Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 15, 1991
Purpose: To increase our appreciation for Christ and our devotion to Him, by showing His superiority to angels.
The Christmas story is filled with angels. It was an angel who announced to Joseph Mary's pregnancy. It was an angel who predicted to a priest named Zacharias the birth of the Savior's forerunner, John the Baptist. It was an angel who explained to the virgin Mary what had happened to her and who her son would be. It was an angel who proclaimed to shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem the glad tidings that a Savior had been born.
Our Christmas carols are filled with references to angels:
Angels, from the realm of glory,
Wing your flight o'er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth.
Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains.
Hark! the herald angels sing.
"Glory to the newborn King."
While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
The first Noel, the angel did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
We give so much attention to the angels, we may be tempted to lose sight of the One whose birth they announced. Did you know that was a very real danger in the early church. You see, in the world of that day there was a great deal of emphasis put on angels. Some people thought that God was so far away and unreachable that it was necessary for angels to bridge the gap and act as intermediaries between God and them, even to the extent of having to carry their prayers into the presence of God (Barclay, Heb. p.8). For that reason, the writer of the book of Hebrews felt it was necessary to show that Jesus is superior to angels.
We've got people today, such as New Age channelers, who give more credence to spirit beings (fallen angels) than Christ. But few of us in this room would place that much emphasis on angels. Still, I have to confess to you that I think in our day there is a very real tendency among professing Christians to overlook the glory and greatness of the One who entered human history on the first Christmas day. Some who talk about God the Father seldom mention God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. They dishonor Him by neglect.
To see His superiority over angels may help to give us a greater appreciation for His person, and encourage us to give Him the honor He is due. And that would make this Christmas season a whole lot more pleasing to Him.
So let's talk about the supremacy of Christ, and what we should do in response.
1. The Supremacy of Christ
We've learned in Hebrews 1:1-3 in our last message that Jesus is the heir of all things, the Creator of the universe, the brightness of God's glory, the image of God's person, the sustainer of all things, the sacrifice for our sins, and the highly exalted One. All of that was in the first three verses of the chapter. And now we read:
"Having become so much better than the angels" (Hebrews 1:4a).
That becomes the theme of the rest of this chapter.
We're talking about Christ in His incarnation. He was obviously greater than angels in His eternal state, but as we shall see in Hebrews 2:9, when He came to earth He was made a little lower than the angels. Was that a permanent arrangement? Absolutely not. He has now been given a superior position and rank. And we know that for five reasons, revealed in seven Old Testament quotations.
a. Jesus Has a Greater Name
"Having become so much better than the angels as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:4).
He's got a better name. What is that name?
"For to which of the angels did He ever say: 'You are My Son; today I have begotten You'? And again: 'I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son'?" (Hebrews 1:5).
That name is "Son," "Son of God." There is a sense in which angels are sons of God, just as there is sense in which we believers are sons of God. But Jesus is God's Son in a unique sense, different from any other. The angels were made, the Son begotten. There's a great difference there. As One begotten of the Father, Jesus has the same nature as the Father and a very special relationship with Him.
I have a close relationship with some people outside my family, but nothing that approaches the relationship I have with my four sons. Each of them is like me in some way. One of them sounds like me when he talks. When he's home and answers the phone, people think it's me. He sounds like me. One of them looks quite a bit like me--with some improvements, of course. One of them walks like me. We all think a great deal alike, with some minor differences, obviously. If my sons were here they'd probably point out those differences. Sons like to do that, don't they? (Yes. There's my father sitting right there nodding his head.)
People can't say that about things they've made. A man may make a table and be very proud of it. It may even by in some way an expression of his personality. But it doesn't have his nature. It isn't like him. That can only be said of his child. That name "son" elevates a person to much higher position than a table or any other thing that is made.
