(1) God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
(2) Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
REM is a rock band made up mainly of former UGA students that operates out of Athens GA. Michael Stipe is one the founders of the band. When he wrote the lyrics for I've Been High, he surrounded himself with dozens of spiritual books and manuscripts, among them the Bible.
Have you seen? Have not, will travel
Have I missed the big reveal?
Do my eyes, do my eyes seem empty?
I've forgotten how this feels.
The song hauntingly chronicles the possibility of seeking and not finding the elusive truth that is right in front of us, somehow missing what Stipe calls “the Big Reveal.” the big reveal is God's revelation of himself to us. The great fear is that God has done it, and we missed it.
Whenever we talk of God, we always talk in contradictions. God is everywhere, yet God is unseen anywhere. The ways of God are beyond our comprehension, but we are to devote all our energy and resources trying to understand those ways. God is beyond knowing, yet God invites us to know him. God is a spirit, yet God became flesh and dwelt among us. God is a mystery, a riddle, a seven-sided Rubik's Cube. But having said that, God has chosen to reveal something of his nature to us.
The whole universe is the first big reveal of God. God created all that exists, and all that exists conveys a complexity, magnitude, scope that points to a God who deserves our worship and praise. Also, the apostle Paul describes the law of God as “written in our hearts.” As human beings, we have an inborn sense of God. Our nature calls us to God. There is more. The great reveal continues. We have the Bible, an archive of wisdom, that shows us how God has deals with people. But that is not the greatest reveal. The most stunning revelation of all, is Jesus Christ.
That is what the writer of Hebrews is telling us. In some old Bibles, it is called “the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” But rather than calling it a letter or epistle, we might do better to understand it as a sermon, a sermon written to encourage the early Christian community to keep the faith in hard times. This sermon has its own unique way of presenting Christ to us, but that is certainly what it does. Christ is the prophet who is the beginning and end of all prophecy, Christ is the High Priest who fulfills and completes the Jewish system of sacrifice.
Hebrews was probably not written by the apostle Paul. It does not claim Pauline authorship and it does not read like other Pauline letters. We do not know who wrote it. We do not know when it was written. Some scholars argue that it was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Judaism as it existed in Jesus day was virtually destroyed when the Roman general Titus stormed in Jerusalem in 70 and destroyed the temple. The argument is that our NT book of Hebrews is saying to the Jews who survived that catastrophe that Christians have a better High Priest and a better temple and a better sacrifice that existed in Jerusalem anyway. But that argument is circumstantial. We do not know when Hebrews was written,
Having said that, there is no doubt that this is a distinctively Christ-centered book. The Geneva Bible of 1591 was the first Bible printed by the Cambridge University press. It predates our KJV. A note in the Geneva Bible on the book of Hebrews says, "The purpose of this epistle, is to show that Jesus Christ the Son of God both God and man is that true eternal and only Prophet, King and High Priest, that was shadowed by the figures of the old law, and is now indeed exhibited of whom the whole Church ought to be taught, governed and sanctified."
Today, many describe Jesus as a great moral teacher, and it is true that he lived an exemplary life, but he also claimed to die for our sins, and he promised to defeat death by his resurrection from the dead on the third day. His disciples reported that just before they saw him ascend into heaven, he explicitly told them he would prepare a place for his followers and one day would return for them. To stop short of accepting Jesus own claims is to miss the biggest reveal of all. As C. S. Lewis observes, Jesus made some stunning assertions, and we are left to choose only one of three options: “he is either a liar or he is a lunatic, or he is who he claimed to be—the Lord and only Son of God.” If he is the son of God that changes everything. We can no longer passively admire his teaching but must actively obey him as Lord.
Back in the first half of the 20th Century there was a famous actress named Billie Burke who toured England and America and became the toast of Broadway. While enjoying a transatlantic ocean trip, she noticed that a gentleman at the next table was suffering from a bad head cold.
“Are you uncomfortable?” she asked. The man nodded.
“I’ll tell you just what to do about it.” She offered. “Go back to your stateroom and drink lots of orange juice. Take two aspirins. Cover yourself with all the blankets you can find. Sweat the cold out. I know just what I’m talking about. I’m Billie Burke from Hollywood.”
The man smiled “Thanks” he said, “and I’m Dr.William James Mayo from the Mayo Clinic.”
Sometimes, it is important to know who you are talking to, and sometimes it is important to know who you are talking about. The writer of Hebrews thinks it’s important for us to know who we are talking about when we talk about Jesus.
The letter begins with a powerful introduction which we read in the KJV. Let us read it now in the ESV:
(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.
Throughout Hebrews we are told how much better the Lord Jesus is. He is better than angels.· He is a better high priest than the temple ever had.· He offers a better covenant than man has ever known. He offers a better sacrifice than has ever been offered. Jesus is a better … than anything.
This is the central fact of the NT. Until this central fact penetrates our brains, we will be constantly getting things out of order. We will always think something else is better or just as good as Jesus. Whether it is money, love, power, popularity--something will always edge Jesus out of his rightful place, and thus we become uncertain in our faith.
