Hebrews 1:1-4 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Every year Christmas comes and every year I long for God to help all of us see it and savor it for what it truly is. It seems far too easy to be content with a small understanding of Christmas, its meaning, its implications and, therefore, its celebration. Perhaps it’s easier for you, but I need to fight to think and feel and act appropriately with what I claim to believe about the birth of God and all that comes with it. What’s more, I often find that even when I remain conscious of and engaged in the fight, I cannot do it on my own. I need help.
I want to be—I need to be—a part of a church, therefore, that is filled with help. We hope to provide that for you in a number of ways, including an Advent sermon series. Throughout Advent, as a means of expanding our appreciation and celebration of the Incarnation, as a means of fighting to see and savor Christmas for all it is, we’re going to look at Hebrews 1, its portrayal of the supremacy of the Son of God, and its implications for us today.
I’d like to offer a few quick words of introduction before I pray. Concerning Hebrews itself, I love the way one commentator describes the letter, Jesus’ role in the letter, and its modern relevance:
“Hebrews is a magnificent New Testament document. It is carefully constructed and beautifully written, theologically profound and powerfully argued. It challenges our understanding of reality and makes us ponder a world in which the unseen is more real, more powerful, and more attractive than that which can be seen and touched and counted. The letter that wonderfully portrays Jesus as the Son of God and the great high priest, who is both human and divine, the crucified and exalted one, also makes stringent demands on its readers in relation to Christian discipleship” (O’Brien, 1).
Hebrews was an anonymous letter written to be read aloud to Christians, urging them to hold fast to their profession of faith. One of the first reasons given for doing so is the supremacy of Christ. Let me give an example of the power of the author’s argument.
Even when you are sick of it, keep practicing piano because those who can play it well are highly esteemed. Even when it makes you want to pull your hair out, keep working on math because the highest paying jobs involve it. Even when you’re bone tired, keep getting up early to train because the only way we can afford college is through an athletic scholarship. In other words, the argument is this: In certain circumstances it is right to press on through adversity because on the other side is something greater than any discomfort you might experience along the way.
In the same way, in spite of the many trials and persecutions that the recipients of this letter were experiencing because of their faith in Jesus, its author urged them to hold fast to Jesus because he is greater than all their hardship; infinitely greater. Grace, the author of Hebrews wants his readers, including you and I, to know that if ever there were a reason to continue on in faith in Jesus, it is that Jesus is superior to everything in heaven and on earth. And this advent season we’d like to add: if ever there were a reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth, it’s the fact that he is superior to everything in heaven and on earth.
It is good and right to ask what is it exactly that qualifies Jesus as supreme. In the first four verses of Hebrews the author lists nine aspects of the supremacy of Jesus. He is above all things because he is:
- The Word of God (1-2)
- The Son of God (2)
- The heir of all things (2)
- The creator of the world (2)
- The radiance of the glory of God (3)
- The upholder of the universe (3)
- The sin purifier (3)
- Seated at God’s right hand (3)
- Superior to angels (4)
Over the next four Sundays, then, we’re going to consider each of these aspects of the supremacy of Jesus as they show up in Hebrews 1. We’ll look at three this morning in 1:1-4 (Jesus as the Word of God, the sin purifier, and superior to angels), two next week in 1:5-6 (Jesus as the Son of God and heir of all things), one on the 16th in 1:7-9 (Pastor Mike will help us to see Jesus as the radiance of the glory of God), and three on the 23rd in 1:10-14 (creator of the world, upholder of the universe, and seated at the right hand of God).
Again, our aim in stepping away from Hosea and into Hebrews is to assist all of us in expanding our appreciation and celebration of the Incarnation—to help all of us rejoice in the highest this Christmas. Let’s pray that it would be so.
JESUS IS THE WORD OF GOD
The first way we see the sanctifying and sustaining supremacy of Christ (and fuel for Christmas celebration) is in the fact that the Father has chosen to give his last and best revelation in Him.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
Throughout the history of the world God communicated with His people at different times and in different ways. He spoke directly to Adam and Eve. He showed up in a burning bush with Moses. He appeared in dreams and visions to the prophets. Each of these means of communication served a purpose.
In the immediate, the various ways that God spoke to, and worked among his people were all meant to reveal God’s nature and will to them. Ultimately, however, they were meant to demonstrate the need for a superior way. The OT means of communication were not enough. Something more, something better, was necessary. In this highest sense, then, all of God’s previous, incomplete means of communication were meant to prepare the people of God (and the world) for the coming of Jesus Christ.
It’s not that the old ways were bad; it’s just that they were not sufficient. Truly, all that God did for his people in the OT times was a gift to them, especially his willingness to communicate with them. The fact that God had on many occasions and through many means revealed himself and his will to his people is no small blessing. Nevertheless, something more was needed. Therefore,
2 … in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…
What an unspeakably glorious reality that is. John, in his Gospel, words it this way:
John 1:1-2, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Again, what an unspeakably glorious reality!
The new, better, sufficient, complete way is a Living Way. It is a living Person. It is the very Son of God. It is the Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He is the Word of God in flesh. Through Him, the Father speaks his fullest and final and sufficient revelation to his people.
What is His message? What has the Father spoken to us through this final and greatest Way? Of course on one hand the answer is: more than we could possibly fathom. Concerning the number of teachings and actions of Jesus, John wrote that if we tried to record them all in books, “(John 21:25) I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” And yet, this Advent season, I’d like to mention three things that God has spoken to us by his Son.
- He came to let the people of God know the fullness of God’s glory.
- He came to let the people of God know the fullness of God’s plan of salvation.
- And He came to let the people of God know the fullness of God’s love for them.
