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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Gripped By Jesus


 

"So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." Hebrews 1:4


As you know the Job series which has been my ministry-focus for the last 6 months has come to an end. Don’t forget that the whole series is online at godourrefuge and you can listen through again if you wish, there.


But, if you’re regular here at Riverside you’ll also know that we’ve been turning our attention occasionally to look at each of the points in our statement of faith. We have 9 of them, and this morning I want us to look at the 4th one. It concerns Jesus Christ - the 2nd person of the Godhead, and God’s only Son.


It’s not my intention in these messages to be exhaustive. Either in terms of the subject - you can’t do that in one message - or in terms of Riverside’s statement. Rather, the messages are aimed to show that our statement of faith is rooted in scripture and to show the centrality, and importance of the doctrines that we have chosen to include in it.


Back in December 2022, I preached on the first 4 verses of this chapter, as one of our Christmas messages. And I would encourage you, again, to go to godourrefuge and dig up that old sermon and have another listen if you have time this week.

But this morning I would like to use the whole of chapter 1 to laser in on the person of Jesus – the Son of God.


This letter of Hebrews is written to Christians. Chapter 3, verse 1 addresses them directly. ‘Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest’.


So, the recipients of the letter are considered holy and they are considered to have received a heavenly calling. But, it is these verybelievers who are being directed to fix their thoughts on Jesus. As though, having come to faith in Christ, and through Christ, they have somehow now lost sight of him.


Chapter 2, verse 1 is further confirmation that something is amiss with them. ‘We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away’.


Drifting away from Jesus is a big danger for these people it would seem. And the writer is keen to alert them to the fact that, in order to avoid drifting away, attention needs to be paid to the things that they had heard.


And that encouragement comes sandwiched between Jesus-saturated teaching. The whole of chapter 1 has one theme: the supremacy of Jesus. And chapter 2, verse 5 through to the end is saturated with Jesus too.


So, there’s no doubt, that what the writer – what God – wants to stress to us, is the centrality of Jesus in the ongoing Christian life for stability of faith, perseverance in the race, and Godliness in all things.


We started with Jesus, we’re not meant to continue without him!


There is simply too much expectation in God’s Word to us, that we grow up into Christ, for us to afford to get him wrong. And I think, chapter 1 is telling us, these Christians were getting Jesus wrong. We don’t want to make the same mistake.


Our NIV gives us a clue with its heading, what the main issue is that the writer is getting to grips with in chapter 1 – which is, a misplaced fascination with angels. But not only that. It’s a misplaced fascination with angels, at the expense of a pre-occupation with Jesus. They should have been gripped by Jesus, but they’re gripped by angels instead.


And we might ask ourselves ‘how on earth has that happened?’ Or, ‘where has that come from?’ But I think that is as much a trap for us as it was for them.


Chapter 1, verses 1-4, tell us who Jesus – the Son of God – is, with no less than seven ascriptions, or designations. This is Jesus:

One, he is the heir [inheritor] of everything.

Two, he is creator of everything.

Three, he is the radiance of God’s glory. That means he is the essence of who God is - with all of that essence going public.

Four, he’s the exact representation of God. That means he’s the visible, knowable, revelation of who God is. Five, he sustains all things by his powerful word. All things were spoken into being at the beginning, and the Son also speaks, so as to support everything in its ongoing existence.

Six, he is the purifier of sins. Sin is our greatest problem and Jesus is the solution for it. He alone can cleanse a person of their offences and bring them into fellowship with God.

And seven, by sitting down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven (verse 3), he has taken his place as the Prince of Peace for ever.


So, categorising those 7 ascriptions, we see that the Son of God is eternal in nature. As the maker of everything he predates everything. And as the one who lives and sits at the right hand of God he endures for ever.


He is eternal in nature, but he has also made himself earthly. The work of purifying sins is a work that involves Jesus taking on humanity. It’s a work that involves him thirsting and hungering. It’s a work that involves him suffering and, ultimately, dying. He’s eternal, and yet he dies an earthly death, as all human beings do.


He’s eternal, he’s earthly, but he’s also exalted. He didn’t stay in the grave. Death could not hold him. He’s resurrected. And after resurrection, he ascended. Taking his place at the right hand of the majesty in heaven – which is an enthronement. And therefore, he is exalted - above all his companions, verse 9 says.


Ok, so the Son of God is eternal, earthly and exalted. And the question is then, how could anybody fail to be continually impressed with Jesus – the Son of God – and somehow become obsessed with angels instead?


And I think the answer is, that the emphasis of the cross-work of Jesus is on the earthly aspect of the Son. Which is so essential. Chapter 2, verse 14 says, ‘Since the children have flesh and blood [that’s us], he too [that’s Jesus] had to [it was essential] share in their humanity, so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’.


The Son’s earthly nature was and is essential to our salvation. Praise God for it. Without it there is no purification from sin for us, and no hope for us.


