God’s message in the narrative of the Tower of Babel has incredible modern applications in this week’s message.
God’s message in the narrative of the Tower of Babel has incredible modern applications in this week’s message.
In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling that redefined the definition of marriage in the United States, Pastor Matt Jones gives a heartfelt message about what God says in His word about marriage, homosexuality and sexual sin.
Week #3 in our series of John’s letters to the churches.
“1Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling…
This verse is a perfect example of continuity of the book of Hebrews. Only a couple of verses beforehand, the author again gives us claim to being brothers and sisters of Christ and now, he builds on that theme in the opening of chapter 3. We are called “holy” brothers and sisters, who “share in the heavenly calling”.
Interestingly, there is only one other place that this word for sharing is used in the Bible. In Luke 5, Jesus is teaching a large crowd. The crowd is so large, that he has his disciples help him into a boat so that he can out beyond them a bit and be seen by everyone.
On this particular morning, the disciples were a bit on the downtrodden side. They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus, then asks them to lower their nets on the other side of the boat.
I’m sure what’s not written here is what Peter (who was in the boat that Jesus was in) was actually thinking. I have no trouble imagining Peter lips dripping with sarcasm as he responds “Ohhhh! the other side of the boat…why didn’t I think of that! Of course…we’ve just been putting the nets down on the wrong side!”
But of course, that’s not what is said. In fact, it is here that we see a rare glimpse of restraint on the part of Peter. Tired as he was, he manages to only hint about his frustrations and willingly obeys…
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” – Luke 5:5
Of course, you know the rest of story. Even if you’ve never heard it, as you can imagine, their nets were then full, so full in fact that they had to call their other “partners” to come over and help them pull in the catch.
And there it is. When Luke says they called their other “partners”, the same word is used by the author of Hebrews to describe those who “share” in a heavenly calling. What could be the correlation there?
We can only speculate of course and it is entirely possible that there is no significance to it. However, it is not lost of me that this was certainly a moment which would define the lives of the men in the boats. This was a moment where Peter was ashamed of his unbelief and fell at Jesus’ feet, covering his face so he could not be seen. What happens next, he never saw coming; Jesus lifted his chin, looked in his eyes and said “from now on, you will be fishers of men.”
It was always Jesus’ intention to leave his work to a group of people known as the church. The men in the boats would be the ones initially charged to lead that church and we are recipients of this faith and of course of the charge that comes with it…the work of the church is to share the gospel. To preach Christ crucified.
Guess what? The rest of this chapter is about the importance of doing exactly what God tells us to do and the consequences if we don’t. That may sound like a very depressing statement, but in fact, it all boils down to this…God knows that we are most fulfilled when we are doing what he created us for.
If that seems like a concept that is beyond your ability to grasp, I would suggest this: it’s the basic plot of Toy Story. Toys were created for a purpose, and just as toys aren’t fulfilled unless they are loved and played with by a child, we aren’t fulfilled unless we are doing what we were created for, and that is living our lives in fellowship with God and with his church.
You can’t have one without the other. This is one situation where you can’t love the groom and hate the bride.
Now here’s the rub – this church that we are to be a part of has a holy calling…an awesome responsibility, and we can’t fellowship with the church unless we partake or “share” in what the church is called to do. If you’re a believer who just shows up on Sunday, you aren’t being faithful to that calling and you’ll never feel that sense of fulfillment…like you’re doing what you were created to do.
With that said, here’s our first challenge to do what God tells us to do…
fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.
Chapter 2 finished off by declaring Jesus as our high priest. This is no small claim and we will devote considerable time to it in the upcoming chapters, but for now, let’s focus on the other title that is given here to Jesus.
Did you know that this is the only place in the scriptures where Jesus is referred to as an apostle? We don’t think of Jesus this way, but in order to understand why the author would do this here, we have to understand who the audience is. The name of the book “Hebrews” gives you the only clue you need…this book is written to the Hebrew nation, or the Jews. It is written to tell them that Jesus is the fulfillment of what their Old Testament prophets said.
Not only that, but Jesus would eclipse them all. The word apostle means one who is “sent by God”. Follow the logic here…remember how chapter 1 opened with these words…
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”
Again, the Jewish nation was used to hearing from God through his appointed mouthpiece. This was why they had prophets. But the prophets had be silent for the last 400 years. Now, the author of Hebrews tells them, God has once again decided to reach out to mankind and speak from on high. Only this time, he did it himself. He became human. He became Jesus. Jesus was the very expression of God in human form.
That is why he is referred to as an apostle…as one sent by God. It is a term with which they were familiar, and dare I say “comfortable” with.
However, Jesus was even greater, because instead of God speaking through a man, he just spoke. It was the very God speaking. Put it another way, he “became flesh, and dwelled among us.”
