The Lord's Day Morning
January 13, 2013
“Better — More Excellent Than Angels”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 1 as we continue to make our way through this great sermon, this great letter, together. This morning, we're going to be looking at verses 4 to 14. I'm going to pick up in verse 3 so that we're not starting in the middle of a sentence. Last Lord's Day we read verses 1 to 4 but we focused on verses 1 to 3; this Lord's Day we're going to look at verses 4 to 14 together.
Now Hebrews, as we said the last time, Hebrews is a book about persevering in the faith. It is a book that is designed to help us meet the various challenges to living the Christian life and it points, over and over again, to the only sure foundation, the only source of power for living the Christian life, which is the supremacy and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And you got that even in the first three verses. You can tell when you hear the first three verses of Hebrews chapter 1 that this is a book about Jesus and it's a book about His sufficiency and it's a book about His excellence. Just look at the first three verses that we studied last week together and in those verses alone the author of Hebrews will tell you that God has spoken finally and uniquely in His Son and that the inheritance that God has pledged belongs to His Son and that the world belongs to His Son and that the coming kingdom belongs to His Son and that the power to create belongs to His Son and that the manifested and the original glory of God belongs to the Son and that the sustaining power that upholds this universe belongs to the Son and that the work of redemption belongs to the Son and that the reigning, exalted Majesty belongs to the Son. Now he packs all that into three verses. Just guess what's coming! He's driving home the supremacy and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
And then you get into verse 4 and there's a comparative. Jesus, the Son, is compared to someone else; and just take a look at it — “having become as much superior to the angels.” Now there are two interesting parts of that little phrase. The first part that ought to catch your attention as a believer who recites The Apostles Creed, and you’re going to recite it this morning – you recite The Nicene Creed; you recited it last Lord's Day. The first little phrase in this sentence that ought to interest you is this one — “having become.” What do you mean, Jesus “having become more superior than the angels”? We believe in the deity of Christ. There wasn't some time when Jesus wasn't more superior than the angels. We don't believe that there was a time when He was not deity and then He became deity or there was a time when He was less superior and He became more superior. So what in the world does the author of Hebrews mean, “having become more superior”? Well, we’ll talk about that later in the message.
But the other interesting part of that phrase is this – the comparison to angels. Why in the world angels? Why is the author of this sermon, this letter, comparing Jesus to angels? Well, it's because apparently this congregation is tempted to think that angels, or at least some of them, may be superior to Christ. We know that there were various branches of the Jewish community, including the Essenes, who had a very high view of angels who thought Michael and his angels were going to reign in the kingdom to come, they believed that the last days were upon them, and that Michael was going to bring in the eternal reign of God. They had a very high view of angels. And we also know, from Paul's little letter to the Colossians, that there was an apparent temptation of some Christians to even worship angels because Paul warns against the worship of angels in Colossians chapter 2. Well I don't know exactly the temptation that is facing this particular congregation, but the author of Hebrews thinks that it's actually very important that they understand that Jesus is superior to angels, that He's better than angels, that He's more excellent than angels. And that's what he's going to be talking with us about today.
In fact, in this passage that we study, I want you to see it in two parts. First is that comparative. In verse 4, the author is pressing home this important truth — that Jesus, the Son, is better than the angels. Be on the lookout for how we expound that. And then from verses 4 all the way down to 14, he quotes seven Scripture passages from the Old Testament in order to press home five truths that the Old Testament says about the Messiah, about Jesus the Son, that show that He is better than the angels. In other words, the two parts of this passage are — Jesus is better than the angels and Jesus is better than the angels is proven from Scripture. That's the two parts of the passage. And then I’ll add a deduction to that and there you have the sermon outline. Jesus is better than the angels, Jesus is better than the angels is proven from Scripture, and a deduction. And there's the three-part sermon outline.
Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We know that. Most of us openly acknowledge that this is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God, but there are some things that we believe to be true that we find it hard to believe. So we need Your Holy Spirit to press this truth deep into our hearts and bones and lodge it there and make it live and grow so that we walk by faith, even when we have no sight. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, beginning in Hebrews chapter 1 verse 3:
“He (and if you take a peek, the “He” refers to the Son who has been mentioned in verse 2) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
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’?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’
Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’
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.’
