The book of Hebrews is different than the other letters of the New Testament. First of all, it is actually a sermon, “a word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22), a common first century phrase for a sermon. As a result there is a certain larger picture theme to the book that it’s several divisions contribute to, just like a modern day sermon might. Second, the book or letter is not in the usual letter style of the day – starting off with the author’s name and proceeding to the addressees’ names, and then to the matters at hand and closing remarks; the author and addressee’s part is completely absent. Third, and because of the second reason, the book’s author is not certain, although according to chapter 13:18ff the original readers knew the author well. Paul, Apollos, and Barnabas are the most prominent guesses as to it’s authorship; I am personally partial to Paul as the author.
Hebrews’ theme is essentially the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to the Mosaic covenant. The target audience was clear Jewish Christians who had been persecuted to the point of temptation to return to the synagogue and the Mosaic Law. It consequently contains 5 very strongly worded warnings against falling away – which, by the way, underscores the truth that falling away is not just an idle threat (as proponents of Calvin’s theology will often teach). Because of this theme, many of my remarks about this book/letter/sermon will highlight the superiority of Christ over the Mosaic Law. Please never misinterpret these remarks as being anti-Semitic; some my best friends over the years have been Jewish by race and sometimes by faith, and my wife’s father’s family were observant, orthodox Jews. There was a time when the Mosaic Law was in effect, and had I lived before the cross I would have needed to convert to Judaism to be part of God’s covenant people. But in Jesus the Messiah, a new convenient has been established, which is superior to the Law of Moses and supersedes it. To any Jewish folks who might be reading this, let me say with all sincerity, I would to God that you would objectively examine the claims of Jesus in view of the Law and the prophets and come to a saving and obedient faith in Him as the Son of God, the Messiah.
With these things in the back of our minds, then, let’s dive into a few specific things found in our reading today.
God has spoken through His Son — Heb. 1:2
I’m reminded of one of Jesus’ parables as I read this verse, the Landowner of Matt. 21:33ff, in which the landowner sends a number of servants and messengers to the vine-growers who rejected, beat, and killed them. Finally, the landowner sent His Son, the heir, to speak with them, expecting that they would respect Him more. God has communicated to men through many ways over the dentures. All were legitimate messengers of His will, but Jesus, the Son, deserves special attention. This is the writer’s point — listen, really listen, to Him. Listen to Him above Moses, above Elijah, and above the other prophets. This was important for Jewish Christians — especially those being tempted to return to Judaism — to “get”. They all are messengers of God’s word, but Jesus is the very Word of God Himself (John 1:1ff).
We are bombarded, too, with a number of voices in our modern world, but must be Jesus’ voice that we revere most — above preachers, above culture, above popularity, above philosophy, above psychology, above diversity. Who are you listening to?
Taste for everyone — Heb. 2:9
One of the ways in which Jesus’ new covenant is superior to the Law of Moses is that Jesus offers a superior sacrifice. Many religions recognize the problem of sin and attempt a solution for it, but it is Jesus’ solution that fixes the problem. Moses’ covenant provided for animal sacrifice as a substitute for sinful men, which was practiced until the destruction of the Temple. But even this sacrifice (the book of Hebrews will go into this in detail later) could only be something like a good faith marker — it didn’t really fix the problem. This is because although the substitutionary victim, the animal, was innocent, he was not willing. Jesus, however, was both innocent and willing to takes our place — tasting death for everyone (at least in potential; some will be unwilling to believe). What a God we serve! The sinless, perfect, and eternal God was willing to personally take “the hit” for what we’ve done. It’s not something that Moses could’ve done; nor for that matter, (touching on other world religions) could Mohammed, Buddha, the Hindu gods, or any other leader of any other system of religion.
A merciful and faithful high priest — Heb. 2:17,18
We’ll deal later in the book of Hebrews with how a Jew from the tribe of Judah could be a high priest; but putting that matter aside for the moment, what a wonderful advantage we have Christ as our great Mediator and high priest, who although equal with God the Father, is still sympathetic to our plight as humans since He has experienced what it is be clothed in flesh — the suffering, the temptations, the appetites, the helplessness, and more that is part of being human. May we never be tempted to say, “Lord, You just don’t understand; it’s so hard!” Because yes He does know — intimately.
Be careful…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin — Heb. 3:12ff
This section of the sermon is a call to the Jewish audience living in New Testament times not make the mistakes of their Hebrew forebears who in disbelief and disobedience found themselves barred from entering the “rest” of the Promised Land. But in the midst of this warning is an interesting phrase, “the deceitful ness of sin”. And for any of us who have done a post-mortem of our own sins, this doubtlessly was something that really came to the fore — the “promises” made by temptation were hollow indeed, it wasn’t what we thought it would be, the penalty was really there, and the pain was not worth the “gain”. The deceitfulness of sin — it promises the moon, and only delivers death. And yet like poor old Charlie Brown who gets sucked in by Lucy about kicking football, we keep on running full-tilt for sin on the promise that something will be there, when we swing our foot for the ball — only to find air and a hard fall awaiting us.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.