October 3, 2015 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for tomorrow (10/4/15) at Central Church of Christ in Stockton, CA. Posting early for the benefit of any desperate preachers still trying to figure out what they’re going to say tomorrow. Maybe this will help, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will at least show you the direction you don’t want to go in your sermon.
The Scriptures for tomorrow are:
Act 1: Jesus, God’s first and final Word
Our New Testament reading today began with these words: God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son.
God had spoken through Moses. God had spoken through Elijah. God had spoken through Isaiah. God had spoken through Jeremiah. God had spoken through Ezekiel.
And yet, through these human mouthpieces, something had always gotten lost in translation, hadn’t it? There had been misunderstandings. Communication breakdowns. Often God and his people seemed to be talking past one another. Sometimes the problem was that the people weren’t yet ready to grasp what God was trying tell them. Other times, they just plain weren’t listening.
Through Moses and the Prophets, God’s people had been given glimpses of the truth. But now, Hebrews says: at the end of the present age, God has given us the truth in the Son.
The author of Hebrews is saying, God spoke to us before in the words of the prophets. But now he has spoken to us in the flesh and blood of a Son.
At Sinai God had begun a conversation with his people. This conversation continued through the prophets. This ongoing conversation had formed and reformed; had fed and sustained; had disciplined and comforted the people of God for hundreds of years. And yet, there were these long, awkward periods of silence.
The author of Hebrews begins her letter with the audacious claim that God has broken his silence by sending his Son, Jesus Christ. And that in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, we do not merely catch glimpses—rumors or hints or fragments—of the truth. In Jesus the Son, we have been given the truth.
Once in the long ago, the Hebrews had cried out for years to a silent heaven over their slavery in Egypt. God had broken that silence, not in words, but by leading this ragtag assortment of enslaved tribes out of their slavery and forming them into the nation of Israel.
Now God has again broken his silence by sending his Son, and gathering a people around him.
Hebrews wants the people who hear her message to know that Jesus the Son is the continuation and the fulfillment of the conversation God began in the Exodus. He is the point God has been trying to get across all along.
The God who raised Israel from Egypt also raised Jesus from the dead. The God who spoke through Moses and the prophets now speaks through the life of his Son.
God is not merely speaking through the words of his Son, Jesus. God had already spoken through the words of the prophets. No, Jesus himself is the message.
When Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners and drunks and prostitutes to his kingdom table, God is talking. That’s a message from God. Have we heard the message?
When Jesus heals diseases and casts out demons, freeing people to thrive and flourish again, God is speaking. Have we heard the news?
When Jesus embraces children, and tells his disciples: whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it, God is saying something. Are we paying attention?
Jesus says some difficult things. In a violent wold full of warlords, con-men, and sociopaths, Jesus says: I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you (Matt. 5.39-41, 44). But he doesn’t just say the words. He isn’t above the fray. He preaches what he practices. For he himself is slapped. He himself is stripped naked. He is made to carry a burden that is not rightfully his. God turned the other cheek that day. Did you see him? In the cross of his Son, God cries out to us all. Have we listened?
Now, at the end of the present age, Hebrews tells us, God has given us the truth in the Son. Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. Hebrews wants us to know that Jesus the Son has been the central theme of the conversation between God and his people the entire time. Even before there was an Israel to speak to, God made all conversation possible through Jesus. Because, as Hebrews tells us, through the Son God made the whole universe.
Think about that. It means that the Word of God spoken to the chaos and darkness that first day of creation—Let there be light!—was Jesus himself. Jesus makes life possible. Jesus is the creative Word of God.
And Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus the Son is the radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God, himself the upholding principle of all that is. He is the glue that holds everything together. Everything finds coherence and meaning, everything converges, in his life. Jesus is God’s first and final Word.
God’s most vulnerable, intimate, revealing self-expression is in the earthy, flesh-and-blood life of his Son, Jesus.
And there’s more. Hebrews also wants those who hear her testimony to know that Jesus effected in person the reconciliation between God and man and then took his seat at the right hand of the majesty on high. God has not only re-opened lines of communication between himself and us; has not only renewed the conversation, but the conversation can never be the same. Jesus has fundamentally changed the dynamic between God and humanity. Because now, seated at God’s right hand, is his crucified and resurrected Son. The Human One.
Through Jesus, God has perfected the conversation that had begun in Moses and continued through the prophets. With Jesus—the priestly representative for all humanity sitting just beside God—God and humanity don’t have to talk past each other anymore.
