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A Sermon To Read: “The Last Word”

Hebrews 1:1-2a

That Almighty God is the sovereign Lord of history, and that He has the last word in all things that pertain to man and to his destiny is clearly taught in Scripture and universally acknowledged, I suppose, among all who make any pretense to religion. The hearts of kings are in His hand. Military might never determine the outcome of contests when He is involved. He can defend the defenseless, and He can call armies from afar to punish the wicked. Nations rise and fall at His command, and all things are moving, slowly but inexorably, toward the end He has in mind.

That He is also the sovereign Lord of our lives, and that He has the last word about us – each one of us – is also a doctrine that we must all acknowledge. Not a hair can fall from our heads without the heavenly Father’s knowledge. Our very hearts are as an open book to Him. And He will judge us all: and His judgment will be just and true. The righteous shall stand before Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.

But that God, the Lord, also has the last word concerning Himself is something that we do not often think about. In fact, it may be a new idea to some: but it is also the teaching of the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, and it is especially clear in our text for today which is the opening declaration of one of the greater and more important New
Testament books, the Epistle to the Hebrews, which runs as follows: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son… ” Hebrews 1:1-2a.

“God’s Last Word” is the theme of this statement, clearly, and in considering it we shall direct our attention first, to God Himself, and then to the Word that He spoke in time past, and finally to His last Word, His Son whom He sent into the world, Jesus Christ our Lord! God Himself takes the first place here – and it is interesting to note in passing that this book, Hebrews, is the only one in the entire Bible which begins with the word “God!” – a magnificent and solemn opening which raises our sights immediately to heaven above and to that eternal kingdom which has its heart and center there!

Who wrote this epistle with this magnificent beginning is something of a mystery: for it is anonymous in the text itself. The thirteen preceding books of the New Testament, which are the universally acknowledged epistles of St. Paul, all begin with his name: “Paul, an apostle, unto so-and-so.’ This one does not. It begins with “God” instead, and many people have asked the question, “Who wrote it?” Because if the weightiness of the matter, and because of the great grasp of Old Testament theology that it reveals, many, at an early date, said: “This letter, too, must be from the pen of Paul, the great master in Israel whom God converted and called to be an apostle to His people scattered in so many corners of the then known world’ – but others said, “No, this letter is so different than all the others that we know are Paul’s. It must come from another hand!” Many guesses have been made: but none has ever been universally accepted, and there are many still who think as the translators of our traditional English Bible apparently did – that it is an epistle of Paul the apostle, and quite frankly, I think so too! I know no other apostle that could have done it – and I see no reason why a man like Paul should not be able to depart from his usual style of writing if the occasion requires it, as this one obviously did, and write just as well in another style. My judgment, then, is that it is a fourteenth epistle of Paul with which we are dealing here and which begins so beautifully and appropriately with the simple word, “God.”

Notice that it begins with this word without hesitation or apology as Moses himself does in the very first book of the Bible, “In the beginning God…!” The sacred authors never make any attempt to prove the existence of God or to tell of His origin. They simply take Him as a fact
that is above and beyond argument.

Now not everyone is so willing to do that today. There is a good deal of theoretical atheism going around today: and there are people that will ask right off, when you speak about God, “How do you know that there is a God anyway?” And there are a great many people today who have not made up their minds one way or the other, but who wonder about it. “I used to believe very firmly in God,” they may say, “but since this or that happened to me, or to someone that I know, or since I had this or that experience, I don’t think that I believe in God anymore!’ And there are some who think this way and are not willing even to admit it to themselves. The Bible does not seek to satisfy these people from an intellectual point of view. It does not try to break down their arguments and to establish its own viewpoint which is called “theism?’ – by stronger arguments of its own. It continues simply to speak about “God!”

To be sure – men have worked out some reasons for believing in God – and they serve to strengthen the faith of those who already believe in Him, and they may make the possibility of believing in Him seem a little more attractive to the doubter. Men have pointed to the universe – to the starry heavens above us and to this marvelous planet earth beneath our feet – and said, “Did man make this?” Who would dare to suggest that he did? “Who, or what is responsible for all that exists – with its intricacy and order?” Who indeed, but a Being greater than ourselves and outside of ourselves? Who but God?