But there is another reason for using this word. Not only is Jesus greater than the prophets, but he was greater than the greatest prophet of all.
2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5“Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house.
Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He is the most important human in the Jewish faith. They put his words, or the Torah above all else. In fact Deuteronomy says this about him…
No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face – Deuteronomy 34:10
He is reverred because while God spoke to the other prophets in visions, dreams or an audible voice, he appeared to Moses “face to face”.
This was actually cause for some jealousy, even amongst Moses’ family. His brother Aaron and his sister Miriam actually complained about it, wondering aloud, “what’s so special about Moses? God doesn’t just speak to him does he? He also speaks to us right? In fact, Moses has a lot of flaws, for example, he married a cushite woman!” However, here was God’s reply…
“When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. 7But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
So now you see where the author of Hebrews is quoting when he says that Moses is “faithful in all God’s house”. Remember though, this story isn’t about Moses is it? No, as great as Moses was, when compared with Jesus, even he doesn’t measure up.
Interestingly enough, Moses also is described as one who is “sent by God”. God said to Moses…
“So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:10
See that little word “sending”? It’s the word “shaalach”. It’s a verb meaning to send. It is the root of the word “shaliyach” which is a noun describing one who is sent. Pop Quiz: what word do we have that describes one who is sent? That’s right, apostle. So guess which word is used to describe Jesus when it calls him an apostle? You got it…the same root word is used to describe both Moses and Jesus as ones who are sent by God. And, it’s the only time that Jesus is called an apostle. Is there any doubt that the author of Hebrews is pushing for a side-by-side comparison?
But there is no comparison. Moses was faithful to God, yes. But Jesus is God! The creator is always greater than the creation. The voice is always greater than the mouthpiece. Jesus is greater than Moses.
To top it all off, Jews used this word “shaliyach” to describe the minister of the synagogue or one who is over the affairs of the synagogue. Now consider this: Jewish practices like the tabernacle and the role of the high priest were all instituted by God through Moses. He is seen in many ways as the founder of their religion, but in fact, all of his work (in setting up the tabernacle and other rituals and laws) was simply to reflect a deeper meaning which God would reveal through his son Jesus.
For example, the high priest was simply a man who himself sinned. Now, our high priest is God himself in the person of Jesus, having committed no sin.
“God’s house” was the tabernacle. That was where God dwelled, symbolically at least. It was a physical structure built with human hands. However now, God’s temple is each one of us! We are his church and the church is now the “building” where God dwells. This is affirmed elsewhere in scripture…
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:17
And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:22
Yes, Moses was a faithful servant in the house, and yes God created the house, so what does the house represent? Us. The believers who are partners in a heavenly calling.
So now that we are God’s house, the author is about to flip the switch and take the spotlight away from Moses to focus on…us!
And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
There is an interesting word used here for “hold firmly”. The word is used mostly with ships and makes an appearance in the book of Acts during the story when Paul and his companions are shipwrecked…
Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. – Acts 27:40
With these big ships, the rudders were both attached to a single pole and with that pole the driver could focus the direction of the ship on the spot where he wanted to end up. Thus, they “made for the beach”. It’s all about fixing our eyes on what we’re headed for and then holding fast to that course.
The larger implication here is that we are to focus on Jesus and doing the things that God tells us to do. The problem with that of course, is that we often don’t want to. We know in our minds the difference between right and wrong, but we often choose a different path don’t we? Why is that? Scripture is about to reveal the answer…
7So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’
This passage is found in Psalm 95:7-11. It is describing the people of Israel from a time past, but the message is actually meant for us as well and that is why it is included here.
The word here “know” is often used in the Scriptures in the sense of “approving,” or “loving”. It means that we don’t just obey God, but we love his ways and approve of his Word.
This passage describes people who are always going away from God’s Word. Sadly, this passage is describing us.
I see this happening so much in the church today. We have begun interpreting God’s Word through the lens of our own reality. We read things that sound outdated and decide that those passages are describing another time, another place. They have no relevance for us today.
For example, God might say that men have different roles than women in the church. We then respond that the Bible was written during a male dominated point in history and that made sense back then, but now the roles of men and women are not so clearly defined. Women do a lot of things that were typically male only at one point in time. They can own property now. They can vote. They can lead companies. They can work circles around men. They can raise families on their own when the deadbeat dad decides to split. Women can do everything that men can do. Shouldn’t it be the same in the church? Then shouldn’t we treat all passages that suggest that men and women have different roles in the church as passages written for another time and place and not for us?
