"God Has Spoken"
(Delivered Sunday, September 7, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
There couldn't be a better subject for us to talk about than the wonderful Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. There couldn't be a more profitable way for us to spend our time than by meditating on what the Scriptures tell us about Him.
We have a promise in the Bible—a promise that is a particular blessing to those of us who may have come here today feeling tired of body, or weary of soul, or weak of spirit. The Bible tells us that "those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
I'll bet that, as I quoted that to you, some of you secretly sighed. Some of you love that passage very much. And if you have already trusted Jesus as your Savior, then you know that those words are true. You already know much you need to turn your attention away from lesser things, fix your attention on Jesus Christ, and truly "wait" on Him for a while. You already know how refreshing it is to your soul to do so.
Well; it's my privilege to draw our attention to Him today. I have no special agenda in this morning's message other than just that—to turn our attention to Jesus Christ, and enjoy the restoration of soul that comes from fixing Him in our thoughts for a while.
And if you have never trusted Him as Savior and Lord, then I have a double privilege this morning. I get to introduce you to some truths about Him from the Scriptures that—perhaps—you've never thought about before. And my hope is that, as a result, you'll also trust Him as your Savior and Lord and greatest Friend.
The passage I'd like to draw your attention to is the opening words of the New Testament book of Hebrews—particularly, the first four verses. They are majestic words; and they read as follows:
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I wonder if you have ever read the book of Hebrews before. Scholars don't know for sure who wrote it. Perhaps it's best to simply say what one of the early church fathers said about the authorship of this great New Testament book—that it was given to us by the Holy Spirit. That's all we know for sure—and that's all we really need to know.
And this book has a great theme: The superiority of Jesus Christ. As its name suggests, it was written to Jewish people who had placed their faith in Jesus. But because these Jewish Christians had suffered much persecution for their faith in Him, and because many of them were tempted to turn back from Him, the writer wrote this letter to exhort them to remain true to their faith in Him.
This New Testament book, therefore, is very Jewish in nature. It's purpose is to show how Jesus is superior to all that these Jewish Christians once trusted for God's favor. It shows, in careful detail, how Jesus Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood given through Moses; superior to the old covenant that came through Moses; superior to the tabernacle that had been built by Moses; and superior to the sacrifices that had been ordained through Moses. And its call is to keep on trusting in Christ and "hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of hope firm to the end" (Hebrews 3:6).
And so, this book starts off with a bang. It begins, right away, by exalting Jesus Christ as superior to all that had preceded Him. The main theme of these opening words is that, though God spoke in many other ways in times past, He has now spoken to us by His Son Jesus Christ!
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So; let's turn our attention to Him. And let's begin by considering remarkable truth introduced to us in these first few words. And that is that . . .
I. GOD HAS SPOKEN (vv. 1-2a).
The writer begins by telling us that God "at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets" (v. 1). And if I may say so; if that was the only truth we gleaned from this passage, it would be enough to shake the world. God—the almighty Creator of all things—has spoken!
Have you ever considered how many of the issues and controversies we deal with on a daily basis in our world today—the great social, and political, and ethical issues of our time—are really a result of whether or not people believe that God truly is, and that He has truly spoken? If God is the Creator of all life, for example, and if He has already spoken authoritatively about the value of human life, then the differences and debates about the value of life are—at the very heart of the matter—between people who bow to what He has said and those who will not. If God is the Maker of the first man and the first woman, and if He has already spoken authoritatively about the nature of marriage, then the differences and debates about the nature of marriage are—at the very core—between those who believe what He said and those who do not. If God is who He says He is, and if He has told us how we can come to know Him, then the differences and debates between people concerning various religious systems and competing philosophies are—at the very heart of the matter—between people who trust what He has already authoritatively said and people who do not.
I don't mean to sound simplistic. But the fact is that, if what this opening verse says is true, then the questions we face today are not just a matter of wandering in the dark, and trying to feel our way through a philosophic fog of our own speculations. If what this opening verse says is true, then truth has already been revealed to us by our Creator. The pressing questions of life today are not really questions anymore. God has already spoken!