Men have looked at the history of this world – and they have said, It seems to have a meaning, a purpose, a design. It seems to be moving in a certain direction. In fact, all things that exist seem to have some purpose. Surely they didn’t come by this accidentally. Surely an intelligent Being greater than ourselves and outside of ourselves has had something to do with it. Surely there must be a God!

Men have looked at themselves – and they have said, What a strange creature I am! On the one hand I am like the animals – I am born, I live, I breathe, I die. But on the other hand, I am wholly unlike them. I think about myself and the life I live. I feel that somethings are right and that other things are wrong. I feel that some things are fair and other things are ugly. How did I get like this? It is not the work of my Creator? Is it not the work of God?

But the Bible does not go at it like that! The Bible is the Word of God given through prophets and apostles – and it is addressed primarily to His friends. The One who confronts you there does not need to prove that He exists any more than your friend who speaks to you personally, or on the telephone, or by letter has to take time to prove that He exists. He simply speaks – and if you are his friend, you will listen: and so it is with God! He has spoken and if we are His friends, we will listen, too.

And He has spoken in two ways primarily – and we call them “natural revelation” and “special revelation.” By natural revelation we mean God speaking and thus making Himself known to men – in the things that He has made and in the things that He has done: and St. Paul, in Romans 1, points out that this is sufficient for all men to know His eternal power and Godhead, or deity – that much at least. And our own Belgic Confession calls this in Article 2 “a most elegant book,” and such it is indeed. Only look around you in this season of the year when the earth again puts on her splendid attire – and the brightest flowers bloom – and the trees burst forth in the tenderest of green leaves – and how can you say aught but what the poet has said already, “My God, how great Thou art!’ But alas! How quickly our exaltation at this thought must disappear and turn to shame and disappointment – for what has sinful man done with this knowledge of God that ought to be his from the works of his Creator God? “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image…”, the apostle charges, and remember, he speaks for God! “They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen!” God is known by natural revelation and those who seek to know Him in this way are deceived whether they be high-minded philosophers who speak piously of Him, or whether they are those low-minded mortals who claim to worship Him by the seashore where they are enjoying themselves or on the golf course of a sabbath morning! They are deceived – and with the greatest deception of all! Their sin-darkened minds cannot read the elegant book of nature, for it is written in a language that they will never in a million years understand.

But thank God! His natural revelation is not His last word – nor even His most important word – but He has also spoken to sinful men in language that by the grace of God he can master – and we call that His special revelation, through prophets and apostles, and most especially through Jesus Christ Himself, the living Word, and has caused that special revelation of His to be recorded for our learning in the book we call the Bible. And it is of this that our apostle now speaks.

And first of all, he speaks of the word that God spoke in time past unto our fathers, he says: and that reminds us of the one great time division that the Bible knows and that supersedes all of our time divisions of whatever origin. There have been many that have been used of course and I can name only a few of them. The old pagan philosophers, for example, divided history in accordance with the metals that they felt were most characteristic of the era, and they began with an age of gold, when the gods dwelt with men and everything was incorruptible – and there followed an age of silver when evil began to penetrate but much of the old remained – and there followed the era of brass which looked like gold but was not – and they say their own age as an age of iron a hard and common stuff indeed. That was the pagan division of time. Our modern writers and historians like to picture the former age as one that was full of ignorance, superstition, and senseless violence and hold over against it “our modern times” with all of its enlightenment and supposed refinement. We know how hollow a conception that is. Some of our friends like to divide history into various dispensations in accordance with what they believe to be God’s varied ways of saving men in them: but the primary Biblical division of time is that which is still reflected in our calendars – the time before Christ, which is called here the time past, and the time since Christ, which is called a little further on in our text “these last days”, which is a great and important conception:

But God spoke to “our fathers,” he says, in those times past – and we see at once that he is writing to a people that are either converted Jews or converted converts to Judaism who regarded themselves as somehow or other incorporated into the nation of Israel – and, of course, that speaking was of great importance: for He gave to these spiritual “fathers”‘ of ours His covenant of grace – the revelation of His will to enter into friendship with some, at least, of His rebellious subjects on this earth and to receive them once again into His family calling upon them to repent and to come to Him to put their faith in His gracious promise that He will be a God to them and to their seed after them, and that they will be His “sons!”