God made the angels, and they are wonderful supernatural beings--better than tables, so maybe that's not a very good illustration. But angels are made. They don't measure up to His Son who proceeds from God's very being. (Begetting him may be a reference to His birth, His resurrection and exaltation, or His position from eternity past. But the point is that Christ is the Father's Son and that makes Him greater than the angels.)
This passage certainly decimates the teaching of some of the cults (such as Jehovah's Witnesses) which teach that Jesus is only an angel, maybe even the highest created angelic being. Angels and sons are totally different. And to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are My Son"? Not one! The Child whose birth we celebrate during this season has a greater name. He is unique and supreme, worthy of our total devotion. Jesus is God's Son.
b. Jesus Receives Greater Honor
"But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him'" (Hebrews 1:6).
You only worship someone that you consider to be greater than you are. "The worship of the angels at Bethlehem is testimony to the deity of the babe in the manger" (Stedman, 10). And He is obviously greater than they. We are never instructed in Scripture to worship angels. In fact, that practice is expressly forbidden in Colossians 2:18. But we are commanded to worship Christ. He is obviously greater than angels.
Some of the cults have camped on Jesus being called the "firstborn" here (as in Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18). They try to use that to claim that Jesus was not eternal, but the first and the highest of God's created beings. But in the Biblical world, "firstborn" referred more to high position than to birth order.
In Exodus 4:22, Moses was to say to Pharaoh, "Israel is My son, My firstborn." God had other sons before the nation Israel, but He appointed Israel to a position of priority over others. In Psalm 89:27, God was speaking of King David when he said, "Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." David wasn't the firstborn in his in his family chronologically. In fact, David was Jesse's youngest son. But God put him in a position of supremacy and priority.
And that's exactly what He did for His Son. The child whose birth we celebrate is supreme over all; even the angels acknowledge that by their worship. And He is worthy of our total devotion.
Jesus has a greater name, He receives greater honor, and He holds greater authority than the angels.
c. Jesus Holds Greater Authority
"And of the angels He says: 'Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire'" (Hebrews 1:7).
Angels are created beings who serve the Lord, like wind and lightning. But listen to this:
"But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom'" (Hebrews 1:8).
Grab a pencil and mark Hebrews 1:8. This is an incredible verse. Put a bookmark on that page and put it by your door so it's ready when those people knock on your door and tell you that Jesus isn't God.
The Father is addressing the Son and He says, "Your throne, O God..." Wow! God actually calls Jesus "God." If you believe the Bible, that should forever settle the controversy over whether Jesus is actually God. But that's just an interesting note. The point of the verse is that while the angels are servants, the Son is the King! And His rule is no fly-by- night affair. It will last forever. "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever."
"You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions" (Hebrews 1:9).
Whether His companions in rule are men or angels, He is greater. His authority is supreme. He even said it to His disciples shortly before leaving them: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18).
The child whose birth we celebrate this season is the King, and worthy of our total devotion. And fourth, Jesus possesses greater power.
d. Jesus Possesses Greater Power
We have already seen in verse 2 that Jesus was the Creator of the universe. Now that idea is repeated.
"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands" (Hebrews 1:10).
The point the writer wants is to make is that while the universe Jesus created is running down, the all-powerful Creator--Jesus Himself--will never change.
"They [the heavens and the earth] will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail" (Hebrews 1:11-12).
Most every school-child has heard of the second law of thermodynamics which maintains that the universe is running down. It had a beginning and it will have an end. But not the Creator. He is immutable. He will never change.
And that Creator is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal God in human flesh. The author of this book establishes His changelessness in Hebrews 13:8--"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."
The child whose birth we celebrate is the eternal, omnipotent, Changeless Creator of the universe, and He is worthy of our total devotion. Look at one more reason why we know Christ is greater than angels.
e. Jesus Occupies a Greater Position
"But to which of the angels has He ever said: 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'?" (Hebrews 1:13).
