Grace For The Journey
We will review the first three verses of Chapter 1 then settle-in on verse 3 as the main focus of our study today. In verses 1-3 the writer acknowledges God’s having spoken to His creation in time past and how He has now spoken to His creation in a much fuller and final way, speaking to us through His Son, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”
Someone asks you the question, “Who is Jesus?” How do you respond? Maybe they know you are a Christian and they want to know specifically what that means. “Who is Christ?” they ask. And “How does He differ from other religious figures?” It is a good question. How would you answer it? Verses 1 through 3 encapsulate the person and work of Jesus Christ, who Jesus is and what He has done. Christology, the study of Christ, is largely an examination of what the Bible teaches us about His person and work, who He is, and what He did. You could turn to Hebrews chapter 1 and read these first few verses and have before you a helpful succinct summary of truth about the Son of God.
In verse 1 the writer declares that the God of creation is a God who speaks, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past . . . .” God speaks to His creation. He does not have to, but He does! He does not have to reveal Himself, disclose Himself, to us. Have you ever thought about that? The Psalmist was right to say in Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; He does as He pleases.” He does not have to speak to us, but He does. He “bothers Himself” with us, lowly creatures!
In the words of Carl F.H. Henry, God “forfeits His own personal privacy” to make Himself known to His human creation. He does not have to. He owes us nothing. But He does. He speaks!
Verse one goes on to say that “God . . . spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets . . . .” The writer is talking here about the Old Testament and the way God spoke in the Old Testament. And in reaching back to the Old Testament the writer is affirming its use, the place of the Old Testament. Christians are not to abandon the Old Testament. It teaches us so much about how God has spoken in time past. The God who speaks today, the God of the New Testament is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. The Old Testament still functions authoritatively for Christians; it is still relevant and applicable. While much of the ceremonial law of the Israelites is no longer binding, the Old Testament is still very much relevant, authoritative, and applicable. The New Testament is largely the fulfillment of the Old Testament, but both are critical to our study and meditation.
God, at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets. Verse 2 goes on to say, “Has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” We will not restate all we learned last week but we saw that the Son of God is the Agent of creation, there with the Father before the world began, co-equal to the Father, and the One who created all things and sustains all things, upholding all things by the word of His power. John says in the opening of His Gospel: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:2-3) and Paul says in Colossians 1:17, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”
We come now to this verse 3, where we will camp for the remainder of our time. This verse presents to us – even more pointedly now – the person and work of Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He did for us. We will look at these two divisions in a simple two-point outline. First . . .
1) We Celebrate Who He Is.
The writer gives us these two phrases in verse 3: “Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” We have already treated that next phrase, His “upholding all things by the word of His power,” and so we focus-in again on these two phrases.
We need to constantly recall Who the Son is: “the brightness of His glory.” Jesus Christ radiates the Father the same way sunshine or sunbeams radiate the sun. A sun beam comprises the sun itself. In the same way, the Son of God is the radiance of the Father’s glory. He is God.
This is even more clearly portrayed in the next phrase: “the express image of His person.” The Son of God is the express image, or exact imprint, of God the Father. God the Son is an exact duplication of the Father’s nature. The Son shares the same nature as the Father, the same essence of the Father.
- Whatever power the Father has, the Son has.
- Whatever attributes the Father has, the Son has.
- Whatever abilities the Father has, these abilities exist also in the Son.
No human son can say this about his relationship to his human father. People look at my daughters and some say that one is a “spitting image” of me, some say the other. In either case, neither one is an exact duplicate of my nature. But the Son is an exact duplicate of the Father’s nature and being. He is the fullest revelation precisely because He shares the very nature and being of God. This is why we can say there is no prophet who shares this nature of God as a fuller revelation of God – no Prophet Joseph Smith, no Prophet Mohammed, no anyone. Only the Son is the “express image, exact imprint” of the Father.
As the Father has appointed the Son “heir of all things,” so we approach God the Son and it as though we approach God the Father. Talking to the Son is the same as talking to the Father. Looking to the Son is the same as looking to the Father. Being captivated by the Son is to be captivated by God Himself.
This is why we evangelicals are not captivated by material icons of God: crosses, statues, and pictures. In the words of one theologian: “There is no need to hang icons on a wall when you believe in the One who hung on a cross.” This takes us very naturally to our second point and final point. We celebrate Who Christ is and we celebrate . . .
2) We Celebrate What He Did.
The last part of verse 3 contains the only mention in this text of what Christ specifically did for us during His earthly ministry. It is the only mention of what He did because it is the most important thing that He did. The phrase in the last part of the verse is, “When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Jesus Christ died for sins, made purification for sins. That phrase, “by Himself” does not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts and that is why it is omitted from more contemporary translations, but scholars agree that this meaning is conveyed nonetheless by the words.
