As I pondered and prayed over what to say on this Palm Sunday and Easter, I thought it would be good to concentrate our attention on some clear, powerful revelation of Jesus, the Son of God. His coming as Messiah is the focus of Palm Sunday. His dying to deal with sin is the focus of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And his resurrection and reign are the focus of Easter Sunday. I love the way all of this comes together in Hebrews 1:1–4. So we will listen to this text for all three messages—today, Thursday evening, and next Sunday morning.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Do You Want to Hear God Speak?
Let's begin with a question? Do you want to hear God speak? Have you ever said in a moment of desperation, "O God, if you would only speak! If I could only hear your voice. If you would only talk to me and not be so silent!" I have said those words. And I have found the Lord patient with me and tender in his rebukes. One of the rebukes I have heard is found in Hebrews 1:1–2. What these two verses teach very loudly and plainly is that God is not silent. God is not withdrawn and uncommunicative.
They teach us that God has spoken in two phases: before the coming of the Son of God into the world and through the Son of God's coming into the world. Read them again: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son." Consider these two phases of God's communication for a moment.
Before the coming of the Son it says God spoke "in the prophets in many portions [or many times or many places] and in many ways." Notice three crucial things.
1. God Spoke
He was not silent. God communicates. He means to connect with us. He is not an idea to be thought about. He is a person to be listened to and understood and enjoyed and obeyed. He is a speaking Person. There is no more important fact than this: There is a God who speaks that we might know him and love him and live in joyful obedience to him. God spoke.
God spoke . . .
2. "In the Prophets" or by the Prophets
This means that God's typical way of communicating with his people as a whole was by inspiring human spokesmen as go-betweens. It was not God's way to write his Word in the sky, or to shout it from mountains for all to hear, or to whisper it one by one in the heart of every Israelite. His usual way was to call a prophet and then inspire the prophet to speak and to write to the people what God wanted said. But don't miss what this text says: When God spoke to the fathers in the prophets, God spoke to the fathers! When the fathers heard and understood the prophets, they heard God speaking. God uses chosen, inspired human instruments to speak to the fathers. But it is God speaking to the fathers when the prophets speak and write.
God spoke to the Fathers by the prophets . . .
3. "In Many Portions and in Many Ways"
This is where I get the assurance that God is not withdrawn and uncommunicative. This verse stresses the lavish variety of God's communication. In "many portions [or times or places] and many ways!" This is a great comfort and encouragement. Do you know why? Because we all know that some of those portions and ways are hard to understand. If God had only spoken in one portion or one way and we couldn't get it, we would be very frustrated and at a great disadvantage. But God has not done it that way. He has spoken in many places and times and portions and in many ways.
So if you have difficulty in grasping his word in Leviticus, you may hear him clearly in Proverbs. If you don't see the point clearly in Zechariah, you may still be deeply moved by the message of Jonah. If you don't catch on yet to the strange visions in Ezekiel, you may be sustained by the sufferings of Job. The point is this: God means to provide a lot of possibilities in the Old Testament where you can hear him. He has spoken and he is not silent. He is not withdrawn and uncommunicative. There are many places and many ways that he has spoken by the prophets.
So I have been rebuked in my complaining about the silence of God. I am like a person complaining in "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" that there are no lakes in Minnesota because I don't see one from 1801 11th Avenue.
God's Communication Now Is Better and Greater Than Before
But there's more. Hebrews says that God spoke in two phases: one before the coming of the Son of God into the world, and one through the Son's coming into the world. Verse 2a: "In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son."
Now the point here is that if God seemed ready and eager to communicate himself in the Old Testament, how much more is he ready to communicate in the sending of his Son! What the writer wants us to see is that this latest communication from God is greater and better than all those portions and ways in days of old. So when I complain to God, "Lord, I want to hear you. Would you speak to me? I need to hear your voice . . . " is my complaint well placed? What would God's response be in view of these words?
