Throughout the book of Hebrews we have learned a good deal about God’s holiness. The sobriety of the warnings, the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice should remind us that God is a consuming fire. Yet I hope we have also learned much about God’s love.
If you are like me you sometimes find it difficult to say good bye to your favorite piece of clothing. I recently had to part with a tee shirt. It was a shirt from my daughter’s soccer league. Since my girls have played a lot of soccer, I have a thousand of these shirts. But this one was special.
Spring has sprung. The grass has become green, the trees are sprouting leaves, and people are out exercising in their underwear.
In my neighborhood I see a lot of runners because I’m not too far from the college or high school. And it seems that there are always a lot of people streaking down my street.
I know that a lot of this is because our society doesn't have an intelligent understanding of modesty. With all the sexual confusion that’s going on in our culture people don’t really understand that running in what amounts to the nude is not really all that appropriate.
I understand what they are thinking though. They are athletes. The want to improve and cut off as much time from their run as possible. They want their workout to be as good as it can be. So they are willing to toss lay aside the shirt and really any other loose hanging clothing that might hinder their performance.
“Undie running” (as I call it) isn’t something that’s new though. Like most fashion faux pas it’s just making a comeback. Running in the nude was something that was quite common in the Roman empire. Back then their competitions had the same mentality that they do today: Let’s get rid of as much as possible so that we don’t have anything that keeps us from finishing strong.
Even though Christians didn’t typically participate in those sports, for reason of the immodesty of the event, Christians certainly knew the practice. It was common knowledge that people ran this way.
Because everyone was familiar with this tactic the author of the book of Hebrews made a point of using the imagery. In this passage he compares Christianity to a race. And in the first verse he says that we need to be like those runners and “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.”
The author of course isn’t talking about stripping off our clothes. He’s talking about anything that might obstruct our faith and keep us from persevering to the end. Whatever might be an impediment to our finishing the race of faith needs to be jettisoned.
Of course, when it comes to our faith there can be a lot of things that get in our way and make us want to quit. It could be your vanity. It might be your pride. For some people it is wealth or maybe your desire to have people respect you. All these things can make us want to quit on Christ.
Probably, if we are keeping things in context, the sin that so easily entangles is most likely the sin of unbelief. That’s what these Hebrews are dealing with, isn’t it? They’re scared. They’re being persecuted and they’re starting to hedge their bets. It’s this unbelief that arises out of fear or the doubts that have really begun to entangle them. And they’re starting to question whether they can finish this race.
But the author writes this to tell us that these doubts and fears need to be chucked. We shouldn’t give up. Just like a professional athlete we need to battle through all the way to the finish line.
And in this passage he gives us every motivation to throttle through the finish line. Sometimes runners need a little extra motivation to keep going. And so, like a good coach the author is seeking to provide us with the inspiration we need to persevere. He rallies our faith by reminding us that we have every encrouagement that we need to perservere in the race of faith.
You might even say that he changes the question. We might be asking, “How can I win this race?” But he changes it to “How can you not win this race?”
How can you not win the race given your history?
I. The encouragement of our history 
Our passage begins by placing us in a stadium. It says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
The author wants the full weight of all the figures from redemptive history to rest upon our hearts. He wants us to really consider the encouragement that we should gain from their testimonies.
You know, when an athlete enters into an arena he is surrounded by the throngs of cheering fans. And these fans become a means of encouragement to the athlete. That’s why football players often stand on the sidelines and try to whip up the crowds. They get high off that and it stimulates them to greater performance.
But of course, our encouragement doesn’t come from their whooping and hollering. Athletes get their boost from all the crowd’s hoopla. That’s not what is going on here. It’s not like Gideon is waving his terrible towel or that Sampson is waving a big foam #1 finger for you. Your encouragement comes from who these people were and what they pointed to.
You will notice that it says “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The word witness is the word martereo, from whence we get the word “martyr.” But what is a martyr? It’s a person who testifies to another. And that’s where our encouragement comes from. These people were witnesses. They point to the greatness of God and His grace.
We call chapter 11 “the Hall of Faith.” And we equate it with history’s greatest athletes who have been inducted into the “Hall of Fame.” But if you think about it, Hebrews 11 is a record of a bunch of flunkies. David was a sinner. Gideon was a nobody and self proclaimed inept leader. Moses openly admitted that he wasn’t much of a leader or speaker. Rahab, she was a prostitute! Not exactly a role model by any means.
