On September 13, Sound City Bible Church will begin a year-long sermon series on the book of Hebrews titled “The Sermon God Wrote.” I am incredibly excited, along with the other elders, to teach through this interesting, challenging, and encouraging New Testament book. Truth be told, I am also a little bit nervous. There are things in this book that are difficult to understand. There are things in this book that are controversial and highly debated by Christians. There are things in this book that may leave us scratching our head a bit, wondering why the author made such a big deal out of something so obscure. However, what I feel the most is eagerness. I eager to dive in, because I believe God wants to use the study of this book to grow and shape us as a church.
Why The Series Title?
A combination of three factors led us to this name for the sermon series.
First, we don’t know who wrote Hebrews. The author does not self-identify anywhere in the book, and no early church record exists. Many people assume that it is Paul, but a closer look will show that it is almost certainly not Paul. First, Paul always self-identifies, which the author of Hebrews does not. Second, Greek scholars tell us that the language and style is very different from Paul’s writings. But third, and most convincingly, the author of Hebrews tells us directly that he did not learn this gospel message directly from Jesus, but that he learned it secondhand from those who did follow Jesus (Heb. 2:3). Paul makes the exact opposite claim in several of his writings (Gal. 1:12, for example).
So who wrote this book? Much ink has been spilled and many fascinating theories have been suggested, but as the 3rd century church father Origen said, “who wrote this book, only God knows.”
Second, the “book” of Hebrews is actually a sermon that was turned into a letter. In Hebrews 13:22, the author refers to this work as a “word of exhortation,” a phrase that refers to a sermon. Also, the author of Hebrews focuses on the language of “hearing” and “speaking,” not “reading” or “writing.” And what’s more, biblical and Greek scholars tell us that Hebrews bears all the marks of Greek rhetoric, or persuasive speech. And not just any rhetoric: very well-crafted rhetoric. As one commentator has said, “Not only was the author a gifted interpreter of the Scriptures, he was also a gifted orator, an expert in rhetoric and style….Hebrews has been singled out among the [New Testament] documents as the earliest example of Christian artistic literature.”
Lastly, even though we don’t know who wrote this book, we do know that ultimately God the Holy Spirit inspired all the scriptures to be written. These three factors—anonymous authorship, sermonic letter, and Holy Spirit inspiration—led us to the title, “The Sermon God Wrote.”
What Is It All About?
The author of Hebrews talks about the Old Testament.
Because of this in-depth work through the Old Testament, Hebrews serves as a sort of “answer key” for us as New Testament Christians. Here’s the sad truth: many Christians today don’t really understand the Old Testament. Maybe the language and customs are too archaic and confusing. Maybe all of the rituals and the rules and the blood seem unnecessary. Maybe it’s hard to see the connection between the two testaments.
Perhaps more than any other book in the New Testament, Hebrews shows New Testament Christians how the stories, the rituals, and and characters of the Old Testament all find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Here are some of the major themes that show up in Hebrews:
- Jesus is Greater. Over and above any other theme in Hebrews, the idea that Jesus is better/greater reater rises to the surface.
- Shadow vs. Reality. The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that things in the Old Testament can be hard to understand at times, specifically because they are shadows of things that are now fully visible in Jesus.
- The Priestly Work of Jesus. Jesus is the temple, Jesus is the priest, Jesus is the sacrifice. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system points us to Jesus.
- Old Testament Heroes. The book of Hebrews talks about almost all of the major figures in the Old Testament, as well as a few that you wouldn’t expect. He shows them as good examples, but also as forerunners of the work that Jesus would ultimately do.
- Warning! There are more frightening and shocking warnings in Hebrews than perhaps any other New Testament book. These warnings are always used, however, to point believers to the assurance that they have in Jesus.
- Christian Living. There are many practical sections in this book, designed to help Christians know how to respond to what they have heard and live God-pleasing lives.
St. Augustine once said, about the relationship of the two testaments, “The New is in the Old Concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.” Nowhere is the Old Testament expounded upon in such great detail and with such precision as in the book of Hebrews. The purpose of this sermon series is to help the people of Sound City Bible Church understand this anonymous, yet magnificent book of the bible and to put this “answer key” to work for us as we seek to understand more about all sorts of Old Testament questions.
May God use our study through the book of Hebrews to shape our church deeply, and to bring himself much glory!