Hebrews 1:1-2:4 - The God Who Speaks

April 28, 2013 Speaker: Series: Hebrews

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Hebrews 1:1–2:4

[Text: Hebrews 1:1-2:4] “The God Who Speaks”

To understand the letter to the Hebrews try not to read it as a theological treatise but as something much more personal; read it as a sermon carefully written by a pastor whose heart is full of love for his friends. He wants their faith to endure in the face of doubts and fears. And he knows that will only happen as they listen to the God who speaks.

[Pray – Father, we praise you as the God who is not silent. All the things of this world to which we give our ears are speechless nothings. But you - you have made yourself known to us, speaking even from the beginning. And you have revealed yourself fully and finally through your Son, Jesus. Holy Spirit, help us now to hear Jesus, the Eternal Word, and through hearing believe in him.]

If we listen closely to this early Christian sermon, we can begin to understand why it was written. Listen to how this preacher speaks to his dear friends. It won’t tell us every detail about their situation – we still only have guesses as to the specific time in history it was written – but we can hear enough to know that these people were a lot like us.

In chapter 2 the pastor says, “…we must pay attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” It seems that something was competing for the ear of his friends. They had heard and believed that Jesus is Lord. But the dominant and powerful culture around them said “Caesar is Lord” and the doubt in their hearts threatened to carry them away like a ship without an anchor. Are there not competing voices we hear today, competing worldviews each vying for our loyalty? Everyone hears and believes one of these voices. The question for us is the same as for them; “To which voice will I listen?”

And from chapter 4 – “...Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” His friends were weak and their faith needed strengthening. They needed help because of the pressing weight of their circumstances and the pastor wanted them to know the true source of their help to instill confidence in their hearts.

From chapter 10 – “but recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated…you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance....” The pastor remembers his friends had endured severe sufferings in the past and now the specter of suffering had come again. But this time there was a temptation to give in, to escape suffering by a simple act; abandoning Christianity. Some were beginning to think that the “better possession” promised in Jesus might not really be worth what they were facing.

While our property may not be taken away for being Christians today, there are still times when the question may come up, “Is this really worth it? Wouldn’t life be easier if I weren’t a Christian?” Maybe you need endurance in the face of strong temptation. Or maybe you need confidence that God can actually change the broken relationships in your life. The pastor here is pointing his friends and pointing us to the reason why we can endure, why we can have great confidence in our God.

Then from chapter 12 – “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…It is for discipline that you have to endure…lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees….” It seems as though something was tripping up these runners in the race of life. Some burdens weighed on them and had worn them down; they were close to giving up. Their hands hung loosely at their sides, not poised like a runner. Their knees were weak with fear and weariness. The trials and troubles before them made them tired to their very bones, physically and spiritually unable to put one foot in front of the other. Does that sound familiar?

The pastor’s friends were really a lot like us. They didn’t have it all together. Some struggled with doubt. Some needed to know where to look in the middle of it all, when everything around them seemed uncertain. Some were confused by all the competing voices around them, each calling for their loyalty. Others were full of fear as the threat of persecution loomed on the horizon. The Christians were beginning to imagine that life would be better if they left behind the name of “Christian.” If they listened to the voices of fear and doubt, turning back and living as if Jesus hadn’t come, then maybe they could escape the troubles to come.

But the pastor knew that was not the way. He understood the danger of neglecting what they’d heard and wanted them to endure in Christ. He wanted them to continue in their faith and live faithfully as followers of Christ. And so, he speaks to them lovingly and gently and soberly. As they anxiously gathered in the little house church they heard their friend say these words that put courage into them. He gave them the words that motivated them to endure. These words gave them the assurance they needed to be confident in their faith. Their friend was taking them back to the Story of Redemption to hear the Gospel of Jesus and as they heard these words, they found what they did not possess in themselves: the ability to go on believing for one more day.

Listen with them holding the cares of your heart in front of you. Listen as he speaks into your fears about tomorrow. Listen with your doubts and questions while he carries us back to the Word of the God who speaks. Listen with them, gathered together with your church family in that dark little room as the letter from your friend begins…

[Read Hebrews 1:1-2:4]

When I was a little boy, as wild as my boy is now, I measured everything against what my dad said. That’s why to this very day it would be very difficult for me to buy a Chevrolet; Dad said that Fords were the way to go. If anyone else said that Chevys were better, well, I had the proof that they were wrong; the word of my Dad was all the evidence I needed. He was my reliable witness that spoke against their witness. I believed him over and above anyone else in just about everything whether it was cars or politics or theology.

