This week we’re going to begin a study of Hebrews. There’s a lot we know about Hebrews. First of all, it has forms of both a sermon and a letter. The author uses rhetorical forms that were common in 1st Century speeches: repetition of themes, introduction of ideas to be developed later, etc. But, he also concludes it like a letter. In the final chapter he says, “22 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, bear with my message of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he comes soon, he will be with me when I see you. 24 Greetings to all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with you all.”
In this brief passage we can see several things: (1) He addresses them as “brothers and sisters.” He’s writing to fellow Christians. (2) He considers his letter to be brief, yet it’s hardly so by today’s standards! (3) He is a close associate of Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” and plans to travel with him. (4) He is acquainted with people from Italy. Now, that could mean one of two things: either he’s writing from Italy, or people from Italy are with him when he’s writing.
Given these various points, from very ancient times people have attributed the writing of Hebrews to the apostle Paul. It is possible, and highly probable. But, without Paul’s typical introductory remarks in which he introduces himself by name, we cannot be certain. For that reason, in our study I’ll simply refer to “the author of Hebrews,” rather than attempting to call him by name.
Now, that’s more than enough historical background to get us started. I don’t want to bore you before we even begin, so let’s move on.
Consider with me the many ways God has revealed Himself throughout time. Since the foundation of the world, God’s power and nature have been visible in His creation. The apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans chapter one when he says, “what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.”
Listen to what Paul’s saying: Any person who’s ever lived could look around at God’s creation and realize that there is a Being who is all-powerful and far greater than we are, thus he is described as “divine.”
Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to travel to California and visit several national parks. Among them was Yosemite. After driving upwards through switchbacks for nearly an hour, we arrived in the “valley” of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Surrounded by giant Sequoias and grassy meadows, we came to a spot where the tallest peaks were fully on display. El Capitan, a sheer vertical rock stretching 3,000 feet from base to summit was visible to our left. To the right of it was Half Dome, rising 4,737 feet from the valley floor. The highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, cascaded from a height of 2,450 feet. Other cliffs, crests, and falls of massive proportions filled the landscape.
Instinctively, every traveler in the area stopped at this location. Filled with a sense of wonder and awe, people exited their vehicles in silence and took pictures, or just stood there with their mouths agape. In the presence of such magnificent land forms people seemed to stand in awe of the Creator. Surely, someone had brought such spectacular beauty into being!
Yet, natural revelation isn’t sufficient to know God fully, so for a period of at least 2,000 years He spoke through prophets. Hebrews 1:1 begins, “After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.”
Genesis through Malachi (the books of the Old Testament) are full of prophetic revelation in which God describes his nature, his intent, and his purposes to people. In this manner, people began to know the One who simply referred to himself as the “I Am.”
But, it was never God’s intention to simply reveal himself through nature, or even through others. He chose to reveal himself personally, in a form that could be seen, heard, and even touched. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.”
The author of Hebrews describes this son as the “heir of all things,” and the one “through whom he created the world.” That means all things were made through him and all things belong to him. Jesus is ascribed divine attributes!
The apostle Peter says in 2 Peter, “16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: ‘This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.’ 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” In this passage Peter recalls the moment in which Jesus was transformed into his divine glory. We can read about this in Matthew 17:1-8. There, Matthew describes how Peter, James, and John went with Jesus up onto a mountain and he was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Peter describes this in 2 Peter as Jesus’ “grandeur.” This highly unusual, unique event revealed Jesus’ identity fully to three of his disciples. He was, and still is without doubt, divine.
Jesus’ own words testified that God revealed Himself in the flesh through him. In John 12 Jesus says, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me.” If that weren’t plain enough, later he says, “ The person who 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?” (14:9-10).
The apostle John describes the revelation of God, through Jesus, this way in 1 John 1:1-2: “This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life— 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us).” Can you imagine what he’s saying? “We heard him with our ears. We saw him with our eyes. We touched him with our hands. And, he was and is the eternal revelation of God the Father!”
Now, we have just scratched the surface of the Book of Hebrews; only two verses. Yet, already the writer has told us what the purpose of his writing is: he wants us to know and believe that God has fully revealed himself and spoken to us through the revelation of his son, Jesus Christ.
Think about that, will you? God isn’t some distant being who set everything into motion and then stepped back and is watching it spin out of control. Nor is he content to simply speak through others. That’s one of the major differences between the Christian faith and all others. Other faiths claim to have a prophet through whom Jesus spoke, sometimes passing his word through angelic intermediaries, which interestingly, the author of Hebrews will address later. But, in reality God chose to take on human form, live, and even die among us so that we might know him fully. Crazy isn’t it?
So, don’t you think that a God who would do that cares about you? We’re living through a very difficult time right now. The whole world is scared of a virus that’s run rampant. We don’t have drugs to treat it and we don’t have a vaccine to prevent it. We’re isolated in our homes and can’t even find toilet paper in the stores! These are unprecedented times for our generation.
It’s easy when we’re practicing “social distancing,” to believe that even God has somehow removed himself from our troubles. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. God cares. He cares so much that, as we will find out in Hebrews, he took on human form eternally! Let me say that again, he took on human form eternally! You aren’t alone. Jesus lives in the presence of the Father to intercede on your behalf. He knows what it’s like to be human, because he is human. He knows what it’s like to be sick. He knows what it’s like to face uncertainty. He knows what it’s like to be alone. He knows what it’s like to see people suffer. He knows because he lived it too.
Let’s just stop there for this week. There’s much more we could say about Jesus’ power, glory, and humanity, but those are thoughts to share for another time. For now, let’s just find comfort in the realization that we’re not alone and that Jesus lives in human form because he loves us that much!