Back in 1992, George Barna conducted a survey of church people and found that only 55% of those who attend church regularly said that their faith affected the way they live. To put that the opposite way, 45% felt their faith did not affect their lives. How can that be? They do not have Jesus in the right place. To them, Jesus is just one thing among many others.
This is not a new problem. Apparently the people to whom the author of Hebrews is writing, had the same problem. That is why he exhorts his readers in 2:1 to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” He says, There has been a Great Reveal. Listen to what is going on.
The reason we miss so much in life is that we are not paying attention, we are not listening. Did you hear this little story? A man called his neighbor to help him move a couch that had become stuck in the doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch would not budge. "Forget it," the man finally said. "We’ll never get this in." The neighbor looked at him quizzically and said, "In?"
Then again, there are times when miscommunication leads to absolute bewilderment. A husband who was not used to doing the laundry, was going to wash some of his dirty clothes but did not know which setting to set the washer on. He yelled upstairs to his wife and said, “What setting do I was my sweatshirt on?” She asked him what it said on the shirt, and he yelled back, “Gamecocks”.
Then again, there is the problem of communication across cultures. When Pepsi started marketing its products in China a few years back, they translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" pretty literally. The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."
Then GM found out why the Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. "No Va" means "It Does Not Go" in Spanish....
They needed to pay attention and get things right. God is saying that when it comes to Jesus, we need to pay attention and get things right. Primarily this means we need to get our thinking about Jesus right.
V3 says the son “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” In other words, Jesus is a special revelation of God to us. In Jesus, we see something at least of what God is like, how God thinks, how God feels. Jesus is the Great Reveal of God to us. In 1:2, Hebrews says, Jesus is better than the prophets. In other times, God chose to reveal himself in various ways--through prophets and dreams and priests. Now he speaks to us by the Son, and the implication is that the Son is far better than all the prophets put together.
In v4, the writer of Hebrews moves on to say that Jesus is better than angels: “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Angels are powerful and wondrous beings and so we are tempted to bow down and worship them. Thus, the NT is concerned lest the pure worship of Jesus become confused with angel worship. The way people think of angels today is different from how the Bible portrays them. The majority of pictures of angels we see are either chubby children with little wings on their backs, or women with long flowing robes and beautiful hair. Angels are seen as helpful, concerned, pleasant. Many people regard them as more approachable than God or Jesus. For example, I have sometimes heard people say, “I pray to my good angel all the time.” That is the wrong direction for prayer.
On the Internet, there is a website called “Angels Online.” It is devoted primarily to stories of angel encounters. Now you might say that is pretty harmless, and I suppose it is most of the time, but the danger in the glorification of angels is that we might wind up worshiping angels more than Christ.
the writer of Hebrews wants to emphasize that though angels are powerful beings, they are servants. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” He is saying that angels are servants of God's people.
The emphasis is that Jesus is in a different category than angels. Jesus is divine. He is God, and because he is God, Jesus has cosmic power. "In the beginning, O Lord (Jesus), you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end" (Hebrews 1:10-12).
a few years ago, there was a show on TV called Touched by an Angel. It ran on CBS from 1994 to 2003. Throughout the series, an angel named Monica is tasked with bringing guidance and messages from God to various people who are at a crossroads in their lives. The theme of “Touched by an Angel” is God loves you, and so, because He loves you, you have an angel looking out for you. You have this special angel sitting on your shoulder, waiting for an opportunity to help you out. Maybe there is some truth in that, but it is not exactly on target.
Look again at Hebrews 1:14. Who are angels sent to serve? “Those who will inherit salvation.” or those who belong to Jesus Christ. Angels do not serve everybody. They serve believers. They serve the followers of Christ.
The message of the Bible is "You won’t be saved by angels" and "you won’t be saved by good works." The only thing that will free you from your sins so that you can receive the grace of God is the blood of Jesus Christ.
Near the city of San Jose dos Campos, Brazil, is a remarkable facility. Twenty years ago, the Brazilian government turned a prison over to two Christians. The institution was renamed Humaita, and the plan was to run it on Christian principles. With the exception of two full time staff, all work is done by inmates. Families outside the prison adopt an inmate to work with during and after his term. Chuck Colson visited the prison and made this report:
"When I visited Humaita, I found the inmates smiling--particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates and let me in. Wherever I walked I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs….
My guide escorted me to the notorious prison cell once used for torture. Today, he told me, that block - houses only a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, ’Are you sure you want to go in?’
"'Of course,' I replied impatiently. 'I've been in isolation cells all over the world.' Slowly, he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates --the prisoner Jesus, hanging on a cross.
"'He’s doing time for the rest of us,' my guide said softly."
Angels can not do that for you. The nice people down the street can not do that for you. Your friends, politicians, people with prestige and wealth--no one can do that for you. The only one that can serve your time, who can take your punishment is Jesus Christ.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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