[At Christmas time I did a sermon on this same text so I will not repeat all of the details that were addressed there. This sermon will make different points for us to consider.]
I listen to a pod-cast that is put out by Dr. Stephen Nichols called “5 Minutes In Church History”. He will often interview a theologian and ask him a simple question. He asks, “If you were lost at sea and found yourself on an isolated island somewhere what five books would you bring with you to keep you company.” I have noticed that all of these theologians would always choose to bring books that they have read before. They never never bring a new book that may not be good. They always want to bring books that have already proven to minister truth and the gospel to them.
We will see when we get to Hebrews 2:1-4 that the believers who received this letter had begun to drift away from Christ by listening to false teachings. Instead of continuing to listen to the gospel that was taught by Jesus and His apostles they had begun to drift away from sound teaching towards doctrines that could shipwreck their faith. Because of this, the author immediately comes and preaches to them about Christ from the Scriptures.
So often we can drift unknowingly away from Christ and sound teaching and be attracted to a new teachings or to new philosophies. The book of Hebrews will remind us to pay attention to the message of the faith that has once and for all been entrusted to the saints. It will remind us that in this world, where we are exiles and sojourners, our best friends are those who will speak the gospel to us and continually magnify Christ (Hebrews 13:7-17).
The puritan Thomas Brooks once said, “It is the very drift and design of the whole of scripture to bring souls first to an acquaintance of Christ, and then to an acceptance of Christ, and then to bring them up in a sweet assurance of their actual interest in Christ.”1
Let me list out those three points that were made so that you can see them clearly.
The whole of scripture is to bring souls to an acquaintance of Christ.
The whole of scripture is to bring souls to an acceptance of Christ.
The whole of scripture is to bring souls up in a sweet assurance of their actual interest in Christ.
As I consider these words I immediately am reminded of the letter to the Hebrews. The recipients of this letter were Jewish so they knew the scriptures. The scriptures had been used to bring them to an acquaintance of Christ. We also know that at some point the scriptures which had been used to acquaint them with Christ had led to their acceptance of the Lord Jesus. Over time these believers had grown lazy and sluggish in their faith. They had begun to take steps away from Christ. All of this revealed that they once again needed to remember their interest in Christ. Hebrews 2:1-4 is just one passage in this letter that shows these three things were at work.
It says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
Not surprisingly then, the same scriptures that were used to acquaint these believers to Christ, and to bring them to acceptance of Jesus, will now be used to reacquaint them to Christ so that they will renew their interest in Him. The author of this letter wastes no time in setting out to accomplish this objective. We see this happening from the opening verse of this letter.
Let’s read Hebrews 1:1-4, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
As we begin this morning I would like to ask you a few questions.
How is your relationship with the LORD?
Have you been acquainted with Him through the scriptures?
Have you been acquainted with Him and accepted Jesus but maybe your starting to drift?
Have you received Christ by faith but your soul that has begun to loose interest in Christ?
Have you become sluggish, lazy, or begun to ignore the great salvation that we have in Christ?
Have you grown lukewarm and begun to wander from your first love?
If you can identify with any of these things then this letter will be a blessing to you. This letter has been preserved by God to make us acquainted with Christ, to accept Christ and to cultivate our great interest in Christ.
Let me begin with a story about a man who never progressed in his understanding of the scriptures so that they could acquaint him with Christ, or accept Christ, or show him his vital interest in Christ.
Not that long ago I talked with someone who was on their deathbed. They claimed to have been to church as a child but he had never attended again since that time (Hebrews 10:24-25). At one point in our conversation I asked him how he thought his relationship with Jesus was? He replied that he thought that it needed some help because it was in rough shape. We talked for a while and then I asked if I could share the gospel with him.
I started in Genesis with the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. I spoke of the promise that God gave to send a savior into the world who could rescue us from our sins because it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves. One confession of faith puts our fall into sin in this way, “We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.”2
I continued to talk about how God sent His Son into the world to live under the Law; and yet, unlike you and I, Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly. I spoke about how the Father testified of His Son by saying, “This is My Son in whom I love and in whom I am well pleased (listen to Him).”
I then contrasted all of this with our lives. We are not holy and righteous. We have not always done what God has commanded for us to do. Yet, while we were yet sinners Jesus came to die for sinners. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that we deserved. Then I told him that all those who will come to Christ by faith, forsaking their sins and self-righteousness will receive salvation as a free gift by the grace of God.
After having discussed these things the man looked at me and said, “I will not listen to you because I did not believe you”. I asked him what he thought was getting him into heaven and he mentioned all the good things that he had done in his life. He would not listen to me because he believed that his works were going to get him into heaven.
As I listened to this man I saw just how powerful our self-righteousness can be. We will call Christ a savior only if we can add something to merit our own salvation. We want to add something of our own to the work of redemption; rather than letting the Triune God receive the glory for the great work of redemption that thy have done for us. Let me quote Thomas Brooks one last time, “Christ will be all in all, or He will be nothing at all. Though His coat was once divided, yet He will never suffer His crown to be divided.”3
After this I read to him from several passages of the Bible (John 6, Ephesians 2, Philippians 2) and prayed for him and then left.
