Saturday, April 4, 2020

Sermon: Hebrews 1:5–14

This is the audio and polished manuscript of a sermon I preached on March 4, 2015 at Raiford Road Church.


When I was kid, one of my favorite movies to watch was Angels in the Outfield (the 90s version). If you recall the plot of that movie, it was about a baseball team called the Angels. They were a terrible team that could never win a game. But then a boy who’s a fan of the Angels prays that God would help the team to start winning. After this, miraculous things begin to happen at the Angels’ games. One out-fielder manages to jump an impossible distance to catch a fly ball. Another player somehow slides all the way from one base to another. On one occasion, the opposing team couldn’t even pick up the ball, since it was darting around sporadically. Everyone is amazed and wondering what in the world could be going on, and only the boy who had prayed can see that the miracles are the work of literal angels out on the field.

Movies like that are fun to watch, because the presence of angels in the world has always been an intriguing thought. We’re fascinated by the idea that heavenly beings have some role to play in the things that happen in our world. But obviously, what we believe about angels shouldn’t be based on things we see in Disney movies, but rather on what God has told us about them in his word. So what do we know about angels from Scripture?

At the foundational level, it’s important for us to understand that angels are created beings. Thus, they are not eternal like God. In terms of their role, we know from Scripture that angels are most basically God’s messengers. They relay messages from the Lord, and also execute his will on the earth. When Stephen is giving a defense of his faith in the book of Acts, he mentions that the burning bush in which Moses heard from the Lord, as well as the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai, were accomplished through the work of angels (Acts 7:35, 53).

Another responsibility of angels is the protection God’s people. Psalm 91 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psa. 91:11). And that’s a blessing to know. There’s a story in 2 Kings wherein the prophet Elisha finds himself surrounded by an army of Syrians, and the prophet’s young servant is thoroughly stressing out about it: “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” But I love the way Elisha responds: “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha then prays that the servant’s eyes would be opened, and the request is granted: “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:15–17). This angelic host was invisible to the natural eye, but it was real and present nonetheless.

Angels are glorious beings, at least in their natural heavenly state. When the shepherds are visited by an angel in Luke’s gospel account, we’re told that the glory of the Lord shown all around, and the shepherds were terrified. Yet angels don’t always show themselves in glorious or unusual ways. Something fascinating we read later in the book of Hebrews is that we can be involved with angels and not even know it (Heb. 13:2). The writer even remarks that this is one of the reasons we should be hospitable to others, because you never know: someone to whom you show hospitality might be an angel. And wouldn’t that be something?

So in all, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to be fascinated by the reality of angels. Scripture invites us to feel this way, to regard highly these glorious beings and the work they do in the world on God’s behalf.

And regarding angels in this way will allow us to truly feel the impact of what the writer of Hebrews wants to teach us about Jesus in this passage. If you were here last time, you might remember the three words which I think summarize the main point of the book of Hebrews: Jesus is better. And we’ll see in our passage tonight specifically that Jesus is better than the angels. When God revealed himself to us through his Son, this was far superior to any prior revelation of himself through angels.


In this latter part of chapter one (vv. 5—14) , the writer will cite seven different passages from the Old Testament. His purpose in citing these passages is to show us how Christ is far more highly exalted than the angels.
1:5 | For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
Here the writer quotes Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 in asking a basic rhetorical question: Which of the angels did God ever call his son? And the implied answer is, none. God never referred to an angel as his begotten Son, and this basic fact shows that Christ is superior to angels.

But if you were to flip back in your Bible to these Old Testament passages quoted by the writer, you would see that in their original context they seem to be speaking of earthly kings – namely, David and Solomon – rather than Jesus. So why does the writer of Hebrews make as if these verses are referring to Jesus?

