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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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.