Above All Angels

By Sinclair B Ferguson

Text: Hebrews 1:5-2:4

Preached on 1/20/2013

Original Audio


Gracious God and Father, what a privilege it is to exalt Your name and to find the affections of our hearts rising towards you, and the sounds of music and words in our ears, encouraging us, to adore you and to give ourselves to you, and indeed, to enjoy you forever. We need so much help, Father, that we may turn our eyes upon the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that other things may become dim, and the strength of their grip upon our hearts may be weakened. And we may find our taste buds, renewed and refreshed, so that we can taste the delights that you have promised to those who seek you, trust you and love you. We pray as you come to us in your word, that it may be a delight to us. We delight to be encouraged by it.  We delight for its power to expose the dark places of our souls because we anticipate healing and renewal and transformation by gospel truth. And so we pray, you would gather us by your Spirit into the presence of our Savior, Jesus.  That we may hear His voice.  And hearing his voice as his sheep, we may rise and follow Him wherever He leads us. And especially today, as through His Word, His voice leads us to his table, to have fellowship with Him, and with one another. So sanctify your people through your truth we ask, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Now we did indeed began a series of studies in the anonymous letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, last Lord's Day. And so we are continuing our reading there in Hebrews chapter one, verse five, today through chapter two, and verse four.  You'll find the passage in the pew Bible, page 1001. And again, it will be helpful for you to have your Bible open there, and children who have their children's Bible, the passage is on page 1491. 

Please be seated.


Remember that the author of Hebrews is wanting to show us the greatness of Christ by a series of contrasts. It's always the mark of a good teacher, isn't it, that you do that.  You you did that with your children. It's not this, but it is that.  And so you have brought them on. And he wants to contrast Jesus with everything that might rival Jesus in the minds of his hearers. And he begins by contrasting Jesus with the angels. He says in verse four, that our Lord Jesus has become as much superior to angels, as the name He has inherited, is more excellent than theirs. So let us hear God's word from Hebrews one, verse 5.

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? Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, (He's speaking here about the law) how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.


It is a long time since I've been in a Christian bookshop. If I didn't qualify that, at the elder's meeting tomorrow night, then questions would rightly be raised. We have our own excellent bookshop across the road. So that would be one reason. And Amazon.com or WTSbooks.com would be another reason.  Why go 20 miles to the bookshop, when you can sit at your computer and get it in the mail in two days time. But actually, there's another reason I haven't been in a Christian bookshop for many a long day. It is because I am naturally clumsy. Things may have changed but a number of years ago when Christian booksellers who at the end of the day have got to make a living, after all, realized that you and I were no longer purchasing Christian books the way Christians used to purchase them, they went into what I imagine is called diversification. And it was exactly at that point that I stopped going to Christian bookshops because I was intimidated by the thought of knocking over an angel. And finding myself confronted on every hand with posters of angels staring at me. Angel mugs.  Angel models. Angel posters. I think they were all meant to be cherubs. And whoever gave them that name, obviously had never read about cherubs in the Bible, as was certainly true of whoever gave infant choirs the name cherub choirs. If you read about the cherubim in the Old Testament scriptures, they are intimidating, powerful creatures of God. And in many ways, I hope that phase has passed, in many ways that phase pandered to people who don't read the Bible. Pandered to a false view of what an angel really is. In fact I remember, as I've read through the Bible, coming to the very last book of the Bible, almost to the end of the 22nd Chapter of the book of Revelation, where the final Angel mentioned in the bible appears to John, the apostle of love.  The one who has this great vision of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The last person in the world I would ever expect to do what he did -- do you know what he did? In the presence of this angel, he wanted to bow down and worship. So amazing was this angel. And so, his marvelous revelation actually ends with a moment of self confession, where he shares with us a rebuke he received from the angel of God, that he should worship only the Lord.

