July 8, 2018
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God had just delivered the children of Israel from Egypt with a mighty hand. While Moses was to lead them out, it took ten plagues to effect that deliverance. Ten plagues demonstrating the Hebrew God’s supremacy over all the gods of Egypt. Starting with turning the Nile into blood – demonstrating Yahweh’s power over Hapi, the god of the Nile. I won’t go through each one of them, but the last two were significant. The ninth plague was darkness over the land, demonstrating Yahweh’s power over Ra, the Egyptian sun god, the second highest of the gods. The last, however, was most potent – death of the firstborn throughout the land, to include Pharaoh’s house. You see, Pharaoh, thought to be the son of Ra, was seen as the highest god – and even his son was not spared. By this time, there could be no doubting the Hebrew God’s supremacy.
So, the Israelites finally left Egypt after 400 years of largely slavery. Captivity. They headed toward Canaan, the land of promise, led by God Himself in pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Could there be any doubting God’s greatness? Why, shortly after leaving Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind about letting them go – so he and his entire army pursued them, right to the edge of the Red Sea. They were hemmed in, destruction seemed eminent.
But this was no problem for Yahweh, the Hebrew God. He simply positioned Himself in the pillar of cloud between the Israelites and the pursuing Egyptian army. He instructed Moses to raise his staff over the sea – and it miraculously parted. They walked across on dry ground. That Egyptian army? Well, they decided to pursue them through the sea, but the walls of water came crashing down – destroying them all.
Could there be any doubt that God was the God of gods – the most powerful – in fact, the only true and living God? He led them to Mt. Sinai. He called Moses up to the mountain, to give him the Law – as well as the plans for building the tabernacle. As we’ve seen, the Law was never intended to justify anyone – to make anyone right. Rather, it was given to expose their sinfulness – and drive them to trust God’s grace through faith in the sacrificial system. In fact, during Moses’ time on the mountain, in Exodus 28, God instructed Moses that his brother, Aaron, and his descendents from the tribe of Levi, would be priests for the people. The Levitical priesthood was born.
Well, while Moses was on the mountain, the people became impatient, went to Aaron, and said, we don’t know what’s happened to Moses and his God. We don’t know what’s happened to this God who delivered us from Egypt a few weeks ago with miraculous plagues; who divided the Red Sea to deliver us from the Egyptian army; who by this time had fed them manna from heaven, quail from the desert, and water from the rock. Not enough. Make us a god we can worship. So Aaron gathered gold from them and fashioned a golden calf. He said to them, behold, the god who led you out of Egypt.
You do understand – that hunk of metal had been earrings a few hours ago. Aaron, who was the first high priest of the people – made the golden calf.
The one who was to represent the people to God, and God to the people. To suggest that priesthood, from its inception, was weak and ultimately useless, seems quite evident.
There would be need for another priesthood. A superior priesthood. One that would be perfect – and through which, the people would be made perfect. So, hundreds of years after the institution of the Law and the Levitical priesthood, God through David promised another priesthood would come – one according to the order of Melchizedek. And the Messiah – who would be both king and priest – would be of that order. Not the temporary, and ultimately ineffective Levitical priesthood. So why would you abandon the perfect priesthood for the imperfect, temporary, ineffective priesthood?
This is what we’ve been studying over the past few weeks in Hebrews. In the first ten verses of Hebrews 7, the author proved Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, and therefore Levi, who was yet unborn. Then, in verse 11-19 last week, we saw there was need for a new priesthood, a new tribe, and new commandment – since the old priesthood, the old law – in short, the Old Covenant made no one eternally perfect. So why would you abandon the one that would?
Which brings us to our text this morning. The author continues his comparison of the old Levitical priesthood with the new Melchizedekian priesthood – proving its eternal superiority. Let me outline the chapter for you. Its overall purpose is to prove that Jesus is a better priest – because He comes from the Melchizedekian order, and brought a better covenant.
