• The Explore the Bible lesson for Sept. 7 focuses on Hebrews 1:1-4.
A pastor friend recently was a visiting preacher for another congregation. He arrived early, as requested, to review the order of worship and plan for the day, only to wait nearly an hour.
When his host finally arrived, my friend had to remind him of their plan to go over the service details. It was as if his role in the service—the sermon—was insignificant. In fact, when he later stood up to preach unannounced, he had to preface his sermon with, “Hi, my name is … .” Introductions, or lack thereof, are key. They set the tone for what is to come, both in style and in content.
An early Christian sermon
Although it generally is grouped among the epistles, the book of Hebrews actually is an early Christian sermon. Lofty in style and in content, these first four verses serve as a foretaste of what can be expected in the rest of the sermon. In this introduction, the preacher focuses our attention on God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
Every skilled preacher has a few rhetorical devices up his or her sleeve to captivate the listener’s attention, and this preacher is no different. He begins with alliteration—five Greek words in verse 1 beginning with the letter “p,” or “π.” The preacher then describes the Son in a series of chiastic phrases, where the elements in the first part are repeated in reverse order in the second part, a sort of oral outline that would have been familiar to the listening congregation. Like interwoven elements of a worship service, the preacher utilizes what probably was an early Christian hymn to highlight some of the praiseworthy characteristics of Christ.
This sophisticated style is matched by the complexity of his theology. Hebrews 1 grandly begins with the thesis statement: “God has spoken” (vv. 1-2). In a former era, God spoke through the prophets, each with their own unique style and message. Biblical history proves the message was not received and enacted effectively, for the people of God failed time and again to live in full obedience to God’s word. But God is faithful, patient and persistent. With the incarnation of God the Son, God has spoken anew.
The person of Christ
God’s revelation through Jesus Christ is made clear not only through the words of Christ, but also in the very person of Christ. Christ is the “heir of all things” (v. 2). Here and again in verse 5, the preacher recalls Psalm 2, where God’s Son is promised, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). Invoking this psalm is a reminder of Christ’s present rule and a promise of his eternal dominion as well.
The Son also is praised as an agent in creation, as one “through whom also he made the universe” (v. 2). The Apostle Paul conveys the same point: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The created order and the ages were made from God the Father through Christ the Son, who now holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).
Like the brightness of the sun’s rays, the Son reflects the divine glory of God to humankind. Christ shows us what it means to bear the light and the image of God. The same Word that created also sustains creation in perpetuity. Christ maintains creation in the way a manager ensures the organization and continuation of a business.
From creation to Christ
The sermon ushers the congregation down a timeline from creation through Christ’s sustained history to the triumphant end. The preacher proclaims Christ as Savior and Redeemer, the purification for our sins, and as exalted Lord, enthroned majestically at the right hand of the Father. In both position and authority, the Son is superior even to the angels, who throughout the Bible are messengers of God.
Jesus Christ the Son is the Word of God. The sermon of Hebrews reminds the congregation then, as well as us today, that God has spoken and continues to speak. In a world where technology and social media spew forth religious opinions and diatribes, there is a Word who can be trusted. We can know God and follow God because of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. God has a word for the church, then and now, and the message is found in the person and work of God’s Son.
Like the best of sermons today, the introduction of Hebrews points us to Christ. Just as “in the past God spoke … at many times and in various ways” (v. 1), when we look to Christ, we can be assured God speaks to us. In times of great joy and great sorrow, through anxiety or confidence, uncertainty or resolution, we look to Christ. Through prayer and Scripture, through creation, through the Church as the people of God, Christ speaks to us. May we be found ready to listen.