We are beginning our studies in the NT book of Hebrews.
A book that’s sometimes neglected.
We don’t know who it was written by. It bears no signature. Wasn’t Paul. Could be Barnabas! Our own Barnabas who wrote it.
We do know that it was written to Urban Christians, like us - there are more references to the city than any other bible book - some of Jewish background, some pagan - under pressure from a pluralist non-christian culture - to drift, disobey, give up on their faith.
At times this book might feel overly detailed, distant and difficult. But at it’s heart this letter that reads like a sermon Fixes our eyes on the glory of Jesus and exhorts us, for the sake of our freedom and joy, to keep looking at Him!
PRAY - light of the glory of God in the face of Christ strengthen, refresh, renew.
Towards the end of his life, having buried ten of his children, having been harassed and hounded by the authorities, pushed into social exile, arrested for merely seeking to pastor his congregation. The 17th C preacher John Owen said this:
“A due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind … will lift the minds and hearts of believers above the troubles of this world. It is the sovereign antidote that will expel all the poison that will otherwise perplex and enslave them..”
Are you battered and bruised like Owen? The many troubles of life
Our aim as we journey through Hebrews is to so fill our vision with the glory of Jesus. To see how Christ comforts and refreshes his beloved people with Joy.
Because - The Joy of the Lord is our strength.
Please can we talk about Joy for a moment?
I’m not talking about a fake Christian smile. ‘Praise the Lord anyway’ when life is really hard. But my prayer is that we will cultivate together, nourish in one another a joy in Christ in the midst of the troubles of life.
Because I take it that joy is not an optional extra for a Christian. Like going to the cinema - it’s nice if you’ve got the time but if you’ve got young kids just forget it for about 18 years. I don’t think Joy is like that. “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” commands the Apostle Paul.. Joy is essential to Christian growth. For we were made to glorify God and enJOY him forever. And we do not enter into the new life to which we have been called if we don’t enter into our master’s joy.
And Joycomes - have you noticed - through encountering beauty. Whether it’s a a 40 yard pass from the boot of tottenham’s Christian Erickson; Slowdive’s new album after 21 years of shoegaze silence; or whether it’s the laughter of friends over your meal. Joy comes through encountering beauty.
And the richest beauty - the source of all beauties - is Christ.
So we want to encounter Him to find a deeper joy in these coming weeks of Hebrews.
And as we find deeper joy in him we will find our hearts bound together more, find ourselves loving each other as brothers and sisters more with his love.
To Hebrews. Look unto Jesus,
In the past God spoke ….to our ancestors …through the prophets at many times and in various ways. But Now In these last days God HAS spoken to US by his SON whom he appointed HEIR OF ALL THINGS AND THROUGH WHOM HE MADE THE UNIVERSE
All of Scripture is about THE SON. He is the point, the centre, the cornerstone, the jewell in the crown of our faith. And the first thing that Hebrews wants us to know about Jesus is that he is the Heir of all things and the creator of all things. All things were made by him and for him says Colossians
Now, this is not even the most important thing that could be said about Jesus but it’s a good place to start because it sets everything we’re going to say about Jesus in wonderful context. It frames our thinking well because from the outset we can be clear that we are not talking about our own little hobby horse.
As we begin to think wonderful thoughts about Jesus it’s not that i happen to get excited about Jesus and my brother in law gets excited about climbing the Via Ferata in the Italian Dolomites. And it’s just that we have our own different things that really interest us .
That is what our culture wants to enforce upon those of religious belief and it’s very easy to let that message slip into our self conscious - that Jesus is just our little personal hobby horse. Some people go for Cordon Bleu cooking or Wind surfing some people go for Jesus. It’s your hobby.
The whole weight of our culture seeks to reduce Jesus to be an optional smear on top of ‘real life’ and to say that it’s pretty weird and backward to really believe in him. Witness the Media’s treatment of Lib Dem leader Tim Farron in recent weeks.
Jesus is just your thing and keep it to yourself. And to the extent that we buy that … that is a great fat leach on Christian vitality. We sing songs of Christ’s majesty in here on a Sunday but as soon as we leave here - what relevance does Jesus have to the happy hordes of friends barbecuing on London Fields or to the concrete world of work on Monday morning? Those things look like real life. ‘Jesus your hobby’ - sucks all your christian life and strength and vitality out of you.