I think the answer is that there is sometimes a kind of double-fulfillment in Old Testament prophecies. The writer of Hebrews looked at 2 Samuel 7:14, for example, and could recognize that the verse seems to be referring most immediately to King Solomon; but at the same time, the prophecy goes on to say that this king’s throne “shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16), which clearly can’t refer to Solomon’s reign, seeing as it how it didn’t last forever. So ultimately, this passage must be pointing us to another king, another son of David still to come. It’s no surprise, then, that Matthew opens his gospel account by mentioning right from the start that Jesus is the son of David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus fulfills those Old Testament promises in the most complete way.
1:6 | And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
The words “Let all God’s angels worship him” are drawn from the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 32:43, and the writer’s intention is to present this contrast between Jesus and the angels even more sharply by pointing out that the angels actually worship God’s Son.
1:7 | Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”
Here the writer quotes Psalm 104, which gives us a picture of the glory of the angels, described there as a “flame of fire.” Consider that the word seraphim literally means “burning ones.” Angels are incredible and glorious creatures, but this observation is made primarily to set up verses 8 and 9, which focus again on the Son. It’s as if the writer is saying, “If you think the angels are highly spoken of, wait till you hear what Scripture says about God’s Son.”
1:8–9 | But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
The passage quoted here is from Psalm 45, which is an intriguing psalm for the fact that it speaks of a kingly figure who is referred to as God; and yet in the very same context, we’re told that God anoints that king. In other words, God is anointed by God. I imagine Jewish interpreters would have scratched their heads over this psalm, seeing as how it speaks of two persons who are alike referred to as God.

The only way to make sense of statements like these is with the doctrine of the Trinity. The word trinity isn’t in the Bible, but it’s the word we use to express things we see all over the place in Scripture: that there is only one God, and yet this one God exists in three distinct persons who are all equally God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The writer of Hebrews draws our attention to the second divine person in Psalm 45, and plainly indicates that this person is God’s Son. So don’t miss the fact that the Son is clearly called God, which is why he is worshiped by the angels as God (v. 6). To worship Jesus is not blasphemy or idolatry, because he really is God.

If you’ve ever wondered why we don’t have Christian fellowship with Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, this is the primary reason – because they don’t believe that Jesus is God, and therefore don’t worship him. We believe these religious groups have other false teachings as well, but none are more critical than their denial that Jesus is truly God in the flesh. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses can be some of the most wonderful and morally-upstanding people you’ve ever known, but Christians are people who worship Jesus.
1:10–12 | And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.
The writer uses the words of Psalm 102 to emphasize that the Son is the one who created all things. And this identity as the creator clearly sets the Son apart from the angels, who are mere creatures. But the Son is not a creature; he himself is the creator. A. W. Tozer memorably pointed out that the most glorious arch-angel in heaven is closer to a caterpillar than he is to God. The angel and the caterpillar are created beings, and thus the gap between these creatures and their creator is equally infinite.1
1:13 | And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
Here the writer quotes from Psalm 110, which happens to be the Old Testament passage that is most frequently cited in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament referred back to Psalm 110 repeatedly, and applied its words to Jesus. We should always keep this in mind as we read Psalm 110, as well as other messianic psalms which likewise point to Christ.

David begins Psalm 110 in an intriguing way: “The Lord says to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.” So David speaks of two individuals, both of which he refers to as “Lord.”2 But as king of Israel, presumably there would have been no earthly individual which David would address as “Lord.” So it appears that David is speaking of two divine persons; and according to the writers of the New Testament, one of those persons is God’s Son. The writer of Hebrews is making the point that God never gave to an angel the privilege of sitting at his right hand. He reserved that pride of place only for his Son.
1:14 | Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
This rhetorical question sums up the proper way for us to think about angels. The writer clearly establishes that angels are not only real, but also active in the lives of believers. This is a truth that we should be mindful of and thankful for. We can all think of times in our lives when we’ve experienced a close call that really could have been disastrous, such as narrowly (and inexplicably) avoiding an accident on the road. In those moments, we might be tempted to think that it was simply a stroke of good fortune, that maybe it was just luck. But why would we think like unbelievers? We believe this is God’s world, which he actively governs. And he’s told us that angels are his chosen means of executing his will in the world and ministering to his people. So we ought to be thankful for the protection God gives through his angels, even if we’re not always aware of their activity in our lives.

And yet the point emphasized here by the writer is that angels are servants. In other words, they don’t have authority in and of themselves. They’re under God’s authority. They do what he says. The writer wants to make sure that we keep angels in their proper place. As glorious as they are, and as thankful as we are for the work they do in our lives, we have to understand that, at the end of the day, angels are servants.


How does a passage like this instruct us as Christians? I have two points of application.

First, all of Scripture is Christian Scripture. This first point is somewhat indirect, by which I mean, we don’t learn it so much from what the writer tells us explicitly, but we learn it instead from his example. When the writer wants to teach us things about Jesus, where does he point us? He points us to the Old Testament.