When you look at our history and the faith these people showed, you should remember that—ultimately—these people are pointing away from themselves. They are pointing to God and how he was with them and sustained them. These people are hallmarks of faith, not because they were ideal candidates or MVP superpowers; they were weak and sinful—just like you and me. But they had a God who was greater than them and greater than their situation.
That’s the focus of our history. And our history is here to remind us that we have the same God. We should be encouraged to persevere because we have a God who is mighty to save and abounding in grace. He’s one who helps poor weak runners like us.
And I think that really leads well into the next thing that he says. After mentioning our history the author zero’s in on God’s sovereignty.
II. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty [2a]
Look at verse 2. It says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Now, as he wrote this, he could have said, “Looking unto Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” But he didn’t do that. He included a little modifier to tell us exactly who it is we are to keep our eyes on. We are to keep our eyes on the one who is sovereign over our salvation. He is the “founder and perfecter of our faith.”
A founder is one who starts something. If you found a business, you are the one who starts that business. A perfecter is one who brings it to completion. God is sovereign in our salvation because he is the one who beings our faith and the one who brings it to completion.
What I’m saying is that the author of the book of Hebrews is a Calvinist. What he says here has to do with two of the great doctrines of predestination: irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
Irresistible grace is the doctrine that God initiates our salvation. He is the founder of our faith because he is the one who first produces faith in us.
We are not able to demonstrate faith on our own. We cannot come to Jesus by our own power. The Bible describes us as dead in sin. It says that our hearts are desperately wicked and beyond cure. It says that the intentions of our thoughts are only evil all the time. There’s no one who does good; no one seeks for God.
How is it that we can then believe in God if we are so dead set against him? There’s only one way; it is if God himself intervenes. He must first change our hearts. He must make us believe.
But not only does he found our faith, he also completes it. That’s the doctrine of perseverance. Just think about it: If we were not able to initiate our salvation, however could we sustain it? If our lives are marked by sin and rebellion, how ever could we maintain our faith in Christ? There’s no way.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I am more confident of God’s hold on me than my hold on God.” That’s exactly right. If salvation was dependent on our ability to keep the faith, then we’d fall away in no time flat.
But the Bible says that the Lord perfects (or completes) our faith. He demonstrates his sovereignty in our salvation by sustaining our faith and upholding it all the way to the very end.
Once you understand this, you can understand why this is mentioned here. What an encouragement it is to know that it is not up to us to win! It’s not our power that is in view. All the power we need to persevere is found in the sovereign grace of God.
Did you see the video that went viral this past week from the University of Kansas? Each spring the U of K has an alumni football game. This year 89 year old Bryan Sperry was given the opportunity to take the pigskin the distance. And his face showed nothing but exhileration as he followed his blockers to the endzone. But of course, he could not have done it on his own. After all, he is 89 years old. The coach called in the play to give the ball to Sperry, and the defense was directed to let him pass.
This is essentially what the Lord has done for us, our sovereign has guaranteed that we shall cross the end line and has put down any foes that would seek to keep us from doing so.
Again, the question is “How can I win?” But it’s “How can we not win the race of faith?” If we learn anything from our history and from God’s sovereignty, it is that this race is in the bag.
That will become even clearer when we remember Christ’s victory.
III. We can win because of Christ’s victory [2b-3]
The main chunk of our passage focuses on Jesus and his victory over sin and death. In verse 2 it says that he “endured the cross, despising its shame.” And then in verse 3 it says “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
But notice what it says in the middle of all that. It says that Christ is “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” So sandwiched right in the middle of these two verses that talk about the painful and shameful death he experience, we have the reminder that Jesus was victorious over it all. Jesus conquered sin and death. He rose from the grave and now is seated at the highest place of honor.
You know, every athlete has a hero. They have a champion that they mimic or try to be like. In order to be the best they set before themselves another who acts as their standard and inspiration. Michael Jordan grew up aspiring to be like the basketball great Jim Thompson. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky grew up watching Gordie Howe out in the rink.
Even today you see kids out playing, they are re-enacting the moves of their favorite athletes. Their champions are always before them and they are aspiring to be like them.
That’s what is basically noted right here. We are to be focused on our champion. We are to “run the race with endurance.” But this race is to be patterned after Jesus, the one who endured the cross and endured the hostility of sinners. Our race is to be focused on the one who has conquered all the trails and suffering that life threw at him and has taken the highest ranking position in the universe.