I’m sure you can think of a ton of other examples right? A lot of the time, we can see the wisdom in doing things God’s way. Other times, we don’t like it. And those are times that our Father in heaven would point to us and say “Look…they don’t approve. They don’t really like that part of my Word.” Or, to put it another way, “Their hearts are always going astray.”
This attitude toward God’s Word is what is referred to as a hardness of heart. The worst part of it all, is that God promises that the result of our hardness of heart is a life of chaos.
11So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
This passage refers to the Israelites entering the land of Canaan. God showed his people the promised land and then gave them a command which they ignored and as a result, they wandered for 40 years in the desert. That generation never saw the promised land. Here it is referred to as God’s “rest” and has significant meaning for us, both here on earth and in eternity (chapter 4).
While this obviously symbolizes the inheritance of eternity with God, the fact remains that unless we are living in adherence to God’s Word, we are not doing to do what we were created to do. And if we are not doing what we are created to do, then we can never be fulfilled in this life. We will never have that inner peace, or that “rest”.
So where does this hardness of heart come from? What causes us to stray from God, to hate his laws and disapprove of His Word?
12See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
In a word, sin. Sin causes us to look less favorably on God’s Word. How? By appealing to our desires. Look at what the apostle John wrote…
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
This is the secret to sin’s success. It appeals to our basic desires. A very worldly slogan that became popular some time ago is “if it feels good, do it”. The problem with that is that not far behind it is the slogan “If it feels good, can it really be wrong?” or “How can something that feels so right be so wrong?”. While subtle, this attitude warps our perspective of what is right and wrong.
Think about it…when you bought your home, how did you make your decision? After searching through home after home, did the one you chose just feel right? How about how you choose to discipline your children or how you manage your budget? Are those things based on God’s eternal wisdom or your own feelings and sense of what is right?
14We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
This is really what the entire chapter is about…a warning against unbelief.
Remember Peter back in the fishing boat? That was his problem. Here’s a guy that has tried everything all night and nothing he is doing is working. He’s tried different bait and everything else he can think of and yet still has no fish. Have you ever been there? Where you tried everything but it just wasn’t working and you really had no place to go but up?
This is what happened to Peter, only he had God himself, in the person of Christ, right there in the boat with him. Jesus speaks…God speaks, and while Peter does follow the instruction, he doesn’t believe that obeying the words of God will change his situation. His heart is filled with unbelief.
Do you know what grieves God’s heart more than anything except, perhaps, sin? Unbelief. God’s heart is grieved when his people don’t believe him and don’t love his instruction.
If you are sensing that God may be speaking to you, inviting you back to fellowship with him, don’t fight it. Don’t let your heart be hardened to it. Today, if you hear his voice, respond to him. Whatever sin is in your life that may be taking your mind off of the things of God or breaking your fellowship, confess it. Be reconciled to God today.
If you do that, then you will start to see your life in a different light. You will see yourself as one created by a God who loves you and ultimately has a plan for you. He has shaped you for his purposes and he knows best what will ultimately fulfill the desires of your heart.
Listening to him and surrendering to his Word are the keys to a life of fulfillment and rest. A life of peace, and calm assurance because of your confidence in your Creator’s plan for your life.
1So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.
This statement, perhaps, defines the importance of the book of Hebrews more than any other that is contained in it.
As stated in chapter 1, Hebrews is about Jesus. However, it’s not just about Jesus…it’s also about something he cared about more deeply than he cares about anything else under the sun. It’s about us. It’s about his church. It’s about the people he died for.
This becomes more evident toward the end of book, but here in this verse and in the one previous in chapter one, we get our first glimpse of the church as well as our first charge.
Remember the end of chapter 1?
14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:14
There’s our description…those who will inherit salvation. Now for the charge in verse 1 of chapter 2…we must listen carefully.
Listen to what? The truth we have heard. Which truth is that?? The The truth of who Jesus is. That truth is proclaimed throughout the pages of this book. In chapter 1, he is greater than the angels. Equal with God. What could possibly be an appropriate follow-up to that? In other words, once you’ve established that Jesus is greater than angels, what more is left to conquer?
Quite a bit actually.
2For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished.
You see, this other creation, the crown of all creation, made in God’s own image is subject to something angels know nothing about…death.
Death in many ways is the most powerful force in the universe. At the very least, it’s power seemed to be a pretty good match for God’s. Just as David wondered aloud in Psalm 139 “Where can I go to hide from your presence?”, death is an enemy that will eventually conquer us all.
Romans 6:23 tells us that death is a direct result of our sin. That because of our sin, each man is “destined to die once” (Hebrews 9:27), and after that, we will be judged. People then, and even now, lived knowing that no matter how much good they do, eventually the bad stuff they’ve done will be all that matters. No matter what they do, death, the punishment they deserved, will eventually claim them.
