Wednesday, August 26, 2015
In this series so far we have been presented with a case for the superiority of the gospel message of the New Testament over and above the Old Testament (along with its law/sacrificial system) and the superiority of Jesus Christ over and above the rulers of old and the angels of heaven. These two truths, the revelation of God’s Word and the reality of God in Jesus Christ are firmly fixed fundamentals in an increasingly relativistic and postmodern world. Like an ancient lighthouse still used to guide vessels to safe harbor, these truths are not only beautiful and formidable structures, they are the only salvation available for those vessels lost in the swells of skepticism and storms of sinfulness. The luminosity of a lighthouse's beam was and is measured in "candlepower," as the first lighthouses made use of candles and mirrors to form their piercing beams. Depending on how high the candlepower was determined how far away a captain could see the shore indicated by the lighthouse. If it proved important for a captain to pay special attention to the lighthouse and its corresponding candlepower while navigating to safe harbor on the high seas, how much more do you think people ought to pay attention to what God has revealed and its candlepower as they navigate through life? In answering this question, let us head two parts of a warning found in Hebrews 2:1-4. By the end of this message, we will learn revelation's candlepower and why we must pay close attention to its piercing beam.
I. PART 1: The Recommendation-2:1
As the preacher moves from chapter 1 to chapter 2, he takes a brief break from the Christology he is building to entertain a very important warning. This warning applies as much to him as it does to those listening. This is made clear by the first person plural pronoun “we” that we see in his speech, “for this reason, we…” (2:1). Also, beginning with “for this reason” demands that we ask “what reason is that?” as we seek to connect what has been discussed in chapter 1 with the contents of chapter 2. Most nearly, the preacher is trying to connect what he has made reference to in the Old Testament with an encouragement he is going to give here are the beginning of the next section. Given all that Jesus is, the Most High in all of the heavens (see 1:5-14), and given that God’s new revelation has been given through Christ and not some intermediary (see 1:1-4), it is incumbent that the reader respond appropriately. This is made clear by the recommendation made in verse 1, “For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard…” (2:1a). What Jesus revealed, as already argued, is vastly superior to what was found in the Old Testament (in that it completed the Old Testament, came from the primary source of the God-man, has been made available to all, and gives the greatest hope). Therefore, it demands special attention, in fact, “much closer attention.”
A reminder of Israel’s checkered history of responding to revelation is appropriate here. When God spoke through signs of plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, the people were quick to turn away and complain (leaving them wandering in the desert for 40 years). When God inscribed clear directions on tablets, the people rebelled. When God appointed kings, corruption and idolatry set in. It would appear that revelatory attempts made in the past, attempts that the preacher’s audience would have been privy to, were unsuccessful at sticking with God’s people. Perhaps this is why the preacher encourages those listening to pay “much closer attention” to what has been made available/clear in Christ—the greatest of all revelations.
This recommendation becomes clearer when one understands exactly what is meant by “pay attention to.” The verb used (prosecw) means to “hold firmly to a particular belief” following careful consideration. Holding beliefs in what has been shared by God, especially the gospel, is of supreme importance for these are matters of eternal life and death. I’d say these are worth wrestling with and nailing down.
The purpose for having God’s revelation in Jesus firmly held is “so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1b). The danger of drifting away from what God has revealed in Jesus Christ cannot be treated too gravely, for this compels the reader to check himself/herself for perseverance over profession and firm belief over mere lip service. Those who are shallow professors, not persevering believers, are going to be those who by their very nature slowly drift away from Jesus and His teachings as preserved in the New Testament, like a ship wandering aimlessly on the high seas.
What is described by the United States Coast Guard as the world's most powerful lighthouse stands in Charleston, S. C. The light has twenty million candlepower and is visible for twenty miles. Standing on the north side of Charleston Harbor’s entrance on Sullivan's Island, the installation is one hundred and forty feet high. It replaced a lighthouse built in 1876 and was the last lighthouse built by the United States military. I’d compare the old lighthouse that needed replacing in Charleston S.C. to the old covenant found in the Old Testament. Though it served a purpose for a time and was used to guide many, something far better, brighter, and more powerful has come along to provide potential salvation to many more in Jesus Christ and His gospel message. Therefore, the preacher says, we would do well to pay attention to it.
Consider what has been revealed in the New Testament. “…before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father, accept through me” (John 14:6). “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). These revelations together illuminate the only lighthouse leading to salvation on the shores of the stormy seas of this world. Any divergence from these fundamental truths spells disaster for any vessel. There is no room for error when it comes to these. We cannot just be close when it comes to Jesus’ identity and His ministry of redemption. Therefore, the preacher says to all those listening, pay close attention, hold fast to these things, keep the rudder of your vessel pointed toward this light, so that you do not drift away from it to your doom.
II. PART 2: The Reason-2:2-4
Having made the recommendation to pay close attention to the Gospel and its Christ, the preacher begins to describe the reasons for doing so in verses 2-4. First, a rabbinic style of argumentation is used to provide reason #1. This argument consists of two parts-the lesser and the greater. First, the lesser situation is described as follows, “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty…” (2:2). Here, the preacher reminds his audience of the harsh punishments that were dealt the forefathers whenever they disregarded God’s Word as spoken through angelic beings. The disobedience of the Jews under the old covenant was two-fold: commission of sin contrary to God’s will and, in some situations, an unwillingness to listen to God in the first place (see semantic range of disobedience). Whether they were dispersed and thrown into exile, enslaved, or made to wander for forty years, God made sure to provide just consequences for those who disobeyed His revelation in the past.