So when the readers, the first hearers of this Letter to the Hebrews read about angels, they're not thinking about the kind that you used to see in Christian bookstores. They are thinking about those glorious creatures who accompanied God Himself when He came to Mount Sinai, the burning mountain, and gave to His people the holy law of God. Interesting, isn't it, how Moses' life is shaped by the encounter with God at the burning bush.  When you remember he actually needed to be told to take his sandals off his feet, because he was on holy ground. And the place where he encountered God at the burning mountain, where he knew he had to bow down before God as God came with myriads of holy angels, as the Old Testament Scripture teaches us, and as Paul explicitly says in Galatians 3:19, the picture that we have here in our mind as almost of those holy angels, carrying the words of the living God down onto the tablets of stone and inscribing them there. So for the first hearers of Hebrews, angels, with whom the scriptures are full, are glorious creatures of God and these particular angels of whom we mainly read in the Scriptures, are, if you think about it, angels who have been faithful to God since the very day of their creation. They have not done as we have done. Although some of their companions have done as we have done, and strayed from the Lord, and from his glory, and his worship. But one of the first things the author of Hebrews wants to say is, think about angels. And you need to understand that for all their glory, for all their sinlessness, for all the marvels in which they engage, Jesus is superior to angels beyond the powers virtually of human vocabulary to describe.

And so he does this by a series of contrasts in which he draws from the teaching about angels in the Old Testament Scriptures and then he says, think about that, and now think about the Lord Jesus. There are four of these contrasts in which he uses these Old Testament texts from chapter one, verse five, through chapter one, verse 13. The first contrast is this. The angels by definition, are but messengers. Jesus is God's only son. He puts it in these well-chosen words from the second Psalm, "To which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my son, today, I have become your father.'" It's an amazing contrast by definition and nature angels are but messengers.  By definition and nature, our Lord Jesus is the very eternal Son of the Eternal Father, God himself.

The second contrast, you'll notice, in verse six.  Says the author of Hebrews, they are worshipping creatures. He is the worshipped Son.  When he brings his firstborn into the world, think about Bethlehem. When he brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship Him." Now, we were thinking about this, all of us, I imagine at some point or another, just a month ago in the run up to Christmas, the plains of Bethlehem, the angelic hosts that bursts through the thin veil between heaven and earth, and begins praising God, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace." But so often because we are focused on what's happening on the plains of Bethlehem, we don't quite grasp what is happening here. This angelic song is coming simply from the choir loft, where the angels are.  Behind it, is something far greater.  The entire heavenly congregation of angels, who are praising God.  That's what the author says, doesn't he, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." It's as though that little choir that appears, praising God and saying "glory to God in the highest" this is simply to give us a miniature version of the praise with which the whole of Heaven is filled with awe and astonishment. God has sent His Son into the world, for sinful men and women, young people like ourselves, in order that we may be brought to share in the praises of that heavenly anthem. It's as though, the Heavenly Father is saying, let me give these shepherds a taste of what real choral singing is like, and for the rest of their lives, they will say, I want to hear that again. And so the word goes out, as it were, from the throne of God. Like an announcement, "Let us worship God. Let all God's angels worship Him, bow down, be prostrate before him."

So the angels are but messengers. Christ is the only Son.  The angels are worshipping creatures.  Jesus is the worshipped Son. And then thirdly, as he goes on, you'll notice he says in verse seven and following, the angels are created servants. He is the creating Lord.  Of the angels he says, "He makes them winds" and as ministers he makes them "a flame of fire", but of the Son, he says, verse eight, "Your throne, oh God is forever and forever."  You get the difference in the picture. The angels are just like the wind. They blow as it were, at the behest of God.  He simply breathes and the angels go. But his Son sits with him, as it were, on the throne of the universe. His scepter is one of uprightness and in these amazing words, therefore, God, You are God.  He is God, and God is his God. So you see, he's speaking about him as he comes into the world, "Has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." Just spell out for yourself what that means. It means that the Lord Jesus is far happier than any angel. It means that the joy of the Lord Jesus, in His Heavenly Father, is exquisite beyond words.  And for all the gladness of angels and all the gladness of believers, our gladness is but a taste of the joy that the Lord Jesus has in his Heavenly Father. And of course, there's a difference between you if you're a Christian believer, and these angels.  These angels have never had the Lord Jesus come and die for them. He didn't become an angel, and he didn't die for angels. Jesus died for sinners that rebelled, but he didn't die for the angels that rebelled. But Jesus has died for us. And so there is a joy that we know that Peter, you remember says, angels, as it were, peer over the balcony of heaven, and ask themselves I wonder what it's like to have that joy. But for all the joy of being a believer and all the joy of being an angel, there is an oil of gladness with which the Lord is anointed that knows no measure. And this joyful Lord is actually the Creator of all things. "You Lord." Do you notice how he applies the words of the psalmist here in Psalm 102? "You're the one who laid the foundations of the earth."

