Jesus’ Place in the Cosmos
Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12
Last week if you were here, you’ll remember that Jesus’ had his disciples telling Jesus that they had witnessed person who were not following Jesus casting out Jesus in his name. Jesus told them, in so many words, ‘So what? Those who are not against us are for us!” This week we get to go from the bottom of the ladder of life—demons and the devil—to the top of the ladder of life. My absolute favorite source of such heavenly information is from the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. But it is a deep dive to discover the gold in this letter! Dr. Tom Long, who taught Homeletics at both Princeton Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary said this in his commentary on the book:
Among the books of the New Testament, the epistle to the Hebrews stands out as both strange and fascination. Unique in style and content, as a piece of literature it is simply unlike an other of the epistles. Though some of its phrases are among the best known and often quoted passages in the New Testament, some contemporary Christians are largely unacquainted with the book as a whole, finding themselves lost in serpentine passageways and elaborate theological arguments. For those who take the ropes and spikes and torches and descend into the murky cave of Hebrews, there is much we wish we could discover, but our historical lanterns are too dim. [Intrepretation, Hebrews, Louisville, John Knox Press, 1997, p. 1]
Today we will and the rest of this month we will sermonically plumb some of the depths of the Hebrews cave. I once spoke with a woman who claimed that the Bible told her that her husband was the designated coffee maker of the family. “Where did you find that?” her husband asked. “Right here, see?” she said. “He brews!” Today we will go deeper than that!
As we are whisked into Heaven we find a description of Jesus’ place in the world, we read: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being …. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” [Hebrews 1:3-4] In the early 1990s there was a flurry of interest in “angels.” Dozens of books hit the market including “On the Wings of Angels,” “Know Your Angels,” “Angels Ever Near,” and “Angels: The Mysterious Messengers.” We collected those and 10 more in our church library at that time. Angels, it seemed, were easier to imagine, to appreciate, and to communicate with than God or the Holy Spirit. People began to pray to angels (not something I recommend) and study angels. The Bible does acknowledge angels, not only in today’s passage from Hebrews, but also in Gabriel’s appearance before Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist, in his annunciation to Mary about Jesus, in the comforting visit to Joseph, and the annunciation to the shepherds in Luke. The shepherds received a heavenly host, or “army” of angels in Bethlehem. Gabriel also appears in Daniel 8 and Daniel 9.
And an Archangel, or “chief angel” named Michael, is in Jude verse 9, in Revelation 12, and in Daniel 10 and 12. John Calvin, in his masterful Institutes of the Christian Religion, says: “The angels are the dispensers and administrators of the divine beneficence [kindness and mercy] toward us …” [Book I]
In the last 10 years interest in Saints and Mystics has grown. People yearn to know what ancient followers of Christ taught and how they lived. Many books on those topics hit the shelves again, describing Saints, mystics, and Early Church Fathers. . Some of what the mystics wrote was distinctly unorthodox. In the past few years many people say they are “spiritual” instead of “religious.” But self-taught spirituality can become a vegetable soup of every kind of faith. Does your spiritual soup need a touch of Judaism, a pinch of Buddhism, and a smidge of Eastern Religion in a Christian broth, of Christianity, its hard to know how it will taste! Spirituality on the internet is not always grounded in one faith; it explores what seems holy, or mystical, or wondrous.
The Christian pulpits must keep pointing to the Christian true north to be a compass for the faithful and for the seeker. Today’s passage from Hebrews is the right kind of text that grounds us in the powers of God, the messengers of God, and the people of God. Hebrews is a wonderful book that puts Christ in his rightful place at the right hand of “The Majesty on High” according to Hebrews 1:3. According to verse 1, God is the Creator of the world. This is what we have studied the entire month of September in my Wednesday Bible Study. According to Genesis 1:26, human beings were given the unique ability to choose right from wrong. They were given “dominion” over God’s Earth and God’s creatures, but the better translation is we were given “responsibility” for God’s earth and God’s creatures. Creatures and plants and mountains honor God by being; people honor God by their choices. So at the top of the order is God; there is not a bunch of gods, there is one. But in this time in which we are living, which the writer of Hebrews called “the last days,” “God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed to be the heir [the inheritor] of all things, and through whom [meaning the Son] God created the world! Here it is! The other confirmation that Christ, the Son was fully present with the Majestic Creator in the beginning! John says it; this writer says it too! So the Son is not just a Johnny-come-lately Jesus born to Mary. Before he became human, he was fully Divine and at the Creation! What a claim! The writer continues to describe the Son in verse 3: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.” Wow! This is where the early creedal writers grounded some of their beliefs. John Calvin again says: “To sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth.” [Calvin’s Commentary, Vol. 22, Baker Books; reprinted in 2005, p. 39.] So friends, the one who is glad to receive our adoration; the one to whom all glory and praise is due, is God, the Majestic! Along side is the Son called Christ, given all the fullness of the Divine. But the blessing we receive through Christ is when he came to earth he experienced our humanness as well, with all our temptations and pains and joys. If anyone can plead our case to the Majestic Judge and Maker of all the earth, it is our Lord Jesus! So we pray in his name, almost like a cc. in an email or a carbon copy in earlier days. We want Jesus to hear our prayers too! After our praise, God can hear our requests, our pains, and our hopes.
The writer of Hebrews continues” “When he [meaning the Son] had made purification for our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Like a priest in the Jewish Temple practices, Jesus has to purify [or completely wash clean] the sins of believers before they are presented on the Throne of Grace. It is called “justification,” which simply stated means, “Through Christ, we are presented before God just as if we had not sinned.” That’s what Jesus Christ does for us; no angel, no mystic, no saint has been given that power. Only the Son has it.
Today as we prepare to share this joyful meal with other Christians, we also share their beliefs: The one called “Majesty is supreme; equal power and status has been given to the Son; under the Son, but still Heavenly, are the Arch-angels, and the angels. They praise God and do the work of God, but they are not God. Ad on the earth, humans are God’s crown jewel according to the Bible. Sometimes we don’t act that way, but that’s what God has always thought of us in a “glass half full” kind of way. God thinks no less of his creatures and creation, but they, by their nature, glorify God, not by their choices. God wants people who can choose; to choose life and to choose the one called Majesty, and the one he metaphorically calls “the Son.” So appreciate angels; study mystics, or revere saints. But glorify God through Jesus Christ, and come to prepare for this meal as an invited guest of God! Let us pray: Almighty God: we are preparing our hearts to come humbly into the presence of your holiness one day. Until then, we are honored to break this bread and drink from the cup to connect us with Christ and with Christians around the world. Bless, us we, pray, and the food we will share, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 7, 2018