The preacher’s point is made when the “greater” part of the argument is given. If that was how God dealt with the Jews in Old Testament under the purview of the old covenant, the preacher asks of New Testament believer, “how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (2:3). If, as has been argued in chapter 1, God’s revelation in the New Testament is superior to that which is found in the Old and Jesus Christ has perfectly revealed God in His incarnation for the benefit of all who call Him Lord, then surely to disregard what is new is worse than ignoring the old. The rhetorical question posed demands a negative answer, “No, we could never escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” If one finds scriptural precedent in God’s punishment of those who were disobedient in the Old Testament, then they should expect a more severe punishment for neglecting what has been made available in the New Testament. The word “neglect” means “to not care about” or “be apathetic toward” something. “Thus, those who care so little about the word of salvation that they neglect it will find no escape from the punishment they deserve” (Guthrie, 85).
Ultimately, the first reason given for paying special attention to God’s newest and greatest revelation is to escape just punishment. Instead of caring less about what God has said in Jesus Christ, we must care about nothing more—then and only then will we escape the wrath of God in His judgment. I’d say this is a compelling reason to listen well and apply appropriately the Word of God.
However, another compelling reason to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” in Jesus is offered by the preacher in the second part of verse 3 through verse 4. In these verses, analysis is made on the nature of the Word given that consists in two parts. First, the route that the Word took is described, “After it was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed by those who heard…” (2:3b). “It” in this verse is the message of salvation that, according to our preacher was first spoken through the Lord Jesus when He said things like, “the time has come…the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk. 1:15) and did things like “going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” (Mt. 9:35). Only God Himself could be the source/author of something as great as salvation from sin, i.e. the gospel. However, this message did not stop with Him. In fact, according to most, neither the preacher nor the original recipients of Hebrews had directly heard Jesus preach the message of salvation. They were “second generation” Christians who received the message from those who first “heard” Jesus in person. However, this word, verse 3 says, was “confirmed” or guaranteed to be true. Therefore, while they had not heard the message of salvation from Jesus directly, they could count on its truthfulness because of the confirmation they received from eyewitnesses.
If these were second generation believers, then we are third generation believers: Jesus’ original disciples—writers and first preachers—today’s believers who read recorded accounts. This is the route the Word has taken to reach us—a word that is trustworthy as it has been confirmed not only by eyewitnesses when originally recorded, but also by the Church itself over 2000 years of tradition and history.
Though eyewitnesses and church history are good proofs/evidences for God’s revelatory act in Jesus Christ, the greatest of all confirmations on the gospel message is God Himself who, the preacher says, “also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will…” (2:4). The word picture created here by the preacher is a legal image in which God enters the courtroom of history to corroborate the testimony of those who followed the Lord by proclaiming salvation in various ways (Guthrie, 85). The “signs and wonders and…miracles” offered by God accompany the preaching/promulgation of the gospel message and add apologetic value to the message that goes forth into all the world.
However, in sticking with our image of a vessel trying to navigate toward safe harbor, let us think of the Lord’s initial message of the Gospel as preached by Jesus Christ as the bright beam of the lighthouse that calls us to port from the tumultuous seas of life. To help us navigate those waters to reach safety we have the maps recorded for us by those who have gone before, charting out with as much precision as possible the rocks and dangers to avoid along the way. Added to these is the church itself, which travels with us giving advice and encouragement for the journey. However, the most important one on board, guiding us to turn our rudder this way and that, is God Himself who through His Spirit and special works leads us along so that we can arrive to our desired destination with God. To neglect God or His call is to be, again, forever lost at sea. To not pay special attention to what He has made available in this journey (the preserved message, the history of His church, and the signs and wonders evident in the world), spells disaster on the unforgiving rocks which lurk beneath the surface that threaten our vessel.
To what or to whom are you paying close attention? Is the vessel of your life directed toward Jesus Christ and the hope that He offers in salvation? We live in a world in which reporters are shot while giving live coverage, not in an urban slum or during a riot, but in a quiet place like Franklin County. We live in a world with volatility in markets as well as in relationships. We live in the kind of world in which millions of adulterers are exposed all at once via a website devoted to facilitating affairs. However, those who are focused on Jesus, paying special attention to what He has revealed, live in a world of hope that guides them to safe harbor. There is no question that we are made to navigate treacherous waters but there is also no question that God’s people can be guided through when they have Jesus as their lighthouse and God as their captain. We would do well not to neglect these.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
In presenting the news that breaks each and every day in our 24 hour news cycle, often experts will be brought in to give their statements on what is happening so that the viewer, we are told, can make up their own minds on the matter. These “contributors” or “experts” are, more than likely, experienced in the various fields they are called upon to either endorse of criticize. Therefore, their words mean more on the subject than just anybody who may or may not be as informed.
However, I would submit to you, given what we introduced last week, that the biggest story out there is Jesus Christ and His gospel as presented in the New Testament. This is the theme that we will returning to week after week in our Hebrews series as we reawaken to the glory of God through the superiority of Jesus Christ and reacquaint ourselves with the greatest news of all.