And then there's another contrast. Verse 13, 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 to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation." You see the point he's making now. He says these angels, they are our servants. But Jesus is our conqueror. They come to minister to us.  We come to bow before the footstool of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this was certainly true, wasn't it? Throughout the pages of Scripture.  It's a beautiful, beautiful thing we need to -- this is why all that nonsense about these funny little creatures that you see in the Christian bookstores are so unhelpful to us. You can pick them up and put them in your pocket. But God sends His angels to minister to his people. Elijah in the wilderness just burnt out. Feeling he can't go on any longer and an angel of the Lord comes. Daniel in the lion's den -- an Angel of the Lord comes.  Joseph, his whole life in shreds at the news that Mary is going to have a child and in a dream, an angel of the Lord comes.  Jesus in the wilderness, and he's ministered to by angels from the Lord.  Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and he is ministered to by one angel of the Lord.  Simon Peter, in prison, and he is set free by an angel of the Lord.  Paul, in danger of shipwreck in the Mediterranean, and an angel comes to reassure him, that if those who are with him will trust the prophetic word then not one single one of them will be lost. In this very letter, one of its most striking and famous statement says, this is one of the reasons why when a stranger comes into a church service you treat them with great grace and dignity. Because some have thus entertained angels, unawares.  My dear friends if you think heaven is going to be boring then one of the things I think God will do with you for several 1000 years, is stick you in the heavenly movie theater, and say, I want you to watch the history of your own life. But this time with the angelic spectacle lenses in your face.  You now will be able to see where angels have come and become servants and ministers. You don't think you got to church here at the age you are this morning without angelic help,  do you? But they are but minor bit players, by comparison with the glory, majesty, dignity, honor deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now why is he telling us all this? Well this anonymous minister was a very interesting pastor, because this is most glorious teaching about our Savior.  If we grasp this, our hearts and minds are to be exalted into the heavens, at the absolute superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ over every other unfallen creature. But you notice that when he turns to chapter two, verse one, he's like Paul. And he says, "What's the point of me telling you this?" And he uses this word "therefore". If that's true, what follows? We need to notice his logic.  His logic is this. It is through these angels, as Paul says in Galatians three, that God has delivered his law. And we understand the implications of that law. That those who rejected it or refused or despised it, or sat lightly to it, came under the judgment of God. The very generation that received it actually came under the judgment of God, didn't it? Apart from two, all of those who had come out of Egypt and received the law at Sinai died in the desert. So the history of God's people was littered with this principle. That to ignore the message that was conveyed through the ministry of angels was to walk on the high road to disaster. And he's saying, well, how much more so when we have received the greater message of the glory and grace of God in our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And you notice how he spells this out, he says this message "was declared by the Lord." And then it was "attested to us by the apostles." And then he says, God Himself "bore witness to it by signs and wonders." And then the Holy Spirit bore witness to it by "distributing gifts according to his will."   He's saying this is a glorious message, not just angels who give testimony to this message. The Lord Jesus gives His own testimony to this message.  The apostles give testimony.  The Father gives testimony.  The Spirit gives testimony.  What is this message? Well, it's a message about salvation, isn't it? It's a message about how the only way of salvation is through faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. And what he's saying is this. He's saying if those who neglected or drifted away from the message that was brought through angels, found themselves under judgment, than those who neglect or drift away from the message of salvation brought to us in the glorious person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, are on the high road that leads to the outer darkness.

