Sermon Discussion Questions
1. What was the most comforting and what was the most challenging thing you got from the sermon?
2. How does Jesus' divinity help us?
3. How does Jesus' humanity help us?
4. What is the doctrine of "inseparable operations" and why does it matter?
5. If you were speaking with a friend who didn't think that Jesus was divine, where could you go in the Bible to prove it? What difference would it make if He weren't?
This Saturday, King Charles III was crowned as the new monarch of England. The idea of a monarch today is so odd. Watching the sacred pageantry of the coronation, the ancient rites and mysterious objects, the chants, the prayers, the motions—all of it feels as if you have steppe back in time. We live in a liquid, dis-enchanted world of technology and disruption and democracy. And yet, we all are fascinated with the idea of a monarch. Something about the mystery and arcane ritual opens a door of golden light inside of us that makes us impossibly curious of something that we know has almost nothing to do with us.
But it does, according to C.S. Lewis. 70 years ago, King Charles’ mother was crowned as Queen Elizabeth, and for the first time ever, it was televised. In a letter to a friend, Lewis described what he thought of the 27 year old Queen:
“The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if He said ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’…One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendour,” (C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Mary Shelburne, 1953).
But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
- Heb 1:8-9
Jesus is Truly God
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs..” (Heb 1:1-4)
In the Old Testament, how did God relate with His people? He would occasionally appear Himself, in the form of a burning bush or bright cloud. He would occasionally send angels to relay information. But, most of the time He communicated to His people through intermediaries: prophets. But now, in these last days—which we have been in since Jesus’ ascension—God speaks to us through His Son. Who is this Son? Six things Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us about the Son. He is…
1. The Creator and Heir of All Things
2. The Radiance of the Glory of God and The Exact Imprint of His Nature
3. The Governor of the Universe
4. The Purifier of Sins
5. The One Seated on Heaven’s Throne
6. The One Superior to Angels
We won’t go into all of these in detail. Let’s just consider the second one.
Radiance and Imprint
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” (Heb 1:3a). Here we have two images of what the Son is. Let’s start with the second image: one of a stamp. The word for “exact imprint” is a word used elsewhere in the Greek world to describe the result of a stamp pressed upon a coin, or seal. “Just as the image and superscription on a coin exactly correspond to the device on the die, so the Son of God ‘bears the very stamp of his nature,” (F.F. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews).
The first image is that of the radiance of light. When God’s glory is revealed in the Bible, it is usually described in the terms of brightness or light. Here, the author is saying that the Son is like the rays of light thrown off by the brilliance of the sun. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century church father, wrote explains:
“…just as the light from the lamp is of the nature of that which sheds the brightness and is united with it (for as soon as the lamp appears the light that comes from it shines out simultaneously), in like manner the Son is related to the Father, and the Father is never without the Son. It is impossible that glory should be without radiance, as it is impossible that the lamp should be without brightness,” (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Faith)
The Nicene Creed embodies what these two images with its wording that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” He is “of the same essence” of the Father, as the creed goes on to state. Yet, notice how these two pictures help preserve not only the unity between the Father and Son, but also the distinction. The Father is the lamp, the Son the radiance; the Father is the stamp, the Son the imprint of His very being (lit. hypostasis).
And this is really the underlying point behind all of Hebrews 1:1-4. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is God. Only God creates, only God receives worship, only God sustains and governs the world. The author of Hebrews wants to draw attention to the fact that while Jesus is the Son, the Son shares in the divine identity of God. Which he makes really obvious in verse eight where the Son is explicitly called “God” through the citation of Psalm 45.
“But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom,” (Heb 1:8). The Son and God are interchangeable titles because they are the same being.
Recall the story we shared just a few weeks ago when we considered the awesomeness of God: the experience of Mt. Sinai (Ex 19-20). God’s revelation in fire, and earthquakes, and thunder was so terrifying that the people beg Moses to intercede for them. They need a mediator because God in of Himself is so holy and petrifying that they are certain they will die. So, sorry Moses, they shove Moses forward to be the one who stands between them and his God. Imagine what panic, what chaos, what pandemonium would ensue if at that moment, rather than remaining on top of Sinai, He came down and began to walk towards the encamped tribes of Israel. What would happen if the volcano, the atomic mushroom cloud, if the very Sun itself could condense its heat and power into the shape of a human, and walk towards us? What would you do?
