Wayne Gretzky, the famous, Canadian hockey player, is typically touted as “the great one.” Even if you don’t give a hoot about hockey, you can’t help but be amazed at some of the statistics he racked up. One thing that is simply amazing is that his professional hockey career spanned two decades. That alone is quite a feat.
But he has been labeled the greatest hockey player that has ever lived because there is no one who can even come close to comparing with him.
Our passage this morning continues to show the greatness of Jesus and how he is much more superior to the angels. And what we are going to look at this morning is how he is superior in terms of his Word and in terms of his Rule.
The first four verses of this chapter focus on the Word of Christ. Look at how it challenges us.
I. The word of Christ [1-4]:
It says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Now, these words are drawing from the previous passage. Remember what Mark talked about last week. Mark reminded us that Jesus is greater than angels. And since this is so, how much more important is it for us to take heed to the things he has said?
This is developed more in the following verses. Verse 2 says, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable.” Now he’s talking here about the OT law. The Jewish tradition believed that angels assisted in the process of delivering the law to Moses when he was atop Mount Sinai. And he goes on to say that every transgression of that law received a just retribution. In other words, that law was important, and if you broke it, that was a bad thing. You’d have to be punished if you did.
Now, he’s making an argument from the lesser to the greater. You have to understand it like this: if the Old Testament law was in fact true having come from God by his angels, and it was important to listen to it, how much more important is it to listen to the words of Christ? Christ reveals the truth in a fuller and more precise manner. He has more authority than those angels who gave you the law. So how much more attentive should we be to the words that he speaks and to the gospel that he reveals?
Let me give you a little comparison. You moms speak to your kids each day, and what you say is true. And your kids need to listen carefully to what you say because what you say is important and you have a great deal of authority. Your kids would get in trouble if they didn’t listen to you, right? But what if your dad says something? That should carry more weight. Why? It’s because he’s got more authority. He’s the head of the house and so what he says should be considered even more weighty than what mom says. Even if he says the same thing, it still that much more significant because of his office.
That’s what the writer here is saying. What the angels said in the OT is important. But what Christ says requires even more reverence of us.
And think about how great it is. It is not like what Christ says is so terrible. Look at verse three. It says, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” That’s summarizing the essence of Christ’s message. What is it that he talked about? What words did he offer? He spoke of salvation! He proclaimed himself to be the way to the father and to everlasting life! Why would we ever want to ignore it?
I had a good illustration of this at the fair this past week. One day I was walking through the area where all the concession stands are lined up. And there was one concessionaire who was handing out free samples. I walked over and took one. I have to say that it was downright unbelievable! As soon as I put that in my mouth I understood why he was handing out the free samples. I’ve never experienced this before, but as soon as it touched my pallet, I wanted to turn around and go buy some. It was absolutely exquisite.
But you know what? Many people passed it on by. Even though it was so succulent, even though it was absolutely free, many people ignored the man and did not take him up on his offer.
What Jesus Christ offers though, is so much greater. He offers “so great a salvation.” He offers you the chance to be reconciled to God and life forever more with Him. He offers you a new body and eternal joy.
Does this not then obligate us to “pay much closer attention” to the words that he has spoken.
The first four verses which we have just looked at are important words. But they are something of a tangent to the author’s argument. He paused in those verses to give an important application and remind us how important it is to heed Christ’s word. But in verse 5 he returns to the main argument, that of showing how Christ is superior to the angels.
And I entitle this part “the rule of Christ.”
II. The rule of Christ [5-9]
That’s because he proceeds to talk about the dominion Christ has by virtue of his manhood. Last time we were together Mark spoke about Christ’s deity. We saw that Christ was superior to the angels because he was “very God of very God.” If there is one who is greater than angels, it is God, right?
Well, here in this portion of the Scripture the author shows how man is superior to the angels. You remember that in the opening chapter of Genesis God vested Adam with sovereignty over all the creation. He charged Adam to go and take dominion of the world that he had made.
And Psalm 8, the psalm that is quoted here in verses 6-8, deals with that creational mandate. It says, “What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything under his feet.”
