A Better Trust
A Better Trust
Hebrews 7 has this great theme of Jesus as a high priest, not after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchizedek. It is a unique perspective. Melchizedek is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible except where that encounter occurs in the Book of Genesis 14 and he's mentioned in Psalm 110.
Now in the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews says God did this on purpose. This encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek is important because this OT character, Melchizedek, is a picture of Jesus, who is our Priest. Jesus is not a priest after the order of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, but he's a priest like Melchizedek.
The writer of Hebrews is telling them why this is significant, because the temptation for the Hebrews, these early Christians who had a Jewish background, was not to do bad things. He's not just writing to them about don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't kill. Those choices are always easy and obvious. We know we're not supposed to do those things. The temptation for them was not to do bad things but to trust in good things. And to miss therefore, the best things.
He says the law is good, but when it comes to your salvation, it's weak and useless. The Old Covenant was good but when it comes to changing your heart, it's weak and useless. So the temptation for them is to trust in this Old Covenant. That's a good thing but it's not the best thing. Jesus is the best thing.
When it comes to changing your heart, the Law can't do that. The Law can’t make anybody holy. It can only show you that you're sinful. It can only drive you to Christ, it can only reveal your need of Christ. So the writer says in Hebrews 7:18, "For the law made nothing perfect." On the one hand, a former commandment, that is the Old Covenant, is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness. It couldn't change your heart. But on the other hand, a better hope is introduced through which we draw near to God.
So the New Covenant is better because he says in verse 19, first of all, it's a better hope. It actually gives us something to hope, the Law can only look at what you've done. It can only look at the past. But the New Covenant looks at something new, something yet coming. It looks at eternal life. It's a better hope. Not only that, through it, we can draw near to God. So it's a better hope, it's better because by it, we can draw near to God.
That's what the writer has shown us so far. He's urging us not to trust in something that's good and fail to miss the best. The Old Covenant, the law was good, but it's not the best. He doesn't want them to leave their faith in Christ to go back to the law think that they have to keep part of it.
(Read Heb. 7:20-28)
The writer begins in v. 20 by telling us that the priesthood of Jesus is better. Why is it better? Well, he says, "It was not without an oath." Remember, we've already talked about how the Lord has taken an oath when he could not swear by anything greater, he swore by himself. This is the third oath in the Book of Hebrews. Earlier in the book it says that he swore in his wrath they will not enter my rest, when he quoted that psalm. Then he swore to Abraham that he would bless him. Now here's the third evidence God took an oath. God swore that he was going to make Jesus a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Now, this makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests, that is the Levitical priests, the descendants of Aaron, were many in number because they were prevented by death from continuing in office. But Jesus holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost. That's a great word, isn't it? Not a word you use every day. This is the maximum. This is the superlative. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him. How do we draw near to God? Through that better hope that he talked about in verse 19.
We find ourselves looking at this very important doctrine of Jesus' priesthood. Jesus is revealed in the New Testament as prophet, priest, and king, he fulfills all three offices. So the writer is looking at this priesthood of Jesus, and he's explaining to us how it's different from the priesthood of the Old Covenant. If Jesus were a priest like the Levitical priests, that would merely be a continuation of the Old Covenant. It's not a continuation, it's something completely new. The Old Covenant can convict us, but the New Covenant can change us.
Seems Good to Me vs. What God Says Is Best
People that are trying to keep the Law and earn God's favor are going to find themselves constantly running into a brick wall, which is their own weakness. When you combine the weakness of the flesh with the weakness and uselessness of the Law, that's a bad combination. It can't change you, it can only convict you. It can only show you your need.
So, what the writer is saying here to them, you got to keep moving forward in your faith. You made your commitment to Christ, don't turn back. Don't think you've got to add to it. It's great that I've trusted Christ. Now, just to be certain, I'll keep the Law. Just to be certain, I'll do this. If you begin to think in any way that you have to complete the work that Jesus began, you are taking away from the gospel.