The sermon to the Hebrews opens with this same issue of “reliability” and lays the foundation for the faith of his friends. It all begins with the God who speaks, indeed, who has been speaking to His people for a long time.

The pastor reminds his friends even in the very first verse that God has always been a God who speaks. Unlike the silent gods of this world that the Scriptures actually mock (cf. Jeremiah 16:19-20; Isaiah 44:9-20), the God of the Bible is a God who desires to be known by His creation and has broken into it in order to be known by His people. We can’t miss the beauty of this! The Triune God had no need to be known or glorified by any outside of the Trinity. From eternity past, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been enjoying perfect fellowship in unity, each glorifying the others and being glorified in return in a never-beginning-yet-unending and unchanging celebration of the perfect wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth and love of God. But out of love – out of His perfect love – He desired to make Himself known to us, to draw us into community with Himself so that we, too, could know and celebrate the glory of the Living God.

In the past He made Himself known through the prophets as the word of God came through dreams and visions. The word that came to their fathers was the Story of Redemption – the Story that we’ve been hearing from the Scriptures of Creation, the Fall, the beginnings of Redemption and the promise that all would be restored in the end. But the Word that the fathers heard was only partial. It wasn’t faulty or wrong. It just wasn’t complete, which is why God spoke again in “these last days.”

“(I)n these last days,” verse 2 says, “he has spoken to us by his Son.” The point here is simple and profound; Jesus, the Son of God, is the final and complete speech of God. In Jesus, God had finished revealing Himself to humanity, telling us everything we needed to know for this time in the Story. That is the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus, God in the flesh. In Jesus we can say with John the apostle, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was 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.” (John 1:1,14, emphasis mine.)

Seeing the glory of Jesus – “glory” being his weightiness, his immeasurable significance –the glory of Jesus is exactly what the pastor wants us to see in this opening paragraph. The pastor exalts Jesus as the “heir of all things,” as the co-creator of the world. In verses 3-4, Jesus the Son is shown to be God Himself, although with a unique role as the Son. In the first of three phrases in verse 3, Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God.” That phrase has tripped people up as they strain to understand the imagery of beams from the sun. It seems the harder people try to explain what that means, the further from the meaning they get. Indeed, the imagery is difficult to explain, but the next two phrases of v. 3 help us make sense of it. Through them we can interpret “the radiance of the glory of God” not as something less than God, but the same in essence as God, just as certainly as the Son is the “exact imprint of his nature” and as the Son does the work only God can do, namely “uphold(ing) the universe by the word of his power.”

It is because the Son is equal to God that the pastor’s friends must listen to Him. If Jesus is the full and final revelation of God Himself, then they (and we) have to pay attention to what he says. His word is supremely reliable, even more reliable than the word of the angels.

This next section on the superiority of Jesus the Son over the angels may seem strange to us. But it wasn’t strange at all to the pastor’s friends. It was commonly accepted by the Hebrews that the speech of God to their fathers through the prophets had come by way of angels. The Law was given “with myriads of (God’s) holy ones,” according to Moses in Deuteronomy 33:2. Steven and Paul both accepted that the word of God had come through angels (Acts 7:38; Galatians 3:19) and the angelic word proved to be true and reliable. The pastor’s friends themselves had accepted those words of angels as the Word of God Himself. The pastor urges his friends; if that word was true, why should they doubt or reject the complete and final word delivered by God’s Son who is superior to the angels?

As the pastor proves the superiority of the Son over the angels, he masterfully supports the themes he introduced in the first paragraph with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, all with a view toward encouraging his friends to listen to what they have heard in Jesus.

William Lane points out the parallelism in the text.[1] In v. 2b, the Son is appointed as the royal heir. In vv. 5-9, he quotes the Old Testament establishment of the promised Son as royal Son and heir. In v. 2c, the Son is the mediator of creation. In v. 10, the Lord is celebrated as the mediator of creation. In v. 3a, the Son is seen in his eternal nature and pre-existent glory. In vv. 11-12, the Son is glorified as the eternal, unchanging one. In v. 3c, the Son is the exalted One at God’s right hand. And in v. 13, it is the Son, not any angel, to whom God said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet(.)”