And so before we go too far, Hebrews - written to Urban Christians in just such a pluralist, materialist cuture as ours- tells us we are not dealing with some laughable piffling little Christlet. NO, We are dealing with the ONE though whom all things were made, who upholds all things moment by moment with the word of his power. The skies, the mountains, music ALL things bear the marks of HIS artistry, And HE is the heir of all things. No one else. This is his world down to the tiniest atomic detail. And you only really know the joy of sunshine and, parkland and barbecues and friendship and work and creativity when you know HIM.
And so we are not playing religious games here. Jesus’ character is so written into the fabric of reality that until you’ve thanked Christ for your life you haven’t discovered your true origin. Until you’ve depended on Christ for everything you haven’t found the true sustainer of your life. Until you have submitted your life to Christ you haven’t found your true purpose in life. For Jesus IS the maker, sustainer and goal of all things.
Now i need to know that when the world marginalises us and makes our christianity out to be pointless and laughable. We need to know that we are not talking about a private individual interest but PUBLIC TRUTH. We are talking abut the ONE who is the heir of all things
And then …
There’s this stunning phrase in v3 which links back to verse 1
In verse 1we saw this great contrast of the past to the NOW
In the past ..God spoke ….to our ancestors …through the prophets at many [isolated, different] times and in various [literally: piecemeal, bitty] ways - so God spoke in the OT, didn’t he, through historical events, scriptures, types, laws, ceremonies, practices, sacrifices …
But Now (contrast) In these last days [the end days - it’s all been done, all fulfilled, because] God HAS spoken [finally, fully] to US by his SON
So Jesus is …..The Full, Complete, Coming together of all the bits and pieces of the jigsaw revelation of God..
and v3 puts this way - it’s amazing -
The Son is THE RADIANCE OF GOD’S GLORY AND THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF HIS BEING
it is in Jesus that we fully, exactly see what God is like. His glory… His being
Think again about Jesus as he’s descibed in the gospels:
What You see is a man with a towering charisma
Health and healing, loaves and fishes - everything’s abounding in his presence
He’s clearly so magnetic that people come flocking to be with him.. they didn’t want to leave
rich and poor, men and women; children, sick, mad, frail. befriending the rejected; giving hope to the hopeless. the dirty and despised found that they mattered with Him.
And his closest friends.. they found that as the Son of Man came eating and drinking ..to be with Jesus was everyday like being with a bridegroom at his wedding!
Here is a man who on the one hand felt a world of pain, a man of sorrows familiar with grief and yet all through the gospels we see that he abounds with joy
Joy …. and goodness …and love
because, second half of v3, it was only after he had provided purification for sins that he returned to the joy of the majesty in heaven. It’s a strange phrase ‘providing purification for sins’ harking back to the ceremonies and sacrificies of Israel. Hebrews will have much to say about how these jigsaw pieces become radiantly clear jesus. But here we are reminded. He, the Lord of Joy, gave himself as a sacrifiice for us. He took our filth to provide for our purity..
Look at Jesus. Such joy, such goodness, such love..
In Jesus, in the gospels, we see ONE who had a HUGE heart
He loved God, He loved people, he hated evil, he felt for the needy he is so FULL, he is so ALIVE
and here you see is the point and the wonder
Look at Jesus there in the gospels and there is Your God wonderfully displayed to US
There is NO God in heaven who is UNLIKE that Jesus who we see
JESUS IS the radiance of God’s glory. The exact representation of his being
He is God from God light from light, true God from true God, One in being with the Father…
God cannot be other than what we see in Jesus.
Meaning… that you can get rid of that horrible sly idea that behind the friend of sinners lies another god who is rather thinner on compassion and grace.
There cannot be! Jesus is the FINAL, FULL. PERFECT revelation of God
If you want to know what God is like - look at Jesus, look at Jesus
In Christ we exchange darkness and bittiness for light and fullness in our understanding of who God is. And the God who jesus shows us is an unsurpassably beautiful and lovely and desirable God.
You know this stuff is right at the heart of our struggles with prayer?
If i am not daily seeking to allow JESUS to shape my thoughts of who God is. what i find is this ..
I find …if God is not like Jesus. I don’t want to pray to him. I wake up in the morning and the first thing that I am aware of is my basic sinfulness and if God is that Holy other in the sky i just don’t want to pray, i dont want to face him. But if God is like Jesus …then every morning though I amvile like the thief on the crossi know that i can say remember me and i know that he will! Though I feel lame and spiritually leprous I know what he is like towards people like me! I know how he will respond. I know he loves me.
