The First in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Hebrews
We begin a new series on the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an epistle which exalts Jesus Christ, who is superior to Israel’s prophets, superior to the angels, superior to Moses, superior to Aaron and the priests of Israel, and because of whom life in the New Covenant is vastly superior to that under the Old.
As John Calvin contends, the purpose of this epistle is to explain the offices of Christ and demonstrate how Jesus has fulfilled all the ceremonies of the Jewish law. As we will see, this is an epistle which was written to Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, some of whom were abandoning their Christian faith and returning to Judaism. Because Hebrews addresses all of these issues, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks powerfully to us today. There are people all around us who come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, but who eventually give up their profession of faith and return to whatever it was that they believed before. There are also people in our churches who believe all the right things on an intellectual level, but who never do seem to put their profession of faith into action. There are even those who for a time profess the Reformation doctrine of justification sola fide, but who abandon that confession and convert to Romanism or Orthodoxy. The Epistle to the Hebrews is a warning and an exhortation to all of us, not to abandon our faith in Jesus Christ. Not only is Jesus vastly superior to anything or anyone else we might imagine, but to walk away from Christ is to come under his judgment.
As we begin this series, I ask all of you to take some time in the next few weeks and read through this epistle in its entirety, and then do so throughout this series. It is important to keep the big picture before us, so we don’t bog down in the details. Hebrews is not an easy book to study because it presupposes that its reader is quite familiar the Old Testament. Yet because Hebrews is so thoroughly grounded in the Old Testament, it is a vital book for us to know and study. Hebrews explains to us how we are to understand the Old Testament. Hebrews is also direct and pointed in its language and its rather stern warnings need to be applied to the right people in the right ways. The bruised reeds and smoldering wicks among us need to realize that struggling with the assurance of one’s salvation is not something which characterizes apostasy–a theme which is addressed in this letter. Apostates give up on their profession in Christ–they don’t worry about not having assurance of their salvation, something they never truly had in the first place. And we need to understand the warnings we find within, and then heed them.
In addressing the superiority of Jesus, the author sets forth the uniqueness of our Lord as the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. But Christ’s deity is not discussed in the abstract, but in the context of his role as the mediator of a new and better covenant, a covenant which was foretold by all of Israel’s prophets (especially Jeremiah). Christ’s mediatorial work in which he represents us before our heavenly father, ties together the rich redemptive themes of priesthood, sacrifice, and covenant–all of which are prominent in this epistle.
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