Hebrews 1:3, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high..”
There are moments with my children where they are shining with the characteristics of their father. I remember one of the first times we let Addie eat an orange by herself. She sat there, meticulously pealing the orange skin away. Then she separated the pieces of orange one slice at a time. When we came back in the room, she had piled all of the peel together, and lined up the slices in a row, single file. No one had taught her daddy’s love of order, it was something naturally imprinted on her. 🙂
Although what the author is referring to here is much larger, and much more literal. The word used here is the word we get “character” from in English. As in “the characters in a play”, or the “characters of the alphabet”. But what did it mean as it was written then? The root of the word points to something like engraving or imprinting an image onto something else. In most cases, it was used to describe the imprinting of coins. The emperor would find an expert engraver, someone who could create an exact replica of his face to put on the coins used. He would create and cast a “stamp” so that the coin gave the “exact impression” of what was on the stamp.
As NT Wright has said, “It’s as if the exact imprint of the Father’s very nature and glory has been precisely reproduced in the soft metal of the son’s human nature.” Going back to the first verses of this chapter with the same illustration – it’s as if for a long time, God didn’t have the metal necessary to receive his exact imprint. So he was sending out sketches and drafts on paper and other materials throughout the prophets, priests, and kings. Finally, in Christ, He can reveal what he’d been pointing to for generations.
Jesus has provided “purification for sins”. A way for us to be cleansed from the impact of sin in our lives, and on the world.
So why were the people being written to here tempted to turn away from Jesus? This book was written about 60 years after the resurrection, and they were no doubt being pressured by family and friends to stop this Jesus-nonsense, and return to things they’ve known for generations. Things like the Law, and the words of the Prophets.
To see the big picture, an illustration may help. Remember Christmas morning, when the children have unwrapped all the presents, and the floor is just covered with paper and tape and cards and boxes? That frustrating moment, when your 2 year old grabs the most expensive toy they received, dumps it out of the box, and runs away with the box itself, squealing with joy. Imagine God’s frustration and heart yearning, when His people are finally able to receive the gift God has been wrapping in the prophets, the law, and so on for generations….and yet they cling to the boxes and wrapping papers. They cling to the words of the prophets and living by the law, and shove Jesus to the side.
How are we like the audience of this book? Are we being told to simply “be good people”, and don’t bother with specifics like the words of Jesus? Are we told that having a vaguely “spiritual” side is “enough”? Do you know the 10 commandments like the back of your hand, but when it comes to forgiving others, or serving the poor – well….it’s a lot easier to not murder someone.
May we spend some time re-orienting our lives to not simply be “good”, but to be centered on Jesus and on following Him.