It is Christ alone who makes atonement,
Provides cleansing, offers Himself as a
Sacrifice for sin, dying on the cross as our substitute.
This is why Christ came. This is the essence of His work. The Son of God came into this world for this primary purpose.
- Yes . . . His earthly ministry of healing is important.
- Yes . . . His teaching is important. Yes, His fulfilling the law of God is important.
- Yes . . . The resurrection is important.
- Yes . . . The ascension is important.
But Christ’s main work,
His main mission,
Was His coming to us to die.
The writer goes on to heighten our awareness of this truth in the second chapter, Hebrews 2:9, where he writes of Jesus who, “Was made (positioned) a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” This is why Christ came, not to start a movement, not merely to teach ethics. He came to die. He came to “by Himself purge our sins.” He came to do this for us because we need it. We need purification. Without the removal of the guilt and pollution of sin we stand before God on the Day of Judgment with all of our sin unforgiven.
The writer warns later in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” We will face the judgment of God for our sin. We must have our sins purified, cleansed, and forgiven. And Christ came to do just that.
This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.
As fallen human beings we have stains of sin all over us, stains within and stains without. Despite all the scrubbing we may try to do to remove them, there is no cleaning agent that will do the trick. We may try to improve our religious performance through moral reform, vowing to be a better person, trying a little harder, but the stain of sin remains. The only cleaning agent that will purify us, removing all of our guilt and the pollution of sin is the blood of Jesus Christ. As the hymn-writer puts it in classic question-answer format . . .
“What shall wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
Verse 3 concludes by saying, “When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He sat down! This action implies completion. You read the Old Testament and you read about the Levitical priesthood of the Israelites and you are reading about types and shadows of the work of Christ. In the Old Testament, when a person sinned, the priest would enter into the tabernacle or the temple and offer an animal sacrifice on the altar, sprinkling its blood to symbolize purification of sin. But of course, as Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Animal sacrifice could not cleanse the conscience and remove the guilt and corruption of sin. Those animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
And the writer of Hebrews goes on to say especially in chapters 9 and 10 that this is why the priest in the Old Testament had to enter the tabernacle or temple repeatedly. He had to continue his work. It was never finished because sin was never completely atoned through animal sacrifice. There was no chair for the High Priest in the temple to sit upon because his work was never complete.
Yet, the writer here in verse 3 says that after Christ “by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He sat down! His work on the cross is finished. He said so Himself in John 19:30, “It is finished.” This was the fulfillment of the Father’s plan. The first words of the Lord Jesus recorded in the Bible, the first words at the age of 12 Jesus says: “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). His last recorded words wee, “It is finished.”
He sat down! There is only one reference in all the Bible to Christ’s standing in heaven, that in Acts 7 where Stephen, who is being killed by stoning, looks up and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, standing as though to welcome Stephen to the glories of his eternal home. But Christ is seated on the throne because His work is finished.
The writer here even uses a verb tense to stress the completion of Christ’s work. The verbal phrase “sat down” is in the aorist tense, a tense denoting the finality of something, the completion of something, the “once-for-allness” of something. The point is that Christ’s death on the cross is an act that does not need to be supplemented or repeated.
The Son of God is the fullest
And final revelation from God.
And His work on the cross is
The fullest and final work
Securing our redemption,
Removing the stain of sin.
It does not need to be
Supplemented by anything.
And it does not need to be repeated.
His death is a once-for-all death to purge us of sin. The cross is the place where our sins have been fully and finally cleansed.
But this is not automatic cleansing. We must believe. We must place our faith in Jesus Christ.
He is not just a Savior,
Or the best Savior,
He is the only Savior.
God has spoken in these last days by His Son. Has He spoken to you? The writer goes on to warn in Hebrews 3:15, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” We must admit and repent from our sin and turn to Christ. Apart from Christ, our sins remain upon us. If we are not clothed in His righteousness, then we are not properly dressed for the judgment. Like Adam and Eve, we stand before God trying to cover up the shame of our sin and the stain of our sin with fig leaves of our own making – call it religion, morality, or self-effort – fig leaves that leave us in our sin and shame. No, we need a new covering. We need the righteousness of Christ.
Christ by Himself purged our sins. If we receive Christ as Lord and Savior then we have the righteousness of Christ – His perfection, His performance – credited to our account. His righteousness covering our sin! Puritan Richard Sibbes states, “There is more righteousness in Christ than there is sin in us.” Amen! Thanks be to God! However many times I may sin, there is always more righteousness in Christ, more righteousness in Christ than sin in us.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”