Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Hebrews stands out in the New Testament because there is no certainty over who wrote it or to whom it was written. The best that can be done when it comes to determining the purpose of Hebrews is to pick clues out from within the text. It seems like the letter is written to Christians who have been suffering and struggling for a while. They seem to be losing their motivation to keep going in their faith despite their initial enthusiasm, and it seems that some of them have given up meeting together with others, and some of those who are left are thinking of doing so. They are probably tempted to drift away from faith, and drift away from the community to ease their suffering and to have some earthly relief from their struggles in faith. The letter is, therefore, designed to encourage and challenge these Christians to hold on tight to their faith and to stick with it.
When we think of something drifting away, we might picture a boat, that has come loose, or has just somehow got away, and is drifting by itself in a river or lake. And this is actually likely what the author intends. Later on in Hebrews hope in God’s promises, including the promise of salvation, is referred to as an anchor for the soul. A drifting boat, however, has no direction or purpose.
For the last 4 months we have been in lockdown. For some of us it may have been difficult to maintain our faith, or to remain part of a Christian community in these challenging times. We might have found ourselves tempted to untie ourselves from the anchor of hope in God’s promises because We’re not meeting together the way we used to meet. Everything has changed and the new things might be uncomfortable. It is likely that we are getting close, now, to coming out of lockdown. But our meetings together post lockdown will be different to what they were like in January and February of this year, so we might be tempted to untie ourselves from the anchor of hope in God’s promises, because meeting together might not seem valuable in the way it once did.
Or we may be tempted untie ourselves from the anchor of hope and to drift away for a very different reason. Perhaps because life as a Christian in 2020 is tough. Over the generations church attendance has diminished and Christianity has developed a bad name for a variety of reasons. It can be hard to be associated with a group that others look upon so negatively. The younger you are the more likely it is that members of your generation are wary of faith in Jesus, and in that environment, it can be tough to be part of a Christian community. We are challenged not to drift away, though, because of who Jesus is, how great he is, and what we lose if we drift away from the promise of salvation.
God’s word in the beginning
Jesus is God’s word in the present time, which is described in verse 1 as these last days. But this is the same creative word that brought the earth, and the universe, into being. (Gen 1, John 1:1). The words of God reveal who he is, and the earth and the universe themselves reveal something of the awesomeness of God for those who have eyes to see.
I, personally, am fascinated by the physics of earth and the universe; time and space. I love reading books that explain things simply, or watching documentaries. It’s mind-blowing stuff, and part of the reason behind my own faith in Christ.
The Continuity of Jesus being God’s creative word at the beginning of time, and in these last days can be found in Scripture’s personified character of Wisdom. Jesus embodies God’s wisdom. What can be said of wisdom can be said of Jesus. God spoke through the prophets of old. But it is Jesus alone, fully God and fully human, who is able to reveal fully God’s faithfulness in his promises. Jesus reveals God, not just in the words he speaks but in every aspect of who he is. His words and is deeds. God is revealed in his full life’s ministry, including his suffering, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension to God’s right hand and his title of ‘Lord’
It seems so very strange that someone like Jesus should be spoken of so highly, as ruling with God. Afterall he died the most degrading way it was possible to die. Why would someone who was crucified be regarded so highly by so many people so soon after his death?
I think the answer to that can be found in Acts 2, the passage that we have been studying together since Pentecost. It was the experience of the Holy Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit; the signs and wonders that accompanied the apostles in their teaching, that convinced people that this Jesus had indeed been made both Lord and Christ – Christ meaning saviour.
Hebrews explains Jesus as Lord and Christ by saying Jesus ‘has provided purification from sins, and sat at the right hand of God.’ But for those to whom Hebrews was written, that message probably seemed to be contradicted by their suffering and ongoing conflict with the society in which they were living. They are discouraged and dejected.
They can have confidence in the salvation promised by Jesus because they had confidence in the law of Moses, and Jesus is so much greater than any prophet of old, and so much greater than angels.
The prophetic words in the Old Testament came from many different people. Their personalities played a role in the words they spoke. They were able to convey God’s words as far as they were able to grasp both God and the situations of the world in which they lived in. God speaking in many times and in many ways meant God’s speech in those days was fragmentary and partial. Although prophets sometimes demonstrated God’s words with prophetic actions, they themselves weren’t God’s word in the way Jesus is.
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. In Scripture God’s glory was his visible presence. It was the way God’s power could be known and understood by human beings. That glory was often associated with light in the Old Testament which explains why Jesus is the ‘radiance’ of God’s glory. You can’t have radiance without light or light without radiance. God himself becomes visible as he shines in Jesus Christ. As God’s exact representation everything about Jesus, inside and out, represents God.
And he is also greater than the angels. Jewish tradition connected the giving of the law on mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-31 with angels (Gal 3:19, act 7:53). Angels were seen as very powerful and they had high status in both Judaism and in the Greek culture of the time. Even today angels have high status for many people – particularly those who are interested in spiritual realities but reject the Christian faith. But no angel was declared formally a son to inherit rule or salvation. Only Jesus is enthroned and exalted and given rule over the earth, and named Lord and Christ.
What we are set to lose (law of Moses)
For Jews it was important to follow the laws of Moses, and it was important to listen to the prophets. It still is because Jesus is not disconnected with these Words of God but is instead their fulfilment. But even before Jesus, as Hebrews 2:2 says, the words of God were binding. They mattered. If that was the case then it matters all the more to hold fast to the word of God who is Jesus. Hebrews 2:3 doesn’t talk about disobeying Jesus, instead it talks about the need to not neglect him. In other words, the need to be attentive to him. He is our anchor of hope and if we untie ourselves from Him then we are neglecting God’s great plan of salvation and hope for us. we are neglecting God himself: the one who created us and the amazing universe in which we live. Jesus is the inheritor of the nations, and of the ends of the earth, and if we neglect him we neglect the most amazing inheritance.
How to Hold On
Jesus is our anchor, but it is also he who helps us to hold onto that anchor when we look to him. Human faith begins with God’s word. He calls us by name and we listen. It is his promises that keep us going in faith. His words are alive, they are active, and they do stuff in our lives (Hebrews 4:12). His promises and words touch our hearts encouraging and challenging us. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that his powerful word sustains all things. Part of that sustaining includes sustaining our faith. As His Spirit lives in us, He travels with us through all the ups and downs of life and faith. And he is with us now in our own challenging times. Faith comes from the message that is Jesus; and in continuing effective listening to that message.