Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 4 in our sermon series through the “Five Solas” or the five large themes of the reformation. We’re doing this to find out why they mattered then and why they still matter today. On this anniversary we have a need to answer some questions: do the ministry and writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still matter? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions, as we have said, is a resounding yes. And though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether.[1] So let’s once again turn to the past, to gain insight for today.

The Five Solas are:

-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone

-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone

-Sola Fide, Faith Alone

-Solus Christus, Christ Alone

-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone

We now turn our attention to the fourth of these, Solus Christus (Christ Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Hebrews 1:1-4, you heard Andrew read it before, let’s see what God has for us in it.

The author of Hebrews, whoever it was, in these first four verses quickly brings his readers to his main point: Jesus is better than all that’s come before. Specifically for us, there are three things to see in this text: Christ the Prophet, Christ the Priest, and Christ the King.

Christ the Prophet (v1-2a)

In these first two verses of Hebrews we see a great deal not of what man has done to get to God but what God has done to reveal Himself to man. It is here we see Christ as Prophet. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” God is not a silent God, God is a God who speaks. If God had remained silent nothing that has been made would’ve been made.[2] Yet, into the dark void of Genesis 1:2 came God’s strong and divine words of creative power in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light!” And there was light. God not only spoke all of creation into existence, but as the author of Hebrews says “…God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…” This means the same voice that crafted the world, called out to God’s people through the prophets. The calling of the prophet was to stand in the gap between God and man representing God as His mouthpiece. God would reveal His secret counsels to these prophets and then they would reveal the same to God’s people. They weren’t to edit, alter, amend, try to improve, or take away from the message to any degree. They were to simply give the message as is. This they did in many ways from Moses to Malachi whether by writing, proclaiming, miracles, or visions. This was how it worked back then, God revealed Himself, to His people, by His Word, through His prophet.

In v2 there is a transition to something new. “…but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son…” Notice the author of Hebrews believes we’re not waiting for a future period of time called the ‘last days’, no, we’re already in the last days. And more so, the event that the marked the transition into the last days was when God, who once spoke by prophets, began speaking by His very own Son. So, we see here that God reveals Himself to His people in two stages: first to Israel by the prophets, and now to us, the Church, by His Son. It is these two stages that correspond to what we call the Old and New Testaments. Or the Old and New Covenants.

God’s divine revelation then, is truly progressive. I don’t mean the idea of God evolves from one generation to the next, of course not, He is the same forever and ever. I also do not mean God’s revelation progresses from something less true to more true, or less worthy to more worthy, or from less mature to more mature. The progression of God’s divine revelation from the Old Testament to the New Testament is a progression from promise to fulfillment, from shadow to reality. So we see a true progression here, but be sure to note that God’s progression in how He reveals Himself to His people is a progression up to Christ, and a progression no further than Christ.[3] Prophet after prophet was sent by God to God’s people with messages of hope, justice, mercy, judgment, and the promise of a coming Redeemer. Then it happened. When the fullness of time had come the unthinkable took place when the Son of God Himself came in the flesh to be our Redeemer.

The contrast being made in v1-2 is vast. God once spoke in many ways to Israel by the prophets, God now speaks in one way to the Church by His Son. Then, the prophets spoke the Word of God to God’s people, now Jesus Christ is the very Word of God come to God’s people.[4] Therefore, Christ is the perfect, full, and final revelation of who God is and what God requires of man. He is the Prophet of prophets.

Christ the Priest (v2b-3a)

In this third verse of Hebrews we see a great deal, not of what man has done to become right with God, but what God has done to make man right with Himself. It is here we see Christ as Priest. But before we get the great priestly statement at the end of v3, look what comes before it in the end of v2 and the beginning of v3. “…whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He (Christ) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” These identity statements about who Christ is are loaded with life-altering reality, so loaded in fact we could do a whole sermon on each on of them. But for our purposes today just notice them briefly. Who is Jesus Christ? What does He do? Jesus Christ is the heir of all things, for His Father owns everything and has given all things into His hands. He is the Creator of the world, for He is the very Word of God which was God and was with God in the beginning. He is radiance of the glory of God, for He is the ultimate display of the God we see in the Isaiah 6 vision. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature, for God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him. And lastly, He is the upholder of the universe, for He is not only the powerful Word which made the world, He is the powerful Word which sustains the world. This Christ, who created all, sustains all, and is fully God, this majestic and sovereign Christ did something very priestly for us. See it in the end of v3? He and He alone, made purification for sins.

Here we come to the great Priestly work of Christ. In the Old Testament, as the prophet would go before the people as God’s representative, so too, the priest would go before God as the people’s representative. And being the representative of the people these priests would have to make sacrifices. Sacrifices for their own sins, sacrifices for the people’s sins, sacrifices on feast days, and sacrifices on festival days. Sacrifice upon sacrifice standing in the gap for the people before God. This was the calling and duty of the priest, and in that calling we see with clarity the work of Christ. He too made a sacrifice for sin. He too stood in the gap between God and man. But He made no sacrifice for His own sins, He didn’t have any, and He didn’t make repeated sacrifices, He made one.

The glory of His priestly sacrifice is twofold: first, His sacrifice is a one time event, which, covers all the sin, of all God’s people, for all of time. Second, He not only made the sacrifice for the people, He was the sacrifice for the people. The catechism quoted earlier says it so well, as our Redeemer “Christ executed the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.” So this Great High Priest Jesus Christ not only created the heavens but came down from them to make new creations out of us. He not only sustains and upholds the universe by the Word of His power, but He allowed Himself to be prevailed upon so that we would know the power of the cross. He is the Priest of priests.

Christ the King (v3b-4)

Notice what quickly follows the author’s description of His priestly work? “After He made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” It is worth noting that in the instructions for the furniture for the tabernacle and temple there was no instruction to make a seat for the high priest. This is because he was always up and doing work, making all kinds of various sacrifices for this and for that. But here we see something different in Christ. After He made, once for all, purification for sins, what did He do? He sat down! Why did He sit down? Because it was his way of physically saying what He audibly said on the cross “It is finished!” And He didn’t sit down in lawn chair, or a cushy lazy boy recliner, He sat down on a throne. And not just any throne, it God’s throne. What does this mean? This Christ is not just true Prophet, not just true Priest, He is true King. The King of kings who rules and reigns over all things.

This makes me think of that moment in Tolkien’s The Return of the King when all the heroes labored and toiled and fought to aid Frodo and Sam in getting the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom to destroy the enemy. What happened after the enemy was destroyed? Aragorn took up his rightful place in Gondor, and sat down on the throne as king. What was the result of his kingly reign? All of Middle Earth was ushered into a lasting peace. How much greater then are those events that have truly taken place in our own world when Christ the King put the devil to an open shame in His crucifixion and resurrection? How much grander is the throne He sat down on? How much deeper is the peace that comes to the citizens of His kingdom as a result? Infinitely so.

Conclusion:

Let’s now answer our last question, why did Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today?

We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside! Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[5]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[6]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[7]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.

[2] F.F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, page 2-3.

[3] Ibid., page 2-3.

[4] Kay Arthur, Hebrews: The Key to Living by Faith, page 21.

[5] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[6] Ibid., page 13.

[7] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.

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