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;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
God. It has been said, quite rightly I believe, that the epistles in the new testament can be profitably divided into two sections, those following Romans and those following Hebrews. Whilst you may argue as to whether the whole of the epistle collection can be divided that way I think it is clearly true that Romans and Hebrews stand as the two greatest doctrinal expositions of Christianity that we are afforded. And, whilst they have a number of similarities, the difference in approach, and probably audience is very marked.
In the letter to the Romans we start with half of a chapter where Paul argues for the relevance of the Gospel, we then get half a chapter showing that the existence of God can be shown from creation. In chapter two we then get an excursus on moral behaviour and then move on to the relevance or otherwise of Hebrew law. In fact the first 8 chapters of Romans deals, in varying ways, with the need for and effect of integrating the Gospel into an otherwise Godless existence.
Hebrews has pretty much assumed the first two chapters of Romans and really tackles the issue of how we should correctly integrate fundamental truths into an otherwise God fearing existence.
I believe that is why our English translation starts so simply. God. Who is he, what is he doing and what are we going to do about it? And those are the questions I hope to tackle this morning with the Spirits leading.
Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake. Let us get hold of that, God has communicated. In Athens there was an alter to the 'unknown God'. People today will say they are going off in search of God, we even say ourselves that people are searching for something. Well, we mean something positive by it but the truth is there is nothing to search for. Whilst God has hidden truths, and there are some concepts which have been made unclear to deter idle inquirers, the basic facts that you need to know are not hidden.
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Who at sundry times. This is one of those unfortunate situations where the AV was translated perfectly but the meaning of the English has drifted over the centuries. Today a 'sundry' is really a spare part, but that is not the meaning here. What we have translated is 'polumerws kai polutropws.' A literal translation today would be 'in many parts', if you like, had the Old Testament been made for TV it would have been a series and not a movie. This fact has to be borne in mind when reading the old testament. God was successively revealing himself to mankind, not because God didn't know where the story was going but because he could not have fully revealed where it was going to the cast or it would have altered the result. In fact the huge timespan over which the Old Testament was written is one of the most compelling arguments for divine authorship. To be able to produces tens of thousands of verses that are internally consistent over the space of 2000 years without any form of computerized indexing is genuinely amazing. However, if you are given, to dipping into the old testament it can also be genuinely confusing. Parts of the old testament were written to a weak, unskilled stone age tribe by a shepherd. Other parts were written by one of the most intelligent mortal men that have ever lived who was prospering inside a huge iron-age military kingdom.
And in divers manners and just in case the 2000 year timescale doesn't confuse you the different nature of parts of the old testament will. We have law, prophecy, a hymn book, history, wisdom, logic, visions, the recording of supernatural manifestations and fragments of various other books which the spirit has seen fit to include.
Now, it is all there, it all has meaning, it all is divinely inspired, but somehow it doesn't all hang together. Now some of you may be a little shocked to hear me say that, if anyone is going to defend the veracity of the Bible then it is usually me, but I'll repeat it. Standing on its own the OT does not quite hang together, it is rather like having fragments of some very precious Ming vase and now matter how hard you try you cannot put the pieces together to get back to the priceless antique.
I can give you many examples of why this is true but I will start with one Derek Cleave touched upon but didn't have time to dig into:
Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness
Look carefully, the Lord Jesus died so that God could be righteous for having forgiven the sins he did in the old testament. Without this declaration in Romans the old testament doesn't add up.
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die
Seems straight forward enough doesn't it ...
Psalms 32:2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity
Unless you happen to be David in which case you seem to get away with it...
In time past
The Greek here is far more startling than the English. There are two words in Greek to denote Old 'archaios' and 'palaios'. Archaios is referring to something which is old in point of time, it implies nothing about the state or condition of the object. Palaios doesn't refer to how old something is in terms of its years of existence but in terms of how worn out it is. So we would naturally think of the Old Testament as archaios, something which is old in terms of time. But that is not the word here, the word is palaios. The writer to the Hebrews is not stating that the old testament was written a long time ago, he is stating that it is worn out, beyond its natural use cycle if you wish, dare I even say; In need of an overhaul.
The next piece we need to appreciate when approaching the old testament is who it was written to. It was written (predominantly) to the Jew. Now we are explicitely told it was written for our benefit:
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Indeed we are even told that many of the Old Testament saints had fates befall them for our benefit:
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
But that doesn't detract from the fact it was written to Jews. There was some provision made for the gentile but it was fairly scant and not always pleasant. So what does this mean, it means that when we read the old testament we are watching God in his dealings with other people, we may profitably intuit from that aspects of his behaviour toward us, but we cannot (or should not) put ourselves in the place of these old testament characters because they are different people operating in a different economy to ourselves.
