A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on August 28, 2011.
I’m not very good with patience. I don’t like waiting. How are you when it comes to living in the Land of the Uncertain? When you’re waiting on a word. Waiting on the word that makes everything okay or everything unbearable. The word that changes your life forever.
Life does call on us to wait, doesn’t it? To pace back and forth. We spend a good portion of our lives waiting in line, waiting at red lights. When I think of Disneyworld, I think of waiting in line – not a Magical Kingdom. If you say the words “emergency room,” I think of waiting hour after hour, sick, and yet just enduring in a chair – a chair in the “waiting” room.
This week I was having trouble with telephone service, so I called my carrier. And while they usually get to me within two or three minutes, I finally hung up at 23.52 minutes because I could not stand to hear that horrible jazz music or the lady telling me for the 73rd time that she is thankful for my patience. The more she thanked me for my patience, the less patience I had. I was bordering on angry – no, I actually crossed the border!
Maybe you find yourself waiting. They have taken the biopsy and it’s going to be next week before you know. You’re waiting.
You’ve applied for the job. They told you they’d let you know this week, and still no word. Doesn’t seem to be nearly as important to them as it is to you.
Your biological clock is ticking, and you’ve always had the desire in your heart to have children. Well, Mr. Right is no where in sight. And you wait.
Your court case is complicated and it’s dragging through the courts. The proverbial jury is “out,” so to speak. And that waiting time is a horrible time.
You send an email seeking a favorable reply. You check your inbox – one, two, three, four, five, six times. You wait for the word to come back.
Maybe you’re waiting for a positive word, a good word, a word that rebuilds your life.
This week there was an earthquake in the eastern part of the United States that measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale. It was the largest earthquake on the east coast in 67 years, or since 1944. We had a church member whose mother and father live in Washington, D.C. Her mom immediately called to say she was okay, but that she hadn’t heard a word from dad. The daughter was shopping in Hobby Lobby at the moment she heard about the earthquake and was frightened by the silence from her father. Nothing else mattered. She put down her purchases. She forgot Hobby Lobby. She got tunnel vision and she actually showed me on her phone how many times she tried to call her father’s cell, her father’s work, her father’s cell, her father’s work, her father’s cell, her father’s work. She needed just one word to make everything in life okay again, to hear dad’s voice.
Something goes dreadfully wrong in a Chilean mine. Thirty-three miners are either trapped or dead, deep within the bowels of the earth. Twenty-three hundred feet deep. The families are notified. They begin to gather in the desert. Roaring fires fend off the bitter winter cold. And they wait at something they called Camp Hope. Hope. And the families sit and wait for 17 days until finally the word comes. Contact has been established with the men deep within the earth. They are alive. They are okay. They are huddled in an emergency shelter a half mile underground.
In our text today, God’s people find themselves waiting on the word that makes everything okay. God had not spoken since the prophet Malachi hundreds of years ago. And they were waiting. Waiting for God to speak. Waiting for God to speak through His Messiah, His Deliverer, the One to be the new Moses.
The word of Malachi hadn’t even been a very positive word. He had spoken about 400 B.C. So, for century after century, God was silent. The prophets were no more. And generation after generation of God’s people waited for the promise of God’s word – the word that makes everything okay again.
This morning we join them. We join the ancient Israelites as they wait for a word from God. This morning I join you as you wait for the biopsy report. This morning we wait with those who haven’t heard from loved ones, those who need the word – the word for which they’ve been waiting.
Waiting on the word that makes everything okay.
I saw a picture of Elizabeth White, 71 years of age, in the living room of her apartment in Harlem. She is the grandmother of Carlina White – the grandmother who spent over two decades waiting to find her kidnapped granddaughter – leaning, as she waited, hoping even to meet the word half way.
She said the first thing she wanted to do was to ask the kidnapper why she did it. “Why would you steal a baby and cause all this heartache?” Ann Pettway, a petty criminal, posed as a nurse at the hospital. A 16-year-old young mother and the baby’s father took the newborn to the hospital because the child had a fever of 104 degrees. The woman, dressed a nurse, took the baby, told them to go home and rest, and the baby would be better in the morning. But that morning, before they could even get back to the hospital, the doorbell rang. It was two detectives. “What happened,” they asked. “Did the baby die?”
“No, it’s worse than that. Go get your daughter.” The detectives informed her that someone had taken the baby. Grandmother White remembers that moment – the hollering and screaming and crying that took place in that household. How could anything so horrible happen?
It was a huge story in New York. A massive search was launched. A huge team of detectives worked on the case. A $10,000 reward was offered. The family began their own search, putting up posters of the missing baby all over the city. There was a group called the Guardian Angels, volunteer citizens who patrolled New York Streets and subways, looking for little Carlina. Carlina who was never found.