For most of us the temptation is not the Law per se. Nobody wants to start sacrificing lambs at a temple. Yet, if you really think about it, you'll find that the temptation shows itself in a different way, it's still the very same basic temptation, because every temptation in life is the temptation to want the inferior rather than the superior.
Everything that your flesh wants that is contrary to the will of God, you're really wanting something that is less than what God wants you to have. That's true for any sin. Our flesh loves sin. Let's face it, sin is fun, but it's always fun on credit. It's always fun for the short term. Ultimately, it brings pain and misery, even though in the commission of it, there was a pleasure, there was a delight.
God wants you to have something that is pleasurable, delightful, not just for now, but for eternity. This is why John Piper talks about Christian hedonism. By that, he doesn't mean going through life trying to get all the pleasure you can in this world. He says that what God wants us to have most is the joy that comes from knowing and serving him.
If you really want pleasure, the greatest most extensive pleasure you can have, not just now, but for eternity, is to honor the Lord. This will bring you a higher degree of pleasure than anything you can do in your flesh now. God does not want you to settle for a temporary fleeting pleasure. He wants you to have an unending delight and pleasure.
So, every temptation in life that comes your way, it's the temptation of the shortcut. Isn't this exactly how Satan tempted Jesus on the mount of temptation? “Hey, command these stones to be made bread.” Jesus was going to get food eventually. But Satan said, “No, do it now. Use your power for self-gratification. Get what you think is coming to you right now.” Eventually, all the nations of the world are going to worship Jesus. But Satan said, “If you'll bow down and serve me, worship me, you can have it now.” Eventually, God was going to vindicate Jesus by raising him from the dead, but Satan said, “Hey Jesus, you jump off the pinnacle of the temple, God will save you right now.”
See, that's always his temptation. He wants you to go for it now, get what you want now. Don't trust God, don't wait on God, don't believe God. Go for the inferior pleasure rather than the superior joy that God wants you to have in the long run by trusting him and finding your contentment in him. So every temptation is to want what seems good instead of what God says is best.
Listen to the debate that's going on right now, even among evangelicals about same sex marriage. The argument goes something like this: I think God wants me to be happy and this gives me happiness, this gives me pleasure. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Love just can't be wrong.
What do you mean? The Bible warns us all over the place about loving the wrong thing.
There are heterosexuals that shouldn't love each other. The Bible gives certain prohibitions to certain people marrying and when to marry and whom to not marry. God restricts lot of areas of our lives because he says that ultimately, what brings real flourishing of the Christian life is to trust in him and obey him, even if for the time being it means that we don't see the result yet.
To trust Christ is not just to say, “God wants me to be happy.” Well, indeed he does, but he defines what happiness is. And furthermore, he tells you how to have it and when to have it. Every temptation is to do what seems good to me instead of what God says is best. Of course, the ultimate of this is Jesus. This is what the writer to the Hebrews is pointing out. Jesus is the ultimate good Who makes everything else come into focus. This is why the writer is really belaboring this point. He's taking a lot of time here in all of what we call chapter seven to talk about this priesthood of Jesus. To show us that Jesus is by far the ultimate good and everything else has to be defined in light of who Jesus is.
So, the big takeaway, the big command, two words: Trust Jesus.
I'm going to show you how the writer tells us all the reasons why and how we should put our confidence in Jesus and in nothing else and why he's so superior and he's worth losing everything else.
Why? Well, he says, let's just take the example of his priesthood. His priesthood is so much better. Old Testament priesthood, God appointed Levi priest, and all of his descendants they were priest. Eli, a descendant of Levi was a priest. His sons were supposed to be, God killed them. God at that point rejected the priesthood. Why? Because they failed.
Jesus is a better priest, he's a better representative of God. Why? The first thing is Jesus’ qualification. What qualified Jesus to be our high priest was God's oath. Look at verse 20, "It was not without an oath."
