Uniqueness of Christ
May I begin by wishing you all a very peaceful and happy New Year. As ever, it is a great privilege and pleasure to be with you once again.
One of the great joys of having a young child are the questions that they come up with periodically. Just before Christmas we were sitting down to supper when our little one who will be 4½ in a few weeks time came up with the following – “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, when’s God’s birthday”? Somehow the conversation them moved on to John chapter 1 (now don’t get me wrong our supper time conversations are never normally this deep or theological) and her follow up question was “What was Jesus doing while God was making the world”? Now get out of that as they say!
Little ones have a wonderful capacity for expressing things very simply and with a clarity that is often lost as we get older but the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is wonderfully clear and direct in his declaration of the superiority of Christ over all of the angelic hosts of heaven above.
False teachers within the early church taught that God could only be worshipped through angels and followers of these heretics revered angels as a means of worshipping God. Yet elsewhere, Scripture is clear that angels are NOT to be worshipped and here the writer to the Hebrews goes to great lengths to point out how vastly superior Jesus is to the angels and to all other created beings.
The writer to the Hebrews (and to this day, we don’t know for certain who that was) goes to great lengths to emphasise that whilst the angels are winds or flames of fire or ministering spirits sent to those who will inherit salvation, Jesus, uniquely, is God’s firstborn Son, the one whom God commands the angels to worship at his birth a fact that we have been reminded of once again in the last few weeks as we read once again the Christmas gospels that remind us that the heavens were filled with the heavenly host praising God as they proclaimed Jesus’ birth.
The writer to the Hebrews goes on to reiterate that not only did the angels worship Jesus thereby elevating Jesus to a position above that of the angels (for worship is something that can only ever be offered to someone greater than yourself) but that Jesus has been set above his companions by the anointing of God, who was with God in the very beginning, who laid the foundations of the earth and made the heavens, who is unchanging, who sits at the right hand of God and whose throne will last for ever – Amen!
To the writer of the Hebrews, there can be no escaping the fact that Jesus is above all others in all creation to be worshipped.
These days there aren’t many who get hung up about worshipping angels but there are many who doubt the superiority and uniqueness of Christ indeed one of the great challenges for us as Christians in these post-modern, relativistic times is proclaiming the very notion of one, true God and of Jesus as the only way to God.
The post modern view is that there are a myriad of equally valid ways to God – that Islam and Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism and all the other ism’s cults and religions are all equally valid ways to god, indeed the one absolute of post modernism is that there shall be no absolutes.
Such a view is clearly at odds with the first and second commands that proclaim the uniqueness of God and the prohibition of all idols (and anything that is worshipped that is not God is without doubt an idol).
Many find the notion of the uniqueness of Christ difficult or even abhorrent yet there is one reason why Christ is the only way to God and it is tucked away in verse 3 where we read that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being sustaining all things by his powerful word”. And then we come to the crux of the passage – “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs”.
The crux of this verse is there in the middle of it – After he had provided purification for sins….
Jesus alone amongst all the great religious leaders and teachers offers us a way back to God because He alone provides purification for sin through his death on the cross.
For this statement to mean anything at all, we have to overcome another of those concepts that our post modern world finds hard to accept – that of a righteous God who can tolerate no sin. Post modernism would have us believe that sin is a relative concept and that provided no-one gets hurt, it isn’t a problem. Clearly this is an attractive notion to many but sadly that is not how God sees sin – for being a Holy, righteous God who can tolerate no sin, all sin is wrong and separates us from him.
Indeed, so serious is sin in God’s eyes that the only penalty is death. That may seem a bleak and hopeless message but such is God’s love for us that under the Old Covenant, God allowed animals to be offered as substitutionary sacrifices – good news for us but bad news if you were a sheep or a bull, a dove or a goat offered as a sacrifice.
Jesus in inaugurating the New Covenant by dying on the cross, took our sins upon him and paid the price for each one of us in an act of what is called by theologians, substitutionary atonement – Jesus substituted himself for each of us as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, the ultimate Paschal lamb and in so doing He provided purification for our sin by removing it once and for all time.
Nowhere else amongst the great or minor religions of the world do we find such love shown to sinful men and it is Christ’s work upon the cross that makes him the only way for each of us to reach God and makes him worthy of all worship.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes clear that in the past God spoke to his people through the prophets at many times and in various ways but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son, the one he has appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe and who is the radiance of God’s glory.
This is the God we worship and through Jesus we no longer need to approach him with fear and trembling but can call him Abba, Father.
This year sees the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible which although not the first or most accurate translation of the ancient Scriptures into English has become one of the greatest and most widely know works in the English language.
It also transformed the availability and understanding of Scripture for although English translations of the Bible had been around for a couple of centuries previously, these were by and large suppressed by the church authorities but with the coming of the Reformation and with it the Authorized Version the church was empowered, more than that commanded to use the Bible in English in all its services. This move to an English translation from the Latin texts used previously transformed religion in this country as the people heard God speaking anew from the Bible in their own language.
It is my hope and prayer that as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, many will hear God anew speaking through his word and will respond afresh to that message of divine love found uniquely in Jesus.