Scripture: Hebrews 1:3
Christmas is one week from today and our topic is the exaltation of Christ. We are moving beyond baby Jesus in the manger this year to talk about the glory and worthiness of our risen Savior.
There is perhaps no verse in the Bible that lifts Jesus up higher than Hebrew 1:3 and that is our text this morning.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
If you watch sports on TV or listen to sports radio, then you are very familiar with a debate that all sports fans love to have with each other. Who’s the greatest of all time?
Is it Michael Jordan or Lebron James? Is it Leonel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
These debates are fun, and the arguments usually revolve around what the person has accomplished. It has nothing to do with who the person is. We talk about statistics and trophies and rings.
But greatness in the Bible always has as much or more to do with a person’s nature, or their character. You cannot separate a person’s nature from their accomplishments if you want to consider the Bible’s idea of greatness.
With that in mind, I want to introduce you to a better Jesus this morning than the one most people believe in.
The person this verse describes is certainly a much better Jesus than the one most people think about at Christmas.
This verse tells us HOW Jesus reveals God to us. Part of how Jesus reveals God is by what Jesus accomplished. But just as important, if not more important, is what Jesus is like.
If you ask the average person on the street, “Who is Jesus?” An unbeliever might say, “Jesus was supposedly a guy who died on a cross for people’s sins.” A believer might say: “Jesus was the guy who died on a cross for my sins.”
Even in the church, the focus is almost always on the work of Christ. What did Jesus do? What were His miracles? Why did he die on the cross?
All of that is extremely important, but we cannot separate the WORK from the PERSON.
In Great Britain, when a royal, a dignitary, or a high-ranking official walks into a dinner party or a ball, someone announces their arrival. But they don’t list off the person’s accomplishments. They announce the person’s TITLE. This is how they would introduce the queen before she died:
“Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.” All of it WHO she is.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews does here. He tells us WHO Jesus is, not only what Jesus accomplished. He tells us both because they cannot be separated one from the other.
And this morning, my goal for us is a simple one. I want nothing more than for each of us to leave here with a bigger view of Jesus. I want him to be more to us than just a baby in a manger and even more than the man who died on the cross. I want the man who died on that cross (and rose again) to be bigger and better than we thought He was.
First, the writer says Jesus is the “radiance” of the glory of God. In other words, Jesus is the shining and visible light that emanates from God Himself. He is not like the moon, reflecting the sun’s light. Jesus is more like the actual light from the sun. The sun is far away, but it’s light reaches across space to earth.
In the Old Testament, God radiated something that the Hebrews called His “Shekinah Glory”. This is what Hebrews 1:3 calls Jesus. Jesus is God coming to earth, like the light from the sun.
But what is “glory”. Do you remember from our study of Samuel? The “glory” of a king or a priest was something displayed in his wardrobe. Important people in ancient times wore lots of heavy, ornamented robes to show that they were important. The heaviness of the garments was a display of “glory”.
Jesus bears in His Person the radiance of God’s glory.
He is also the “exact imprint” of God’s nature. In other words, Jesus is not a counterfeit but an exact copy. He isn’t made of similar stuff, but the same exact stuff. Jesus is equal in substance to the Father.
This can’t mean anything else except that Jesus is literally God. To see Christ is to see what God is like.
This one verse destroys any heresy that says Jesus is not God. God would not allow His Word to say these things about anyone else.
Jesus is called God’s Son, but not in the same way that Eli is my son. Eli bears some of my DNA and looks a little like me, but he isn’t my clone. Jesus, however, has exactly the same nature as the Father.
He also “upholds” the universe. In Greek mythology, there was a titan named Atlas who held the earth up on his back. But this word “upholds” is different. It means that Jesus has the power to create, preserve, control, and bring to an end everything. He’s not only holding the world in his hand. He can do whatever he wants with it.
That’s the baby in the manger. That’s the man who died on the cross. The man who with a single word could change everything we know… The one who became God in the flesh… The one who creates and sustains all things…
This is the man that Hebrews 1:3 says made “purification” for sins. This is the only phrase in the verse that highlights the work of Jesus. Everything else focuses on His Person, His worth, His value, His identity.
