#HeIsGreater Series

  • What was once a time to celebrate the birth of God's gracious rescue of this world has become a frantic few months of consumerism, depression, conflict and stress. Sadly, we're often so busy with what Christmas has become that we've forgotten what it truly is. We've forgotten the story. The book of Hebrews points its readers, both in the 1st century as well as in the 21st century, towards Jesus. He is the reason for the season. He truly is greater than anything we imagine!
2a. Greater Than the Angels [Hebrews 1:5-14]
2b. Greater Than the Cynics, Critics and Skeptics [Hebrews 2:1-4]
  • (2a) – Jesus' superiority to the angels rests on the fact that He is ruler over all.
  • (2b) – Since we have encountered such a great salvation, we must be careful not to drift away from it.
Sermon Preparation Guide (2a)
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text? (2a)
  • Jesus is greater than angels because He is God’s Son. (Hebrews 1:5)
  • Jesus is greater than angels because He is eternal. (Hebrews 1:7, 10-12)
  • Jesus is greater than angels because He is sovereign. (Hebrews 1:14)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking? (2a)
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus is God’s Son?
  • What does it mean to say that Jesus is eternal?
  • If Jesus is Sovereign, what does that mean in your life?
Sermon Preparation Guide (2b)
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text? (2b)
  • One must pay close attention to the gospel message one has accepted, and not drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)
  • The gospel message is certified as true by God Himself in His Son and is to be followed. (Hebrews 2:1-3)
  • The consequences of drifting away fro the gospel are awful. (Hebrews 2:2 & 3)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking? (2b)
  • What does it mean to drift away from the gospel, and how can one avoid drifting away?
  • How did God certify the effectiveness of the gospel of salvation in your life?
  • What is the possible outcome of drifting away from the gospel? Should you be afraid of losing your salvation?
Talk It Over Discussion Guide (2a)
  • Interpretation – what is the text telling/showing us? (2a)
  • Why is being God’s Son greater than being an angel?
  • What is the implication of Jesus being God’s “firstborn?” How can Jesus be God’s “firstborn” if God is eternally existent?
  • What does it mean to say that angels are winds and a flame of fire?
  • Describe Jesus’ royal kingship. What are the key characteristics of that kingship?
  • In what ways is Jesus equal to God?
  • What will one day happen to the creation (i.e., the heavens and the earth)?
  • Describe the ministry and function of angels and why they are lesser than Jesus.
  • Implementation – What should the listener's response be? (2a)
  • How is the Son equal to the Father?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is God’s Son as it relates to salvation?
  • What do you think of angels?
  • Compare and contrast Jesus and angels. Show how and why Jesus is greater than angels.
  • If Jesus is equal to God, what does that mean in your life?
  • What is the implication in your life that Jesus is Sovereign Lord?
  • How do angels serve you?
Talk It Over Discussion Guide (2b)
  • Interpretation – what is the text telling/showing us? (2b)
    • Why must we pay close attention to the gospel message we have heard?
    • What does it mean to “drift away” from the gospel message?
    • What message was “declared” by angels?
    • What was “a just retribution” from disobeying the message declared by angels (i.e., the law)?
    • What is “such a great salvation?”
    • What does it mean to “neglect” such a great salvation?
    • How did God “certify,” or “attest to,” the gospel message? By what means?
    • How did the author of Hebrews and his readers come into contact with the gospel message?
    • How do spiritual gifts bear witness to the gospel?
  • Implementation – What should the listener's response be? (2b)
  • What close attention are you paying to the gospel message? How can you play closer attention to that message?
  • Describe the gospel message you heard and understand. How does your life proceed from acepting the gospel message (In other words, how do you live out the gospel in your life?)?
  • What does “drift away” mean to you? How might you “drift away” from the gospel?
  • Why is the admonition that we pay closer attention to the gospel message and not drift away from it a crucial message for the church and for you personally?
  • In what ways has God born witness to the gospel in your life?
  • What is your personal “take-away” from these verses and what are you going to do about it?
Sermon Teaching Notes (As prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)