Treating ones enemies as a footstool came out of the ancient practice of a victorious king placing his foot on the neck of a defeated king to dramatize his triumph. It was a very common practice. So this quotation from Psalm 110 pictures the absolute and total victory of Jesus Christ when He establishes His kingdom on earth, puts down all resistance to His authority, and brings all His enemies into submission. Nothing like that is ever promised to angels. They are not kings and rulers. They are servants!
"Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).
That's nothing to take lightly. It's a wonderful truth in which we can take great comfort. I don't know whether God has assigned a specific guardian angel to every believer or not. They Bible doesn't say. But I do know that there are angels all around us who will be there to help us when we need them.
Some of you may know of help you've had from angels. One of the most dramatic I've heard comes from Elisabeth Elliot's book, A Slow and Certain Light. She heard Dr. Virginia Blakeslee of Africa tell how she was delivered from an attack by cannibals. They charged into the clearing where her hut was dancing around with their weapons in their hands while she was praying. But something made them flee. The same thing happened on several different nights. Finally the leader of the group came to her in the daytime asking to be allowed to see the men who were guarding her. Bewildered, she said there was no one. The man searched her hut and finding nothing described to her the strong men with swords who had come out of her door as the cannibals danced.
So who were those strong men with swords? I have no doubt in my mind they were angels. "Ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." That's us. How we thank God for them. In no way would we want to depreciate the value of their service to us.
But the fact remains, angels are servants. Christ is the Son. And there is a vast difference between a servant and a son. A son is a much greater, higher position.
I have a friend who owns a rather large manufacturing business with several hundred capable employees. He also has a son who works in the business. The young man has done just about everything from sweeping the floors to running departments in his company. He's a good worker. My friend has lots of good workers, but his relationship with that one is different from all the others because he's a son. He has a greater position than any of the other workers. Some day he's probably going to sit in the president's office.
That's the truth of these two verses. Angels are helpful beings who serve us well. But this Jesus whose birth we celebrate during the season is the Son, supreme above all. And He is worthy of our total devotion.
But what does it mean to give Him our total devotion? After seeing the supremacy if Christ, look secondly at the warning to us.
2. The Warning to Us
a. Pay Attention
"Therefore [as a result of what we've just learned about Jesus] we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Hebrews 2:1).
This is the conclusion of it all. The New International Version (NIV) translates it like this: "Pay attention." "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard."
In other words, "Listen up. This is important. This can make a difference in your life." That's an exhortation every pastor would like to give his congregation every week. How sad it is to proclaim the life-changing truth of God's Word week after week--truths that can bring freedom and joy, peace and purpose, harmony, and happiness--and yet see certain people miss it all because they aren't paying attention. They go on muddling through life in bad marriages, disintegrating families, broken relationships, and unfulfilled opportunities, all because they don't pay attention to the life-changing truth of God's Word. So PAY ATTENTION!
But that word translated as "pay attention" has another meaning as well. It's a secondary meaning, but it is found in the lexicons. It was used of bringing a ship to land and mooring it securely. This may be an exhortation to anchor your life solidly to the truth of the Word--not to the changing philosophies of the world, but to the unchanging Word of God. Anchor your life to the rock of God's Word. And that leads the writer to say, "lest we drift away."
b. Don't Drift
Most Christians who crack up spiritually don't fall with one disastrous plunge. They drift away like a boat that hasn't been moored properly. They begin to neglect their time with the Lord. They start missing the fellowship of other believers and the exposition of God's Word. They begin to feed the flesh, and they let little sins hang on without dealing with them. And then comes the shipwreck, when they do some dumb thing that ruins their lives and breaks the hearts of the people who love them.
So PAY ATTENTION, and DON'T DRIFT. And now we find out why...
c. The Reason
"For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward..." (Hebrews 2:2).
Stop right there for a second. I want you to see what's being said.
"The word spoken through angels" was the Old Testament law (cf. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19). When God's Old Testament people disobeyed His law, given by angels, they suffered for it. One of the best examples of that is the Babylonian captivity, which they suffered because they disobeyed God's law.
