Scripture Readings: Gen. 2:18-24; Ps. 8; Heb. 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16 Sermon by Lance McKinnon (from Hebrews 1:1-4)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Heb. 1:1-4)
These first four verses of the book of Hebrews establish the theme of comparison—one the author returns to throughout the book. The goal is to present the all-surpassing sufficiency of Jesus as God’s revelation to us in comparison and contrast with the way God spoke prior to the Incarnation. In accordance with this theme, we find in Hebrews many old covenant/new covenant contrasts where the new covenant in Jesus comes out on top. Jesus is presented as superior to the prophets, to Moses, to the Sabbath, to the High Priest, to the sacrifices, and here in these first four verses as superior to the angels.
Looking at these contrasts, we might be tempted to view God’s way of speaking in the past as somehow “bad.” But that is not the author’s intent. Instead, the contrast the author makes is between good and best, beginning and end, promise and fulfillment. It’s important to keep this in mind lest we inadvertently see God’s work in the past in a way that would bring into question the goodness of God.
The incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the person of Jesus reveals that God is always good. There is no “good cop/bad cop” relationship between God in the Old Testament and God in the New. Rather, in Jesus, who presents to us God as he has always been, we find the God who can be trusted. We find him always working to bring his people, and ultimately all humanity, into the good purpose for which he created us.
What then is the relationship between how God dealt with people under the old covenant and how he now deals with them under the new? A helpful analogy is how pregnancy relates to giving birth. Given that pregnancy is part of the process of having a baby, we don’t consider it a “bad” thing once the child is born. But at the same time, we don’t desire to turn from the newborn child and return to pregnancy. That would be missing the purpose of the pregnancy altogether.
Analogies ultimately break down, but this seems to be the author’s intent in offering various comparisons. The point of the contrasts is to show that the old covenant and all the ways God chose to speak in the past are in preparation for God’s ultimate revelation to us in and through his incarnate Son. Now that the Son is here, it would be a mistake to try to return to the time when the Son was hidden in the womb.
The first thing we are told in today’s passage in Hebrews 1 is that God is a God who speaks. He is not a deaf-and-dumb God, but the one who, from all eternity, is a tri-personal communion of love—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This God created us to share in that triune communion and is not silent or detached in his dealings with us.
Within that introduction, we encounter four ways in which this speaking God addresses us in Jesus as contrasted with how he addressed Israel prior to the Incarnation:
- All of God’s speaking before the Incarnation is now in the past, but after the Incarnation he speaks “in these last days” through his Son. The word that comes to us through and in Jesus is of cataclysmic significance. There will be no other way of God addressing us from this point forward.
- God speaks to his people—to Israel before the Incarnation, and now, in Jesus, to the church. In Jesus, God speaks personally and uniquely. This is not a second-hand or indirect encounter with God. In Jesus, God is present with us face-to-face, not buried with dead ancestry, and he continues to speak today.
- Before the Incarnation, God spoke by the prophets, but now he speaks by his Son who is “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” We can be sure that this ultimate “prophet” knows what he’s speaking about.
- Before the Incarnation, God spoke in various times and ways but now speaks to us for all times in one way. Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, is the way the Father now communes with us. When we hear him speaking, whether through Scripture, song, prayer or sermon, we can know that it is the Lord personally addressing us.
The passage in Hebrews continues with a remarkable description of this Son in and through whom God speaks. He is shown to be unique and superior in that he is heir of all, creator of all and sustainer of all.
When the Son of God took on flesh, becoming the man Jesus, he headed up all creation. In doing so, he “provided purification for sins,” bringing us into the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. It is in the name of Jesus that the speaking God eternally addresses us with his love. In this way Jesus is “superior to angels,” for he is the perfect revelation of the Father to us.
The author of Hebrews then compares angels, who are God’s messengers, to Jesus. We may find some application for us in this comparison. I doubt many today are tempted to return to the old covenant sacrifices, but we may at times be tempted to confuse messengers with the Savior.
Remember how God first spoke to you—how he called you to himself. Maybe he used a special experience or perhaps it was through the words of a specific speaker or author. Whatever the means God used to get our attention, we must be on guard not to confuse the messenger with God himself. Angels are messengers, not messiahs. If we forget that God is speaking to us through his Son, we may find ourselves pledging allegiance to a teacher or an experience rather than to the God who worked in our lives through those means.
As angelic as some messengers can be, or as heavenly as some experiences might seem, they pale in comparison to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is speaking to us today, ever turning us toward himself for face-to-face communion with the Father. So, let us look to Jesus, the full and final revelation of God to us all.