Note that this verse tells us how God has spoken. It says that God has spoken "at various times"—or, as the New American Standard has translated it, "in many portions". We learn a little of God from what we read of His self-disclosure in the first few chapters of Genesis. Then, He gives us a greater revelation of Himself centuries later when He called Abraham and his sons. Then, we learn a little more about Him from His revelation centuries later when He gave the law to Moses. Then, we learn more centuries later as He spoke through the songs of David, or the wisdom writings of Solomon, or through the writings of the prophets.
It's not that God's revelation of Himself was "developing" and “improving” over the centuries of the past. Rather, it's that it was an "unfolding" and "increasingly progressive" revelation—given to mankind in “portions” and at different times; with each new revelation of Himself building on and clarifying what He had revealed before.
And then, note how it goes on to tell us that God spoken "in various ways". As Psalm 19:1 tells us, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork." God has revealed truth about Himself through creation. Romans 1:19-20 tells the people of this world that "what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead . . ." To write out the ways that God has revealed Himself through His creation would take as long as it would take to write out all of creation!
But God didn't just reveal Himself through creation. Creation is enough to reveal to us that God is, and that we owe Him our worship; but creation alone is not sufficient to show us what He has done to save us from our sins, or to lead us to a relationship with Him through faith. A much clearer revelation from God is needed—a revelation from God, through man, directly to man. And so, "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). God appeared to the patriarchs of old and spoke to them through visions and dreams. He spoke through prophets—giving them a message to give to His people. He even moved upon them to write down what He said, so that succeeding generations may read His words. And He has preserved those writings for us in the form of the Scriptures.
So just think of what a marvelous thing it is that God has done! He has spoken "at various times and in various ways . . . in time past to the fathers by the prophets". He has not left us to grope in the dark. He has had compassion on us and has revealed Himself to us.
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But as marvelous as that is, it's not the main point that the writer of Hebrews wishes to express to us.
Let me try, as best I can, to read what he says in the way he expresses it in the original language; and I think you can see what his main point is. "At various times and in various ways, in times past, God speaking to the fathers by the prophets, in these last days He has spoken to us by Son" (v. 2). The fact that He has spoken in many portions and many ways—in a revelation of Himself that was only partial and fragmentary; unfolding only so much of the truth about Himself and of His plan, and leaving many of the prophets to "search" and "inquire" as to "what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" (1 Peter 1:10-11)—all of that is incidental to the glorious fact that He has now spoken to us by Jesus Christ!
Do you notice that I translated it that He has now spoken to us "by Son"? Did you notice that it wasn't "by His Son" or "by the Son", but simply "by Son"? In times past, He spoke by the prophets—in spoken words and writings; but now He has spoken “by Son”. I believe that this is saying something to us about the "incarnational" power of His revelation through Jesus Christ—although I admit that what I believe it's saying is a bit hard to put in words.
Perhaps a way of thinking of it would be like this. It would be as if a sculptor stood next to a piece of artwork that he has created—but a piece of work that was covered over with a veil. The artist Himself would have a perfect conception of his great work of art; and if he sought to describe the work of art to us in words, he might be able express very well the vision he has of the piece. But because of the limitations of language and of our understanding, he would only be able to give us an imperfect and fragmentary sense of it. He would only be able to help us catch an understanding of this part of it, or of that part of it. We might have an imperfect understanding of the delicate lines of the face he was carving as he described it, or the intricacies of the folds of cloth or the pose of the arms. We might have some partial sense of its dynamic motion and power of the sculpture through the words he used. But we could never put them all together in our minds just from hearing about it in these "many portions" and these "many ways".
