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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

There's Majesty in the Manger


"whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:2-3

My file naming system tells me that this is the 25th time this year that I’m speaking to you, which must mean that Christmas is on our ministry radar, which of course it is.

We’re told in Luke 2:19 that Mary the mother of Jesus ‘treasured up all these things [that the angel had said to her] and pondered them in her heart’.

I thought about what that meant. I thought about the pondering that goes on at Christmas time. Pondering which decorations to hang where. Pondering who to send Christmas cards to, and which Christmas cards to go with. Pondering what that relative would really want this year.

I reckon that, all in all, Christmas adds up to a lot of pondering.

And what it suggested to me is that pondering is when something becomes so central in our lives that we give extensive considered thought to it.

Mary gave extensive considered thought to all that the angel had said to her by treasuring them up in her heart.

Now, I wonder if you share with me a disquiet in your soul at Christmas time. I think I get this almost every year. I find that the near continuouspondering that goes on about the superficial aspects of Christmas serves to trivialise and marginalise the very thing that simply must be pondered – namely what Mary pondered – the birth of the Saviour of the World.

We are wired to be so consumed with the appearance of Christmas, and the taste of Christmas, and the spectacle of Christmas, and the expectation of Christmas that we miss the joy of Christmas.

And that might sound inaccurate to you.

You might say, ‘well I find the spectacle of Christmas to be the very thing I love about Christmas! The very thing that brings me joy at Christmas! And if you were to say that to Mary, I think Mary would respond by saying ‘in that case you are far too easily pleased’.

She would want to tell you about the surpassingly great point of Christmas, which alone can give you the kind of deep joy that surpasses the superficial pleasure that pondering all the Christmas stuff can give.

And you might say, ‘well, Jesus is a part of the spectacle of Christmas for me too’. But Mary would say, ‘if you have Jesus as only part of the spectacle, you really have a very thin Christmas’.

I want us to be like Mary this Christmas, I want us to feast and delight our souls, by joining Mary in pondering Jesus. I want deep joy for you, that goes beyond the season.

So, as I thought about which text to go to with this message, I thought it should be one that strikes awe into us about baby Jesus. It should be one that takes us from manger to majesty, if indeed such a text exists.

And the one that came to mind, came to mind because it is our family Christmas text this year. Each year we try to learn our Christmas text off by heart so as to orientate our minds on the deep things of Christmas and so as to counter some of that triviality which so easily gobbles upour pondering.

Our text this year is Hebrews 1:1-4.

There is nothing quintessentially Christmas about these verses. In fact, you would choose them more readily for Easter than for Christmas. But I think, that if we spend a bit of time pondering them, we’ll find our minds and hearts elevated by them, even at Christmas, and our Christmas joydeepened by them.

So, I just want us to walk through the verses very deliberately, and let their content be for us the thing that grabs our attention.

At the beginning of verse 1, we’re reminded of how God spoke to his people in the past, mainly.

It wasn’t mainly by angels, or mainly by visions, though he did use those at times, but we’re told it was mainly by prophets.

The times and circumstances that he spoke to his people through prophets were many and varied, but it was human spokesmen that he used to communicate with them.

And we know that when he did communicate with his people through the prophets, he was communicating not only his plans and purposes but his nature and his character also.

However, verse 2 is telling us that the means by which God reveals himself has changed. You can tell that by the word ‘but’. He used to do it through the prophets, ‘but’ then something changed and he did it differently after that.

Verse 2 says in these last days, the different way he has spoken to us is, by his Son. There is no longer any expectation that prophets will be the ones to reveal who God is, the expectation is that the Son will do that job now.

Now, just so that there’s no ambiguity about who is in view here, when it says ‘his Son’, in Luke 1, when the angel appears to Mary, he tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son. He says, ‘You are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High’.

The baby to be born to Mary is going to be Son of the Most High – Sonof God Almighty.

