Hebrews: A Superior Résumé

Sermon by David Felker on August 16

Hebrews 1:1-14

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Please turn with me in your Bible to the New Testament book of Hebrews, Hebrews chapter 1. And as you’re turning there, something to consider. Her name was Bethany. When she was thirteen years old, Bethany Hamilton, she was training in surfing. She was training to compete at the highest levels and she was training in Hawaii with two others, Alana Blanchard and Jeff Bolba, and all of a sudden her life was forever changed. And this is how she put it. She said, “There wasn’t even a ripple. There wasn’t even a ripple. I was lying on my surfboard and the shark came out of nowhere. I caught something out of the corner of my eye but I didn’t think anything of it. And when you eat steak, you have to rip it because it’s tough, and well, the shark jerked me like that but he never pulled me under. It wasn’t until it was all red in the water that it hit me – I was attacked by a shark.” And Jeff Bolba who was surfing with her said of the shark attack, “Bethany never screamed. She just said calmly, ‘Shark.’” And from the loss of her arm to the size of the bite on her board, authorities estimated that it was a fourteen to fifteen foot, one ton tiger shark. And the line that gets me is, “There wasn’t even a ripple. There wasn’t even a ripple.”

This fall on Sunday nights we will be in a sermon series on the New Testament book of Hebrews, and here’s why I begin with that story. That story helps to illustrate the context of this book because Hebrews is written to a group of people in very great danger, very great danger, but their danger doesn’t even show a ripple. And their danger is recounted with these three words in this book – drifting, hardening and dulling. And so you see in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 1, “We must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift,” lest we drift away from it. Hebrews chapter 3 verse 7, “Do not harden your hearts.” So drifting and hardening and third, Hebrews chapter 5 verse 11, “You have become dull of hearing.” And so drifting and hardening and dulling. That is their great danger.

And I think it’s ours as well. There’s not even a ripple. You can’t even see it above the waterline. Maybe, maybe you’re here tonight and the person seated next to you, a spouse or a friend or a parent or a child, a roommate, the person sitting next to you has no idea that you are in great danger, that your delight in Jesus Christ and your devotion, your heart devotion to His Gospel promises, that they’ve been ripped away because you are below the waterline and no one knows that you are being attacked – drifting, hardening and dulling – because there wasn’t even a ripple. As one author said, “Satan is far more likely to dull your affections over a decade than to destroy your soul in a day” – to dull your affections over a decade. And so maybe tonight, maybe that’s you. That from time to time you wake up and you think, “How did I get here? How did I get so far away? How did I drift? How did my heart get so hard? How did my affections for the Gospel dull? How did I get here?” And Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, the beauty of Christ and the comfort of Christ and the cross of Christ and the mercy of Christ and the grip of Christ, we’ve heard it before. And so it’s not planting deep into your heart. And so maybe that is you tonight.

And I’m drawing this out because I don’t think we do a very good job in the church of being honest, of being honest about what is really going on in our hearts. And so are you drifting? Are you hardening? Are you dulling? You see, this is not only the greatest danger of the Hebrews – there’s not even a ripple – this may be the greatest danger in this room. I know that it’s the greatest danger in my own home and in my own heart – drifting, hardening, dulling. And so as we’ll see this semester, for those like the Hebrews and for those like you and like me, drifting, hardening, dulling, not even a ripple, what the author provides for us is a journey. Hebrews is an expedition. It’s an exploration. And really a safari, a tour, and it is the most important quest of your life. It’s the most heroic journey of your life. And this quest, this journey to discover Jesus Christ, really that’s what Hebrews does week after week after week. That’s what we’ll see. The author of Hebrews, he would have us stare at Him. What do you need if you are in danger of drifting and hardening and dulling? You need to see Jesus Christ afresh. You need to look at Him like you would the moon, like you would the mountains, like you would the sunset and the stars. And so Hebrews is picture after picture after picture of Jesus Christ. And so this semester, behold your God, Jesus Christ.

