Jesus Is Greater

A Lenten Series Based on the Book of Hebrews

People both inside and outside of the church often have a view of Jesus that is too small. Some of those outside the church reduce Jesus to a zealot or a moral teacher, while some Christians view him only as a necessary sacrifice or a helpful example. In order to truly worship Jesus as Lord, we need to see him in his proper place as the Son of God.

The author of Hebrews delivers an extended sermon on the primacy of Jesus, showing how Jesus is greater than everything else and thus worthy of worship. We followed that pattern in this Lenten series. Our Sunday School kids even brainstormed some things that are great in the world and wrote a song called “Jesus Is Greater,” with the surprising line “Jesus is greater than flame throwers”!

When we put Jesus in first place, we necessarily respond in certain ways. This Lenten series attempts to follow the pattern of Hebrews, showing how Jesus is greater than angels, Moses, chief priests, and sacrifice. Since Jesus is “greater than,” we respond with faith,
running with perseverance and discipline. We summarized this movement with these symbols: Jesus is greater than (>), therefore (∴).

We changed our order of worship, beginning with an assurance of pardon that leads into a call to confession in order to emphasize that our forgiveness comes through what Jesus has done for us rather than what we do for him.

Consistent Worship Elements

Throughout Lent we kept these worship elements consistent: the call to worship, assurance of pardon, call to confession, and call to holy living. Those elements are below:

Call to Worship

(adapted from Heb. 12:1-3)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
We worship you, Lord.

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 
We worship you, Lord.

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Let us turn our eyes to Jesus and worship him.

Assurance of Pardon and Call to Confession

(adapted from Heb. 4:14-16)

When we confess our sins, we do so in recognition that Jesus has already sacrificed and made forgiveness available to us. Hebrews 4 says,

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,
Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—
yet he did not sin.  
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, 
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

In confidence of God’s mercy and grace, let us confess our sins together.

Call to Holy Living

(Heb. 10:19, 23-25)

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus
. . . let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he
who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward
love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, 
as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Week 1
Jesus Is the Greatest

Scripture

Hebrews 1:1-4

Sermon Notes

The book of Hebrews begins with a thesis statement of sorts, claiming that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”(vs. 3). Furthermore, after his sacrifice for the purification of our sins, Jesus now sits “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”(v. 3). The intent of this sermon and of this series is to put Jesus in proper focus, recognizing that we can only truly follow him when we acknowledge that he is greater than everything and everyone in our lives.

We begin with an equation: Jesus > (or Jesus is “greater than”). In the coming weeks we’ll fill in the right side of that equation, but this first week focuses on the left side, which is Jesus. Jesus is the greatest because he is the radiance of God’s glory, a Greek word that means the “bursting forth” like the light that shines in the darkness in John 1. Jesus is also the greatest because he is the exact representation of the Father. The word we often translate as “representation” is the Greek word charaktér. Because of Jesus’ greatness, he now occupies the position of authority at the right hand of God the Father in glory.

It is important to understand the greatness of Jesus because many forces want to make him “less than.” Other world religions reduce Jesus to a prophet, while popular writers publish books telling us Jesus was just a zealot or a teacher that his disciples elevated to a deity. Even we, his followers, make Jesus “less than” in our lives.

Most failures of Christian character (there’s that word again) are the result of confessing with our lips that Jesus is Lord but failing to live in light of that truth. Augustine wrote, “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. . . . That is our life, to be trained by longing; and our training through the holy longing advances in the measure that our longings are severed from the love of this world” (from Augustine’s homily on 1 John 4:6).

In this series we will try to train ourselves to long for Jesus and put him in first place.

Application Questions

  • What do you need to put on the right side of the equation?
  • How are you tempted to make Jesus less?
  • How will you spend this season putting Jesus in first place?

Suggested Songs

  • “The First Place” LUYH 15
  • “You Are Holy” LUYH 598, SNC 20, GTG 596, 705
  • “Jesus Messiah” Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves, worshiptogether.com/songs/jesus-messiah
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, Ye Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “When I Survey” LUYH 175, PH 100, PsH 384, TH 252, WR 261, GTG 223
  • “Beautiful Savior” LUYH 17, PsH 461, WR 105
  • “We Come, O Christ, to You” PsH 238, TH 181, WR 110
  • “You Are Good” LUYH 577

Writing “Jesus Is Greater” with Our Sunday School Kids

In order to reinforce the theme of “Jesus Is Greater Than” from the book of Hebrews with our Sunday School students, I decided to use the time usually set aside for singing to write a song with them. We began by brainstorming all the things that Jesus is greater than (a pretty long list!) and had them vote on the three items they wanted to include in the song.