The pastor doesn’t want his friends to be confused. The angels are the trustworthy servants of God. In v. 14 he says they are sent out from God for the sake of all those who are to inherit salvation. That alone would support his friends in the knowledge that God has not left them alone in their struggles and fears and trials. But as wonderful as the news of angelic help may be, it pales in comparison to the news that God the Son has come and has spoken to them. The word of Jesus the Son is the foundation of their hope and he himself is the foundation of their faith because he came for a specific reason. Jesus the Son came to us and did not sit down at the right hand of the Majesty on high until he has fulfilled his unique role given to him by the Father. In v. 3, the pastor says so briefly what he will spend a great deal of time explaining later in the sermon. In such a short phrase, he underscores the hope we have because God made Himself known in Jesus; he highlights the message we must hear and embrace by faith in the Son. The Son came down not only to speak but to act by “making purification for sins.”

There was a time when the pastor’s friends could not have known God no matter how often He spoke because sin separated them from their Creator. But God made a way through Jesus the Son for His people to again be in an intimate relationship with Him. Through Jesus’ priestly work of sacrifice and atonement, the Son purified the people of God for all time. So, it is in the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead we hear the full and final revelation of the gracious and merciful God. In Jesus we see and hear of love so great that God the Son was willing to lay down his life for his people. In Jesus we hear the message of a “great salvation” (2:3) that we would ignore or recklessly neglect only to our peril.

The pastor understands that this message of a God who reveals Himself in the Son who lived and died and now lives again exalted in the heavens is the only hope of humanity. That’s why he doesn’t distance himself from his friends in chapter 2 when he says, “Therefore [in light of the superiority of the Son over the prophets and the angelic messengers], we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” For him (or his friends or for anyone) to reject this word of God – listening to some other voice – would be the essence of foolishness. In 2:2 he reminds his friends that if those in the past who drifted away from the partial message delivered by angels were judged (like the Israelites of Numbers 14 we spoke about a few weeks ago) then how dangerous would it be for them to live as if the Son’s person and work of salvation were insignificant. How could we escape the justice of God if we live as if God has not spoken clearly in Jesus? The question is rhetorical. The answer is, of course, we can’t escape.

But the hope of the pastor is the same as his friends’ and ours. The Son has come. God has spoken fully and finally to us in him and the message is more wonderful than any of us have dreamed. You who are to inherit salvation by faith in the Son are taken care of by the angels of God. By believing in the Son we are purified by the blood of the Son. By faith in Jesus the Son we have been restored into an intimate relationship with our Creator; God Himself wants to be known by you. That is what we have heard in Jesus.

And the Word of Jesus is more reliable than any of the competing voices in this world. In 2:3, the pastor reminds his friends huddled together in a dark house of why we should hear and believe. He reminds us, too, why we should believe and endure in that belief. We should hear and believe and endure because this message of salvation did not come from men. It was not invented out of nothing. It is not a myth or blind hope or wishful thinking…

“It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  (Hebrews 2:3-4)

In the Old Testament, the truthfulness and reliability of a message, of a spoken word, was accepted when two or three faithful witnesses gave the same testimony. The pastor urges his friends, urges you today, to hear and believe the Word of God in Jesus because the message – of purification of sins and of intimacy with God – the message of this great salvation has been confirmed by the witness of the Triune God Himself. The Lord Jesus declared the message during his ministry. God Himself confirmed the message by the signs and wonders and miracles, giving us the ultimate sign of the superiority of Jesus as Son of God by raising him up from the dead. And God the Spirit witnessed to the reliability of this message by giving gifts of grace to the Church, to build them up in their faith to continue believing in Jesus.

Even the witness of the apostles – themselves witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection – is added by the pastor to this list of witnesses that is meant to instill confidence in the hearts of his friends. What they have heard in the Gospel of Jesus is what they need to cling to in faith during the dark days to come.

They could cling to this word even if the suffering they feared fell on them. They could endure in faith because in Jesus they saw that even if God leads His children into death, He had something in store for them that would make the momentary suffering bearable. The Christians could endure – indeed, many did endure in their faith even as they were torn apart by lions because of what they saw and heard in Jesus – because even if they died, they had the trustworthy word of God in Christ that they would be raised from the dead like him by the power of his indestructible life.

My friends, God has not given us the means to escape suffering or death. But in Jesus He has given us a word that is more trustworthy than the doubt and questions in our minds. He is more faithful than the voices around us that would lead us away from the great salvation humanity has needed ever since the Fall. His word is superior to the word of prophets or angels or Caesars or skeptics or philosophers. His word to us in Jesus is a word of grace and mercy – a word of sins purified and intimacy with the God who speaks and desires to be known by His people. You have only to receive Jesus by faith and rest in the assurance and confidence that if Jesus can uphold the universe by the word of his power, then he can take care of you.



“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  (Hebrews 13:20-21)



[1] William L. Lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment, 35.

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