We also need to see who it was written by, namely the prophets. Further, if you look at most of the prophets, God directed the life of the prophet so that it would mirror the message. Ezekiel is a classic case, he had to act out many of his prophecies, who cannot marvel at the instruction he was given that his wife should die that evening and he was not to mourn? But nonetheless each book of the old testament is naturally coloured by the man chosen to write it.
The Greek word rendered last, is 'escatos'. It really means, the outermost or extreme, in last place. So the question is "of what days are these the last", the answer is the last of the days we just heard of, the days in which God communicated. God had communicated himself in a number of instalments and in a variety of different ways. Each instalment suited to the state of the receivers and the person through whom God had chosen to communicate, and here was going to come the final episode. Notice too it is not the last days but these last days. There was immediacy here. The time over which God was going to reveal himself was drawing to a close, the revelation had taken thousands of years, it will still current at the time Hebrews was written but that currency was going to end.
Here we get the first switch. Previously it had been the Hebrew fathers that were spoken unto, now it was going to be us, which leaves the obvious question of who 'us' is. There are four obvious candidates :-
Ideally I would know tell you which option is right but to do that I think we need to tackle the next clause which is arguably the hub of Hebrews and possibly even the so-called New Testament.
Having given this a build up I now have a problem, this key and crucial clause is just about untranslatable into English. The AV renders it By His Son but then slips the His into italics to show it isn't there. There is no article, you see this is not trying to say that the Son was the latest in a line of prophets, he was really the last in a long line of divers manners. The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to bear a message, he came as the message itself. But even that is not quite true, the Lord was not some separate message that could be sent, we was the medium through which God communicated himself. I could say this evening that I am communicating my thoughts in English. In the same way, this is saying that in these latter days God has spoken in son. Put another way, Christ did not come to tell us good new, Christ came ... that is good news.
This instantly puts the Old Testament and the New Testament on different footings. The Old Testament was a message, it was understandable and enact able in its own right. When Josiah found the book of the law it was sufficient to start its own reformation. The New Testament is not a message it is a set of writings describing aspects of the message. This is the message that John is conveying in the opening verses of his gospel.
V14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Practically this means that to understand the New Testament you need spiritual assistance. As an example, take one of the cornerstones of the new testament, the cross :
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
So, who is the 'us' of 'unto us', option c & d. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God has spoken to everyone, but because he spoke through the Lord Jesus Christ only a subset of those to whom he has spoken will have the apparatus necessary to hear.
Just in case you (or they) were thinking that these opening verses had relegated the Lord Jesus to a method of communication the writer to the Hebrews goes on to explain some other aspects of the Lords character and position. And here is a hum-dinger. Heir of all things. We live in a world were everyone seemingly wants to go their own way and has there own set of plans. We each have our personal space and personal possessions which we feel an inalienable right to. Sometimes we ask what the world is coming to. Well, I may not know where it is coming to but I can tell you who it is going to ... the Lord Jesus Christ. Look how it is driven home. All things. There is nothing, however big, however small, however well you may think it is hidden, however obscure you may think it is, there is nothing that is not going to end in Christ. It may not be in Christ now, it says heir of all things, it suggests he has to wait until some appropriate moment. In fact that is the complaint of Ch 2v8 But now we see not yet all things put under him but the delay is part of the plan and does not denote uncertainty. In fact that is the beauty of the word appointed. It shows deliberate action. The son doesn't happen to inherit all things, he certainly isn't doing it in spite of an unwilling father. In fact we see in Revelation 5 the whole of creation waiting to see who was worthy to take the title deeds of the earth and eventually the Lion of the tribe of Judah came forward, as a Lamb and he was found worthy to take the book because he was slain. So whilst the all things naturally fall to the Son as Son we also find they would naturally fall to him because of his own inherent character and also because of the work he had done.
Don't you just love some of these throw away lines. By whom also he made the worlds. We have already established that the Son is the body of the message of the new testament, we have established that he is the medium of that message, we have established that all things are heading towards and end in him, we have established that he is the heir of God. Now we discover that he was the mechanism through which God created the universe. Now let's get hold of that. Christ wasn't simply there when God created everything, but Christ was actually central to God being able to create the universe. This is important, it establishes creatorial rights. What does that mean? Well if you bake a cake who owns the cake? You do. If Matthew builds a sandcastle who owns the castle? Matthew. So if Christ made man then who owns you? So you see all things end in Christ by appointment. All things end in Christ through his worthiness. But all things are naturally Christ's anyway because he was fundamental to their creation.