But, that must not be all we see the Son as. The disciples got this wrong at times. They beheld the man Jesus and concluded: great prophet! But missed the God-ness of Jesus. And I think we subtly fall into this trap. And I think that’s what had happened to these people in Hebrews as well.


In failing to pay attention to the whole nature of Jesus, they were comparing him with what they knew of angels and concluding, angels look more impressive. Jesus was getting side-lined in their minds and in their hearts. Meanwhile, they were being gripped by angels.


We might not find that angels grip our attention, but we might find other things are gripping our attention. We might find other created things – man-made or God-made - vying for our hearts and our minds.


And this is very subtle. It doesn’t happen like a boxing glove around the face, it happens slowly and sensuously and attractively. Before we know it, Jesus isn’t our main focus at all, something else is.


We didn’t mean for Jesus to be demoted in our appreciation to a merehuman being who was hungry just like we are. We didn’t mean for him to be nothing more in our appreciation than a man who suffered just like we do. We didn’t mean to relegate him to a mere fellow mortal who died just like we will.


But that’s what’s happened. All of those qualities of Jesus, work to our advantage only when we regard them in light of his eternal qualities and his exalted qualities, because then the measure of his condescension on our behalf blows us away!


The writer wants to re-establish the exaltation and eternality of the Son of God in these believers, so that they see angels for what they are – not worthy of their obsession as they imagine. But moreover, that they become obsessed with Jesus all over again.


The way he does that is with seven contrasts. Seven ways that Jesus – the Son of God – is superior. And my prayer is that these will so grip your souls that they propel Jesus on to the centre stage of your attention and your delight this morning.


I pray they will serve to show that Jesus is worthy of the most exalted place in our lives. So, track with me as we consider these seven ways Jesus is superior to all others.


Number 1, Jesus is superior in terms of revelation.

In verse 1, we’re told that in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. That was his means of revealing himself. He used different methodologies – dreams, visions, signs, etc – but the means were the same. He communicated his message to his chosen prophets and they conveyed it to the people with words. From Abel to Zechariah Jesus says in Matthew 23, that’s how he did it.


But, verse 2, in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus is a better and more complete revealer of God than any human prophet ever was. Jesus, as the exact representation of God, inhabits the very revelation of God. His actions, his attitudes, his speech and his motives all combine to demonstrate who God is and what he is like. To show his holiness, his glory, his love, his hatred of sin, his delight in righteousness, his purpose for people, his design for the world. Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s revelation of himself.


Second, Jesus has a superior name to all others. Verse 4 says, ‘he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs’. Angels are created beings not eternal beings, so why does he say that Jesus became superior to angels?


Well, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus wasn’t eternally God. We know that’s not what he has mind here because in chapter 2, verse 9, he tells us that Jesus ‘was made lower than the angels for a little while’.


And here in chapter 1, verse 4 he’s coming off the back of verse 3 where he just made the case that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven. In other words, he just told us that Jesus was restored to his rightful place – higher than the angels – after, for a short time, being made lower than them when took on humanity and died.

And at the point that he was restored to that superior place above the angels, he received a name that is better than theirs too. He received the name ‘Son’.


We know the name is the name ‘Son’ because verse 5 starts with the word ‘For’ showing us that he’s now making the case for what he said back in verse 4.


In verse 5, quoting Psalm 2, he says that God says to Jesus, ‘you are my Son, today I have become your Father’. And again, quoting 2 Samuel 7, he says that God says to Jesus, ‘I will be your Father and you will be my Son’. So, he shows that the Father has given Jesus the superior and exalted name of ‘Son’.


There are no other Sons. There is only one Son. If we are counted sons and daughters it is only because of our adoption into the family of Jesus.


Chapter 2, verse 12 says, ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters’. But that’s not the same as saying there is more than one Son of God. In the category of ‘Son’, that Jesus is, there’s only one.


And it’s not as if he wasn’t Son before either, except that now, in the presence of all the world, he is the exalted Son. The co-regent in heaven. The presiding King, reigning over a launched Kingdom that will never end, and which will triumph over all the kingdoms of the world.


In rising and ascending and sitting, he has taken up a new role worthy of the name ‘Son of God’. That’s why the writer uses the passages of scripture in verse 5 that are directly concerned with the seating of King David and the seating of King Solomon respectively. Jesus is King over all, forever and ever. And therefore, he has inherited a superior name - the name ‘Son’!

Third, Jesus is superior in worth. Verse 6, “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’”. It’s tempting to think that when he says, ‘God brings his firstborn into the world’ that he’s referring to Jesus’ birth. He’s not. He’s still referring to Jesus’ ascension and enthronement in heaven.


That’s significant because, even here the writer is not giving us Jesus’ earthly character. He’s still fixed and focused on his eternal and exalted nature. He’s saying, ‘when Jesus came into the world of his own Kingdom by taking his seat next to the Father, God laid it upon every created angel in heaven to worship the Son.