This was the sobering reality that was implicitly understood by everyone on the planet at the time of Christ.
However, that was not the end of the story, as Christ was crucified and on the third day HE ROSE AGAIN, conquering death for all of us!
There’s an interesting verse in the book of Genesis…
“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”” – Genesis 3:15
Depending on the version you are reading, it might say, “He will crush your head and you will bruise his heel.” Perhaps this is the more appropriate rendering of the passage as traditionally, scholars have indicated that this passage is about much more than the obvious physical relationship between snakes and humans.
It makes sense obviously, that when a snake attacks a human, he will likely go for their feet simply because he’s already on the ground. It’s the closest thing that he can get to.
A man would be unwise to attack a snake anywhere but the head as that is the most dangerous part of their body. They are killed when their head is separated from the rest of them.
This verse has a deeper meaning though…a meaning that has one foot in the physical realm and the other in the spiritual.
Remember chapter 1 when we talked about which is greater between the physical and spiritual world? Remember how this world we now live in is like an old shirt that you throw away and forget about? That’s what is being spoken of here.
Just as the physical realm is temporary and the spiritual eternal, so it is with the power of death versus the power of resurrection.
Satan has been given the power of death. He lords it over us and uses its power to make us afraid and stop us from living in victory. No matter how much he succeeds in his efforts however, his victory will be as insignificant in the light of the resurrection as this life is but a breath in the scope of eternity.
The serpent represents Satan…he will bruise your heel, but we will crush his head. He can take your life, but you will be resurrected thereby stripping him of his power. He’s as good as dead. You crushed him.
Let’s put it plainly…the worst thing that Satan could ever do to you is to take this broken, temporary, physical world from you. That’s it. That’s the scope of his power. That’s the limit of his destruction. That’s all that he can take hold of.
IF, and only IF you believe in the resurrection of Christ…
3So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.
I’m sure that you’ve heard this before: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Catchy, huh? It’s a 12-step mantra, and is something most all of us can relate to on some level.
Here’s the problem with humanity – in spite of a track record that spans milleniums, people still have to be convinced of their own mortality.
How many times have you heard someone talk about a near-death experience, or a sickness that left them a shell of their former self and they express how all-of-a-sudden they are acutely aware of the fragility of life? As if they hadn’t truly considered how fleeting life is until this very moment?
This genetic trait of humanity is not lost on the author of Hebrews. Why do we believe we won’t suffer the same fate? Why don’t realize that our only hope is in the own who conquered death?
It’s because death is not an enemy that we are universally familiar with.
You see, this is the problem with people accepting God’s free gift of salvation. The hard part isn’t acknowleging that there is a God. Oh no, the truly difficult task is admitting that we need him. Perhaps the 12-steps put it best with step 1 – accepting that we have a problem and that we are powerless to fix it.
The problem we have is sin. Our need is for a Savior.
Hebrews then begins to establish the authority of the message that the apostles are teaching at that moment in history throughout the world. How we be sure of the truth of the apostles message? Because they don’t claim to be its source. The message they speak came directly from Jesus himself. Not only that, but the power of that message was put on display at Pentecost and throughout the Book of Acts.
These are stories that the audience would have been intimately familiar with. You may think that the lack of formal recognition of a letter like this would have taken away from it’s credibility. On the contrary, the author uses a very convincing argument to support his claims of hope in Christ: the lives of the apostles themselves.
The Hebrews know these men. They have seen them, heard them and read their writings. Perhaps more important though, they have heard the news that the apostles are being killed and persecuted for the message that they are preaching.
If there is a purpose to the book of Hebrews, it would seem that it is to inspire faith in the lives of the Hebrew believers. Faith that holds firm when trials come, and perseveres when help does not. Faith that will wait on the Lord.
5And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6For in one place the Scriptures say, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? 7Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 8You gave them authority over all things.” Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority.
This passage is directly quoted from Psalm 8:4-6, and we get a more full understanding of its meaning when we study it through the lens of the Book of Hebrews.
The challenge to us is simply that while it’s true that God has crowned us with glory and honor, it’s also not in a sense. At least, not yet. We spoke at length in chapter 1 about God’s desire to make us “co-heirs” with Christ and to give us a share of the inheritance that is due to his children.
This particular inheritance has a really interesting twist to it though. Normally when one has a large inheritance, it is passed on to his children upon his death. However, with the inheritance that Christ offers, it is paid out upon the death and subsequent resurrection of the heirs!
This is what is meant when the author says that we haven’t yet seen the inheritance that God offers to us delivered. That will only come when he finally elevates our position, from lower than the angels to co-heirs with Christ. As a sign of these things to come, we have Jesus, who witnesses saw ascend into heaven after his resurrection…
9What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
See that? It’s the mirror-image of Psalm 8, only Jesus is shown here in the place of man to demonstrate how this inheritance is claimed.