My grandfather, the first Hershael Wallace York could never have been the governor of the state of Kentucky. The Constitution of Kentucky prohibits him from doing it. You know why? Because when the governor is sworn in, he has to take an oath that he has never fought a duel. My grandfather in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, at 19 years old, fought in a duel, with pistols. He got his ear nicked and I think he nicked the other guy, then they fought for about an hour, and then got up and went and had a beer or something. So I guess that's why there's not a York dynasty in Kentucky politics because he could never take the oath.
If you take an oath in Kentucky when you're sworn in, that's why they always do it at midnight, it's never public. They have another public ceremony the next day, and they leave that part out of the public ceremony because it's just archaic and sounds strange for the governor of Kentucky to say, yeah, I've never fought a duel. They have to swear that in the midnight ceremony. They're sworn in. They come into office with an oath swearing that they'll uphold the Constitution, and so on.
When Jesus entered into his high priestly office, he did so with an oath but it wasn't his oath, it was the oath of God the Father. This is why David, 1000 years after Abraham, writes in Psalm 1:10 to say the Lord has sworn forever. He will not change his mind that he has appointed Jesus a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Wow. What's that about? Well, the truth is, if you don't know who Jesus is, that makes no sense.
To the Jewish mind, when they see the descendants of Levi in the Aaronic priesthood, what's this business about Melchizedek? There's a lot of Jewish writings, I've read about it, and it's interesting to see their interpretation, and it's all over the map. But the writer to the Hebrews says “Here's why I did it, it's about Jesus.” It's about him saying that the descendants of Levi were insufficient because they're sinful and human. But Jesus, he entered office with a qualification that no other high priest in Israel ever had, and that is God himself swore he'll be a priest forever. All the other priests faded.
Jesus is a better priest because of his qualifications, a better priest because of his position. When God swore and said he will not change his mind that you're a priest forever, that made Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
God never swore about any descendants of Levi. He didn't say of Aaron, or any of his sons that you'll be a priest forever. He said, you'll be a priest until you die. Then your descendant will be a priest, and then their descendant will be a priest. Then eventually, God even rejected them. He said, I'm wiping out the whole line of you. You've been ungodly, you have profaned your office, you have abused the women, you have abused the sacrifice. You will no longer be priest. But of Jesus, he said, you're a priest forever.
We have term limits in the US for certain offices. Why? Our Constitution assumes human depravity. Our Constitution assumes that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We don't want a dictator, we don't want someone who's in there for life. So, we've got an amendment to our Constitution that says that.
But God says, I can trust my Son Jesus that he will be a faithful high priest forever. I've sworn I will not change my mind. This makes Jesus the One who guarantees God's oath. God has sworn he'll be faithful, he's going to be a priest forever. Jesus guarantees God's oath through his faithful obedience through his service as our high priest.
Jesus is a better priest because of his distinction. Look at verse 23, "The former priest were many in number," because they were prevented by death from continuing in office. Look at Jesus, he's distinct because he's just one. All the line of Aaron, the descendants of Aaron and of Levi, they were many. There was a lot of them, some were better than others, some of them were bad. Jesus is distinct because in his priesthood, there's just him. He stands alone, he is distinct, he is unique, he is perfect. There are not many, there's just one.
He's a better priest because of his perpetuity. He holds the priesthood permanently. This is why he says those former priests were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.
When I came to Frankfort, a friend of mine, Ernie Fletcher was governor. I used to go up to the governor's mansion about once a month and have breakfast and pray with him. Then Governor Beshear came in office, I don't really know Governor Beshear, I've never been invited to the governor's mansion. I've never had breakfast with Governor Beshear in a private setting. That's the way that is. I was friends with David Williams when he was president of the Senate. He left the Senate, I know Robert Stivers, the president the Senate, I know him but I'm not like a friend with him. Things change. My access to the governor's mansion, my access to the Senate, you know what, it sort of changes who's in office. That just happens.
