01/03/2016

The Beauty and Glory of Christ

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, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of power (Hebrews 1: 1–3a).

Introduction
The writer to the Hebrews opens by reminding us that God is not silent. Now we know that God speaks to us everywhere in creation. The Psalmist says that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge’ (Psalm 19: 1–2). There is this constant and unending disclosure of the divine being reflected in the things that have been made. The work of creation is a great mirror wherein we behold the glory and the majesty of God. Man himself was originally made in the image and likeness of God. Now that image has been ruined and broken by the fall, and yet fallen man retains an inward knowledge that he is God’s special creation – a sense of the divine is impressed within his heart. The glory and majesty of God, even within this fallen cosmos, is inescapable. Man at every moment is confronted with the reality of God. As the Psalmist says: ‘If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me’ (Psalm 139: 8–10). There is no escaping the presence of God. And yet, we see that men and women in this world live without a care for God, they live in rebellion toward God; they use His name in vain and even deny His existence. Paul says, ‘They suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness’ (Romans 1: 18). ‘They have an axe to grind. They do not want to find God, they don’t want to find their Creator’ (Van Til).Their hearts have been darkened by sin and their minds have been blinded by Satan, the god of this world. So the revelation in creation is not sufficient to deal the problem of sin. It leaves man without an excuse, but it doesn’t bring down the iron curtain iniquity separating man from God.

    The only way in which fallen and men and women may come to know God truly and personally is if God Himself should be graciously pleased to condescend and reveal Himself to us. The writer to the Hebrews opens with the great declaration that God has done this. He has spoken to man. He has revealed something of His glory, and mercy, and majesty in the Scriptures and supremely in the person of the Saviour. The eternal Son of God was pleased to be found in human form ― God stepped down in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came into this world to rescue sinners of mankind lost. For in the face of Jesus Christ, we behold glory and majesty of God Himself. We have free access to God the Father through Jesus Christ, His beloved. ‘He is our mouth by which we speak to the Father; our eye, by which we see the Father; our right hand, by which we offer ourselves to the Father. Without Him as [our mediator] there is no drawing near to God’ (Saint Ambrose). Would you know God? Do you desire to see something of His glory? Are you thirsting and longing for a sense of God Himself? Then you must come to His Son, approach Him in faith, put your hand in His hand, and He will lead you to the throne of mercy, clothed in His righteousness, washed in His blood, to be embraced by His Father and loved forever. This is the principal concern of the writer to the Hebrews. He desires that you come to God through faith in His Son.

    In the first few verses of the opening chapter, the writer to the Hebrews sets before us certain truths concerning the person of Christ. I would like us to consider these things this day.

    1] Firstly, we see the supreme authority of the Son, by whom God has revealed Himself in these last days (v.1–2a). The writer to the Hebrews opens with the words: ‘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’. When the prophets spoke and when the writers of Scripture wrote the text of Old Testament, they did so under the guidance and control of God. Their words were in fact divine words proclaimed by God through human agency. Their message was given to them by God. The words of the Old Testament are the very words of God Himself. Sometimes God would dictate the message He wanted the prophets to declare, other times He would speak directly with men and women, sometimes He would speak through dreams and visions, or He would appear visibly in a divine manifestation and make his will known as the Angel of the Lord. He used various means and ways to communicate with men and women throughout history, but worked so effectually and graciously within their hearts so as to ensure that every word spoken and every word written down was holy, infallible, and divine. ‘For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21). The words of the Old Testament are the words of God. Even so, the Old Testament is an unfinished book so to speak. It anticipates a second volume. It looks forward to something greater. First God spoke by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. The types, the shadows, the law, the prophets, the psalms find their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the words at the beginning of John’s Gospel: ‘For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1: 17). That’s the idea here. Moses was given the Law by God; but grace and truth came to us in the person of the Saviour. God Himself came down in the flesh to teach us the way of salvation.

