Jesus is Better

Posted: March 22, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 1:1-3, “Jesus is Better”
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Introduction:
Is anything better than Jesus? The answer should be obvious – but if it were, the book of Hebrews would never have been written. The sad fact is that throughout the history of Christianity, people have repeatedly tried to find ways to replace the simple message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul constantly struggled against the Judaizers, and the NT isn’t even complete yet by the time the Lord Jesus chastises Ephesus & Pergamos for holding to the doctrine & deeds of the Nicolaitans (legalistic group)… That’s the way it’s always been – legalism constantly drives it’s way into the church & no longer do people believe the simple gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but make it Jesus+baptism, or Jesus+church membership, or Jesus+… But the simple gospel message is that salvation is found in Jesus + nothing!

This particular letter was written to a group of Hebrew Christians, who were struggling with this at the time. Probably outside of Judea, but there were many Jewish communities (as seen through Paul’s missionary journeys) & apparently some were being swayed to turning away from the finished work of Christ back to the Jewish sacrificial system…likely as a result of the continuing influence of Judaizers… Again, this tendency still exists today. Many churches put more emphasis on the Jewish feast days than on the gospel – instead of looking towards the substance (which is Christ), they adopt every Jewish custom they can & keep their focus on the type (the stuff that was supposed to point to Christ in the 1st place).

Who wrote it? Like many things about the book, that’s a subject of a lot of debate! Many believe it has the fingerprints of Paul – and there are some good arguments both for & against him as the author. The subject matter is completely Pauline – and who better to write against Hebrew apostasy than a converted Pharisee? The problem? It doesn’t read like Paul. His normal introduction is missing completely & whereas Paul generally refers to personal examples & appeals, there are none in the book. In addition, the author implies that he may not have been an eyewitness of Christ (Heb 2:3, salvation was spoken by the Lord, “and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.”)…obviously Paul had heard the Lord Jesus on many occasions. None of this necessarily precludes Paul from being the author – but it’s not near as likely as Romans, Philippians, etc.

If not Paul, then who? People have suggested Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, and others…some (D. Wallace) even suggest a dual authorship – perhaps a joint effort between Barnabas & Apollos. The two things we know for certain is that it was a man (masculine pronouns in Greek) & it was written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70AD. Whoever wrote it, it’s obvious that the church universally accepted it as apostolic & that it’s teaching was completely complementary to the rest of the New Testament.

So why only 3 verses? Because there’s a lot in these 3 verses! 🙂 The prologue to Hebrews sets up the entire argument for the rest of the epistle…which is simply: Jesus is better because Jesus is God. The writer is going to compare Jesus to the angels, to Moses, to Aaron, and to the sacrifices – and throughout all of it, he’s going to show that Jesus is better than all of them. (Mo’ Better…) This argument is going to be explored, nuanced & applied through 10 chapters – and he kicks it off with a bang in Ch 1.

Fair warning: there’s a ton of theology here & some pretty deep concepts about Christ & even His role within the Trinity. Why is this important for us to know? Too many Christians are glad for their salvation, but don’t take time to understand Who it is that saved them. God forbid that we would receive Christ with a wink & a nod & tell Him we’ll talk to Him again in heaven! God takes the time to reveal Jesus to us (Who Himself is the revelation of God), so we ought to take time to soak that in. Turn on your minds today in order to worship God in Spirit and truth, and let God’s word speak to you in such a way that your worship and gratefulness of Christ may be magnified & increased…that you would be left in awe of your Savior.

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NKJV)
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,

A. In a sense, Hebrews begins much like the Bible does. God spoke… The fact that God speaks at all is incredible. God is in no way obligated to interact with His creation – He could have easily have set things up like a clockmaker winding a watch & sat back to watch the show (much like the Deists proclaim). But our God (the one true God) has never passively watched His creation – He’s always interacted with it, speaking to mankind. Even if nothing else was given us except one single word from God, what a gift of grace that would be!

