The Jesus I Never Knew (Hebrews 1)

modern-artworkAccording to the Police Log of Sarasota, Florida, the elderly lady was doing her shopping when, upon returning to her car, she found four males in the act of stealing her vehicle. Uncharacteristically, she dropped her shopping bags and, standing in front of the vehicle to block their escape, drew her handgun, pointed it at the front windscreen and screamed at the top of her lungs, “I have a gun. I know how to use it. Get out of the car!” The four men didn’t wait to find out. They jumped out and ran like crazy in all directions. The lady, somewhat shaken, put the gun back in her bag, loaded her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver’s seat. She was shaking so much that she could not get her key into the ignition. She tried and tried, and then she realized why. It was for the same reason she wondered why there was a football, a Frisbee and two 6 packs of beer in the boot. A few minutes later, she found her own car parked four or five spaces farther away. She loaded her bags into her own car and drove to the police station to report her mistake. The sergeant to whom she told the story smiled and pointed to the other end of the counter. There stood four rather agitated men who were reporting a car-jacking by a crazy, elderly lady described as white, less than five feet tall, with glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed apparently. A case of mistaken identity. 

If Jesus walked into Christ Church tonight would we recognise him? What would he be wearing? A 1st Century Roman toga? I think not. Would we recognise him? Tonight we begin a new series of sermons in the Book of Hebrews. We have entitled this “The Jesus I never knew”.

I believe that the image of Jesus many of us carry around in our minds has been sanitised. Its based more on popular misconceptions and Sunday school images rather than the Word of God. I believe our understanding of who Jesus is and why he came, will be radically enhanced by this 15 weeks series in the Book of Hebrews. If you want to get the most out of these sermons, I encourage you to purchase Raymond Brown’s commentary on Hebrews in the Bible Speaks Today series. It is available from the church bookstore.

Tonight, as we begin, the first few verses are like the opening scene from the Bourne Ultimatum or Casino Royale. With dramatic speed we are introduced to more and yet more names and titles and roles of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, if we are awake, should really take our breath away. Tonight I want us to slow down and focus on the first three verses. Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were wavering under intense opposition. They had begun to question whether Jesus really was the Messiah, whether he was truly divine.

What we must bear in mind is that the Jews had a very high and distinct view of God. It was regarded as blasphemy to impute divine attributes to a human being. That’s why Jesus caused such controversy, and why it ultimately led to his death. That is why these introductory sentences are so startling.

In three short sentences, the writer blasts away any notion that Jesus was just a meek and mild, Sunday school teacher who told children nice stories on the hills above the Sea of Galilee. We live in a generation that assumes and expects instant, clear communication. Millions are spent in the Media on persuasive advertising. Politicians and diplomats receive special training in communication, since a wrong word can bring down a government or spark off an international crisis. The letter to the Hebrews begins by asserting the greatest single fact about the Christian revelation: God has spoken to us through creation, through history, in the Scriptures, but supremely through His Son. Finally, perfectly and completely. In Jesus, God has closed the greatest communication gap of all time, that between a holy God and sinful mankind. In three short verses we are left in no doubt that apart from Jesus we cannot, repeat cannot know God.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

In three short verses we learn at least eight truths about Jesus. About who He is and what He has done. Hold onto your seats.

  1. Jesus is God’s prophetic voice

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In His day Jesus was acclaimed a prophet and this he did not deny. There is in his life and ministry a clear continuity with all that God had done in the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t come to break with the past but to fulfil it.  Just as God sent wise men and angels to speak to people, so God sent Jesus, but this time it was different. For the combined message of all the prophets in the Old Testament spread over 2000 years was to prepare people to receive Jesus when he came. The Old Testament is full of prophecies of Jesus. There are at least 300.

In this sense the Old Testament is unique among literature in the world. There is no other book like it. 27% of the OT is pure prophecy. Not people predicting what might happen, but God promising what was going to happen. Why?  So people would know where to look, who to look for.  You and I are unique.