This week the preacher invites an expert in as a contributor to give two sets of statements that confirm for us, the viewer, Jesus’ superiority in one particular area-His place above the heavenly host. Ultimately, what we will learn from our contributor today is that Jesus is not only the best of this world, but the best of heaven and all its divine inhabitants. Our expert who will make this case today is none other than God Himself, Who alone possesses the authority and knowledge to make this claim by means of these following statements.
Statements Directed to the Angels-1:5-7, 13-14
In order to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority over the angels of heaven, the preacher calls upon God, who is the unnamed Speaker throughout this passage, to give His insight. The preacher accomplishes this in Hebrews 1:5-14 by making much use of the Old Testament. In fact, the preacher uses 7 quotations from the Old Testament in these ten verses (5 from the book of Psalms). He does this for two reasons: first, these passages highlight the very thing the preacher is hoping to communicate, two, these passages demonstrate that Jesus’ superiority is not a new idea, but something even the Jewish forefathers hinted at, in some cases, unbeknownst to them. The first quotations used come from Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14 and they are found in Hebrews 1:5, “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? and again, ‘I will be Father to Him and he shall be a Son to me’?...” (1:5). The first reference (from Psalm 2:7-“You are My Son, today I have begotten You”) comes from a context that deals with rebellion of the nations and their rulers against God. Later on in the psalm, the passage promises that this rebellion will be smashed by the power of God. By saying, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You,” the preacher draws the entire psalm into focus, allowing early Christians to apply its themes to Jesus as Messiah who promises of victory over those earthly forces opposed to the church.
Though angels are called “sons of God” none are ever called “my son” nor are they said to have been “begotten by God.” Therefore, this exalts Jesus above the angels as God says to these divine beings, “You are not My Son.”
The second quote used in this verse comes from 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be a Father to Him and He will be a son to me” (1:5). In the original context, the prophet Nathan is telling David that a great king will rule over an eternal kingdom. By pulling from this story with this reference, it is obvious that the preacher in Hebrews believes Jesus to be the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Again, Jesus is shown to be superior in this verse, a second time, in His unique relationship to the father. He is the only begotten of God and He and God enjoy a close Father-Son relationship. God might say to His angels, “you are my creation, messengers, agents, heralds, etc.” but He also makes clear, “you are not my Son,” thereby demonstrating Jesus’ superiority. However, at the very same time, Jesus is shown in these references to be a conquering king ruling over an everlasting kingdom.
The next thing God says to His angels that reveals Jesus’ superiority is “Worship Him”, “…and when He again brings the first born into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him’…” (1:6). Here, the Father-son relationship established in verse 5 is reiterated as now Jesus is called the “first born.” This is significant as in first century culture, the first born held a special place in the father’s heart, shared the father’s authority in the estate, and inherited the property. In the same way, Jesus as God’s son has an intimate relationship with the heavenly Father, shares authority over the estate of the universe with the father, and, according to Hebrews 1:2 is heir of all things. Though this verse might give the impression that Jesus is first born only “in the world,” the word “world” deserves a more robust translation as it’s semantic range refers not only to planet earth, but to the heavenly realm. This is important for, at least for the time being, the writer of Hebrews is trying to establish Jesus’ superiority to the angels, who, dwell in heaven.
“Let all the angels of God worship Him” is taken either from Psalm 97:7 (“Worship Him all you gods”) or Deuteronomy 32:43 (“…and let the sons of God worship him”). In either context the message is clear, as only God can be worshipped, Jesus must, according to God, be God Himself, and therefore deserving of worship, even from angelic beings.”
Worship establishes superiority without even trying. Those who perform the worship are placed in subjection to the object or person receiving the worship. Therefore, when God commands His angels to worship God, He cement’s their inferiority beneath His Son.
Worshipping Jesus was only fitting for the angels because of His rule over them as demonstrated in the next statement, “recognize His rule over You”, “and of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His minister a flame of fire” (1:7). These words are taken from Psalm 104:4—a context that highlights the service rendered by angels to God. They are God’s swift messengers “winds” and ministers of His power “flame of fire.” Jesus is not a mere minister or messenger as these are said to be. In fact, Jesus rules over these servants as God, sending the wind of His angels wherever He desires to displaying the power alluded to in this “flame” wherever needed. The idea is reiterated in verse 14 when the preacher says, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?...”
As the angels are created-servant-worshippers (see 1:5-7), they do not occupy the same seat Jesus does in heaven. In essence, God tells the angels here, “You are not in His post”, “but to which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’?...”(1:13). This is the seventh and final quotation given from the psalms in this passage (the others are in the verses yet to be discussed). Taken from Psalm 110, the royal themes cannot be missed. Historically, early Christians believed this psalm to be a reference to the coming Messiah who, as already mentioned in verse 3, is now sitting on the throne of God’s right hand, ruling over all, including His enemies. The angels don’t sit in this greatest-of-all places, only the God-Man occupies this space, rendering Him superior.
Ultimately, God makes it very clear where the angels stand in their relationship to Jesus by giving them the following statements: “You are not my Son,” “Worship Him,” “Recognize His rule over you,” and “You are not on His throne.” All of these statements humble the angels before the Son and demonstrate that Jesus is not only the best in this world, He is simply the best in all of heaven.
