I just finished reading a book on the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 which swept down out of Canada into the northern plains with such speed and ferocity that hundreds of people of all ages were stranded and killed by the storm. There were indications that the storm was going to be big but there were limited means of getting that information to everyone spread out on the plains. Members of the Army Signal Corps were the weather forecasters in those days and if they felt there was a storm, they would raise a flag in the town. However, in some cases the flag was raised just as the storm came in and it was impossible to see it. And of course, it did nothing for those living on farms on the prairie. There was important information but the means of communication were not sufficient for it to make a big difference.
God has never had trouble communicating with us. From the very beginning of time, God revealed himself to us through the creation and then through the Scriptures. Throughout that time, God was saying to his people that he was going to save them. He spoke that message in the Old Testament and spoke it beautifully when Jesus came. This morning we want to look at how God sent that message of our salvation and the importance of that message of salvation for us today. Let’s read Hebrews 1:1-14.
I. Let’s review the facts summarized in questions and answers 15-18 in the Catechism.
We saw last week that we are guilty and deserve death. We can’t get out of this punishment ourselves, nor can any other creature take it for us. We need a special mediator who can save us. In theory at least, there is a cure and that is described in Question and Answer 15. Question: “What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?” Answer: “One who is truly human and truly righteous, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is one who is also true God.” Question 16 asks: “Why must he be truly human and truly righteous?” Answer: “God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin; but a sinner could never pay for others.” If people sin, the punishment must be taken by a person, but it would have to be a perfect person and there aren’t any of those. Question 17 then asks: “Why must he also be true God?” Answer: “So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.” Now what does all this add up to? Jesus Christ is the perfect mediator, which is seen in Question and Answer 18. The question asks: “And who is this mediator – true God and at the same time truly human and truly righteous?” The answer: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God.” Jesus Christ is the only cure for man’s sickness of sin.
But then the rather abrupt and terse style warms up considerably when the Catechism asks and answers the question, “How do you come to know this?” in Question 19. Answer: “The holy gospel tells me. God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son.” God is firm in condemning sin, but equally loving in wanting to save his people. In fact, this is what God had intended from the very beginning. From the time of the fall, God has been communicating with us so that we would not die in our sin. Finally, this communication is complete in Jesus. Steve Brown says, “The size of the problem can be measured by the degree to which one must go to remedy it. In the case of our sin, God resolved the problem by sending His Son to die on a cross as our redeemer. If we could be as good and faithful as some would suggest, God would have sent us a book instead of His Son.” Jesus is the mediator, the only way to the Father. To see how this works, let’s look at Hebrews 1:1-2 and ask some basic questions.
The first question is “when?” The author to Hebrews says, “In the past.” This refers to the entire time of history described in the Old Testament in the Bible. God spoke many times and on many occasions from the beginning of time to Adam and to the very end of the prophecy of Malachi. The second question is “through whom?” The author says, “Through the prophets.” This refers to all the writers who wrote the books of the Old Testament. It includes the leaders of the people like Moses and Joshua. It includes kings like David who wrote beautiful poetry and priests like Ezra. It includes the prophets called specifically by God like Isaiah and Amos. These are all very different kinds of men and they reflect a wide range of history. How did God speak? “In various ways” the author says. God spoke to Moses face to face but spoke in dreams and visions to others. He spoke through events of nature such as the flood in Genesis during the time of Noah and the severe drought during the rule of King Ahab. God spoke in many and various ways to mankind through events and authors.
However, through all these things, God was really speaking one theme: God is telling his fallen people that he is promising to save them because of his great love for them. Human beings certainly are responsible for sin and God repeatedly points that out to them; yet God has an overwhelming desire to restore us to fellowship with him again. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's parents disapproved so strongly of her marriage to Robert that they disowned her. Almost weekly, Elizabeth wrote love letters to her mother and father, asking for reconciliation. They never once replied. After ten years of letter writing, Elizabeth received a huge box in the mail. She opened it. To her dismay and heartbreak, the box contained all of her letters to her parents. Not one of them had ever been opened! Today those love letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents opened and read only a few of the them, there may have been reconciliation. God continued to send messages to His people, but so many of them refused to hear and listen even though God kept speaking to them.
Throughout the Old Testament God’s promise to save His people keeps coming. The message was there but it was not complete; the answer, the key or the fulfillment of that promise was missing. The message was pointing to an even greater message that God would send. That was the past, the author of Hebrews is saying, but now the writer shifts to the present time; the “now” is after Christ.
III. God has spoken – Again, let’s look at the same basic questions.
When has God spoken now? “In these last days,” says the writer. “These last days” refers to the time that the whole Old Testament was pointing to. The last days are the days of fulfillment, when all the pieces come together and make sense. In the past days, there was promise of God saving His people. Now in these last days, there is now fulfillment of that promise. I’ve said before that our family likes to work on a jigsaw puzzle at Christmas.
Now in these last days, the “who,” “how,” and “manner” are all in one: God’s Son, Jesus. All the times and various ways can be found in this one God-man person, Jesus. Think of a magnifying glass in the sun’s rays. As kids, we’d take a magnifying glass and hold it in the sunshine. We did it to burn holes in paper or leaves and the like. But what was happening was that the rays of the sun were being focused in one area through the shape of the glass. The Old Testament is like the rays of the sun coming down from heaven. Jesus comes like a great magnifying glass and focuses, interprets all the Old Testament and focuses it into one meaning. Jesus has now come into the world to restore our relationship with God. Before God promised salvation to His people by talking about the Messiah. Now Jesus fulfills it by dying to pay the penalty for our sins.
And the beautiful part is seen in the grammar of verse 2 in the verb, “has spoken.” If we say God spoke, it means that God said something and then it was finished. But when it says that God has spoken, it means what he has said continues on. God has spoken in history through Jesus, and it still has meaning for us today. Jesus Christ is God’s last spoken word in that all that He says in Jesus is all that we need to know. Jesus is the solution to the problem of sin in this world.
How does God still speak through Jesus? Through the written Scriptures, the Bible. It is God’s Word to us today for since Jesus is alive and ruling today, God’s word is still powerful and active. The application then of this sermon is quite simple: read the Bible, the Word of God. But how are we to read it? Not to just gain more knowledge or information about God and history. We must read the Bible so that we can hear God speaking to us today. And that certainly is relevant in that we all face struggles, trials and trouble in our lives. Some in family relationships; some with financial and money struggles. Some in personal struggles with temptation and sin. Some with personal struggles of depression and self-esteem. Some seeking direction and guidance as to where God may be leading them.
The Bible not only gives us answers as God speaks to us in our real struggles, God’s Word addresses the very root of all our problems: our own sin. Now living in the saving grace of God does not remove all the problems in life. However, living in the grace of God enables us to face trials with confidence and assurance that God holds all things in his hands. The Bible has answers and these answers can honestly change our lives. Some may protest that they don’t have enough time to read the Bible. “I’m too busy!” When we lived in Iowa, we had a neighbor who was building an airplane from a kit. I can’t imagine him saying that he didn’t have time to read the instructions and directions. I can’t imagine him saying that he was too busy building the airplane to stop and figure out the best and safest way and perhaps the only way to build that airplane. Yet that is what we as Christians do all the time. “I don’t have time to read the Bible or to pray!” When we do that we are neglecting the very means that will give our lives meaning, guidance and hope. If we aren’t reading the Bible, we will be busy but not building our lives properly.
God speaks today in His Word, the Bible, and that Word points exclusively to Jesus. God’s Word in Jesus is calling us once again today to believe and walk with the Lord. What is our response to God’s Word?