Last night we began a 9-week study through the letter to the Hebrews, studying through the first two chapters. If you missed it, you’ve still got plenty of time to catch up and join us for the rest of the letter. Here are the notes:
Hebrews is a letter written within the first few decades of Christianity, to a group of people who were Jewish in background. Originally it seems like it was meant to be read aloud. So in that sense it is part letter and part sermon. Its main themes have to do with showing how much better Jesus is than those that came before him as God was working out his plan with the people of Israel. To do this it goes into a lot of discussion about things that most people today would find really obscure and unfamiliar. The author knows this. In fact, it was this way even when he first wrote the letter—for instance check out 13:22 and 11:32, 9:5, 5:9-12.
A great way to understand what Hebrews is doing is to think about visiting a Doctor. Doctors are people who tell you things you’ve never heard before—things didn’t know about or even care about before you went, but even though you didn’t know it when you walked into the office, those things are really important for you to understand.
So, Hebrews is for you if…
- You want to be closer to God
- You struggle to feel forgiven or accepted by God
- You want more faith
- You feel like walking away from Jesus
- You want to be stronger and bolder
- You want to know how the Old Testament helps you as a Christian
- You want to resist temptation
…but it helps in God’s way, not ours. If we really want to grow, and we really want help from God, we need to learn to stop dictating terms to God, and just listen, receive and obey.
This goes back to the doctor illustration—Hebrews is all about helping people overcome spiritual weakness or sickness so they can grow in practical spiritual ways. But the writer knows that the only way to grow in these areas is to mature, and the only way to mature is first to grow in understanding about who Jesus Christ is and why it matters to us, so that we can learn how to trust him and come to him to get the help we really need. And we need to develop the right ways of thinking so that we can even begin to understand what we need.
So imagine going to the doctor, but imagine that you’ve never heard of the idea of medicine. You just know you have some sort of problem, and people tell you these “doctor” people can help. So you get an appointment with the doctor, and after he examines you he says, “You’ve got a serious infection, I’m going to start you on a Z-Pack.” And you reply, “A what?” And he says: “Zythromax. Azithromycin?” And at this point your eyes start to glaze over. You came to him with a problem and he just threw two words at you that sound like they’re from Star Wars or something. What is he talking about? Doesn’t he see you have real problems that have to do with the real world? He sees you’re getting impatient, so he says, “It’s an antibiotic.” And now you just start to get up to leave. This guy is so insensitive that he thinks his jargon, which has nothing to do with your life, is a good thing to discuss at a time like this.
Now, what would need to happen? The doctor would need to slow you down long enough to explain the whole concept of modern medicine, that we can actually ingest substances that fight sickness. Those crazy words he was using? They refer to exactly what you need, and you need to know those words so you can find out how to get the drugs they name and learn how to take them.
So first, imagine any of the list items I just mentioned are an issue you have. You come to God, and tell him your issue, and he answers you! And what he does is begin to talk. And what he says when he starts to talk…is Hebrews 1:1-4. Go ahead and read those verses.
Now… stop. He just said “Z-Pack.” He hasn’t even gotten to the actual brand name or the chemical compound. He hasn’t even begun to explain what it is or what it does…
1:1-4 God’s Word in the Son is Superior and Final
In many ways and all different times God spoke through a long line of men called “prophets.” This may also refer to the body of writings called “the prophets”—which is a way of referring to what Christians call “the Old Testament.” This would mean that this verse is explicitly saying God speaks by the Old Testament scriptures.
But we live in the time when God has done something new—he spoke one final time in someone who was not just a prophet, but instead was called “Son.”
A list of seven things that show the greatness of this “Son”…
- He’s the heir of all things
- He was God’s agent in Creation (the creator of everything)
- He’s the brightness of God’s glory & the exact representation of who God is
- He’s the one who holds everything together and keeps the universe running
- He’s the one who purged our sins
- He’s seated at the right hand of God’s throne
- He’s so much better than angels
The point? So the first thing we humans need to know is that God is there, and he is not silent. That’s the starting point for every solution to every human problem. He’s always been speaking, and he specifically chose to speak to and through many human agents for many, many years. But now, we can know that the last days have begun—because he’s spoken in a new, final way. He’s sent someone called “Son” and this Son is completely identified with God and totally reveals who he is. This means that we have a totally authoritative word from God about everything in the universe. In other words, everything in this letter, which is all about this Son, is massively important for every human being. God has spoken. Everyone needs to know what God said when he spoke in this Son.
Important: I’ve been speaking like Hebrews is all about us—our problems and what God says to us to fix our problems. But really, right off the bat, we should see that that’s actually a wrong way to look at things. Actually, all true healing and sanity starts when we move ourselves out of the center of our thoughts and let God’s word through His Son be central. Staring at the Son, hearing the Son, and contemplating these seven things are a way to start getting the order of things right—my deepest sickness is the self-centered-ness of my thoughts. If I’m willing to listen to God, He’ll use the letter to the Hebrews to deal with that issue by putting the Son in the center of my thoughts. I’ll stop obsessing over myself, and start healing by contemplating Him.
1:4-14 Seven OT quotations to show that the Son is better than the Angels
(Psalm 2:7 & 2 Sam 7:14) – The son is greater, because God never called an angel his son. And in these passages “Son” means king on the throne, which is not true of any angels.
(Duet 32:43) – The son is greater, because angels are told to worship Him.
(Ps 104:4, 45:6-7, 102:25-27 ) – Angels are created “ministers” (servants), the Son is God enthroned
(Psalm 110:1) – Only the Son is told to sit at the right hand of God,
Angels don’t only serve God, they serve humans.