Jesus was made lower than the angels. Why? So he could be equal with us. He then suffers death, as we all must, and ascends to his rightful position in heaven where he is crowned with glory and honor as a Son in the house of the Father.
Jesus demonstrates for us the path that each of us will take and gives us the hope that when this mortal body finally gives up, we will receive a new, incorruptible body and live with him forever.
This was the truth that Paul wrote about to the church in Corinth…
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1
So now we come full circle, and just as the author argues for Jesus’ position in chapter 1, he now defends our position in chapter 2…
11So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.” 13He also said, “I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”
Jesus, who is holy, and us, the ones he makes holy, are sons and daughters in the same household with the same Father. Co-heirs with Christ, and like him, crowned with honor and glory.
Can you imagine that? After all we’ve done to disappoint him, he ushers us into his kingdom, places a crown upon our head, puts his arm around our shoulder, gestures toward the kingdom that he has built and says, “I built this for you.” Welcome home, son! Welcome home, daughter!
This hope is sure, and there can be no doubt that this is what God has always intended. In Psalm 22, we get a glimpse of the Messiah, and the details of his death are amazing to consider, having been written centuries before he was ever born. Verse 12 is quoted here and is proof of this doctrine that we are like brothers and sisters to Christ himself.
Then, a phrase is used that seems to confuse things a little. Scholars agree that the writer here in verse 13 is quoting from Isaish 8:18…
I and the children the Lord has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies who dwells in his Temple on Mount Zion. – Isaiah 8:18
This is really an interesting thought, isn’t it? In the same section of scripture, we are referred to as both siblings of Jesus as well as his children! This further affirms the oneness between the Son and the Father and the mystery of exactly how the concept of the “trinity” works. Regardless of what you may believe, one truth that must be universal among true believers is this: Jesus is equal with God.
14Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
This is where it starts to get exciting right? This is where we get some answers. Haven’t you ever wondered why God had to be made human to die? Beyond the theological implications that only a blood sacrifice could atone for sin, there is hinted at here this idea that Christ’s death served to set us free from another kind of bondage…the bondage of fear.
The passage here refers to us as being slaves, not to death, but to the fear of death. No, that’s not a typo or a variance in the particular translation that has been used here. It’s right there in the original greek. There we find φόβος, or ‘phobos’. It’s a word used to describe a kind of terror. In fact, the word comes from another word, ‘phebomai’ which means to ‘put to flight’.
Altogether, Jesus willingness to suffer death was to empower us to live our lives without fear. To not cower or run. To boldly face life and yes, even death with a sense of boldness because we know this is not the end! The apostle Paul would write…
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.58So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. – 2 Corinthians 5:56-58
You know that abundant life that Jesus said he came to bring to each of us? This is the secret to it.
If you fix your eyes on this world and on the life here in the physical realm, you won’t be able to keep them focused on the good things. Eventually you’ll notice the evil, the heartache, the loss of life, the hopelessness and the things of this world will make you depressed and fearful and cause you to live a life that isn’t really a life at all.
But…If you turn your eyes upon Jesus…
Take notice of how he went to cross. It was without hesitation because he knew that by the power of God he would eventually conquer the grave and give hope to many that would believe in him, that he would one day call his brothers and sisters, and even his children. Yes, if you turn your eyes toward that man, our Savior, then “the things of this world will grow strangely dim…”
16We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
I don’t know about you, but I am overwhelmed by the thought that God thinks so much about me. You and I are so special in his eyes.
My wife has stood by my side through some pretty tough struggles. She has had to witness my depravity in ways that lesser women would left me for a long time ago. However, even amidst the security and comfort of that love, I sometimes become afraid because I wonder if I will ever do anything that is just too much for her to overlook. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is a limited capacity to the love that my wife, or anyone else in my family for that matter, can possibly have for me.
Not true with God. How do I know this? Because God’s standards are higher, he knows everything I’ve ever done wrong and even knows my thoughts, and yet he says that not a thing in the world could ever come between us. This is the extent of God’s love…
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.35Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36(As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.38And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”
Open up a Bible and find the division between the two Testaments. Hold the Old Testament in your left hand and the New Testament in your right. Now understand this: this is how God speaks.
In your left hand are the pages describing how God spoke for centuries. For approximately 1,000 years the writers of the Old Testament diligently shared a message sent from heaven itself. Those pages describe the hopeless plight of mankind and the God who created them. They are the first act, effectively foreshadowing what God’s plan is in beautiful and diverse ways. God revealed this message to many authors in many ways. They are called prophets and God spoke to them directly, through visions and dreams, through smoldering branches and in still, small voices.