Let’s not overlook how practical he gets here either. He says that the exalted Christ is to be that which our hearts and minds are fixed upon. We are to be “looking unto Jesus.” The work “look” is an interesting word. It means to look away from one thing and focus that attention fixedly upon another.
I’m not much of a runner, but I’ve heard that races have been won and lost by simple glances off to the side or because the runner has gotten distracted. Runners, from what I understand, are to keep their eyes fixed on the finish line. If they turn their heads to glance back or look at the crowd, which might very well cost them their victory.
He’s saying that they key to running a good race is to make sure you keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t get distracted by the things of this world or by your livelihood. Keep your focus on Jesus.
The same may be said for the word “consider” in verse 3. This word means to study attentively or maybe even “analyze.” The idea is not that you are to simply think about Jesus every now and again, but rather your mind is to be absorbed with thoughts of him.
This is something that is quite helpful. If you ever struggle with doubt—or if you ever begin to feel yourself slipping, the thing you need to do is focus on Christ and the victory that he has achieved.
Maybe you’re one whose mind sometimes gets to thinking and you wonder about all these religions in the world. And you think, “How do we know if Christianity is the right one?” Or maybe one of you young people has an opportunity to go to college. And when you get there you are faced with a professor who is an atheist and adamantly opposed to Christianity. Perhaps you start hearing some arguments and, you don’t know for sure, but they sound kind of convincing. What should you do?
Well you should come back to this: Christ endured the cross for your sin and now is at the right hand of God. That’s where you get recalibrated, that you have a Savior; that you have a God who would give his life to redeem you from sin and death.
And if you are really struggling, perhaps maybe your mind is in such a swirl that you can’t concentrate, that’s when you should avail yourself more earnestly to the Communion table. God has given you a specific way to look unto Jesus. You can literally fix your eyes upon these elements and you can study attentively the depth of his love, the pain of his sacrifice, the certainty of his grace, the reality of his promise, and the hope of his kingdom.
That’s the way you guarantee a victory in your race of faith. It’s by focusing on the encouragement that comes by the victory Christ has already achieved.
But there is one more source of encouragement. We’ve already seen that there is no possible way we can lose. We’ve got the encouragement that comes through our history, God’s sovereignty, we have the encouragement that comes through Christ’s victory, and verse 4 tells us that we have the encouragement of our security.
IV. We can win because of our relative security 
It says, “In your struggle against sin (i.e. those who sin against God by trying to keep you from finishing strong) you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
What’s he saying here? He’s saying that things are not really all that bad. They might seem bad. You might feel like you are really being pressured for your faith, but—reality check—it’s not that bad. You’ve not lost limb or life yet. There’s been no blood shed. You are still alive and well.
There’s been in the news lately the lady, I think she was a baker—she didn’t bake a cake for the homosexuals who wanted to get married. Now she’s being fined over a hundred thousand dollars. She’s been persecuted. She’s gone through a lot. She could lose everything she’s worked for, and perhaps a bit more. She’s got it bad. But let’s face it: she hasn’t shed any blood. Her life has not been threatened—at least not to that extent.
The author is trying to wake his audience up to the fact that, sure things might not be cozy for them—they might be experiencing a little bit of discomfort, but their persecution hasn’t been as bad as they might think.
That’s something we need to keep in mind too. We’ve experienced nothing like what the saints of old have. As far as I can tell, none of us here have been sawn in two. No one, so far as I know, was forced to wear sheepskin or goatskin.
So what if we have to pay some fines? It certainly isn’t comparable to the misery that Christ himself experienced.
That’s what really makes this a fitting end to this passage. He’s making you remember that Jesus bore the greatest pains because he endured the wrath of God.
He has secured for us eternal life by enduring the greatest hostility there ever could be. And even if men would tear us apart, there is nothing in this world that could compared to that.
How can we win the race of faith? We have a great deal of security. But most of all, because of what Christ did for us, we have eternal security.
And because of that there’s really no real reason to give up.
From what I understand the election process for Democrats in Iowa is quite the event. In Iowa they vote by means of the caucus, and, for the Democrats, each person votes by standing in a designated area.
One area is designated for this candidate and another area is designated for that candidate, and so on. So, when they vote, they vote with their feet.
This past September the newswire was abuzz with the discovery of a new species of dinosaur. The discovery was big because it was just that: big. This dinosaur is said to be the biggest dinosaur discovered to date. Archeologists actually have a category for the most colossal dinosaurs called “titanausars.” This particular dinosaur is unique because it is supposed to be the largest of all the titanausars that have ever been found.