Frankfort's a political town, Republicans are in, you got one set of people that are in, and Democrats are in, you got another set of people that are in. We get that, that's just the way that works. Aren't you glad it's not that way with your representation in heaven? That Jesus doesn't get voted out, and you're always going to have access, you're always invited in. You can meet with him at any time, you can commune with him at any time? Why? Because he holds his priesthood permanently. He's a priest in perpetuity. He's never going to be out of office.
He's a better priest because of his redemption. Verse 25 is just an incredible verse. Consequently, because he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to him.
Now this word uttermost in Greek is an interesting word. It can mean length in distance or it can mean time. Different translations grapple with which way you take it. I like what the King James Version did with it and what the ESV translators borrowed from the King James version. They went to the maximum. He saves you to the nth degree. As long as you need it, as wide as you need it, as deep as you need it, his salvation applies. He is a better High Priest because he saves to the uttermost.
How does that contrast with the OT priesthood? You went to the Temple about three times a year to make sacrifices. If you lived nearby, you could even go daily, but there were three big feasts you had to go. Let's take the Day of Atonement. The priest is making an atonement for one more year, for one more year, and so on. That atonement he made wasn't for the rest of your life. You had to come back. You had to offer another sacrifice. Jesus, when he offered his sacrifice, it was to the uttermost.
I really want you to understand this, because so many times, Satan just assails us, assaults us with the memory of our past sins, bad decisions. He says, “Look at you. You can't serve God, you can't be saved. Look at your past. You know all the affairs you've had? You know all the sin you've committed? How many marriages have you been in anyway? Who are you to go sit in church and act like your marriage is all holy? Look at how many times you've blown it. You know you blew it with your kids.” He brings that stuff to your mind over and over and over. You'll just start thinking, I can't be saved, I can't serve the Lord, I can't do this, I can't do that. Satan uses our past sinfulness to rob us of our present holiness.
But I want you to see that when Jesus offered a sacrifice for you, his sacrifice atoned every dimension, every direction. He saves to the uttermost. Not a word you use every day, is it? Well, you ought to in this context. Every time you're feeling assaulted by Satan, every time he's bringing to your memory a recollection of your past sin, you begin to feel like, I can't serve God. I might as well just quit and give up. You remind yourself, no, he saved me to the uttermost. He saved me forever, he saved me as deeply as I need to be saved. His atonement is greater than any sin I've ever committed. He's a better priest because of his redemption. It's not just for another year or just for another day, it's forever.
He's a better priest because of his proximity. It says that it's through him that we draw near to God. Notice the writer of Hebrews has already said this in verse 19. It's a better hope that's introduced through which we draw near to God. Verse 25 goes on to say, because of this better hope, he's able to save to the uttermost, who? Those who draw near to God through him. I can't draw near to God through my good works. I can't draw near to God through my baptism or my pastoral office. I only draw near to God through Jesus. He's the One who gives me access to God. He helps me be close to God.
He's a better priest because of his intercession. The last part of verse 25 says, "Since he always lives to make intercession for them." He opens up a way for us. He intercedes for us.
Every now and then, someone contacts me. I knew it would happen. We had Alistair Begg preach here and this is the second time Alistair Begg has been here. We're probably about the smallest church a guy like Alistair Begg will go to in the course of a year. Well, immediately, I started getting emails, text messages, Facebook messages from all kinds of pastors going, hey, you think you could ask him if he'd come to my church? What are they asking me to do? Will you intercede for me? My answer was, absolutely not. I will not do that. You contact his office like I did. He's done me a favor, I'm not going to make him pay for doing me a favor. I can't do that. I'm not a willing intercessor in that situation.
I'm glad Jesus is a much more willing intercessor than I am. When Satan reminds you of your sin, the guilt of your past, you can be sure of this, that Jesus is already interceding for you, that he's already there in the presence of the Father, saying “Father, love them in spite of what they’ve done because I paid for their sin. Father, would you let them know how great your love is because I have redeemed them.” Jesus is constantly interceding on our behalf. I like a priest who's already there. He's not going in the holy place one time a year, he's there. That's home for him. He's with his father.