In other words, Jesus was able to make purification for our sins because of WHO HE IS.
Only God in the flesh could accomplish that.
We understand the idea here. There are certain things that only a president can do. There are certain things that only a rich person can do. There are certain things that only a king can do.
The only person who can forgive sins is God, because He is the one sinned against. The only person who can pay the penalty for sins had to be a man, because man committed the first sin. Jesus had to be both.
Hebrews will spend a lot of time talking about the priesthood. That’s probably because God is about to let the Romans destroy the temple in Jerusalem. The sacrifices will end. The Old Covenant will be eliminated completely. And the writer of Hebrews is preparing Jewish Christians for this.
They don’t need the sacrifices if they have Jesus. The priests and the sacrifices were always about Jesus.
Priests in the temple never sat down. When they were at work, they remained standing until they left the temple. But notice what Hebrews says about Jesus.
“After making purification for sins, he sat down…”
This expands on what we talked about last week. What that means is that Jesus finished the work. His sacrifice as a priest for His people was a one-time thing and it was enough. He finished His work. He did something the other priests could never do. He sat down.
You see this in sports. Near the end of a big game, if a team has a big lead, they will usually send their star player to the bench. The player will sit down to loud cheering and the coach will send in a player that usually doesn’t get a chance to play. The star did their job. There’s really nothing left to do. The coach is just letting the bench guy experience the moment of playing in a game.
As a side note, that’s our role. Jesus sat down. The work is finished. We are not adding anything. We aren’t stealing his spotlight. We aren’t robbing him of any glory. But He loves us enough to let us play even though the game is already won.
Finally, the writer says that Jesus sat down at the “right hand” of God. This is the position of favor, honor and authority. What that means is this: Jesus not only finished His work, but it was perfect. Even though He humbled himself and died on the cross, in the end He lost nothing. But He gained everything.
He resumed His rightful place of honor having purchased the souls of millions with His own blood.
So, who is Jesus?
Jesus is the Prophet through whom God has spoken His final word.
Jesus is the Priest who has accomplished a perfect work of cleansing for His people’s sins.
Jesus is the King who sits in the place of highest honor, ruling over all things.
Why is all of this so important? I believe Jesus died for my sins on the cross. Why do I need a bigger and better idea of Jesus than that?
And that’s a great question. We live in a time in history when we don’t really need to “know” anything. Most of us have an entire world of information on our smart phones. If I want to know something about God, I can just look it up.
But this is not just useless trivia. The Bible is an invitation to know and follow and be loved by the God who created you.
Think about whatever you want for Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult, I bet you spent a lot of time thinking about your Christmas list. You did some research. You looked at reviews. You spent time deciding what to ask for. Why?
Because you see value in it… You believe that gift is going to make you happy. And that’s ok! I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty for enjoying Christmas.
But let’s be honest for a moment. Do we care to learn more about God the way we care about our Christmas list? Is He at least that valuable to us?
The evidence in my life says no. My phone tells me how much time I spend on it and it’s an embarrassing amount of time. I wish I could say it’s all on the Bible app or a prayer list, but it’s not. My hobbies get my time. Random videos posted by strangers… that gets my time.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
I don’t know about you, but I quickly and easily forget what this feels like – to believe that Jesus is worth more than everything I’ve got!
I underestimate the effect of sin in my life. I forget how easily I drift – how quickly I become disinterested in the things of God. But God has never let me stray too far and every time He brings me back, it feels like Christmas morning.
When I was a child, my family did not celebrate Christmas. Most of you know I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. But one year, when I was about 6 years old, I got to stay with my grandparents for Christmas and I think my grandmother tried to combine every Christmas I missed into that one year. I woke up to presents everywhere! It felt like a dream coming true! I’ll never forget that feeling.
That’s what the joy of our salvation is supposed to feel like, I think. If you don’t believe me, listen to Psalm 126.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
If you’re like me, you’ve forgotten again that Jesus is the greatest of all time. You’ve forgotten the joy of the kingdom. You’ve drifted again into selfishness and laziness. You’ve forgotten the gift of forgiveness and unconditional love of the Father for His children in Jesus Christ.
So, what do we do? We repent and believe. We open the gift again. We laugh. We sing.