READ : Hebrews 1:1-4
Over the years God spoke his word to people through many different prophets. But when he wanted to communicate his most important message, God sent his Son into the world.
Think of the amazing revolution in communications we have witnessed over the past hundred years. First was the telephone, towards the end of the last century. It enabled people to speak with one another directly even though they were separated physically. Then, in the early years of the twentieth century, came radio, and a generation later, television, which have made it possible to broadcast audio and visual news and information to huge audiences over vast distances. Now in our own day we have satellites and computers, cellular phones and fax machines and electronic mail, all of which allow us to communicate ever more quickly and extensively. The other day, somebody showed me a computer that is actually a camera and takes pictures without film. What’s next?
These gadgets and devices are so marvelous, and the things they can do so amazing, that they strike us as nothing less than miraculous. But, of course, they aren’t miraculous. There is no miracle involved in any of them. They are all just machines, very clever machines, to be sure, but invented and built by people and operating according to the known laws of physics. There has been only one true miracle of communication – and that’s the one that the writer to the Hebrews tells us about. It’s the miracle of the Incarnation, of God taking on human nature, becoming a man and coming into the world in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. When God did that, he communicated with us in a way that has never been matched, before or since.
GOD HAS SPOKEN . . .
The first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews opens with a series of fundamental affirmations; “fundamental” in the literal sense of the word, for they constitute the foundation, the fundament upon which the Christian faith is built. The first affirmation is that God has spoken, “In the past,” Hebrews states, “God spoke . . .” Here is a simple and straightforward statement of the idea that Christians refer to as “revelation.” Revelation is the truth that underlies all biblical faith and religion because Christianity begins with the presupposition that the God of the universe has made himself known. God has disclosed the truth about his nature, purposes and character in ways that can be understood by us, his human creatures. In the memorable phrase of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer, God is “the God who is there, and he is not silent.” The living, all-powerful, supreme Creator is real, and he has made something about himself known through human language that we can actually understand. “God spoke.”
Just imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine if God had chosen not to communicate with us. We would know almost nothing about him. God would remain shrouded in darkness, wrapped in secrecy and mystery, and all we could do would be to guess at what he was really like. The literal meaning of the New Testament word for revelation is “to uncover or unveil” something that is hidden. In the biblical sense of the word, revealed knowledge is information which cannot be learned any other way. It is the opposite of knowledge discovered through human searching and study. With revelation we do nothing but receive; the truth is uncovered and shown or told to us, and we either accept it or reject it. After all, God isn’t like us. It’s not as though particularly smart people like philosophers or theologians can figure out who God is through sheer brainpower. Trained specialists in religion – ministers, priests and the like – can’t, by their own abilities, track God’s movements or discover his identity. Only God holds the key to the knowledge of himself.
That is because God is spirit and we are flesh. God is in heaven and we are on earth. “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Is. 55:8-9). Even more important, God is holy, and we are sinful. He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). For all those reasons, the only way we can know any of the most important things about God is if he tells us about himself. The good news is, he has!
IN THE BIBLE
The second affirmation made by the writer to the Hebrews is that God has spoken in the Bible. While it is true that there is a sense in which God “speaks” through nature, disclosing his power and his wisdom as the Creator in a wordless message proclaimed throughout the creation (Ps. 19:1-4), this “general” revelation (as it is called) can be ignored or repressed by sinful humans (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). Far back in time, farther than any memory or history can recall, people have forgotten who God really is. Most people still know deep down that God exists, but they no longer know clearly what he is like, or how they can come to know him personally. God is just a vague idea or a power, and so people devote their attention and their loyalty – their worship, in other words – to other gods: to created things like the sun, moon or stars, to birds and animals, or in modern times to idols like money, knowledge, beauty, health, and power.
Another reason why the revelation of God in nature is not sufficient is because it does not tell us the things we most need to know about God. Nature tells us that God is a powerful Creator. But we can know from looking at the world he made that God is a personal being, that he is absolutely holy and righteous, that he delights in being gracious and merciful, and, most of all, that his very nature is love. So the general revelation of creation is supplemented by the special revelation of scripture, which uses actual words spoken (and later written) by chosen spokesmen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to teach us further truths about God’s character and plans. “God spoke to . . . people through the prophets,” is how the writer of Hebrews puts it.