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.’
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’?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Is Jesus enough for you? That's what the congregation that this preacher is preaching to, is writing to, is wrestling with. Is Jesus enough? If He's all I'm left with, is He enough? Is there something better out there than Jesus? If there something outside, someone outside of Jesus that's better, that's superior, that's more excellent? And there's a real sense in which the author of this book has a one-point sermon and a one-point answer. Jesus is enough; Jesus is better. Jesus is superior; Jesus is more excellent. And oh, how we need to hear that word.
JESUS IS BETTER THAN THE ANGELS
There are two things I want you to see from this passage this morning and the first one you’ll see right there in verse 4. Jesus, the Son, is better than the angels; Jesus, the Son, is more excellent than the angels — “He was much superior to the angels and His name is more excellent than theirs.” This comparison with angels is because this congregation is being tempted to think that angels are better than Jesus. Now my guess is that very few of you during this last week worshiped angels. I hope that very few of you this last week worshiped angels. But my guess is that a great many of you, maybe all of us, underestimated Jesus and were tempted to think that Jesus is not enough. And the problem, you understand my friends, that you and I are facing and the problem that this congregation was facing in thinking angels were superior to Jesus, is the same. We are all prone, we are all apt, to underestimate Jesus. And the one-point sermon of this letter, of this book, is: Don't ever underestimate Jesus. He is so excellent, He is so superior, He is so literally divine that it is impossible to overestimate Him. Don't underestimate Jesus.
But all of us are tempted to do that. We think that there's something if we just had then life would be right if we just had that. And if the “that” that we think that we just need to have in order for life to be right isn't Jesus, then we're underestimating Him. Or maybe we think that Jesus and the promises that He brings, they just haven't panned out for us and we're going to need to look somewhere else for satisfaction and hope and joy and fulfillment. And the author of Hebrews is standing athwart that temptation and he is saying to you, “Do not underestimate Jesus because there's nothing that compares with Jesus, not even Michael the archangel, not even Gabriel, not even all the angels combined. None of them compare to Jesus.”
And just in case our hearts are having a hard time taking that in, he says, “Let me just demonstrate that to you from Scripture.” Isn't that beautiful? This pastor preaching to this congregation almost two thousand years ago says, “Let me prove my main point from the Bible, let me do a little exposition for you and let me show you from the Bible.” And isn't it beautiful? He goes to Scriptures, all of which were written hundreds of years before Jesus ever came and he says, “I can prove to you that Jesus is superior to the angels. Even before He came I can prove that to you from Scripture. And he takes you to seven Scripture passages and he makes five claims about Jesus. And just look at them with me because this is the second thing that I want you to see in the passage, that Christ's superiority is demonstrated Scripturally in these five ways by an appeal to the Old Testament writings.
JESUS IS BETTER THAN THE ANGELS PROVEN FROM SCRIPTURE
JESUS IS THE UNIQUE SON
And the first thing that he says, look at verses 4 and 5, is that Jesus is the very and unique Son of God. He quotes from Psalm 2, he quotes from 2 Samuel 7, and he says that Jesus is the very and unique Son of God. The angels are not the very and unique Son of God; only Jesus is. Those passages apply to Jesus and to Jesus only. He is superior to the angels.
JESUS IS THE MASTER OF THE ANGELS
And the second thing that he says is this. Look at verses 6 and 7. Not only is Jesus superior to the angels as the Son, He is the master of the angels. They are merely His servants, His ministers. And he quotes from Psalm 97 — “and let all the angels of God worship Him.” And then again from, “who makes his angels winds and his ministers a flame of fire.” The point is that these angels minister in the service of Jesus. He is their master, they are His servants, and the master is greater than the servants. You know the old joke about the pope and the chauffeur, right? You know, the pope wants to drive the car and so with some difficulty he talks his chauffeur into letting him drive. And while driving, the pope gets a speeding ticket. And the policeman comes up to the driver's window, motions to him to roll it down, sees that it's the pope, says, “One moment please,” walks back to the car, calls into dispatch, and says, “I've just pulled over the pope for speeding. I have no idea who it must be in the backseat.”
