The book of Hebrews is in some ways a very difficult book to read and understand. If you are a Greek scholar, the vocabulary and grammar is very different than many of the other New Testament books. If you are an interpreter of the Word, you quickly recognize that the author of Hebrews loves to make use of a lot of Old Testament Scripture in ways that cause one to scratch their head, but which all serve to point one to Jesus Christ and his wonderful work.
It is the opening verses of this Christ centered book that we will focus on today as we spend the month of July in a series of doctrinal sermons taken from the Heidelberg Catechism. The book of Hebrews opens with a wonderful set of quotations, 7 in fact that draw from the Psalms, the Law, and the Writings – the three main divisions of Scripture. All of these passages serve to illustrate how awesome the Lord Jesus is. He is the Son of God – I will be his Father, and he will be my Son (2Sam 7:14). He is to be worship according to this LXX Version of Deut 32:43 Let all God’s angels worship him. He is Creator of the universe, laying its very foundations: In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands (Ps 102:25). And most importantly, Jesus Christ is seated on the Throne of Heaven sit[ting] at [God’s] right hand (Heb 1:13, Ps 110:1). Or in the words of Hebrews 1:3 [The Son] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
It is this fact about Jesus, (sat down at right hand) that is most important and allows us to talk this morning about God’s Providence. Because God is seated on the Throne, because the Son is sitting beside him we can be sure that nothing happens without his express permission. At its core, providence is the declaration that Jesus is seated on the throne ruling. Providence doesn’t allow for chance, “the occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design” for that would mean that our God is capricious, changing his mind suddenly and without purpose. But the Word is clear: (James 1:17) Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (1Sam. 15:29) He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”
He is the God who is enthroned in majesty above every power and authority, so when we talk about providence, we must remember this fact: Because of his enthronment, providence doesn’t allow for an uninvolved God who is distant so that some things just happen to us. To believe that some things just happen is to believe in Deism, not to believe in the Biblical doctrine of providence. The fact that God the Father is seated on the throne with his Son beside him requires that the plans and purposes of God are being fulfilled as the psalms declare (Psa. 33:10-11) The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Providence is the truth and reality that Jesus is seated on the Throne with his Father, where he has eternally belonged, being worshipped by the angels, adored by the nations and bringing his plan to fruition in and through history.
And that plan involved the revealing of Jesus, the Son of God, to the nations. Providence is Jesus incarnating into the World, fully God and fully man. The Almighty Lord came to humans when humanity could no longer approach God. Providence is Jesus coming to us. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways (Heb 1:1).
These opening words of the book of Hebrews stress that God has always been in the communication business with people. God was the first AT&T advertising executive to approve the slogan “reach out and touch someone.” He spoke to people and through people. Humanity became his venue for delivering truth and making himself known. And in God’s providence He communicated in a variety of ways to the people of old. If they didn’t understand the Law, he spoke through the psalms. If the psalms made no sense, he spoke through the Minor Prophets and the Major Prophets; he used history and wisdom, even fantastical apocalyptic literature to make himself known to human beings. He spoke in Israel and outside Israel, addressing foreign nations and foreign peoples. He spoke in every imaginable way: using dreams, visions, words, stories, songs, etc. so that the message couldn’t be missed or confused.
Truly God spoke in many times and many ways and that should be an encouragement for all who struggle to read certain parts of the Scripture. If you struggle with one type of biblical literature then turn to another part and see how God is speaking to reveal his son in it. For we are told in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus “[began] with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). There is a multiplicity of ways the Old Testament testifies to Christ so that no one can be without excuse. But providence reminds us that it gets even better than simply having the Word of God testifying to Jesus, Providence is God himself coming to the world and teaching people directly. Again Hebrews declares, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). The doctrine of providence calls us to realize that the incarnation was part of his plan for communing with humanity.
When the Son of God came into the world, melding humanity with divinity, he came preaching and teaching. From an early age, Jesus is found in the temple and “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47) and that never changed, for all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips (Luke 4:22). Jesus came to ensure that the people of God could hear and understand the heart of the Lord to form a holy nation, to have a royal priesthood, to set people free from sin and death and to welcome them to the table of God. Providence is Jesus coming to us to teach and preach the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Providence is Jesus sending his Holy Spirit to dwell in his followers so that the Lord, directly instead of through intermediaries, will teach them. (John 14:26) But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. So not only is providence rooted in Christ being seated on the Throne, but it is also rooted in the incarnation, for the son of Man knows what it is to be a man (John 2:25) and so he can faithfully intercede for humanity (Heb 7:25).
The next wonderful point these opening words of Hebrews declare concerning the Son of God and his providence is this: The same Jesus who made the universe is sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3). Providence is the sustaining power of God at work to keep all of creation moving and in order. There is a mistaken belief among many modern people, introduced into humanity at the enlightenment, which believes that there are certain laws of nature (gravity, thermodynamics and the like), which are independent of God and always exist apart from any divine intervention. This belief, at its extreme, is also known as Deism, and it is commonly illustrated with the blind watchmaker argument. For those familiar with the blind watchmaker, that God made a watch wound it up and lets it run without intervention, let me try to illustrate this with a coastal image. There are some who believe that God is like the architect of a ship. He designed the ship and saw it through construction, but the day it was finished and set into the sea, he withdrew and had no further interactions with the vessel. Rather it was handed over to the captain to rule and govern as he saw fit. But this is not so because God is concerned about his world. If he were to withdraw his gaze for even a moment all life and creation would collapse. (Job 34:14-15) If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.
