Seeing Jesus Clearly

Hebrews, Deity of Christ, Modalism, Sufficiency

R. Kent Hughes begins his commentary on Hebrews with this great image from the Chronicles of Narnia.

Lucy, caught up in her spiritual quest, saw the lion Aslan –Christ—shining white and huge in the moonlight. In a burst of emotion Lucy rushed to him, burying her face in the rich silliness of his mane, whereupon the great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half-sitting and half-lying between his front paws. He bent forward and touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath was all around her. She gazed up into the large, wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger”[1]

This is the purpose of the book of Hebrews: that we might grow older and more mature as followers of Christ and as a result we see our Lord as much bigger than we did before.

The book of Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament. We have no definitive idea who the author of the book is. People used to believe Paul was the likely author but most today believe the book was written by someone other than Paul. The reason for this is that the language and style is so much different from Paul.

You probably have noticed different writing styles between people. There are some who are concrete and pretty straightforward in their writing. Others (like song writers) tend to be more picturesque in their speech. There is an elegance and a beauty to their words. Paul wrote in a pretty straightforward manner; Hebrews is written in that more elegant style.

The audience and situation addressed in the letter is also not clear. This makes interpreting some passages more difficult (like Hebrews 6). I believe the audience was most likely a group of Christians who had come out of Judaism to follow Christ. They encountered difficulty and persecution, perhaps similar to what Muslims face when they become a follower of Christ today. Converted Muslims are disowned, persecuted, and sometimes even killed. This is what was happening to the people addressed in Hebrews.

These former Jews began to wonder if they made a mistake in becoming followers of Christ. It is possible they thought about returning to the Jewish faith. This letter was to encourage them not to abandon the One who alone can save them and who is superior to anything else the world offers.

This is the theme of the letter: the supremacy and superiority of Christ. He is superior to all other religious leaders, systems, and ideas. He is unique and He is sufficient to save us. This theme will be driven home again and again throughout the course of this letter.

R.C. Sproul has written,

If I were cast into prison and allowed but one book, it would be the Bible. If I were allowed only one book of the Bible, it would be the Epistle to the Hebrews. This may surprise you, because Hebrews is not a favorite book for most Christians. It is one of the least understood books of the New Testament because mastering its message demands knowledge of the Old Testament. Too many of us are only “New Testament Christians.” We cannot grasp the jewels of the Old Testament that are joined in platinum settings in this letter.

I would choose Hebrews as my sole book on which to meditate because it contains our most comprehensive discussion of the redemption wrought for us in the sacrifice of Jesus. (Sproul…Tabletalk Magazine)

There are no introductory words to the letter. The author states his thesis immediately:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.

God Has Been Reaching Out to Us

The first thing we learn is that God has been reaching out to us. He spoke to Adam and Eve, He called out to Abraham, He wrestled with Jacob, He appeared to Moses in a bush, He gave the Law on Mount Sinai and he spoke through many different prophets. Don’t miss the fact that it is the Lord who is pursuing us, not we Him!

That’s really quite astounding when you think about it. The creator of everything is persistently pursuing a relationship with you and me. When God gave us the law, He did not do so to control us but to guide us into a relationship with Him.

The problem over the years has been our fickleness. We have periods of devotion followed by much longer periods of ignoring the ways of God. We push aside His Law so we could go our own way and do our own thing. The result: we end up in mess after mess.

We are told that in the “final days” (as opposed to the “former” days) he has spoken to us through His Son. This is not a statement about the second coming of Jesus; he is saying that unlike the past when God spoke through prophets, now God has spoken to us fully and completely through His son, Jesus. There is no further communication needed.

Who Jesus Really Was

What we are told next is really quite amazing. The first thing we learn is that We are His inheritance. We are the Father’s gift to His Son. In other words, we are His treasure!

If you are like me, you don’t think of yourself as a treasure. We see the blemishes, the failures, and the disappointments. However, our Lord views us differently. He longs for us. He cherishes us. He values us.

Second, we are told that our Lord was the agent of creation. In other words, the Father created the world through him. Jesus hinted at this when He was on earth when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He pointed to the eternal nature of His existence. This reminds us that the Son is eternal, He was not created with everything else . . . in fact He was involved in the creation!

The next line in the description is very important: “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.

Some versions translate this as saying the Son reflects God’s glory. That is a bad translation. There is a big difference between someone who radiates and someone who reflects. The Sun in the sky radiates light. The moon reflects it. In other words the moon possesses no light of its own. The Son is not merely reflecting the glory of God, He possesses the glory of God! In other words He IS God (not WAS God).

We read that He expresses the very character of God”. The NIV translates this: :He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” The ESV says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Theologian N.T. Wright explains,

“Actually, the word used for ‘precise expression’ here is the Greek word character, the origin of our apparently identical English word. But this is an interesting word in both Greek and in English. When we talk about the ‘characters’ in a play, and when we talk about the ‘characters’ of an alphabet (the Hebrew ‘characters’, say, or the Japanese), what have the two got in common? Where does the idea begin?

At the bottom of it all, in the ancient world, lies the idea of engraving, or of stamping soft or hot metal with a pattern which the metal will then continue to bear. Though the ancient world didn’t have printing presses such as we have had since William Caxton in the fifteenth century, it had early equivalents that were used, particularly, for making coins. The emperor would employ an engraver who carved the royal portrait, and suitable words or abbreviations, on a stamp, or die, made of hard metal. The engraver used the stamp to make a coin, so that the coin gave the exact impression, or indeed expression, of what was on the stamp.”