Now I had something similar to that happen to me in December of this past year. I was in Louisville with three other guys and Al Mohler was driving us in the car. And he dropped one off who was sitting in the front passenger's seat and he dropped another one off who was sitting in the back left passenger's seat, and it left him driving and me in the back right passenger's seat. And I said to Al, “Al, I would dearly love it if somebody could see that the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and perhaps the leading public intellectual in evangelicalism is driving me around Louisville!” And he said, “Lig, if they did, it would confirm the suspicions of some of my fellow Baptists!” But the point is, chauffeurs chauffeur around people who are more important than they are. So we've got chauffeurs in our congregation. That's what you do. People who are important, or who at least think they are, high chauffeurs to chauffeur them around. The angels are just servants; they’re just Jesus’ chauffeurs. They do His bidding.
JESUS IS THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM
Third, look at verses 8 and 9. Not only is He superior to the angels, not only is He the master of the angels, He is the ruler of the kingdom. The psalmist, in Psalm 45, is quoted by the author of Hebrews where he makes this point that Christ is the ruler of the empire of God. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The throne is Jesus’ throne; He is God's representative. He is sovereign over the kingdom. He is exalted due to His righteousness.
JESUS IS THE CREATOR
And then again, fourth, look at verses 10 to 12. The author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 102 and he says not only is Jesus superior to the angel, the master of the angels, not only is He the ruler of God's kingdom, He is the Creator! “You laid the foundation of the earth.” It's just like John 1 — “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and there was not anything made that He did not make.” He's the Creator and every good Hebrew knows that the Creator is God.
And fifth, look at verses 13 to 14. Here he quotes Psalm 110. Do you remember when we studied Psalm 110 together? I told you that the author of Hebrews was going to quote it. Here it is; Psalm 110 verse 1. You’ll find it in verses 13 and 14 of Hebrews chapter 1. “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Christ is Lord! He reigns! His enemies are put under His feet; He sits at the right hand of God, the position of authority and honor and dominion and power in God's kingdom. And the author of Hebrews says Scripture says that about Jesus. He is superior to the angels. You understand why he's saying this? He's saying this because we're so prone to underestimate Jesus.
Oh, I forgot to tell you about that “having been made” line, didn't I? What does that mean that He, “having been made more excellent than, superior to, the angels”? That is a phrase that the author of Hebrews uses repeatedly to point to the unfathomably costly redeeming work of Jesus. The angels, as glorious and exalted as they are — and did you notice how the author of Hebrews points that out in the very last line? He's not denigrating the angels at all; they are servants of God. As glorious and as exalted as they are, no angel was ever humiliated for you. No angel ever hung on the tree bearing the full weight of your sins and the sins of the world. But the Son of God, who is superior to angels, who is master of all angels, who is Lord of the empire of God, who is the Creator of this world, who sits at the right hand, He shed His blood for you. And the Father says, “You see what My Son did for you so that you could be forgiven, so that you could be accepted, so that you could be brought into the family of God and inherit all of the things that I promised to My Son, do you see what He endured for you, the humiliation that He bore for you? No angel ever did that for you. So by rite of what He did, I will give Him His due because He bought you, He earned you, and it would be the most unjust thing in this universe for Me not to pour out all blessings on you as you trust in Him because He did this for you.” No angel ever did that for us.
I was talking to a dear friend this week and she said, she's in a very dark place, she said, “I am on a journey of enough right now.” You know what she means? She said, “I am having to ask myself the question, ‘Is Jesus enough? Is Jesus enough that if this that I want so desperately doesn't happen, I can still say Jesus is enough? Or is Jesus enough so that if this that I don't want to happen more than anything that I've ever not wanted to happen, if it happens, I can still say, ‘Jesus is enough’?” Are any of you on the journey of enough? Ever been on the journey for enough? Are you on the journey of enough right now? Dear sister, that's where I am, and the author of Hebrews is there waiting to say, “Jesus not only enough, He's better, He's more, He's superior, He's more excellent, He is all, He is everything.” Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. Hallelujah, Jesus is my life. And if you still don't believe that, Christian, won't you come and taste and see that He is good?
Oh Lord, grant that we would taste and see that You are good by faith, at Your table, in Jesus' name. Amen.