B. Obviously He’s given us much more than a single word! God spoke “at various times and in various ways”… This is the emphasis of the verse & actually how the Greek begins (“God” comes in the middle of the verse). What “ways” is the author referring to? Of course the heavens declare the glory of God – but that’s not really the idea. Referring to specific revelation here. God left more than clues about His existence, purpose, and gospel – He interacted very specifically with His people. With Adam, Jesus spoke & walked with him in the cool of the day… With Noah, God told him to build the ark… With Abraham, God appeared in visions & personal appearances, proclaiming His covenant & giving Abraham the promise of a son… With Moses, God spoke through the burning bush & gave him inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write the 1st 5 books of the Bible… Throughout history & through many various, creative ways, God gave specific revelation to His people.

C. Who did God speak to? “The fathers by the prophets” – all of these examples & more were spoken to directly by God. Sometimes the forefathers & prophets were spoken to directly (i.e. Isaiah 6), sometimes God used prophets to speak to them (David & Nathan), other times God simply spoke through the Scriptures.
__a. Note here that the author specifically narrows the revelation down to the Hebrew faith… God does give general revelation to the world (as demonstrated in Romans 1-2), but God chose a specific people to give specific revelation to in order to demonstrate His loving grace. Why focus on one group of people? Because ultimately salvation comes down to one specific Person: Christ Jesus. The gentile nations were not to look to their own gods & religious systems to find salvation – they were supposed to look to Israel b/c the Messiah of Israel is a light to the nations (Isa 49:6).

D. So what? The author’s setting up how the revelation of God was given in the past in comparison with how the revelation of God is given right now. We know that God continually reveals Himself to His creation – how has He chosen to do it in this particular time?
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2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

A. Does the church have Scripture and prophets? Sure…but now we have a specific revelation of God showing us to Whom all the Scripture & prophets pointed to: the Son of God. Jesus IS the revelation of God. The author is going to come back to all of these arguments in depth, but here’s the 1st area in which Jesus is better (or superior) to the Old Covenant: His revelation of God is superior to the prophet’s revelation of God. Why? Because He’s the real thing; not a picture. John 1:17-18 (17) For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (18) No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. [] Did Moses only reveal the law of God & never the grace of God? Of course not – we see many examples of the grace of God both in the law & through Moses’ example of intercession for the people… But the grace that was hinted at before is fully revealed in Christ Jesus – Moses merely set the stage for Jesus. The Son is the very declaration of God because He is God.
__a. As the declaration & revelation of God to man, Jesus is infinitely complex – but through the rest of vs 2-3, the author looks at 7 characteristics of Christ.

B. 1st, Jesus is the “heir of all things”: On one hand, this should be obvious to us since Jesus is the Son of God. Why wouldn’t He be the heir of all things? But the fact that He has been “appointed” the heir shows how the inheritance of Christ is wrapped up with the work of Christ. After Jesus rose from the dead, He proclaimed “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18)…not that Jesus had no authority prior to the crucifixion & resurrection (the wind & seas obeyed Him), but whatever authority the devil had been allowed as the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30) & the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) has been broken & reversed in Christ. Jesus is the original & rightful heir, but He’s also the appointed heir – He bought/redeemed His people back from death & slavery.

C. 2nd, Jesus is the Creator: Not only is Jesus the heir of all things, but He was the one who made all things to begin with. As the 2nd Person of the TriUne Godhead, the Son was present & active with the Father in Creation. God spoke & the world came into being – but even that act of speaking was an act of our Savior as Jesus is the Word of God. John 1:1-3 (1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. [] What things were made without Jesus? Nothing! ALL things were made through Him.
__a. The activity of Christ in Creation alone ought to put every doubt about His equality with God the Father to rest. After all, what preceded God? Nothing. God has simply always been (hence His name, I AM). If Christ was in the beginning with God, then how could Christ be any less than God?
__b. Obviously, that’s the point of the author of Hebrews. For Christians to leave the gospel of Christ to go back to the law revealed through the prophets is complete nonsense. We’ve been invited into a glorious relationship & covenant with God HIMSELF. How could we possibly leave Him to go back to some mere picture approximating God? It’d be like us trying to have a relationship with a photograph rather than the person…the photograph’s only purpose is to remind us of the actual person; not the other way around.
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3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