- Melchizedek is Greater than Abraham/Levi(1-10)
- Melchizedekian Priesthood is Greater than the Levitical Priesthood (11-19)
- Melchizedekian Priesthood is Greater by Oath(20-22)
- Melchizedekian Priesthood is Greater by Permanence(23-25)
- Melchizedekian Priesthood is Greater By its Perfect Priest(26-28)
In each of those points, you could substitute the name Jesus for the Melchizedekian Priesthood. As our Great High Priest, Jesus is better than the Levitical Priests. Jesus is better by the oath of His Father. Jesus is better because He is a permanent High Priest. And Jesus is better because He’s perfect. So why would you quit? Let’s read the text – Hebrews 7:20-28.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right – these are truths we’ve either already covered or at least implied. But this is obviously important to the author. Why? Because, his readers were actually considering leaving the new and better covenant, the one instituted permanently by oath of the Father, and the one who has as its perfect High Priest none other than Jesus, the very Son of God. They were considering abandoning that. And so I ask, is there a place for us to be reminded of that in our culture today – again and again? Is our culture guilty of abandoning the Christian faith, turning from Christ – and seeking fulfillment in another religion – or no religion at all? To declare these truths about Jesus is my greatest joy.
Here’s what I want for you – I want you to find in Jesus your greatest treasure – your greatest satisfaction – and therefore never leave.
So today we will be reminded that Jesus is greater by His Father’s oath, by His permanent priesthood, and by His perfection. Look at verses 20-22 with me. Verse 19 had said, the Law, with its priesthood, made nothing perfect – so Jesus brought a better hope, through which we can draw near to God.
This was good news. If the Law and its corresponding priesthood made nothing perfect, we needed another. Again, I will repeat what I said last week – being good, obeying the Law – the Ten Commandments – will never work. It will never justify you – make you right before God.
And so, another priesthood was promised, and came. And this one was declared not without an oath – which is saying, this priesthood was declared by an oath. We saw that back in chapter 6. The old priesthood, the Levitical priesthood, became priests without an oath. How did they become priests? Simply by physical descent. The priests were of the family of Aaron within the tribe of Levi. We’ve seen that.
But this priest, was declared so by an oath – and not just any oath. It was an oath declared by God Himself when He said, back in Psalm 110, “The LORD has sworn, and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” Remember, God cannot lie, and so an oath was really unnecessary, but God swore an oath to make it doubly sure – for us.
Now, one commentator noted how every word and every phrase of Psalm 110:4 is mined for its meaning. So put it all together – God swore it with an oath – as such, He will not change His mind. He is not a God to change His mind. And He swore the Messiah would be a priest forever. We’ll talk about its permanence in a moment, but the point here is that God instituted this priesthood. Yes – He instituted the first one – the Levitical priesthood – but not with an oath. This one, to be sure, was instituted by an oath, making it eternal and unchangeable. You see, by this wording, the author is implying the transitory, temporary nature of the first priesthood. It had a built-in obsolescence. Because, it was never intended to bring anyone to perfection. And it was never intended to last forever. It served its time, and now the time had come for it to be set aside. Meaning, you can’t go back to it. It’s empty, it’s bankrupt, to use the author’s word, it’s useless.
But notice the conclusion of that oath-made priesthood in verse 22. Because Jesus is a priest forever by an oath, He has become the guarantee of a better covenant. This is the first time the author has used the term covenant, but from here on out, it will become quite important. In fact, the word appears 17 times in the book, 14 more times than any other book.
Because, Jesus has brought the New Covenant, which is a better covenant. Now we’re going to talk about that in the weeks to come in chapters 8, 9 and 10 – but remember, better is a key word in this book – and a better covenant brought by a better priest and a better priesthood is the central theme of the book.
