Hebrews 1:1-3 | The Radiance of the Glory of God
1 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.
Christmas exists because long ago Adam and Eve sinned. They thought God was holding out on them and took a bite of fruit from a tree he told them not to touch. They lost their closeness to God and couldn't get it back on their own merit. And on the saddest day in history, God cast them out of his presence into a world now broken by sin where, as C.S. Lewis said, it’s always winter but never Christmas. A world waiting and longing for redemption.
And as we were born, we added our sin to the world's need. But God was not silent. He promised to send a Savior. And that first Christmas day was God's shout to the world that the Savior is here to reclaim what we lost and to redeem what we broke.
But for too many, the greatness of Jesus’ birth has been silenced by a commercial offering of Christmas happiness that kind of floats above the deep realities of Christmas joy. I see it in the shows that dominate TV this time of year, where everyone’s celebrating the most wonderful time of the year. But what's so wonderful about it if Jesus has become the silent reason for the season rather than the explicit joy of the world? The most wonderful thing to ever happen was God sending his Son to live and die and rise again!
So the book of Hebrews helps us because it was written to a group of Christians who, like Adam and Eve, and you and me, sometimes have a hard time listening to Jesus.
To compel us to listen, the author highlights seven messages God sends in Jesus in the opening verses. When so many other things try to push their way into the space that belongs to Jesus only, Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is better than everything else. Will we listen to him?
So in the short time we have together, I want us to hear three things: That God has spoken finally and fully in his Son. And I want to collect the messages God has sent in his Son into two major headings: Jesus is fully God and Jesus is fully man. He's the complete Savior.
So first, and very briefly, God has spoken to us finally and fully in his Son.
God Has Spoken
Our greatest need is to hear from God. Without his voice we are lost, wondering what life is all about. We don’t know who we are, why we’re here, or what we’re for. But God is not silent. He has been speaking since the foundation of the world. And what he’s been telling us all along is that he is God, we are his people, and he loves us despite everything that seems to prove otherwise.
Look at verses 1 and 2. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he’s spoken to us by his Son.”
So, God spoke through two big eras, that we separate by the Old and New Testaments. The difference between these two eras is the difference between receiving a letter in the mail about a visitor coming one day and receiving that visitor on your doorstep in the flesh. In Jesus, the world received her king—the one she groaned for throughout the ages. What God has said beforehand in text messages and emails and phone calls, he said in finality in person.
Jesus is the answer the world has looked for all its life. He’s the answer to every question. He’s end of every thought. He’s the period to every sentence. Jesus is the whole message of the whole God for the entirety of the human race.
So what does he say? Well, the author tells us seven things God says in Jesus, showing him as all the Savior we'll ever need: fully God and fully man.
Jesus is Fully God
Part one of God's message is that Jesus is not merely from God. Jesus is God. At Christmas, when Jesus was born, God added humanity without losing divinity.
And the author of Hebrews highlights Jesus’ divinity through four messages.
The first message: Jesus is Creator. Verse 2: “Through whom also he created the world.”
In the beginning God created everything, and what he made was good. But we messed that up with our sin. And the Bible says we are dead in our sins. So we can’t just add a little Jesus to our life, like sprinkles on the cupcake of who we are. We need nothing less than a re-creation.
Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was someone who could create life where there was none? Well, what about Jesus? What if we not only had a creator back then but have a creator right now?
God is so brilliant. If sin leads to death, and we are all sinners, how in the world are we going to become alive again? The same way he made us alive in the beginning! Through the Son! God doesn’t change! When we sinned, God didn’t give up and retreat to some far-off place in the sky. He worked his plan.
What was his plan? Well, you were his plan. You were created through Jesus. And even though your sin broke the relationship between you and him, he sought you out in his grace, and—if you’ve trusted in Christ for salvation—he recreated you. You are a living miracle! Your life is so important that Jesus left his home to come to this dumpy world and live and die and rise again for you.
So, don’t think the you that you are right now is a problem for him. The you you are right now—with all your doubts and flaws and imperfections—is the you Jesus delights in because you are his creation. “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’” Don’t argue with him! Just as he created Mary in her circumstances and chose to use her for his glorious purposes, he can use you.
But you may say, “Me? No. I’m too bad. I’ve messed up too big.” Stop that! Nothing in your life is outside the creative power of God. He can use you! He’s the creator!
So, will you listen to him?
The second and third messages go together. Jesus is Radiator and Imprint. Verse 3: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
In the Old Testament, God’s glory is represented in terms of radiant brilliance. And when Jesus came down, he brought with him the glory of God because he was God. That’s why on the Mount of Transfiguration, “his face shone like the sun.” It’s not that Jesus has some of God in him, like a lantern that may go out. He has the fullness of God’s glory because he is God. Who Jesus is, God is, and who God is, Jesus is.