And according to verse 2 that we have in front of us, God is going to reveal himself through that Son – the son born to Mary in Bethlehem.

Now we want to know, who is this Son? Why the shift from human prophet to human Son? What was the matter with the prophets of old?

What is better about the Son of these last days?

And the writer of Hebrews is going to give us the answers with no less than seven statements. Seven statements that are going to serve to illuminate for us who this baby born in-and-amongst the animals is.

Statement 1 then – the baby born to Mary, who is the Son of God, is the one whom God ‘appointed heir of all things’. God chose him to receive from him an inheritance that is deficient in absolutely nothing.

There is nothing that has been created, in or outside of all the universe, that God has not bequeathed to the Son. The earth, the sun, the galaxies, the angels, the human race, the animals, the seas, kingdoms, peoples, nations, you name it, they all belong to the child in the manger. Not one item is missing. There is nothing that is not in his inheritance.

Listen to the Psalmist. Psalm 2, ‘God said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession”’.

And, by appointing him and not another supreme heir, God exalts him to the highest place. Not just heir but heir-regent. A king. But not just aking, but the King.

Heir of all things and therefore king over all things. King of kings. In other words, there’s majesty in the manger.

Here’s Psalm 89, ‘He will call out to me, “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour”. And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth’.

So, statement 1 is telling us that baby Jesus was born having being appointed heir-regent over all things.

That might leave us asking the question, when did this appointment happen? This exalted sonship, was that appointed for him at his birth? Or, some other time?

In the last days according to statement 2 he has spoken to us by his Son ‘through whom also he made the universe’.

The same Son who was appointed heir of all things also predates the universe. And we know that because, God made the universe through him. Which means that the universe that infant-Jesus was born into was the very universe he had, by his infinite power, made!

He was delivered by a woman, he made. He was laid in a manger made out of wood, he made. The soft straw in the manger, he made it. The milk he suckled on, he made.

John 1:3 says, ‘Through him all things were made; without himnothing was made that has been made’.

When was he appointed heir of all things? Before the universe was created, because the universe was made through him.

The Son of God, brought into the world as a baby – as a mere infant was not only the exalted Son of God, but also the eternal Son of God.

And, according to statement 3, he was the exactness of God too. Verse 3 says, ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exactrepresentation of his being’.

We all understand radiance. In winter we long for it. In summer we bask in it. Radiance is the felt-presence of the sun in the sky. Radiance drives away darkness. Radiance drives away the cold.

And without radiance we would not know the sun even existed. When we feel the radiance of the sun we don’t speak of that experience as different from the experience of the sun. We feel and see by the radiance but we say ‘the sun is warm today’. Or ‘the sun is bright’. Or ‘the sun is glorious’. We do not distinguish between the sun and the radiance of the sun, even though one is the source and the other is conveying the glory of the source to us.

Radiance is as much the sun as the sun is the sun. They are, together, the sun.

Here we’re told the exactness of the invisible God is conveyed to us by the Son because he is the radiance of God’s glory. As God is glorious – blindingly, dazzlingly beautiful in his holiness – that glory streams out to our experience in the form of the Son.

Which means that he is the exact representation or image of the Holy God.

Don’t be tempted though to think that his body is the radiance of God’s glory. That would be to forget that he predates the universe – a time when he had no body. No, he, as the radiance of God’s glory, has always been.

There is no time when the sun in the sky was not radiating. As it exists, it radiates. That’s what it does. As God exists he radiates his glory, and that radiating is the Son. They are co-existent and they are co-eternal.

There never was a time that the Father existed but the Son did not. They have always existed - one as the glory and the other as the radiating of that glory.

John 1:18 says, ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known’.

So, I conclude that the one who was born to Mary, who she called Jesus, and wrapped in cloths, was the exactness of God Almighty.

Not only exalted, not only eternal, but exactly God.

Statement 4, says that ‘he sustains all things by his powerful word’. He inherited all things, he made all things, but he sustains all things as well - and that by the power of his word.