They point to one who is to come. He will be the fulfillment of what the prophets spoke about. One who will deliver God’s people from oppression and bondage.
This is the message that you hold in your left hand and this is also where the book of Hebrews starts.
Hebrews is not found in the Old Testament. It’s found in the New Testament that you hold in your right hand. Perhaps the best way to explain it’s significance is to explain the space between the Testaments.
Some 400 years before Christ was born, one of those Old Testament prophets named Malachi put down his pen. He would be the last of the prophets. God was finished speaking…for a while.
The silence was deafening. It screamed out a message to the Israelites that God had abandoned them. But God had not abandoned them. In fact, he was about to change the course of human history and lead us into the second act.
One fateful night, that silence was pierced with the shrill cry of a baby boy. He was the Christ. God in the flesh. God had come to earth as a human. His mission was clear, and his actions evidenced a clarity of purpose. He was headed for a cross, and there he would bleed and die for all mankind, effectively taking upon himself the punishment that we deserved. He boldly declared the message that whoever would believe in Him would not die in their sin, but have eternal life.
Then, he left. He ascended into heaven and left the work of spreading the message of this salvation to the small group of people who did believe. They were called the church, and they were the vehicle through whom God delivered the New Testament. He would no longer use prophets. Rather, His teaching would be spread throughout the church by the people He taught.
The early church leaders, or apostles, had their work cut out for them. Not only were they not recognized as prophets, but the message that they delivered was that of Jesus Christ being the fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophets spoke of. This message was not received well in many Jewish circles. He just didn’t fit the bill of what they were looking for. Hence the need for the book of Hebrews, where the author presents Jesus as one who is beyond equal by any qualitative measure. By affirming who Jesus is, Hebrews effectively affirms the authority of the early church leaders’ writings and, consequently, the authority of the New Testament.
This New Testament would have a purpose that would mirror that of the Old Testament. While the Old Testament always pointed forward toward future events and a Savior who was yet to come, the message of the New Testament does just the opposite, pointing backward to that baby crying in Bethlehem and declaring that He is the fulfillment of that prophecy.
That is the space between the Testaments; Jesus himself and Calvary’s cross. One volume pointing toward a Savior who was yet to come and the other to one who has already come.
It therefore makes sense that Hebrews starts out by summarizing all of that in one clear sentence: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
Hebrews is about Jesus. It is about who and what He is and why. If there is a central theme to the book, surely it is this…that Jesus is greater.
“…whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
Spoiler alert: Jesus is God.
Sorry to ruin the plot for you, but that is what this chapter is about and you will get a lot more out of it when you know that beforehand. Hebrews 1 attempts to establish that Jesus is God by simply arguing that his position is equal with God. We get our first glimpse of Jesus in verse 2 when he is described as the “heir of all things” as well as the creator of the universe.
Now we need to establish some ground rules in order to fully understand the rest of this chapter. This has to do with our understanding of the word Trinity.
The word Trinity does not appear in the Scriptures. It is a term that the church has used to describe the great mystery of how God exists to us. We understand our relationship with everything else in the universe through a physical reality. However, God is spirit. He is not defined by nor can he be contained in the physical realm. So how do we relate to Him?
Fortunately God has determined that for us. He has chosen to relate himself to us as 3 persons, namely the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the most difficult and profound mysteries to understand and it is doubtful that a single person has ever lived who has truly understood the total complexity of how this works.
Having said that, it will be important to understand this: the Trinity is not a collection of 3 different beings. The Trinity is how we understand the nature of God, but make no mistake, it is one God…one being, or one essence. Whether we are talking about the Father and his provision for us, the Son and his sacrifice, or the Spirit and his power in us, we are talking about the same God.
True, these relationships generally fall into specific definitions. For example, the Father may be described as “God for us”, the Son as “God with us” and the Spirit as “God in us”. However, that is not always the case.
Consider the following passage which describe how the entire Trinity is actually at work in the relationship we traditionally assign to the Spirit…
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:9-11
There are many such passages that seem to effectively blur the lines between the responsibilities of the different persons of the Trinity. For example, the question of which person actually created the universe would be appropriate to point out since verse 2 seems to assign that task to the Son. John chapter 1 would also echo this thought in verse 3, saying “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
However, Paul writes this to the Corinthian church…
But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. – 1 Corinthians 8:6
Either the early church leaders didn’t really have a firm grasp on their theology, or their descriptions of God, whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit are all describing the same God…the same being. It almost seems like you can rightfully substitute one for the other without error.
