by John MacArthur December 8, 2021
“If God ceased to exist, the universe would perish with Him, because God not only has created everything, He sustains everything. We are dependent on Him, not only for our origin, but also for our continuing existence.” R. C. Sproul penned those words in 2017—soon before his passing. It some novel revelation; Sproul was merely paraphrasing the author of Hebrews, who states that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV).
In fact Jesus has been sustaining all things ever since He created them. As we have already seen, He is the Creator of the entire universe, material and nonmaterial. But Christ’s authority does not stop there. He continually upholds and sustains all of His creation.
Christ established the principle of cohesion; He makes the universe a cosmos instead of chaos. He infallibly ensures that the universe runs as an ordered, reliable unit instead of as an erratic, unpredictable muddle. That’s because our Lord has devised and implemented the myriad natural laws, both complex and straightforward, that are all perfectly reliable, consistent, and precisely suited to their particular purposes. Time and again they wonderfully demonstrate the mind and power of Jesus Christ working through the universe.
No scientist, mathematician, astronomer, or nuclear physicist could do anything or discover anything apart from the sustaining power and authority of Christ. The whole universe hangs on His powerful word, His infinite wisdom, and His effortless ability to control every element and orchestrate the movements of every molecule, atom, and subatomic particle.
For example, if the size of the Earth’s orbit around the sun increased or decreased by even the slightest amount, we would soon fatally freeze or fry. If the Earth’s angle of tilt went beyond its present range even slightly, that would drastically disrupt the familiar four-season cycle and threaten to end life on the planet. Similarly, if the moon’s orbit around the Earth diminished, ocean tides would greatly increase, to unimaginable havoc. And if our atmosphere thinned just a little, many of the thousands of meteors that now enter it and harmlessly incinerate before striking the ground would crash to the surface with potentially catastrophic results.
Jesus Christ prevents such disasters by perfectly maintaining the universe’s intricate balance. The most astronomical distances and largest objects are not beyond His control. The most delicate and microscopic processes do not escape His attention. He is the preeminent power and authority who nevertheless came to earth in human form, assuming a servant’s role.
The Redeemer of Sinners
The writer of Hebrews then shifts his focus from the vastness of Christ’s universe to narrow in on His people. Jesus “by himself purged our sins” (Hebrews 1:3, KJV). Jesus, by His atoning death, brought about the purging or cleansing of the sins of all believers. That is what we needed most, and only the Lord Jesus could meet that need.
The Old Testament priests offered animal sacrifices over and over, but none of those could ultimately remove sins. Those repeated sacrifices instead merely pointed to mankind’s desperate need for a once-for-all sacrifice that could suffice for final atonement. And God provided such a sacrifice in the person of His Son, Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews later wrote, “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28); “for by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
In keeping with the Old Testament law that the sacrificial lamb had to be spotless, the final New Covenant sacrifice had to be a perfect, sinless substitute. To pay the price of sin for others he had to be perfect, or he would have likewise owed the price for his own sin and thus been unacceptable. And since no one in the world is without sin, the substitute had to be someone from outside the world. Yet to die in the place of men and women, he still needed to be a man.
Of course, the only person who could meet those requirements was Jesus Christ. He is the only sinless man, the only perfect substitute for sinners. By offering Himself to die on the cross, He took the full wrath of God for sinners like you and me. That divine wrath, originally and righteously directed toward us, was then satisfied. Thus God can forgive you—because Christ paid the penalty for your sin.
So one of the preeminent glories of Christ is that, as the God-Man, He came to die for sinners. And He died on the cross to accomplish redemption. Immediately prior to His death, Jesus uttered these profound words: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Once and for all He paid the price for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him.
It is because of Christ alone that we live and breathe and can enjoy eternal forgiveness. No wonder the Hebrews writer next turns to Christ’s glorious exaltation.
The Exalted One
The author of Hebrews concludes his marvelous outline of Christ’s preeminence by affirming His exaltation: “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
Christ’s ministry on earth ended forty days after His resurrection, when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). And when He returned there, God seated Him at His right hand (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), which always symbolized the side of power, authority, prominence, and preeminence (Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22). Paul says that at that point God gave Him a name above all names—Lord (Philippians 2:9–11), which is the New Testament synonym for Old Testament descriptions of God as sovereign ruler.
When Jesus went into heaven, He did what no priest had ever done—He sat down. The Old Testament priests never sat down while ministering because even their most faithful work was imperfect. But Christ perfectly accomplished the work of redemption on the cross; therefore it was appropriate for Him to picture that by sitting down in glory. He remains there, on the right hand of the throne of God, as the believer’s great High Priest and intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24).
When you read and study Hebrews 1, the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ’s preeminence and superiority shines forth from every verse. You can’t miss it, whether it’s in His inheritance of all things, His agency in creation, His essential nature as God, or His atoning death for sinners. The entire chapter effectively proclaims the Messiah’s true identity and rightful position.
When you consider the baby in the Bethlehem shelter, you’re seeing more than an adorable child who grew up to be a good teacher and compassionate healer. Hebrews 1 confronts and challenges you to own an accurate understanding of the matchless person and work of Christ. The writer, through careful, Spirit-inspired argumentation, declares irrefutably that the child born to Mary was indeed God in the manger. Jesus truly was the Son of God, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, yet born naturally to a young woman in Israel two thousand years ago. And He is irrefutably the Lord and Savior who lived a perfect life and died as the perfect atonement, so that all who believe in Him might have eternal life.
(Adapted from God in the Manger)