A. 3rd, Jesus is the brightness of the glory of God: Like a radiant sunbeam or ray of light, Jesus shines forth the glory of God. Jesus told us He is the light of the world (John 8:12) & we’re told in Revelation that there is no need of a sun because the Lamb is our light (Rev 21:23). The language here is pretty interesting because often the word “glory” is itself used to denote light or radiance…it’s as if the author is saying that Jesus Himself is the glory of God. The perfect expression of the majesty & honor of God is found in Jesus Christ.

B. 4th, Jesus is the “express image” of God: ESV has a great translation here, “the exact imprint…” Gk χαρακτήρ (character) = “exact reproduction.” This is the only time the word is used in the NT, and it originally referred to a tool that was used to scratch or mark – eventually the word usage developed into the image that was made (like pressing a seal into wax, or pressing an image onto a coin)…one would get the exact imprint of what was pressed upon it. In a sense, God the Father has “pressed Himself” upon Jesus Christ. There is no aspect about the character and nature of God the Father that God the Son is not. Jesus is truly the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) & He said this explicitly to Philip – John 14:9-10 (9) Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (10) Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. [] The point? What you see is what you get. God the Father has fully revealed Himself through the Son & if you want to get to the Father, you must do so through the Son. (John 14:6)
__a. “of His person”: literally, “of His substance.” This idea was the subject of much controversy in the 4th Century with Arius taking the position that Jesus was somehow less than God, & Athanasius taking the proper Biblical position that Jesus is of the same essence or substance as God the Father. The idea here is that Jesus is far more than a likeness or image of God; whatever substance makes up the infinite Creator God is the same substance that makes up the Son.
__b. Despite the protests of Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc., the Bible makes the absolute claim that Jesus is no less God than the Father is God. Jesus IS God. Granted, each part of the Godhead has His own Person & function, but let there be no doubt that all 3 Persons make up 1 God.

C. 5th, Jesus upholds creation by His word: Don’t get the wrong idea here – it’s not that Jesus is like the mythological Atlas who literally held the world on his shoulders. Instead, creation is sustained by the Person of Jesus. As Paul told the Aeropagus council in Athens, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Put this together with vs 2 & Jesus not only created the world, but He sustains it by His sheer will & “word of his power.”
__a. As much as Warner Sallman’s “Portrait of Christ” has ministered to some, one of the potential problems that comes from it is that people think that Jesus was a frail man – gentle, but weak. That is not the Jesus of the Bible! He is a God of power! The universe generated out of nothingness at His command & one day will dissolve in the same way in a fervent heat (2 Pet 3). Is Jesus meek & mild? Sure – but He’s also omnipotent & mighty.

D. 6th, Jesus purged our sins: As wonderful as it is to consider the miracle of creation – for the individual Christian what’s more wonderful is to consider the miracle of salvation. Our sins were purged – we are purified in Christ Jesus. The word for “purged” often refers to ritual purification or washing & thus the writer of Hebrews sets up the argument that Jesus’ sacrifice is the superior sacrifice. The blood of bulls & goats can never take away sin (Heb 10:4), but Jesus’ work is truly sufficient for our purification.
__a. What’s striking here is that to this point, the author of Hebrews has been pointing out the various aspects of Jesus’ divinity – how He is the true revelation of God, the glory of God, the creator, the sustainer of creation, etc. But now we have this drastic turn from the inner workings of the eternal Godhead to this intimate interaction between God and His people. The entire reason Jesus was made incarnate & walked among us was so that our sins could be purged. He didn’t come to be a good teacher (though He is) – He didn’t come to give us new morals (though He did) – Jesus came solely to die & pay the penalty for our sin. The Creator loved His creation & offered Himself as a sacrifice to redeem us from death.
__b. In Christ Jesus, our sins are truly purged! We are purified & washed clean. Never forget that outside of Jesus, we were doomed for judgment because of our sin. Not only were we born in sin, but we willingly (and gladly) committed it. We engaged in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16), and rebelled against our Creator God at every turn. Even those who believe they are ‘good’ people have to readily admit that they are not perfect & cannot claim they have committed no sin – and perfection is the standard… But Jesus makes us perfect! He washes us & cleanses us from the taint of sin. Where as once our best works were like bloody, filthy rags, now we are forgiven! [Listing off sin…] 1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. []

