Why is Jesus Better? Seven Reasons - Hebrews 1:1-4
Hebrews #2 - Why is Jesus Better? Seven Reasons
If you’ve ever wondered why Bridgeway Church exists, it isn’t so that those who don’t play golf might have something to occupy their time on a Sunday morning. Our mission statement is clear and to the point: We exist to exalt Christ in the City, through Gospel-centered Worship, Discipleship, Community, and Mission. But why? Why is it our individual and collective mission to exalt Christ? Why is it that we don’t make it our primary collective aim to promote brotherly love or compassion or economic justice or peace? After all, those are all excellent and much-needed virtues. What makes Jesus Christ so special that he should be elevated as preeminent in our thoughts, our hearts, our activities, and our energy as a local church?
Make no mistake about the importance of this question. We aren’t talking about a decision on the level of which fraternity or sorority you pledge at college. This isn’t like deciding to support the Thunder as your favorite NBA team. As significant as your vote for a Presidential candidate may be, it pales in comparison with what you ultimately do with this person who is described in Hebrews 1:1-4. On your response to this person hangs suspended heaven and hell.
Let me take a brief moment here at the start and speak directly to anyone present, or anyone who will later hear me through our sermon podcast, who is straddling the fence on what to believe about and do in response to the claims of the Bible concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Please understand that I can’t persuade you of the truth of these statements about Jesus. All I can do, to the best of my ability, is to explain what they mean. I can paint a picture of who he is and what he has done, but in the final analysis the Holy Spirit has to give you eyes to see and a heart to believe. My aim today, then, is to try to make sense of what our author says and to encourage you to think and ponder and pray about whether you find Jesus to be, in actual factual reality, what this passage claims for him.
As for the Christians present today, I hope your confidence and faith in the identity and accomplishments of Jesus Christ are enlarged and intensified and that, as a result, your love and admiration for him and your commitment to follow, serve, and worship him grow ever more passionate and pointed.
One more thing. I introduced the book of Hebrews last week under the heading, Jesus is Better. That is the overall theme of this book. Jesus is better than all that preceded him in the Old Testament. What Jesus offers men and women is better than anything anyone else can possibly imagine. This passage today, like so many others in Hebrews, tells us why. It gives us reasons why Jesus is better. And there are seven of them.
(1) Jesus has been appointed the heir of all things (v. 2b)
At the conclusion of Paul’s hymn of praise to Christ in Colossians 1, the apostle says that “all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). He said much the same in Romans 11:36, declaring: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To be him be glory forever. Amen.”
What does it mean to say that everything that exists exists “for” Christ and is “to” Christ? These prepositions are brief summary statements of what the author of Hebrews has in mind when he says that Jesus is the “heir” of all things.
In all likelihood, everyone here today either already has or someday will inherit something. It may be a lot or it may be very little. But for you to become an heir someone else has to die. You take possession of something previously not your own when someone writes you into their will and then passes away. But we can’t read this passage in those terms. Our author has something different in mind.
It has been the purpose of God the Father from eternity past that God the Son should inherit all things. That doesn’t mean the Father has to die for his Son to inherit all things. God is eternal and cannot die. Furthermore, it certainly doesn’t appear at present that Jesus owns it all. But in the end, when Christ returns to this earth, he will take visible ownership of everything. Everything will be subject to his disposal, whether land or sea or stars or bugs or gold or dirt or demons or sub-atomic particles or books or individual human beings. Everything will be his, not just in title but in actual reality.
Take but one example. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus can say this because the earth will be his to give to whomever he pleases. In fact, we will be co-heirs with Christ of all things. Paul wrote in Romans 8:16-17a, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” That’s stunning! Christ inherits everything and by grace makes us co-heirs together with him that we might share in his possession of and rule over the whole of creation.
How does it affect you to think that everything you are and own belongs to Jesus? Should that not greatly transform how we make use of what we have: our time, our possessions, our wealth, our opportunities, our influence? This is who Jesus is: the heir and owner and Lord over all things.