I want you to imagine this with me for a minute, imagine that, some of you may well have imagined, you have heard a conversation from the outer darkness. And some soul who has done exactly this, finds him or herself in the outer darkness, in death. And their first reaction to the outer deep darkness is to say, How did I get here? And am I the only one here?  Is the no one else here? And to hear a voice penetrating the darkness, no, I am also here. For one to say to another, how did you get here?  And the answer to be I didn't do anything at all. What do you mean? The message of salvation came to me in Jesus Christ, and I, I didn't do anything at all. And I thought that was okay.  That you didn't need to do anything at all. And so I neglected it. But how did you get here? I didn't even know it was happening to me. I just drifted here. I just drifted here. It's as though the author is saying to us,  what do you need to do to go to hell? And the answer is you don't need to do anything.  And what we say, we know people like that. If we weren't like that they would be in here, wouldn't they? But he's not speaking to those people. He's speaking to the people who are in here. You didn't read or hear the Letter to the Hebrews, if you were one of the great unwashed of the Gentile world. You only heard it if you are actually in a deeply committed Christian church.

And it's very fascinating to me. It's deeply challenging to me personally as a minister, a pastor, a preacher, that this man felt so passionately about his congregation that he wanted to warn them about the twin dangers of neglecting Christ, or drifting away from Christ. I certainly believe that the greatest single mistake a gospel minister can make is to assume that everybody who's sitting before him is close to Christ. Trusting Him fully. Alas, many ministers do. You know, you pay me and my brothers, you pay me to have the freedom of time to study this book, and to bring to you what this book says.  And the moment we stopped doing that is the moment you should stop paying for our time because we are fiddling when Rome burns. And one of the most solemnizing implications of this passage that is so full of glory, and it's not the only time that happens in Hebrews, is when the glory of Jesus Christ has been presented to us -- as thank God in our church family has been presented to us over the years, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, minister after minister. And perhaps your greatest danger, and mine too, is that we neglect it and drift away from it.

Now, he's going to say a great deal about this during the rest of the letter. But just let me answer this one question. When are you likely to do that? When are you most likely to neglect or drift away from Jesus Christ?  Let me suggest there are one or two moments in your life one of them is when you're going off to college.  Because it's the first opportunity most of you, if you're teenagers, have to discover who you're really going to be. Because thus far you have been who they told you who you are to be, haven't you? So what are your priorities going to be? It's a very interesting thing, that that opportunity is actually not only an opportunity about the future, that's something that is going to tell you everything about your past. And whether you're really Christ's or not. And so it can so easily come into our minds  and into our spirits. That's, that's a time where I I think I can just go my own way. Those things won't be so important. So it's a great time of challenge.  Some of you are on the verge of choosing where you're going to study for the next four years.  There's something far more important than that. And that is, are you going to stay close to Jesus Christ for the next four years.

Then as a second season when we are in danger, if it's always true, that there are seasons in our lives, I've noticed when we're in danger of drifting away and neglecting.  Another season of that life is when, when we're way beyond college, and we're, we're into the housing market and the climbing the corporate ladder and building our family. And everything else, but Jesus Christ becomes our priority. It's not, it's not that we did anything.  That's the problem. It's that we allowed things to do themselves to us.  And the choices we make.  The financial choices we make.  The moral choices we make.  The witnessing choices we make.  What's going to be first in my life?  And there are many of us in this congregation.  The typical new member of our congregation is precisely in that bracket. When there are so many other important and indeed good things, but later on this writer wants us to see we need to choose the best things. And what is best of all is Jesus Christ.

