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Hebrews 7: The Greater Priesthood and our Great High Priest Print E-mail
Hebrews
Sunday, 20 November 2016

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Most people will admit that they are not perfect. Many will even call their mistakes ‘sin.’ Some recognize that they have actually sinned against God. Yet, far too many of those think that they can pay for their own sins and make things right between them and God by doing good deeds or not being as sinful as other people. In this way they can earn God’s forgiveness for their sins. But the Bible does not teach men to work to pay for their sins. For the Bible considers this to be an impossibility. We could never work enough to earn forgiveness. Rather, the Bible points to our desperate need for God to do something for us to forgive us and save us. What we cannot do for ourselves, He must do through His mercy and grace.

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The original readers of Hebrews seemingly believed the Bible’s teaching about man’s sin and the need for God to provide forgiveness. They knew that they needed atonement, or a payment for their sins. According to their former beliefs in Judaism, they would need a priest to offer a sacrifice to pay for their sins. The priest would serve as a mediator between them and God. As we have noted, it seems that these professing believers in Jesus were being tempted to return to their Jewish beliefs. Perhaps this was so because they wanted a High Priest who could offer sacrifices for their sins. Maybe they were struggling to believe that their sins were really forgiven through faith in Christ. The author of Hebrews wants them to see that they do not need any high priest other than Jesus Himself. He is the Great High Priest and His priesthood is far superior to what they had in Judaism. In order to teach them this, he returns to his argument concerning Melchizedek, which he began in chapter 5 but broke off from in 5:11-6:20. With his warning and encouragement to the readers complete, he now returns to his discussion of Melchizedek and his exposition of Psalm 110. So what does he teach them concerning this priest and how he relates to Jesus and His priesthood?

Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood (v. 1-10)

In order to argue for the greatness of Jesus as our High Priest, the author begins with the character of Melchizedek. Look at verses 1-4. The author wants us to see the greatness of Melchizedek, so he points out a few important points from the story about him in Genesis 14. First, we see that he was king of Salem, priest of the Most High God. This man was both king and priest, something that was not the case with the later priests. Second, he notes that Abraham paid tithes to this priest. Third, he translates his name and notes that he is king of righteousness, while also being king of Salem, that is, king of peace. Thus his name and title make him both the king of righteousness and the king of peace. Finally, he notes that the text does not name Melchizedek’s father or mother, his genealogy, or when he was born or when he died. The Levitical priests had to be born from a particular line, but not with Melchizedek. Likewise, he resembles Christ in that the text does not mention his death, or the ending of his priesthood. These are points that the author will elaborate on more as we go through the text. His point here is simply the greatness of Melchizedek.

He builds further on the idea of Melchizedek’s priesthood being greater than the Levitical priesthood in verses 5-10. Look at those with me. The Levites were told to receive tithes from the other Israelites, which they did. But Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham. In this way, it could be said that even the Levites tithed to Melchizedek since they are all descendants of Abraham. When you consider the story in this say, you see the superiority of Melchizedek over Abraham and his descendants the Levites. From these points, the author is showing that the order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of the Levites. Why is that so important?

Jesus’ priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood (v. 11-22)

The author is arguing for the superiority of Christ and His priesthood. He has argued for the superiority of Melchizedek and his priesthood (primarily focusing on the story in Genesis 14) and now he goes on to show that Melchizedek was simply a forerunner to Christ (based on Psalm 110:4). Look at what he writes in verses 11-14. Again, the author is still commenting on Psalm 110, where the Lord says to the coming Messiah: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’” According to Jesus (see Matthew 22:41-46) and Peter (Acts 2:34-35) this psalm was written by David and spoke of the coming Messiah who would be born in David’s line. The Psalm says that the Messiah will be a priest forever. But not in the order of the Levites, but in the order of Melchizedek.

