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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:1

How does God get the message across to us? Do you remember from reading the Bible how God spoke at different times in the past? God appeared to Abraham as three men, three strangers. For Moses, it was a burning bush. Balaam, the pagan seer, heard God when his donkey spoke to him. And the prophet Elijah heard God in the silence. The prophet Jonah had to spend some time in the belly of a whale. And Daniel, in exile in Babylon, heard God’s voice in his dreams.

Actually that happened several times. Throughout the Bible God or God’s angels spoke important messages to people while they slept. But not the Apostle Paul. For him, it was a blinding light as he walked down the road. And John of Patmos heard God speak when God inspired him to write Revelation. John was worshiping on the Lord’s Day, he was in exile, and the risen Jesus came to him.

What about today? How have people heard God’s communications? Over and over, I hear of people who stand at the seashore and are overwhelmed by the vast ocean. It happens in the mountains too. People see the expanse, the majesty, the view, and the beauty, and somehow, they hear God. Nature does it – forest, fields, hills, mountains, rivers, the ocean – it makes us ready for God.

Does God still speak in dreams? I think so. And what about through other people? I certainly think God speaks through others. And through events. One of the guys, a guy from another church, who is going to Ethiopia with us in April said he started seeing El Caminos –you know, the car – and that was his confirmation that God was telling him to go on the trip.

How has God spoken in your life? When do you hear him? Or, what moments, those moments when you know everything has changed because you have met God – what moments has God used to get your attention and speak and you heard? What has God said in your life?

At the end of a parable Jesus tells in Luke 16, he makes the statement that the Law and the Prophets – by that he means the Old Testament – should be enough to get God’s word across.[i] The Bible contains God’s message and we who want to follow Him and worship Him and be in relationship with God should read it and in reading it, we know what he has to say.

In Hebrews chapter 1, the camera zooms in for a close-up on God’s message. “In these last days,” says verse 2, “God has spoken to us by [His] Son.” Yes, we have the Bible. Yes, these days, our time, are the last days. We are in the end times. We don’t know if the end times will last another century or millennia. We are in the end times. We have the Bible, and more pointedly, we have knowledge of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Everything that came before Jesus in the Bible pointed Him. Everything that comes after His story in the Gospels grows from his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promise to return.

“In these last days God has spoken to us by [His] Son.” What has God been saying when he spoke to us and is speaking to us? Verse 1 of chapter 2; God had spoken. “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” That danger, that we might drift away, is always there. Of all the New Testament works, the book of Hebrews touches on this idea of drift acutely. It is more fully laid out in chapter 6. Here, we see the implication. God had spoken and is speaking, in Jesus. We have to pay attention so we can hear what God has to say.

God created everything through Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we see God’s glory. When we look at Jesus, we see purity. And verse 4, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” I confess, I find that somewhat confusing. I don’t know exactly how to conceptualize Jesus’ superiority and I don’t know what it is about the name and I don’t know what it means that Jesus had to inherit the name. This same passage declares Jesus’ eternity –he was the agent of creation. The same claim is made about Jesus in the Gospel of John and in Colossians.[ii] My own confusion doesn’t scare me because what is clear is God says his son is creator, is glory, is purity, and is sovereign.

What else? In Jesus, what else does God have to say? “He made purification for sins; he sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high.” Jesus takes that which is stained and cleans it.

February in the United States is a time to face up to some of the ugliest sin in our history. It is the beginning of Lent, a time of repentance, turning from sin, and turning to Jesus. And it is black history month, a time to honor the contributions of black people have made for the good of America and more so for the good of the human race. Even as we celebrate black history month, we realize the shame. Our nation, for more than half our history enslaved, demoralized, and abused black people. Then once civil rights were granted, we maintained limits on what people of darker skin could accomplish. Even if the law said blacks has equal rights, the businesses weren’t letting people of color be CEO’s. The sports teams weren’t letting our black friends, our black brothers be head coaches. Historians only give one month to recognize contributions of women and men of African descent. In politics, blacks had limited success. Not until this century did a black coach appear in and wind a Super Bowl. It still has not happened in college football championships. Finally in this century, the presidency of our nation is not restricted to white men from upper middle class backgrounds.