Now, follow this line of argumentation: God made man his vice regent. Man was to rule and to subdue God’s creation. Well, angels are a part of that creation. So, even despite being “lower than the angels” comparatively speaking, man has been crowned with the honor of ruling even angels.
So no matter how great angels may be, God has put us in a position over them.
This past week we were at the fair and my family and I got to see one of the horse shows. It was fun to see, especially the draft horses. You can’t help but stand in awe of these beasts simply for the sake of their sheer size. They are behemoths. And they were majestic ones at that because they were all decked out. They came prancing in with their ribbons and bells and shining silver over their harnesses. The horses were adorned in such a way that they looked like they were ready to wisk a princess away to the ball.
But you know, it wasn’t the horse who got the blue ribbon. The ribbon went to the horse’s driver. His master might have been less majestic and much “lower” in terms of his strength, but he had dominion over the horse. So he was the greater one.
That’s how we view angels too. Even though we are “made lower than the angels”—even though we have less strength and less majesty than angels, we still have superiority by virtue of our dominion over them.
This of course is especially true when it comes to Christ’s superiority over the angels. Christ was man, so he is superior.
But you’ll notice that the passage goes on to talk about Christ’s redemptive work. It says, “but we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.”
Now, this is pointing out that Jesus is not just a man, but he is the fairest among men. He is the most supreme among the angels because he is the most supreme among men. Why is that? It is because of what he did to redeem them. He suffered and died in our place so that we may have eternal life. And the one who dies on behalf of another is most certainly the greatest by comparison.
This past week the Los Angeles Times reported that President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to two men who fought in Vietnam. Unfortunately, one of the men was not able to be present in the ceremony. Army Spc. Donald Sloat died in action in January of 1970. While patrolling an area the lead soldier tripped a hand grenade booby trap. The grenade rolled to the feet of Sloat. He bent down, initially intending to throw it away. But he realized there was no time for that. Knowing it was about to explode he threw himself upon it to protect the other three men who were on patrol with him.
Who was the greatest among those men? Which one of them deserved the distinguished Metal of Honor? It was the one who died in the place of the others.
In the same way Jesus is greatest among men. For he threw himself in the path of God’s wrath and took upon himself the curse of sin and death. And since he absorbed it on behalf of his people, he has the highest honors among us.
And what angel can begin to compare with that? An angel might be able to bring us a message from the Lord, but not one of them has done anything to repair our relationship with the Lord. And that is why he is vastly superior.
We might close by simply asking again the question that is found in verse 3: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” It is a great salvation. And all that is said here does show how foolish it would be to neglect it.
RA Torry preached what is one of my most favorite sermons on this verse. He does a great job of talking about what it means to neglect so great a salvation. In that message he reminds us what a great salvation it is. But he presses upon his audience the importance of believing and receiving Christ words. Torry rightly understood that there were many people who put off turning to Christ. They say, “Ahh, I’ll do it later.” He says that they are neglecting this salvation.
Torry then told the story of a news reporter from the Minneapolis Tribune who was caught in a burning building. The reporter heard that a fire had broken out a couple floors down. But instead of evacuating the building, he chose to stay in it and give reports. Every few minutes he would send a telegraph out to describe the state of the fire. The fire came to the second floor, but he did not leave. The fire came to the third floor, but he stayed right at his post. The fire escape beckoned for him, but he demurred. The fire came to the fifth floor, the floor that he was on, and finally he decided to escape. Unfortunately, it was too late. The fire had engulfed the fire escape. He decided to climb out his window, as it was the only available option. As the fires began to consume his office he sought further refuge by the wires that ran between the buildings. He thought that he might get to safety if he went hand over hand by it.. The people below gasped and pointed at the man’s perilous condition, until finally the inevitable happened. It was too much to hang on, and he tumbled to his death. All of this because of his neglect.
Men and women, you are in a burning building tonight, you are in a doomed world; but, thank GOD, there is a way of escape, and one way only, in CHRIST JESUS. No one knows how long that way will be left open. But I beg of you, do not neglect it, and then when it is too late lay hold on some poor wire of lame philosophy, and go a little way, and then let go and plunge, not six stories down, but on and on and on the awful unfathomable depths of the gulf of despair. Men and women, turn to CHRIST to-night!