That’s different than what you and I are used to doing, isn’t it? If we want to demonstrate something about Jesus, we’re more likely to cite something from the New Testament. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously the New Testament reveals God’s plan of salvation in Christ more fully and explicitly than the Old Testament. But Hebrews was written in a time when the New Testament had not yet come together in the way we have it today. They didn’t cite passages from the New Testament like we would, because for the most part they didn’t have a New Testament.

Yet that didn’t stop them from preaching Christ from the Scriptures – the Scriptures that they did have, namely the Old Testament. Sometimes people get the mistaken impression that the Old Testament books are the Jewish Scriptures, while the New Testament books are the Christian Scriptures; when the reality is that all of Scripture is Christian Scripture.

Consider the way Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in John chapter 5. He looked at these religious experts of his day, who had probably memorized the Old Testament, and said, “You search the Scriptures [the Old Testament] because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). So whenever you read your Bible, and wherever in your Bible you read, always read with Christ-focused lenses. Always be listening out for him. Always be paying attention to the ways in which that part of Scripture makes you consider your need for Christ.

So the next time you find yourself bogged down in the ceremonial regulations of Leviticus (we’ve all been there), let it serve as an opportunity for you to be thankful for the finished work of Christ, his once-for-all sacrifice that removes all need for any others. And did you know that the story of Noah’s ark is supposed to teach you something about baptism? That’s what 1 Peter 3:20–21 says. Noah and his family were saved through water, much like the waters of baptism that picture our salvation through Christ.

Don’t ever read the Bible without thinking about Jesus. He’s what the whole Bible is about. “Jesus is what makes the Bible one book,” as one writer has said. Of course the Bible is a diverse collection of 66 books, written across a 1500-year span of time, by some 40 different authors; and yet it’s the person and work of Jesus Christ that ties them all together.

A second point of application may be drawn simply from the main idea of the passage, namely that Christ is superior to angels. As stated before, angels are real and active in the lives of believers. They are the instruments God uses to execute his will on the earth and to protect his people, for which we should always be thankful. Nevertheless, we can sometimes fall into unhelpful ways of thinking about angels.

Sometimes Christian bookstores are jam-packed with books about angels, which can make you wonder if our sense of proportion has gotten out of whack. When I was a kid, I loved reading a magazine called Guideposts, but really only for one thing in particular: a regular feature called “His Mysterious Ways.” This was an article that typically shared a story of an inexplicable occurrence someone had experienced, which was usually interpreted as the work of an angel. Those stories fascinated me, but in all honesty, reading them would sometimes breed in me a measure of discontentment. I would begin to think, “Why don’t amazing things like this ever happen to me? Lord, how come I’ve never seen an angel?” (I also remember praying, “Lord, if you do send me an angel, please don’t do it at night. That would be a kind of spooky. Just wait till daytime if you don’t mind.”)

The point is, I would allow angel stories to make me discontent with my own walk with the Lord. And in those times, I don’t think I truly understood the reality that Jesus is better than angels. But what does that really even mean? I can’t speak with Jesus in the normal physical sense. I can’t see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Pet. 1:8). If Jesus is better than angels, how do I experience Jesus?

The New Testament begins with four unique accounts of the life and ministry of Christ. These “gospels” serve as a kind of baseline of what we know about the Lord Jesus. They tell us how he lived, how he loved, what he taught, what he valued, and what he accomplished. In other words, they show us the footsteps we’re to walk in (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). But Jesus also said he would send the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). So in the later writings of people like Paul and Peter and John, we get further theological reflections on who Jesus is and what he achieved for us. Then in books like James, we can see the practical outworking of faith in Christ and how it changes the way that we live. We don’t simply fill our heads with knowledge about Christ; we become doers of the word (Jas. 1:22). We acknowledge Christ’s authority over every aspect of our lives, as we read and apply his word.

And the truth, surprising as it may seem, is that every one of these things is far better than being visited by an angel. As amazing as it would be to receive a heavenly message directly from an angel, do you realize that the Bible in your hands is actually better than that? It’s better for your life, better for your heart, and better for your soul. Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with stories about supernatural occurrences. I still enjoy hearing about times when God moves in mysterious ways in the lives of believers. But it would be entirely irrational to let those stories cause me to become discontent with the surpassing worth of “simply” knowing Christ.

When Jesus was praying to his Father in John 17, he prayed this for his people: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word is the means by which we’re sanctified, made more like Christ. And there is a lifetime’s worth of treasure to find there.
What more can He say than to you He has said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled


1. “Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.” – A. W. Tozer

2. David’s literal words are: “Yahweh says to my Adonai . . .”

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