Here was a man who had requested a Baptist minister but he quickly rejected the gospel that I spoke about. The Gospel is hard for people to receive. Ultimately we are rejecting the Word of God when we are not willing to receive the Good News. Like the rich man who rejected Christ’s answer to his question, “How can I have eternal life?” (Luke 16:31)
In Hebrews 1:1-4 we see that God has spoken over and over again at many times and in various ways. He has spoken through the prophets; but they were consistently rejected. And while they would not believe God’s prophets they would believe false prophets who would lead them away from the truth and from the LORD. They would believe those who would come in their own name saying that they could earn favor with God on their own merit and not by faith.
But we also see in our text today that God has now sent His Son into the world. One commentator describes Hebrews 1:2 with these words, “After sending His own Son, God had no one greater to send. Thus Christ is God’s last word to men.”4
In Hebrews 1:2-4 the author gives many characteristics concerning the Son. Any one of these characteristics concerning the Son could become a stumbling block for someone (1 Peter 2). In the story that I just shared it was not the fact that Jesus was the Son of God that caused him to stumble. He seemed to be willing to concede that this was true. It was not the fact that Jesus created the world that tripped him up. He would have agreed with the affirmation of that truth. It wasn’t even the fact that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father that this man struggled to accept. As he laid there on that deathbed his own conscience was testifying to the reality that it is destined for each man to die once and then face judgment by the LORD (Hebrews 9:27). No, the issue for him, and so many others, is the fact that Jesus alone can make purification for our sins. We read of this in verse 3-4, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
People believe that they are basically good and that their sins are really not all that bad. When a person does not see their sins as a real problem for themselves then they will not need a great savior to save them from them. As a result, they trust in their own self-righteousness and not in the righteousness of Christ for their salvation. They do not see the need for a mediator between them and a holy God. Far too many people believe that salvation is on the basis of some kind of merit and not on the basis of an inheritance that is received by believing in Christ and His work on our behalf. (Hebrews 1:14 – Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?)
As we consider our text today I would ask you to spend some time this week considering all these traits that are given concerning Christ and see if there is something in this text that has a tendency to trip you up. Persecution and suffering had revealed a weakness in the faith of these believers. So that they could get out of suffering and persecution they were tempted to abandon Christ. It appears that they had already begun to have a low view of Christ and His Word. They were tempted to emphasize other things more than Christ. They began to emphasize things like: the angels, the Law, Moses, Abraham, the Levitical priesthood, Aaron etc. so that they could avoid suffering. This would have been a tragic mistake with eternal and temporal repercussions.
Let me give you a few things to consider before we move on…
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who is worthy of our worship and honor?
Do you believe that God created all things visible and invisible through the powerful word of Christ?
Do you believe that Jesus is the heir of all things and that we are obligated to praise Him and bring glory to Him?
Do you whole-heatedly believe that Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature?
Do you believe that everything seen and unseen is upheld by His powerful Word.
Do you run to take refuge in Christ alone because He has made purification for our sins and is now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high?
Do you receive the Word of God which says that Jesus has become as much superior to the angels as the name that He has inherited is superior than theirs? Do you say with the scriptures, “There is no other name in heaven or on earth by which you must be saved!” (Acts 4:12)
One of my favorite books is by Thomas Watson and it is called, ‘The Doctrine of True Repentance”. At the very beginning he lists six characteristics of repentance and he says that if just one of those characteristics is absent then the repentance is not genuine. Here are his exact words, “If any one ingredient is left out, it looses its virtue.”5 In other words,
Repentance that does not see sin cannot be genuine.
Repentance that does not sorrow over sin cannot be genuine.
Repentance that does not confess sin cannot be genuine.
True repentance must produce a godly shame for the sin that has been committed.
True repentance will produce a godly hatred of that sin.
And true repentance will always be associated with a turning away from that sin towards God.
Similarly, all of these characteristics regarding Jesus which are listed in Hebrews 1:1-4 are precious and none of them ought to be neglected or laid aside by the believer. None of them are unimportant and dispensable. On the contrary, we ought to continually seek to grow in our understanding of these things.
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus is the revelation of God
Jesus is the fulfillment of the revelation of the Old Testament
Jesus is the heir of all things
Through Jesus God created the world
Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God
Jesus is the exact imprint of His nature
Jesus upholds the universe by the Word of His power
Jesus provides purification for our sins
Jesus is sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
Jesus is superior to angels
Jesus’ name is more excellent than theirs
While studying this letter we will be reminded over and over again that Christians are exiles, sojourners, and pilgrims in this world. We truly are men and women who find ourselves in a foreign land far away from our homeland (Hebrews 11:13-14). I began this sermon with the question that Dr. Nichols asks, “If you were trapped on an island what five books, or friends as he calls them, what would you take to keep you company?” Let me give you five friends that the book of Hebrews will encourage us to engage with as sojourners, pilgrims and exliles.
Because of this present condition it should be our desire to find ourselves clinging to the Word of God which reveals to us the Son (Hebrews 1:1, 4: 4:12-13, 12:1-3).
We should desire to be surrounded by the company of other sojourners who believe upon Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25).
And we should desire to receive good teaching by those who speak the Word of God and display a strong faith among us (Hebrews 13:7-17).
We should desire to be consider those who have gone ahead of us and who have kept the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We are far from home but these things remind us of Christ and of His continual abiding presence and graces that are with us (Hebrews 13:5-6, 20-21).
1Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, pg. 66
2New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Section Two: Of The Fall of Man.
3Smooth Stones From Ancient Brooks, p. 67
4New Testament Commentary, p. 325
5The Doctrine of True Repentance, Thomas Watson, p. 7