July 1, 2018
So last Sunday I took my first crack at song writing. I’d love to tell you I immediately heard from Chris Tomlin, Bob Kaulflin or the Gettys. I did not. In fact, the first text I received was on Tuesday morning: (text). I crossed off the name of the sender so you wouldn’t know who was so incredibly disrespectful…. In all seriousness, my song-writing venture was an attempt to introduce the text for last week. And really, all of last week was introduction to this week, and those to follow.
Several years ago, I preached a message on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ – that is, the only way to heaven was through faith in Jesus and His work on the cross. I even suggested the Jewish people needed faith in Jesus – that Judaism would not suffice – that is, following the OT without faith in Jesus as their Messiah would not result in salvation.
Well, after the service, I was accosted by a college student back by the sound booth. He was quite animated and irritated that I suggested even Jews needed faith in Jesus to be saved. These were, after all, God’s chosen people. How could God forsake them now? They worshiped the true God – how could they not go to heaven? He was quite upset. I gently reminded the young man of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus – that even he, a ruler and teacher of the Jews, needed to be born again or he would not see the kingdom of heaven. Further, Paul’s heart’s desire in Romans 10 for Israel was that they be saved. Well, the answer did not suffice – and I don’t think I ever saw the young man here again.
So what about it? Is faith in Jesus as the Son of God, God in the flesh, and the good news of the gospel necessary for salvation – even for God’s OT people, the Jews? Of course, that topic, more broadly, has been the subject of debate for some time now. Can people make it to heaven if they faithfully follow the tenants of their own religion outside of Christianity? Do all religious roads lead to heaven? Slowly, but very surely, opinions regarding that question have changed, even in the church. Surveys show consistent movement in the answer – such that a majority of people, even within the church, believe the answer is yes – others will make it. Which means, of course, that faith in Jesus is unnecessary. I’ve said it this way – if that is true, then the cross of Christ was nice, but not necessary if you can get to heaven without it.
I trust in our study of Hebrews, the answer for you quickly comes to mind. You see, the author has been writing to Jewish believers, who were facing severe persecution, and considering quitting and returning to Judaism. And so he writes this pastoral letter to both encourage and warn them of the eternally disastrous consequences of quitting Jesus and the Christian faith.
Today, he will make even more clear that Judaism does not have the way of eternal salvation – that it was preparatory for the coming of Jesus – and He is the only way to heaven. Even for Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus or Buddhists, or you. Now to be clear, this should not breed in us an air of superiority, arrogance and contempt. Rather, it should increase our love for people who are lost – and need faith in Jesus.
Last week, we looked at Hebrews 7:1-10 where we saw the Melchizedekian priesthood was better than – superior to – the Levitical priesthood – and in fact, the entire Levitical system. And perhaps you left here saying, so what? I’ve never considered sacrificing a goat. What’s the point? I’m glad you came back, because the point is found in the rest of the chapter – in fact, through the next several chapters. Because, you see, Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek – not Levi. We’ll find today Jesus isn’t even from the tribe of Levi, and therefore doesn’t meet the requirements to be a Levitical Priest. But that’s okay, because another priesthood – a superior priesthood – awaited. Why? Why was it needed? Read the text with me, Hebrews7:11-19.
I want to remind you – this material – last week and the weeks to come – require diligence. Thinking. Going deep. Remember, the author had said, concerning this Melchizedekian priesthood, I have much to say, but you’ve been too immature to this point. Now, having challenged and encouraged us, he launches into it. But it takes mature, critical, deep thinking.
So last week, we learned about this mysterious Melchizedek. We looked at his story in Genesis 14, where we found Abraham met him on his return from defeating some foreign kings and rescuing Lot. We found Melchizedek was king of righteousness and king of peace, and he was also a priest of God Most High – the same God, the only true God – that Abraham worshiped. Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham in turn gave tithes of the war spoils to this priest.
Well, those were just a few short verses in Genesis 14. Melchizedek disappeared for a thousand years – until Psalm 110:4, where we read a prophecy the Messiah – Jesus – would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek – not Levi, Melchizedek. He disappeared again for another thousand years, till Hebrews 5, 6 and 7. And here, we see Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, and therefore, Levi, for the following three reasons:
- First, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and the greater blesses the
- Second, Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, suggesting his superiority. He went further to suggest even Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek since he was yet
- Third, Melchizedek is a perpetual priest, since his death is not recorded.
