Superior Priest, Superior Sacrifice

Text: Hebrews 7:11-28

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 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.  Hebrews 7:11-14

In the last section, we got into the whole Melchizedek issue, and here, the author is applying it to our present situation in Christ.  A careful reading of this text will begin to reveal an amazing aspect of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, and we quickly discover why the Old Covenant is no more.  To begin, verse 11 brings us a rhetorical question: If perfection could have been attained through the old priesthood, why do we need another?  Simple enough… Let’s understand “perfection” for a minute here, since I think it might refer to something that many might not be thinking about right off.  By “perfection” the author isn’t asking whether or not the Law could make a man perfect through His obedience to it; I’m sure you can recall Paul asking those kinds of questions.  In this case, perfection is linked to the priesthood itself, and the priesthood represents the entire Old Covenant system of atonement for sins.  Since that system cannot take sin away, it cannot bring about perfection. Jesus not only provided for forgiveness of sins, He took them away entirely.

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God’s Rest

Hebrews 4:1-13 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Hebrews 4:1-5 The warning continues in this text, but now the warning is building up to something wonderful.  The “promise” of entering His rest still stands. Needless to say, this is sometimes a source of confusion; what exactly is this “rest” that still stands?  In the original Old Testament context, the “rest” was the Promised Land, but it was also the Sabbath.  Now, there seems to be another context taking shape: What’s going on?

The warning continues in this text, but now the warning is building up to something wonderful.  The “promise” of entering His rest still stands. Needless to say, this is sometimes a source of confusion; what exactly is this “rest” that still stands?  In the original Old Testament context, the “rest” was the Promised Land, but it was also the Sabbath.  Now, there seems to be another context taking shape: What’s going on?

Whatever is going on, we still have that hope somehow, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall away from God before we get there. Now our author adds the rest and the Sabbath.  So is the Sabbath as promise?  Some say so, but last time I checked, it wasn’t a promise, it was a Commandment!  In fact, it’s one of the 10 Commandments, but unlike the other 9, Jesus didn’t re-assert this one in the Gospels:  Why? Because it was the sign of the Old Covenant, just as circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant; neither are in force now. And yet, there is still a rest for the people of God…?

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There is a Point to the Beatitudes

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a […]

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An Eye for an Eye…

by Don Merritt

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone […]

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No Swearing!

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 5:33-37

It was the Jewish custom to swear an oath to ensure that a person would keep his word in making a promise. This was not something that God was crazy about; rather it was more of a divine concession to the reality of our fallen state in this world when it came to the provisions for oaths in the Law. It was though a person was admitting that what he said may or may not true, unless he “swore”, much like it was among the boys I knew as a child; if I “swear” it’s true, then I must be really serious, but if I didn’t “swear it” it might be a lie.

Jesus wants no part of this kind of thinking in the Kingdom; everything we say is to be true; there is no place whatsoever for falsehood as a follower of Christ, so there will be no “swearing” necessary. More than anything else, these verses call all of us to be men and women of integrity and faithfulness, as God is integrity and faithfulness.

I wonder what things would look like in the here and now if we took this injunction to heart!

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Fully Human

Text: Hebrews 4:14-18

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18

Following the last section, in which we saw that we are God’s children, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, our author continues with his theme in verse 14. Since these “children” have flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood too, and then we clearly see why.  Jesus was incarnated so that He could die, to break the power of the devil, by setting us free from the fear of death. Interesting concept isn’t it?  Being set free from slavery to the fear of death, and from the one who holds power over us by our fear of death…

So, how does the author move from the fear of death to Satan holding power over us because of our fear of death?  Here’s a thought: If you are a follower of Jesus who lives in a place where following Jesus is not permitted by law, will you follow Jesus or will you follow the law of that land? If the authorities in power there are seeking to enforce their laws, then they will seek to coerce you into following their laws, right?  What is the ultimate means of coercion on this earth? Death.  If you fear death, you are likely to follow the law.  If you have been set free from the fear of death, you are free to follow Jesus.  Consider who this letter was written to: Jewish Christians in Rome during the persecution of Nero.  The whole book of Hebrews is a persuasive argument to them to hold onto their faith, even to the point of death, a death they have no reason to fear. We also have no reason to fear death, since we know that because of Jesus, we have eternal life. You can destroy my body, but I live on anyway. Yes, dear reader, this is much more than empty talk or an academic doctrine, it is very real.

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Jesus and the Law