If they didn't escape the consequences of disobeying the Word that came through angels, how do we think for a moment we can escape the consequences of disobeying God's final Word, revealed through His Son?
"For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:2-4).
What a magnificent word it is--a word about a magnificent salvation. It was first delivered by the Lord Jesus Himself, then confirmed to the writer of this book by eye-witness who actually lived with Him and listened to Him speak, and finally verified by God Himself when He gave those early apostles unusual abilities to exercise miraculous gifts.
The point of all that is simply: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" If those who disobeyed the word given through angels didn't escape, how shall we who have the word given through God's Son escape if we neglect that salvation? That is one of the most important questions we will ever face, whether we profess to be Christians or not.
Some people to whom this book was first written said they were Christians, but their lives didn't bear it out. There wasn't any deep love and devotion for Christ evident in their attitudes and actions. There wasn't much victory over sin or growth in a Christ-like character. They were neglecting their salvation.
The same is true today. Some of you say you are Christians but your lives may not back it up. Do you think for a moment that you can escape the unpleasant consequences of neglecting your salvation like that, of drifting away from your devotion Christ? It's impossible! There is no escaping the consequences of neglecting the salvation revealed by God's final word through His Son. You will never know real joy in this life, and you will not know reward in the life to come. You cannot escape.
But the most potent application of this question relates to the person who has never put his faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. The Scripture is clear. Jesus is the only way to God. To neglect Jesus and ignore His offer of salvation is to consign ourselves to eternal separation from His presence--eternal judgment, eternal punishment. Christ died for our sins. God has offered us forgiveness, and life, and heaven it we will put our faith in Jesus. His offer is there on the table. Don't ignore it. You cannot escape the consequences of neglecting that salvation.
Back in 1976, heavy rains pelted the 35-mile-long mountain-rimmed canyon linking Estes Park and Loveland, Colorado. There were a lot of people vacationing there at the time. Among them was a young man named Gary, who was an engineer. To his trained eye, the narrowness of the canyon and the rapidly rising river spelled trouble. He told his wife that he was going out to warn their friends, some of whom were staying in other motels. He said that if he was not back in 30 minutes, she was to leave their motel room and start climbing to the top of the mountain without him; he would catch up with her there.
He first encouraged the owner of the motel and his wife to get their two children dressed and evacuate shortly, then drove off hurriedly to find their friends. In exactly 30 minutes his wife left their room and started to climb the rough, rocky mountain. She watched as the canyon below fill with water, and cars began to bob along. Even a Greyhound bus swept by. She saw their motel break apart and float away and wondered whether the owner and his family were safe. They were not. They didn't heed the warning. All four perished, along with 129 others, as a 19-foot wall of water swept through the canyon. Most of them were warned. They were told how they could be saved, but they ignored the warning and they perished.
Now you too have been warned. You have heard God's final word about eternal salvation through His Son. This is a grave warning. There will be no escape if you ignore it.
Let's bow together in prayer.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Let me ask you whether you've settled this issue. If you know you haven't, or you're not sure that you have, now would be a good time to trust in the salvation provided by God's final word: His Son. Right now, settle this issue, right where you sit, just in the quiet of your own heart. Express your faith to God in prayer, something like this:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I know I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is the One who paid for my sin. Jesus, come into my heart and be my Savior. I turn from my sin to You in faith right now."
Would you make that decision? The Bible says that when you do, you will pass from death into life. Eternal life will be yours through God's Son.
Father, I pray that those among us today who are uncertain of their eternal salvation would settle this issue and put their faith totally and completely in the work of Jesus Christ, Your eternal Son. And I pray that we who have made that decision at some point in our past will not neglect this salvation You have so graciously given us. I pray that we will walk in the light of it, every moment of every day in total devotion to Him who provided it. For we ask this in His name. Amen.
Continue to CHB-3: Flesh and Blood--Christ Incarnate