Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Knowing and Approaching God

Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:5-12

Perhaps I should have chosen a different text for today. I try to keep the sermons shorter on communion Sundays, which I’m not very good at. And there is a lot of substance in these two passages.

For starters, we are opening up a new book of the New Testament, the letter to the Hebrews. We know this letter was written to 1st century Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ or change their beliefs about him in order to “fit in” with their Hebrew society. What we don’t know is who wrote the letter. Tradition says it was Paul, but in this case, tradition is most likely wrong. We do know that it was someone who was well educated, and we know that because the Greek writing of Hebrews is second to none in the New Testament. Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, and Barnabas have all been suggested as the author, but we just don’t know.

It begins, “In the past, God spoke through prophets at many times and in many ways, but now he has spoken to us through his Son.” The Son is creator, sustainer, redeemer, and the exact representation of God. Jesus reveals God by being God.

There has long been an idea out there that God is unknowable. Some people today might say, “Well, if there is a God out there, then we really can’t know what that God is like.” In the 18th century, there was a philosophical group called the Deists, and that was one of their beliefs. God made the universe and set it in motion, but now he is distant and unknowable by human beings. In the first century world, there were the Gnostics, who said that God is so far away from us and so different from us that we cannot truly know him. We can only learn something about him through the lesser beings that he has made, through lesser spirits. They called them “emanations.”

But we proclaim that yes, God can be known. We know God by knowing Jesus, because Jesus IS God.

“He is far greater than the angels,” the author of Hebrews claims. There were some Jewish Christians in the first century world who were tempted to think that Jesus was an angel, the chief of all angels. This was a way of continuing to believe in Jesus, but not offending Jewish sensibilities of monotheism, belief in only one God. It was probably influenced by Jewish Gnosticism. God is distant, but we can approach him through his “emanations.” In Jewish Gnosticism, the emanations of God were angels. But the author of Hebrews insists, “No, we approach God through his Son.”

In chapter two, the author makes reference to Psalm 8: “What are mortals that you should think of them, a son of man that you should care for him.” The phrase “son of man” in Scripture normally just means “man.” A son of man is a man. But we can’t help thinking of how Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man.

“The son of man is lower than the angels.” But wait, there is a discrepancy here. The Hebrew of Psalm 8 can be read as “lower than the angels.” But the natural reading is “lower than God.” When the Hebrew people translated the Old Testament into Greek in the second century BC, what was called the Septuagint, they translated it as “lower than the angels.” And the author of Hebrews follows the Greek translation, but I think the Hebrew is the correct reading, “a little lower than God.”

Psalm 8 is about human beings. But human beings as we were meant to be. We were created in the image of God, and given dominion over the earth. But we failed. Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and all of us have followed in their path of rebellion. As the Christian thinker G. K. Chesterton said, “This one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.”

So Psalm 8 becomes a Messianic Psalm, a Psalm about Jesus, because Jesus is the “new man,” the one who succeeds where Adam and Eve failed. For a while he was made lower, but then he was crowned with glory and honor, and given authority over all things. Think of Daniel 7, “I saw one like a son of man… and he was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world… His kingdom will never be destroyed.”

Salvation is portrayed here as a restoration project. Christ restores us to our proper place in relationship to God. He does it by means of his own death and humiliation. He enters into our brokenness and our weakness to set us free from them. Through his suffering, he becomes a perfect leader.

The Greek word is ARCHEGOS, and it’s one of those words that’s hard to translate. Pioneer, trailblazer, or founder might be the best translations. It is the sense of one who begins something so others can follow. Jesus, the Son of God, becomes a son of man, so that children of men can become children of God. Jesus reveals God fully, and he opens up the way to God for all who would follow him.



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