He's a better priest because of his character. The sons of Eli who were the priest in Israel and would lay with the women and steal the sacrifice for themselves, getting fat off of the free will offerings of the people and abusing the women, having sex with other men's wives. Using their priestly office to satisfy their sinful wicked flesh. Faithless priests.
But this high priest, he's holy, innocent, unstained. He's different from sinners, separated from sinners. Jesus is like me in every way except he is without sin. It says he took upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh. His flesh felt temptation. He's tempted in every point just like we are, but without sin. That's the only difference, but what a difference. That separates him from the entire human race.
His character is trustworthy. Tanya is the world's most faithful and gentlest critic. On Sundays, if my preaching isn't really up to par, she never says, “Boy, that stunk.” She's more gracious than that. She'll say things like, “It's just that I know what you're capable of. For anybody else, that would be a great sermon. For you, that just wasn't what you normally do.” Well, that's gracious, that's kind. But you know what she's doing is she's measuring me by what I'm capable of, and that's a sliding scale, wouldn't you say? Every now and then, you say somebody does something that's not like them. We all fail to live up to even our own expectations and our own normal behavior, normal standards. We fail ourselves.
Not Jesus. He's holy, innocent, unstained, separate from sinners.
Because of that, he's a better priest because of his exaltation. He is exalted above the heavens.
You see the same pattern in Philippians 2. We're told that Jesus laid aside his prerogatives as God, he didn't consider equality with God something to grasp at, something to cling to. But instead, he emptied himself, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death even the death of the cross. Because of this, God has exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name. Because of his character, because he does not change, because he is a priest forever and he never lets us down and he ever intercedes, because of this, God has exalted him, God has said, I swear you are my priest forever, and I will not change my mind because your character will not change. And he's exalted above the heavens.
He's a better High Priest because of his finality. Verse 27 says, he has no need like those high priests to offer sacrifices daily for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people since he did this once for all. Why do I believe that I am eternally secure in Christ? Because he did this once for all. It didn't depend on my goodness or my holiness to get saved. It depended on what Christ did once for all. Therefore, it does not depend on my goodness or holiness to stay saved. It depends on what Christ did once for all.
This is where I disagree with my Catholic friends. There's a major difference between what my Catholic friends believe, because they believe that in the mass, Jesus is sacrificed again and again. You can read this from Vatican II, this isn't a Baptist misrepresenting Catholics. This is Catholic dogma itself, that Christ is a perpetual sacrifice, that he is offered again, it says that in the mass because they believe that Jesus is literally present in the host and in the wine. They say every time that there's a mass that he is offering himself again and anew to the Father.
Well, obviously, we can appreciate their appreciation for Jesus' continuing willingness to serve the Father. But where I would disagree with that is this passage says that his sacrifice is not something that needs to be repeated or ought to be repeated, but that it is once for all. In the same way that this put an end to the OT system of daily sacrifices at the temple, it certainly shouldn't replace it with a NT system of daily sacrifices because this high priest offered a sacrifice for sins, there it is, black and white, once for all. There's a finality to it.
We believe that his sacrifice is sufficient. It does not need to be repeated. In fact, it could not ever be repeated, that what Jesus did was sufficient for all the sins of all the world, and that it is made efficacious by anyone who simply puts their faith and trust in what Christ did. Repenting of their sin, trusting in Christ alone. We believe he's a better priest because of its finality.
He's a better priest because of his sacrifice. Unlike any other priest that offered a lamb as a substitute, as a picture, what did Jesus do, he did this once for all, when he offered up himself. No other priest ever did that. Jesus is both the One who offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice. He's the priest, he's the lamb, he's the intercessor. He's a better priest in every way.
