"God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, has at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1-2).
Although we have heard very much of the document which goes by the name of the 'Letter to the Hebrews', and may think we know something about it, and although many of its terms and phrases are so familiar to our ears, I am convinced that the magnitude of this letter has never yet been comprehended. It is a far greater document than perhaps any of us realise. How immensely far-reaching and comprehensive it is! In the presence of a new sense of that immensity, I venture to bring before you a little more about it at this time.
Yes, it is a document. But for the closing sentences, we would never know it was a letter. It comprehends, as you know, all the spiritual meaning of at least four thousand years, as contained in the Old Testament. It goes behind all history, behind all temporal and earthly movements and events and systems and processes, and gathers them all up in one inclusive issue - the inheritance of God's Son.
This letter resolves all the greatest problems that have ever perplexed the human mind or troubled the human heart; all the problems of time and of eternity.
Is it the problem of man? He has always been a problem; there has always hung over his head a question: What is he? Who is he? Why is he? Where is he going? What is his destiny? Those questions have occupied and exercised the mind and heart ever since there was a man. This letter essays to answer all those questions and resolve all those problems: and the answer is Jesus Christ! In this letter, the problem and question of man is answered in the Person of God's Son.
Is it the great question and problem of sin? That has troubled and fretted man from the earliest time. What a problem sin is and what a question sin is! What a story sin has written! What a world sin has made of this world! And this letter essays to solve that problem and to answer that question, and does so in exactly the same way. The whole thing is taken up and answered, cleared up and solved, in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Is it the mystery of suffering? What a mystery suffering is, what a problem! What a question hangs over human suffering! 'Why?' Again, this letter essays to tackle and settle the whole question of suffering, and once more, it does so in precisely the same way: in the Person of Jesus Christ. The end of all that is secured, settled and sealed in Him and triumph over it is found in Him.
Is it the strange and hard way of the life of believers? The pathway of the believer is a strange, and often a hard way, full of perplexities, problems and mysteries. Sometimes they bring us very low. Yes, the way of the believer's life is fraught with mysterious, perplexing adversities and difficulties. And often, out of them there arises a great question. Why? What does it all mean? What does God mean by all this? What is God after in this way? Why has He not swept this all aside and caused the path of the believer to be free of this kind of thing? Why? This letter essays to answer such questions, and the answer is here, clear and strong. It is answered in the Person of Jesus Christ.
To touch on those few problems, is to show something of the magnitude of this letter. If what I have said is true, it is an immense document.
It is always a very helpful way to understand any part of the Word of God, having read it and noted what it says, to stand back from it and ask the question: Why was that written? What had the writer in mind? What was his objective? He must have started out with some clearly defined intention. He must have had something quite definite in his mind, that led him to start to write. He did not just sit down and write the thing that came into his head, or off his pen. He had an object; he knew what he wanted to set forth and convey. He may have used many words, metaphors and similes and what not; sometimes he may have diverged (as Paul so often did) starting out and then going off at a tangent, but coming back again to his original intention, his primary thought and purpose. What was it that was in the mind, in the heart of the writer, which he intended to get over?
The Infinite Greatness of Christ
If you stand back from this letter, having read it carefully and gathered up its content, and ask that question (whoever the writer was, we don't know, and perhaps we were never intended to know; it does not matter): What had the writer in mind? The answer is almost obvious. The man who sat down to write this letter had in his mind, as his intention, this one thing: to set forth before his readers the infinite greatness of Jesus Christ; and, in so doing, to seek to convey to them what an immense inheritance they have in Him.
We can never appreciate our inheritance until we have recognised the greatness of the One who gives it to us. Or, to put that round the other way: really to recognise and to apprehend the greatness of the Giver, is to see how great the gift must be. And that is what is here. We find here all the lines of Old Testament history; and oh, how many lines there are in this letter! Just like a great skein of threads, a mass of loose ends, without an end in themselves. Go through the letter and see how many things are touched upon. What a variety of matters from the Old Testament there is in this letter! All these lines converge upon, are brought together in and are ended by, Jesus Christ. That is no small thing.
So, you open the letter and you begin to read. The first inclusive movement comprehending all else is the presentation of the Son. If in our present consideration we get no farther than this - and even here, only a little way in - if it could lead to our having a larger apprehension of our Lord, a very great purpose will have been served.