In this case, they chose flame throwers, video games, and money. I went away and came up with a simple chorus and tune, then came back the next week. We discussed what makes flame throwers great and how Jesus is greater.

Each week I would take their feedback and write a new stanza based on how Jesus is greater than the object of the week. At the end we practiced the song a few times and then presented it to the congregation as part of worship.

To the right are the lyrics we wrote together. A lead sheet with the melody and chords is available in the online version of this article at ReformedWorship.org.

Jesus Is Greater

by the Wheaton CRC Sunday School Kids

Chorus:
Jesus is greater than the rest,
No one is better; he’s the best.
There is nothing better than him,
Jesus is greater than everything.

Stanza 1:
Jesus is better than flame throwers
Because he has more heat.
Instead of causing complete destruction,
Jesus makes our lives complete.

Stanza 2:
Jesus is greater than video games,
Because he is more fun.
Games let us play just with our friends,
But Jesus is friend to everyone.

Stanza 3:
Jesus is greater than our money;
Only he can satisfy.
Money can buy us all kinds of stuff,
Jesus’ blood bought our lives.

Music and Words: Kyle Haack, 2015 @ Creative commons attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike

Week 2
Jesus Is Greater Than the Angels

Scripture

Hebrews 1:4-14

Sermon Notes

Having established that Jesus is the greatest, the author of Hebrews goes on to establish Jesus’ supremacy over the angels. The focus of this sermon is both on how Jesus is greater than actual angels and the “better angels of our nature,” to quote Abraham Lincoln. In our current spiritual climate, few would have a problem saying that Jesus is greater than angels, but most of us have ideals by which we judge the world and which supersede any other beliefs we have. These ideals often come through in our outrage over other people’s actions, and they include the high ideals of choice and tolerance.

Jesus is greater yet than the better angels of our nature as he is greater than the angels understood by 1st-century Hebrews. Hebrews 1 says he is greater than the angels because his status as Son is greater than their status and because his role as judge is greater than their role as ministering spirits. Just as the appreciation of angels in the first century wasn’t bad, so our ideals aren’t wrong unless they take first place instead of Jesus. We must weigh our values against Jesus, allowing him to be greater than any ideals we hold.

Application Questions

  • Where does Jesus challenge your values?
  • How do you try to go along with culture rather than submit to Jesus?
  • How can you put your better angels under the throne of Christ?

Suggested Songs

  • “The First Place” LUYH 15
  • “Psalm 95: Come, Worship God” LUYH 509, PFAS 592, SNC 25, GTG 386
  • “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” LUYH 224, PH 155, PsH 408, SWM 140, TH 309, WR 342, GTG 363
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, Ye Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “Psalm 130: In Deep Despair I Cry to You” PFAS 854, SNC 62
  • “Friends in Faith” SNC 135
  • “Jesus, All for Jesus” LUYH 738
  • “We Receive Your Blessing” LUYH 947

Week 3
Jesus Is Greater than Moses

Scripture

Hebrews 3:1-19

Sermon Notes

As we work our way down from Jesus on the throne at God’s right hand, through the angels who are ministering spirits, we next come to those ancestors who have received near-mythic status for their leadership.

Among those most revered ancestors in Jewish thought was Moses, who both led his people out of slavery and brought the law to them at Mount Sinai. While Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were renowned for their faithfulness, Moses was known as a great leader and the one through whom God led his people to the promised land. And yet, Jesus is greater still than Moses, as the builder of a house is greater than a servant in the house (Heb. 3:4-5). The author of Hebrews doesn’t tear down Moses—he says that Moses was faithful in God’s house. It is just that Jesus’ faithfulness as builder of the house is greater than that of Moses.

We all have heroes from history that we look up to. As great as those heroes were, Jesus is greater still. Instead of looking to those humans for inspiration, we should “fix our thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest” (Heb. 3:1).

Application Questions

  • Who is your personal hero?
  • How do you look to your hero for guidance?
  • How will you fix your eyes on Jesus instead of on your hero?