Torry’s words still ring true today. May you see how great a salvation Christ offers and may you not neglect a single word of it.
 Christine Mai-Duc, Metal of Honor Awarded, Los Angeles Times. September 15, 2014
My wife and I have been watching the story of Gabby Douglas as of late. It is a movie about the girl who became the first black gymnast to win the Individual All-Around Championship at the Olympics.
The flick seeks to capture not just Gabby’s natural talent, but the drive that characterized her life’s ambition.
Part of her drive involved linking up with the right coach. Gabby understood that her Olympic aspirations required her to have the best coach possible. She knew that the coach at her local gym could not suffice. She needed someone greater. She needed to study under and follow one who was unparalleled in his knowledge and ability to lead. She found it in a man named Liang Chow. Chow was groomed by China’s Communistic forces from a very early age to be a stellar gymnast. He excelled in the sport and his expertise made him one of the top coaches in the land.
Gabby became relentless in her pursuit of him. She wanted that coach, and no other would do. Her mother would find pictures of him cut from magazines posted around the house. She hounded her mother to attend one of his seminars. Her desire was of such intense proportions that that she would end up arguing with her mother about being able to go off to train at his elite training facility!
Finally, the opportunity came. The door was opened so that she could move to Iowa to sit under Chow’s tutelage. She now was able to cast off the inferior leader she had and embrace the one who was superior
Again, I recognize that her desire might not have been completely godly. But Gabby Douglass’ ambitions are certainly indicative of how we ought to live as Christians. Our life’s ambition and relentless goal ought to be to follow Jesus Christ. We should settle for no other leader because all others are inferior. Instead, our chief aim in life ought to be to follow the One who is Supreme and higher than any other religion or religious guru.
That I believe is the point even of the book that we are beginning to study. The book of Hebrews seeks to set forth the supremacy of Christ. We don’t know who the author is exactly. There is a strong tradition that it is Paul (and if I sometimes slip and say that, please pardon me). But his whole intent in writing this book is to convince Jewish believers that they should continue to follow Christ and not shrink back to their old Jewish ways. And the way he seeks to persuade them is by showing them that Judaism is wildly inferior because Christ is supreme.
Even in this introductory passage this note is sounded. We see here in this passage that Christ is supreme in two ways. He is supreme by virtue of the revelation that he gives and the redemption that he accomplishes.
This epistle commences with some of the most dramatic words of all the New Testament. It points out that Christ is the supreme form of revelation that God has given us.
I. God’s Revealer
It says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
The writer is drawing a distinction between the revelation given to us in the OT and the revelation that we have in the person of Jesus Christ. And the point is that the revelation we have in Christ is greater.
You may notice that it hinges on that word “but.” “Long ago and in many ways God spoke, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
Imagine we were at a restaurant. You might ask me what you should eat. I might say, “Well, they have pancakes and waffles and lots of other things, but now they have bacon.” What might you infer from that? You would understand that I’m drawing a contrast. Yes, this stuff is yummy and all, but it pales in comparison to the bacon! The bacon is somehow superior.
That’s what the writer is doing here in this passage. He’s saying that we are to prefer Christ because the revelation we have in him far surpasses what God gave us in the OT.
Now, understand how significant this is. If there was one thing that meant a lot to the Jewish people of ancient times it was the sacred word of God. They meticulously copied and it was highly treasured because it was so valuable to them. They say that if one of the Rabbi’s found a mistake on a page that had been copied by one of the scribes, they would tear the whole page out. That is how sacred it was to them.
Even today in Jewish synagogues they give high honors to the scrolls that they have. As part of my Hebrew classes in Seminary we went and sat in on a Jewish synagogue service and I got to witness this. First of all, they have a special little closet at the front of the synagogue where the scrolls are kept. [It is actually called an “ark”!] And at the beginning of a synagogue services the Rabbi will go up and take the scrolls from that closet. Then they will form a line and have a little parade all around their little sanctuary. They carry the scrolls around and people dance and sing and some will even blow kisses to the scrolls.
That’s how prized the Old Testament is to them. The words of Moses, the visions of Ezekiel, the records of Abraham and all the other ways that God spoke to them are the highly prized treasures to them.