Why is this important? Because Jesus is the Messiah, and therefore a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. Isn’t that exciting? And again you say, so what? So, the author tells us why this is important through the rest of the chapter. In our text today, he actually starts with the negative – that is, why Levi’s priesthood needed to be superseded. Let me give you the outline of the text:
- The Need for Another Priesthood(11-12)
- The Need for Another Tribe(13-17)
- The Need for Another Commandment(18-19)
Look at verses 11 and 12 with me. Now if perfection – stop right there. What does he mean by perfection? He only uses the word here – but he uses the related word perfect or perfect many other times in the book. Often it speaks of Jesus being the perfect High Priest, but a couple of other uses shed light on its use here:
Hebrews 10:1 says, For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
So we see the idea that fits our text is the law, through the sacrifices, could never make those who offered the sacrifices, perfect.
Further, Hebrews 7:19 says, (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
So notice that’s the end of our text – those words and ideas form in inclusion or bookends to the text. But notice, the Law made nothing perfect by which those observing the Law and sacrifices could then draw near to God. From that, we derive simply this: perfection is the state of righteousness required for a worshiper of God to approach God. Simply said, it is salvation by which our sins are removed and we are brought into a right standing and right relationship with God – so that we can approach Him – draw near.
So back to our verses – Now if perfection – a right standing before God – a right relationship with God – was through the Levitical priesthood…what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? Remember, Aaron was from the tribe of Levi – and it was his physical descendents who served as priests. The idea is, if salvation could come through the Levitical priesthood, what need was there for another priesthood? That’s the question.
And the implication is, perfection or salvation could not be attained through the Levitical priesthood – its system and sacrifices. Now, notice the parenthesis there – for on the basis of it– the priesthood – the people received the Law. What does that mean? Simply this – all of that was received at the same time and went together. The Law of Moses included the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system. You see, we normally think of the law with its 613 commands, and rightly so. But the problem is, from the beginning, no one has ever been able to keep the Law perfectly – therefore, leading to perfection.
And so, at the same time the Law was given, so also were the plans for the tabernacle as well as the Levitical priesthood and the whole system of sacrifices. You see, when people broke the Law, and break the Law they would, they would need a place of sacrifice by which they could find forgiveness and cleansing. But now, the author introduces a stunning truth – that system could never make its followers perfect. I’m sorry, young man who met me at the sound booth that day – the Levitical system – the OT system could never make its followers eternally perfect.
Now, you may know this, especially if you were with us in our study of Galatians or Romans. Paul makes it abundantly clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – and not by the works of the Law. Consider these verses in Galatians:
2:16 – nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Do you think he’s trying to get a point across? You cannot be justified – made right – reach perfection – by the Law. Why?
3:10-11 – For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
So, the problem with seeking to be justified by the Law is that no one – to include you – no one can keep all the Law perfectly all the time. You can’t be made perfect by the Law – because you aren’t perfect, and cannot keep the law perfectly. James said, he who is guilty of breaking one point of the law is guilty of breaking all the law. So then, what was the purpose of the Law?
Galatians answers that, too – 3:19ff:
19Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made….
21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe….
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Paul says it this way in Romans 8:
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Okay, so we understand the Law exposed sin for what it was, and who I was – a sinner. And realizing I could never be good enough to earn my salvation, sinner that I am, I am drawn to Christ and His work for me to be made perfect – to be made right. So again, you’ve likely heard that before. But just to be clear – for you today – there is no one here good enough to earn your way to heaven. No one good enough to be counted righteous by God. No matter how good you are, you are still guilty of sin, and thereby fail to meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness. A million lifetimes of doing good would not be enough – it would not make you righteous.
Let me give you an example. Most of you are aware of those Microsoft games that come preloaded on Microsoft Office – you know, Freecell, Solitaire, Hearts, etc. Well, those are the only games I have on my computer, and occasionally I flip over and play a game or two. And I win a lot of them. But you know, I’ve noticed that after you win, they give you your win/loss statistics. And so with Freecell, for example. I can win most of those – in fact, almost all of them. But if I play 200 games – and win 199 of them – my percentage stays at 99%. It never reaches 100% – it never reaches perfection – because I’m not. Do you see? No matter how many good wins you have – you’ve got losses – actually more than a few – lots. And besides, most of our wins are selfishly motivated anyway. We are imperfect and desperately in need of God to forgive our sin – based not on our good deeds, but on Someone else’s.