So, here is what we are being told: the Son of God (Jesus) is the same as God the Father . . . but they are both unique. They are one in nature, separate in person. This gets us into the difficult subject of the doctrine of the Trinity.

There is a heresy called modalism that was dealt with in history but has made an appearance again today in what is called ‘Oneness Theology”. Modalism says that God is One but He appears in different forms (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as needed. It is an attempt to explain away the uniqueness of the persons of the Trinity. This is unfortunately taught by some very popular teachers today.

This is not what the Bible teaches! The Bible teaches us that there is One God. It also teaches us that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. They are three distinct “beings” yet they possess a unifying oneness.

Attempts to explain the Trinity always fall short. It is complex and confusing. However, I don’t have any problem with the idea that God is bigger and more complex than human categories can explain.

I have come to grips with the fact that there are things that don’t make sense to me. In Algebra I had a hard time grasping that a letter in a formula was really a number!  Don’t even try to explain Trigonometry or Calculus to me . . . it won’t make any sense! But there are other areas where I accept that things don’t make sense. How does gravity work? I don’t even know what the definition of particle physics means! Why can’t the Chicago Cubs field a championship (or even competitive) team! The point is that the fact that I don’t understand these things doesn’t mean I have to explain them away. It just means they are beyond my comprehension!

The fact that God is a complex being, different from me, is not at all troubling to me. In fact, it is kind of what I expect from God!

Why is all this important? First, it helps us see that God is bigger than we used to see Him. He has not changed but we are beginning to expand our image of Him. R.C. Sproul reminds us.

Being fully God, the Son is an absolutely authentic representation of God’s being. One can be identified with the other. Thus, there cannot be any higher authority than words spoken by the Son. There is no longer a need for us to see the Father, because the Son perfectly represents him.[2]

We don’t have to try to find God; we don’t have to wonder what he is like. All we have to do is look at Jesus!

Our text also says, our Lord sustains the Universe. In other words He did create the world and then walk away. He is still very much involved in keeping the created world going and He is involved in the lives of those whom He has created. I don’t know about you, but that is just as mind-boggling as the doctrine of the Trinity.

We are also told that He is the Savior. He is the One who “cleanses us from sin”.  He was the only One who could take away our sin. The penalty for sin is death. No human can give his life to save (in this sense) another person. Why? Because they have their own sin to pay for! Only one who was sinless could give His life in place of ours. And only one who was of infinite worth could be traded for the sins of so many.

Jesus is able to give His life in exchange for millions of others because He is not only sinless (so He is the only one qualified), He is also the Son of God (making His office more valuable that millions and millions of lives). His infinite value was traded for our sin. That is why it was a sufficient payment.

But even this is not all, “he sat down at the right hand of God”. This is significant for two reasons. First, the right hand of God, as our text says, was the place of honor. This is where a co-regent would sit. His power and authority was equal to that of the one on the throne. The Son of God continues to rule and reign and someday all His enemies (those who refuse to serve Him as Lord) will be placed at His feet as He stands in triumph.

The second significant thing is that he sat down. It means the work of redemption was completed. A Jewish priest would be on their feet all day long. The reason? There were always more sacrifices to offer. The sacrifice would pay for one sin but there was always more sin to pay for. So, the priests spent all day, every day, offering sacrifices. They never got to the point where they could say, “Sin has been finally paid for”.

On the cross just before He died Jesus said, “It is Finished”. The work of redemption that was necessary for you and I to find forgiveness and new life was finished. It was accomplished. There was nothing more that needed to be done. He could sit down.

Implications of All of This

As we read these words and ponder them I hope you are left with your mouth open at the greatness of our Lord and Savior. I hope you see Him as much bigger than you did before. I hope the fact that He wants a relationship with you and me leads you to rejoice and to worship.

Three things to take away about Jesus. First He is Able. Because He is over all things, because He is the Creator, because He is the One who sustains, He is able to meet any need, to heal any heart, and redeem and restore any broken person.

Second, He is not only able, He is Willing. We are His inheritance. He desires a relationship with us. What a unique, wonderful, and unequalled privilege we have to be called His children! How wonderful it is to be able to walk with Him in our daily lives!  We need these words desperately.

We spend too much time trying to impress God with how worthy we are. We seem to think that we need to convince Him to love us.  The reality is that He ALREADY loves us. He wants to make us new that’s why Jesus came into the world! The problem is not God’s willingness, it is our stubbornness. We continue to resist His grace in an effort to save ourselves. It is time to stop running away from Him and run to Him.

Do you get that? He is such a great Savior who is sufficient for our every need. He is perfect in power and because of that He can change you and he can change me. He can turn tragedy into blessing. He can bring peace in the midst of trial. He can transform our antagonist just as He can transform us.

It is time to stop being suspicious and tentative. It is time to trust who He is. Trust Him to make you new through forgiveness that is found in Christ. Trust Him to turn your life around. Trust Him to get you through the circumstances of life. There is no one like Him. There is no other power available greater than His. He has invited you and me to be His friends. We would be foolish to pass up such and opportunity.

One more thing. Not only is He Able, and Willing, He is also Worthy of Worship. The more we grasp His greatness and the more we understand His love; the more naturally we will worship.

We will see in the weeks to come that that the author of Hebrews shows us again and again that Jesus is superior to all other ways of trying to find and reach God. No one and no thing comes close to Him. He alone is worthy of worship. He alone is worth following. And not only worth following, He is worth following with every ounce of strength we possess.

And you can be sure of this: the more you worship and adore Him . . . the bigger He will seem.

[1] R. Kent Hughes Hebrews Vol. 1: Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway 1993) p. 17

 

[2] Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed., p. 136). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.

Scripture:

Hebrews 1:1-4