And they should be similarly prized by us because these are the sacred words of God. After all, it is God’s very speech! The Holy Spirit is responsible for giving us these things. The NT even says that “All Scripture is God breathed.” We know that the voice of God echoes down through these pages.
But don’t be mistaken, the revelation given to us in the Old Testament is but a chirping of a small bird in comparison to the gospel.
Christ provides for us the fullest and most comprehensive revelation of truth that we can ever possibly possess. So yes, we have great things in the Old Testament. Wonderful things came through those prophets and patriarchs. But Christ provides us with so much more!
Why? Well, we are told in verse 3. It says that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” This is showing you why Christ is superior to the Old Testament. And it is essentially saying that Christ, as the second person of the Trinity, gives you as much an understanding of God as you can get.
Now, when it says “the radiance of God’s glory” I think that the author is alluding to the Shekinah glory—the glory cloud, that God sometimes revealed himself in in the OT.
In the Old Testament there is the story about Moses and how he spoke to God face to face on Mt. Saini. When he came down the mountain it says that his face was luminescent, so much so that the Israelites wanted him to put a veil over his head. The glory of God had done something to him. The brightness of God’s glory had somehow rubbed off on him.
That brightness—that radiance, came directly from God. And here it is saying that Jesus is that radiance.
Another way to think of it is to compare it to the sun. We never have really seen the sun. We have only seen the radiance of the sun. It is said that it takes about 18 minutes for the sun’s rays to get to the earth. So what we are looking at is not the sun, because it isn’t even there. It has moved on. What we are seeing is the radiance of the sun. But do we know what the sun is? Sure we do. We’ve seen its radiance, and we know there is something similar there.
That’s how it is with Christ. Christ is to the Father what the rays are to the Sun. And he gives us a perfect understanding of all of the splendor and brilliance that characterizes the Father.
The passage goes on to say that Jesus is the “exact imprint of his nature.” This is a reference to stamping. I remember my wife’s roommate in college had a signet ring. I had a chance to see her seal a letter with it. She first melted a bit of red wax onto an envelop. Then she took that signet and pushed it into the warm, soft wax. When she pulled it off her initials had been stamped onto that letter. What was found in that wax was the exact imprint of the signet.
If this were written today, the author might have used the imagery of a photo. What is a photo but an exact representation of someone. Now, if you were to look at a picture of me, would you be looking at me? No. You’d be looking at a picture of me. But would you know what I was like? Unfortunately, you would. That’s because you’ve seen the exact imprint of me in that photo.
Here again you see the fullness of the revelation that we have in Christ. Christ is so closely identified with the Father—he is so similar in character and essence—that if you see Christ, you see the Father. And there is no prophet or prophet’s utterance that can compare to that.
And this is one of the reasons why I personally don’t believe in the continuation of things like prophecy or the miraculous gifts of tongues and such. I know that Mark mentioned a couple weeks ago that he does believe in a limited degree of continuation on these things, and I respect that. And, certainly, this is one of those areas where we have charity and debate.
But I personally don’t believe you need them. If we have the fullest possible revelation, why would we need anything more? If God has spoken in the fullest and most comprehensive way that he can (i.e. in his Son) then what more needs to be said?
Whether or not you are a cessationist or not is something of an aside though. What we all can agree on is what is said here: Christ, as the Son of God, is the supreme revealer of God. And since he is so, we ought to acknowledge him as the supreme one in our lives.
But, as our passage notes, his supremacy is not only found in his being God’s revealer, his supremacy is also found in the fact that he is also God’s redeemer.
II. God’s Redeemer
Look at verse 3 again. In the middle of that verse it says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
This is pointing us further past his nature to his work of redemption. Jesus Christ came into the world and by his death and resurrection made “purification for sins.”
Later on in our study we’ll talk about how the blood of bulls and goats could not atone for sin. Since it was man who sinned, it was man who needed to be punished. It would be like one of your children getting in trouble and, as a punishment, you grounded one of your kid’s pet hamsters or one of their stuffed animals. If you did that, something wouldn’t be right about it, would it?