The Point? It’s not only prophets and their writings that the Son is superior to, it’s also Angels—even though they are pretty amazing spiritual beings, and they had a role in bringing some of the old revelation to God’s people. But they are only servants, whereas this Son is the royal one who shares all of God’s power—in fact, he’s always shared God’s power.
2:1-4 The Exhortation: Make sure you listen to what God spoke in the Son
We must listen to what God has communicated by sending Jesus. We’ll come back to this at the end.
2:5-18 What the Son was doing by being made lower than the Angels
Here we continue thinking about this Son by moving from the fact that he’s a greater figure than Angels, to thinking about a crazily profound part of that—he’s not just better than them because he’s divine, he’s better as a human. This Son is a specific human person. The implications of this are staggering.
The beginning of verse 5 sounds like sort of an off-handed point, but it’s important—Angels won’t rule in the “World to come,” the Son will. But it’s even crazier than that—the quote from Psalm 8 shows that Humanity is God’s chosen ruler of the world. What’s the point of saying this when we’ve been saying the Son is the ruler? For that you’ve got to look at verse 9, where we get the human name of the Son mentioned for the first time. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. It’s the Jesus who many people overlooked and even despised when he was walking around in Israel during the time of the Roman Empire, and who even today many people find unimpressive.
So if Jesus is able to be despised and ignored, and it doesn’t really look like he’s running the world today, why all this language about ruling and glory? Here’s what’s so cool–The answer to that question is connected to the answer to another question—which is why does Psalm 8 say that all things are under the feet of humanity when clearly we aren’t ruling God’s creation right now? The experience you and I have of physical evil—sickness, injury, physical danger, natural disasters—this is all tied up in the fact that right now we’re not ruling creation like Psalm 8 says we are. And the reason for that is hinted at back in 1:3—it’s our sin. Sin (and its consequence, death) accounts for all the problems humans face. Every problem you and I face in our lives can be traced back to the presence of sin in the world—all the way back to the first sin of the first two humans.
If I am going to find any solutions for my problems in life, I have to find a solution to the big problem of sin and death. So Hebrews 2 takes the problem of humanity’s lack of rule over nature and shows that the answer is in the fact that the Son became a human named Jesus, or, as it says in 2:9, he was made human by being made “a little lower than the angels.” When the Son became Jesus, and did what he did, we get God’s solution.
This section points out (v.8) that we don’t actually see humans ruling over creation, even though the scriptures speak of it as though it were already true. Instead, what do we see? Well it says (v.9) “we see Jesus,” who became a man, and because of his death has now been crowned and exalted. Why did he become a man and have to die? So he could experience death on behalf of every member of the human race. It was precisely this death which led to the exaltation as the glorified man, or the “Son” from King David’s family who was prophesied to rule all things (1:5 – Ps 2, 1:13 – Ps 110).
The reason he had to die was so he could actually lead men and women out of the bondage to the fear of death, and destroy the power of death over them.
God respects the process, and the rules of the creation he made. He wants everything to be real. So when humans mess up the creation God made, he doesn’t just change the rules or fudge it to fix things. He does the hard work of getting inside our world and actually leading humans out of the bondage they were in.
So, in v.10 it says that “it was fitting” Jesus for Jesus to go through suffering (including death), because that’s how he needed to be made “perfect.” The idea here is like the Father looked at our situation and said, “what those humans need is a leader, and the only way to truly rescue them is for one of them to be the solution.” So, the Son was chosen to be the one who would actually do this work of becoming one of us in order to save us. Since that was what was needed, he wasn’t that high priest or that leader till he actually did all these things. And once he became a person, suffered and died, then he was completely able to be what and who we needed.
The idea here is solidarity. Our captain, our high priest, our word from God, Jesus, totally identifies with us, to the point that he became one of us…forever.
This closes out our section. Jesus did all this so that he could become a high priest who could help us escape death by providing atonement for our sins in the past and by helping us when we’re tempted to sin in the present.
So to sum up Chapter 1&2—Jesus is greater than angels, and all the prophets who came before, because he is the eternal divine Son who rules all creation, and because as a man he became what God always meant humanity to be: ruler of the earth. He won salvation for all humans, and saved the human race in the process.
The Parting Challenge: 2:1-4
“Therefore”—because these things are true… (notice “we” throughout)
Our Message to the world: Everyone should listen to what God has told us in Jesus because:
- He’s the king of the universe, with all of God’s power. (1:5-13)
- He continues the story of the OT (1:1, 2:2), and in those days those who disobeyed God were judged
- The authenticity of Jesus was witnessed to by all the amazing things he did and that happened around him (2:4)
- Jesus earned our allegiance: he forged a path for us to God (forerunner – 2:10), he took on our humanity in order to save us, he did what was necessary for him to be able to purge away our sins (1:3, 2:17), and he became a merciful and faithful high priest for us, so we could have a representative before God.
- The salvation he accomplished was huge (2:2)—he fully established and restored humanity to its originally intended place: ruling over all of God’s creation.
Of course, the point of the letter is not so much about non-believers and people who are ignorant of Jesus, but that those who are familiar with these things should be listening.
1. “Drifting away”
2. “Neglecting” what God has done
The solution? “Pay careful attention” (hold the ship on course). I’m either paying careful attention to what God has said to us in Jesus or I’m drifting away and in danger of neglecting the great salvation God accomplished for me. The same can be said of a church…
Christians: Does this work for you? Do you ever find that you grow impatient with God and the way he operates in your life? Are you willing to let him be the doctor, and simply follow his directions so you can heal?
The Point? God did an amazing thing in sending Jesus. It was exactly what everyone needed. Everyone should listen to what God communicated when Jesus came. God is speaking. Will you listen?