In order to maintain that uniqueness we are given a name,

a surname, we have a passport number, a National Insurance Number, a Postcode. When I was a child on wet days I liked writing letters to myself addressed to 117 Beccles Road, Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, Europe, World, Solar System. Universe. An address helps to track us down, locate us from among 6 billion people.  That’s precisely what these prophecies do in locating Jesus. God has indeed revealed Himself in many different ways in the Old Testament, but in Jesus God has spoken prophetically fully, decisively, finally and perfectly. He is the greatest prophet of all time.  By the way, that little phrase, “In these last days” speaks of the superiority of His message, and the need for urgency in responding. We do not look back to Pentecost to find the early church. Abraham began the early church. Pentecost marked the beginning of the last days. That means we must be in the very last days. Jesus is coming back soon. If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus yet you are leaving it a little late. The scriptures are nothing less than God preaching. The question is, Is He getting through? Jesus is God’s prophetic voice.

  1. Jesus is God’s Son

“But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:2)

Most people today regard Jesus as a good man, a captivating teacher, an impressive leader, who gave some wise teaching. But they are wrong, so very wrong. There is no evidence what so ever that Jesus ever claimed to be just a prophet or a teacher, or that he allowed people around him the luxury of that opinion. It is only held today by people who have never read the things Jesus said and did. “Who did Jesus claim to be?”

In John 10:30 it is recorded by eye witnesses that he had the audacity to say “I and the Father are one.”  There was no ambiguity, no misunderstanding. Jesus was claiming to be one in essence, one in substance with God the Father.

Those who heard him were in no doubt they had heard blasphemy. “You being a mere man claim to be God.”  Jesus never denied it, just confirmed it by his sinless life, his astounding miracles, his profound teaching and ultimately his victory even over death. The Word of the Son is God’s final revelation, God’s last word, God’s last will and testament. Jesus is God’s prophetic voice because He is God’s Son. Hebrews is affirming nothing less than that Jesus is God in person. But there is more.

  1. Jesus is God’s creative agent

“but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:2)

If you have studied geography or the sciences you will have faced the question of origins. “How was the universe formed?”  If we were to distil the “Theory of Evolution” of natural selection and the survival of the fittest down we would end up with just three ingredients. Matter x Time x Chance. The problem with that is that most people cannot live in such a cold, impersonal, random, meaningless universe. The Good News is that you don’t have to. We are not just the product of matter x time x chance.  We were created with meaning and purpose, value and significance, beauty and wonder. And we learn here, we were created by the Son. “Through whom he made the universe.”  It is as if the writer is saying, ” the one who came to earth and died on a cross was the same one whose hands shaped the universe and ordered the galaxy of stars. He is the one who will look after you in days of testing,”

Jesus is God’s prophetic voice, God’s Son, God’s creative agent.

  1. Jesus is God’s personified glory

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory…” (Hebrews 1:3)

For the Hebrew people the “Shekinah”, the “glory of God” was the visible and outward expression of the majestic presence of God. When the law was given at Sinai, “the glory of the Lord” settled on the mountain. Later when the ark was captured the people lamented, “The glory has departed.” Just as the brilliance of the sun cannot be separated from the sun itself, so the Father and Son are inseparable. In Christ all the majesty of God’s splendour is fully revealed. He is the Shekinah of God. Jesus is God’s Prophetic voice, the Son, Creative Agent, Personified Glory, and….

  1. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus is not just a reflection or an image, He is the absolute authentic representative. The word used for representation means “to engrave”. The word for “being” or “nature” is hypostasis. It means Jesus is the very essence and actual being of God. That is, all the attributes of God become visible in Him. If we want to know what God is like we only have to look at Jesus. The answer is found no where else. In John 14 we find Jesus exasperated at the dullness of his disciples. “Have I been with you so long? How can you say, “Show us the Father…He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

  1. Jesus is God’s cosmic sustainer

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Every religious Jew passionately believes that Almighty God keeps the entire universe in the hollow of His hand. He is not only the Creator but the Sustainer of life. And this role is fulfilled by Jesus. But not like the mythological Greek god Atlas, carrying the world on his shoulder. Jesus dynamically holds everything together. Everything from the minute atom to the orbits of the planets. The whole creation is literally flying. Every time you snap your fingers you’ve moved 17 miles. The earth is rotating around the sun, the sun is rotating around the universe, and the universe is rotating around Jesus. Too easily our mental picture of Jesus is limited to the man walking by the Sea of Galilee. We are always in danger of confining Him to our restricted experience or limited knowledge. Raymond Brown, the former principal of Spurgeon’s College says this,

“We need a vision of Christ with these immense cosmic dimensions, a Lord who transcends all our noblest thoughts about Him, and all our best experience of Him. These first century readers would be less likely to turn from Him in adversity if they had looked to Him in adoration. The opening sentences of the letter are designed to bring them and us to our knees; only then can we hope to stand firmly on our feet.”