Enter, the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system that was given at the same time as the Law. When you broke the Law, the system of sacrifice was in place, through priestly mediators, to find forgiveness. Now, to be clear, forgiveness always came through repentance and faith – faith in the grace of God to forgive.
But now, the author of Hebrews takes it a stunning step further. Not only did the Law not make people perfect, but the Levitical priesthood and all it administered did not either. If it did, why would there be another priest arise according to the order of Melchizedek? And the author will now take the next three chapters to explain why – not the least of which is: all those sacrifices? All the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin forever. Oh no – they were just types, pointing to the ultimate sacrifice of the ultimate high priest. But we’ll talk about that in the weeks to come.
Notice verse 12 – for when the priesthood changed – from Levi to Melchizedek – from the priests to Christ – of necessity there was a change of law. Notice, that is not capitalized, for good reason. He’s not talking about just the Law of Moses, but the law pertaining to salvation. Whereas before, salvation was found by faith through grace in the sacrifices of the Levitical priests – no longer. That priesthood is gone. It now requires a different law of sacrifice.
We must hurry – point two, The Need for Another Tribe, verses 13-17. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe. This oneis not Melchizedek, since we don’t know his genealogy, his father or mother. He’s speaking of Jesus. He came from another tribe – not Levi – and from this other tribe no one has ever officiated at the altar. No – that was the Levitical priests’ job.
Verse 14 – for it is evident that our Lord was descended from the tribe of Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. In other words – priests didn’t come from that tribe – kings came from that tribe. Oh, and then we remember from last week – Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek – whowas a king and a priest. So Jesus was a king according to the tribe of Judah, and a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. That’s his point. And there had to be another priesthood, because the first one could make no one perfect. Do you see?
Verse 15 – and this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek – that is, what we talked about last week – superior to Abraham and Levi, a king- priest, without descent from Levi, who has become such – that is a priest – not on the basis of the law of physical requirements – meaning, He didn’t descend physically from Levi – but He met the requirement of the priesthood by nature of His indestructible life. This is incredible.
Remember, last week we saw the Melchizedekian priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood because of the blessing of Melchizedek, because of tithes given to Melchizedek, and third, because it was a perpetual priesthood. So Jesus met the requirement because of the power of His indestructible life through the resurrection – which proved, with power, that He was the very Son of God. Next verse – 17 – for it is attested of Him, You are a priest forever [that’s the emphasis – forever because of His indestructible life] according to the order of Melchizedek. A new priesthood from a different tribe was needed because the old tribe (they died) and the old priesthood could never make anyone perfect. But Jesus met the qualifications perfectly – and we’re just getting started. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 will make it infinitely greater and clearer.
Point Three – the need of another commandment, verses 18-19. For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment – all that was encompassed in the Old Covenant – the Law and the Levitical Priesthood and sacrifices – that has been set aside because of its weakness and uselessness. Stop right there. But, you say, but wait a minute, I thought God gave it. He did. As a type of the greater that was yet to come.
Not only that, the old commandment – found in the old covenant – the Law was weak not because there was something wrong with the Law. Oh no – it was good and holy and right. It was weak because of the weakness of human flesh. Remember Romans 8:3 – the Law could not justify anyone because our flesh is weak. It could never make anyone perfect because no one could keep the Law. In that sense, it was useless for salvation. But that was never its intent. So the old commandment has been set aside.
For, verse 19 – on the one hand, the Law made nothing perfect. Nothing. Because we were not perfect. So on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. This is incredible: the Old Covenant, with its laws and sacrifices – kept people from God. Remember the thick veil of the temple that separated the holy place from the most holy place – that is, the very presence of God? And only the high priest, once a year, would go behind the veil and offer a sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the people? The whole setup screamed – you are unholy – you cannot enter here.
But now, our Great High Priest has entered through the veil as a forerunner for us. So that, back in chapter 4, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Therefore, let us draw near – do you see, without the new priesthood, we couldn’t. But now we can draw near with confidence to the very throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our great need.
My brothers and sisters, we have a better hope – the only hope. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Meaning, there is no other way. So in the midst of trouble and trial and struggle and opposition, we stay firm. We don’t quit. And we can actually draw near to God to find help.
Sermon text: Hebrews 7:11-19
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.