God has Spoken

Reading: Hebrews 1.1-4; 2.1-12
Babies learn early that conversation is an important part of life. Their initial "coo" mightn't convey any verbal meaning to us yet, but we know they are responding to us - so we respond back to them.

That's what conversation is - this response back and forth. If someone insists on "holding the floor" all the time, that's a monologue, not a conversation.

Some people use that frustrating expression, "I hear what you are saying…" That may well mean that they haven't been taking you seriously at all. Quite likely, they disagree with you - "I hear what you are saying, but…"

Then there are those who always want to have the last word in any discussion, debate or argument. Their opinion is final.

Of course, conversation isn't the only form of communication. There are times when it is right and proper for communication to take place "one way" - when someone has the real authority to give the "last word". Well - the last word for the moment, until there is a change of policy or government!

We live in an age of widespread skepticism. Add to that our ethnic and cultural diversity and we have a retreat from absolute beliefs and values. If it is "true for you", fine - believe it! If you think it's good, go ahead and live that way! But don't impose your beliefs and values on anyone else. Everyone has the right to their own opinions.

Yet even in an age of skepticism, when many profess "no religion", we witness a whole variety of quests for "spirituality" of one kind or another.

In many ways we are reminded of the Athens Paul visited on his third missionary journey. He said to the meeting of the Areopagus, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked round and observed your objects of worship, I found even an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as unknown I am going to proclaim to you" (Acts 17.22-23).

Paul began with their obvious belief in some sort of gods and went on to tell them in no uncertain terms that God has revealed himself. Religious belief and spirituality reveal our awareness that there must be a spiritual reality beyond all we see and hear and feel. But we can't really know God unless he reveals himself to us.

God has spoken…

For a very long time there has been uncertainty about who wrote the letter to the Hebrews. Origen, writing early in the third century, noted that the style and composition are clearly not Paul's, though it calls to mind aspects of the apostle's teaching. He concluded, "Who wrote this letter, in truth God knows".

The letter seems to have been written to Jewish Christians - possibly living outside Palestine - who have experienced persecution and are under intense pressure to revert to Judaism (note 10.32-39).

The writer calls them to consider the sure and certain faith they have in Christ. Their Jewish faith was incomplete. It looked forward to the coming of Christ. In particular, he speaks of the completeness of Christ's revelation (1.1-2.18), his superiority over Moses and Joshua (3.1-4.13), the superiority of his priesthood (4.14-7.28), the superiority of his covenant (8.1-9.22) and the superiority of his sacrifice (9.23-10.39).

Since Christ is the fulfilment (or completion) of all that their Jewish fathers had ever hoped for, they are now called to run the race of faith, looking only to him (11.1-12.29).

"God has spoken" Our knowledge of God and what he expects of us comes, not by human investigation or discovery, but by revelation. It comes about because God wants us to know about himself, because he wants us to know his love, because he wants to include us in his family.

"In the past" "in these last days" God's self-revelation has come in two major sections - the Bible is divided into Old and New Testaments. His revelation was progressive, as people were able to receive it. Some was preparation and promise while "in these last days" the revelation has been fulfilment. The writer to the Hebrews is very much focusing attention on the fulfilment "in these last days".

"At many times and in various ways" The words on spine of the Hebrew Bible don't say, "Holy Bible", but "Law, Prophets and Writings". That arrangement holds some surprises for us. Law - that's surely all about God's rules for living, how God's people are meant to live. Yet it is couched in the story of God's people, much of it under Moses' leadership as they escaped from slavery in Egypt. Prophets - to our surprise, the first section in the prophets is Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings - historical stuff! The books we think of as the prophets are in a second section. So God was revealing himself in and through the history of his chosen people, the Israelites - through obedience and disobedience, through kings good and bad, through wars and struggles... as well as through special spokesmen who bring the Lord's word of guidance, warning and promise. And then Writings, beginning with the book of Psalms... So God has spoken through poetry and parable, vision and dream too.

"Through the prophets" The words were not just immediate. They became "Scripture" - the Word of God written. The writings that we call the Bible weren't just accepted "on the spot" as Scripture. Much of what the prophets said wasn't welcome at the time. But it was kept, and came to be recognised as the Word of God.

"By his Son" Revelation was progressive to its "fulfilment" in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1.14). In Hebrews there is a strong emphasis that what happened "of old" foreshadowed the reality that would come to be in Christ.

And who is this Son? He is "the radiance of God's glory" - God's glory shines out through him (Mt 17.1-5; Jn 1.14; 2 Pet. 1.17). He is "the exact representation of [God's] being" - the Greek word gives us our English "character" and was used of the stamp which faithfully represented the Emperor's signature in clay documents.

God's Last Word

As we move into chapter 2, we have the first hint of the pressure under which the readers were living - "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away" (2.1). Why? Because now it has come to us through the Son himself.

Hebrews by no means suggests that the first part of the revelation could be ignored - "the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment" (v. 2). If that was so, "how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" - a salvation announced by the Lord, confirmed by those who heard him, attested by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit (vv. 3-4).

The Son is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (1.3). And now "we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (2.9).

Jesus who was truly God the Son, became truly human - he "shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (vv. 14,15).

His true humanity also enables him to be "a merciful and faithful high priest" and to "make atonement for the sins of the people" - themes developed later in the letter.

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (v. 18).

So What?

God truly has the last say. He has revealed himself and has the right to tell us what to do. The question is: What are we going to do about it?

We can spend our lives justifying ourselves - giving all the reasons why our own life-style choices are as valid as anyone else's. But God has spoken - revealing his holiness, defining human sin and then providing in Jesus the only true way of justification - making us right with himself.

The Word given in Old Testament times was binding. Now the Word-in-a-person has come - the living Word. Now the gospel of salvation has been fully declared -"how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"

We hear again the "did God really say…?" question of the tempter in the Garden (Gen. 3.1) as we endeavour to justify a whole range of aberrant life-styles of today. Yes, God has indeed spoken! Don't justify behaviour that he condemns, and don't miss out on the great salvation he offers!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 5 October 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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