As great as His heir ship and his work in creation is verse 3 takes us to an even higher plane be focussing upon the nature or character of Christ and this opening clause is, or should be, enough to take our breath away. The brightness of his glory. I love the Darby translation here, the effulgence of his glory. We may not fully understand what effulgence means but we don't have to, the word is almost onomatopoeic, you can feel what it means. It would be amazing enough to hear that Christ had some of the glory of God, but the thought here is that if you took all the glory of God and looked for the absolutely brightest most amazing part of it you would find Christ. In fact the Greek is even more suggestive, the word rendered brightness is actually 'apaugasma' which can be rendered radiance. Now, what that suggests, is not simply that Christ contains the glory of God, but that if you were to project God in his Glory then what you would get is Christ.
Remember too to keep an eye on the little words. Who being the brightness ... Christ wasn't made to be that way for a purpose, he wasn't that way for some short period of time, it already was and always shall be essential to the ongoing eternal nature of Christ to be the brightness or radiance of the Glory of God.
I suggested a few seconds ago that brightness could be rendered radiance and that Christ could almost be perceived as a project of the Glory of God. Well this second clause takes that thought a little further, 'Express Image' is a rendering of the Greek word 'carakter,' the word was used for the minting of an original from a mould. Today we have an expression, 'a chip off the old block'. Well Christ was not a chip of the old block, he was an exact replication of the key characteristics of the old block. Can you believe that two thousand years ago, a young woman, probably Katies age, nursed a baby that was an exact replication of the key characteristics of the Almighty God!
I really enjoyed Roy Hill the other day and the thought that the Lord might have been born by a road-side spoke to me, but you know in some ways I think we're missing the ball. Many children are born by the road-side, we all saw some of the slides brother Cross brought to us. The point is this wasn't some poor kid, this was God!
The claim here is brutally simple yet extremely audacious, Jesus Christ is the force that allows this universe to hang together. The so called laws of physics that we depend upon daily are not laws at all, the laws are nothing but a description of how the Lord Jesus chooses to arrange things day after day after day. I can go on for hours about this but I'll just give you one little example. You are made of molecules, molecules are made of atoms. An atoms consists of a nucleus and a cloud of electrons. The nucleus consists of a tightly formed clump of positively charged protons. It seems very logical and scientific until you suddenly realize I said positively charged protons. Have you ever tried hold two north magnets together, almost impossible. Well similarly, positively charged anythings hate being next to each other. By rights every atom in the universe should instantly disintegrate, in fact that is what happens when a nuclear bomb goes off, protons splitting away from the uranium nucleus cause an energy release which makes the bang. So why doesn't the universe explode, because Christ is binding the nucleus together with the word of his power. Scientists call it the nuclear strong force and then when the sums don't quite work for that they come up with the nuclear weak force, and I'm sure Christ does work in a consistent way which these scientists can profitably document, but let us not loose site of the fact it is Christ that binds us together.
Notice too the expression word of his power. When we think of the power of God we typically think of the great violent expressions we sometimes see, perhaps a hurricane or a volcano erupting. But that is not really the normal or even common expression of Gods power, it is controlled by his word. This suggests order or precision, the kind of power manifest in a laser, targeted, focussed, just the right amount of force at just the right time. Sure that right amount is sometimes an earthquake but even then I believe every effect and side effect is precisely worked out through the word of his power.
Have you ever been on one of those water rides where they put you in a car and take you higher and higher until they suddenly send you plunging down into ice-cold water? We have soared as high as we possibly can by considering the character of our Lord and suddenly we see him hanging on a cross. All alone, that is what it says, by himself. Incidentally some of the modern translations follow a corrupted Greek text and leave out 'by himself' but he was by himself. Nothing else was required; the exact image of God, upholding all things with the word of His power purged your sin, and my sin by dieing on the cross. Whilst he was hanging there it went dark some say this was veil drawn by the father over the suffering. Could be but I have a simpler explanation. The son was taking on the sin of the world, he was clearly being stretched to the limit, some aspects of keeping the universe ticking over probably went on hold. I don't think it was a miracle it went dark, I think it was a miracle the universe stayed together at all. It shows that even whilst his creation was crucifying Him Christ was still focussed on our well being. That is a miracle.
Finally, after the ride crashes you into the water it brings you up the other side. Here we see the Son retaking his rightful position. He is now seated, the work is done. True he still has to wage the largest war the world have ever seen single handed but that is going to be easy for the one who upholds everything.
Now today I haven't particularly tried to give you anything practical, neither yet has the writer to the Hebrews. We often speak of vision in an assembly, I believe in that and will be addressing that this evening. But I firmly believe that before we can have a vision for service we have to have a clear vision of the Lord himself and I hope that something that the Spirit has brought to use this morning will stay with you and inspire you in the days ahead.
In His name,