So this evening we’re going to look at Hebrews chapter 1, “A Superior Résumé,” and before we do, let’s go to the Lord in prayer and ask for His help. Let’s pray.

Our great God and heavenly Father, we pray tonight that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue and that You would come and give Your Word success, that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to You, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Hebrews chapter 1, beginning in verse 1, this is God’s Word:

“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.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’?

Or again,

‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’

Of the angels he says,

‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’

But of the Son he says,

‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’

And,

‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.’

And to which of the angels has he ever said,

‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

Thankfully, I have only been to the emergency room a few times in my life. I played sports as a child and I had two brothers and so I broke my thumb, I broke my arm, I broke one of my toes, I’ve torn two ACLs in my knee, but as a parent I’ve only been once. A few years ago, one of my children swallowed a penny. And so if you’re a kid in the room, it would save your parents a lot of anxiety and a lot of money if you wouldn’t do that! But I haven’t been to the emergency room that often, but what I do know is that in the emergency room there’s not a lot of chitchat; there’s not a lot of small talk. Especially if you come in with a major injury, no one comes up to you and says, “Mr. Felker, what do you like to do with your children on the weekends?” or “What are some of your favorite restaurants?” No one asks you those kinds of questions because it’s the emergency room. If you come in with a major injury, nobody greets you. The doors come open and they go right to work on you.

I think that we could say that Hebrews chapter 1 is the emergency room of the New Testament letters because if you have your Bible open, you can see on the page right before the book of Philemon, chapter 1 verse 1, we read, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother.” Then you turn another page back to the book of Titus and Titus starts, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” But then you look at Hebrews and Hebrews has no greeting. Hebrews just starts, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways…” And so you see this is the emergency room of the New Testament letters. It is a rescue letter that the author is throwing in a lifeline of spiritual food and water and medicine to people who are in great danger. There’s not even a ripple, right? And so again, what is the lifeline? What is the spiritual food and water and medicine that they need so desperately? They need to see Jesus Christ afresh.

You also notice in the introduction that the author is not stated and so you don’t know who wrote this book. The author is called by some commentators as “the pastor.” He is intimately acquainted with the recipients of this letter but we don’t know who he is. There are theories out there. Tertullian thought that it was Barnabas. Martin Luther thought that it was Apollos. Some think that it is Paul. But we do not know, nor do we know the precise location of those to whom this letter is written. But we do know this letter is written to Jewish Christians, to Hebrews. And they are facing persecution, and persecution to the extent that some of them were giving up – drifting, hardening, dulling. And so they’re feeling it. It’s costly. And because of that, they are “prone to wander, they are prone to leave the God that they love,” as the hymn says. It was written to doubting and distracted and drifting and dulling and hardening Christians and the author is setting forth again this feast of Jesus Christ.

And so I’ve spent a lot of time this evening setting the table for us. In our remaining moments, I want to look – Hebrews chapter 1 – I want to briefly take up this question, “Who is Jesus?” Verses 1 to 4 read almost like a creed. Who is Jesus? Because what you have in the first few verses are a number of affirmations and so from these, “Who is He?”

I have a friend and he’s around my age. When he was seriously dating the girl that has now become his wife, ten to fifteen years ago, it was getting more serious and so he was preparing to propose to her and he went to her dad who is a PCA minister. And so he was asking for the father’s blessing on the marriage and so my friend went, met with this dad, this pastor, and the pastor, the dad’s big question for him was, “Tell me how you are not perfectly but really and truly, tell me how you’re going to minister to my daughter as a prophet, a priest and a king?” And this friend was not raised in the PCA, he was not super familiar with the Westminster Catechism, and it was kind of one of those moments like, “Can I phone a friend? Can I call you back and circle back to this conversation in a week or so?” But, “How are you going to minister to my daughter as a prophet, priest and king?” And that may sound like a goofy question, an archaic question, but really what this dad was asking is, “How are you going to love my daughter like Jesus? How are you going to teach her truth? How are you going to intercede for her? How are you going to defend and shepherd and protect her like Jesus Christ?” According to our catechism, those are the offices that Jesus Christ fulfilled – the office of a prophet, a priest, and a king.