    The Lord Christ Himself fulfilled what was anticipated in the Law and the Prophets (cf. Luke 24: 27 & John 5: 39). The prophecies of the Old Testament find their fulfilment in Him. The prophets wrote many hundreds of years before Christ came into this world concerning His birth, life, miracles, sufferings, death, and resurrection. Concerning His birth Isaiah says: ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7: 14). ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6). Isaiah speaks even about His miracles: ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert’ (Isaiah 35: 5–6). Isaiah makes prophecies concerning His life and how He would be treated by sinful men: ‘He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not’ (Isaiah 53: 3). Isaiah even speaks of His death upon the cross: ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53: 5).‘He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken’ (Isaiah 53: 8). The Lord Jesus Himself speaking through the Psalmist concerning the preservation of His body in the tomb: ‘For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption (Psalm 16: 10). And Job, who lived possibly thousands of years before Christ was born, knew indeed that Saviour would rise from the dead: ‘For I know that my redeemer liveth’ (Job 19: 25).

    You see the prophets anticipated something greater; the Old Testament is a prelude to something better. And the Lord Christ is the conclusion; He is the fulfilment of that great anticipation. He is the final word to mankind. He is the realisation of all the types and shadows. He is the fulfilment of the messianic hope. He is the realisation of all prophecy. And so the authority of Scripture rests not upon the reason or intellect of man, but upon Christ who is Lord of all. Paul says to the Ephesians, the Church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2: 20). He is the most important piece of the puzzle. He is the foundation, the very bedrock, of our faith. When you put on your Jesus spectacles, you will understand the whole of Scripture. And this Book, this wonderful Book, is His word to us. You know, ‘it would be impossible for a Christian to hold to the Jesus of the Bible without also holding to the Bible of Jesus’ (Fred Zaspel). You can’t say, ‘I’ll follow Jesus, but not His word’. For us, this matter is settled for us by His Lordship. He says concerning the Scriptures, ‘Thy word is truth (John 17:17)’. He says elsewhere, ‘Scripture cannot be broken (John 10: 35b)’. He says again and again, ‘It is written’ (e.g. Matthew 4: 1–11). As far as we are concerned, the Lord Christ can say no wrong. The Bible, as originally given by God, is holy, infallible, and authoritative. It is the sufficient rule of faith for the Church because it is the word of the Lord Jesus Christ who can do and say no wrong. It is His very speech to mankind. It is a love letter from Jesus to His people, signed and sealed with His blood. The Lord God has spoken to us by His Son. What a glorious thought! He is speaking, are we listening? Do we know what He has to say? Have we heard the truth of His Gospel? What do we know about His incarnation, His life, His sufferings, His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God? What do we know of His mercy and gracious promises? Have we heard the voice of Jesus softly pleading with our hearts? The Lord Christ would often say, ‘He that has ears, let him hear’. Will you listen to Him?

    The Son of God has a message for men and women in these last days. The coming of the Lord Christ into this world began a new era in human history; His advent inaugurated the beginning of the end. These are the last days as the writer to the Hebrews says. We are living at the end of time. We await now His return to judge the living and the dead. His present word to us in Scripture is therefore a matter of utmost urgency. The only hope for sinful men and women, who have lived in rebellion toward God, is the message of Good News brought to us on lips of the Son of God, who came to seek as save the lost. When the writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus Christ the Son of God, he is asserting the absolute sovereignty and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of salvation comes to us from the lips of the One who is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being, the same yesterday, today, and forever. His word is sure. His promises are certain. His Gospel is absolute. Here then is the foundation upon which to build your life. Here then is solid ground. The glory of the Gospel is that God Himself came to rescue us in the person of the Saviour. ‘In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son’. The Son of God assumed human nature. He was born as a child in the manger. He took a body like our own. He came into this world of suffering and sin. He lived a perfect life. He was holy, spotless, blameless, and perfect in every way. He satisfied the demands of the Law in full. He preached a Gospel salvation and graciously invited lost sinners to come to Him in repentance and faith to find in Him mercy and forgiveness. He spoke with authority and power. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. He was the most wonderful man who has ever lived. And then He went to the Cross as our representative and substitute, carrying the enormous weight of human sin and shame, and there He died for sins not His own. He died our death. He suffered the punishment that was due to us for our sins. He was crucified, dead, buried for our salvation. But God raised Him up as the victor over sin, and death, and hell – and He has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    These great truths demand a response. We cannot sit on the fence concerning these matters. What are we to do with Jesus Christ? The Son of God has spoken, He has made known His glory, He came into this world of time, He has lived, He has died, He has risen, and He has sat down at the right hand of God. And He now calls men and women to repentance. Will you not bow before the Son of God? Will you not submit to His word? Will you not at least consider the things He has to say? Will you not take up and read your Gospels? The promise was given to Moses, ‘The Lord your God shall raise for you a Prophet ... It is to Him you shall listen’ (Deuteronomy 18: 15). Are you listening? The Lord Christ is the great Prophet who makes known, by His word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation. Do you desire salvation? Do you long to be forgiven? Then you have every reason to listen, to learn of Him, to trust Him, and to obey His voice. Why not come to Him today? Why not trust Him even this hour? Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation. Don’t delay. Don’t put this off until another time. These are matters most serious. They concern the salvation of your soul. His offer of salvation extends to you, even though you may feel yourself to be the worst of sinners: ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’ (Isaiah 65: 2). His arms are outstretched wide to welcome sinners. ‘Come unto me,’ He says, ‘All you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11: 28). He has never let a single soul down: ‘Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6: 37b). His words are words of hope for a dying world.

