Jesus - God's final word - Hebrews 1:1 - 2:4
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the most potent ideas which has been spread throughout the West over the years and which has led to many people not taking Christianity seriously, is the idea that God is no more than a projection of the human mind, a form of wish fulfilment and therefore an illusion. The person who gave this idea popularity was of course, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. In his book, 'The Future of an Illusion' he said that religious beliefs are "illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankindThus the benevolent rule of divine Providence allays our fears of the dangers of life.' In effect he is saying that the belief that there is a good, all powerful Being in control of the world is no more than a glorified comfort blanket. It is as useful and as misleading as a child who thinks that by virtue of having a blanket to cling to and a thumb to suck on then all is right with the world, whilst all the time there is an axe murderer outside his door. No, says Freud, let's recognise belief for what it is- an illusion and grow up.
In fact Freud went much further than that. He said that many psychological illnesses, what he called 'neuroses', could be traced back to the repressive hold religious beliefs had on people's lives. In other words they were positively harmful, like having a comfort blanket which was infected with anthrax. This was especially linked with a problem some of his patients exhibited in having what he called a 'Father complex'. Freud wrote that there was: 'the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God.' He stated how psychoanalysis shows 'that the personal god is logically nothing but an exalted father, and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious beliefs as soon as the authority of the father breaks down.' That is, when a young person comes to the age when they realise that their own father has faults, and feels a sense of deep disappointed and resentment as a result, the same feeling is transferred on to their belief in God. It is like realising Father Christmas doesn't exist after all, but the belief served a purpose while you were young and gullible.
But you know, Freud's argument can be turned against him and other atheists like him. His argument is that our experience of a good father causes us to project this idea into a belief that there is a heavenly father- a God. But it could be that their bad experience of their fathers has led them to reject belief in God. And this seems to have been the case. In his book 'Faith of the Fatherless' the writer Paul Vitz has shown that all the leading world atheists- Nietzsche, Hume, Russell, Hitler, Stalin, Sartre, even Freud -all had problems on this score. He concludes that in example after example: 'We find weak, dead, or abusive fathers in every case.' So what did they do? Link their experience of their father with their belief in God, and just because the one was intolerable and had to go, so had the other. It wasn't that they had good reasons which led them to rejecting belief in God, but rather bad experiences.
But surely, what we must do in order to establish whether there is a God and what he is like, is to look at the evidence around us, not the state of our mind within us. Just because some of us may have had abusive fathers, it does not follow (despite what some feminists might claim) that all fathers or men are abusive or that God is. Just because there is some counterfeit currency in circulation doesn't mean that all money is fake. In fact without real money, fake money wouldn't work at all.
Now what the writer to the Hebrews is doing is pointing us to a figure in history, whose life and words can be checked out. And he is saying that when we do that, we discover someone who is indeed a 'projection', but not a projection of our ideas and wishes into the heavens, but a projection of the very character and nature of God himself into our world. He is claiming that when we come to Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the genuine article, someone absolutely unique in that this man is also God.
In fact, the uniqueness, supremacy and finality of Jesus Christ express themselves in five different ways in chapter 1.
First of all, we see that Jesus is unique in his relationship to the Bible v 1, '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.' Let me ask: How do you get to know what is essentially unknowable? How can that which is finite (us) ever grasp that which is infinite (God)? The answer of course is that we can't. The gap is way too big. But what if the gap were to be bridged from God's side? Well, then some form of contact could be made. Well, that is exactly what the Bible claims to have happened. The history of Israel, we are told, is not about the evolution of a religion, but the unfolding of a revelation. Our writer says 'God spoke' in a variety of ways; through visions and in dreams, in word and in writing, in deed and declaration. Throughout a long historical process God added to his truth bit by bit, unfolding more and more of his nature and purposes. And the people he primarily chose to speak through were called prophets. And these men not only foretold by speaking about the future, but forthtold, by speaking into the present. And all of this was to go on until God would do what he had never done before or would ever do again- he would become one of us. And that time has now arrived, says our writer, with the appearance of Jesus and the contrast between them and him is striking. The prophets were God's servants. Jesus is God's Son. They spoke words of God-plural; Jesus is the Word of God-singular; the human embodiment of the divine being, the perfect expression of the divine mind, i.e. God's complete communication with his world.