He’s also the exact imprint of his nature. His character is the character of God. Jesus is the “very nature of God,” “the image of the invisible God.” We don’t have just information about God in Jesus. We have God in Jesus.
I don't know what else to say. As amazing as it sounds, when Jesus was born, God came down. And he brought with him God’s radiance and imprint. Which means, we don’t have to wonder what God is like. We know what he’s like because he revealed himself in Jesus.
For example—this is amazing—in Matthew 11, Jesus tells us about his heart. “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Is that what you thought the heart of God was like? Well, it is, because “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
So, when we hear of Jesus’ heart, he’s revealing God’s whole heart to us. God is so gentle that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3) And he’s so humble that he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). And these aren’t just words. This is the glory of God: gentle enough for all your weakness and humble enough for all your need.
So I ask again, will you listen to him?
The fourth message: Jesus is Upholder. Verse 3: “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Oh, I love this phrase. What does it mean that Jesus upholds the universe? It means he’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the itty bitty baby in his hands.
He’s got you and me brother in his hands.
He’s got you and me sister in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
All things included. The depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains, the valleys of the ocean, the brightness of the stars, the warmth of the sun. Every planet, every comet, and every galaxy swirl in his great, big, giant palms.
But it’s not just the big things. His eye is on the sparrow. Every one of your tears is bottled up as he keeps count of your tossings and turnings, and one day he’s going to wipe every single drop from your face and replace it with unspeakable joy.
He’s so big he spins the galaxies by his word and so near that he knows the sorrows and joys you walked in here with today.
Jesus’ upholding both supports and sustains “by the word of his power.” The Greek emphasizes the spoken word. The utterances of Jesus keep the world afloat.
You know, sometimes we wonder why God isn’t speaking, but the truth is that he never stops speaking! If he did, the world would crumble. So, if you can’t hear him, it’s not because he’s not talking, it’s because you’re not listening.
Jesus’ upholding is not like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. He’s not holding it up as much as he’s carrying it along, taking it where he wants it to go. It’s not weighty in his hand. It’s like a feather. It’s easy for him. He doesn’t grow weary. He’s full of energy. So, your need is not a problem for him. It’s an opportunity for his grace to shine forth. He’s upholding the universe by the word of his power, so when you need him, nothing stands in his way of coming to you.
So, Jesus is fully God: Creator, Radiator, Imprint, Upholder.
Are you listening yet?
In case you aren't, the author gives more: Jesus is also fully man.
Jesus is Fully Man
Christmas is awe-inspiring not just because God came down. In fact, God came down throughout the ages. He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He talked with Moses as with a friend. He was with Israel as a cloud and pillar of fire. His glory came down to the temple. He walked through the fire with Daniel’s friends. Christmas inspires awe because in Jesus God came down in a new way. In Jesus, God came down as man.
Here in Hebrews 1, the author highlights Jesus’ humanity, giving us three more messages.
The fifth message: Jesus is Inheritor. Verse 2: “Whom he appointed the heir of all things.”
The best things in our culture image who God is. Those things are not human inventions, they are God’s gifts to humanity so that when God explains himself to us, we have categories by which we can understand him. So when the author speaks of Jesus being the heir, we understand what he means. Everything the father has, the Son has. And although Jesus is Creator, through his finished work God also appointed him the heir of all. He alone is worthy to inherit the Father’s kingdom.
So what is Jesus the inheritor of? Well, in Psalm 2, God says to the Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” The New Testament says, “all things were created for him,” and “to him are all things.” So Jesus inherits the world and everything in it.
But there’s a deeper insight the author wants us to see. There is good news for us here. When Jesus became a man and therefore inheritor, he brought with him the possibility of us inheriting something of God as well. The author highlights this in chapter 2, quoting from Psalm 8—a Psalm about mankind. “You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now, the Psalmist says that’s who you are.
But wait a minute. That doesn’t sound right does it? You probably don’t feel like you’re crowned with glory and honor, do you? You don’t see everything in subjection under your feet. You can’t tame the storms. You can’t even tame your heart. But Jesus can. And Psalm 8 is ultimately about you because it’s ultimately about Jesus. Because Jesus inherits all things, including you. And when he inherits you, and grants you faith, he places you in himself and you get what he has, which includes, amazingly, glory and honor and rule over the world. This doctrine reminds us that every promise God has made will come to pass in and through and for Jesus Christ.
See, Jesus doesn’t lord his inheritance over you. He serves you with it, giving you a portion along with him. Why? Because he loves you! You aren’t his property like a slave. You’re his joy like family.