Jesus is a Greater Prophet

There’s really so much more than those three here. He’s Creator. He’s the exact imprint of the Father. And we’ll see what we can flesh out, but to stop us from drifting and hardening and dulling, we have to see Jesus Christ afresh. And so first look at verses 1 and 2. We see the author present Jesus as a greater prophet. Many have pointed out that in verses 1 and 2, if you look at the text, there are a series of contrasts. So verse 1 is one side of the contrast; verse 2 is the other side. One contrast is a contrast of time. And so you see in verse 1 when the author writes, “Long ago, at many times,” in verse 1. And then in verse 2, “In these last days.” And so he doesn’t say “last days” because he thinks next week is going to be the end of the world, but “last days” meaning there is no work of redemption left. There is no work left to be accomplished by Jesus Christ before the end. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has ushered us into a different era, a different age. And so we, like these Christians, we live in the last days. But that’s one of the contrasts – this contrast of time.

You see a second contrast of recipients. So verse 1, “God spoke to our fathers.” Again, this is a letter written to Jewish Christians so “God spoke to our fathers” meaning Jewish fathers. “God spoke to our fathers,” and now verse 2, “He has spoken to us.” So there’s a second contrast. A third contrast is a contrast of agents. So verse 1, He spoke – how? “He spoke by the prophets.” And really verse 1 is just a summation of the whole Old Testament – that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” – that long ago, God spoke to Adam in the garden, and Noah and Abraham and the patriarchs and Moses and Samuel and Elisha and Obadiah and Daniel; so the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, but also those who fulfilled a prophetic role like Abraham and like Moses, and even Deborah that we looked at this summer in the book of Judges. And so really the whole Old Testament, God spoke by prophets who came and gave a word from the Lord. And what did they say? Over and over again they said, “Thus saith the Lord.” And so that contrast – now verse 2, “He has spoken to us by His Son,” the final speaker, the final Word.

So a fourth contrast is a contrast of ways. So, “Long ago God spoke in many ways.” God spoke by a donkey, God spoke by dreams, God spoke by visions. He spoke through angels, a burning bush. He appeared through the drawing of lots. God spoke in many ways. Then the contrast, verse 2, “Now He has spoken to us,” in this singular way, “by His Son.” So God had more to say and He said it all in Jesus Christ. It is, as one theologian said it, “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond it.” God has spoken. He spoke with variety, “in many ways,” but now He has spoken with finality, “in His Son.” And so we have these contrasts.

I think this is not to be glossed over. There is a God and He is not silent. There is a God and He does not stammer. There is a God in the heavens who reveals Himself to you in the Bible through His Son. We cannot get to Him and yet He comes to us. He bends on one knee, as it were, to look at His children, to look at us in the eye using language, using words that we are able to understand. I think that is not to be glossed over.

And how do you hear from God? Do you dig deep within yourself? Do you look for feelings of peace and you give those feelings of peace divine authority? Do you try to find little hints and little clues that help you interpret what God is saying to you? No. “In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” And so how do you hear God? You digest this book. As Wiley even just prayed, that you seek His face in the Bible, that you hunger and thirst for Him in His Word. And so you may be here, you may like things like literature and you may like Netflix and Chip and Joanna Gaines and SEC football and hunting, but do you have a hunger for the Bible? Do you have a hunger to hear from God in the Scriptures? Is there something in you – “I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to hear from God in the Bible”? And so that’s one thing that we see about Jesus here, that He is a greater prophet.