Jesus is worthy of worship. There’s not a created thing on earth or in heaven worthy of worship – not even angels. But Jesus is’.

Do you worship Jesus? I hope you do. Don’t worship angels or anything created. Worship Jesus!


Fourth, Jesus is superior in exaltation. The angels have their place - verse 7 says that God was pleased to make his angels spirits and flames of fire. That sounds impressive. And certainly, given the number of times Godly people in the bible are tempted to worship them, they must be very impressive beings indeed. John is told at least twice in Revelation not worship the angel!


But about Jesus, verse 8, ‘your throne O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore God your God has set you above your companions, by anointing you with the oil of joy’.


This is Psalm 45 – the exaltation of the king. He is set above all his companions. Jesus is highly exalted as King over the Kingdom of God; as ruler with a sceptre of justice; as anointed, with the oil of joy. There is none other who is like him. The psalm is of king David, but king David is but a dim shadow, to the brightness of this king - King Jesus!


Fifth, Jesus is superior in longevity. This time he quotes Psalm 102 ‘In the beginning Lord, [who’s that? – Jesus], you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands’. Eternal Jesus was there at the beginning laying the earth and creating the heavens. No random explosive events – the laying of the earth; the creating the heavens was the work of a supreme creator-designer.


But the earth and heavens have a destiny – they will perish, verse 11. They will all wear out like a garment, verse 11. But, you, Jesus, do not perish – you remain! You do not wear out like a garment – you remain the same (verse 12) and your years will never end.


In fact, with the very creative power you made them, Lord Jesus, you will take them and roll them up like a robe and change them like a garment. You Jesus, will do that!


Sixth, Jesus is superior in Lordship. God has no intention of making all the angel’s enemies subject to them. Michael will be fighting against the dragon and his angels until the very end and he will still not have decisive Lordship over any of them. But Jesus will.


Verse 13, God says, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’. Exalted Jesus is anticipating a day when all his enemies will be made his footstool – trodden down under his feet. Made to be nothing.


Jesus’ Lordship will encompass all peoples, even his most powerful and malicious enemies. None of them will be able to escape his conquering power. He will advance on his enemies like a warrior riding out to battle and he will slay them with the breath of his mouth, and tread them down in the winepress of his fury (Revelation 19).


And lastly, seventh, Jesus is superior in his role. Verse 14 tells us loud and clear what the role of angels is. They are ministering spirits sent to serve us.


Have you ever considered that God sends his most powerful created beings to look after your interests? That’s a comforting thought.


But it’s not our focus right now. Jesus is our focus, and his role is to bring us to salvation. Verse 14 says the angels are ‘serving those who will inherit salvation’. That’s us. And we inherit salvation not through angels, but through Jesus.


Chapter 2, verse 10 says Jesus brought many sons and daughters to glory. And Hebrews 12, verse 2 says that Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith but he’s also the perfecter of it. In other words, angels are sent to help us, but Jesus is the one who changes us.


And change is what we need. At the cross he bought for us a new heart – a new and spiritual inclination. That’s essential change. And Jesus now lives in us by his Spirit to change us from one degree of glory to another.


The way that works from our perspective is that, being gripped by the eternal and exalted nature of Jesus, we gaze intently into his face. And in beholding him, we increasingly become like him. And in beholding him, we increasingly become aware of our purpose and our goal.


Here’s a quick example of how this works in our lives. I had Philippians 1 in my bible-in-a-year reading plan the other night. In that chapter, Paul makes the coming of Christ the goal of the work that God is carrying out in us.

And then, Paul thinks it worthwhile to emulate the affection Jesus has for his people in his affection for them.

And then, he makes it his prayer that their love will abound more and more, so that they will be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless on the day when Jesus returns.

And then, he wants them to be filled with all the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus.

Then he tells them that he is in chains for the sake of Christ.

Then, that Christ must be preached.

And then, he shows that through the Spirit of Jesus at work in him, what he had suffered will turn out for his deliverance.

Then, he’s eager that Christ might be exalted in his body whether by life or by death.

And that, for him to live is Christ.

Before sharing that he would rather die and be with Christ which is better by far.

And then making it clear his aim for them is that their boasting about Jesus will abound.

Before commanding them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the good news about Jesus.

And then finally, he says that it has been granted to them, on behalf of Jesus, to suffer for Jesus.

That’s a lot of Christ-ward living. And nearly all of it is hard! And the question is how will you do all that? And more besides?


And the writer to the Hebrews is saying to us, ‘get Jesus in his right place. Get a right view of Jesus – not only in his earthy nature, but especially in his eternal and exalted nature and you will find you are enabled to do more than you think’.


The message is: It is impossible to fulfil our purpose as Christians and arrive at our intended goal, unless Jesus is first in our affections – unless we are gripped by the Son of God, and not by other things.

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