It is estimated that the beast would have stood as high as of the biggest buildings in downtown Mansfield (seven stories).
What is amazing about this beast is that the experts say that it was still yet a juvenile. They can tell from the fossil composition that it was just a kid. It died in the prime of life, and still had potential to grow even bigger.
Ken Lacovara was the paleontologist who discovered the behemoth. He gave a sketch of what the animal’s feeding habits would have been like. You know how teenagers eat. Imagine a 65 ton teenager. He said the beast must have cleared whole forests almost on a daily basis. He says that as big as it was the whole day would have been spent grazing and chomping down trees in order to get enough calories to sustain itself.
Lacovara seemed to be most impressed with the dinosaur’s 30 foot long tail. He said that the tailbones are gargantuan, even in comparison with other titanosaurs’ tails. These bones could be up to a yard in diameter and they display the scars of muscle tissue that tell us that essentially this was nothing more than a weaponized tail.
It was of such immense stature and would have possessed such incredible power that they say it would have been impervious to any predator. Even though it was a plant eater, it was too intimidating for any carnivorous beast to attack. Thus they named this greatest of all dinosaurs, this titanausar of titanosaurs, Dreadnoughtus; “fears nothing.”
As we have been studying the book of Hebrews we have been making something of a similar discovery. Our study has been a lot like an excavation of the Old Testament. As we dig through Hebrews we have unearthed various figures; they were the titanausars of the OT: angels, Moses, the priesthood. Yet, there is one who stands out above all others. No one can even begin to match this colossal giant whom we are studying. Indeed, we have found that Jesus Christ is something of the titanausar of all titanausars. When we compare him to the largest and most imposing figures of the Old Testament, we find that Christ supersedes them in every way.
But here in this passage we discover that Christ is anything but a puny priest. He is a robust priest; maybe we could call him a titan priest. For we find him being described as one who is in the order of Melchizedek.
In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress the main character, whose name is Christian, finds himself resting on his journey to the Celestial City at the House of Interpreter. While at this house Interpreter takes him around to different rooms, and in these rooms he learns different life lessons.
In one of the rooms he entered he found a man sitting in an iron cage.
It was Bunyan’s picture of an apostate. The man in the cage was descriptive of the one who had committed the unpardonable sin. The iron bars represented the man’s inability to be saved. He was trapped in his sin and unbelief. His despair was indicative of his being forever doomed.
Christian spoke with the man and asked him how he came to that state. The man in the cage responded by saying, “I failed to be watchful and sober. I sinned against the light of the word and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he came to me; I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent.
I. The portrait of an apostate
II. The punishment of an apostate
The unpardonable sin
I. Its character
II. Its consequence
We've been seeing that the book of Hebrews is simply giving an in-depth look at the person and work of Jesus. As some have been apt to say, “The book of Hebrews is the most Christocentric book of the Bible.”
The author's aim in this has simply been to call his audience to take a closer look at Jesus and see how great he really is.
For instance, this past week I attended a preaching workshop in Columbus. We spent 2 and a half days digging around in various texts of Scripture, talking about their structure and how the Lord would want us to preach these texts. It was a good time.
During the break time there were some of us who went over to the gym and played a little 3 on 3basketball. It provided a good mental break. But there was one guy who I guarded. He was—how shall I say—not exactly thin. He had the build that kind of said that he used to be an athlete, but the glory days have since passed. Do you know what I mean? He wasn’t fat or completely out of shape. He’d simply looked like a guy who wouldn’t be much of a threat on the basketball court anymore.
Boy was I wrong. Since I had sized him up like I just explained, I didn’t think I had to take guarding him too seriously. And the first time he got the ball, he proved me wrong. They passed it to him and he sunk a three point shot, as easy as if it were a layup. I thought to myself, “Well, I better give this guy a little more respect.”
So the next time he got the ball, I played him a little tighter. But he did it again. He swished another three pointer; this time right over me. By this time we are losing and I think, “Alright; Game on!” But no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the guy. It was almost as if he had heard the conversation that went on in my head and wanted to say to me, “Who is the washed up player now, old man?”
The point of it all was that my first impression was not what it should have been. He didn’t look like someone I needed to respect. What I needed (and what I got) was a closer look at how great he really was.