Unfortunately, as science progressed after the enlightenment and men and women became less committed to the authority of the Bible because they believed in these new “uncontrovertible laws of nature”, the blind watchmaker or ship’s architect views of the universe have become prevalent in many hearts, minds and theological textbooks. Unfortunately, because of this, men like Descartes were able to proclaim things like, “I think, therefore I am” but such a belief fails to take into account the providence of God which declares that we can only exist because Jesus continues to hold the universe in his hands and constantly keeps his eyes upon it. The proper theological maxim ought to be, “Because Christ rules, therefore I am.”
The sustaining power of God causes the rains to fall at the appropriate times. Because of the sustaining power of God the seasons change, the sun rises and sets, the stars come out in their glory and the heavenly bodies continue to orbit around the sun, water flows downhill, objects are attracted to one another, pregnancies last 9 months instead of varying widely from 3 weeks to 24 months. Because of the sustaining power of God seeds sprout, electricity flows through the path of least resistance and mechanical objects function properly and predictably. Without the sustaining power of Jesus, none of these things could be counted on. Without the sustaining power of God, life would truly be a crapshoot or a spin of the roulette wheel, to use casino images.
But thankfully, because Jesus is seated on the Throne of Heaven, He is sustaining us each and every day, each and every breath. Sustaining is the act of bearing something. In the mythological world, it is Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, but in the biblical world it is Jesus holding the universe in the palm of his hands. If one were to define God’s providence simply up to this point, it would be appropriate to say: Providence is God’s protective care of people and creation because he identifies with it. Stated another way, Providence is God’s rule through his Son in history. Both of these sentences take into account the throne, the incarnation and the sustaining power needed to keep the world going.
Yet there is another aspect of providence that these opening verses of Hebrews remind us. Providence is Jesus purifying his people from sin. When the Lord incarnated into the world, He did it in order to fulfill the plans of the Father. He came to redeem those lost to sin, from all the effects of sin. And that meant the Son of God would need to purify his people from sin. As the author of Hebrews goes on in his letter, he spends great amounts of paper discussing how the sacrifices of the past merely reminded people of their sin, they were unable to take away sin. They were merely the blood of bulls and goats (Heb 10:2-3) but in the 10th chapter he says, that Jesus offered one sacrifice and he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:14). And so we are urged, (Heb. 10:22) let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Providence is the ever-present power of God that not only rules and upholds the world, and brings his very presence into the created realm but it is the power of God that specially marks men and women, boys and girls as recipients of the blood of His Son. Providence is God saving sinners from out of his creation. Providence is being washed in (1John 1:7) …the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
And that beautiful gift of salvation can only happen because Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:3). When the Son of God came into the world, he came bearing the image of divinity. He is the glory of God, the luminescence, the radiance. John Piper explains the word radiance this way: “Radiance is like the rays of the sun flowing out of the Sun itself. It isn’t a picture which merely illustrates what something looks like but is itself different in form, structure and image, no radiance is like the sunbeams that flow into the universe. The beams are the sun themselves. Without the beams of light, there would be no sun and without the sun, there would be no beams of light. The two are different and yet the same.”
Obviously, we shouldn’t push any natural image too far since all illustrations of God will fail. But that is a word picture to help understand what it means to be the radiance of God’s glory. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, meaning he pushed into the created world and because of that, the purification of sins became reality.
That God the Son came to the earth and bore divine wrath at sin and defeated the enemy of death by rising again is providential. IF God was going to save people, he had to find a way to become human and live and die perfectly, which brings us the statement He is the exact representation of God’s being.
To be an exact representation is to be embossed with the very nature of God. This is a term from the die makers and coin casters who created stamps that transferred an exact copy of what was inscribed and etched in the stamp onto the appropriate medium. Christ is stamped, embossed, and imprinted with the very being of God. The Nicene Creed talks of Christ’s exact representation of God’s being using the words, of the same essence:
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.
It is only because he is God in all his holiness, perfection, splendor and goodness, to name a few of God’s qualities that purification has come and we are saved. He was without spot or blemish as the Passover Lamb. He was without violation of the Law otherwise he would have needed to make sacrifice first for himself before making purification for us, but nowhere is such a thing even hinted at in the Word. Quite the contrary, Jesus simply offered himself in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous and so brought cleansing to all who believe.
This is nothing less than God’s provision for his people. This is providence. So extending our definition of providence further, Providence is God’s protective care of people and creation by which he redeems people from their sin because he identifies and loves them.
It is no wonder that the title in most bibles over the first chapter of Hebrews says something like “The Son superior to the Angels.” Truly providence is the superiority of the Son declared in all things as he reigns and rules from on high. It is no wonder that the authors of the catechism could declare:
Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things [even salvation], in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
- Providence is Jesus seated on the Throne! (2Sam 7:14, Deut 32:43, Ps 102:25, 110:1, Heb 1:3, James 1:17, 1Sam 15:29, Ps 33:10-11)
- Providence is Jesus coming to us! (Heb 1:1-2, Lk 24:27, 2:47, 4:22, Jn 14:26, 2:25, Heb 7:25)
- Providence is Jesus sustaining us! (Heb 1:3, Job 34:14-15)
- Providence is Jesus purifying us! (Heb 10:2-3, 14, 22, 1Jn 1:7)
- Providence is the Superiority of the Son declared in All things!
 Apple Dictionary, “chance”