Statements Made About Jesus-1:8-12
The next set of statements made in this passage pertain to Jesus Himself and they are found in verses 8-12. The first of these is adapted from Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom” (1:8). This psalm celebrates a royal wedding, probably of King David, and refers to his throne as the throne of God (God’s in the fact that God established David’s rule and promised a forever Ruler to occupy it—Jesus). Applied figuratively to the seat that David occupied, this idea is applied literally to Jesus Christ who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to rule, with scepter in hand, the world for all eternity. As angels do not occupy this throne or hold this scepter, Jesus is shown here to be superior.
It is next said of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above your companions” (1:9) (see also Psalm 45:7). Though these words were originally applied to a king after God’s own heart (David), these words are even more appropriately applied to the King who possesses God’s heart—Jesus. While David as king loved righteousness and hated lawlessness inconsistently, Jesus loves righteousness and hates lawlessness consistently. Though David was anointed above his brothers to be king of Israel, Jesus is anointed over all others as King of the universe. Though David’s political rule eventually fell to other nations, Jesus’ rule will never fall. David, to be sure, is a type of Christ, but merely a type of the perfect king that Jesus is—He is the true anointed of God, and for that reason, superior to the angelic host.
Earlier, the preacher introduced the theme of Jesus’ power seen in the act of creation, “through whom He also made the world…” (1:2). This theme is repeated in verse 10 in the third statement directed Jesus’ way, “and You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands…” (1:10). This reference to Psalm 102:25-27 contrasts the eternity of God with the brevity of man, i.e. the power of God with the weakness of the human being. Jesus is the founding Father of the universe and one of only three living charter members of the world.
Jesus is not just one of the charter members of the world, He is also a charter member of the heavens. Even more than a charter member, Jesus was the creative agent behind all that is seen. While Jesus was God’s agent in the creative act, the angels were mere worshipping spectators, rendering Jesus superior to the heavenly hosts.
In contrast to Jesus’ forever presence as God the Son, the world, it is said, “will perish” however, Jesus, will remain, “and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed, But you are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (1:11-12; see also Psalm 102:27). In other words, Jesus is said here to be “unchanging.” This is the final statement made of Jesus in Hebrews 1:5-14.
Pervasive sin has assigned an expiration date to everything in creation. Therefore we need a Savior untouched by sin (“whose years will not come to an end”) to save us from spoil. Jesus is that unchanging Savior who will one day roll up the worn out clothes for discarding. This is why we must exchange what we are wearing for the robes of righteousness that He alone can purchase for us, lest we be taken out with the garbage. The righteous robes Jesus gives are never out of style, never need repair, and will never fray. They are a good look for anyone.
And the greatest news you could hear today, given these statements by our contributor God in Hebrews 1:5-14, is this: there is a robe for you to wear. Jesus Christ, the greatest in all of heaven (as demonstrated by these two sets of statements) offers you a robe of righteousness that will never wear out! This robe serves two primary functions—it covers our sinfulness, thereby protecting us from the much deserved wrath of God, and it dresses us properly for God’s presence, allowing us entrance into heaven for all eternity. Jesus alone is capable of purchasing this robe for you as the superior one of all of heaven, as creator, and as king. There is nothing you or I could ever do to earn it. Therefore, the call this morning is simply to ask yourself, what am I wearing this morning? Are you merely dawning the best of what this world has to offer? Even the best of this world falls short of the required dress code of heaven.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Call me a nerd if you want, but I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my time in study as I prepared for this very first message from the book of Hebrews, sifting through commentaries, diagramming sentences, and piecing together the structure of what will be said. Part of my excitement for this highly anticipated series comes from how I anticipate this series will challenge us and inspire us as we learn about how Jesus is Simply the Best. I feel a sort of camaraderie with the author of this book as he is a fellow preacher. In fact, the entire book of Hebrews is one long sermon intended more to be heard than read. In its many passages, this sermon demonstrates how God can speaks through powerful preaching, something that I depend on in my ministry here. As in any sermon, much as the one given here and in the one you are hearing now, it is the first task of the preacher to arrest the audience’s attention and apprehend their interest so that they stay tuned for what is coming. Therefore, today I thought we would begin our study by looking only at the preacher’s hook or introduction in the first four verses. I say “looking only at the preacher’s hook” sarcastically for these first four verses pack quite a punch and like a small thumbdrive, contain multiple gigabits of theological material. Ultimately, we learn how the preacher’s introduction here makes a case for why the audience should pay special attention to what he has to say about Jesus Christ.
THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S NEW REVELATION-1:1-2a
For many reasons, the book of Hebrews proves to be an enigma in New Testament study. So many questions that the reader is compelled to ask are not clearly answered (to whom is this addressed? Who wrote it? When was it addressed? Etc.). However, what is unmistakable is that this book provides an incredible case for the superiority of Christ and as a result a compelling call to faithful living. This case is made primarily to a Jewish-Christian audience and comes in the form of a written sermon, intended to be heard with the ears more than read with the eyes. The purpose of this sermon is given at the very end when the anonymous preacher says, “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (13:22). In other words, this sermon is meant to encourage those reading it in their faith, and this, we will soon learn involves, not leaving the one true faith in light of the superiority of Christ. Such encouragement was needed for Rome was becoming more volatile to the new Christian movement (sound familiar?).