Jesus is a Greater Priest

But He’s not only a greater prophet, He’s also the greater priest. So He is, verse 3, He is the one who has come and made “purification for sins.” There was an old article that was reshared recently after the death of J.I. Packer on July 17 and the article is entitled, “Do Not Put a Period Where J.I. Packer Puts An Exclamation Mark.” And the author of the article, he’s a minister named Jared Wilson, and years ago he contributed to a Crossway Bible Study series and he had been tasked with writing the introduction for Paul’s letter to the Romans. Unfortunately for him, the editor of this introduction was none other than one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, J.I. Packer. And so his work was complete and then months and years later a friend of his sent him J.I. Packer’s edits on his work, and so the editorial work from what he had sent in. And this is how Jared Wilson described it in his article. He said, “When I received the edits, I worked out the pages with fear and trembling. It turns out that I didn’t have much to worry about. J.I. Packer’s pen was light and friendly, but then I came to it. I had written this:  ‘Paul reminds us in Romans that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance, not His law, not His berating, not His exasperation or His cajoling. His kindness.’ Period. End of thought. But Dr. Packer added one thin, vertical pen stroke turning my period into an exclamation point and underlining it to show the change. It is not God’s kindness, yawn, that leads to repentance, but God’s kindness, exclamation point! The Gospel is an exclamation point!” And so I think that we can say it’s not that God made purification for sins, yawn. But God made purification for sins, exclamation point!

One of the things you’re going to see this semester, thirty-seven times in the book of Hebrews, thirty-seven times, Jesus is called “sacrifice,” “priest,” or “high priest.” So thirty-seven times in thirteen chapters Hebrews is going to cover all of the ways in which God’s people in the Old Testament dealt with sin. The innumerable sacrifices that moment after moment, day after day, sacrifice upon sacrifice, the priest had to do the work for purification, for cleansing. But Jesus, the author is telling us, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. He is the great High Priest. His purification counts. And so Jesus not only forgives sin, He not only removes the guilt, He not only takes the charge off your record, but He makes you clean. He deep cleans you. He washes you. He makes you whiter than snow. He covers you in His righteousness. Thirty-seven times.

I think to those of us in danger of drifting and hardening and dulling, and especially if you have a deep sense that you are unacceptable, that you are unlovely, that you are unclean, that you are unworthy, if you have a deep sense that maybe even God regrets calling you His child because of something that you did, then this evening you need a new narrative – one that anchors your life in what God says about you not in what others say about you, that “You are your sin. You are your shame.” Not in what your past says about you, that “You are dirty. You are damaged.” Not in what your feelings might say about you, that “You are false and you are fake.” But we can cling to this truth this evening beloved in Christ, “You are clean.” He has made purification for sins.

Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done, I know them all and thousands more” – we know all of them – “and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none.” “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” No other solvent will do to cleanse us from our sin. So when you are at your worst, He has settled your account. He made you clean! Exclamation mark!

Jesus is a Greater King

You see also that Jesus here is a greater King. And you see these other affirmations – He is the Creator, He’s the exact imprint – you see all of this, but you see that He is the greater King. I think surely, in the last few months, you have asked this question, “Is there someone, somewhere, who can keep out all the sadness?” That’s a question we have all asked. I think that’s an impulse that we have all had. And what we’re saying is, “I need a King.” I want you to look at verse 2. Notice it says that Jesus is “appointed the heir of all things” and “through whom He created,” and then verse 3, “sustains all things by His powerful word.” And then we read that after making purification for sins that “He sat down, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.” And so there’s a lot here, but He is the heir. He is the heir of all things. The author starts with the end of the story and says that the Father has given Jesus all things. All things belong to Him. All things are under His authority. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 2 of Jesus, “The nations are His inheritance.”

So whether it’s nations or wars or leaders or politicians or elections or viruses or treatment plans or weather patterns, all things, they are all placed under His feet. Everything. Verse 13 says that Jesus’ enemies are “made a footstool for His feet,” that Satan, that all of those who opposed Jesus, that those that Jesus is restraining and battling and conquering, that He has authority over it all, that He’s not only the Creator – He made the universe; everything that exists. Look at verse 10. “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning.” Heaven is the work of Your hands. So Jesus is not only the Creator, He’s also the sustainer of all things by His powerful word. So His Word, as one author said, is “holding together the cell,” and how protons and electrons keep their charge and keeping the force of gravity constant. Stars, planets, galaxies are all in their place because Christ upholds them by the power of His Word.