    2] Secondly, we learn that He is the heir of all things and the Creator of the world (v. 2b). There are many who believe that Jesus Christ was a good man, a moral man, a wise man, a great religious leader, a revolutionary thinker perhaps – but nothing more. The Bible, however, makes great claims concerning the Lord Jesus.

    i] Firstly, we are told that He is the heir of all things. This vast cosmos is His inheritance. Of course, as God all things are His by divine right. But the word heir ascribed to Christ here has particular reference to His humanity. ‘For being found in human form, He put on our nature, and as such received this heirship; and that for this purpose, that He might restore to us what we had lost in Adam’ (Calvin). This vast cosmos was originally made by God for the enjoyment of man. He set our first parents in a Garden of splendour and beauty. He made all things for their enjoyment. The fruit of the Garden was theirs to enjoy, the soft grass beneath their feet, the delicious fruits, the stars of heaven, and all the plants and animals were entrusted into the care of man. One command the Lord God gave; they were not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But man rebelled. Man squandered all that God had given him for one piece of fruit. The Lord had given man everything He could ever need, and man said, ‘It’s not enough – give me more. I want more’. So God drove man out of the Garden and man became alienated from God. Our first parents lost everything because of sin. Man was ruined by the fall.

In Eden – sad indeed that day,
My countless blessings fled away,
My crown fell in disgrace.

Instead of inheriting a world very good, we inherited the guilt and corruption of our first parents. We lost our communion with God. We are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever (WSC: 19). But for this reason the Lord Christ was appointed as heir of all things. He is the seed of the woman, the promised Messiah, who came to restore to us what we had lost in Adam (Genesis 3: 15).  

But on victorious Calvary
That crown was won again for me –
My life shall all be praise.

There is this contrast in Scripture between what has been lost in Adam and what has been restored in Christ. ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15: 22; cf. Romans 5: 12–21). In Adam we are ruined, but in Christ we are restored. In Adam we lose everything, but they who gain Christ loose nothing. ‘We only then begin to enjoy the good things of God, when Christ, the universal heir, admits us into union with Himself’ (Calvin). If we welcome Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, then He gives us the right to become children of God (John 1:12); and if children, then heirsheirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. But my friend, we must never forget, there was a great cost involved in bringing about this inheritance.