Part of the occasion for this message involves a paradigm shift that is identified in verse 1 in the preacher’s introduction, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (1:1-2a). These verses highlight two primary ways in which God has revealed Himself. However, let us pause so we don’t ake God’s revelation for granted. It is no small thing that a transcendent God who stands in so many ways apart and above the universe is willing and able to condescend Himself to such a level that He can communicate in intelligible ways to mere humans. In the past, God had communicated to the forefathers through prophets in a multiplicity of ways (visions, dreams, miracles, etc.). As a result, an entire worldview was crafted along with the Old Testament as a body of revelation communicating the way to relate properly to God for the Jews.
However, “in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son…” (1:2a), rendering what is new vastly superior to the old. This is true for several reasons. First, while the old revelation was given in the past, the newer revelation was given in the last days (it is superior in its immediacy). While the old revelation was bestowed to Jewish forefathers, the new revelation was bestowed to “us” (it is superior in its relevancy). When the old revelation was presented by prophets who enumerated the old covenant, the new revelation was presented by the very Son of God who alone completely portrays God’s ultimate Word to His new covenant people (it is superior in agency). Therefore, because the new revelation, as it follows the old, is intended for those in the present era, completes and informs what came before it, and was made possible by God Himself (instead of through impersonal media like words, miracles, and dreams), what has been revealed in Jesus Christ in the New Testament is superior to what is contained in the Old Testament.
One illustration of this phenomena can be found in how BlueBell has recovered from its unfortunate voluntary recall recently. Though, I imagine, there was a handbook (revelation) given to the employees of the past (by managers and lower-level staff) for how to make ice cream that worked well enough to build an incredible company, due to the recent developments, there is a new code in place that provides new procedures that are vastly superior to the old. This new code is better than the old in that it is newer/fills in the gaps of and further informs the old system (more immediate) has been made available to all appropriate personnel (more relevant) and has been given directly by the experts (not handed down by traditional practices and lower-level managers). To use the old handbook as gospel would be foolish when a new code has been given.
The preacher’s point here, in encouraging a new community of Jewish Christians, is to suggest that while their old system, delineated in the Old Testament was great, the new revelation/New Testament is far greater and for this reason should not be abandoned/neglected. The superiority of God’s new revelation is witnessed in it coming after and informing the old, in it coming directly to those in the last days, and it coming to through the very Son of God—not the Son of God through some other medium. Though at times the Jewish Christians in the early church (due to growing persecution and pressure), were increasingly tempted to return to the past, the preacher says that would be a mistake.
THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S GREATEST REVELATION-1:2b-4
Immediately after making a case for the superiority of God’s new revelation, the preacher introduces the theme of his entire sermon by outlining the superiority of God’s greatest revelation—Jesus Christ. In fact, one reason why the new revelation is vastly superior to the old revelation is that it has been realized in the greatest of all revelations available—the God-Man. That Jesus is the greatest of all revelations, and therefore superior to all is made clear by seven facts stated in the second part of verse 2 through verse 4. In these short verses, a compelling case is made for the superiority of Christ that will be unpacked in further detail in the remainder of the preacher’s homily.
The first way in which Jesus is superior to all other revelations given, and therefore God’s greatest revelation, is witnessed in His inheritance—“whom he appointed heir of all things” (1:2b). These words no doubt echo Psalm 2:8 which says, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” Here in Hebrews 1, the preacher applies this psalm to Jesus Christ and broadens the scope to include not just the world and everything in it, but the entire universe past, present and future. Hebrews 2:5-9 reiterates this idea.
Hebrews 2:8-“You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him, but now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.”
Therefore, one reason Jesus is the greatest of all revelations of God is because, like God Himself, Jesus owns it all. In His ownership of the universe, He resembles and interprets God for us in human form.
A second reason Jesus is the greatest of all revelations involves His ability to create the world, “through whom also He made the world” (1:2c). The word translated “world” here (αἰῶνας) is more appropriately understood as “universe” or “ages.” The idea is that the whole created universe of space and time came about through Jesus Christ—“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:3), “For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible,…” (Col. 1:16). Jesus is not just superior in that He has ownership of the universe, He is greater than all because He came up with the concept of a universe and alone possesses the creative license that led to its reality. In this way, Jesus again shows us something about God—He is Creator God.
Not only is Jesus superior according to his inheritance and his work of creation, He is also superior in His glory, “and He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (1:3a). The word “radiance” here suggests a bright light either emanating from itself or as a reflection of some glorious source. For Jesus, He is both the source of light (Jn. 8:12) and the reflection of God’s glorious light, thereby doubly illuminated in radiant glory. This radiant glory comes from Jesus’ unique character as “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” (1:3a). He is, in other words, the very image of the essence of God. The Greek word (χαρακτήρ) for “representation” is used only here in the entire New Testament and is an emphatic term used to describe that God’s being is not just witnessed of Christ, it is in Christ. “What God essentially is, is made manifest in Jesus.” Therefore, “to see Christ is to see what the Father is like.”
