How good are you at spotting someone with talent? How good are you at spotting people’s special gifts and qualities?
- For example, what qualities do you see and admire in your friends and relations? What are the most attractive character traits of those you know and love?
- If you are a parent or grandparent here this morning, have you been able to spot what your kids are good at? Do you see signs of musical talent, sporting skill or academic ability perhaps?
- And at your workplace, can you spot those colleagues who are most able, those who look most likely to reach the top of your profession? (I think some of the most moving tributes to Jo Cox this week have come from her fellow Members of Parliament. Even though she had only been an MP for a year, they saw her as a star in the making. They had already spotted her as someone the skills and talents to rise to the top).
In our Bible reading this morning, the author of Hebrews has also spotted someone with great talent. Someone with extraordinary attributes and abilities. Someone he wants us to hold in the highest esteem. The author of Hebrews wants to leave us in no doubt about the greatness of Jesus Christ. He wants to leave us in no doubt that he is someone worth our wholehearted worship, love, and trust. But before we dive in, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we look at Hebrews chapter 1 today, please enlarge our vision of Christ and renew our commitment to him. In his name we pray, Amen.
Today we’re starting a new six week series in the letter of Hebrews. It’s a majestic letter, written with beautiful, rich language. But its also a slightly mysterious one. Mysterious, because we don’t know exactly who Hebrews was written by. It was clearly written by a respected figure in the early church, someone who new Timothy and the first apostles, whose words carried authority. But the writer of Hebrews never introduces himself or tells us his name. And that may be intentional - because its not about him - it’s about Jesus. It’s a letter designed to expand our vision of our Lord, not to make a name for its author. It’s a letter that was written to strengthen Christians’ commitment to Christ in the face of things like temptation, doubt and persecution.
And that’s certainly the case when it comes to chapter 1 today. Because it’s a chapter that expands our vision of just who Jesus is, what he’s done. A chapter that explains why he’s more than just a man. A chapter that gives us Jesus’ remarkable ‘CV’.
- The Son of God who’s more than just a man
I wonder, what picture do you have in your mind when you think of Jesus? Perhaps a beared, middle-eastern man wearing sandals? Or a baby in a manger? Or a person crucified on a cross? They are all true. Jesus was real human being - a man born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, who lived on earth for thirty years, before dying and rising again in Jerusalem. But our passage today wants to take us further back in time - back before the beginning of time, in fact. Back to before the universe was created.
Because in our first three verses today, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Christ is fully divine – he’s fully God as well as fully man. He’s the second person of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You see, Jesus Christ is someone who’s always been around. He’s the eternal Son of God through whom the universe was made. The author of Hebrews uses three metaphors – three illustrations - to help us appreciate this fact. Three illustrations designed to help us understand that Jesus is more than just a man.
The first metaphor is speech. Because in verse 2 we’re told that Christ is God’s definitive statement about himself – he is the Father’s full and final “spoken” word to the world. John’s Gospel uses the same imagery, doesn’t it, when it calls Jesus the ‘Word of God’ who became flesh and dwelt among us (it’s a passage we know well from Christmas!).
Just as our words belong to us, and express our thoughts and feelings, so Christ expresses the character and intentions of his Father. He is God’s Word in personal form - a living Word that has been uttered by the Father from all eternity. When look at Jesus and listen to him, all guessing games about God stop. Revelation replaces speculation.
I assume we’ve all been on the underground, and seen those famous signs that say “Mind the Gap”. They warn us of a gap between the train and the platform. A gap we need to be aware of. A gap we need to safely overcome. In a similar way, there is a great gap between human beings and God, between us creatures and our creator - a knowledge gap and a moral gap. On our own, left to our own devices, we human beings are woefully ignorant of God, and sinful in his sight.
Wonderfully, today’s passage reminds us that Jesus came to bridge both those gaps. He bridged our knowledge gap by personally showing us exactly what God is like, as he lived and spoke on earth. And he bridged our moral gap too, by paying the penalty for our sin when he died on the Cross. That’s what’s meant in verse 3, when it says that Jesus “provided purification for sins”. If we come to Christ he washes away our guilt before God - as well ending as our ignorance of God. He gives us salvation as well as revelation.
In verse 3, the author of Hebrews uses a second metaphor to describe who Jesus is. He calls him “the radiance of God’s glory”. If you have ever seen a solar eclipse, you will know its when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. All that can be seen of the sun during the eclipse is the corona - it’s the radiance of the sun, its outer brightness, which forms a beautiful ring around the moon during the eclipse.
Hebrews today is telling us that Jesus Christ is the ‘corona’ of God, the visible manifestation of God. The Son of God is distinct from his Father, but intimately related to him - like rays from the Sun, light from a bulb, or flames from a fire. Its impossible to imagine one without the other. The apostle Paul makes the same point in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, when he says the glory of God is seen in face of Jesus Christ.