For in the person of Jesus the Son, God has had a human experience.
Act 2: Jesus – God’s Human Experience
So Hebrews wants her readers to hear Jesus as the first and final Word from God. God speaks through the person of Christ. God is continuing a conversation he began with his people long ago. And yet, the old conversation has taken a completely new turn.
Hebrews reveals that Jesus is the creative and sustaining word from God. So whatever God speaks through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Jesus the Son creates and nurtures new possibilities for those who embrace the message. God’s words are no longer passed along through humans. The Word has become a human. The conversation is not mediated. It is face-to-face, person to person. Every time someone had an in-person encounter with Jesus, they were meeting God. Hearing God. Speaking to God.
The conversation God has re-initiated with people involves his Word touching people, embracing people, eating with people, weeping with people.
God is having a human experience.
I suspect Hebrews wanted her audience to hear a connection between what God was saying in Christ and what God said in the Exodus. God was liberating people who were stuck in ways of living that God never intended for us. God didn’t make people to be beat-down, oppressed slaves. The Exodus is how a just God responds to slavery and oppression.
In our reading today, we heard Hebrews say that Jesus was the perfect leader for humanity. She wants us to see Jesus as a new and better Moses, leading us all to freedom.
Because the situation of the Hebrews in Egypt was really a microcosm of the human condition. We are all enslaved to sin and shame and sickness and fear and death. We are all oppressed. And that’s not what God made us for.
To make this clear, Hebrews quotes Psalm 8:
What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.
God made us just a little lower than the angels. And God crowned us with glory and honor, and set us over the works of his hands. That’s how we were created.
We see this truth about the vocation given to us in Gen. 1.26. When God made humans, he said: Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth. And we see the practical outworking of this in Genesis 2, when God creates the first human, who we know as Adam: The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it (Gen. 2.15). We heard about Adam exercising humanity’s God-given authority over the work of God’s hands in our Old Testament reading today: The Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals (Gen. 2.19-20). The first task that we see God delegating to human authority was naming the animals.
But Hebrews laments that this is not how we see the human condition after the events of Genesis 3. After Genesis 3, both humans and nature—all of creation—are victims. We are at odds with the created order. We are at odds with other humans. All things are not, in fact in subjection under our feet. We answer to famines and droughts and pests and disease and war and murder and conflict and poverty and hunger and racism and death. Things are not, after all, how the psalmist described them. It was a moment of wishful thinking. That’s how things are supposed to be—but they are not that way now.
We all know, deep down, that thing aren’t the way they were supposed to be. And even now, with our modern technologies and medicines, we still haven’t tamed drought or famine or wildfires. People are still going hungry. Children die every day from diseases. We will all one day wear out and die. We see some people hoarding all the good while others go hungry. We are always on the cusp of some war or another.
We really have very little control. It’s kind of a lark to think anyone could say that all things are in subjection under our feet. I hear that Psalmist sing, but then I look at the superscription of the Psalm. It reads, According to the Gittith, which means, roughly: At the winepresses. And I want to tell whoever wrote that Psalm, Go home! You’re drunk!
Hebrews felt that way, too. She says: Notice that the writer puts “all things” under the sovereignty of man: he left nothing outside his control. But we do not yet see “all things” under his control.
She knows it. You know it. I know it. God knows it. We certainly don’t have “all things” under our control.
So Hebrews acknowledges the truth of the human condition, and that’s exactly where she injects Jesus back into the conversation: We do not yet see “all things” under his—that is, mankind’s—control, she concedes. Instead, what we actually see is Jesus.
We certainly don’t see a world where humans have mastered everything. We actually don’t even see a world where humans can even peacefully co-exist with each other, let alone with the rest of creation.
But we do see Jesus, the author of Hebrews tells us. We do see God’s embodied conversation. We do see the crucified and resurrected Human One. We see the one who—in a stunning reversal of the old Hank Williams song—got out of this world alive.
We see a survivor. We see a champion.
And we hear a promise overflowing with hope.
We humans will be restored to our God-given vocation of tending and keeping creation in a new heaven and new earth. In our reading today, Hebrews called it the future world of men. And we will get there through the living Word of God, Jesus, who is our perfect leader.
To liberate us all from bondage to sin and death and famine and war and disease and hunger and shame—that’s why Jesus came. That’s why God had a human experience.
The creative and sustaining Word of God penetrated our flesh-and-blood world to set us free. To show us the way. To be the way.