And since the ever-living Jesus brought it, He becomes the guarantee of the New Covenant. This is the only place the word guarantee is used in the NT. So, what does it mean He is the guarantee? If you’ve ever gotten a bank loan, you likely had to have one of three things:
- Good credit, which serves as a sort ofguarantee that you can be trusted to repay the loan.
- Good Collateral – that is, security that if you don’t repay the loan, something stands behind the loan to cover it. So, you get house loan, a car loan, and the house or the car is the collateral. If you default on the loan, the bank gets the collateral to satisfy the
- Good Cosigner – that is, someone who stands behind you, guaranteeing the loan. If you default on the loan, then the guarantor steps in to be
Jesus is all three of those. He’s got great credit – we’ll see that in a moment – He lived a perfect life, meeting the justdemands of the Law and thereby guaranteeing our forgiveness under the New Covenant. He’s both the collateral and the cosigner – since we have, in fact, already defaulted on the loan – since we are not perfect as required by God – we have a debt we could never pay. So Jesus stepped in to take our place – as collateral, and cosigner – in fact, the only signer, since we had nothing with which to pay. He has guaranteed, through His perfect life, the better covenant.
So in one sense, He becomes the guarantee for us to the Father. But in another sense, He is actually guaranteeing the faithfulness and fidelity of God toward us. You see, God promised the better covenant with anoath, and then Jesus becomes the guarantor of that promise. You see, Hebrews 6:17, speaking of the oath, said this, “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed [the ESV has it, guaranteed – it’s not the same word, but it’s a synonym] guaranteed [His promise] with an oath.” It does not come any more secure than that.
There’s an old hymn written 1700s by Charles Wesley called Arise My Soul Arise. The first verse says it this way:
Arise, my soul, arise, Shake off your guilty fears; The bleeding sacrifice, In my behalf appears; Before the throne my Surety stands, Before the throne my Surety stands, My name is written on His hands.
Which brings us to our second point, the Melchizedekian priesthood is better because of its permanence, verses 23-25. Verse 23 talks about the old priesthood – the former priests – the Levitical priests. They, on the one hand, existed in great numbers because they died. They couldn’t continue in the role – death prevented it. And so, there was Aaron, then Eleazar, then Phineas, and so on. If Josephus is right, there were 83 high priests from Aaron to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It doesn’t really matter – what matters is they all died, and were therefore unable to continue the role.
Dead priests cannot do their work of intercession and therefore cannot accomplish eternal salvation. But notice the eternal contrast in verse 24 – but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. He continues forever because God confirmed, by an oath, that He would – that He would be a priest forever. Further, by His resurrection – He has the power of an indestructible life – He holds the position permanently. This is a significant contrast with the former priesthood. Every time they died – get another one. Oh, and by the way, there really hasn’t been any since the fall of Jerusalem. But Jesus is the last and lasting high priest after the order of Melchizedek – there is no need for another.
Verse 25 – what’s the conclusion of the matter? Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near toGod through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. There is so much truth there. Because Jesus is forever the High Priest, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God. The word forever means without end, but it also implies utterly, completely, totally. He saves forever and fully, those who draw near to God through Him. You see, we’re going to find the former high priests – the ones who died – they could only do their job while they lived. But they died. And, they had to offer sacrifices day after day, year after year – and all along, they never brought perfection to anyone.
So Jesus, the high priest forever, is able to save forever those who draw near to God. That’s the point, right? Remember last week we talked about that. The veil kept people from the presence of God. The Levitical high priests would only go into His presence once a year. And they could bring no one with them, that is, near to God. But Jesus has entered beyond the veil as a forerunner – bringing a better hope through which we draw near to God. Do you see? If Jesus had never come, you would have never been able to draw near to God. Yes, the OT saints could, in a sense – in that the OT sacrifices pointed to Christ. But if that to which they pointed never came – they would be forever lost. And so would we. You see, He is able tosave forever those who draw near to God through Him. It’s all ultimately about and through Him. So why would we leave Jesus? Further, why would we hide Jesus from others?