And then there's another season when it happens, isn't there? The kids are out of the house, they're graduated from university, some of the debts have been paid, the mortgage has been paid, or it's certainly going to be paid in the next few years. And you turn to your husband or your wife, you're sitting there, empty nesters on your own and you smile at one another and say, it's our time now sweetheart, isn't it?   And you thus confess that you have been living wanting your time rather than Christ's time. And you make some dreadful decisions that actually display that your anchoring to Christ was actually a kind of mirage.  The church gospel, Christian life, fellowship, worship -- was all part of the arrangement that you made in your life in order that you might get things to work well in your home and family until the time came when the burdens were gone. And you could focus on yourselves. And all the while you've been, you've been drifting away. I was on the West Coast since Wednesday, speaking at a Christian College and a Seminary, and on a Friday afternoon, the Dean of the College said to me, "Would you like to see the movie set?" And honestly, a few minutes down the road from this college, just down the road, was this absolutely amazing movie set.  Owned I think, by a family of Pentecostal Christians. And there was, now I've only been to three movies I think in the last 40 years, but I know about movies. There - was Clint Eastwood's car from Dirty Harry. All kinds of things. There - was the car from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  With Sean Connery playing the father, if I remember, "Shaken and not stirred."  And then he said, you see that over there, there was a tank, he said, "That's Arnold Schwarzenegger's tank, the very tank he drove in the Austrian army", which he then purchased. He said, "Arnold was out here just yesterday afternoon.  And he comes out every so often drive the tank around."  But the pièce de résistance was the town itself. It was the Old West. Where so many of those serials that had been shot and seen by me as a little boy, they were all filmed there. It's like going home. There was the saloon.  There was the undertaker's.  There was the coffee shop. That was where so and so toppled over when he was shot from the end of the street. And much more that you would have recognized.  One of the company was a great movie buff, and he was, he was absolutely in his element. No mistaking it. But it was really fun. It was terrific. But none of it was real.

And I thought later in the day, my Christian life could be like that, the end of the day. It could seem so lively.  So vivid. It was vivid when I was 15. But now I'm 18 and I'm off to college... You gonna drift?  Or neglect? Now I'm in the position, I'm beginning to mount the corporate ladder things are going well.  All those debts from the degree program at last, they're proving to be worthwhile.  My lovely wife or husband, my, my children, the nice house that I have,... and you're actually drifting. And the thing about drifting is, most of us when we're drifting, don't realize we're drifting, do we? Or perhaps you've come to a turning point in life. And now life is for you. Or if I can put it very pointedly since we have, we have a rotation of our officers in our church, and every few years an elder will rotate off.  Or a deacon will rotate off. That is real time of testing if you're an elder or a deacon who has just rotated off. And you're in danger of drifting.  Maybe even in danger of vindicating.  If people could only see it.  That it was position and organization and doing and not Jesus that was at the absolute center of your life. And that's what he saying. 

I cannot help admiring this anonymous pastor. Because he's such a model of what we all most need and actually what pastors themselves most profoundly need. This glorious encouragement as he shows us how marvelous our Savior is. That's the chief thing we need to see. And then you see he's like a skilled surgeon and he comes and he cuts in the places that are hindering us from seeing the greatness of Jesus and seeks to cut out what it is that's causing us to drift from Jesus or to neglect Jesus. And so perhaps today, perhaps in the economy of God, that the supper and this particular passage are tied together, what Jesus wants to say to you is, I think it's time that the two of us had supper together. Let me tell you all about it. And then you can tell me all about it. And then I'll embrace you again and set you free from drifting into the darkness, or from neglect of the gospel of salvation. May this word be our pastor today?


Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for these twin marvels of your word: that our eyes are open to Christ in His majesty; and, our eyes are open to our own frailty and need. We pray that by your Holy Spirit you would bring both together that we may find in Jesus Christ, a greatness that is sufficient for our smallness, a grace that is sufficient for our sinfulness and a glory that is sufficient for our shame. So meet with us we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.

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