The end of verse 3, you see this, that “He sat down.” This is a reference to what we call “the session of Christ.” “The session” – “to be seated.” We confess this in the Apostles’ Creed, that Jesus, He sits down at the hand of God the Father Almighty. When do you sit down? You sit down when the work is completed. Sometimes when I get home I want to sit down, and I do sit down. When do moms sit down? Heaven! That’s when moms sit down! They sit down in heaven! They sit down after homework and bath time and bedtime. When do you sit down? You sit down when the work is done. Hebrews chapter 10 points this out. The high priest never sat down. He was standing day after day, always standing. His work was never done. He would offer one sacrifice and there was another sin and he needed to offer another sacrifice. It kept coming. There was never an end to his work. Jesus Christ sits. And why does He sit? “It’s finished.” There is no more work to be done. As Jesus Christ is enthroned as King and He rules the world with truth and grace.

You see this in verse 5. We have the first of seven, seven Old Testament texts that the author is referencing to show that Jesus has become much superior to angels. He’s become superior to angels. What in the world does that mean? Deuteronomy 33 tells us that angels delivered the law to Moses at Sinai. So it means at least that Jesus’ message of good news, that His Gospel is superior to the former message, the law; that He is a superior messenger than the angels. So you see there is no word greater than this Gospel word that has come. Jesus Christ has a superior résumé. We’ve said that this book is a feast of Jesus Christ. This is the theme throughout Hebrews. We can do chapter by chapter by chapter. He is superior to angels. We’ll see this again and again and again. He is superior to Moses and to Joshua and to Aaron and to Abraham, to Melchizedek. We see that His kingdom cannot be shaken. Chapter 13, He leads us “to a city whose foundation and builder is God.” Jesus Christ is superior. He has a superior résumé.  

Let me close with this. Many of you know that about a year and a half ago my mom died, and so in the months that followed, we were trying to navigate a lot of those conversations with our kids, and especially my oldest, Marshall, who at the time was five years old. And it just seemed like there were endless questions. And I remember one night in particular, and we were going back and forth – and this is, of course, how it is with a five year old – but we were going back and forth talking about Jesus and then talking about my mom. And Marshall asked the question, he said, “How can someone be both in heaven and with me in my heart?” And that’s the orthodox teaching – that Jesus Christ, that His body is at the right hand – “rich wounds, yet visible above” – that His body is at the right hand of the Father, but He is everywhere accessible by His Spirit. So when Marshall asked that question, I thought, “I have a young Billy Graham on my hands!” And then the next question was, “Is Spiderman in heaven?” and so it was over at that point!

But we all, I don’t think those are silly questions, I think they are profoundly theological questions and I think whether you are here and you are five years old or you are seventy-five years old, we all have our questions. And so many of them are driven by our tears. We ask them when we bump into sickness and when we bump into sadness, when the cancer returns, when our child gets sick, when there is chronic pain, when the sadness tarries, when the evil wins, when there’s disease and death and despair. What I want to suggest just in conclusion is that there is one question that is underneath and in and through all of the questions that we ask and all of the questions behind the Hebrews drifting and hardening and dulling. And it’s this – “Is God for me? Is God for me and with me in Jesus Christ?” That is our most basic question. And I love how the author of Hebrews woos them and woos us back again and again and again to Jesus Christ. He says, “Yes, God is for you. Look at Jesus.” “Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast. Beautiful Savior, Lord of all the nations, Son of God and Son of Man. Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be Thine!”

Amen. Let me pray for us. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we are weak and helpless. We confess how quickly we can drift and our hearts can become hard and dull. And so we pray that You would, tonight and throughout this semester, give us a fresh vision of Jesus Christ, that we would be wooed back to Him again and again, to His beauty and to His glory. And we pray this in His name, amen.

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