Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. -Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)
When I noticed last year that I had never preached through the New Testament book of Hebrews in my thirty-year pastoral ministry, I couldn’t imagine why. Thinking it was an oversight, I determined to tackle Hebrews and put it on my preaching calendar. After giving the book a quick read just before Christmas, I remembered why. Hebrews contains some of the most incredible verses in the Bible but Hebrews as a whole is a tough read. “Riding a sled up a hill when there is no snow” kind of tough.
First of all, Hebrews presupposes an intimate knowledge of the finer points of Jewish worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. To preach through the book like I normally do would involve teaching about Jewish worship (about which most know little) to help understand Christian worship (about which most know something). We would also have to cover some ideas in detail that were very germane to the original audience but are not so much for us today. For example, I would have to open the series with five distinct sermons to establish that Jesus is greater than angels, greater than the Law, greater than Moses, greater than the Promised Land and greater than the Old Testament priesthood. Though I am sure the sermons would have been riveting, I am guessing no one is losing sleep circa 2019 about that kind of stuff.
I was tempted to punt on this idea altogether (I did that with Song of Solomon a couple of years back) but that seemed too easy. Way too easy.
So I determined that we could either: A) Mine the book a vein at a time and spend a year and a half on it or B) Throw seven sticks of dynamite into the shaft and pick up the really big pieces. To most of your relief, I have elected for option B; so over the next seven blogs, we will explore the most popular passages, verses and themes from the book of Hebrews.
- Best Greek in the New Testament
- Written sometime around 68 AD
- We have no idea who wrote Hebrews
- We have no idea where the letter was addressed
- Author is concerned his audience was drifting from true faith
- Jesus is the promised messiah
- Big Idea: Jesus is greater than anything before him
- Doesn’t “make” the New Testament until the fourth century
V. 1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets Salvation history has moved from partial revelation through the prophets to full revelation in Christ. There is a popular move these days that says the Old Testament really doesn’t matter anymore. I would argue that without the foundation of the Old Testament, the New Testament doesn’t make a lot of sense. Jesus said he did not come to abolish the Law, Old Testament, but to fulfill it. Throughout most of the Old Testament, what we call Israel was either forming or subjugated. The latter was theologically problematic for a people who believed they were chosen by God to bring salvation to the world. A major theme of the Old Testament was the promise of a messiah, a savior and deliverer who would bring God’s people into God’s purposes and into God’s glory. The prophets were messengers God sent to prepare the people’s hearts in difficult times for better times to come.
V. 2 But now God speaks to us through Jesus In Jesus, a new era has arrived. God no longer has to speak through imperfect prophets, God now speaks through Jesus. A theme of the New Testament is that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. Judaism is brilliant. It introduced monotheism to the world and offered humanity an ethic of not only right and wrong with the Ten Commandments but a way to have the wrongs made right through sacrifices in the Temple. This big idea was that the blood of animals washed away the sins of the community and the individual and through formal sacrificial worship, you could start the day sinful and end the day forgiven. Christians believe that through Jesus’ death on a cross, the final blood sacrifice was made and the forgiveness process shifted from a bloody spectacle at the Jerusalem Temple to a quiet transaction of the human heart. There is no way to fully explain all God had to do to make it possible for you and me to simply pray, “Holy God, forgive me of my sins.”
God promised everything to Jesus Every promise God made to Abraham and to the Hebrew people in the Old Testament has been played forward in Christ Jesus. Rather than a hundred prophets carrying the baton of salvation history, now Jesus alone carries the promises of the Kingdom.
And through Jesus created the cosmos It is not a secret that I am a conservative theologian and I believe in the authority of the Bible.
My Belief Concerning the Old Testament
- God created us
- God loves us
- God’s commandments are for our good
- Our best life is lived in submission to the rule and reign of God
- Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament
So what do we know about Jesus?
V. 3 The son (Jesus Christ)…
- Is God’s glory Doesn’t just reflect God’s glory; he IS God’s glory! (Jesus is the illumination of God.
- Represents God exactly Doesn’t just reflect God’s character; he IS God’s character! Knowing Jesus is our best way to know God and knowing the Bible is our best way to know Jesus.
- Sustains the cosmos Doesn’t just sustain God’s creation; he IS the sustainer of God’s creation! Aren’t your glad that God doesn’t just save us; he sustains us! He keeps us keeping on.
- Commands with power Doesn’t just reflect God’s power; he IS God’s power! And aren’t you glad God doesn’t just sustain us, he empowers us. The Pentecost account in Acts is about the empowerment of the church by the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder that God is not passive; God is active in time and space.
After Jesus died to cleanse us from sin Genesis tells us that sin was created when Adam and Eve rejected the rule and reign of God in their lives. Sin literally means “to miss the mark.” Sin is less what we do wrong, than our failure to do right. I define sin as the failure to be everything God created us to be. Sin separates us from God and all Jesus came to bring us. In the Garden of Eden God said, “Don’t eat of this fruit” and Adam and Eve did. An in that one symbolic act, the cosmos was somehow desecrated; less than what God created it to be. Sin despoiled not only God’s creation but corrupted the laws that govern it. For me, the pre-fall part of Genesis is incredible for it gives us a glimpse of the sinless world God created and the world Jesus will one day come to reclaim. For me, the most compelling arguments for God’s intentions for humanity can be found in Genesis one and two.
The Sinless World of Genesis
- God loved and cared for people
- People loved and respected the rule of God
- Nature flowed with, not against, humanity
- Humanity flowed with, not against, nature
- Humanity is the steward of creation
- Humanity is not lonely
- Man and Woman in partnership
- People were not tribal
- No sin or shame
And Jesus sits at the right hand of God God sent Jesus into this world as a baby in Bethlehem to clean up the sin problem of humanity…and he did it! I John 1: 9 reads, “If we confess our sin, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” You know what this means? HE DID IT! This image of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, the place of honor, is an indication that his work was done in a way that fulfilled the intentions of God. God is pleased with the work Jesus has done on behalf of humanity.
Picking Up the Big Pieces
- God speaks through Jesus
- Jesus carries the full authority of God
- The saving work of Jesus is fully accomplished
- Jesus sits in honor
The opening of Hebrews simply establishes “where we are” and what has been done. It is a move back to least common denominator of faith and practice. It is a spiritual foundation. Now it is time to build upon that foundation.
For now, just remember this one thing: Jesus is Greater!
- Greater than your fears.
- Greater than your hopes.
- Greater than your doubts.
- Greater than your certainties.
- Greater than your addictions.
- Greater than your disciplines.
- Greater than your disappointments
- Greater than your successes.
- Greater than your pain.
- Greater than your happiness.
- Greater than your life.
- Greater than your death.
Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world! -I John 4:4
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.