Most of you will know that last Sunday I was offically ‘sworn in’ by our Archdeacon as the legal incumbent of St. Michael’s - I’m now your vicar with a capital ‘v’! Consequently, I was sent a certificate in the post this week from the Bishop of Chelmsford. Attached to the certificate was a red wax seal, bearing the Bishop’s stamp – literally his ‘stamp of approval’ on my ministry. The seal on my certificate carries exactly the same image as on the Bishop’s stamp - his coat of arms.
Hebrews uses a stamp and seal metaphor in our passage today – it’s the third illustration he uses to describe the Son’s relationship with the Father. Because verse 3 tells us that Christ is the “exact representation” of his Father - he fully and accurately mirrors him in every respect, just like a seal bears the same image as its stamp. Christ has the same purposes, powers and character as his Father. As Jesus himself once said - to have seen him is to have seen the Father.
- Christ’s incomparable CV
If we are Christians here this morning, I hope we share Hebrews conviction that Jesus Christ was (and is) more than just a man:
- He’s the eternal Son of God, through whom the world was made.
- He’s the spoken Word of God, who saved us at the Cross.
- And he’s the radiance of God’s glory - the exact representation of his Father.
But the author of Hebrews doesn’t stop there. As well as telling us who Jesus is and what he has done, he tells us what Jesus is doing now. Verse 3 is particularly helpful, I think. Because we are told there that the Son is “sustaining all things by his powerful word”, and is currently seated “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.
The first of those two statements remind us that we are dependent on Christ for every breath we take. He’s the creator of the cosmos and he continues to sustain it in being. Without God’s unseen hand, every atom would disappear, the cosmos would go up in a cloud of smoke, every person would pop out of existence. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Son of God who gives us life.
But the second statement is equally important. Christ is at the right hand of God in Heaven. He has direct access to his Father. He can intercede for us, he can speak to the Father on our behalf. When Christians pray, we know that God has heard our requests, because Christ has removed every barrier between us and his Father. By his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has opened up a clear channel of communication between us and the throne room of Heaven.
This Thursday we all have a chance to vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union. We have a chance to decide whether the highest human authority over our land will be based in Westminster or Brussels. But whatever result we wake up to on Friday morning, be reassured to know that the Lord Jesus will remain in ultimate control - not just of our country, but the whole cosmos. To speak to with the most influential power-broker, you don’t need to go to the British Parliament or the European Commission – simply pray to Christ!
In the first four verses of Hebrews, I hope you agree we’ve been presented with a pretty remarkable CV. A Curriculum Vitae that no other religious leader, politician or spiritual figure can match. Christ’s qualities are incomparable, no one else can compete! For example:
- Old Testament prophets – men like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah – all received words from God. But Jesus is the eternal Word of God. The prophets of Old Testament times heard God’s words in their ears, but Jesus was God’s Word in his very being. This is all summed up in verse 1: “God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”.
- And in verses 4 to 7 today we are told that even though angels are impressive spiritual beings, Christ is still “superior” to them. Angels are supernatural creatures, but Christ is their Creator. Angels are God’s “servants”, but Christ is his “firstborn” child. As the writer puts it in verse 5 “to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son’”? The answer is none.
If a CV like Christ’s landed on your desk, you would sit up and take notice. And so we should, because no one else can compare.
- You see, Jesus is the only person who can close the moral gap between ourselves an God. He’s the only Saviour who can give us God’s forgiveness.
- Jesus is also the only one who can give us first-hand, reliable revelation from God. He’s the only person who really knows what’s best for us. We don’t need to turn to other religious leaders, philosophers or ‘lifestyle gurus’ for guidance.
- And Jesus is the ultimate power-broker, the ruler we can approach with confidence in prayer. The one person in the universe who has the power to help through the most desperate situations, even through death. As we’re told in verse 8 this morning, Jesus is a great king, a king who will reign forever - a good king who reigns in “righteousness”.
- Put Jesus in his place!
Last Saturday my family went to see the trooping of the colour. We saw Her Majesty the Queen at the head of the royal possession. She was in her rightful place in a royal carriage, surrounded by smartly dressed soldiers, and we got close enough to see her face.
If you are here this morning and not yet a Christian, please put Jesus in his rightful place over your life. Ask him to be your King and your Saviour. After all we’ve seen in Hebrews this morning, we should be in no doubt that Jesus has a unique CV. He’s the only man who has ever come from God, the only a man who has ever conquered the grave, the only man who has ever entered the throne room of Heaven. He’s the only monarch we are all certain to meet face to face one day. If we’ve put our faith in him, we’ll meet him as a familiar friend, not a fearsome judge.
My car is due its MOT next month, so I’ll be taking my Skoda to a garage soon for its annual check-up. Giving ourselves a regular spiritual MOT is a good idea too. Even if we’ve been Christians for many years, we need to regularly review how our relationship with King Jesus is going: Are we in awe of him? Are we grateful for his grace? Do we delight to serve him? Do we love his people? If not, then perhaps we should be spending more time with him in prayer, more time listening to his voice in Scripture, more time meeting with his people in church, more time telling non-Christians about him. The author of Hebrews has told us today that Jesus reigns supreme over the universe. Let’s make sure he reigns supreme over our lives as well.