Jesus imaging Christ is similar to looking directly at a brightly illuminated light bulb. When one looks at the light bulb directly, if it is bright enough, one cannot see what is producing the light, but can only experience the light emanating from it. In fact, one cannot quite divide the light produced from the electricity producing the light. Both are so intricately woven that to apprehend the existence of one is to know the other. Jesus is the light that illuminates God’s presence. We know of God’s existence and something of God’s character in observing the light of Jesus Christ.
Because only God can illuminate and fully reveal God, the revealed Jesus is vastly superior to all preceding revelation. He fully discloses God while words and phrases only reference and point to Him.
A fourth reason for Jesus’ superiority is witnessed in His power—“and upholds all things by the word of His power”(1:3b). The same power realized in the creative utterances that instigated the universe are necessary to sustain all things at all times. Paul reiterates this in Col. 1:17 when he says, “and in Him all things hold together.” This is a present and ongoing reality for Jesus Christ. Just imagine it—while Jesus walked, ministered, healed, was beaten, and hung on a cross, He was simultaneously holding the universe together. This He continues to do through His powerful utterance today!
So far, in Jesus we learn that God owns it all, created it all, is glorious over all, and sustains it all. We learn this better through Jesus than any other revelation offered because Jesus is/does all of these things and performs these things in a way translatable to the human mind. Jesus is superior because He is God. He is superior revelation, in fact the greatest revelation, because we can know Him, understand Him, and look upon Him so as to understand Him.
Jesus is also superior because He sits in the highest place, “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3c). Though all early Christians and even Jews before them (see Psalm110) understood this not to be a literal place is obvious; however, if not a literal place, then, what does this mean? To the original Jewish-Christian recipients, this meant that Jesus enjoyed an exalted status before God in a place equal to God. It is the same place Jesus left in His incarnation and returned to in His ascension—the Holiest holy of holies in God’s presence.
Jesus is able to enjoy this superior post because He alone made purification of sins (1:3c). This is a theme that will be exhausted in the remaining chapters. However, as a teaser, it is important to understand that for a superior kind of purification to be made (better than the kind offered in the Old Testament sacrificial system), a superior sacrifice had to be offered by a superior priest in a superior location. Jesus as God made flesh was uniquely capable to meeting all of these criteria and therefore capable of accomplishing His superior ministry of redemption, exalting Him to the highest of all posts—at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The sixth proof of Jesus’ superiority is described in comparison to other heavenly beings—“having become as much better than the angels…” (1:4a). It is worth noting that the aorist participle here “having become” suggests that Jesus always enjoyed this status from eternity past. In fact, a better translation might read “having already been much better than the angels.” However, what the preacher reiterates here is Jesus’ work of redemption and superior post at God’s right hand further solidifies His status as greater than all angelic hosts. This is confirmed even further by the name He was given, the seventh and final fact contributing to Jesus’ superiority as God’s greatest revelation.
“…as He has inherited a more excellent name than they…” (1:4b). As God has only one Son, as opposed to a multitude of created angels, Jesus’ name as “Son of God” confirms His superior status. However, “Son of God” must also be understood within the context of the first century. A son, especially a first born or only son, was intimately acquainted with and related to the father not only in the consciousness of the family, but in the consciousness of all who knew him. This is why genealogies are given the way they are and introductions are frequently made by including the “son of” template. Therefore, to give Jesus the name “Son of God” is not to make less of Jesus and more of the Father, but to equate the two and identify them together.
In a case of hitting the ground running, the preacher lays out a seven-fold case for the superiority of Jesus Christ to arrest his audience’s attention. Jesus owns it all, created it all, is majestic over all, sustains it all, sits with God above it all, is greater than even those who dwell in heaven, and has the best name given. If the first demonstration of the superiority of new revelation is intended to impress the reader into listening to the sermon about to be given in the first place, then the demonstration given of the superiority of Jesus is intended to compel the reader to worship Jesus Christ as God’s superior revelation—a theme that will continue to receive attention in the weeks to come.
How are we to respond to this introduction today? By meditating on what has been said of Jesus and His message and worshipping Him in praise and adoration. One cannot help but be impressed with Jesus Christ following so succinct and yet so profound a message as is given in Hebrews 1:1-4, and I cannot help but believe that this was the preacher’s intention. In a world, much like the first century, that grows more oppressive against Christianity every day and tempts us to follow lesser Gods or abandon our faith, this message is intended to keep our gaze fixed on the superiority of our Christ and His message preserved in the New Testament. There is no better message and no better God. We are to leave these first four verses so impressed with these two things that we are not in the least bit tempted to settle for less; we, in fact, have the best!
Monday, August 3, 2015
Today we are completing “Our Mission” series. Over the last several weeks we have taken a look at the strategy this church has in place for accomplishing our mission of knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and showing Christ to the world. For Crystal Spring Baptist, we believe that Corporate worship, Relationships, Obedience to the Word of God, and Surrendering everything in prayer are integral to the fabric of our organization. All of these, in some way, contribute to the task that God has handed us of making disciples in this world. However, there is one more, indicated by the second “s”—service.
Unfortunately, while most people wish to serve God, they desire to do so in an advisory capacity only. While churches are full of “supervisors” or “managers” many lack “servants.” This cannot be if the church is going to survive. If there is no one actually doing any work, no work will get done (shocking!). The call to service pulls people off the pew, eradicates pride, and protects against self-centeredness. These and other issues Paul discusses by means of three observations in Romans 12:4-8.
