The beginning of 2023 seemed to offer a “fresh start” as the city, and most of the world, opened up again post-COVID. Schoolchildren returned to classrooms, offices and city streets were filled with workers, churches got back to near pre-COVID patterns of attendance and ministry. And yet, as the year unfolded, we witnessed with grief and horror the man-made calamity of war and conflict, as well as natural disasters, tragic accidents and terrible crimes.
I dare say that many of us had been eagerly anticipating the summer break. Christmas signalled a moment to gather with others and hear the familiar but eternally strengthening story of the love of God, who sent his Son into the world for our sakes. God comes among us, as one of us, to share our life and triumph over our enemies: sin, death and the devil.
But of course, for Christians, Jesus is not to be celebrated only at Christmas time. In the new year too, and daily – and all the more in the face of a world steeped in tears and desperate for hope – Jesus is, to use some of the metaphors of the writer to the Hebrews, the meat that feeds our faith, the rock upon which we stand and the anchor in heaven that leads us home.
The opening verses of the letter to the Hebrews are one long sentence celebrating Jesus. He is the Word of God, the Lord of creation, the image of God and the Saviour King of his people.
In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a).
The writer is not talking about spiritual principles. He’s not talking about spirituality. He’s talking about history. Religion is the human attempt to find God and get his attention, but Christianity proclaims that it is God who speaks to us, God who approaches us, God who makes himself known to us in history. From the Bible’s perspective, we are not searching for God, we are spoken to by God. Isn’t that kind of him? Isn’t he glorious? The Word of God, spoken to us, in these last days, by Jesus the Son!
…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:2).
The writer reminds us first that God sent his Word in the person of his Son, a human being like us. Then the writer reminds us that the God-Man Jesus is the divine Son of God – creator, sustainer and goal of the cosmos. Jesus Christ owns every rock and tree, every continent and ocean, every star and moon, every constellation and galaxy. As John Stott says, “Here is the cosmic Christ!”
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3a).
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. The Son is to the Father like light is to a candle, but more like the sunshine is to the sun. And he is the exact representation of the being of God.
Critics of Christianity say that it is an extraordinary and arrogant thing to claim to know who God is and what he is like – that perhaps every religion has some aspect of the truth about God, but no religion has all the truth. This is precisely what we reject. God in his goodness has made something of himself known to all people in the very structure of creation, and there is some truth in most religions I would guess, but mixed with error. They all fail to communicate truth about God. But in Jesus, God has made himself known.
I do not mean that Christians know everything about God. There is more to know! We are not able, weak and wicked as we are, to grasp all that has been made known. But there is no more to be revealed, for Jesus perfectly reveals God. In the new creation, we will learn things we didn’t know about God, but we will not learn things that were not revealed in Jesus. We have not yet comprehended all that God has made known.
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:3b-4).
At this point, the writer turns from a description of the greatness of the Son in terms of his person, to a description of his greatness in terms of his work. From the magnificence of who he is to the wonder and glory of what he has done.
He is the one who makes us clean. We are stained by sin, by nature and choice. We are shrouded in death’s dark clouds. We are mired in the fallenness of the creation. But Jesus washes us clean.
To know the world’s need for good news, we need only tune in to the daily news. We need only examine our own hearts: fearful, ashamed, wearied and worn. What will secure you in the midst of the storm? What will hold you when you are weak? What will keep you amidst trial and temptation – nothing other than Jesus and nothing better than Jesus: Word of God, Lord of creation, radiance of God’s glory, Saviour and King!
Christianity is so simple a child can believe, be a Christian and be saved; and yet Christianity is so substantial that its wonders and glories can fill our hearts and sustain us through all of life’s challenges, because at its heart Christianity is nothing other than Jesus, and nothing better than Jesus.