Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Sitting Priest

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:  I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18, ESV)

Psalm 110 promised that the priest after the order of Melchizedek would sit down at the right hand of God.  And Jeremiah prophesied in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) that God would put his laws in our hearts and remember our sins no more.  But in the old system of the law the priest stood daily and offered the same animal sacrifices that cannot take away sin.  No sitting and no lasting forgiveness.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the sitting priest, the one whose sacrifice of himself has forever satisfied the just demands of God who made him a priest forever.  He has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.  We are both totally forgiven and thus holy before God and being made holy.  We have a standing of completion or perfection with God and we have a process of being sanctified.  It is the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son that has made this possible.

You and I should trust God when He says we are forgiven by Jesus’ single offering.  Why would you not, unless you still feel, arrogantly, that you must do something to contribute to your redemption.  I’m sorry, sir, I’m sorry, ma’am, but you have nothing to offer to God that could in any way contribute to your redemption.  If you don’t accept that you’ll never be redeemed.

Yes, we know that there is still work to be done in us.  We are being sanctified.  But that process springs forth from the hand of the one who perfected us for all time.  Don’t confuse the two.  Yes, be sensitive to sin in your life.  But don’t think that beating yourself up or doubling down on your efforts to improve is what is needed to perfect yourself.  The sitting priest Jesus has done all that heavy lifting.

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Living in the Shadows

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10, ESV)

If you were king David and you had come near to being extinguished in war only to find the God you trusted and worshiped bring you an astonishing victory, it would have been most appropriate for you to bring a sacrifice, a freewill offering, to Yahweh and invite others to a banquet to give testimony to God’s deliverance.  David did this often.

But in Psalm 40, which our author quotes here, David does something different.  Not that he won’t bring a sacrifice, but he teaches something most important, that God’s greatest desire is doing His will.  If I bring a sacrifice but don’t have a heart of worship God will not be pleased.  David has come to do God’s will as it is written in the law.

The author of Hebrews quotes this passage because he has already deduced from the annual ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the use of animals as sacrifices that this is not God’s permanent means of providing cleansing from a consciousness of sins.  Otherwise they would not have to be offered over and over.  And it should be self-evident that animals cannot be adequate substitutes for humans.

Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of David’s kingship.  He is the ultimate “David” who has come to do God’s will.  His body is that ultimate sacrifice that God desires.  This congregation that is considering leaving Christ is leaving the fulfillment, the true reality, for its shadow.  They’re going back to what has been done away with and leaving the good things the law anticipated.

What about you?  Have you experienced just how good and real life in Jesus Christ is?  Or are you still living in the shadows?

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Love Divine

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:15-22, ESV)

Having shown the insufficiency of the first covenant and its regulations and that Jesus fulfills what they foreshadowed, the author of Hebrews concludes that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant.  He is the go-between, the one who stands between us and God to arrange this covenant.  It was angels and Moses for the old covenant who acted as mediators, but our author has already shown Jesus’ superiority to them.

The word “covenant” in Greek can also refer to a last testament and will, which is only finally ratified by the death of the testator, the one who drew up the will.  This was not the kind of covenant Yahweh made with Israel, but by way of illustration, what Jesus did satisfies this form of covenant also.  He is the mediator and the testator of this new covenant and his death ratified it.  This is just another example of how almost everything under the old covenant was purified by blood so that our author could well summarize that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

For this congregation that is considering whether they should abandon Christianity for their former Judaism, our author is driving home the fact that Jesus in every way demonstrates the superiority of the new covenant he has already instituted by his death.  His mediatorship does not run counter to, but is in complete agreement with, the old covenant processes.  Only, his blood is the blood that brings forgiveness.

Just as Yahweh came looking for Adam and Eve in the garden, came after them when they sinned, instead of rejecting and abandoning them, Jesus’ great love for us moved him to come after us.  He made us the beneficiaries in his last will and testament, bequeathing to us the promised eternal inheritance his sacrifice made possible.

MY LORD, my Love, is crucified: Is crucified for me and you.  To bring us rebels near to God; Believe, believe the record true, Ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood; Pardon for all flows from his side: My Lord, my Love, is crucified.

Charles Wesley, from O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: System Change

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? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:11-28, ESV)

This is a long passage and the argument a bit intricate so let’s break it down by major points.  It is an exposition of Psalm 110:4, which he quotes.

  1. The promise of a new priesthood indicates that “perfection” or a complete way of atonement was not achieved under the Law and Aaron’s priesthood.
  2. Changing the priesthood to Melchizedek requires a whole system change.  The priesthood of Aaron is linked to the Mosaic law.  The Melchizedek priesthood is linked to the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31, which the author of Hebrews will take up in chapter 8.
  3. The Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus lasts forever, a clear advantage over the priesthood of Aaron.
  4. The Melchizedek priesthood is founded on God’s personal oath, but there is no oath for Aaron’s priesthood.
  5. There were many priests in the Mosaic covenant system but only one in the Melchizedek priesthood.
  6. This Melchizedek priest does not need to offer sacrifice for his sin before offering it for the people because he is sinless.
  7. This Melchizedek priest does not have to offer sacrifice over and over like Aaron’s priests do but did it once for all.
  8. CONCLUSION: Jesus’ priesthood guarantees a better covenant.