      Without the Cross, there is no crown. Before He was raised, the Lord Christ was crucified. The glorious inheritance of the saints came at great personal cost to the Son of God. He left the glory of heaven and became man. He took our nature upon Himself and was found in human form. He went from the cradle to Calvary. ‘He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53: 3). He was beaten and humiliated; the Roman soldiers spat at Him, mocked Him, and reviled Him. A crown of thorns was pressed into His head, nails were driven into His hand and feet, a spear was thrust into His side. He died. He suffered agony upon the cross, He faced the wrath of a holy God, and then He lay cold and lifeless in the tomb of death. All this He did to obtain an eternal redemption for the people of God. Oh teach me what it cost Thee to make a sinner whole! These are matters most serious. Without Christ, you are utterly lost and without hope. Without Christ, there is no salvation. Without Him, there is only misery forever. To be without Christ is a terrible thing! Why not trust in Him? Why not put your hand in His hand? Why not cling to the heir of all things with the arms of faith? As the seventeenth century commentator John Trapp once said, ‘Be married to this heir and have all’. You have nothing to lose but the chains of sin. My friend, there is hope, joy, glory, blessedness, and eternal happiness to be found freely in Christ, who did not stay dead but rose in glory and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, where He now lives enthroned forevermore.

    ii] Not only is the Lord Christ the heir of all things, He is also the Creator of the world. The writer to the Hebrews says that the world was created through Him. John’s Gospel opens with a similar claim: ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1: 3). The Lord Jesus is the Creator of all reality. It’s a wonderful thought! The One who came into this world was the Creator of all things visible and invisible. The universe didn’t simply spring into existence of its own accord. It was made by a Person. The laws and facts of reality are not the product of a mindless chance. Imagine for a moment if we were simply a great cosmic accident – a by-product of chaos. There would be no ultimate purpose, no reason, no meaning to our existence. Art, music, society, culture, language, literature and philosophy would become pointless if everything is a consequence of accident and chance. Will the great philosophy of human existence be ‘we got lucky?’ ‘Let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’ (1 Corinthians 15: 32). Is that all we have? Why is it so unreasonable to say that man is a special creation, made in the image and likeness of One greater than himself? Why is so ludicrous to argue that man has a purpose and was made to know and love the One who made him?

    The Christian believes that at the back of human existence stands an infinite, eternal, and unchanging Person whom we can know and love by faith. Not a philosophy, not an abstract idea, not a mystical entity, but a God of love and righteousness. And we know Him. The writer to the Hebrews knows Him. The Maker, the Creator of all things, is the Lord Jesus Christ. All the facts and laws of reality belong to Him. They are His facts and His laws. This vast cosmos is a testimony to power and genius of Christ. From the smallest particles of existence to the vast spiralling galaxies of deep space, the Lord Christ is the Sovereign Maker of all. The ultimate end, the reason why we are here, is to know Him, and love Him, and serve Him. Indeed, man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is God. It is to Him we owe our allegiance. And if He is the Maker of all things, then He existed before all things. He is eternal. He is divine. He was there in the beginning with His Father and the Spirit of God who moved above the surface of the deep, and together as one they made the world, the sun, the moon, the stars, the heavens, the sea, the land, the birds, the fish, the plants and animals of every kind. And they formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. There is indeed only One true and living God, but there are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One God, the same in substance, equal in power and in glory. And in our text, the writer to the Hebrews is deeply concerned that we worship the Lord Jesus Christ as God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Will you not bow before your Maker and say ‘You are my Lord and my God’? ‘Salvation lies in Jesus only! Depend on it, my hearer; you will never go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God’ (Spurgeon).

     The Lord Christ lays claim to all reality. His Lordship is comprehensive. He is the heir of all things and the One through whom the world was made. In the words of Abraham Kuyper, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”’. Every aspect of our reality must bow before His sovereignty. We are to love Him and serve Him in every walk of life, in every sphere of existence. In religion, politics, science, art, work, society, the Lord Christ reigns. You cannot say, ‘Well, here is my Sunday religious life, and there is the rest of my life’. No, no! All life must be lived for the glory and honour of Christ. As the hymn writer says, we must have an eye to His glory in all that we think, say, and do:  