(2) Jesus is the one through whom God created the world (v. 2c)
And of course it only makes sense that he should inherit everything. After all, he created everything! This universe of physical and spiritual reality is not eternal. There was a time when there was nothing except God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Until such time as the Father said to the Son, “Say it. Do it.” And the Son said: “Be!” And it was done!
The word translated “worlds” is literally “the ages” (pl.). It points to all that exists in the world under the conditions of time. He specifically has in mind the many eras and epochs and ages of time and history and all that occurs and everything that exists within them.
God the Son, who became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, created the whole universe of time and space and every single solitary particle, molecule, atom, quark, proton, neutron, electron, and neutrino that is. Contrast this with a worker on the assembly line at Ford Motor company in Detroit. My guess is that when a vehicle rolls off the line he might be inclined to say, with a measure of pride, “I created that!” But the fact is, he only assembled it. Someone else made the metal and plastic and leather and hoses and glass and rubber that together constitute the many parts of that vehicle.
But Jesus created everything! He didn’t merely assemble the parts of what already existed. He called into being out of nothing everything that is or ever will be. Every piece and particle of raw material, however large and imposing or tiny and invisible, he created.
This again is what Paul had in mind in Romans 11:36 when he declared, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” Again, in Colossians 1:16 we read, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”
(3) Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God (v. 3a)
Who is it that has been appointed the heir of all things? Who is it that created everything that is? Who is it that upholds all things by his powerful word and made purification for sin and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Answer: He is the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his character.
Let’s take the first of these: “he is the radiance of the glory of God.”
It’s been a long and dreary winter and the clouds have obscured our vision of the sun. But spring is just about here and most days we’ll be able to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays and gaze on their brilliance. The sun cannot exist without the emission of its rays. The rays exist to extend the power and brightness and heat of the sun. The sun’s rays are the sun’s glory shining forth. We see and experience the sun through the rays. The rays are the sun shining.
Of course, all analogies with nature are limited and eventually break down, but the point here is that Jesus radiates the very nature and glory of God. To see him is to see God. To ask the question, What is God like? can only be answered by looking at the glory and brilliance revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. The glory of God is in the Son and the Son is that glory shining forth.
The glory of God finds its perfect expression in the Son as its effulgence.
(4) Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature (v. 3b)
But he is yet more! The words translated “exact imprint” refer to an engraved character or impress made by a die or a seal, as, for example, on a coin. Jesus is the perfect, personal imprint of God! Whatever God is can be seen and touched and known and enjoyed in Jesus. Jesus is God made visible. You need never again wonder what God thinks or what is important to him or what he loves or hates. Just look at and listen to Jesus!
(5) Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power (v. 3c)
One of the most destructive heresies the church has battled is known as Deism. Deism emerged in the 17th century and eventually made its way to America. The Deists argued that once God created the universe and everything within it, he in essence packed up his bags and left town. Or more accurately he left the universe. He wound up the world like a gigantic clock and now simply lets it run by its own power. He does not intervene to perform miracles. He does not providentially direct the affairs of mankind. He does not invade our world to answer our prayers. He is distant and remote and altogether uninvolved in the affairs of mankind.
That’s not what the Bible teaches! Again, we’ve already seen this in Romans 11:36 in the use of that glorious preposition “through” – “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” It’s important to understand the difference between creation, preservation, and providence. In creation, Christ calls all things into existence out of nothing. In preservation, Christ sustains all things in existence. This is what Colossians 1:17 means when it says that “in him all things hold together.” But in providence, he takes all that he has created and is currently preserving and directs it toward its proper end and conclusion.