The prior notes covering the first installment of this Series indicated that verses 1 through 4 of Hebrews chapter 1 set the tone for and began the book-long sermonic argument that Jesus is greater than, that He is superior to, anything and everything. And the reason is that He is fully God – He is God's Son, He is heir of all things, He was present with God and interacted with God at the creation, He radiates His own glory (the glory of God), he is the “exact imprint” of God's nature, He upholds the universe with His power, and He took care of the human sin problem once for all, and presently He sits with God at His right hand as king over all (Hebrews 1:2 & 3). What a place to start, and to lay out as the context for all of what comes after, including the transition statement in verse 4 that He is superior to angels. As commentator Ben Witherington III puts it, “The Son is not merely an act or power of God but a person who is the splitting image of the Father and so is to be worshiped as no mere angel should be.” (Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians, p. 106). And He has “inherited” the name that is “more excellent” than that of the angels. In the Jewish way of thinking, names were not labels but speak to the nature of the one named; therefore by saying that Jesus is superior to angels in His name, the author is saying that Jesus is superior to angels in His nature (i.e., as God Himself in the Person of the Son). Moreover, in Greco-Roman thought, someone adopted as a son inherited the full name of the father and, if the father was nobility, inherited the royalty as well. All this is another way of saying to the reader that Jesus is superior, that He is God, and, by implication, that one should continue to follow Him and not turn away.

Having introduced the position that Jesus is greater than angels in verse 4, the author continues in verses 5 through 14 to nail down the point. It was important that the author begin with angels for several reasons. When the author wrote this sermon, Jewish people generally held a high view of angels, thinking them to be in counsel” with God and helping in carrying out His will. They considered angels to have mediated the old covenant to Moses and the Jews. Some even worshiped angels. This view of angels had apparently seeped into the early church as well (cf. Galatians 1:8; Colossians 2:18). Angels are in fact powerful creatures, being spirit beings with heavenly bodies, though they can and do appear in human form from time to time. Nevertheless, angels are not equal to God by any measure; they are created beings, countless in number (cf. Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:11), and they minister to God and carry out assigned tasks (cf. Ezekiel 1:4-25;Daniel 7:10; 8:16; 9:21; 10:13; Revelation 19:17; 20:1-3) Thus, the author needed to show Jesus as superior to the angels, and He purposed to do so by means of comparison and contrast, and as a good rhetorician, using the familiar to do so, the familiar being the Old Testament (again, as previously pointed out, the Greek Septuagint translation), as the Old Testament Scriptures were seen as the authoritative word of God, and reference to them would essentially settle the matter.

In verses 5 through 13, the author recites a total of seven Old Testament Scripture verses or passages. Why seven? It is no accident, as seven is considered as representing the number of completion or perfection, as if to say, “Here are the sayings from God that close the question, that prove the point, that make the case; there’s no room for any further argument.” As well, these seven passages also correlate to the truths about Jesus as enunciated in verses 2 and three, in fact starting and ending at the same places as those verses, namely that God has spoken “by his Son” and that Jesus has “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Further, the author recites these seven passages one after the other with no commentary on them except to connect them and indicate the contrast between Jesus and the angels. Thus, the Old Testament Scriptures speak for themselves, or more accurately, speak for God. There is no need for comment, only the need to listen. So, what are the verses and what does God say through them? They are as follows:

verse in Hebrews              Old Testament verse(s)             correlation to Hebrews 1:2 & 3

Hebrews 1:5                     Psalm 2:7                                  Hebrews 1:2 – Jesus is 
                                                                                                                    God’s Son
                                         II Samuel 7:14                                     “              Jesus is heir

Hebrews 1:6                    Deuteronomy 32:43                             “              Jesus’ divine
                                                                                                                     glory

Hebrews 1:7                    Psalm 104:4                                         “              Jesus is 
                                                                                                                     creator

Hebrews 1:8 & 9             Psalm 45:6 & 7                           Hebrews 1:3 – Jesus is 
                                                                                                                     God, 
                                                                                                                     is Messiah
                                                                                                                     and Savior                           

Hebrews 1:10-12             Psalm 103:25-27                       Hebrews 1:3 – Jesus is 
                                                                                                                    eternal Creator

Hebrews 1:13                  Psalm 110:1                               Hebrews 1:3b – Jesus 
                                                                                                                      reigns on 
                                                                                                                      the throne 
                                                                                                                      with God               

What are the contrasts between Jesus and angels? They are all set out in the third column above. The reference of Psalm 2:7 echoes God’s words directly to Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). God Himself makes the point as to who Jesus is ... “My Son!” God never said that to any angel. Jesus is creator, not created. Jesus is eternal, not temporal; Jesus will not pass away; the heavens and earth will pass away; Jesus is sovereign, but angels are subservient. The author wraps up the argument by asking a rhetorical question about angels in verse 14. The clear answer to the question (are angels subservient ministering spirits serving for the sake of humans in salvation?) is “Yes.” As such, Jesus is superior as He is sovereign, not subservient, and He brought about salvation. Verse 14 thus serves as the exclamation point to verses 5 through 13.

