Series on Hebrews, III Superior Priest, D Superior by Province, Text:7, Title: A New Law

Introduction:

If a Jewish person today accepts Jesus as Messiah and becomes a follower of Christ they are regarded as a traitor. Likewise in the First century Jewish Christians were persecuted by their own people who regarded them as deserters and defectors. The law of Moses defined the first century Jew. It was a huge wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. How could it be set aside? The great struggle in the early church is over this point. How can Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, be everyone’s High Priest and Savior?  Paul was continually thrown out of synagogues because he taught that whosoever called upon the name of the Lord would be saved. He said that you did not have to become a Jew. Circumcision was not necessary. The promise of grace obliterated the Jewish devotion to the law. Galatians 5:1-4 makes this clear, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. This same point is made here in the comparison between Christ and Melchizedek in verses 1-10, This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. The Priesthood of Levi represents the law, and the priesthood of Melchizedek, the promised grace of God, which the author calls a new law in verse 12, For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law, and again in verse 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless. So the argument aims at convincing these Jewish believers to abandon their Jewish identity forever and consider themselves the same as gentiles, sinners who need to be saved by grace. The two points are The ecumenical plan of God and the excellent provision of God.

I The Ecumenical Plan of God

The Jewish believers must understand that their role in history is instrumental to God’s greater purpose from the beginning. This is made clear in the story of Melchizedek and Abraham in Genesis 14. Melchizedek is a legitimate authentic priest of the true and living God and he is not Jewish. He is not a priest by descent like the sons of Levi. His character is revealed in his identity as a king of righteousness, king of peace. In fact He is a Cannanite. This reminds us that God’s plan was to bring salvation to all people. The crucial point here is that Abraham, to whom God had made the promises, acknowledges gentile Melchizedek as a superior. The greater Melchizedek blesses the lessor Abraham. The lessor Abraham pays tithes to the superior Melchizedek and thus all of Abraham’s descendants, that is all of Jewry acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek, a gentile. This is even more amazing when we realize that in Genesis 14 Abraham had rescued the people and possessions of Sodom together with his nephew Lot. He refused to accept any of the booty from the battle because he depended on the Lord to bless him, and not on the Canaanites. But he still paid tithes to Melchizedek and thus he acknowledged that although salvation would come through  his descendants, it was not exclusively for his descendants. Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

II The Excellent Provision of God

In line with this plan God sent Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, to be the great high priest for all people.  Jesus is a perfect High Priest unlike the imperfect Levitical priesthood which was inextricably tied to the law. Verses 11-19 state,  If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.  And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. The vital issue in this chapter is the perfection of Jesus Priesthood compared to that of the Levites. That the priestly service of Jesus is perfect is argued on three grounds, which are his Sonship, His sinlessness, and His sufficient sacrifice. All of these are presented not only to convince the Jewish people of holding on to Jesus, but to edify us by giving us very great assurance

A His Sonship

As the God man Jesus can perform a service that the levitical priests never could according to verses 20-22,  And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. His selection as our priest according to verse 16, is on the basis of the power of his indestructible life. Thus He has been appointed by God the Father because of his ability to save His people. The quotation which describes His appointment is from Psalm 110. The Psalm begins with the words the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. This is a conversation in eternity between the persons of the Godhead. We have a hymn that says “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish Altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly lamb, takes all our sins away, a sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.” Human priests can never mediate the antipathy or hostility between God and  sinful man. They only represent the human side. Jesus is the God man and thus he  represents both sides. Therefore His priesthood was the plan of God from the beginning and that is why John then Baptist says of him, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

B His Sinlessness

Hebrews 7:23-26 says,  Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. The second reason that Jesus meets our need is that He is holy or pure. He does not need to sacrifice for himself. The reason He lives forever and can intercede forever is that He was perfect. As a first century Jewish person you would know something of the high priest’s ordeal on the annual day of atonement (Yom Kippur). Before he can sacrifice for the sins of the people he must sacrifice for himself and his household. According to the Mishnah he immerses himself five times, then he washes his hands and feet ten times. After making the daily whole burnt offering, he takes the bull that he has paid for and confesses his own sins and the sins of his household. He then takes the blood of that bull in a basin and after offering the smoking incense before the holiest place to hide the mercy seat so he will not die he sprinkles the blood at the mercy seat for his sins and the sins of his household. And he has not even begun to offer for the sins of the nation.  So dreadful is this work that it is reputed that in later times the high priest had a cord tied to him so that if he was struck dead in the holiest, his body could be retrieved. We need to know all of this to appreciate the force of the declaration that this Priest is holy harmless undefiled and separate from sinners. He has nothing to fear, and no sacrifice to make except for us.

C His Sufficient Sacrifice

Therefore we read in 7:27 and 28, Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. The first century Jews also knew the incalculable number of bulls and goats whose blood was shed upon their altars, millions upon millions. As I mentioned before there was so much blood shed on the Passover that it flowed down a channel used to conduct it away to the Kidron valley. Can you imagine the power, the efficacy, the force, the might, and the virtue that was communicated to the Jewish mind by the simple formula,ONCE FOR ALL, and because of his resurrection and his continuing priesthood it is evident that our Savior accomplished our redemption. Because of God’s oath making Jesus our priest we are told in Verses 22-25 that Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Conclusion:

This chapter immerses us deeply in understanding Old Testament history and the mindset of the Jewish people. It also shows the absolute powerlessness of the law compared to Christ. Therefore we should not lose sight of the obvious implications. We have a savior. As the author of Hebrews is exhorting these Jewish Christians to hold on to Jesus he is at the same time reminding us of the necessity of persevering in faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover he is bringing to our hearts great assurance that Jesus is willing and able to save us if we trust in Him.