I. OBSERVATION #1: THE MEMBERS OF ONE BODY-12:4-5
The church in Rome has been in the classroom for eleven chapters thus far in the book of Romans, learning the essence of the gospel and the greater nuances of its many implications. In light of everything Paul has covered up to this point, he encourages those reading this letter to get up and do something about what they have learned in verse 1 of chapter 12. In fact, if Romans 1-11 discuss how someone is saved, then 12-16 discuss how a believer ought to live in light of their salvation.
One tendency that Paul prohibits in the life of a believer is pride, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (12:3). Though the believer ought to be thankful for the salvation they have received, it is no excuse for pride. In fact, the reason for their salvation is, in many ways, totally about others instead of one’s self. This is the subject of Romans 12:4-8.
The first thing that Paul draws the reader’s attention to is the nature of the body of Christ. He states, “for just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (12:4-5). The believer ought not think of himself as a solitary being, spiritually autonomous, or totally self-sufficient. Instead, a believer must think of his/herself as a member of a larger body. In fact, a prideful believer trying to go through life alone, is as ineffective at doing the Lord’s work as an arm would be detached from its torso and that from its brain! Similarly, believers in Rome ought to think of themselves as one piece of the greater body of Christ.
Continuing with his metaphor, Paul suggests that while all are members, all “do not have the same function” (12:4b). Therefore, this idea of being a member of the body of Christ is not degrading to individuality or diversity. Though all are equally members, all have different functions that help contribute to the success of the entire organism. In other words, it is not as though all believers look the same, act the same, or serve in the same way. If this were the case, it would be like having nothing but legs or being totally covered with eyes. There is not just one right way to serve the Lord. Instead, all members serve the Lord in their own unique and God-glorifying way! Just imagine what this church would be like if all were preachers!!! Isn’t one enough! J Thank God for His diversity.
However, these many diverse members are not separate entities, but many parts of one united whole (cue the army slogan: From many, one). The church in Rome needed to understand that they depended on each other, leaving no room for pride. They were the “body” in Rome, a united whole of diverse individuals who were brought together, “in Christ.” This is the unifying principle. The unity of the church in Rome was possible only “in Christ.” One had to be a believer “in Christ” (that is understanding and accepting the grace of God for salvation described in chapters 1-11), in order to be a part of this body. The same is true of church’s today who accept the Bible as the Word of God.
The miracle of salvation is really multiple miracles wrapped up into one. Salvation not only washes sinners clean, justifies the wicked, and allows those who were formerly objects of God’s wrath admittance into His eternal presence, it also allows multiple personalities who otherwise would never have come together for anything to unite “in Christ” in one body for the purpose of serving the Lord.
What this verse describes is really an all for one and one for all mentality. Believers are all different members of one body that exists, in part, for the service of each of its individual appendages. For, not only are believers “one body in Christ,” they are also, “individually members of one another” (12:5). “No Christian is an Island” and to call someone a self-sufficient Christian is a contradiction of terms.
II. OBSERVATION #2: THE USE OF DIFFERENT GIFTS-12:6a-b
Now that the members of the body have been observed and attention has been drawn to their diversity and unity, Paul wants the church in Rome to also recognize that each member is gifted with its own skill set, “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (12:6a). Not only is each member of the Body of Christ different (as an eye is different from a nose or a leg different from a lung), each member is also uniquely gifted (as an eye is gifted to see and a nose gifted to smell, etc.).
These “gifts” are yet another miracle of grace given at the point of salvation. They are not something that each individual believer can take credit for or boast of, instead they are another by-product of being “in Christ.” Each believer has been uniquely gifted with differing skills that contribute to the great mission of God and the service of the body of Christ, the church.
However, how much good does a lung do if it is not actually being used to breathe? How far could anyone travel if the legs were not moving? How long would someone last if the liver failed to actually filter blood as it is designed to do? Not long. In fact, we would presume a body like this to be dead. Paul did not want to write to a corpse of a church. He also did not want to receive, in response to this letter, a death certificate from the local morgue in Rome. This is why he calls upon the church in Rome to actually “exercise them [the gifts] accordingly” (12:6b).
There used to be a commercial for an arthritis medication that fits this encouragement to a tee. The commercial showed an elderly couple sitting down on a bench while a narrator said, “a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” As soon as this sentence was finished, another elderly couple approach the sitting couple for a few moments, only to then proceed to a dance lesson. At this time, the narrator said, “but a body in motion tends to stay in motion,” making the case that, when it comes to joint pain, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
The same law of thermodynamics applies to the spiritual members of the church body. If an arm of the church is not moving properly, it will atrophy and die. This is why it is important for all members of the church to be actively exercising their gifts, abilities, and talents accordingly. A church cannot be rightly used to accomplish the mission of God and serve its members if its individual parts are not being put to good use. Instead, unused parts of a church body are signs of a dead or dying church.
III. OBSERVTAION #3: THE VARIETY OF POSSIBLE SERVICES-12:6c-8
Up to this point, the church at Rome would have understood that each of them were a part of a greater whole and that each had been uniquely gifted to serve in discreet ways. However, a list of potential gifts had not yet been provided and many might have wondered, “What might my gift be?” A believer cannot be expected to exercise his/her gifts unless he/she knows his/her gifts in the first place.