And what about the contributions in history of Native American Indians? Of Asians and Hispanics and Jewish and Arab Americans? If it feels like I am shoehorning race into a conversation about the book of Hebrews and what God has to say through Jesus, consider Jesus in our context. What does Jesus see when he sees our world? One thing he sees is sin, on the move, getting more flamboyant and becoming louder and bolder. Hebrews says every transgression receives a just penalty (2:2). The witnesses to this truth are listed in chapter 2 – the Lord; those who heard the Lord, mainly prophets like those listed in the Old Testaments, Samual, Nathan, Elija, Elisha, and the prophets with books named for them; signs, including Babylonian exile, Roman occupation, and the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All these witnesses testify that God will not tolerate sin. We have a lot to worry about.

Yet Jesus sees us in our lost, fallen state, and he weeps because his heart is broken. If you don’t connect at any level to what I mentioned regarding sin, then think of yourself when you are at your absolute worst. Think of yourself when you have messed up to the point that you are mad at yourself. You hate yourself in those moments. Jesus is weeping tears of love because he loves you. The good news, the gospel is though we are sinners, he purifies. So we come begging forgiveness and he gives it. He gives us white robes to declare we have been made clean. This is what God has to say.

What else?

Hebrews 1:8, “Of the Son he says,‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” This is something said about Jesus, that he reigns eternally. But what this says about him is also a message through him that God gets to us. Remember most of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, is spent in the throne room of Heaven. Jesus is right in the middle of that throne room. In Revelation, he is called a Lion and also a Lamb. He is both. From his throne, John, the one receiving the revelation, sees a multitude. The crowd is so numerous it cannot be counted, but John is sure that he sees people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. In our prejudice and sin, we divide people and teach our children to hate others. But Jesus cleans up the mess we’ve made and all people are brought together, united at his throne in Heaven.

In our worship service today and churches around the world, we rehearse this joyous union. We take the bread which represents our sins and the cup, Jesus’ blood, and we say that we’ve heard what God has to say. We admit that without Him, we cannot teach ourselves to come together. We need Him. We depend on him for peace, brotherhood, and unity. God has said we will have that, in Jesus.

What else? What else does God have to say that we can only hear when we are in Jesus, looking to Him, listening to Him?

One author[iii]thinks Hebrews might have been composed as a sermon. That’s why it’s so different than most other letters. In first century sermons, the accepted style for opening a sermon was to heighten the listener’s attention by naming the main points. The opening four verses of Hebrews, in the original language, were all one long, clause-filled sentence. In that sentence, we see God speaking even as we say he speaks through the Son.

He appointed [the Son] heir of all things.

Jesus sustains all things.

When we talk about what God is saying in Jesus, we quickly realize beyond the season (Lent), beyond our country’s history (including black history month and the nation’s sins that caused a need for black history month), beyond our individual stories (humans beings who fall from God in their own poor choices and disobedience only to be redeemed and purified by his grace), beyond all this, when God speaks through Jesus, he’s addressing all things because Jesus is Lord of all.

What we have in Hebrews is enough, but to just to expand the Biblical testimony that Jesus is over all and sustainer of all, we turn to Colossians and read …

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

We rejoice in our diversity because we are united in Jesus. We take communion because we know we have life in Jesus. We reject Satan because we know we are protected by Jesus. We stand in victory even when life is hard because of Jesus. That’s what God has to say when he speaks in these last days through the Son.

God spoke. We’ve paid attention. We know what has been said and is being said. Now, we speak it. When we share bread and cup, we remind one another we are forgiven. We live in joy and hope. Making our way through Lent to the cross, we remind one another that we have a lot of growth ahead of us, a lot of paying attention to do, a lot of praying to do, lest we drift away as Hebrews 2 wants. So we remind one another in communion, in worship, in Lent.

Finally, we tell. We tell God about our friends who don’t come to church here or anywhere and who don’t know Him. He knows about them already, but we tell him. That’s called praying for the unsaved. And we tell them – with much love and patience and grace. Sometimes patience means loving the other and not talking too much Godstuff until we invited to do so. But through our actions, our prayers, our heart attitude, and our words, we tell our unchurched, unsaved friends that God has spoken. They need to pay attention because they are separated from him, and that’s no way to live. They need to know this Jesus who is all and is everything loves them.

We close with song and then worship through communion.AMEN

[i]Luke 16:29-31
[ii]John 1:3; Colossians 1:16
[iii]George Guthrie, NIV Application Commentary.

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