like being a “Swiftie” (a Taylor Swift fan). We follow the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
The second description of the Son: He is…
- Creator of the universe
This is a staggering statement. The Son of God is no created being like angels and humans. He is the Creator. It’s reiterated in vs. 10 which we’ll look at next week. The Son is the Father’s agent in creation: all things were made through him. The Gospel of John, chapter 1 tells us this. Colossians 1 does also.
Many in our world, including ourselves, want to understand the origins of life. Where did we come from? How did we get here? The Scriptures are clear: the answer is, We are here because the Son of God made us.
We get a taste of him in his Creator role in the Gospels. In Mark 4, caught up in a powerful storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were terrified. In panic they rudely ask Jesus, “Don’t you care if we die?” So he stands up and with just a word from his mouth commands the wind and waves to stop. And immediately the creation obeys his voice. The disciples were terrified of the storm. But now they were more terrified, for this Jesus—in the boat with them….with a human body—had power and authority over the terrifying storm. And they exclaimed, “Who is this, that even the wind and waves must obey him? Who is this?”
The implications of the Son as the Creator are numerous. One implication is that we are accountable to him. The creatures are accountable to their Creator. We all—everyone of us—will give an account for our lives to him. We answer to him, and to him alone. We should ask, “Am I prepared to give an answer for how I have lived my life?”
A second implication is that our purpose comes from him. Anyone who creates objects has a purpose for what they make. A woodworker has a purpose for crafting a fine piece of furniture: The joy of making a beautiful chair. The usefulness of a kitchen cabinet. These four verses this morning don’t elaborate on the purpose the Creator has for us—we see it elsewhere in the NT. But the reason for our existence must be grounded upon him.
The third description of the Son: He is…
- Radiance of God’s glory
As glorious as the Father is, so is the Son. He reflects and radiates the brilliant glory of God.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, we received a small taste of that glory in the Great Transfiguration. In the scene in Matthew 17 with Peter, James, and John, we read this:
Matthew 17:2-6 CSB He was transfigured in front of them, and his face shone like the sun; his clothes became as white as the light…While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown and were terrified.
Though Jesus was fully human, he was also fully divine. And the coming glory that awaited him in heaven was revealed for a few minutes, and it was a terrifying, life-altering moment for these three followers. And what did the Father say in a booming voice from the cloud? “LISTEN TO MY SON!” Listen to him. Pay attention to him. Do not ignore his words.
To be terrified in this moment is not the kind of terror like when watching a horror film. That terror is typically caused by evil. Here in Matthew 17, there is something about the greatness and majesty of God that to be confronted by it in our frail, small state is overwhelming and frightening. It is other-worldly, in the best possible way. Perhaps it’s like standing at the edge of Grand Canyon, looking a mile down the cliff and a mile across to the other side. It is so majestic and vast, that we tremble to look too far over the edge.
The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. And we marvel at him.
Slide The fourth description: The Son is…
- Exact expression of his nature
What the Son represents is the essential nature of God the Father. This phrase closely parallels other New Testament passages that speak of Jesus as the “image” of God (Colossians 1:15). It means that in every conceivable way, Christ exactly represents the Father. No closer resemblance could be possible. The Son, being God, reveals to man by His words and ways exactly what God is like.
Consider the fascinating exchange between the Lord Jesus and his disciple Philip who didn’t understand this truth yet.
John 14:8–9 CSB “Lord,” said Philip, “show us the Father, and that’s enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time and you do not know me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Jesus’ words are staggering. These are words that no mere human has the right to use.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you ought to be amazed by him. To know Jesus is to know God the Father. What a privilege. What nearness we now have to the divine.
If you consider yourself as a seeker of God yet not truly knowing what you believe, look to Jesus. When you see him, you see the exact expression of the nature of the unseen God who dwells in heavenly glory.
The fifth description of the Son:
- Sustainer of all things by his powerful word
Not only is Jesus the Creator of all that we see, he is the Sustainer of it. He holds it together. He is not passively watching this world as it spins. He actively, intentionally, powerfully keeps this world, our lives, and even matter itself from simply flying apart. The Son is the stability of the universe. Colossians 1:17 says something similar: “By Him all things hold together.”
And how does he do it? By merely speaking a word, his very powerful words. In the same way He spoke this world into existence with just a word, so he holds it together. In the same way He spoke a word to calm a raging storm. It is not hard for him. He doesn’t break a sweat. He doesn’t strain. He is not perplexed how to do it.
The Son speaks, and life is held together.