It is a sad fact that many Christians are suffering because their Lord is too little. He is too little for their problems; He is too little for their natures; He is too little for their sins. Of course, they would not acknowledge that in theory, but that is what it amounts to - that for so many things, our Lord is not sufficient, He is not adequate, He is not big enough. We are where we are just because of that. If only there could come to us the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit in a new and adequate apprehension of the greatness of Christ, then many things would recede. There would be comfort, there would be hope, there would be deliverance, there would be salvation; there would be victory. May the Lord do that.
The Son of God
Let us look now at this first great movement: the presentation of the Son. We have here at least eight things said about Him. Firstly, He is God's Son. In our Christian doctrine and creed, of course we accept that without a thought. But everything that follows - all that is to be ours, all that is to be effected - simply comes out of the fact that the One Who has provided it is no less than God's Own Son. As the opening words tell us: "God has spoken in His Son." In times past, He used servants, and He used angels. They could not do it. They all stopped short; the thread was left loose. And God said: "I will send My Son." Remember the Son's own parable. God sent 'servants', but the thing was not done. "I will send My beloved Son" (Luke 20:13). And, blessed be God, the Son (so this letter says, and so we believe) has done what all the servants put together were never able to do. We see the greatness of Sonship, as an inclusive and conclusive thing with God.
The Heir of All Things
"Whom He appointed heir of all things". The Son was appointed by God "heir of all things"; the inheritance of all that God ever made and intended was secured by God the Father irrevocably in His Son. In 1 Kings chapter 8, there is the account of the bringing of the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Zion into the temple and you may have noticed that in verse 8 that there is an alternative translation of the little phrase about the staves. In one translation it is: "the staves were so long that the ends of the staves were seen from the holy place before the oracle; but they were not seen without" (1 Kings 8:8). But there is another translation, which says: "And they drew out the staves, so that the end of the staves were seen..." - which means they took out the staves from the Ark, by which it had been carried all through the journey, and put them up in a corner and said: "You are done with; we don't need you any more; the Ark has come to rest; there is no more journeying."
This letter to the Hebrews (so called) sees Jesus, the Ark of the Covenant, finally at rest in the heavenly sanctuary and the staves are drawn out; we are come to the end. And God has come to His end; all things are secured. No more going on, no more questions of how will it end. The journey is at an end in Him. It is all secured in Him. That is what is said here. God has reached His end, come to His rest in His Son; because His Son is the sworn, covenanted Heir of all things, and He shall have all things. They are secured in Him.
The Full and the Final Speech of God
God, Who in times past spoke this way and that, by this portion and that, by this man and that, in fragments - nothing perfect - has, at the end, spoken. There is nothing beyond that, this is God's final speech; the Son is God's final speech. And it is not just what the Son says, not just what Jesus said when He was on earth that is the final speech of God - though of course that is true. But what is here is that the Son in Himself, in His own Person, in what He is, is God's final speech. God has given a final presentation of His mind in His Son. The hearing of the Son is something more than hearing what He says.
When we are listening to a speaker, our hearing of his voice is the sum total of quite a number of things. We are dependent upon the air, with all its sound waves and vibrations; we are dependent upon that marvellous organism of the ear, with all its thousands of mysterious little chords; we are dependent upon the nerves that transmit the signals from the ear to the brain; and so on. An accumulation of marvellous things is found in our hearing any sound at all; and it is the accumulation of all these things that registers upon us and takes effect and makes us hear. That is the meaning of Christ as God's final speech. You can hear His sayings and His utterances, and yet not hear Him in that way. To hear Him means that Christ registers an effect of Himself and His significance upon your very being. So God has spoken, and, thank God, many have so heard.
The Instrument and the Pattern of all Creation
He was the instrument of creation - through Him the ages were made - and He was the pattern of creation - for that is what this writer gives himself to make clear. By His Son, God created all things; and in so doing, He made the Son the pattern of the creation. He was not making something in a detached and an objective way, but He was making all things to include the very meaning of Christ.
We have often said it, but perhaps we have not grasped it, because it is such an immense thing, that if we could read the whole universe of creation with our spiritual eyes enlightened, we should see in everything some trace of Christ. We should see something that we can find in a spiritual way in Christ. That is too big for any of us. But the Word of God makes it clear that, not only was He the instrument and agent of creation, but He is the pattern of the creation. That is, the whole creation, eventually, when redeemed, will take its character from Christ, for He shall "fill all things" (Eph. 4:10). He will bring all things to fulness.
The Image of God and the Sustainer of all Things
Further, He is the impress and revelation of very God Himself - "the express image", it says; the very essence of God's Being. That is the Son. It is too much for us - altogether beyond us. We would think that that surely must be the end. But no!