Since He always lives to make intercession for them. What does that mean? That’s the permanence of His priesthood. He is the ever-living one. Now, I think we sometimes have the wrong idea about this – probably through songs written concerning this concept. The idea we sometimes imagine is that God the Father is an angry God, sitting on His throne, ready to dispense justice on those disobedient people. But Jesus stands between us and God, and keeps Him from zapping us. He intercedes for us continually. Not that one, Father, He’s mine.
And I suppose there is a sense in which that is true. That is, it is because of the perpetual finished work of Christ that He sits at the Father’s right hand – a constant reminder to the Father of His finished work. After all, He bears in His body the mark of crucifixion. But, it’s not like the Father is either, one, clueless, or second, forgetful, or third, against us. He sent His own Son for us. He chose us before the foundation of the world. In great joy He delights over those who have repented and drawn near through His Son – and He welcomes us. So in that sense, Jesus makes perpetual intercession for us, through His final, finished work, which stands forever.
Now, there are other verses which speak of Jesus making intercession for us in other ways – like in chapter 4 when read He is able to intercede for us in the midst of our sufferings and our temptations. Of course. But here, the idea is His perpetual priesthood, having offered Himself in our place, serves as our intercession. Notice, once for all, and once forgiven, we remain forgiven. Speak that truth to yourself. When you fall into sin – remind yourself that Jesus, your great high priest, sits at the Father’s right hand – and His finished work continually intercedes for you – in your brokenness, in your failure, in your sin. I’m too ashamed to ever lift my face before God.
On your own merit, you could never lift your face before Him. But on the merit of Christ, you always can.
Bringing us to our last point – the Melchizedekian Priesthood is Greater byits Perfect High Priest, verses 26-28. Forit was fitting, proper for us to have such a high priest. The us is general – it is fitting for people to have such a high priest. And how is this high priest described?
Holy – this is a different word for holy – it doesn’t necessarily speak of being set apart – but doing that which is righteous in the eyes of God. Jesus did that – He was always holy – always doing that which was right.
Innocent – that is, as we’ll see in a moment, He was not guilty of sin, and therefore did not need to make atonement for His own sin.
Undefiled – without the personal defilement of sin – inside and out.
Separated from sinners – all that means is, while He was fully man, He was separated from sinners because He wasn’t a sinner. I’ve heard it said this way – Jesus had all the attributes necessary for humanity, but not all the attributes common to humanity. He was separate from sin.
And He now, therefore, exalted above the heavens – where He can make perpetual intercession for sinners. Having seated Himself at the right hand of God in glory – a place of glory that is rightfully His.
Verse 27 – all that is what sets Him eternally apart from the former priesthood. You see, He is one who does not need daily, like those other high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Oh no – He did it once for all.
Now, we remember there was the offering on the Day of Atonement when the high priest would enter the most holy place and offer a sacrifice – first for himself as a sinner – then for the people. That was once a year.But there were daily sin offerings brought by the people they would offer.
Some, no doubt, the priests, even the high priest, would offer himself for his own sins. Not Jesus. His was completely different.
First, He had no sin which needed sacrifice. Second, He only offered His sacrifice once – and that was all that was needed, for all time – for all sin. And third, His sacrifice was not an animal – it was His perfect self, in the stead of ruined sinners.
The author rounds off the chapter nicely with his closing verse, which serves as our conclusion. For the Law appointed men as high priests who are weak – like Aaron – but the word of the oath from Psalm 110? Well, it came after the Law, superseding the Law, and it appointed a Son – the very Son of God – Jesus Christ, who is made perfect forever. We remember it was not that He was imperfect – but He became the perfect High Priest when He took on human flesh, and faced the same temptations and sufferings we face. So He knows. He understands. He is the perfect High Priest. And He is able to perfect those – justify those – make right those who draw near to God through Him. And by the way, only through Him.
Sermon text: Hebrews 7:20 – 7:28
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.