Verses 1 through 4 of chapter 2 contain the exhortation of the author based on the prior verses. And the exhortation is that given the superiority of Jesus over the angels, do not drift away from Jesus; He is greater, He is the source and author of salvation to all humans who respond (cf. Hebrews 12:2), including the readers of the sermon. The author reminds his readers that they had already heard the message of salvation in and through Jesus (Hebrews 2:1, 3); that they were among the listeners referenced in Hebrews 1:2. Note that the author includes himself in the exhortation (note the use of “we” in Hebrews 2:1 & 3), which makes the exhortation all the more powerful; the author is not “finger-pointing.” The author’s use of the word “drift” in Hebrews 2:1 is worthy of note, as it suggests that the life of the Jesus-follower is one that is in motion, one that requires vigilance and active holding on to the truth, one that requires effort, discernment and listening. Hence, the Jesus-follower must “pay close attention” (Hebrews 2:1) which could also be translated “hold fast” and is in contrast to drifting. In other words, hold on to what you know, to the salvation you have in Jesus, and to the truth of the gospel. After all, the message of the law as “declared by angels” (Hebrews 2:2. See Acts 7:38, 53) was valid and to be taken seriously in terms of its truth and that violation of the law drew punishment. In comparison, how much more seriously should the gospel of salvation in Jesus be taken (Hebrews 2:3a). The message of the gospel was first spoken by Jesus Himself (yes, by Jesus, the One who is greater!), was heard and accepted by many and conveyed by them to others, including the author (and, presumably, his readers). Moreover, God Himself attested to the truth of the gospel message by “signs and wonders and various miracles” and also by “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Hebrews 2:4. See also Acts 2:22; Romans 15:19; II Corinthians 12:12) The signs, wonders and miracles can be reviewed by reading the book of Acts. Without commenting on whether such signs, wonders and miracles continue to the present day (they certainly can, in God’s power and consistent with His will, and they do in some places and cultures), in the days of the early church, they certainly gave proof to the content of the gospel message and those holding forth the message. However, gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed to each believer (I Corinthians 12:1-11) do continue to witness to the content of the gospel message, and having been received by the author’s readers, are grounds for their continuing strong in the faith and not drifting away.

Jesus is greater ... He is greater than angels, as remarkable as they are as spiritual beings. But Jesus is God Himself, the Creator, the eternal One, the author of salvation, indeed of “such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3a). God Himself speaks to the greatness of His Son through His written word, effective when written and continually speaking to all who read. So Jesus is greater, and the message He brought, the gospel of salvation in Him, is to be followed assiduously. Since the law, the old covenant, as transmitted through the agency of angels is valid and transgressing against it yielded judgment which is appropriate and just, how much more will disobedience, whether active or passive, to the gospel message bring about judgment. Thus, a consistent, intentional response to and following of the gospel is imperative, since it is from the Son, Jesus, who is greater than everything! Failing to do so, as commentator Ben Witherington III writes, means “deep trouble” as even “having the work of the Holy Spirit within” one’s life is not “some sort of ironclad sealant that prevents leakage, corruption, even turning back to a formerly unsaved condition.” (Id. at p. 137) As to the notion seemingly implied by Witherington that one can lose one’s salvation, that is surely not the case as nothing can separate true believers “from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39b). Nevertheless, by stating his case in such stark terms, the author of Hebrews is certainly providing as stern a warning against apostacy as can be given, but in so doing is calling Jesus-followers to thoughtful, consistent, intentional, active lives of focused following of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is indeed greater and who is the source of so great a salvation, and warning those who may believe in Jesus with their minds but have not yet given him their hearts that drifting away in the face of difficulty and not taking the step of submitting to Jesus as both Savior and Lord, will lead to just punishment. In short, believe in Jesus, confess Him as Lord, and stay the course of faith!