If this is true—and I believe it is, because I believe the Bible is the true and infallible Word of God—then the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ is absolutely stunning.
For us who follow Jesus, we can get all worried about the insanity in our world. The violence. The fighting. The crime. Betrayals. Broken families. Shattered lives. Do we realize the power of Jesus to sustain us in the midst of the calamity that surrounds us?
King David wrote Psalm 18 after a time of great stress when the king was trying to kill him. He concludes,
Psalm 18:1–2 CSB I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Like David, we can sing, for when we look to the Son, we are looking to One with the stunning power to create what we see out of nothing. And the same power to hold together all we see, including our own souls, keeping it from flying apart.
The Son is the Sustainer of all things by his powerful word.
The sixth description of the Son:
- Purifier of sins
Now we move from the cosmic scale of the Son in the previous five descriptions to what seems to me to be on a more intimate, tender scale: the purification of our sins.
This simple statement is not elaborated on in depth until chapter 9, but in many ways, this is one of the points of Hebrews: Sin stains, but blood purifies. And only one Person’s blood can remove our sin stain: the Son of God’s.
The City of Ames wastewater plant takes the corruption (pollution) out of water, but it’s never 100% pure. The Son, though, takes every microgram of corruption out of souls! This is the staggering, glorious truth of Hebrews: that the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth has become a man who shed his pure and holy blood to cleanse man’s sin stain deeply and completely within.
For those of you who know Jesus and believe in him, this truth is your Great Hope. Peace with God is yours. Freedom from guilt is yours. Glory is yours.
For those of you seeking answers to life but haven’t yet found it, look no further. Jesus, the Son of God, is the only Person who can take care of your worst problem in life….the problem of guilt before God. No one else… nothing else… no religious system…no mountain of good works…can purify. Only the Son. He is better than anything.
Hebrews calls us to pay attention to him….and warns us that to reject him will cost us life forever.
The seventh description of the Son:
- Seated at the Majesty’s right hand
In many places in the Bible, the right hand of God is a position of power and glory. And to be seated here implies a finality, a finished task; the sacrificial work is done. Though the word “resurrection” is not used here, this description of the Son powerfully teaches that he has indeed risen from the dead. And not only that, he has ascended into heaven and is seated on his throne at the right hand of God the Father.
What Do We Do Now?
So consider just in these first four verses what we are being told. This Jesus, called the Son of God, is unlike anyone who has ever lived on the earth. He is unparalleled. He is other-worldly. He is divine. He is superior to any religious leader, any prophet, any philosopher. He is better—far better—than any teacher or moral example.
We are going to see every week in this sermon series in every chapter in this book that Jesus Christ and his gospel is better than what Israel had in the Law of Moses. It’s better than any ancient or modern religion. It’s better because the Son is better.
That’s why this Letter called Hebrews urges us five times to pay attention. To not ignore Jesus. To not let our hearts become hardened towards him. Everything hinges on the Son.
When we see the Son as he is in vs 1-4, we must respond. Let me speak for a moment to three possible groups of us in this room.
The first group of us: Those of us who know him should be in awe. The Jesus we believe in and follow, he is other-worldly. Divine. Glorious. Not just a little better than us, but higher than us like the stars in the sky are above us. Vaster than the ocean in front of us. As we progress in this sermon series over the following 15 weeks, your awe will simply increase. None of us should have a small view of Jesus. Though he took on humanity as the Incarnate God, we should not view him in merely a human way. Yes, he became like us, in a broken, frail body like we have. But he is infinitely more. We should hold him in awe. We listen to his words. We obey his commands. We love him to the end. And we never use the name of Jesus in a careless, flippant, joking way.
The second group of us: Those of us who are unsure who Jesus is and if he’s really the big deal I say he is. We’re wondering, and perhaps seeking answers. This passage and this book is for you. Look at it. Consider the Son. Continue coming on Sundays. You will hear more of him. Come with an open heart. Soak in the words written here. And consider Jesus.
The third group of us: Those of us who either have rejected or are considering rejecting him (or we have a friend who has rejected him), you are warned. You are rejecting your Creator. The One who sustains all things. The One who is the radiance of the glory of God. You are repeatedly called in this book, “Pay attention to what you have already heard. Do not ignore the Son of God. Life itself is at stake.”
Let me conclude with this: In these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son. What a glorious, beautiful word to us…. The Son…. sent from heaven, descended to the earth, lived a righteous life, died an unjust death, rose to immortality, ascended to heaven, and is coming back soon. May we pay attention to him and love him.