Suggested Songs

  • “Lord Most High” LUYH 593, SNC 47
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, Ye Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “God, Be Merciful to Me” LUYH 622, PFAS 344, PsH 255, TH 486
  • “As Moses Raised the Serpent Up” LUYH 674, PsH 219
  • “Lift High the Cross” LUYH 264, PH 371, PsH 373, SWM 243, TH 263, WR 287, GTG 826
  • “Hear Our Praises” LUYH 302

Week 4
Jesus Is Greater than Priests

Scripture

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Sermon Notes

As the author continues down the cosmological road from Jesus sitting on a throne in heaven to angels to ancestors (Moses), the next stop is current religious leaders or priests. Just as Jesus is greater than the aforementioned authorities, so Jesus is greater than priests. Hebrews 5 says that priests didn’t seek the role but were called by God, are able to relate to weakness, and offer sacrifices for others and for themselves. Jesus is greater, as he was chosen by God, is able to relate to us in every way but sin, and offered a once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. In addition, Jesus’ priesthood comes from the order of Melchizedek, which pre-exists the Aaronic priesthood.

Because we have such a great high priest, Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us we ought to hold on to what we believe and approach the throne of grace with confidence. In addition, we should trust that Jesus is greater than our religious institutions. Jesus is greater than the systems or leaders we put in place to help us worship him. To hold Jesus as greater is to allow our expression of church to be lesser.

Application Questions

  • When is it tempting to trust earthly institutions rather than seek the will of Jesus?
  • How do you approach God’s throne room—in confidence or fear?
  • How will you hold on to what you believe, placing Jesus above the ways that you express him?

Suggested Songs

  • “Your Name” LUYH 375
  • “Jesus Messiah” Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves, worshiptogether.com/songs/jesus-messiah
  • Songs of Confession:

  • “Before the Throne of God Above” LUYH 682
  • “Since Our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus” LUYH 210, PsH 230
  • “We Are People on a Journey” LUYH 142, SWM 235, SNC 260

Week 5
Jesus Is Greater than Our Sacrifice

Scripture

Hebrews 8:1-13, 9:11-15

Sermon Notes

The progression from Jesus in heaven on the throne downward leads us finally to the altar. Before making a turn to how we ought to respond to the greatness of Jesus, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is also the greatest sacrifice. The earthly priests offer sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple, which are copies of the throne room of God. Jesus entered through a “greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands” (Heb. 8:11). He also didn’t count on the vicarious blood of goats or calves but offered his own blood.

In the old sacrificial system, the sacrifice could only atone for what had happened, so no sooner had a sacrifice been offered than the clock started ticking towards the next sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice is the greatest in that it was offered once for all the world. We often approach our life with God in terms of sacrifice; I sacrifice my Sunday mornings to go to church, or I sacrifice profits in order to be ethical, or I give up revenge for the sake of turning the other cheek. Sometimes we do a cost/benefit analysis and decide that the sacrifice is not worth what we get out of faith, so we walk away. Because Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than whatever we sacrifice, the life promised through him is not dependent on our little bit of faith.

Application Questions

  • What do you sacrifice for Jesus? Does it feel like a joyful burden or a difficult duty?
  • How do you experience the joy of his salvation?
  • What might Jesus be calling you to sacrifice in the future? Is he worth it?

Suggested Songs

  • “Behold the Lamb” LUYH 840
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, You Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” TH 307
  • “Not What My Hands Have Done” LUYH 624, PsH 260, TH 461
  • “Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” LUYH 660
  • “My Friends, May You Grow in Grace” LUYH 938, SWM 234, SNC 288

Week 6 (Palm Sunday)
Jesus Is Greater than; Therefore, Have Faith

Scripture

Hebrews 10:19-25; 11:1

Sermon Notes

The author of Hebrews has consistently shown Jesus as greater than everything between the throne room in heaven and the altar on which we sacrifice. Now we turn our attention from the greater than sign (>) to the therefore sign (∴). The first response called for in Hebrews is to have faith. Faith is defined in chapter 11:1 as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That assurance and surety is described in chapter 10:23-25 as drawing near to God in assurance of faith, holding unswervingly to the hope we profess, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.

As the author of Hebrews uses the stories of heroes of faith in chapter 11 to exhibit the type of faith that is intended, we can look at the pattern of the crowds on Palm Sunday to find the antithesis to this faith. They draw near to Jesus on that day, but not with sincerity of heart. They do not hold unswervingly to the hope they profess through the word Hosanna, changing their minds about Jesus by the end of the week. And they do not spur one another on to love and good deeds, joining with the cries to crucify Jesus later that week. We too can be tempted to give up faith when circumstances change or times get hard, but we are encouraged to hold tight and spur one another on. If Jesus is the greatest, the proper response to him is to have faith.