The idea here, then, is not that Christ passively bears up or holds up in providing support for the universe, as if he were like the mythological Atlas who bears up the weight of the world on his shoulders. Rather, he “carries along” everything to its appointed goal. The notion of direction and purpose is involved. He organizes, orchestrates, and orders all things so that they achieve what God created them for. And please note that the word translated “universe” (ESV) is actually “all things” in the original text. It is exhaustive in its scope and all-inclusive in its range. Nothing is exempt. Every “thing,” whether great or small, whether important or mundane, is being upheld and carried along by the risen Christ to its appointed goal.
And he does this by the “word of his power” or by his “powerful word”. All this to say that he merely speaks and the power generated by his word sustains and upholds and gives direction and purpose to everything! Your kidneys and pancreas and freckles and flesh and the chair on which you sit and the ground beneath your feet and the air you breathe and the shirt on your back and the car which you drive and the soccer ball you kick and the love that you feel and the joy you experience and the people next to you this morning have all been created by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and are all upheld in existence by him such that if he were for a mere millisecond to withdraw his power everything would literally vaporize. And all this, and everything else, is subject to his sovereign authority and is being directed and orchestrated to reach its God-ordained end.
What we are seeing here is utterly contrary to all modern scientific thought. To the atheistic naturalist, material existence or physical stuff is the first, foundational, and final reality in the universe. The only thing that ultimately we can know or trust is what can be seen or felt or smelled or heard. Physical stuff, so they tell us, is the measure of all things real.
But the author of Hebrews says otherwise. He says that the ultimate and foundational reality of existence is Jesus Christ and his powerful, creative, sustaining, providential Word. And the only reason there even is a physical reality to be touched and tasted and seen and enjoyed is because Christ made it and upholds it in being.
Perhaps we should pause and catch our breath.
(6) Jesus made purification for sins (v. 3d)
We could spend an entire sermon on this one statement alone, but let’s briefly note several things. First, “he” made purification for sins. The forgiveness that we experience isn’t the product of some natural law built into the physical creation. And it wasn’t an angel who dealt with our sins. No mathematical formula or philosophical theory could accomplish this. Jesus did it. And what did he do?
He made purification for sins. Note the past tense: “made”. He isn’t “making” purification now. It’s not as if each time you mess up and commit some sin that Jesus has to rush back into the scene and provide yet another sacrifice. Nor does it say that he “will” make purification, as if we are left hanging and wondering if our sins will be among those that are purified. No. He “made” purification: this is finished, final, once-for-all atonement. Everything required by an infinitely holy God to overcome and remove the barrier that your sin had created between you and him has been done. It’s over. It only remains for you to repent and believe it and lay hold of Christ by faith.
And it was from our “sin” that we needed purification. Jesus didn’t come to bail us out of financial distress. He didn’t come to provide a curriculum of study to improve our education. He didn’t come to articulate a psychological formula that would help us feel better about ourselves. Financial distress and ignorance and low self-esteem are not our greatest problem. The single greatest threat to the well-being of our souls now and for eternity is our sin: our unbelief, our idolatrous trust in things other than God, our self-indulgent efforts to make life work without him, our prideful arrogance in thinking that we can make it on our own and don’t need anyone else’s assistance.
Our sin has defiled our souls. It has soiled our hearts. It has rendered us morally filthy and unclean in the sight of an infinitely beautiful and holy and righteous God. And the one thing we needed most to be done has been done fully and finally by Jesus: by the shedding of his blood on a cross in the place of sinners he has rendered them pure and clean. He has done everything necessary to make it possible for them to stand before God guiltless, righteous, pure, and holy.
Some mistakenly think along these lines: “I sinned a whole lot before I came to know and trust Christ. I lived a miserably rebellious life of immorality and self-indulgence. And it’s so good to be assured that the guilt of all my past sins has been wiped clean. But I’m still a bit concerned about tomorrow and next week and ten years from now. Will Jesus be there to cleanse those sins too?” Listen: all your sin, past, present, and future has been purified by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Yes, that sin you committed 12 years ago and that sin you’ll commit 26 years down the road. Christ died for them all. The penalty has been paid.