That’s what we have here in the book of Hebrews. We are getting a closer look at Jesus and we are coming to see just how great he really is. After all, there are a lot of people who don’t size up Jesus the way they should. And it may be due to the fact that the first glance at him isn’t all that revealing. He’s a Jew who died. Sure he is celebrated by many as the Savior of the world, but there’s not much to him. He was born in a manger, he didn’t have any beauty that we should behold him, his whole life was spent running around in a bunch of obscure towns in the back woods of the Middle East. Maybe he did some miracles & all, but there’s a good chance we see him in a rather dim light.
Well, here in the book of Hebrews, we are being given a real showcase of how great he really is. And again, in our passage, he’s coming out to play a little one on one with the high priest. So far we’ve seen that there really is no contest in this match up. Jesus has already been proven to be superior. Last week we saw the first three point shot swish. Our passage this morning provides us with another.
What we have here in this passage is a direct comparison and contrast of the two. In the first 4 verses the office of the high priest is essentially laid out. Then in verses 5-10 it presents us with some facts about the high priestly role of Christ. And there are three things that you are to take home regarding Christ’s high priestly role. The first is the right Christ has to the high priestly office.
I. His right to the high priestly role
The passage emphasizes that a high priest must be specifically designated by God for his job. This is not something that one simply applies for or takes up on his own initiative. The right comes directly from God.
Look at the very first verse. It starts out by saying that every high priest “is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” You see here that you can’t simply be elected by running a good campaign. No. You have to be appointed to the position, just like a federal judge.
Verse 4 makes it even more explicit. It says, “No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
You may remember how, back in the Old Testament, God specifically designated Aaron as the first high priest. God told Moses to take Aaron and ordain him to this office.
So the person who became the High Priest had to be chosen specifically by God for the job. And the text goes on to point out that Jesus was just that guy. Look at verses 5-6.
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."
He basically repeats it again in verse 10. It says there that he was “designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” We’ll come back to this whole idea of the Melchizedekian priesthood in chapter 7. That is an interesting area to probe. But the point here is that Jesus is a guy who wasn’t simply voted in by the populous. Neither did he usurp the role. He gained the right by the direct decision of God himself.
Now, why is this a thing? Well, it was important for the fact that in the time that this was written, the guy who was the high priest wasn’t there legitimately. The office of the high priest had been highjacked by political gerrymandering. The Romans had come in and taken over. And in the midst of that there was a family that basically paid off the Romans in order to gain control of the high priestly position. It was a little Chicago style politicking.
After all, the high priest had a cushy job. There was a lot of notoriety in it. You had a lot of influence in the life of Israel, not to say that there was a good deal of money in it.
But the author here makes a great point. In a winsome way, he basically says, “How’s that whole high priest thing working for you?” Go ahead. Go on back to your Judaism and your old high priest. You know downright well that it’s a bunch of corrupt bunk. Talk all you want. You know he’s not a legitimate priest.
It would be kinda like having a president who is reluctant to divulge his birth certificate. It throws doubt on the whole organization.
So chalk one up for Christ. For these zealous Jews, the answer should be obvious. Jesus is the one who is rightly entitled to the office.
But it’s not just the right he has to the role of high priest; it’s his rightness for the position. If you are going to talk about who is the best high priest, you got to think about who best fits the job. And the author here seeks to make sure that Jesus is just the right man for the position.
II. His rightness for the high priestly role
Look at the first verse again. It says that “every high priest [is] chosen from among men.” This is emphasizing the fact that the high priest is one who is a man. And this may not seem like a big deal to us, but it is important that the high priest be one of us. That ensures that there is proper representation.
Think about it this way, who do you want going to Washington DC to represent you? You would prefer someone from Ohio, right? At the very least, you want someone who has lived in this region and therefore knows your values and has an idea what is important to you. You’d probably be a little grumpy if someone from the state of New York went to DC representing you. You’d know that he’d probably not care too much about you and your interests.
The same is true when it comes to our form of church government. Why is it that we have elder rule in our church? Why don’t we have bishops and cardinals? Well, the ultimate answer is because the bishopric is not biblical, I know. But why did the Lord institute the Presbyterian form of government? It was so that you could have one of your own representing you. Presbyterianism is a republican form of government and it is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected. You get to have one of your own members lead you, rather than some joe from Timbuktu who has been appointed by some random bishop in another state.
That’s how it is for the high priest. The high priest had to be a man; he couldn’t be an angel or something else. If he was, he couldn’t represent you and sympathize with you the way he should.
Look at verse 2. It says that the high priest, “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” He’s a man, so he knows what it is like to be you. And he can most adequately do the job in representing you before God.