This gracious speech of God came to the fathers, it says, “at sundry times and in divers manners,” by which we are to understand that it was a progressive revelation that He gave, beginning with the simple “mother promise” as it is sometimes called, of Genesis 3:15 and then expanding in clarity and scope over a number of years – in this case, over thousands! There were long ages of silence in between those times of God’s gracious self-disclosure – and we must not be surprised at the fact that God does not speak to us today as He did to the fathers. He did not speak even to them all the time! Thousands of years may have elapsed from the time of Adam to the time of Noah. Hundreds more intervened between Noah’s age and that of Abraham! How many generations went by from the days of the patriarchs to the days of Moses, and from the days of Moses until those of the later prophets and from the days of the prophets to the time of Christ! There were many ages of silence as well as times when the sovereign God chose to speak! The ages of silence had to live by the word that had already come – and how different it came! He spoke at times in an audible voice. He spoke at times in dreams and visions. He spoke at times in clouds and thunder He spoke at times in stillness and calm. But the great thing is – He spoke!

The gods of the nations never spoke! They were there in their opinion – somewhere above the sky – but they never spoke to men. Or they were here – in objects or in images – but what does the prophet say of them They have eyes, but they see not. Ears have they, but they hear not. They have mouths, but they speak not. The God of Israel was the God who spoke – and especially to and through His servants, the prophets – and that’s a broad term here, of course, and means all of His special revelation from Adam who must have passed on to his succeeding race the rudiments of that primeval history – to Malachi who saw the Savior from afar – and all that great mass of matter, which we call the Old Testament, was and is His Word – and very important and significant it is for our knowledge of God, and yet it must take second place to something else, that great revelation of God which I have called:

His last word! God – that great and mighty One who has had mercy on us – and who in sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to our fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son! How glorious! To comprehend it somewhat you must detach yourself, if you can, from the democratic notions that you have imbibed as American citizens and from the notion of “equality” which since the French Revolution has spread abroad in the world – and transport yourself into that world of inequality which was before – and which remains in force in the universe which is not a democracy, but an autocracy of the purest sort God alone is sovereign! And in which there are all sorts of ranks and grades of creatures. In that world the great do not begin to speak to the humble except perhaps through intermediaries and functionaries of various sorts. Let it be done, says the king to his prime minister, who communicates it to his lord high something or other who communicates it to his chief servant, who communicates it through another servant to some humble clerk who communicates it to you and me – and so God – in time past – spoke to our fathers by His servants, the prophets, but now His Son, who is as Himself in dignity, power, and all that sort of thing – His Son had spoken to us – can there be more? For these last days, He has given us His last word until the curtain of history falls and the day of reckoning dawns.

What a message, then, is the gospel! – for that’s what He has spoken through His Son! It is the fullness of all that has gone before. It is the completion of every former word. It is the word that makes all others even those that came from God – seem like stuttering and stumbling. It is the Word of words that all must hear – and only they that hear it may live. Have you ever realized the importance of the gospel? You have often heard it preached, to be sure. You may be able to state its terms more or less: that God offers to man a full and complete pardon of all sin and the remission of its penalties if man, in turn, will simply cast himself upon His mercy and plead one thing – the precious blood of Jesus
Christ His Son that was shed on Calvary’s cross. You know that – but do you see its significance? It’s God’s last word to the race of men! It will never be changed. It will never be improved upon. It will never be modified. The so-called modern age in which we live can have no effect upon it. It cannot be updated. It stands! God will not speak to men
again until He speaks in judgment on the day appointed. He will not offer another way of salvation and reconciliation. He will not change the least detail of His present offer of salvation and life. It’s the gospel – or nothing! It’s His last Word personally delivered by His son! Think of that! Have you really heard it? Have you obeyed it? Have you received
God’s great salvation? Are you abiding in it? There is and there will never be another word of grace from that heavenly Speaker! In Christ, and in the gospel of grace in Him, God has spoken His Last Word.

 

Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church 

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