Let's look at three ways that the speaking of God in the Son in these last days is better than God's speaking of old.
1. By His Son
God has now spoken not just by prophets, but by his Son.
Verses 1 and 2 say,
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.
Notice it does not say, "Formerly God spoke by prophets and in these last days he has spoken by apostles." That's true. And you can see their crucial role in Hebrews 2:3–4. But the point here is that in these last days God has done something very different: to communicate, he sent his Son.
Not Just a Prophet
This is different. The Son of God is not just a prophet. Some thought he was just a prophet (John 9:17), but he was not a mere prophet. Here Islam makes a great mistake about Jesus. Jesus is not only a prophet like Moses or Isaiah. And he is far above Mohammed in glory. He is the Son of God. And that means he is God. The son of John Piper is human like John Piper. And the Son of God is divine like God.
We will see this in detail next week when we focus on verse 3: "He is the radiance of [God's] glory and the exact representation of [God's] nature." The point of those words is to warn us against the mistake that Islam has made. Jesus is the unique image of God's divine glory and bears the very stamp of his divine nature. He is not a mere prophet. The whole point here is to show that he is superior to the prophets. He is the eternally begotten Son, without beginning and without ending (Hebrews 7:3).
In other words, God has not just spoken by inspiring prophets and apostles. He has spoken by coming to us in the person of his Son. Who Jesus was, what he said, and what he accomplished by dying and rising from the dead is God's Word to us. This is what God has said, and what we should hear—what we need to listen to far more earnestly than we do.
Have I Heard the Word of God in the Person of Jesus?
Every time I begin to complain that God is silent and that I need God to speak to me—at that moment I should stop and ask: Have I heard this Word? Is this Word from God—spoken in the Son of God—so short and simple that I have finished with it, and now I need more—another word? Have I really heard the Word of God in the person and the teaching and the work of the Son? Is the aching of my soul and the confusion of my mind really owing to the fact that I have exhausted hearing this Word and need another word? And so I feel another gracious rebuke to my unperceptive and presumptuous ears.
So the first way that the speaking of God is better in these last days than in the prophets of old is that he has now spoken in the coming of his Son.
2. The Son Appointed Heir of All Things
The second way that the speaking of God in these last days is better than in the former days is that the Son in whom he speaks has been appointed heir of all things.
He Can Make Good on His Promises
Verse 2: "In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things." Now why does the author add this? Because he wants us to dwell on the fact that the one we listen to, Jesus, the Son of God, can make good in the end on all that he promises. Why? Because he is the heir of all things. In the end he will have at his disposal all things. He will have in subjection to him all that is. The writer wants us to think about this. What does it mean to listen to a Spokesman for God who in the end will have under his complete control and ownership all things (all land, all water, all fire, all wind, all energy, all natural resources, all nations, all military might, all buildings, all bacteria and viruses, all angels, all demons, all spiritual and material beings except God the Father)? Well, it means that he can make good on all his promises.
If he says, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5), then he can make good on that promise, because he will own the earth and have it under his control. If he says, "Nothing in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:39), then he can make good on that promise because he will own all creation and have it under his control. If he says, "There shall no longer be death or mourning or crying or pain any more" (Revelation 21:1), he can make good on that promise because he will own life and death and rule unhindered over all that causes pain and crying.
When you listen to the Son of God, it is different from listening to a prophet. God will make good on the word of the prophets. But the Son will make good on his own word.
Why Mention "Heir" Before Creation?
I wonder if you have ever asked in verse 2 why the Son is described first as the "heir of all things" and second as the one "through whom God made the world?" Why not say first that he is Creator of all things, and second that he is Heir of all things? Here's my suggestion: how the story ends is more important than how the story begins, but you can't understand the true ending without understanding the beginning.
In other words, what is ultimately at stake in my life (and your life) is how the future goes, not how the past went. If I have a Savior who is heir of all things and makes everything serve my everlasting joy, then the past is important only to the degree that it helps me understand that and believe that and live in the truth of that. But it's the future where I will live—or not.