He's better because of his relationship. Verse 28 says, "For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath," he's speaking now of Psalm 110, "which came later than the law," since why did, long after the Law was given, David say this about the Lord swearing that the Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek? Well, it came later than the Law, it appoints a Son. Well, he's a better High Priest because of his relationship.
Now look, there are a lot of young men in this room I dearly love and would do an awful lot for, but there's one young man in this room who means more to me than any other young man in this room. And you get that, don't you? Seth is my son. And there's a relationship there. I might get mad at him, I might cut him out of my will, I might do a lot of things, and say, “Okay, you're not getting one of my pens.” I might do that. That doesn't change the fact he's my son. We might change the fellowship, we'll never change the relationship. That's fairly obvious to anybody who hears this sermon or just looks at pictures of me in my 20s. It's my son.
Jesus is a better High Priest because he's a Son, a Son of God. You think God's going to hear his own Son's intercession? You think he's going to accept his own Son's sacrifice? You think he's honored by his own Son's character?
Everything about this tells us why would we want to go back to the old priesthood and trust in that? Why would we want to trust in anything or anyone else than Jesus, because ultimately, he's God's Son, and because of his perfection, verse 28 ends with this, he's been made perfect forever. Well, the writer just sums it up: He's better in every way. He's just better.
Here's the question, does your faith rest in anything other than this perfect High Priest? I seriously doubt there's anybody here who really wants to go back under the Levitical system. I don't think your problem is that you're trusting in descendants of Aaron as your high priests, instead of Jesus. I think it's probably a little bit more subtle than that. For the Hebrews, the temptation was to trust in something that was old and familiar, something that was routine and ritualistic. Baptists don't struggle with that, do they? Isn't it funny? We start using overheads and projectors and stuff and say, I miss the hymn book. Then the projector goes out, we go, I miss the projector. I like having my hands free.
The truth is, we get in our traditions pretty quick. We trust in the familiar and the ritual rather than in the person and the relationship of who Jesus is. It's very possible to have churches all over the world who really preach a true gospel, but whose people aren't resting in the truth that that church is preaching. The rest of them, the routine, the familiar, the ritualistic. Or perhaps it's that. You like the routine, the ritual of religion, instead of the reality of a relationship.
If you think about any sin, all addictions for instance are really just an attempt to cover up pain, grief, sorrow. Whether it's a bottle or it's drugs or it's a succession of lovers or pornography or whatever. I've learned it's people are seeking a salvation of sorts in that. They're looking for the quick, easy fix to their pain, that brokenness that they feel, that alienation from God that they feel, that big hole in their life. So, maybe they try and find it in a lot of lovers. Or the high from crack or the zoning out from drinking a lot of alcohol.
Some find their comfort in that instead of a loving Christ supremely. Some find it easier to trust in themselves and their own self-constructed religion than rest in what Jesus has done. Trust in Christ alone and to be resolute in that faith. To live it out and to live it forward, that's a real leap of faith. That's why it matters so much.
You may not have ever thought much about Melchizedek, but you need to think a lot about Jesus. Melchizedek is just a picture. Jesus is the reality.
You might find that you don't have that much separating you from those first century Hebrews that made a profession in the faith in Jesus but then found themselves wanting to run back to the old comforts. For that to heal their broken hearts and lives instead of resting in Jesus alone.
Today is a great day for you to see how much better Jesus is. Not just than the Levitical priesthood, but he's better than your own pitiful efforts, to justify yourself to God. He's better than a bottle, he's better than drugs, he's better than a series of lovers, he's better than pornography. He's better than whatever thing your heart and life is craving to fill that hole because ultimately, he's the only thing that's going to fill it. You can work real hard. You can do a lot of good stuff. But remember the temptation, the temptation is to settle for the good instead of accepting what God says is best.
I gave you two words to start. I'm going to add a third one now. Trust Jesus alone. Trust Jesus alone. With nothing else, cast yourself completely and only on him.
Hershael York is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, as well as professor of Christian Preaching and dean of Southern Seminary's School of Theology in Louisville, Kentucky.