The Bible is God’s word, not just to humanity in general, but to each of us individually. “I read the Bible,” Martin Luther remarked, “as if it had my name written on the cover.” That’s a great idea. The Bible is God speaking and revealing the truth about himself to me personally. God wants not just to enlighten me intellectually or satisfy my curiosity about him, but to establish a personal relationship with me. So for that reason, I must do more with the Bible than just read it in a casual way. I have to read it as if my life depended upon it! I have to take the scripture in and meditate on it, and digest it, hide it in my heart. Most of all, I have to listen as I read, knowing that God will speak to me and show me more of himself, and more of myself as well. I have to look for truths to receive, sins to repent of, promises to believe, commands to obey.
THROUGH HIS SON
The really breathtaking assertion here in Hebrews 1 is the third one. It is that God has spoken not only through the Bible, but through his Son – not just in the scriptures, by the prophets of old, but now in the person of his own Son Jesus Christ. This is what sets the New Testament apart from the Old. In fact, this is what makes it “New.” It’s the same God who speaks in both parts of the Bible. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the same message that runs through both. It’s always about salvation by grace through faith. That’s the theme of the Old Testament as much as it is of the New. But there is a difference. Revelation is progressive; not from less to more true, but from less to more clear, from promise to fulfillment. And the difference all comes down to Jesus.
Hebrews 1 points out some of these differences between God’s self-revelation during the Old Testament era and the time since the coming of Christ into the world. In the past, it says, God spoke in many and various ways through different prophets. But now, in the “last days” (that’s the New Testament phrase designating the time from Christ’s resurrection until his return in glory), God has spoken directly through his one and only Son. In Christ, God has revealed the truth about himself fully, decisively, finally and perfectly. In Christ, all that was scattered throughout the stories and the laws and prophecies of the Old Testament has been gathered up into a unity and fullness of truth. Jesus the Son is God’s final word to the world. Nothing more can be added. Jesus is God in person, the ultimate revelation from a God who is personal, and who wants to communicate personally with each one of us.
The biblical writer describes all the features of the Son that make him God’s last, best Word to humankind. He is the heir of all things, the one for whom the whole universe exists. He is the Father’s agent in creating and sustaining the universe. He is the mirror in which God’s glory can be most clearly seen, the visible sign of God’s presence. He bears the very stamp of the divine nature, making him distinct from, but not different than, the Father. He is the one who brought salvation, who, when he had accomplished atonement for sin, was enthroned in glory, exalted above all angels.
What all this means is that it’s just not possible to know anything more about God than we can see in Jesus. In his life, words and actions we find revealed all that we are able to understand of the being of God. As long as we hear prophets and poets speaking of God, we can still picture him as distant and remote, walking about on the battlements of heaven, shouting down to us or sending long-distance letters with information about himself. But when we hear that “he has spoken to us through his Son,” we know that God himself has come down to us, entering our world as a person and allowing us to look upon his very face.
THE FINAL WORD
Who has the final word on anything nowadays? Who can answer our questions without fear of contradiction? To whom can we turn for certainty, in a world with so many claims and counter-claims, so many different beliefs, so many voices shouting that they alone know the truth or have the secret? It’s so hard to know whom to listen to.
But I do know this. There is no one who compares with Jesus Christ. Listen to him. Look at him! He is the perfect picture of God. He is the living Word, the one who not only tells us what God is like but shows us. The Bible tells us all we need to know about Jesus, and Jesus tells us all we need to know about God. And here it is in one simple sentence: “God loves me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). That is the message God sent his Son to convey.
The message at Christmas is “Immanuel; God is with us.” It was delivered in a baby born in a manger. The baby became a man who died on a cross and rose from a tomb. The man, God’s very Son, is now seated at the right hand of Majesty in heaven, from where he will come again to judge all people.
He is Jesus Christ, God’s final Word. Have you heard him? Have you responded to him? Have you answered him?