This, by the way, is the gospel! The gospel is the simple but breathtaking truth that Jesus Christ has provided for sinners a perfect sacrifice for sin that will cleanse and purify them and provide for them a righteousness in which they can stand.
Let the author of Hebrews forever seal this truth on your soul:
“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27).
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:24-26).
And what did he do once this task was complete?
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).
Which brings us to our seventh and final reason why Jesus is better . . .
(7) Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty of high (v. 3e)
If you could somehow be taken back in time to the period of the Old Covenant and granted a guided tour through the Tabernacle (which, by the way, would never have happened!), you would undoubtedly have taken your I-Phone, in order to take pictures. The first thing you would have noticed is the altar of burnt offering. After taking a picture of it, you would have moved on to the laver and the golden candlestick, again taking a photo of each as you made your way closer and closer to the Holy of Holies. Another snapshot of the table of showbread and the altar of incense and finally of the Ark of the Covenant itself.
By now you might be quite tired and in need of a break. So you look around for a chair. But there is none. Much to your dismay, you discover that nowhere in the Tabernacle is there any place where one might sit down. And then you suddenly remember Hebrews 10:11-14 –
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:11-14).
The same truth is stated here in Hebrews 1:3, that after Jesus made purification for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
What significance is there in this seemingly simple declaration? Let me briefly mention three things.
First, to be seated in this way is to be enthroned. It is a declaration that Jesus Christ is King over all things and all people. He reigns in power and royal supremacy over all nations, armies, demons, presidents, the weather, your life and my life. If this world seems to you to be out of control, I would only remind you that he who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” also has now been “seated” at the right hand of God and he rules unchallenged.
Second, as we know from numerous texts in the Old Testament, to be seated at someone’s “right hand” is to be in a position of special honor and privilege (1 Kings 2:19). The Lord’s right hand points to favor (Ps. 80:18; Jer. 22:24), victory (Ps. 20:6; 44:3; Isa. 41:10), and power (Exod. 15:6; Ps. 89:13; Isa. 48:13).
Third, and most important of all, after making purification, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God as a sign of the sufficiency and finality of his atoning sacrifice. Those priests of the Old Covenant remained standing because their work was never finished. Their sacrifices could never fully and finally take away sin. Jesus, on the other hand, has offered a single sacrifice in the giving of himself on the cross and by doing so has fully and finally and forever made purification for your sins. So, appropriately, he sat down!
Here is what this means for you today who have put your trust in Jesus Christ.
- It means that you need never again live in fear that your sins will bring you into eternal judgment.
- It means that you need never again live in fear of death, because leaving this life leads you into eternal fellowship and intimacy with God in the next.
- It means that you need never worry that anything or anyone can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
- It means that you need never again be crippled by guilt and shame for all the ways in which you have failed others and sinned against God.
- It means that you need never again strive and strain and work and labor to win God’s favor and approval.
- It means that you need never again live in anxiety and fear about whether you’ve done enough to make atonement for your shortcomings and your sins.
- It means you need never again wonder whether, when you stand in God’s presence on the day of judgment, you will be properly prepared and thus find acceptance with your Creator.
- It means that you need never again to live in conformity with someone’s expectations of you or in accordance with the rules they have set down for you, as if by doing so you might become truly spiritual and thus acceptable not only to them but also to God. Never again!
- It means that you can now and forever breathe a deep sigh of relief and be filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory knowing that a perfect sacrifice for your sins has been offered and that all your guilt, yesterday, today, and forever has been wiped completely clean and that by faith in Jesus alone you stand clothed in his righteousness.
That’s what it means to say that this one who is the heir of all things, through whom all things were created, sat down at the right hand of God. That’s what it means to say that this one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature sat down at the right hand of God. That’s what it means to say that this one who upholds all things by his powerful word, after making purification for your sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high!