There were so many nights without sleep. Mrs. White said, “I was afraid if I did go to sleep somebody would knock on the door, bringing the baby back, and I wouldn’t hear them. So I needed to stay awake. I needed to wait. I needed to hear.” Back in those days she said she didn’t have a two-way telephone, so she wouldn’t let anybody in the house use the phone be cause the phone might ring with the word.
Mrs. White was waiting on a word. Keep the phone clear. Be alert for the doorbell. Wait for the word that will bring Carlina home.
Grandmother White said you could see her daughter change. How much joy she had when she was pregnant and looking forward to the baby. And then the photographs after the kidnapping – there was no joy, no longer any life in her eyes. Her eyes were dead, Mrs. White says about her daughter.
For 23 years Grandmother White didn’t take her newborn grandbaby’s picture off her dresser because she was waiting on the word to make it all okay.
The 71-year-old grandmother says she never gave up hope that Carlina would be found. “I never thought she was dead. I never felt that,” she adds. “I used to tell my daughter that one day Carlina will find us.”
Carlina, in fact, solved her own kidnapping case. Her so-called “mother” – the kidnapper – didn’t really add up with reality. There was crack cocaine in the house, and there were weapons. There was a birth certificate that didn’t seem to be just right. So Carlina, as an adult, went to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The investigation was started and at last a piece of the puzzle came together when Carlina was told that her real last name was White. And Carlina – the once missing baby now a young woman with a child herself – at last she knows her real mother and her grandmother. Imagine the moment of reunion. In fact, she says, “When I see my mother, I see myself. I see the smile, the lips, the chin and the legs. We all have flat knees. I’m finally with my family.” (“New York grandmother tells of 23 yer wait for abducted baby,” www.telegraph.co.uk, 1/22/2011)
Twenty three years of waiting on a word of hope.
And the ancient Israelites had been waiting – not for decades, but for centuries. Waiting for God to send His Messiah, His Deliverer. They were waiting, literally, on the word.
God had spoken in so many ways in the past. Balaam’s donkey was one way. The prophet Elijah was another. The still small voice was another. A hand writing on the wall, still yet another. The wet or dry garment. Three visitors coming to Abraham in the heat of the day. It happened in visions, in dreams. It happened in the birth of a son, Isaac. A burning bush. It happened in the plagues of Egypt – frogs, hail storms, and flies. It happened in the dense cloud that met Moses at Sinai. It happened in the thunder and in the lightning. IT happened in the train that filled the temple before the eyes of Isaiah.
But these were not enough.
God had spoken in so many ways in so many places to so many people. But God had not spoken His final and decisive word.
It was so important that God continue to speak with his people.
It would have been terrible for God to remain silent. Can you imagine that? A God who created and then walked off, never to speak again? A silent God would be deafening to our ears as we longed to hear His voice, to know who He was, to learn how He would have us do life. To have a silent God – a God enshrouded in darkness, leaving man to his own plight, his own predicament.
But how has God spoken?
In two stages. In both the Old and New Testaments.
God’s speaking, His revelation, has been progressive. It has not progressed from less true to more true. When God speaks, he always speaks in truth. It has not been a revelation that has changed from less worthy to more worthy. The same God has been revealing throughout.
The progression is one from promise to fulfillment.
“God,” the author of Hebrews declares in verse 1, “spoke at various times in many ways.”
Priest and prophet, sage and singer. Yet all these combined did not add up to the fullness of what God had to say! He had spoken, but He had not spoken the final word. He had revealed, but His revelation was still left wanting. – until He spoke, until He revealed Himself by revealing Christ.
In Christ Jesus, all the promises of God meet with a resounding “yes.”
The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him.
Look at Hebrews 1:2.
In these last days has spoken to us in His Son...
The author is saying much more than “recently.” It is a Hebrew phrase which is used in the Old Testament to denote the epoch when the words of the prophets were fulfilled. With the coming of Christ, we had the meeting of the ages.
The Jews had taught it, early Christians accepted it. World history is composed of two ages – the present age and the age to come. Jesus’ message was simple and clear to the Jewish ear. “Repent, for with me the new age has dawned, the very kingdom of God is at hand.”
The Jews taught that in the age to come there would be the resurrection from the dead. It is so in the resurrection of Jesus.
The Jews felt that when the age to come began, God would pour forth His Spirit. This had happened among the followers of Christ.
In Jesus, these things were fulfilled. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. The ages have met. God has spoken His final word.
There are some of you here this morning still waiting on another word from God, waiting for God to reveal Himself in yet another way, by another prophet, by another act of history. What the author of Hebrews is doing in weaving together this collection of Old Testament passages is to let us know that Jesus is the final word of God, that He is better than the angels. In verses 4-14, seven Old Testament passages make a tapestry to declare that Jesus is better than even the angels of heaven. In fact, the Old Testament texts are summarized in the first words, “Jesus is the Son of God” (1:5).
Notice the things he says about Jesus in this passage.
I. He is the heir of all things (v. 2)
The words of Hebrews echo the oracle of Psalm 2:7-8, which is addressed to the one who is both the Lord’s anointed and acclaimed by God as His Son. “He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.’”