This is why Paul provides a list to get the church thinking. This list is not the only list of spiritual gifts given in the New Testament (see also Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12) and therefore should not be understood as an exhaustive representation of the possible gifts that God bestows. This also does not mean that every believer should expect all of these in his/her life. In fact, some argue that the first gift mentioned is not even available today. This is the gift of “prophecy,” “if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith” (12:6c).
It might be that Paul is referring to his own giftedness as a “prophet” was seen as someone who spoke for God. According to Ephesians 4:11, prophets served together with apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in the preparation of God’s people for service. This unique office, accordingly to Paul, needs to be exercised in proportion of faith, perhaps in the same way the lungs are encouraged to breath in proportion to the amount of oxygen the body requires. Depending on how one defines the word “prophet” here will determine whether or not this gift is available today. Regardless, prophets played a huge role in the early church and continue to play a role in the preserved words of Scripture, rendering them a very important member of the church body.
A possible gift for all believer’s to consider is service. This word, which is the same root word used in the word for deacon, describes somebody who is interested in the practical needs of others. Such a person in the life of the church at Rome, or in any church for that matter, might be likened to a set of arms that are judged by how well they are able to carry and handle different things. Someone with the gift of serving will be judged on how well they practically serve others (go figure).
Another possible gift for those in the church to look for is the gift of teaching. However, this gift is not for everyone.
James 3:1-“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
Teachers are held to higher standards and will fall under greater scrutiny. Teaching was an ancient and honorable profession in the Jewish culture. In the New Testament world, teaching primarily involved moral instruction. Elsewhere, the Bible makes it clear that there are different requirements a teacher must meet. However, those who are called to this important task will be found faithful and judged according to how well they teach in the same way a brain is judged by how well it can interpret information. If you are a gifted teacher, you ought to be teaching.
If teaching provides guidance for what people ought to do, encouragement helps them achieve it. The next gift that Paul mentions is exhortation, “he who exhorts, in his exhortation” (12:8a). These are those who are natural born cheerleaders, offering aid by means of their words of encouragement no matter what the situation may be. These might be likened to a mouth that is only as good as what comes out of it. Encouragers in the church at Rome need not be silent. Instead, they ought to be affirming the work and serving by means of their sweet words so that the mission of God can move forward, even when things get tough.
Similarly, if a person’s gift is contributing to the needs of others, then generosity is what is demanded, “he who gives, with liberality” (12:8b). This gift is perhaps the most general as everyone in the body of Christ has something to give and is compelled to give at the very least, 10% of their income to the Lord. However, some love to give above and beyond and are always happy to give more to those who need it. This does not mean that others are not required to contribute. However, those who love to give ought not cease in giving of their lives to the Lord in service to the body of Christ.
Another gift that Paul takes time to mention is leadership, “he who leads, with diligence” (12:8c). Leaders are to carry out their responsibility with diligence. Although leadership in today’s world is often seen as the result of ambition, persistence, and good fortune, Christian leadership is essentially a service carried out for the benefit of others. Again, this is a gift with its own set of requirements and special level of scrutiny. Other passages demand that leaders meet these requirements and promise a higher level of judgment one day before God for them (see 1 Timothy and Titus).
The last gift that Paul elucidates is mercy, “he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (12:8d). Though this gift seems emotive, “mercy” as understood in the first century involved caring for others in tangible ways, especially the less fortunate and elderly. Those who have a special place in their hearts for the afflicted need to be about the business of showing mercy in tangible ways with cheerfulness.
A couple of things are worth pointing out in this list of gifts. First, it is not as though Paul believed each believer only had one of these gifts and could neglect the others. Instead, Paul wants people in the church to play to their strengths and capitalize on their strong suits. I consider myself gifted in the area of teaching; therefore, I am pursuing a PhD and putting my gift to good use here on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. However, although I’m not gifted in sports, I still will one day go out and throw a ball around with my daughter and play a friendly game with others for fellowship.
Second, gifts are not static, they are variable. In other words, your gift could change over time or be altered depending on need. In fact, you may be gifted for something that you would not naturally enjoy because there is a need where you are at. Don’t think that God cannot move in your heart and life to use you in different ways at different times and in different situations. Ultimately, Paul’s message to the church in Rome is to use their gifts, whatever they are, in serving the church and seeing the mission of God accomplished.
These three observations have taught us several very important things. First, we have learned that we are not on our own. Instead, we are all members of one body, working together to accomplish the mission to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ in the world while serving one another in the Lord. Though we are all equal in that we are all members of the body, we are different and uniquely gifted to perform varying roles in this god-glorifying enterprise. Whether you are an arm, leg, lung, mouth, head, or hand, you are necessary for the church’s survival as it engages the world for Christ.
In response to this, I encourage you to discover your unique giftedness and then exercise your giftedness in every way that you can. One thing you can do is take a spiritual gifts test that can provide you an idea of what some of your strengths may be. One free and trusted test is on elmertowns.com. Once you discover how God has put you together, choose this day to commit yourself to serve those around you so that the organism of the church can accomplish its mission.