That’s how it is with our standing before God. It was man who sinned and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament simply didn’t do justice to the punishment that was required. Every time a priest would put his hands on the head of that goat to signal the transfer of his sin to it, it was something of an empty act. Yes, he needed that purification. If we are going to escape God’s wrath, we need a substitute. But an animal can’t give it to us.
If you are visiting with us today we want you to know that this is the good news of our religion. Jesus Christ died in order that that we might be cleansed from the guilt of our sin. Jesus on the cross took upon himself the guilt of our sin. Our uncleanness was imputed (or transferred) to him. And the purity of his life which he had by virtue of his sinless-ness, is given to him. And when we put our faith in him, he promises us that purity. When we turn to him He takes away our sin and makes us clean.
And if you are here today and want to have eternal life, you need to recognize that you need this purification. You need to recognize that you’ve sinned against God and are unclean because of it. And what you must do is turn from that life of sin and trust Christ. If you do that, you will have eternal life.
That’s what Christ came to do. He came to make purification for sin. And if you think about it, that, in and of itself, really makes him the supreme one. He was willing to give his life up so that you could be cleansed from sin. That’s quite a God!
May 21, 1946 was something of an infamous day in the development of the nuclear bomb. There in the Los Alamos lab a young and daring scientist named Louis Slotin was carrying out a necessary experiment in preparation for the atomic test to be conducted in the waters of the South Pacific.
In Planet In Rebellion, George Vandeman wrote: “He had successfully performed such an experiment many times before. In his effort to determine the amount of U-235 necessary for a chain reaction—scientists call it the critical mass—he would push two hemispheres of uranium together. Then, just as the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver, thus instantly stopping the chain reaction.
But that day, just as the material became critical, the screwdriver slipped! The hemispheres of uranium came too close together. Instantly the room was filled with a dazzling bluish haze. Young Louis Slotin, instead of ducking and thereby possibly saving himself, tore the two hemispheres apart with his hands and thus interrupted the chain reaction.
By this instant, self-forgetful daring, he saved the lives of the seven other persons in the room. . . As he waited for the car that was to take him to the hospital, he said quietly to his companion, ‘You’ll come through all right. But I haven’t the faintest chance myself.’ It was only too true. Nine days later he died in agony.
There is no doubt who was the greatest of all the men in that room that day. No doubt they were all exceptional scientists, perhaps the most elite in the field. But, in the eyes of those who lived, the one who endured the fateful blast of radiation was the superior.
Certainly, that is what makes the Lord Jesus the most supreme. He did what no sacrificial animal could do. He took the fateful blast of God’s curse and died in our place.
But that’s not the only thing he did. It says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high and became superior to even the angels.”
This reminds us, of course, that Jesus’ life did not end in death. No, he rose again and sat down at the right hand of God. Our text goes on to say that this position that he holds verifies the fact that he is superior to even the angels.
In the eyes of the Hebrew people, angels were the highest creatures God had ever created. More will be said, I’m sure, about angels next time. But here you can just think about how great the angels are. A number of years ago it was popular to talk about angels and write books about angels. Everybody was on an angel high, it seemed. (Kind of like today’s stories about kids taking trips to heaven)
And there is reason to be curious about them. Angels are pretty incredible beings. They are celestial in nature and have immense power. They have the ability to fly; they are immortal beings. More than that, they are God’s messengers; his elite forces! That make them pretty significant creatures!
But even these angels, awesome as they are, are still subject to Christ. And maybe that’s why the angel craze was only a passing fad. You just can’t get any greater than Jesus.
And the implied question here is this, “If Jesus is that great, then does it not follow that you should serve him?”
It is said to be the fastest professional boxing match in history. James Peau, aka Jimmy Thunder, took out his opponent, Crawford Grimsley, in only 1.7 seconds. Of course, it was the very first punch. The bell had no sooner rang and Grimsley was lying on his back struggling for consciousness.
You might say that the writer of this book might have been Jimmy Thunder. No sooner has this book begun than you have the decisive knock out punch. What more can a Jewish person say? Jesus is greater than the prophets! Jesus is greater than all the angels!
Who then ought we to worship and follow?
 The Westminster Confession I.1 also sites this passage as a proof for the cessation of revelation.
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