Our understanding of God, through His self-revelation in "times past" would have been like the description we would hear from the words of the sculptor. We learn only a hint of something about God and His plan through these revelations of Himself in "many portions" and "many ways". And please understand--I'm not saying that God's revelation in the past was, in any way, erroneous or imperfect. It's just that people couldn't have understood it except in an incomplete and fragmentary way. Even the prophets themselves had to search out and inquire the meaning of the things that God had revealed to them before Jesus came (1 Peter 1:11). But what would happen if, at just the right time, the sculptor simply removed the veil? What would happen if we, with our own eyes, saw the sculpture that the artist was telling us about? We would, at last, see it all as a piece—and its unified beauty and elegance would transcend the power of words! Nothing of what the sculptor had said prior to that point would have been untrue; but now, it's a revelation of his work that we perceive more completely and clearly. That's what I believe God has done! He has revealed Himself "at various times and in various ways . . . to the fathers by the prophets"; but now, in these last days, He has taken the veil off and has spoken to us "by Son". And the Son is a more perfect, complete, unified, glorious revelation of the Father than we ever could have received in those "many portions" and "many ways" in "time past".
And hasn't Jesus Himself has told us this? He has said, "If you have known Me, you would have known My father also . . ." (John 8:19; 14:7). He said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . ." (John 14:9). The apostle Paul told us that in Jesus "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily . . ." (Colossians 2:9).
If you want to know the fullest truth you can know about God, and in an expression you can relate to as a human being, then the good news is that God has made the fullest possible revelation of that truth to you. Look at Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in the Scriptures; because the Father has spoken "by Son".
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So; the remarkable truth is that God has spoken! He has spoken in times past in various portions and in many ways; but in these last days, He has spoken most perfectly to us by His Son. Next; let's notice . . .
II. WHAT GOD HAS SAID (vv. 2b-4).
First, God—who has spoken—lets us know that He has a glorious Son. And consider the ways that He says that He is glorious.
He lets us know, for example, that "He has appointed His Son heir of all things" (v. 2). I believe we see this expressed in Psalm 2; where we are told that the Messiah says, "I will declare the decree; the LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession" (Psalm 2:7-8).
Jesus Himself said very specifically that "all authority” has been given to Him "in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). The Bible also tells us that "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand" (John 3:35). We see that God the Father has "put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:22); and that at His name "every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).
What an important revelation this is! Have you ever heard people say, "What is this world coming to?!!" Well; now we know. It's coming to the feet of Jesus! The Son has been appointed by the Father to be heir of all things; and if we want to be on the right side of things, we must be rightly related to God's Son.
He also lets us know that it's through His Son that "He made the worlds" (v. 2). Some translations have it that it was through the Son that the Father made "the world" in the singular (such as the English Standard Version and the New American Standard); and one translation (the New International Version) has it that it was through the Son that the Father made "the universe"—again in the singular. But the actual word in the original language is in the plural; and it means much more than simply "the planets". It basically means "the ages" or "the eons"; which is a concept that not only includes the material universe, but all of the ages of time itself.
As John 1:3 tells us about Him; "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." In Colossians 1:16-17, we're told that "by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist."
The Father also lets us know that the Son is "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person" (v. 3). We know the Father through the Son.
Consider that Jesus is "the brightness" of the Father's "glory". If you look out the window you may be able to see the sunshine. Now; of course, you shouldn't ever look directly at the sun. God has not given you the natural capacity to gaze directly at it; and it will only hurt your eyes you if you try to do so. But you know that the sun is there; because you see the 'shining-forth' of the sun everywhere you look. You see the brightness of the sunlight shining on the ground. You see the shadows that this bright sunlight creates. That's a good way to understand these words. Jesus is the "shining-forth" of the Father's glory. We cannot behold the Father's glory; because, as the Bible tells us, "No one has seen God at any time." But it also tells us, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18).
And consider that Jesus is "the express image of His person". What it is that the Son shines-forth of the Father is an exact representation of Him. The word that is used here refers to a tool that makes an impression—literally, a "character"—into a lump of wax or clay. When a king or a dignitary would write a document, he would roll it seal it with wax. And then, as if to put his signature on it, he would press his 'signet' ring into the wax and make an "image". Similarly, Jesus is "exact representation" of the Father's "nature".
