Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:1-4
This sermon is the beginning of a new sermon series in Hebrews, and it is important to start by setting the context and vision for the series.
The letter is written by an unknown author (likely somebody who has ministered with Paul) to a group of Christians, who were probably based in Rome. These Christians are experiencing opposition and pressure, as followers of a novel faith that did not acknowledge the Roman deities. Whilst an exception had been made for Jews to continue their traditional worship, there was no such accommodation for Christians. The temptation before these Christians was to downplay the significance of Christ and to slip back into something that closely approximated Judaism.
Whilst the details may be different, the situation of these Christians is very recognisable today. Now, as then, there is an increasing opposition to Christianity in the public sphere. Publicly discussing Biblical beliefs can be costly and go against the cultural grain. The temptation to downplay and minimise our faith in Christ in order to ease the pressure is real, and the letter to the Hebrews warns both the original recipients and readers today not to buckle to this pressure but to hold fast to the great salvation that we have received.
The way the author makes their case is to put Jesus centre stage and show just how central and ultimate he is. Through a series of contrasts with Old Testament events and images we see that there is no comparison. Jesus is the one who it has all pointed to and it is as we cling tightly to him that our salvation is found.
In this opening passage, we are given a wonderful picture of who Jesus is. Whilst God has spoken in various ways in the past, his revelation through Jesus is so much bigger and clearer. We are told that Christ is the heir of all things, and that he was involved in creation. We are told that he radiates God’s glory and upholds all things, and we are told that he has purified us from all sin and been seated at the right hand of God. There is none like him.
Through the rest of chapter one, we see a case from the Old Testament of Christ being higher than the angels (perhaps a particular temptation for the original recipients was to focus on the angels over Christ). These verses are not part of the passage of this sermon, but are worth briefly touching on.
The author then lands with the application that they return to throughout the letter. Keep going! Do not neglect this salvation! Do not shrink back or fall away! Press on in the faith!
Some Key Points:
- We, like the original recipients of the letter, live in a context of pressure and opposition to our faith, where there is the temptation to shrink back and minimise what we believe.
- In Christ, God has revealed himself to us in a much greater and more final way than any previous revelation. Christ shows us God’s glory and we see his work in creation, providence and purification. He is greater than all the angels.
- Having received this gospel, we must take care not to ignore it or drift away from it, but should hold tightly to it even in the midst of cultural pressure.
- A Call to Worship – The passage presents clearly a picture of the glory of God in Christ. This ought to stir us to worship and adoration, and the sermon should have a significant doxological element to it.
- A Call to Persevere – The message of the author is clear. We should pay attention to the truths that we have heard in order to guard us against drifting away from this salvation we have received. You could ask the congregation what causes them to drift, and suggest some practices that help us to pay attention and hold fast to the truth.
- An Acknowledgement of Difficulty – The letter was written to those under cultural pressure to back off from the faith, and we can acknowledge the ways we see this kind of pressure in our own cultural setting. This may be felt more acutely by some than by others and we can empathise and offer prayer for those in the congregation who are in this situation at the moment.