This may not fit the rules of theology that our textbooks seem to follow, but it’s the way the Bible is written. Does it make sense? We can only assume right? Does not God have the right to define himself to us the way he wants? If the Bible is his revelation of who he is, then who are we to change the rules?
This much I know…God exists to me as three different people. Jesus died for me and I am his disciple. My Father in heaven loves me and gave his Son for me. I pray to him and I do so boldly in Jesus name. His Spirit lives inside of me and I allow him to control my life. Here is the problem though…if I keep talking I acknowledge that the Spirit does more than that. Whenever I am weak, this same Spirit gives me strength. When I feel inadequate, this Spirit whispers scriptures to me, saying “I can do all things through… (that’s right) Christ…who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
So it would seem at the very least that both Christ and the Holy Spirit are identified at different times as the person of God who lives in us. So which is it? Or is it that the Holy Spirit may be more aptly titled the Spirit of Christ? Perhaps…but then, didn’t David in a moment of anguish cry out to the Father in Psalm 53 and beg him not to take HIS spirit from him? Perhaps a stronger argument can be made further down in the Romans 8 passage…
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15
Trinitarian theology is important. It is important to understand the distinctions that scripture presents about how God presents himself; as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, we cannot distinguish them from each other. Neither exists without the others. They are one. Not one in purpose, but one in essence.
With that as a backdrop, we can now read the rest of verse 3 which should flip the whole thing on its head…
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Okay, I get it…if Jesus and the Father are the same being, then how can Jesus sit down beside him right?
In order to understand this concept, we must come to realization that the author is arguing Jesus equality with God by way of his POSITION.
Think about it…he first describes Jesus as the heir to all things. Taken literally, that would mean that the Father is technically the owner of everything and his Son, Jesus, being the heir and by way of whatever laws govern the inheritance of property, will one day inherit it all. When the Father dies. See a problem there? I would suggest that Jesus, being identified as having created all things has already received his inheritance. In fact, I would suggest that he never had to actually receive it, he always had it.
So why is he described as the heir? Because the author here is talking to an audience who only knows Jesus as a man. Perhaps evidenced by his ascension to heaven, which was witnessed by many people, verse 3 says that his death, resurrection and ascension prove Jesus right to claim the title of the Son of God. He has ascended and assumed his rightful place now…seated at the right hand of the Father.
Just like the picture of inheritance, this image of where Jesus sits is not descriptive of an action, but rather his position.
Let me give you an example. Every year around the third week of January, the U.S. government gathers together to hear the annual State of the Union address. The whole government is in attendance and everyone has a specific place to sit. Republicans sit on one side, the Democrats on the other. The members of the Supreme Court are down front. The first lady is typically seated in the balcony to the president’s left.
Now, let me ask you a question…who is seated behind the President? Were you able to guess without looking? Of course, the two seats behind the President are occupied by the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
Here’s another question though…are they actually sitting? Sometimes. Sometimes they’re standing though right? Sometimes they’re both standing and applauding. In fact, depending on what the President just said, sometimes only one is standing and applauding and the other is sitting and doing his best to look very displeased.
So when I ask you “who is sitting behind the President during the State of the Union” did you really stop to ask “at what point during the speech?” Of course not! You instinctively understood that I was not referring to the act of sitting, but rather their position.
When we watch the State of the Union, we get a visual picture of our presidential line of succession. The President is out front as the unequivocal leader. However, if something were to happen to him, then the Vice President would be sworn in as the acting President. If something then happened to him, the Speaker of the House would take over.
So now you can grasp the concept.
The author of Hebrews, speaking to a group who knows Jesus as a man who has recently lived among them, describes him as one who has ascended to heaven and taken his rightful place…not behind God, but at his right hand…on the same level…equal with God.
Jesus is God. He is God expressing himself in human form. As Paul says in Colossians… “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” – Colossians 2:9 He is not a part of God, rather he is the complete human expression of God.
The reason why He chose to do this is explained in later chapters, but for now, we realize that Jesus time here on earth as a man has not robbed him of his position. He willingly gave it up, and then ascended to reclaim it.
Paul wrote it best in Philippians…
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11
Now that we have established the main premise for this chapter, we approach the remaining verses which elevate Jesus above angels.
“4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”
Again, this passage is speaking of position. The word superior here is often translated as “better” or “greater” in other versions. This does not refer to his character or other attributes, but rather his rank. He is above the angels in the same way that a son is above the servants in a home in terms of his place in the home, his rights and his inheritance.
This comparison to angels may seem like a step down compared to the grandeur of the first few verses, but in fact, this collection of verses is subtle in its reference to one of the great mysteries of existence. That of the dichotomy between a physical universe and a spiritual realm.
In the beginning…God.