Here it says: "He upholds all things by the word of His power". It is our Jesus Christ Who is "upholding all things by the word of his power". This Jesus is sustaining and maintaining all things just by the word of His power. Paul puts that in another way: "In Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). He is the integrating, supporting, upholding, upbearing Son of God. Oh, that we might know more of the word of His power in our own little lives.
I am not straining and trying to exaggerate. God knows, this is a test of faith great enough that lies as the issue of this whole matter.
Purification Made for Sins
And now, that One, that mighty, majestic, all-glorious, wonderful Son, has "made purification of sins". "When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high". "Made purification of sins"; well, if such a One has done it, surely that is a ground of confidence, a ground of assurance; surely that begins to give a new and mightier meaning to our salvation! If a lesser one had done it, we might doubt and have questions. But all the lesser ones tried to do it, and failed. All through those hundreds of years, lesser ones (high priests) were occupied with the matter of the purification of sins, and reached no finality. Then this One came; God, in the Person of His Son, in all His infinite meaning and greatness, came. May I use the word? - He 'tackled' this problem of sin, and its purification; and it says, "made purification"! It is done because God Almighty has done it through His Son. We are not surprised that the writer speaks of "so great salvation" (Heb. 2:3). It takes its greatness from the greatness of the Saviour Himself. The Mediator came, "made purification of sins", and "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high".
Finally, He is the One, so it shows here, who has reached the end of the road which God laid out for man. God laid out a road for man to travel, the road to ultimate perfection. Adam was not made perfect; he was made with the possibilities of perfection and of enlargement. God set Adam on the road to that so much greater fulness, but he did not go far enough; he dropped back and turned aside. God laid out the road for man. Through the centuries, many coming to that road have gone back, many have turned out of the way, although some have gone on as far as they could go. But nothing was perfect, or perfected by any other. The end of this letter shows: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises... God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:13,40).
Here is the One who has reached the end of the road, who has been "made perfect"; it says, "made perfect through suffering". He has reached the end. He has reached the end of that road of spiritual perfecting. Must I stay to explain the word 'perfection'? We often limit that word when we use it. We say: Oh I am not perfect; don't expect perfection from me! That is a limited conception of the meaning of the word. It really means 'complete', 'full'; with all the parts in their place, and in their related place, and nothing missing. That is the meaning of the word here. And He has reached the end of the road of perfection; and that, moreover, as representative.
I believe we need a new understanding of the spiritual pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus. We think that because He was God's Son, and because of what He was, His way was less difficult than ours. He had certain powers that we have not. He had a nature that we have not. We cannot understand the mystery of One such as He being subjected to trials and difficulties and adversities, and being tested to breaking-point, where it called for the intervention of heaven to get Him through. He was brought there; He was brought to the point more than once where even He would not have gone through, had not heaven intervened and angels ministered to Him. You say: I have never had that experience. Ah, but you have. You may never have actually seen angels coming to minister to you, but there is no believer who has gone this way, who has gone any distance, but knows in his heart, "But for God and Heaven, I would not be here today." My own testimony is that it has required the intervention of heaven, more than once, to save me from succumbing.
But what is true of ourselves was far more true of Him. We do not understand this mystery, but He had a spiritual pilgrimage, with far deeper testings and tryings than ever you or I need, have, or will have. Yes, "in all points like as we" it is true; but, for Him, with greater acuteness than for us. Through it all He has been perfected - "made perfect". "Though he was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect (having been made complete) He became... the author of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:8,9), "eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). He has reached the end of the road of perfection for us. And He is the guarantee that God can do it in us! That is the point. He is there like the 'title deeds' for faith; the guarantee and the certainty that God, having got Him there, can get anybody there. He can get you and me there at the end. He can make perfect His work in us.
I come back to what I said earlier. What you and I need is a greater apprehension and appreciation of how great our Christ is. Unless that is so, our faith is not going to survive the trials. When you come to the end of this letter, you find it is all brought up to one thing: the matter of faith - the race of faith, the walk of faith, the life of faith. It is all headed up into this one matter of faith. And the Holy Spirit, in His wisdom, lays a sound and solid foundation for faith by giving this marvellous presentation of the Saviour, who went the way of faith. If we really see anew His greatness, it will be a tremendous stimulus to faith, an incentive to "run with patience the race that is set before us".
May the Lord open our eyes to see this Son, in His great and wonderful magnitude!