And yet, this is the searing glory of the incarnation. God in the flesh. The infinite becomes infant. Jesus is not a powerful teacher or bold model of morality or guru here to show another path to enlightenment. He is not another prophet. He is not an angel. He is not even the first being that God created. He is God in the flesh. While everyone today likes Jesus and nearly every religion has a slot for Jesus to fill, the claim of Jesus is far more scandalous. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being by God, but not God. Islam teaches that Jesus is a great prophet of God, but not God. New Age and Eastern religions believe that Jesus is an avatar of the All-Soul, but not God. Modern secular people view Jesus as another figure who advocated for the least of these and taught a message of love. But Jesus’ claims to be much more than that.
When Jesus is being arrested in John 18, the mob of officers says approaches Jesus and His disciples and say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus responds with the double-entendre of “I Am”—something that identifies Him as the man they are looking for, but also is a reference to the divine name (“I am who I am”). And what happens? The mob falls to the ground (John 18:6). Jesus is no mere man.
“How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube, or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between,” (N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth)
Why does this matter?
This helps us identify the real Jesus from pretenders.
Jesus warned that there would be false Christs that would arise (Matt 24:24). Paul warned that Satan masquerades around as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). We need to be able to discern who the real Jesus is from all other pretenders. There is a stark difference between the mormon Jesus and the muslim Jesus and the modern, secular Jesus, and the Jesus of the Bible. Any "Jesus" who is divorced from the identity of the God of the Old Testament, is a false Jesus.
Jesus’ life shows us most clearly what God is like.
Mankind is made in the image of God—we are meant to image to the world what God is like, but our sin nature leads us to be failures at that. Paul describes Jesus as, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Jesus is the clearest revelation of God to us. Or think of when Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus responds: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10).
This touches into an old theological concept called the doctrine of inseparable operations. This refers to the idea that the full Godhead is present in the work of each person. Jesus is not showing us what one-third of God is like. He isn’t showing us the kind of creature that God would create. Paul explains, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Col 1:19).
So, in the life of Jesus we see all of God. What is God like? Look to Jesus. How does he respond to people? What makes him angry? What makes him cry? What does he teach? What does he do? What is his heart?
“…who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited,” (Phil 2:6).
Our God is a God who doesn’t take advantage of being God. He doesn’t remain distant. He doesn’t create a being to go deal with the messy humans. He comes down into the muck himself. So when Jesus says that his heart is gentle and lowly, that is God’s heart. When we see sinners and wretches and fools gather to Jesus, because this is the kind of God we have, one who draws in the lowly and humble. Why? Because God is not too good for them. And He isn’t too good for you.
The God-man, Christ Jesus, “Above all,” writes one author, “shared with us the misery of our human condition: human existence as determined by the fall. He knew poverty, homelessness, contempt, loneliness, rejection, death in its cruelest form, and, at last, the loss of all sense of the presence of God. He lived amid squalor, violence and injustice. He heard the cursing, the blasphemy and the threats. He was tormented by the needs of the widow, the orphan and the leper. He felt for the tax-collector. He feared for his people. He wept for the world,” (Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, 80).
Jesus is Truly Man
Into chapter two, the author of Hebrews, having established that Jesus’ divinity and so his superiority to all angels, he now turns to describe Jesus’ humanity.
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
If this sounds familiar, that is because this is from Psalm 8, the text that Aaron preached on a few weeks ago in the sermon addressing the doctrine of man. Psalm 8 is about the unique dignity that God has given to mankind by making him just a little lower than the angels, but above all of the rest of creation as rulers over the earth. The author goes on to explain a problem though: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him,” (Heb 2:8).
There’s a problem. God made this world to be under the rule of man, but there is a problem. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to man. Thorns and thistles still push up from the soil. Sickness, disease and death still run rampant. Hurricanes and earthquakes still rock the world. And sin still persists. The world is not the way it should be. What’s wrong? It is what we covered last week. Though we are made in the image of God and are given a charge to rule over this earth, we have turned from our God and worshipped the creation we are supposed to rule over instead. So, here is our dilemma: earth must be ruled by a righteous human being; all human beings are unrighteous. Enter, Jesus:
“9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering,” (Heb 2:9-10).