Jesus is God’s prophetic voice, God’s Son, God’s Creative Agent, God’s personified glory, the exact representation of God’s being, God’s Cosmic sustainer, and seventhly,

  1. Jesus is God’s unique sacrifice

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins…” (Hebrews 1:3)

Notice what came previously is all in the present tense, but what follows is in the past tense. This is to become the central point of the entire epistle so its important not to miss it. Jesus is ceaselessly, “the radiant light of God’s glory”… He continuously upholds “the universe by His word of power”.  But when He gave Himself up on the cross, Jesus shed His blood once for all at a single point in time. No repetition of this saving act will ever be necessary, nor can we do anything to save ourselves.

Jesus sacrifice for our sin was complete, universal, unrepeatable.  How foolish, even blasphemous is all this silly nonsense about interfaith worship. How can you put this Jesus along side other religious leaders. There is no comparison.  Uniquely in the cross of Christ we see God’s mercy and grace come together. Because of God’s mercy we don’t receive what we do deserve. Because of God’s grace we receive what we don’t deserve. Jesus died on the cross in your place and mine. He bridged the chasm that separates us from God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that who ever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Eternal life is a gift, a gift of His love and life from Jesus to you. It is a gift that must be received personally. Someone once said,

“In Jesus Christ we find God’s favour for those who don’t deserve it, who haven’t sought it, who can’t earn it and who will never ever be able to repay Him for it.”

God’s love is a gift. Because Jesus was God’s unique sacrifice.

  1. Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)

How can we know for sure that our sins are forgiven? Because Jesus not only died, but He rose, and not only rose but ascended and not only ascended but is seated at the right hand of the Father. His work was completed, accepted, sufficient.  But the right hand is also the place of rule and authority. Jesus is actively ruling over human affairs.
One day He will return to be our judge. Ultimately there are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who say to God in this life “Your will be done”, and then there are those to whom God will say on the day of judgement, “Your will be done”

Three short verses, eight tremendous truths. And yet this opening passage has so much more to say. The following verses show how Jesus is far, far superior to the angels.

He is the Son: superior in name (1:4-5)

He is the First-born: superior in nature (1:6)

He is the Sovereign: superior in position (1:7-8)

He is Anointed: superior in eternity (1:8-9)

He is Eternal: superior in work (1:10-12)

He is Sovereign: superior in destiny (1:13) 

The Lion Handbook summarizes the central theme of Hebrews well,

“Jesus is not only incomparably greater and better than the prophets and angels, law and sacrifices. He is the ultimate realization of all they stand for. He is the perfect priest, offering the perfect sacrifice. He has finally removed the barrier of sin and given men access to God in a way the sacrificial system could never do. That was the copy: He is the original pattern. That was the shadow: He is the reality men have always been searching for. If we turn away from him – back to an inferior substitute, back to a proven failure – we lose everything.”

Let us summarise what we have discovered this evening.

We began with Jesus the heir of all things in eternity who then created. We have ended once more in eternity with Jesus ruling, through the cross. We have been introduced to the Christ whose perfect sinless nature is a unique revelation, whose sacrifice is alone effective for our salvation, and whose authority in heaven and earth is without rival.

There is no more important question for you to answer than who is Jesus Christ? No more important decision to make as to whether you will follow Him?  As we close let me just read to you Hebrews 2:1 as a foretaste for next week. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1)

On the evening of April 15th 1912, the cruise liner Titanic, weighing 46.000 tons, on her maiden voyage travelling at 22 knots hit an iceberg and sank. There were 1,500 crew and 2,340 passengers on board but only half that number of life jackets. 1,513 people drowned. One passenger John Harper was on his way to preach at Moody Church in Chicago. Trying to stay afloat in the ocean he drifted towards a young man holding onto a plank. Harper asked “Young man are you saved?”, The man said “No”. A wave separated them. After a few minutes they drifted within speaking distance of each other, and again Harper called to Him, “Have you made your peace with God?”  The young man said “Not yet.”  A wave overwhelmed John Harper and he was seen no more, but the words, “Are you saved?” kept ringing in the young man’s ears.  Two weeks later a young man stood up in a Christian Endeavour meeting in New York. He told his story and said, “I am John Harper’s last convert.”  “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Let us pray.