But the fact is, we cannot understand Jesus' being appointed Heir of all things until we understand that all things were made through him. Until you know this, you might say, "Oh, Jesus was a man like us and was chosen to be exalted to some special role as heir—after all it says, he was "appointed" heir! So if he was "appointed" heir, then maybe he was not always heir and he was really adopted as a Son of God rather than being the Son of God eternally. That would be a huge mistake.
So the writer follows his first and primary statement that the Son is "the heir of all things" with the statement that "through him God made the world." This means at least two things: 1) the Son existed before he came to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; 2) the Son already owned the universe by virtue of creating it with the Father. In fact verse 3 says, "he upholds all things by the word of his power." (See also verses 10–12.)
How Is He "Appointed" Heir?
So he created all and he upholds all. How then is he "appointed" heir of all? I think the answer is that, for now, much of his creation is in rebellion against him; and God has ordained that, because of the Son's faithful obedience and death and resurrection, these enemies will one day be subdued and all creation will bow down and acknowledge that they are ruled and owned by Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:12–13 says this:
Having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, [Christ] sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet.
In other words Christ took his seat as the active ruling heir of all things by virtue of his death and resurrection. He not only has the right be the heir of all things because he made all things, but also because he defeated his enemies and purchased a lost people from sin and death through his death.
So we have double reason to give heed to a Son of God who is heir of all things: he is heir in one sense because he made all things; and he is appointed heir in another sense because he died and rose again to redeem for himself a people and to destroy sin and death and Satan and everything that could make his people miserable.
He can make good on his word because he is God, because he is Creator, and because he is the Triumphant Heir over all evil and misery. This is a better word than anything the prophets ever spoke in many ways in the Old Testament.
This leaves one last thing to say this morning about how superior God's speaking in the Son is over his speaking of old in the prophets.
3. No Third Phase of Speaking
This Word of God in his son is so decisive and so full that there will be no third phase of God's speaking in history.
That is what it means when it says in verse 2: "in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son." The last days begin with the coming of the Son into the world. We have been living in the last days since the days of Christ—that is, the last days of history as we know it before the final and full establishment of the kingdom of God.
The last days of a war are the days after the decisive battle has been fought or the decisive bomb has been dropped. Everyone knows who will win. It is only a matter of time. The resistance may go on for some years, but the mortal blow has been struck to the enemy and the high ground has been captured. The days of fighting that remain are the last days of the war.
So it is since the Son of God came into the world. In his death and resurrection, the decisive battle with sin and death and hell has been fought and won. It is only a matter of time. These are the last days bringing his decisive triumph to all the peoples of the earth.
But the point for the writer of Hebrews is this: The Word that God spoke by his Son is the decisive Word. It will not be followed in this age by any greater word or replacement word. This is the Word of God—the person of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the work of Jesus.
When I complain that I don't hear the Word of God, when I feel a desire to hear the voice of God, and get frustrated that he does not speak in ways that I may crave, what am I really saying? Am I really saying that I have exhausted this final decisive Word revealed to me so fully in the New Testament? Have I really exhausted this Word? Has it become so much a part of me that it has shaped my very being and given me life and guidance? Or have I treated it lightly—skimmed it like a newspaper, dipped in like a taste tester—and then decided I wanted something different, something more? This is what I fear I am guilty of more than I wish to admit. God is calling us to hear his final decisive Word—to meditate on it and study it and memorize it and linger over it and soak in it until it saturates us to the center of our being.
If you ask, What about the ministry of the Holy Spirit today, for this I direct your attention to Hebrews 2:3–4 and to this week's STAR article. In a word, it is the passion of the Holy Spirit to focus all our attention and all our affection on this final and decisive Word spoken in the Son of God for these last days. That is his great work, and the aim of all is gifts.