Friday, December 26, 2014

Hebrews 1:1-3 - A Christmas Sermon

Used at Midnight Communion this year. The auidio of which I trust will appear here in due course.

[I would have liked to have done better at describing the many and various ways God spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament. I'm afraid the numbers come from a hasty Google rather than great research. Corrections welcome!]

Turn back to Hebrews 1 p1201

I expect we’ve all received many Christmas messages this Christmas.
Lots of Christmas cards.
Perhaps those Christmas letters about how 6 year old Tarquin received a distinction in his grade 8 oboe exam and 8 year old Gemmia is representing England in the Gymkhana.
Maybe we’ve received Christmas texts and emails and phone calls and so on.  
And they’re very nice, aren’t they?
Thank you very much to everyone who sent me a Christmas card.
I do appreciate it.
I’m afraid I’m very bad at sending Christmas cards so I’m sorry about that. 

Christmas messages are great.  

But imagine you had a loved one living in Australia you hardly ever get to see.
Perhaps your mother, or you son, or your sister.  
It would be nice to get a Christmas card from them.
But how much better if they came to visit you in person.

That’s what our reading says God has done.

V1 – “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways”
God sent lots of messages through messengers.
The writer looks back on the whole history of the Old Testament and thinks of the many prophets who spoke God’s Word at many times and in various ways.
We’ll have read some of their words at our carol services.
There were Isaiah, Micah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Hosea, Zechariah and many others.
There are 17 of the 39 books in the Old Testament which we call the Prophets. 
Estimates differ as to the number of prophets in the Old Testament.
Some people say that 48 prophets have their messages recorded in the Old Testament.
Another list names 73 Old Testament prophets.
Abraham is the first person to be called a prophet in the Bible.
He was probably born around 2000 BC.
The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, ministered around 433 BC.
 That’s about 1500 years of prophecy – equivalent to the time from the Anglo-Saxons to today.

Some prophets saw visions and others had dreams.
Some met with God.
Or heard his voice.
Some met with angels.
Some acted out their messages.
Some brought messages of judgement.
Some of hope.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways”

And that was great.

“but (v2) in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son”
Now God has done something very different – something unique and supremely special.
He has sent not simply another messenger but his Son.  
And there’s all the difference in the world between sending a message and sending your Son.

We might say Jesus was the last and greatest prophet.
But he was far more than a prophet.
Jesus is, v2, God’s Son, God the Son.
Jesus is the last word on God.
He’s the final, definitive revelation.

As John put it in his gospel, Jesus is the Word made flesh.
He sums up God.
He perfectly expresses him.

The writer to the Hebrews is telling us why we need to pay attention to the baby in the manger – because of who he is and what he’s done.

The Baby is the manger is the Son of God – God the Son (v2).

In the words of the carol he is “God of God, Very God, Begotten, not created”.

As Jesus is born in Bethlehem, they can’t find him a room for the night, but he is (v2) the heir of all things.
The entire universe belongs to this baby.
Bethlehem and all Judea and the whole world are his by right.
He has left the palaces of heaven for a feeding trough.

Though he is a helpless infant, he is the one (v2) through whom God made the universe.
He is the creator in a cradle.
The maker in a manger.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (v3)

Again, in the words of the carol, he is “light of light”.
He is God shinning forth, the splendour and brightness of God made known.
The invisible God made visible.
Again, in John’s words, from our Gospel reading, he is the light shinning in the darkness, the true light that gives light to every man.
John can say “we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the father full of grace and truth”.

He is “the exact representation of his [God’s] being” (v3)

Jesus can say, “I and the Father are One.”
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
If we want to know God, we need only look at Jesus.

Even as he is nursed at his mother’s breast and depends on his parents for everything, he is (v3) the one who sustains all things by his powerful word.

As the carol says:
“Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies”

And listen to what this baby would do – the second half of v3.

He would provide purification for sins (v3).
Yes, he would live a wonderful life full of grace and truth.
His teaching would be timeless and his miracles unique.
But that was to be his great work:
He came to provide purification for sins so that sinners like me and you might be put right with a holy God.

The name “Jesus” means “Saviour” and Joseph was told to give Jesus that name because Jesus would save people from their sins.

This baby was born to die.
On the cross, Jesus bore the penalty for sin for all those who would put their trust in him.
He died so that we might be made clean and forgiven, taking the punishment that we deserved so that we might go free.

V3 - After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (v3).
After tomorrow’s Christmas morning services I’m very much looking forward to sitting down.
I might put my feet up for quite some time.
I may even have a drink.
And that’s the sense of v3.

Jesus returns to heaven, kicks off his shoes and puts his feet up.

The contrast, later in the letter to the Hebrews, is with the priests who constantly stand in the temple ministering, day after day, making sacrifices for sin – which can never really take away sins (10:11f).
But Jesus offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice for sin for all time and them he sat down at the right hand of God, because his work was done.
He had provided purification for sins.
That was what he came to do.
And his mission was accomplished.
His saving work was finished on the first Good Friday.

Jesus sat down – not in his favourite arm chair, but (v3) “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.
The babe of Bethlehem is enthroned as the king of the Universe.
He was born in obscurity, but now he sits in the position of highest honour.

And v8 – about the Son, God says:
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,
And righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom.”

Jesus is enthroned as king.
He will sit as judge of all people.

The writer to the Hebrews wants us to take the baby of Bethlehem with the upmost seriousness because of who he is and what he’s done.

2v1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
For if the message spoken by angels was binding… how shall we escape if we escape such a great salvation?”

He tells us, 3v2, to fix our thoughts on Jesus.

4v14: “Therefore, sine we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we possess.”

Since this is who Jesus is and what he’s done, let’s stick with him.
Jesus is supreme and therefore Jesus is sufficient.
He is the one we need.
He perfectly reveals God to us – let’s listen to him and look to him.
He has put us right with God – let’s trust in Him and in Him alone.

May God enable us to do so this Christmas time and always. Amen.

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