Now look at verse 7. Look at how he starts that off. He says, “In the days of his flesh.” He’s reminding you that Jesus was incarnate. He was a man. He came to identify with you so that he could most properly represent you.
But it goes on to say that during the days of his flesh, “He offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death.”
Now, a lot of the commentators say that this refers to the Garden of Gethsemane. They point out that it was during his trial there in the garden that he had the intensity of prayer that most describes “loud cries and tears.”
I beg to differ though. I believe that these prayers were offered all through his earthly ministry. We don’t have record of it. There is no specific passage of Scripture to which I can point. But we do see him going off to be alone to pray quite frequently. And what was he doing during those times of prayer? He was acting as your high priest. He was interceding on your behalf. And you can be sure that he was offering up prayers and supplications that had urgency and intensity to them because he sympathized with you. Since he came into this world and took on flesh, he knew your needs in and intimate way. And I would suggest that this made him all the more zealous to act on your behalf and petition the Father with vigor and passion.
I don’t think that there can be any question that Jesus was just the right man for the job. He did not just have a right to the position. But his being incarnate authenticated his rightness for the position.
But there is one more thing that distinguishes Jesus high priestly role. And that is his righteousness.
III. His righteousness in the high priestly role
In verse 2 we noted how the high priest was able to deal gently with people because he himself was beset with weakness. You’ll notice that it goes on in verse 3 to say that it was for this reason that he was obligated to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
So, what I think you walk away with is this: The sympathy of Aaron and the other high priests was a sympathy of sin and shame. It was their fallen-ness that was the basis for their identification with the people. That of course, puts a large ding on the office of the high priest: He himself is a sinner who represents sinners. It is like having a lawyer who is a thief representing thieves. There is something inherently wrong about that.
This is where Christ stands in contrast. Look at verse 7 again. There at the end it says that his prayers were heard because of “his reverence.” Then in verse 8 it says that he “learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
Herein is the contrast: Jesus does not identify by his sin and shame, like other high priests. He identifies by means of his suffering. It was the pain that he experienced that really allows him to connect; and it is His obedience sets him apart as uniquely fitted for the job.
Now, let me quickly comment on verse 8. That is a verse that is a little hard to understand. It says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” It is difficult for us to grasp this because we can’t understand what it means for him to “learn obedience.” After all, wasn’t he perfect? If he was sinless, how could he have to learn obedience?
This is where you have to keep in mind that there are two kinds of knowledge. There is a theoretical knowledge and an expereincial knowledge. There is a knowledge that comes by books and there is a deeper knowledge that comes by experience.
For instance, when Adam and Eve were told that they should not eat of the fruit of the tree, they knew that eating of it was wrong, didn’t they? They knew that if they ate it they would be disobeying. God told them and he imparted that knowledge. But that knowledge was basically theoretical, wasn’t it? Once they bit into that fruit, they gained a whole new idea of what it meant to disobey God, didn’t they? They now knew it from experience.
Or, how about this: When you were younger, you might have taken drivers ed classes to learn how to operate a car. You probably listened to the lectures and maybe even read a book about it. So you knew how to drive a car right? Well, yes and no. You still hadn’t gotten behind the wheel of a car. It was a lot different to actually sit in the seat and have to push the pedels at the right time with the right feet. You really didn’t learn how to drive until you did that. Once you gained that experience, then you were qualified to get your license.
That’s the kind of thing going on here. Jesus knew what it was to obey. Being the perfect Son of God, he instinctively knew it. But in his incarnation he gained a whole different perspective on obedience. He learned how hard it is to obey. He learned what it was like to be tempted. He learned how tantalizing sin can. He came to realize in a distinct way how appealing it is to take a shortcut or fudge the truth.
And like we said last week, that really makes him able to identify with you. Having gone through all that makes him feel the same pain you feel.
But in all this he learned obedience in a grand new way. Up until his incarnation, he never knew obedience like that before.
And that is what makes him perfect. And that is what makes him able to be the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
And this is the final three point shot that seals the deal. It is what really distinguishes him as the only one who is really qualified to be your high priest. He is the only one in all history that has the righteousness. And his spotless life allows him to be both the priest and the sacrifice. It was because of his reverence that he was “saved from death.” That is to say, his obedience allowed him to be raised from the dead and seal for us a victory over the grave.
We joke by saying, “Who is in Grants tomb?” But there is no joke when it comes to the tomb of Christ. Every other high priest lies rotting in the grave. They are all a bunch of corrupt fools.
But there is one who has been raised up out of the grave. And it is this Priest that grants us eternal life.
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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