Think of it like this: Just imagine you discover that you have a long lost relative who lives in Australia. They make initial contact with you by writing. They tell you something about themselves, their likes and dislikes, their home life, maybe something about their character. Then they phone you and you hear what they sound like, and that makes the relationship all the more meaningful. That voice makes the contact more intimate. But finally the great day arrives when they step off the plane and you meet face to face. Then the communication is total. Now that is exactly what the writer is claiming has happened between mankind and God in Jesus. That is why there is no need for a further revelation from God, for he has nothing further to say to us than what he has already said through his Son. Indeed, in relation to both the revelation of God through the prophets and the Son, the writer uses the past tense 'has spoken'; there is no more revelation to be had. If you want to know what God thinks, what he is like, what his purposes are for the world he has made and your place within it, then it is to Jesus you must go, which means it is to the Bible you must turn. And when you do you discover that the Old Testament looks forward to him and prepares the way for him by giving us the pictures, images and categories by which we can identify and understand him. So we find that he is the King who is greater than David. He is the prophet more eloquent than Moses. He is the priest who intercedes for his people and deals with their sin in ways the priests of the temple could only dream about. He is none other than Yahweh the Lord who made this world and owns it. That is the stupendous claim being made.
Which brings us on to our next point which is simply staggering, that Jesus is unique in relation to the universe, 'whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world' V 2, and then v 3, he is the one, 'sustaining all things by his powerful word.' The writer is linking Jesus 'the Son' with a Messianic prophecy- Psalm 2, where Yahweh says to his 'anointed', his 'king' his 'son', 'Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.' This is given as a reward for the Son's work of redemption. But this 'Son' is more than an earthly King, because he is the instrument through which God made the world, which means that he too must be divine. When the first nebula exploded into being, the Son was there willing it to happen. When the Milky Way was strewn across the night sky, it was an act of divine artistry by the Son. But this Son is not like some scientist who, having designed and made a superb machine, walks away from it once it appears on the factory floor, for we are told that 'he sustains (present tense) all things by the word of his power.' Now that word 'sustains' conveys not the image of an Atlas holding a heavy world on his giant shoulders, which is picture of passivity, rather it implies movement. It is a picture of action, a conscious moment by moment guiding; the weaving of everything towards an ultimate goal. And that goal is in fact, Jesus. So the universe comes from Christ in the past and is moving towards Christ in the future and is being upheld by Christ in the present. Now remember, the writer is speaking here of someone who only a few years earlier had been making chairs in Joseph's workshop in Nazareth. He is being identified as the creator of all things. Now let the immensity of that sink in for a moment. No such claim is made of any other religious leader. So let us not short change Christ by putting him alongside the Buddha or Mohamed or Confucius for the sake of religious correctness and multicultural toleration. For whichever way you may want to express it, hedged in with all the qualifications, at root it means that Jesus is God.
And so we come to Jesus unique relationship to God, v 3 'The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.' Now those two statements balance each other perfectly, each emphasising a different aspect of the deity of Christ. On the one hand, there is an inseparable unity between God the Father and God the Son for he is the 'radiance of God's glory' Now, can you imagine a lamp being lit without the filament glowing? Or the sun shining without its rays radiating? Of course not, the two always go together. So it is here. Jesus is co-eternal with God. There never was a time when the Father existed without the Son. God cannot be glorious without Christ being there for he is the radiance of his glory. But that truth of the co-eternal nature of Christ is balanced with what is stressed in the next phrase in v 3 'he is the exact representation of his being.' The idea is that of a distinct personality. That word 'representation' speaks of a precise copy, like when you stamp a seal in wax. So whilst sharing the divine nature with the Father, Jesus is not the Father, by his own distinctive personhood he perfectly mirrors to us what the Father is like. Note that Jesus is 'the exact representation of his being' which means that every aspect of the divine character is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus do we see someone who is tender with the broken hearted? So is the Father. In Jesus do we see someone who has total control over nature? So does the Father. In Jesus do we see someone who hates sin and all that corrupts and demeans and is determined to do something about it? So does the Father. We are not to play one off against the other in our minds, as if God the Father is a bullying God associated with the OT and Jesus is the kind God we see in the new. Whilst distinct, they are yet one in their divine character. Jesus is, if you like the human face of God. Isn't that a wonderful way to think of Jesus? God with a human face.