The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is God’s promise to us that he has not forgotten us. He has not left us to suffer and die and rot. The cross and resurrection is God’s Word-become-flesh that he can—and will—redeem everything.
Act 3: Jesus as God speaking
God spoke through Jesus. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus—the Human One, the one who was dead but now lives—is God’s promise to us.
God has said through Jesus that he created us in his image and likeness, that he crowned us with glory and honor, and set us over the works of his hands. And nothing—not even our sin and the death it brings—will stand in the way of his purposes for us.
Jesus will lead us back to the place God made us for. In Jesus, God is recreating us in his image and likeness, because Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God, and the flawless expression of the nature of God. And even though humans have cut God out of our conversations through our disobedience and stubborn pride, God has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong to his Son, Jesus. The Human One. The Son of Man. He has given the future world of men to his Son, Jesus. He has put the works of his hands into subjection under the feet of one man: Jesus.
And through God’s Son, the human Jesus, humanity and all creation will be restored. His obedience will undo our disobedience.
This is what God has spoken through his Son, Jesus. And that’s what Hebrews wants everyone who ever reads her letter to know.
She wants us to understand what God has gone through, what God has suffered, what God has given up, to bring us back into a healthy dialogue—a healing communion—with him.
Because God backs up his promises with personal sacrifice.
What we actually see, she tells us, is Jesus, being made temporarily inferior to the angels (and so subject to pain and death). To be made inferior to the angels is to become fully human. As the Psalm she quoted says: What is man that you are mindful of him? You made him a little lower than the angels. We see the Word of God that created the world becoming a vulnerable inhabitant in his own creation. We see the Son of God come to us as a refugee. We hear God whisper, This is how I love you.
God communicates to us not in words we can twist and manipulate, but in the life of a man—his Son—who will not be manipulated. Who will not be persuaded to take an easier, softer path. Whose life will broadcast the truth of God, even if it kills him.
And it did.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus—the Word through whom all life was created—in God’s grace, tasted death for every man. One man experienced death for the sake of us all.
Did Jesus the Son, the creative Word of life, have to taste death for us all because God demands that we die for our sins? Is God’s justice such that even his mercy must submit to it? Is his grace that cruel, that violent? Did he have to kill Jesus—our representative, our priest—so he wouldn’t have to kill everyone else?
No—not at all. And we must stop speaking such blasphemies, church. No, Hebrews wants us to understand that Jesus tasted death for everyone so that we could see that God does not allow death to have the final word over his people and his creation. That’s what God was telling us when Jesus tasted death for everyone.
Now we see Jesus—the Human One who tasted death for us all—crowned with glory and honor. We see in his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension God’s promise to redeem, reconcile, restore us all. When we see our perfect leader who suffered and tasted death for everyone, now crowned with glory and honor, we are seeing God’s Word—God’s promise—made flesh for us all.
In Jesus—the Son of Man, the creative Word—we hear God tell us that his justice requires that God suffers with us. This is what Hebrews is telling us when she says: It was right and proper that in bringing many sons to glory, God should make the leader of their salvation a perfect leader through the fact that he suffered. For the one who makes men holy and the men who are made holy share a common humanity.
For we have all been afraid. We have all been terrified. We have all been hurt. We have all suffered. We have all shed tears. We have all had pain inflicted on us. We have all felt abandoned. We have all been betrayed. We have all been insulted and humiliated.
And in the suffering of the Son, God weeps with us all, and says: Oh my children! All my children! See what they have done to my Child? Oh my suffering children—they did it to me, too!
And so Hebrews tells us, Jesus—the Son of God, the Son of Man, the leader perfected in suffering, the voice of God—suffers with us all and welcomes us all as brothers and sisters. As God’s children with him. And so Hebrews proclaims that the one who makes men holy and the men who are made holy share a common humanity. So that he is not ashamed to call them his brothers, for he says: ‘I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praise to you’.
He sings God’s freedom and acceptance and reconciliation and restoration to us all. The creative Word of God has been bonded to all people by sharing in our suffering. And so he proudly proclaims before us and God that we are his sisters and brothers.
And so we see Jesus, who has tasted death for everyone, now crowned with glory and honor. And declaring his solidarity with us. Not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, because he has suffered with us.
He is God’s Word, God’s voice—inviting us home. Encouraging us on the way. Welcoming us as long-lost family finally found.
That’s the first thing Hebrews wants us to know about Jesus.