Truly, Jesus, the Word of God, came to reveal the fulfillment of all things, and in that we see the supremacy of Jesus over all things. And in that we have amazing help to celebrate the birth of the Word of God.
I invite you, then, to slow down and consider—as a means of rightly orienting your mind, heart, and celebration—the revelation of God in Jesus. Consider all that Jesus is and did and said. Consider the unimaginable glories revealed in Jesus and find help to celebrate his birth.
But that’s not all…
JESUS IS THE SIN PURIFIER
The author of Hebrews wants us to see that Jesus is the supreme revelation of the Word of God and also that His supremacy is seen in the fact that He is the one and only purification for sins.
3 … After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
The book of Hebrews is filled with references to the OT and its sacrificial system in particular. Prior to Jesus’ God’s people would offer, according to God’s design, foods and drinks and animals and washings to atone for their sins. They would offer them through various mediators (usually priests) over and over and over. It is estimated that under God’s OT sacrificial system millions of gallons of blood would have been spilled over the centuries for the sins of the people.
Much like God’s old ways of speaking to his people, the old ways of making purification for sin were a remarkable blessings of God. They were what God chose to use to keep his wrath at bay. The OT sacrificial system was not bad, it was just incomplete. Something more, something greater was needed. Grace, be encouraged and strengthened and motivated and inspired this advent season as you consider the fact that this is exactly what we have in Jesus…something more, something much, much greater.
Jesus is infinitely superior to every bull and goat, every bird and lamb, every food and drink, every day and festival. Listen to what the author of Hebrews has to say…
Hebrews 7:27 [Jesus] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily… since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Hebrews 9:9-12 [Under the OT sacrificial system] gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent ( not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:24-26 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 10:10-14 we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
We cannot read Hebrews and fail to see the supremacy of Christ’s sacrifice above all other. Recognizing that, indeed receiving that, is an absolute requirement for all who would truly celebrate Christmas. You can have all your gifts bought and food prepared and family present and playlists set and holiday cheer mustered and nostalgia stoked and good will toward men set and charitable giving done, but if you have not by faith received the purification of your sins won by Jesus, it is entirely impossible to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The good news of Christmas, however, is that Christ came in his supremacy such that right now his sacrifice for sins might be yours if you would receive him. You may be purified of every sin and offence you have committed against God; you may be forgiven and freed right now to celebrate Christmas in a way you’ve never known if you will accept the grace and authority of God. That’s the good news of Christianity, that’s the chief expression of the supremacy of Christ, and that’s great help to celebrate Christmas in a manner pleasing to God.
But that’s not all either…
JESUS IS SUPERIOR TO THE ANGELS
From this passage we can see that the Jesus, whose birth we anticipate throughout Advent and celebrate on Christmas,. has supremacy over all things in that he is the supreme revelation of the Word of God, the supreme sacrifice for sin, and also the supreme being in heaven and on earth. He is above everything physical and spiritual, including all the angels of God.
Angels are created, powerful spiritual beings. They are real and not just fun characters to make kids feel better in children’s stories. Throughout the bible angels brought messages from God to his people, executed the judgments of God (even bringing a plague), killed leaders of earthly armies and kings of nations, ministered to the saints, and even waged war against demonic spirits. Angels were present at Jesus’ death and resurrection and will accompany Jesus when he returns, proclaiming his glory!
There is a type of glory in the angels that is truly remarkable. And yet…
4 …[Jesus is] as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
The author’s argument seems to be something like this: Angels are remarkable creatures, filled with power and wonder and glory. You rightly esteem them and look to them for help. However, as amazing as these spiritual creatures are, behold the greater glory of Jesus in the fact that He is infinitely superior to them all in every way.
We’ll consider a number of the specific ways that Jesus is superior to the angels in the next few weeks. For now, be amazed by the fact that angels are mere instruments of Christ’s, who is incomparably supreme, and therein find help to really celebrate the Christ of Christmas.
What does all of this mean? At the very least it means that Christmas cannot be merely or mainly about the things of earth. It cannot be merely or mainly about presents or food or decorations. It cannot be merely or mainly about religious obligations or family or traditions or holiday cheer.
Instead, it means that Christmas—if we are to celebrate it in a manner consistent with its meaning and in a manner pleasing to God—must be merely and mainly about the supremacy of the God-man who was born to reveal the will of God and seek and save the lost.
But what does that mean? What does that look like in my real life? Of course it’s going to look a little different for everyone, but at the very least it means that God’s Word will be our guide, God’s glory will be our goal, God’s Son will be our hope, and God’s Spirit will be our strength. As an expression of those things…
- Consider getting a Christ-centered advent calendar to read each day with your family.
- Consider listening to “Christmas songs” that genuinely focus on the glory of Christ.
- Consider picking up a devotional (like John Piper’s The Dawn of Indestructible Joy or Paul Tripp’s Oh Come Let Us Adore Him) and using it to focus and train your mind each day.
- Consider memorizing Hebrews 1:1-4 between now and Christmas.
- Consider sharing the story of the Christ of Christmas with at least one other person this advent season.
- Consider using your artistic gifts to write a song or story or paint a picture telling of the supremacy of Christ.
- Consider joining us on Christmas morning to share a meal together and inviting someone who doesn’t have anywhere else to be.
Grace, kids, Hebrews 1 helps us to see that Jesus Christ, the one whose birth we are preparing to celebrate on Christmas, is infinitely superior in every way to everything on heaven and earth. He is superior in that He is the final and greatest revelation of God, in that by his death He alone made purification for sins, and in that he is endlessly superior to every spiritual being. And as we increasingly come to understand those things, we will find increasing help to persevere in our faith and to celebrate its birth with all that we are!