And it is this humanity of Jesus the divine Son which leads us on to our next point: Christ's unique relationship to us v 3 'After he had provided purification for sins; he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.' You see, Jesus came not only to be somebody unique but to do something unique. The writer doesn't say that Jesus came to teach us about goodness, but that he primarily came to rescue us from the consequences of our badness. This again puts Jesus in an entirely different category from any other religious leader the world has ever known. And he succeeded in it too. 'After he had provided purification for sins (past tense), he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.' Whereas the Jewish priests were kept standing because they were forever having to offer sacrifices for sin, Jesus has now sat down having finished his work of atonement once and for all. As a result he has been elevated to the position of rule and authority on the very throne of heaven. Do you know what that means? It means that God has taken up into himself our humanity. There now rules from the throne of heaven a man- the God- man Jesus. It is ironic really when you think about it. What has motivated men like Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Hitler, Stalin- but dreams of world domination? But what is that compared to the universal rule, beyond this planet to incorporate all the other planets, as well as the invisible spiritual worlds which exist-which the man Jesus Christ now has? The instinct is right; the world is meant to be ruled by a man. But the means and motivation were all wrong- violence and greed. But God has achieved his original purpose to rule the universe by His Son. Where Adam failed, along with the rest of us, Jesus succeeded, establishing his eternal reign of love. And isn't that a comforting thought? To know that at the heart of the universe rules a man who loved us so much to die for us and gave his blood to bring forgiveness and who has our best interests at heart that he will move heaven and earth and history itself to make sure that one day we will arrive safely home to be with him.
Now do you see why Jesus is unique? Jesus is the perfect prophet through whom God has spoken clearly and finally. Jesus is the perfect priest through whom we are reconciled eternally. Jesus is the perfect King who lovingly rules over every area of our existence, seated on that glorious throne which occupies the centre of all reality. There are no human rivals to Christ. But neither are there any super-human rivals either which brings us to our final point-Jesus is unique in relation to angels' v4, 'So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.' Now what's all that about?
Well, angels are members of Yahweh's heavenly court who exist to serve him v7 and to praise him v 6. And one way in which they serve him is to bring God's revelation to his people from time to time and so minister to his people-v14. But whatever role God may have for angels as divine messengers which when seen do inspire awe, they do not even begin to measure up to the glory and wonder of Jesus the Son. And the writer produces a whole catena of OT quotations to back up his assertion that Jesus is supreme over even the angels, the highest spiritual beings you can think of. Now do you see what the writer is doing? He is getting his readers, and us, to focus their thoughts solely upon Jesus. Now this is so important. You may think that all this business about angels isn't that relevant to us. Well, you would be wrong. One of the constant dangers the Christian has to guard against is having his eyes taken off Jesus and allowing someone or something else to take his place. You see it there in the cult of praying to Mary and the saints in Catholicism. You also see it in the obsession with territorial spirits and the so called spiritual warfare between angelic beings as popularised by Frank Perretti. And in both cases our sights are taken off the only one who really matters-and that is Jesus.
So what is the point of all of this teaching which uplifts Christ? Is it just to give us a crash course in Nicene theology? No, in fact it has a very urgent pastoral application which we see in v1 of chapter 2 'Therefore' it begins in the original, 'we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.' You know in all my 30 years as a Christian, I have never known a person who claiming to be a Christian one day woke up and decided to jack it all in. Not one. But I have known many claiming to be Christians who have simply drifted away. Maybe other things have begun to crowd in- the career, the house, the family. For others hardship has proved too difficult, it has been tough taking a stand as a student or a social worker for Christian standards and so it has been much easier to lay low until the faith has no bite or power left at all. For others it has been wrong expectations: 'I thought being a Christian would be happiness all the way.' But still for others it has been the attraction of alternative spiritualities which appear to offer far more by way of immediate experience, rather than having to work hard at understanding and applying the Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit. And all of this drift, says our writer, can be traced back to the simple failure to fully appreciate who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. And maybe you are here tonight and you are aware of the drift that is occurring in your life. If the truth be known, Christianity is becoming a bit of a drag and so you are letting things slip. If so, then beware, beware- and take the writer's warning to heart. More importantly, take up his remedy and allow your mind and imagination to be captivated by the majesty and supremacy of Jesus. Ask God to enable you to be consumed with a holy passion for him- his glory, his mission, so that you will get up from sitting on your hands and serve him, as well as enabling your heart to be moved to praise him in self-less adoration.
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