When we’re saved, Jesus unites us to himself and makes us, as Paul says in Romans 8, co-heirs with Christ. But that happens because Jesus first united himself to us, making himself human. For all the good things Jesus inherited, when he came to earth, he inherited something else—our inheritance from Adam. Now, he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, so he wasn’t born with original sin like we are. But by becoming human, Jesus willingly partook of the same things as us, and on the cross the Father gave him the inheritance due to us so that in the resurrection he could give us the inheritance due to him.
He is the heir of all things, and that all things includes you, but to get you he had to pay for your sins. And on the cross he did.
Listen to him!
The sixth and seventh messages go together: Jesus is Purifier and Ruler. Verse 3: “After making purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Hebrews makes a big deal about Jesus being our High Priest. Sin dirties us in the sight of God. And if we are to be with the holy, pure God, we cannot waltz into his presence as we are. We must be cleansed. And God’s appointed way for cleansing is through the shedding of blood by the priestly sacrifices.
In the Old Testament, a priest would sprinkle the blood of a spotless lamb on the altar symbolizing that the blood of perfection must be shed for the forgiveness of sins. But the blood of an imperfect animal could never bring about the kind of cleansing we need. Man’s sin requires man’s blood. But if we shed our blood for all our sins, how can we live? We can’t! Our sin is too great. One sin against God is worthy of eternal damnation. How could we ever pay for all the sins we’ve committed?
Well we can’t. But Jesus can. And at Christmas, Jesus became the only person ever born on a mission to die. He became the only priest to ever walk the road of a sacrificial lamb.
He lived the perfect life on our behalf, obeying God every step of the way. And when he reached the end, he obeyed to the point of death on a cross. He set aside all his rights as God and God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus did not die because he was sinful. Jesus died because we were sinful. He was spotless. We were stained. He was our sacrifice. We are the forgiven.
By his single offering Jesus perfected us for all time, making purification for sins by his blood. What Christmas began, the cross ended.
And after the finished work of the cross, Jesus sat down in the presence of God! Old Testament priests never sat down in God’s presence. The work was never finished. More sin always needed forgiving. But in Christ, all the sin of all God’s people was forgiven once for all. And he sat down. There is no question about your salvation if you are his.
And just as important as his sitting is the place of his sitting. When he finished, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high—the spot of exaltation—to rule the universe.
And what’s more amazing is he isn’t sitting there as a spirit. Even in death, Jesus never gave up his body. Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection. He rose in the same kind of glorified body he will one day give all believers in the great and final day of the resurrection. That means there is a God-Man ruling the universe, and his name is Jesus, the one who came so long ago to save his people from their sins.
No one will vote him out and no one will overthrow him. He’s secure. And if you’re in Christ, you are as secure as he is. How's that for a Christmas present?
These seven messages show us that we have a complete savior. Jesus is Creator, Radiator, Imprint, Upholder, Inheritor, Purifier, and Ruler.
But he’s much more than that. I want to close with a few more things God says in Jesus. Here’s what the rest of Hebrews says about him.
· He’s worthy of worship
· The lover of righteousness
· The hater of wickedness
· The everlasting conqueror of all enemies
· Crowned with glory and honor
· The founder of salvation
· Our brother
· The destroyer of death and deliverer from the fear of death
· Our high priest
· The propitiation for sins
· Our hope
· The giver of rest
· Sharper than any two-edged sword
· A sympathizer
· The giver of grace and mercy
· The source of eternal salvation
· An anchor of the soul
· Our forerunner
· The King of righteousness and peace
· The owner of an indestructible life
· The giver of promises
· The guarantor of a better covenant
· Able to save to the uttermost
· The once for all sacrifice
· The purifier of our consciences from dead works
· The giver of the eternal inheritance
· The end of the offering for sin
· The opener of the new and living way to God
· The repayor of evil
· The rewarder of those who seek God
· The designer and builder of the city that has foundations
· The resurrector of the dead
· Greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt
· The founder and perfecter of our faith
· The endurer of the cross
· The despiser of shame
· A discipliner
· A reprover
· A lover
· The shaker of heaven and earth
· The giver of an unshakable kingdom
· A consuming fire
· He never leaves and never forsakes
· He’s the same yesterday and today and forever
· The great shepherd of the sheep
· The equipper of everything good
· The one who works in us
· And the recipient of honor and glory forever and ever, amen
All of that is in just 300 verses in the book of Hebrews. And that’s not even all! I shortened it because the sermon was getting too long! I wonder, what do the remaining 28,000 verses of the Bible say?
God has spoken to us in his Son. So I ask a final time: are you listening?