Bible readings Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-6 and 2:5-15
At the name of Jesus every knew will bow,
Every tongue confess Him king of glory now…
You have just lifted the roof with that hymn, what is it about the old hymns that capture your imagination? What is it about the melodies that touch your heart? Think about your favourite hymn for a moment, how has the hymnwriter managed to write words that have engaged your mind or imagination in faith?
Great hymns and songs have the power to inspire congregations and lift our faith in God to a different level. Our reading this morning from Hebrews begins with what scholars believe was ancient poetry sung as a hymn….
“After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” (NET)
Why would the author of Hebrews begin with a hymn? Well lets dig a little deeper and see what we can find out... but first a bit of a look forward and then back…. As lent begins on Wednesday and we journey towards Easter once more we’re going to travel towards the cross and the empty tomb through the book of Hebrews in a series called “Jesus the More Exceptional Way.”
How come Hebrews? So much of our understanding of Jesus is based around the gospels and there is nothing wrong with that, but Hebrews invites us to understand Jesus in a different way… Jesus – More exceptional than the angels,
Jesus – More exceptional than Moses,
Jesus – The more exceptional priest,
Jesus – The more exceptional covenant,
Jesus – The more exceptional hope and
Jesus – The more exceptional blessing.
As a preacher Hebrews holds a fascination for me as it is thought to have been written as a sermon and as such the author has understood the power of a hymn to stir and inspire the people. No one knows who wrote the book of Hebrews, there are lots of different theories but at the end of the day it is unknown as is the specific audience it was intended for.
So, what do we know? It appears to have been written for a church of Jewish Christians who started out great guns. They were a new church plant, but time had passed and we know from Hebrews 10 they’d gone through tough times including a time of persecution…. This group of believers had hit the wall. They’d grown weary and tired, stuck in a rut and no longer growing…. Worse than that they’d grown apathetic in their faith and were turning back to Judaism… 10:25 tells us malaise around continuing to meet together had set in as the writer pleads “let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”
The writer obviously knows this people well and in writing draws extensively from the old Testament. Dr. Tony Evans suggests “The writer builds a case that Jesus Christ is greater than the angels, than Moses, the old covenant, its priests and its sacrificial system. The writer argues for the superior beauty of Christ, the greatness of his sacrifice on our behalf and the promise of the unshakeable kingdom he is bringing to encourage the believers to have faith and to stand firm through their present suffering.” And 13:22 tells us he is writing a word of exhortation, a word to encourage them not to turn away from Jesus because Jesus offers a far more exceptional way of life than the way of Judaism they have come from.
The writer begins his pitch with a startling picture of the old and the new. In the past God spoke through the prophets and angels were a part of that… but now, now God speaks through none other than His son, his son who is one with God (the exact representation of His being), his son through who creation was formed and through whom creation is sustained, his son who has taken our sin and whose grace has made it possible for us to know God, his son who is far superior to the angels.
Jesus was there at the beginning and Jesus will be the heir to everything at the end as Jesus says in Revelations 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
We need to understand here that the writer wasn’t saying the old way was bad and the new way was good, he was saying that the old way was good and it was good that God spoke to us through the prophets, but it had limitations, whereas this new way where God speaks or reveals himself to us in Jesus is a more exceptional way… like good and great! As one commentator notes “the old-new contrast presented in Hebrews is not between bad and good but between good and superlative. It was no easy thing for God's revelation in Christ to surpass the old ways -- but it is wonderful that it does!” (Scott Shuaf)
But why the need to highlight the fact that Jesus is superior to the angels? For those falling away from faith in Jesus they were struggling with his humanity. They weren’t seeing anything exciting happening through following this person, in fact they were suffering because of him… so they were questioning how could this human, Jesus, be superior to the angels… reasoning that angels live in the presence of God so surely they are superior to human beings… this was partly influenced by Greek culture that saw everything of the physical as bad and good gods could only ever be spirit…ironically today many people are influenced by culture in the opposite way… Jesus was a good human being from who we can learn much but he couldn’t possibly be spiritual or divine…
Hebrews emphasized that Jesus was both… fully human and fully divine and one didn’t negate the other, but are somehow held together in the mystery that is God… Col 2:9 also asserts the human/ divine nature of Jesus… “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” The writer of Hebrews wanted his audience to understand that in Jesus God and humanity have been reunited. God didn’t send an angel or send a human to cross the chasm of death created by sin, he came himself in the person of Jesus.
Born as a human into the very world he created to suffer and die. The writer points out that the son of God’s pathway was one of suffering and rejection fully entering in to our human condition and as such fully understanding the trials we go through and is able to strengthen us in such times… but more than that makes a way forward through the cross showing us confidently that God’s ultimate will for us is life.
Read with me 2:9-10 “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” (NIV)
Jesus who is more exceptional than angels, was for a time made lower than the angels to pioneer a new way a more exceptional way.
As one commentator writes “Hebrews pictures Christ as a pioneer, as one who charts the course through the difficult landscape in order that others may follow. The pioneer endures hardship for the sake of something far greater. Hebrews will repeatedly declare that God’s purposes remain clear and firm. God has created people for glory, not dishonour, for life and not suffering. And in Christ the listeners “see” how God continues to be at work bringing his purposes to fulfillment.”
So what can these words from Hebrews speak to us today?
In our culture they are very timely Jurgeon Moltman pointed out in 1964 words that are still powerfully relevant today “faith today must contend with both a crisis of relevancy and a crisis of identity. The choice for Christians seems to be either social relevance with loss of identity or clinging to Christian identity with irrelevance.”
And yet Hebrews offers not an either or but a both and…
Jesus humanity invites us to enter into the suffering of others
Jesus as God invites us to offer hope of a life beyond the grasps of death and destruction
To the addict who has lost all hope Jesus invites us to enter in… accepting and loving them as they are and offer Him – the more exceptional way.
To the mother whose baby never survived birth or childhood Jesus invites us to enter in and weep alongside and offer him - the more exceptional way.
To the dad who has just lost his job Jesus invites us to enter in, carry his feelings of failure and offer him – the more exceptional way.
To the teenager lost and confused in a world that is overwhelming Jesus invites us to enter in and shine light into their darkness and offer him – the more exceptional way.
To the elderly person who has just lost their life partner Jesus invites us in to hold their broken heart and offer him – the more exceptional way.
To the person who has just heard they only have months to live Jesus invites us in to help them navigate the feelings of shock and despair and offer him – the more exceptional way.
To the church that has grown apathetic and in danger of falling away from following Jesus, through Hebrews, Jesus calls us back and encourages us to continue meeting together in Him – the more exceptional way…
Jesus fully human understands our weakness and frailty… Jesus fully divine offers himself as God’s powerful sustaining presence to us, and has pioneered the pathway that will enable us to work with him in bringing many people into a new and full life beyond the ravages of apathy, despair and death…
Today God is speaking to us in his Son that who we are and why we are can be most fully found in holding fast to our faith in God no matter how tough the circumstances and in living out our faith in the everyday context we find ourselves in knowing Jesus has pioneered the way from death to life for us all to follow…
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him king of glory now.