Today I gave the first of who knows how many sermons on the letter to the Hebrews. It's not up on our website yet, but within a day or so it will be. You can listen to this sermon, and those that follow, here. Just to give you a taste, here's the opening portion of the message for today. I pray that God will use this most glorious and powerful sermonic-letter to stun us with the glory of Christ and shape us into his image.
Over the span of about fifteen centuries before Christ, God spoke and spoke and spoke to the Jewish people through his chosen prophets, namely, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and every other person who was used of God to write what we now call the Old Testament. Although the speech of God through these prophets was genuine indeed, it was not an end in itself but rather pointed toward one who would be the fulfillment of every word God ever spoke.
And so, when the time was full or as the author of Hebrews puts it, “in these last days,” God spoke in a decisive, once-for-all fashion through his Son and having done that he had nothing more to say. He still has nothing more to say. God the Father, through his Son, has said everything he needs to say, he’s revealed everything he needs to reveal so that the only sense in which its proper to say God is still speaking is that God is still speaking through his Son.
If the Son of God is so central to God’s plan of self-revelation, and if the speech of God through the Son of God is as final as the author of Hebrews makes it out to be, then we better ask and answer a few questions: Who is this Son? Where did he come from? What did God say through him? What does God’s speech through him have to do with humanity, and especially with those who have come to believe in the Son?
The letter to the Hebrews was written to address questions such as these which is why it begins with such an intricate, majestic, breath-taking, mind-blowing depiction of this Son. From the outset the author wants his readers to see and feel the fact that Jesus is very great, infinitely great, incomprehensibly great. As finite human beings, we have an instinctual propensity to make great things smaller than they really are so that we can grasp them and deal with them. At times, this propensity isn’t such a bad thing, in fact at times it’s a good thing, but when it’s applied to Jesus it’s a tragic thing.
You may have heard the saying, “God created us in his image and we’ve been returning the favor ever since.” That’s true. As John Calvin said, our hearts are idol making factories, and one of the ways we make idols is by minimizing the reality of who Jesus is. It’s by domesticating him and making of him whatever works for whatever we want. And whether they realized it or not, the Christians to whom the letter to the Hebrews was first written had done this very thing. They had demoted Jesus from his rightful, lofty place and to some extent brought him down to a level they could understand. The tragedy of this is that when their lives took certain turns, they then didn’t find it hard to walk away from him and give themselves to other things. Since he was not a very significant person in their eyes, forsaking him was no big deal.
The author of Hebrews not only understood these things about his first readers, he grieved deeply about it as well. He loved Jesus. He had eyes to see something of the height and depth and width and breadth of the glory of his being. He also loved these precious people for whom Jesus lived and died and was raised again, and so he wrote to jolt them out of their slumber so as to help them see and remember just how great Jesus is. He did not want to waste his time playing around with superficial things that were merely symptoms of the root problem. He did not, therefore, write and say to the Hebrews, “Wake up and try harder. Do better. Fulfill your obligations to God.”
No, the author of Hebrews wanted to wield the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God to cut deep into the soul, expose the root of the problem, and apply the healing balm of Christ where it counted, where it would transform, where it would cause an eruption of worship and humility and joy in the lives of all who received it. And so he begins this great letter with a depiction of the Son so rich and deep that I doubt the depths of it can ever be fully explored. There he tells us that Jesus is the rightful inheritor of all things. That he is the one through whom God the Father created everything that exists outside of God. That he is the visible display of the very glory of God. That he is the exact imprint of the depths of the nature of God. That he is responsible for upholding the entire universe and guiding it toward its appointed end with nothing more than the word of his power. That he himself made purification for sins with no outside help and by offering nothing more or other than himself. That he, having made purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high where he rested forever from his great work and where he took his rightful place as the sovereign ruler of all things.
Beloved, this is Jesus and he is very great, infinitely great, incomprehensibly great. We are all given to the idolatrous impulse to pull him down from his exalted place and to make of him something we can understand or someone who is comfortable for us or someone who has no authority or claim over the particulars of our lives. And when we, like the first readers of Hebrews, do this, we are in fact committing idolatry. Even though we call him Jesus, we are worshiping a “god” of our own making.
So it is that the author of Hebrews writes, not just so that we’ll ponder Jesus, but so that we’ll encounter Jesus. Of course, he and the Holy Spirit want us to think more carefully about Jesus. Of course, he and the Holy Spirit want us to plumb the depths of what is being revealed in this letter. But the point of thinking and pondering is encountering the living Jesus as he is. The point is to gain eyes to see him and hearts to cling to him, that we might ever bow before and love this awesome Son no matter what the cost.
And this design was not just for the first readers, it’s for us, too. For months now I have had the sense in prayer that if we will humble ourselves in these days and open our hearts to the living and exalted Christ, he will use the truths contained in this letter to transform our lives. He will reveal himself to us in new and fresh ways, even to those who’ve been walking with Jesus for a long time. He will cause us to see something more of the height and depth and width and breadth of who he is. He will cause us to lose our taste for lesser things so that we’ll be freed from the sin which clings so closely. He will forge us together as a people and teach us more of what it means to live this life of worship together for the glory of God and the good of the nations. He will set our hearts aflame with love for him and send us out like flames to proclaim him, for our God is a consuming fire.
Oh Beloved, don’t think small thoughts about Jesus and the letter to the Hebrews and the designs of Jesus in leading us to this letter at this particular time of our lives together. The Lord is moving in our midst, and so I call you to pray long and hard with me in these days, asking the Lord to fulfill all of his purposes in us and through for his glory and our joy.