There is an order and a stability about the world that we live in that makes it predictable - by and large – and reliable – by and large.

This statement says that stability happens because of the word of the Son of God. Were he to utter a different word, chaos would ensue. Firewould consume. Heat would melt the elements. Nothing would survive, but everything would be reduced to dust. But because he speaks the word that he speaks, everything that is sustained, is sustained.

And anything he chooses not to sustain is not sustained.

Which means that our next breath is according to whether he chooses to sustain the breath or not.

If he speaks the word, we breathe and if he doesn’t we don’t.

Isaiah 46 says, ‘Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you’.

Whilst Jesus was cooing in the arms of his faithful mother, he was sustaining the universe! Whilst Jesus lay there seemingly helpless, in Bethlehem, not an atom on earth or in space was maintaining its position without his powerful word making it so.

The Son, exalted, eternal, exact and establishing everything.

Statement 5 says, ‘he made purification for sin’. Purification is the same as cleansing, which is the word Hebrews uses elsewhere to refer to purification for sin.

And in chapter 9, we’re told that Christ offered himself unblemished to God in order to cleanse us by his blood from acts that lead to death.

Last week Paul reminded us that the word ‘Christ’ is the same as the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ which means anointed-deliverer.

So, God’s Son, the Christ – the anointed deliverer – made purificationfor sins, how? By his own blood according to Hebrews 9:14.

I hope you feel now, the magnitude of the condescension of the Son of God here - from heir of all things to humiliating death on a cross.

The goal that the Son came into the world to accomplish was the goal of purifying his people from their sins by the shedding of his own blood. Which blood he had to have in order to shed. That means that he came in the flesh to die, and by dying to cleanse people from their sins.

Here’s how Hebrews 2 puts it, ‘For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest to God, and that he might makeatonement [cleansing] for the sins of the people’.

The exalted, eternal Son, the exact representation of God, establishing all things by the power of his word, became earthly in order to die for his people. His was born to lay down his life for the lost.

The sixth statement says that after he’d died, ‘he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’. We’ve just seen the exalted, eternal Son of God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man, as we’ll sing in a minute.

But now, we find him exalted again. In his rightful place, at the right hand if the heavenly Majesty. Psalm 110, which Jesus loved to allude to, says, ‘The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”’.

Because the Son is the radiance of God’s glory, God said, ‘sit down at my right hand’. Because the Son is sustaining all things by his powerful word, God said, ‘sit down at my right hand’. Because the Son made purification for sins, God said, ‘sit down at my right hand’.

He was born in a rude stable, he descended into the grave, but he rose victorious. And all of that was the plan he came into the world to execute.

And the excellence of the execution of the greatest plan heaven or earth has ever known, makes him worthy to be exalted again, and exalted to the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

The last statement is verse 4, ‘So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs’.

The Son’s incarnation means him setting aside his glory for a while, and in setting aside his glory, Hebrews 2 tells us, he made himself lowerthan the angels for a little while.

But, his resurrection and ascension see him crowned with glory and honour again. The name he has inherited is the name ‘Son’ and name he has been given is the name ‘Jesus’ – a name no angel ever received or ever will receive.

It is the highest name. It is the name at which every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and it is the name that every tongue will confess is Lord, Philippians 2:9-11 informs us.

The great heavenly host that appeared praising God; the magi who travelled such a great distance to worship the babe; the shepherds who, having beheld him, went away rejoicing; the transfixed Simeon and Anna who embraced him in the temple courts are but a baby-shower foretaste of the honour and glory due his name.

He is now exalted at the right hand of the Father in heaven, with all the angel host in awe of him. He has a glorified version of the body he was born with. He will always have that glorified body.

And the prophets of old, who longed to see the day of the Messiah – the arrival of the Son of God in the flesh - they have gladly sat down in awe of Jesus.

In short, there are riches beyond compare in the person of Jesus at Christmas, but O how we must ponder him to reap the real joy of the season.


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