The author of Hebrews notes that this means that a new priesthood was necessary. The reason it was needed is because the old priesthood and the law could not attain perfection. They were good and given by God, but they were limited and they pointed to something greater, namely Jesus and His priesthood. In agreement with Peter, the author of Hebrews sees Jesus as the priest being talked about in Psalm 110:4. He was not a Levite, but from the tribe of Judah. We might be tempted to lose interest at this point, but these conclusions, based on Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, would be life-altering to the Jews. The old priesthood has been replaced by Jesus.

And how exactly is Jesus a priest after the order of Melchizedek? The author answers in verses 15-19. The Levites became priests simply by being born a Levite. But Jesus was born from Judah, so how did He become a priest? He was qualified by the power of an indestructible life. The author is here pointing to Jesus’ resurrection! After Jesus lived a perfect life and tasted death for us all, the Father raised Him from the dead on the third day, never to taste death again. In this way, Jesus has an indestructible life. He is a priest forever. Just as there was no ending to Melchizedek in the story in Genesis 14, so there will truly be no ending to Jesus as our priest. Thus, His priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood, for it introduces a better hope...through which we draw near to God, a theme he will return to in the letter.

The author notes something else about Jesus’ priesthood that makes it greater, namely an oath. Look at verses 20-22. Again commenting on Psalm 110:4, the author notes that God gave an oath concerning Jesus’ priesthood: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind…’ He has already shown us that God gives us an oath to further solidify His promises (see 6:13-20). In this same way, God solidified the permanence of Jesus’ priesthood by giving an oath. Jesus’ priesthood is greater than that of the Levitical priesthood.

Jesus’ priesthood is forever perfect (v. 23-28)

To drive home the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood, the author makes two final arguments in verses 23-28. First, still commenting on Psalm 110:4, he argues that Jesus’ priesthood is forever. Look at verses 23-25. I want you to hear the contrast that the author is highlighting here. First, listen to Numbers 20:24-28. Before Aaron died, the Lord made his son Eleazar the high priest in his place. And when Eleazar died, his son replaced him. And on and on it went. Each time the high priest died, a new one had to be put in his place. But not with Jesus. Listen to verse 24 again and hear the contrast. He is our priest permanently and forever. And as such, He always lives to make intercession for those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Him. In Christ, we have a high priest who is always interceding for us, for our help and our forgiveness. How could we ever think to abandon Him for anything else?

Not only is Jesus a priest forever, but He is a perfect priest forever. Look at verses 26-28. Jesus is not like the other high priests who had to make offerings for their own sins. He is holy, innocent, and unstained. He never committed a sin while in the flesh. He lived and died without sin. He is a perfect high priest in this way. The author has already argued that Jesus was made perfect through His suffering and death (see 2:10, 5:8-10). Here he is noting that He was perfectly righteous in all that He did. He needed no offering for His sins, but He offered up Himself for all of mine and all of yours. Our great High Priest sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, He was securing eternal forgiveness for our sins. No debt remains. No further sacrifice is necessary. He is our perfect, forever priest!

Conclusion
The author of Hebrews is writing to people who were tempted to go back to the Levitical priests to find forgiveness for their sins. He argues in chapter 7 that such an approach is unnecessary. He is saying to them: ‘Do you want your sins to be forgiven? Do you want to be reconciled to God? Then turn to Jesus. He is the Great High Priest. His priesthood is perfect and forever. In Him you will find all that you need to be forgiven.’ Dear friend, maybe you are here today looking for the same thing. Maybe you would admit that you are a sinner and desperate for God’s forgiveness. Then I have the greatest news for you: turn from your sins and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself and you can be forgiven. Make Him your High Priest today!

And brothers and sisters, let me encourage you today: do not doubt the work of Jesus on your behalf. He is our perfect and forever priest, always interceding on our behalf. Come to Him boldly and ask for forgiveness with confidence. He gave Himself for you. He is not ashamed to call you His own. And when He tells you that you are forgiven, don’t doubt it. Never take your sins lightly, the author of Hebrews (and the rest of the Bible) warns us against such a mistake. But never think that your sins are too much for our Great High Priest. He is able to save to the uttermost! Jesus is the priest that you need. Hold fast and draw near to God through Him! Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 03 December 2016 )

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