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
        
    3] Finally, we see that the Lord Christ is co-equal with God and sustains the universe by His divine power (v. 3). The text says, ‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power’. These words are quite remarkable. When we hear that the Son is the radiance or the brightness of the Father’s glory, we learn that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines in the face of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this passage is to strengthen our faith in the Lord Christ. For we learn that ‘God is made known to us in no other way than in the Lord Jesus’ (Calvin). That’s why He came into this world. He came to reveal the glory and the majesty of God. The radiance, the brightness of the Father, is most perfectly expressed and made known to us in person of the Saviour. So these words refer to the Lord Christ as the Son of God in human nature as our Mediator. Do you see? In the face of Jesus Christ, we see the glory and majesty of God Himself. It is He, and none other, who makes God known to sinful men and women. The Lord Christ said similar things during His ministry on earth: ‘He that has seen me, has seen the Father’ (John 14: 9), ‘whoever sees me, sees Him who sent me’ (John 12: 45), and he says, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10: 30). In fact, the words ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14: 6) reveal the very same truth. The only way to know God is to know His Son. Our God, by nature, is a consuming fire. He is holy. He is separate from created reality. He is pure and transcendent. If we approach Him alone without the Mediator, without the Saviour, if we try to approach Him in our own strength and by our own efforts, then we are doomed to failure. But if we look unto the Lord Jesus, if we put our hand in His hand, then we may boldly approach the throne of grace and mercy, because we come robbed in His righteousness and washed in His blood. As Moses hid in the cleft of the rock to see the glory of God, so we hide ourselves by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to behold glory of the Father.

    The same idea is intended by the words ‘the exact imprint of His nature’. God in Himself is incomprehensible to us, yet knowable through faith in His Son. God is truly and really known in Christ. The Lord Jesus is stamp of God’s nature. Are we familiar with the reference here? The die-stamp presses the image of something into a coin or a medal. For example, the Queen’s face is stamped into our pound coins and the in face in the coin exactly represents the original image on the die-stamp. Well, the Lord Christ is the exact imprint of the divine being. In other words, if you want to see God you must look to Jesus Christ. In the words of the hymn writer:

In Thee most perfectly expressed
The Father’s glories shine;
Of the full deity possessed,
Eternally divine.

Calvin says that ‘the writer to the Hebrews claims for the Lord Christ what belongs to God alone, and also refers to two distinct persons, the Father and the Son. We learn that the Son is one God with the Father and that He is yet in a sense distinct from Him’. The Lord Christ is one with God, they are co-equal and co-eternal, but He is also a distinct person in His own right whom we are encouraged to approach in true faith. Now this is a very clear testimony to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but more importantly it is an encouragement for us to trust in Him and believe on Him. The way we come to know God is through faith in the person of Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we come to the Father through Jesus the Son. Have you done this? Do you know the Lord Jesus by faith? Do you trust in Him? There is no other way to know God. There is no other way to glory, but through faith in Him.

    The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say that ‘He upholds all things by the word of His power’. He has sustained this universe since the beginning of time, even as the child in the manger, and even in the darkness of Golgotha; He was upholding the universe by the word of His power. The Lord Christ holds all things in the palm of His hand. This vast universe is like a little pocket watch to the Lord Jesus. He sustains it, He maintains it, and He cares for it. And He cares for you. You are there right in the palm of His hand. You couldn’t entrust yourself to anyone better. He is mighty. He is powerful. His word is what upholds this vast cosmos. He could say to the wind and waves, ‘Be still’ and immediately they were calm. The disciples were astonished that the wind and waves obeyed His words. So often we have a low view of Jesus. We think small thoughts of Him. He is infinitely greater than we can imagine. Everything is sustained by His word. One commentator has said:

Is our vision of Christ is limited? Are we in danger of confining Him to our restricted experience or limited knowledge? Do we not need a vision of Christ with these immense cosmic dimensions, a Christ who transcends all our noblest thoughts about Him and all our best experiences of Him? (adapted from Raymond Brown) 

My friends, do we not very much need a new vision of Jesus? Oh that we may behold Him in glory so wondrous, with beauty we have to adore! Oh that He might so overwhelm our thoughts that the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

References and Further Reading
The commentaries of John Calvin, John Owen, Matthew Henry, and Matthew Poole were of great help to me when preparing this sermon. Raymond Brown’s The Message of Hebrews (IVP) in The Bible Speaks Today series was especially helpful, and Geoffrey B. Wilson’s commentary on Hebrews (Banner of Truth) contained some valuable insights and quotations from other Bible commentators.