Application Questions

  • Does your faith extend beyond enthusiasm to assurance?
  • How will you draw near to God, hold fast, and spur one another on to love and good deeds?
  • How can we encourage one another to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see?

Suggested Songs

  • “All Glory, Laud and Honor” LUYH 146, PH 88, PsH 375, TH 235, WR 265, GTG 196
  • “You Are Holy/Prince of Peace” LUYH 598, SNC 20, GTG 596, 705
  • “Filled with Excitement” SNC 133, GTG 199
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, You Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “The Power of the Cross” LUYH 177
  • “Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” LUYH 660
  • “Kwake Yesu nasimama/Here on Jesus Christ I Will Stand” LUYH 708, GTG 832

Week 7 (Easter Sunday)
Jesus Is Greater than; Therefore, Run!

Scripture

Hebrews 12:1-3, John 20:1-10

Sermon Notes

As the book of Hebrews draws to a close, the author states another result of viewing Jesus as the greatest: that we run with perseverance. It isn’t enough to see Jesus as greater than everything else or even to respond in faith. We must also persevere in faith. Running involves shedding everything that slows us down, the things that hinder and the sin that entangles. It also involves keeping an eye on Jesus and following him down the path.

In the story of Easter Sunday from John 20 we also have running and seeing. Peter and John run to the empty tomb and John sees and believes. Their belief and the way they persevered in it give us reason to believe they are in the great cloud of witnesses. These are witnesses not to our athletic feats but witnesses to the work of God in their lives. On this Easter Sunday we take encouragement, both from the risen Jesus and the cloud of those who bear witness to him, to keep running the race marked out for us.

Application Questions

  • Where are you in the race of faith: at the beginning, the middle, or nearing the end?
  • How is your running? Are you tired, weary, energized, encouraged?
  • How might you be a witness in faith to another, spurring that person on to love and good deeds?

Suggested Songs

  • “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” LUYH 182, PH 113, PsH 388, SWM 132, TH 273, WR 288, GTG 245
  • Songs of Confession:

    • “Come, You Disconsolate” LUYH 614, PsH 538, TH 615
    • “In Christ Alone” LUYH 770, SWM 208
  • “Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord” PsH 401, SWM 159
  • “What the Lord Has Done in Me” LUYH 800, WR 360
  • “Lift High the Cross” LUYH 264, PH 371, PsH 373, SWM 243, TH 263, WR 287, GTG 826

Week 8 (Baptism Sunday)
Jesus Is Greater than; Therefore, Endure

Scripture

Hebrews 12:4-13

Sermon Notes

We concluded our series on Hebrews by celebrating a baptism on the week following Easter. The author of Hebrews concludes this discussion of Jesus as “greater than” by encouraging the congregation to endure hardship as discipline. It is fitting that this is the end of the series because this is where the rubber meets the road for many people in their faith. It is one thing to praise God when things are going well, but it’s another to try to make sense of difficult times.

The author of Hebrews says that, rather than serving as proof that God isn’t looking out for you, hardship can be understood as discipline meant to bring about “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). The challenge is to differentiate between the effects of sin in a broken world and those acts of God meant to bring about righteousness in our lives. Often we can only tell the difference as we look back over our lives.

The command, in either case, whether a hardship is the result of brokenness or the discipline of God, is to endure. God wants more for us than our happiness; God wants us to be holy and is willing to use hardship to accomplish this feat. Having fixed our eyes on the greatness of Jesus, we are called to have faith, run with perseverance, and endure.

Application Questions

  • How has God used discipline in your life to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace?
  • How might God be disciplining you today?
  • How will you tell the difference between ordinary struggle and God’s discipline?

Suggested Songs

  • “You Are Good” LUYH 577
  • “Your Grace Is Enough” LUYH 698
  • “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” TH 481, WR 472
  • “Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” LUYH 660
  • “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” LUYH 946, SNC 284, WR 719, GTG 547
Resources

Kyle Haack is the pastor of Wheaton Christian Reformed Church in Wheaton, Illinois, where he seeks to live out the tagline “Gathered by Grace, Sent to Serve.”