This means that nothing of what the Son shows us is any different from what the Father truly is. Nothing that the Son teaches us is anything different from what the Father would want said. All that may be known of the Father is known to us through the Son; and everything that is known to us through the Son is true to the Father's own nature. The Son is, in every way, the perfect revelation to us of the Father.
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So; the Father lets us know that He has a glorious Son. But knowing all these ways that the Son is glorious, consider the next set of things that the Father wants us to know about His Son! First, He wants us to know that this glorious Son of His has come into this world and cleansed us of our sins.
The writer of Hebrews stresses the majesty and power of God's Son when he says that He was "upholding all things by the word of His power" (v. 3). That's His deity. He is very God of very God; and as God, He upholds all things by the power of His word. He says, "Be!" and it is. He says, "Remain!" and it continues to exist. If He were to say, "Cease!" it would all cease to be.
And yet we're told that, "upholding all things by the word of His power," this same Son, as our text has translated it, "had by Himself purged [or "cleansed"] our sins". The words "by Himself" and "our" are not in the best manuscripts of the text; and so I believe that the English Standard Version has translated this correctly by saying simply that He made "purification for sins".
As the perfect, sinless Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ was able to make full purification of sins. This doesn't mean that everyone in the world is now cleansed of sin. Rather, it means that He has made "purification for sins". He has provided, in Himself, the full satisfaction of the guilt of our sins before a holy God; so that, "if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). And just remember—He did this on the cross for us while "upholding all things by the word of His power"! What a glorious Savior! How can any aspect of His redeeming work for us fail? How can anyone be lost to Him who truly turns to Him and trusts in Him?
What's more, the Father lets us know that having cleansed our sins (which speaks of His death on the cross), the Son "sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high" (which speaks of His resurrection and ascension). And I believe this is meant to stress two things to us. First, it stresses His high position in glory. The Bible tells us that He has "gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him" (1 Peter 3:22). But it also stresses the completion of His work on our behalf. Hebrews 10:11-14 tells us that, in the Old Testament sacrifices for sin,
Jesus "sat" at God's right hand. His work for us is complete! While He died on the cross for us, He was able to declare, "It is finished" (John 19:30)! What a wonderful Savior!
There's one more thing the Father wants us to know. Now that Jesus has made full purification of sin, and has sat down at the Father's right hand, we're told that He has become "so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (v. 4).
He has an exalted "name". We often talk of people who have "made a name for themselves"; and what we mean by this is that they have won for themselves a place of dignity and honor above other people. Jesus—our glorious Savior—has obtained a more excellent position of dignity and honor than all—even the angels. He took full humanity to Himself in order to be our Savior; but He is above the angels. He is their Creator; and now, as the glorified God-Man, they bow down to Him.
And I believe we should take this to ourselves in a personal way, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Because we are joint-heirs with Him! He stooped down from heaven to rescue us from our position in sin, in order to raise us up as sharers with Him of His position in glory. He will share His glory with us throughout eternity; and so, we too will be above the angelic beings. As Paul has written;
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What a wonderful Savior! How good it is to just set everything else aside for a while and fix our thoughts on Him! How good our heavenly Father is to have spoken such things of Himself to us through Him!
But that leads us, finally, to . . .
III. WHAT WE MUST DO:
These truths are things that we must do something about. And I'd like to suggest, from the Book of Hebrews itself, three things we must do.
First, we must give heed to these things. God has spoken in as clear a way as possible by His Son; and we must heed what He has said. In 2:1-4, the writer of Hebrews says,
Second, we must beware of a rebellious heart of unbelief. We may heed what He says, and yet be hindered in responding as we should because of the deceitfulness of sin. In 3:12-15, he writes;
And finally, we must draw near to the throne of grace. Having heeded His revelation of Himself in Christ, and having believed what He has revealed, the proper response is to draw near to this wonderful redeeming God who has extended Himself to us in love. In Hebrews 4:14-16, he writes;
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