This means 2 things i think for our daily feeding on the Scriptures
- You’ve got to read the Bible backwards
- You’ve got to have a gospel on the go
You’ve got to read the Bible backwards
God spoke in the past - the OT - in many - bitty ways - pieces of the jigsaw of who he is that come together - like the pieces of a kaleidoscope come to gether when you twist it - in Jesus. The OT is fantastic but You have to read the OT like the letter of Hebrews does with Jesus absolutely in your mind as the One who brings all those bits and pieces of revelation about God together. Read the Bible backwards..
And because Jesus fully reveals God to us. You’ve always got to have a gospel on the go. Never be out of the gospels.
The rest of Hebrews 1 is devoted to showing Jesus’ greatness. And it’s as if the writer to the Hebrews (Barnabas ;-) thinks what can i compare Jesus to to demontrate his superiority his greatness and he says I know. I’ll compare him to the greatest known beings - Angels.
We have a fascination with strength and power don’t we? From an early age - my son Zac - it was Yugiho cards for a while now it’s pokemon cards. My monster trumps your monster - more powerful.
Angels are real - v14 ministering spirits to serve those inheriting salvation!
But Hebrews says that Jesus trumps the angels -
But look what’s interesting - not because he is more powerful, (bigger spirtiual biceps), not because he is a King.
But because he is a Son
See it there?
In this string of OT quotations about Jesus:
v5 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
‘You are my Son;
today I have become your Father’[a]?
‘I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son’[b]?
v6 And again, when God brings his firstborn [Son] into the world, he says,
‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’[c]
v8 About the Son, God says ….
by the way these verses are not teaching that Jesus had a beginning or that he somehow became God’s Son. No, from eternity he is the Son of God but at his exaltation when he is enthroned (end of v3) after his death and resurrection, when v6 the firstborn heir is brought into the World to come, then he is revealed and declared to be Son of God and so ‘let all God’s angels worship him!’
Chad Le Clos
Bert Le Clos, Olympics. ‘Look at my Son, he’s beautiful’
Jesus being the Son, shows us that God, the highest being in the universe, is not a lonely powerful monarch but a community of loving persons, an eternally loving God. A Father loving his son in the unity of the Spirit. Occasionally in the gospels. God the Father cannot help himself. At Jesus’ baptism This is my Son, whom i love. On the mount of transfiguraton. This is my beloved Son. But supremely - after Jesus’ loving, obedient death. His resurrection and ascension are God’s declaration that this is My Son - Look at him, he’s beautiful, worship him!
Jesus is greater than the angels because he is the Son
Jesus is so beautiful that he has captivated the mind and heart of the Father for eternity. he is the Father’s everything. There is nothing more precious to the Father than him because there is nothing better than him.
And this is what we were made for - to find our refreshment, to find our joy WHERE THE FATHER ALWAYS HAS - in Jesus. To find a delight so great it can satisfy even a Divine heart - the heart ofthe Father for an eternity! That’s what we’re being brought into to enjoy. The Father shares with us what is most precious to him. Jesus himself is the very great reward of the gospel. He is the heart of it - yes we are given forgiveness, yes we are given eternal life but supremely we are given HIM.
John Newton - ex slave trader, writer of our second hymn and the hymn we are about to sing, Amazing Grace. In a letter to a friend
This is what i want us to see in Hebrews,
Let me commend you to the grace and care of our Lord Jesus. They that dwell under the shadow of His wings shall be safe. His service is perfect freedom; in His favour is life. May His name be precious to your heart!
And may you have such increasing knowledge of His person, character, and offices, that beholding His glory in the Gospel, you may be changed into His image, drink in His Spirit, and be more conformable to Him.
To view Him by faith, as living, dying, rising, reigning, interceding, and governing for us, will enable us to endure any cross, to overcome all opposition, to with stand temptation, and to run in the way of His commandments with an enlarged heart.
And yet a little while, and He will put an end to our conflicts and fears, and take us home to be with Him for ever. Thus, by the power of His blood, and the word of his testimony, we shall be made more than conquerors, and in the end obtain the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.
Look unto Jesus - a haven for the burned out for the weary for the cold - he is sufficient
he is better