E. 7th, Jesus sits in exultation: Where is Jesus today? He’s alive & at the right hand of God (the Majesty). Jesus died for our sins once & that was enough (not like the priests who continually had to offer sacrifices – Heb 10:1). He rose from the grave (proving His victory over sin & death & demonstrating without a shadow of a doubt that He is the Son of God), and ascended to Heaven where He sits at God’s right hand. What does this tell us?
__a. It’s the place of honor: Remember how James & John wanted to sit on the right & left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom? That was the place of exaltation & honor – and that’s the place Jesus has in the presence of God the Father. 1st Jesus came in humility, emptying Himself before God. Now in His victorious resurrection, He is blessed with honor & the most exalted position in the entire Universe. Philippians 2:9-11 (9) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [] Amen!
__b. It’s a place of rest: The work of our salvation is absolutely complete. For the Christian, there’s no more penalty that needs to be paid for sin – all the judgment and wrath that we deserved has already been placed upon Jesus & His all-sufficient sacrifice was all that was needed. There will be no further atoning for sin in the afterlife, because Jesus has already made the sufficient atonement. The reason He could declare from the cross “It is finished” is because it truly was.

Conclusion:
Jesus is absolutely superior to any other religious system available because Jesus is God! We don’t place our trust in self-proclaimed prophets who had supposed visions of angels. We don’t place our trust in one man’s interpretation of the Bible. We don’t place our trust in our own intellect, goodwill, giving, animal sacrifices, etc. All these things are faulty because they are all tainted by our own sin. Our only hope is to place our trust in God – Who definitively revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (and proved it through the resurrection). Jesus is: the heir of all things – the Creator of the world – the glory of God – the exact reproduction of God – the sustainer of Creation – the purification of our sins – & the honored victor over death & the devil. THAT is Who we can trust for salvation. There is no one more qualified & nothing better than Him – He is the very best, because He is God Almighty in the flesh.

Have you found yourself starting to trust in your own abilities again? Christians have a tendency to think that once we’re saved by grace, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps & live by works & hard effort. It may not be the Jewish rituals, but the idea is no different – we’re trying to go back to the way we did things before. Jesus is better! Jesus is better than all our efforts & His grace is sufficient for every situation we face. Don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean we don’t work & don’t strive in our walk with Christ (Paul pressed on to lay hold of that which Christ had laid hold of him – Phil 3:12). But we don’t work & strive in our own power; we do so in the power of the Holy Spirit. We reckon ourselves dead to our flesh & alive in God, and fully trust & rely on the grace of Jesus Christ to take us through life till we see Him face to face. So don’t go back to your old efforts; Jesus is better.

Keep in mind there’s always a 1st time for someone to trust the grace of Jesus Christ – at their moment of salvation. You might be here today & though you have always known of Jesus, you never truly understood that He is Almighty God who purges your sin. When Jesus died on the cross & rose again to new life, He paid the penalty for all your lies, lusting in the flesh, self-centeredness, hatreds, etc. ALL of humanity’s sin was placed upon Jesus & thus all of God’s wrath that we deserved was placed upon Him as well. The price has been paid, but you must receive the gift. Hell will be full of millions of people who knew OF Jesus, but didn’t know Jesus Himself. Don’t be one of them…

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