The inheritance of the Son of God is the world to come. Here Jesus has put all things under His feet, under His rule, under His authority.
II. Jesus is the one through whom the world was made (v. 2)
God used the agency of His Son to bring forth all creation.
The beloved disciple reminds us of the same – the one who tells us about “In the beginning was the word....” The word we are waiting on, he says, “All things were made through Him and without Him not one thing was made that was made” (John 1:3).
Or Paul tells us the same when he says, “All things were created through Him and for Him.”
I know God spoke before Jesus came, the writer of Hebrews is saying. But when He needed to speak finally, He spoke by sending Jesus. Just look at Jesus. He is the heir of God. He is the very creator of the world.
III. Jesus is the reflection of the glory of God and the exact representation of His nature (v. 3)
The writer is saying that the Son is the shining reflection of God’s own glory. He is the precise expression of God’s very being.
Look at the Son. It’s like looking in a mirror at God Himself. His character is exactly reproduced, plain to see. The Greek word used here for “exact representation” is the word “character.” We talk about characters in a play. And we talk about characters in an alphabet. Why do we use the word “character” in both ways? What is the history here?
In the ancient world lies the idea of engraving or stamping soft or hot metal with a pattern, which the metal will then continue to bear. A character is an accurate impression left by the stamp on a coin. Then it began to mean the individual letters that were produced by the method of stamping. Then it began to mean the type, that sort of person – like the character in the play.
What he is saying is the exact imprint of the Father’s very nature and glory has been precisely reproduced in the soft metal of the Son’s human nature. And now it is there for all the world to see.
IV. Jesus upholds everything by His power (v. 3)
Not only did Jesus create, He also sustains. He upholds the universe not as Atlas supports the dead weight of the world upon his shoulders. No, He is the one who carries forward all things upon their appointed course.
V. He has made purification for our sins (v. 3)
There is a change in the description of Jesus with this fifth one. We move from the cosmic balancing of the ages to Christ’s personal gift to us. The first must be said that He is creator and sustainer of the whole cosmos for us to understand His gift of our salvation.
The cosmic Christ upon whom the ages hinge, the creator, sustainer, image of God has offered Himself for our sins? We may sit in awe and wonderment at His majesty, but we feel personal indebtedness because of His death on the cross for us.
Can we comprehend the act of the cross? Has one so full ever become so empty? Has one so powerful ever yielded any more completely? Has one so right ever been more wronged? No. You see, Jesus died for you and for me on the cross. The cosmic creator becomes a sacrifice for our sins.
God could not possibly speak any more decisively than He spoke on the cross. The cosmic Christ has given Himself for you.
The Jewish listeners of the text would know fully well what it meant to stand guilty before God, to acknowledge one’s guilt. The language of cleansing is the language used in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, for the cleansing or removing of sin in the priestly acts on the day of atonement. Then and there, the uncleanliness of the people was acknowledged before God at the altar, and it was from this defilement that they had to be cleansed by the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial animal. But as we learn in Hebrews, now we have a once-and-for-all sacrifice in the death of Christ upon the cross (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Year after year, the priests shed the blood of bulls and goats to seemingly pay for the sins of the people. But in reality, those sacrifices were not the annual remover of sins but he annual reminder of sins – because bulls and goats cannot take away sins.
Jesus steps up as a once-and-for-all sacrifice and says, “Here I am. I have come to do My Father’s will. I have come to die for Howie. I have come to die for Charles. I have come to die for Chrystal and Kim. I am a sacrifice on their behalf. As they believe, substitute my death for their death. As they believe, substitute my obedience for their disobedience.”
Finally, he tells us that
VI. Christ was exalted (v. 3)
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The gospel story has clear elements for the early church. God acted in history with the birth of Christ. Christ lived a sinless life. Christ died on the cross for the sacrifice of our sins. He was resurrected from the dead. He ascended to heaven. And although often for gotten, the Bible clearly teaches that the crucified is the one enthroned or exalted in heaven. Yet the enthronement of Jesus at the right hand of God is one of the earliest affirmations of the Christian community. It goes all the way back to Jesus’ own application of Psalm 110 to Himself. “Sit at my right hand” (110:1).
In fact, in the book of Hebrews there is little attention given to the resurrection. There is here a focus on His enthronement. The Son’s exaltation is described as a heavenly enthronement, now validated by the proclamation of His name “Son” and rank, and a call for angelic recognition of His supreme deity. (See Hebrews 1:3, 13)
You do a lot of waiting in your lifetime. Right now, you’re waiting for church to get over – for the sermon to finish – so you can get on with your day. But no one ever waited like the ancient Israelites waited for the ultimate word of God. Because that waiting is over, because Jesus is here, because our sins are forgiven and heaven is our home, all the other waiting can be endured with the patience and grace of God. Because God has already spoken His final and ultimate word in the gift of Jesus.