What is God? “God is spirit” as his own Son pointed out in John 4:24. What are angels? While we don’t have an exhaustive library to describe them with, verses 7 and 14 of Hebrews 1 seems to suggest that they too are spirit, and potentially exist with God in a spiritual realm.
Then God creates the physical universe. He creates the stars, the planets, space and time. He creates the earth, the animals and the trees. Then he creates what he refers to as the crown of creation…you and me. He creates man in His image.
So there are 3 different beings that exist in two different realms. However, humans are not like angels. Humans are actually more like God in the sense that they have the potential to exist both physically and spiritually.
God who is spirit becomes a physical man in the person of Jesus Christ. He does this, so that he can make a way for us, who are human to be exalted and glorified and ascend into heaven just as Jesus did and become heirs to the same inheritance as Christ…
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” – Romans 8:16-17
So in fact what we can learn from this passage, which seems to indicate Jesus’ rightful place as being higher than the angels, is that OUR position is the same as His, and we too will be exalted to a position above the angels.
8But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.“ 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
This passage is a direct quote from Psalm 45:6-7. It was foreshadowed in the choosing of David from among his brothers. When God spoke to the prophet Samuel and gave him the sign to choose David, he anointed his head with oil to signify that he had been chosen. Of course, the Messiah himself was to be chosen from the line of David and hence the visual imagery of the anointing.
10He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
Here the author quotes Psalm 102:25-27. This passage furthers the discussion about the dichotomy between the physical and spiritual realms. In fact, scriptures don’t just distinguish between the two, but also speak of which one is greater.
In bold language, the scriptures describe the world as we know it as temporary. It will not last forever. Life as we know it – the physical universe – will eventually stop. What’s more, apparently this event will seem of little significance in the scope of the eternal, spiritual realm. The universe ceasing to exist is described as what happens when you pull an old shirt out of your closet and it’s so old and stained and holey that your wife won’t even let you give it to goodwill. You roll it up and throw it away and think nothing more about it. So it will be when this world fades away.
Ever have the feeling that there has to be something more…something of more importance, more significance? Guess what? There is! There’s something infinitely more grand than the universe as we know it. This is nothing when compared to the realm where God lives…where he waits for us.
I used to blow kids minds whenever I taught about heaven as a youth pastor. I would say, “think of it this way guys, God created the entire universe in 7 days and yet, he has been working on preparing heaven for us for the last 2000 years!”
But he has. One of the last things that Jesus said before ascending into heaven was that he was going “to prepare a place” for us. He says…
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:3
Wherever God is, you can be sure of one thing…it’s not like it is here! Is there more? Yes…infinitely more. So much more that this world pales in comparison to it. God has something completely different in mind for you and I…something completely new.
This concept however, is not new. It has been spoken of by the prophet Isaiah and confirmed by the revelation made to John…
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. – Isaiah 65:17-18
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. – Revelation 21:1-2
So let’s recap…
Jesus is greater. He is greater than all of the prophets. He is greater than all of creation. He is greater than the angels and yes He is greater than the entire cosmos itself. He is greater and more infinite than the world as we know it.
And the best part about all of this is that through this Jesus, we have the hope of an eternal existence that is greater than anything we could ever imagine. And that longing in your heart that wants so desperately to connect with your existence and your Creator on a much deeper level will be fulfilled completely at that time. You will know who you truly are and why your life matters, because you will know the One who created you completely.
Paul explains it this way…
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Whoa. That is greater isn’t it? Yes greater even than wisest of men could ever comprehend, and dare I say the angels themselves.
13To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Why is it that angels aren’t on the same level as we are anyway? Would you believe me if I told you it’s because they will never have the capacity to know God as we know Him?
Pop Quiz: what is the attribute of God that perhaps most defines him and yes he expresses it only to man? Is it his love? No, as he loves his own Son. His care and provision? No, as the scriptures remind us that even the birds know of his provision. Give up?
It’s his grace.
Think about it…can he show grace to those who haven’t sinned? How would that be possible? Grace defined is not getting the punishment we deserve for our sin. To what other part of creation did God give his law? We’re it. The ones charged with obeying his commands. But before you think we got the short stick, remember this…the very sin that has separated us from God has allowed us to experience his love and mercy and forgiveness more than all of creation.
Perhaps the old hymn says it best, “Grace, grace God’s grace…grace that will pardon and cleanse within….grace that is greater than all my sin.”
That is why you are set apart and you, who were made a little lower than the angels, can be called the sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with Christ to his inheritance.
That is something, quite frankly, that even angels can only dream about. Or, as the apostle Peter aptly puts it…
“10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” – 1 Peter 1:10-12
This is the message of Hebrews: God made him who was greater than all things to be a little lower than the angels so that you and I, being ourselves lower than the angels could be made greater.
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