The author draws a straight line from Psalm 8 to Jesus Christ. We do not yet see all of creation in subjection the way Psalm 8 describes, but what do we see? We see the man, Christ Jesus, crowned with glory and honor. Jesus is the king who can take the crown humanity is intended to wear, and do so without any of the tragedy that Lewis referenced. And, we are told, He can do this because of His suffering of death. In the rest of the passages we will consider, the author will draw our attention to the death of Christ, but we are going to focus exclusively on that next week, but just briefly:
Notice how the starting place for the majestic vision of Psalm 8 being realized is found in Jesus “tasting death for everyone.” Why? Because the world was created to be under the reign of humanity, but only to the degree that humanity sat under the reign of God. If we reject God’s authority over us, we sever ourselves from the source of life, and so experience death.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Fantine is a tragic woman who has had everything taken from her. She has lost her daughter. She has lost all of her belongings. She has lost all of her dignity. She is forced to sell her hair, so she is bald. She sells her two front teeth to a travelling dentist, and so is ugly. And when she has nothing left to sell, she sells herself, and becomes a prostitute. One day Jean Valjean, the hero of the story, sees Fantine be carted away by the police, and attempts to intervene. In a fit of rage, unaware he is there to help, Fantine curses him and spits in his face. Valjean calmly wipes the spit away, and proceeds to defend the woman to the commissioner, puts his own reputation in jeopardy, absorbs all Fantine’s debts, and takes her in and cares for her. This is a beautiful picture of grace. But Jesus didn’t just absorb financial debt or risk personal reputation—He absorbed our sin debt, which was death.
But the death of Jesus, which we will focus on more so next week, presupposes something else: the humanity of Jesus. The author continues: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…” (Heb 2:14). Or to put it in the language of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14). Jesus shared in flesh and blood; He had organs and a digestive system and hormones and kneecaps. He is so identified with humanity, that Paul can refer to Jesus as a “second Adam” (1 Cor 15:45, 47).
Why does this matter?
The dignity of our bodies
Jesus was a full-fledged human being. He passed through the birth canal and had his umbilical cord cut. He cut molars and cried in the night. He explored forests as a kid and skipped stones. He cracked his back when he woke up in the morning and had to trim his toenails. Jesus experienced the entirety of embodied existence, save only for sin. But that tells us that embodiment, flesh is not itself sinful. Greek philosophy prominent in the first century taught that the immaterial world was pure, while the material world and all its attendant appetites and experiences were impure, and if you wanted to pursue a pure life you had to transcend the material realm. But that isn’t the Biblical perspective. Jesus’ incarnation bodies matter, that matter itself matters to God.
After Jesus resurrects from the dead, he meets his disciples and shows them proof that he is no mere spirit or ghost, and even eats some fish to prove it (Luke 24:40-42). Jesus, after the resurrection, has a human body that can be touched, that eats food, even. And it was this new human body that ascended into heaven. So, right now, there is a material human body sitting in heaven. And Jesus’ resurrection body is a picture of what our bodies will one day be. So you will spend eternity in a material body and in a material universe, all scrubbed free of sin and death. What will food taste like? What sports will we play? What science and math will we discover when our minds are not clogged as they are now by our sin nature?
Jesus can sympathize with your weaknesses.
“17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted,” (Heb 2:17-18).
Jesus has been made like us in every respect, so that He would become a merciful and faithful high priest on our behalf before God, and because he suffered when tempted, he is able to help us who are tempted. A similar idea is presented later:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)
Jesus knows what it is like to live in this sin-soaked, weary world.
Two objections we may have to this:
1. If Jesus never sinned, then how can we relate to us in our temptations? Doesn’t giving in to sin make temptations harder to resist? How does Jesus know what I am going through?
Consider: How did Jesus suffer when tempted? He suffered in the sense that He endured temptation, yet never caved in. If there is an enemy intent on entering the house, but the door is left unguarded, then he doesn’t have to employ that much effort to open the door. If the door is left ajar, he only has to tap it open. But the more locks, the more resistant, and the more security, the harder the thief must work to pry the door open. How badly do you think Satan wanted to Jesus to sin? And how much effort did he employ? Jesus never sinned, but that just means that he has had to resist a force of sin that no one else alive has ever had to endure. From the 40 days in the wilderness, to Gethsemane, to the Cross, Jesus experienced torrent after torrent of temptation. And at the cross, when Jesus absorbs the sins of the world, Jesus then experiences the reality of sin—not just one person’s, but all of God’s elect across all time.
You see how Hebrews can tell us he has been “tempted in every way as we are”? He knows what you are experiencing.
2. How could this make him sympathetic? Wouldn’t this make him more distant from us?
Thomas Goodwin, “His heart was made more tender in all sorts of affections than any of ours, even as it was in love and pity; and this made him a ‘man of sorrows’…more than any other man was or shall be.” (The Heart of Christ, 1651, p. 132)
Jesus “sympathizes with our weaknesses” a word that “signifies to suffer with us until we are relieved.”
What should you do? Hebrews already told us: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need