The implication once again is that for the Hebrews, these Jewish Christians considering abandoning Christianity for their former Judaism, to leave the faith is folly.  God predicted a better solution was coming in Psalm 110 and in Jeremiah 31 and many other places.  The implication for all believers is that God has planned our salvation from the beginning with planned systemic shifts (Jesus talks about new wine in new wineskins) that all hinge around the greatest human being who has ever lived, Jesus Christ the holy, innocent and unstained one, now exalted above the heavens.  You’d do best to stick with him.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: King of Righteousness

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:1-10, ESV)

The author of Hebrews goes on from elementary doctrines to an exposition of this strange figure Abraham meets upon his march home after victoriously defeating the kings who captured his nephew Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Melchi means ‘my king’ and zedek means ‘righteous’ and this priestly king comes from Salem (means ‘peace’) the original name for Jerusalem.  No account is given of his genealogy or death so it is as if he lives forever (though he was just a man and did in fact have a birth and a death).  He thus resembles the Son of God, Jesus, as a priest forever.

Abraham shows deference to Melchizedek by paying him a tenth of the spoils of the war.  And because Levi comes from Abraham and is inferior to him in that way, Levi, in essence, paid tithes and deference to this priest.

The readers should be getting the idea that the priesthood and ritual they want to return to in the religion they followed as Jews before they became followers of Jesus is in fact inferior to the priesthood of Jesus.  He is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, unlike Aaron from the tribe of Levi.

Don’t you see that what you were saved from is and always will be only a feeble whisper of what God has shouted to us in Christ.  We were making our own way in life without realizing that God had something better all along.  But we wanted to do it our way.  We couldn’t trust God to lead us, or so we thought.  Then He broke through our hardness of heart and rescued us.  Why would we ever give that up?

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Anchor Holds

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20, ESV)

In Genesis 22 Abraham has obeyed the voice and command of God and has taken his son Isaac to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah, where the Temple would later be built by Solomon.  His trust in the promise of God is being tested to the max.  If his faith in Yahweh or in Isaac?  He proceeds to sacrifice his son only to be stopped by the angel of Yahweh and is told by Yahweh that Yahweh swears by Himself in response to this act of faith to bless Abraham and multiply him through Isaac.

What are the author’s readers trusting in?  Jesus or Judaism (Isaac)?  The readers are the heirs of the promise and need to be convinced in their own hearts that God has promised by an oath to fulfill their hope.  Their hope is for genuine forgiveness of their sins and a right relationship with God.  And He has provided just that through the sure and steadfast anchor of Jesus who is high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek and can take that once-for-all offering into the holy of holies in heaven and make atonement.

There is waiting involved before the promise is obtained.  It is impossible for God lie.  The promise will be fulfilled.  It is being fulfilled like it was to Abraham.  He did not see the multiplication of his offspring into a mighty nation, but he saw the beginning of it.  We have not seen the kingdom of Christ come to earth yet, but we have seen the beginning of it.  And we believe God will keep His word better than even human oaths can guarantee.

Where is your soul anchored?

Daily Thoughts on Hebrews: Jesus’ Deep Love

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:1-10, ESV)

Jesus is superior to those who delivered the Law to Israel, the angels and Moses.  He is the Son over God’s household and they are servants to (angels) or in (Moses) God’s household.  Jesus is also superior to Aaron and his priesthood.  Only members of Aaron’s line in the tribe of Levi were allowed to be priests and high priest in Israel.  But Jesus was from the line of David in the tribe of Judah.  Did he appoint himself as priest?

Human beings alone can be priests, acting on behalf of other humans, offering sacrifices, dealing in gentleness with the ignorant and wayward, two very different postures of sin.  But all human priests are also sinners and need to offer sacrifice for their own sins as well.  Only God can call you to priesthood.

God called Jesus to priesthood, also, but not to the order of Aaron’s priesthood.  He was made a priest, according to Psalm 110, in the order of Melchizedek.  Jesus carried out this priesthood in the days of his flesh, the days in which he veiled his deity and lived just as we must live, in weakness and in dependence upon God.  During this time he appealed with great distress to his Father as he faced the cross, where he made his priestly offering, the sacrifice of his own life for our sake.  God heard his prayer and strengthened him to endure this death penalty.  In this sense he was made “perfect” to be the blameless lamb of God on the altar.

Do you appreciate what Christ did for us?  What a burden he shouldered on our behalf!  He carried the sin of the world on his back and took its penalty from the Father, death, and did so without using his own divine power.  Rather, he looked to God as he experienced incredible dread and anxiety about the prospect of dying on a Roman cross.  He is both our rescuer and our model.