Jesus, the Perfect High Priest - Hebrews 7:4-19

April 11, 2021 Preacher: Jake Hooker Series: Hebrews

Scripture: Hebrews 7:4–19

The early church father St. Jerome said, “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom.”

We’ve been studying the book of Hebrews for the last several weeks. Many scholars believe that the book of Hebrews is actually a sermon. The preacher is laying out an argument, a case, that Jesus is better than everything. He’s better than the angels, prophets, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and Abraham. 

And beginning in chapter 5 and continuing on now in chapter 7, he’s laying out a case for Jesus being a better priest. That’s the shallow, overarching point of this passage: Jesus is a better priest. And to make his case, the preacher in Hebrews gets deep. And technical. 

In today’s passage, he’s explaining why Jesus is a better priest. Jesus is a better priest because He comes from a superior priestly order. And He’s a better priest because He provides a superior future hope.

 

A superior priestly order (v. 4-10)

At the end of chapter 6, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a better priest because he’s after the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek, as we’ve seen previously, is a shadowy, mysterious figure who functions in two sacred offices as a priest and a king. In Genesis 14, Abraham pays a tithe to Melchizedek and then Melchizedek blesses Abraham. 

The interaction between Melchizedek and Abraham is mysterious for many reasons. We don’t really know anything about Melchizedek, except that he’s from Salem, which is believed to be an early form of Jerusalem. 

But he shows up on the scene rather unexpectedly. And he makes it clear that he worships the Triune God. Then he performs two priestly functions of taking the tithe and blessing Abraham. 

But what’s even more incredible is that he isn’t an Israelite. He’s a foreigner. Therefore, he could not be a priest after the Levitical order. In fact, this episode took place well before the Levitical priesthood was ever established. 

The priesthood really begins with Moses’s brother Aaron. God established Aaron as the first high priest of Israel. From Aaron, the tribe of the Levites were assigned by God to be the priests. God established the Levitical priesthood.

The priests were responsible for representing the people to God and God to the people. Which was certainly a weighty responsibility. 

We’ve all had those bad customer service experiences. Lauren not that long ago went to a local fast food restaurant and then she was forced to wait 45 minutes for her food, only to get the wrong order. And when Lauren asked for a refund the manager told her to give her the food back.

It was a bad customer service experience. Customer service is really all about representing the company to the customers. Likewise the priests were often not good representatives for God.

But as you read through the Old Testament you quickly see insufficiency of the priests and the sacrificial system. First, the priests were sinned and turned away from God. Nadab and Abihu famously offered strange fire to God. In the book of Malachi, God accuses the priests of robbing his tithe. 

The priests along with the sacrificial system were a mess. The priests and the sacrificial system were making a mockery of God. That’s why Jesus was so angry in the temple, turning over the money-changers tables and those who were buying and selling. 

The very thing that was supposed to bring glory, praise, and honor to God was, in many ways, doing the opposite. Would you trust a system where the priests were walking away from God and sacrificing bulls and goats that didn’t meet God’s standards to take away the guilt of your sins and bring you into communion with God?

Do you now see why a better priesthood, a perfect priest, a sacrifice without blemish was absolutely necessary? This is what the writer of Hebrews is explaining in our passage. Yes, it’s detailed, yes, it’s technical, but there are incredible riches here to be mined. Because of the superior priestly order we can have a superior hope. 

In verses 4-10 of our passage this morning, the writer of Hebrews is laying out the case for why Jesus is a better priest by telling us that Jesus comes from a superior priestly order. The point of these verses is to show us that the Levitical priesthood - established by Moses’s brother Aaron - is inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek.

There are two components to Melchizedek and Abraham’s interaction that show that Melchizedek is of a higher priestly order: the tithe and the blessing.

But the writer of Hebrews makes the point that when Abraham paid Melchizedek a tithe, the Levitical priesthood - who were descendents of Abraham - paid a tithe to Melchizedek.


Likewise, the blessing demonstrates the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood because only the superior can bless the inferior. That’s what the writer of Hebrews says in verse 7! In ancient Jewish cultures only a father could bless his children. The children could never bless their father.  So when Melchizedek blessed Abraham, he again showed that he was superior to the Levitical priesthood that came from Abraham.

It gets even more interesting when you consider that Abraham was the one who had covenanted with God. In fact, God had blessed Abraham in countless ways: he had given him abundant wealth, he had given him victory in battle, he had given him a son, and promised to bless the nations through him. All these incredible promises were made by God to Abraham. And yet, it’s Abraham that pays a tithe to Melchizedek and receives a blessing from him. 

That’s the point that the writer of Hebrews makes in verse 6 when he says, But [Melchizedek] who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

You would expect Abraham to bless Melchizedek because he has the promises, he has the covenant with God. And yet, it’s Melchizedek who takes a tithe from Abraham and then blesses him. In many ways a superior priesthood was required because of the inadequacy of Levitical priesthood. 

 

A superior hope (v. 11-19)

But at the same time, can you ever really say that something that God established failed to accomplish His means? Can you actually say the Levitical priesthood failed? I don’t think you can. So that raises another question: What was the point of the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system and the law? 

It served one fundamental purpose: To show the people their sin! How long would it take for you to realize that your sinner if you were constantly having to have a priest offer a sacrifice on your behalf because you failed to keep God’s law? Probably not long.  

This is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at in verse 11 when he says, 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? The very nature of the priesthood constantly reminded the people that moral perfection was unattainable. But if moral perfection was possible, then we wouldn’t need Jesus.

Despite being from the tribe of Judah and not the tribe of Levi, Jesus is still a priest. It’s in the order of or like Melchizedek’s because he doesn’t attain the position through his genealogy. Rather, he is a priest based on what Psalm 110 says, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Jesus is a priest forever, because of his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father almighty. He lives forever. Because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, he perfectly fulfills Psalm 110. His ministry never ends - and it’s that which makes him a priest. 

You are a priest forever!

The change in law that the writer of Hebrews mentions in verse 12 is solved by Psalm 110. The perfect eternal priesthood of Christ renders the inadequate, insufficient Levitical priesthood obsolete.

This is what verses 18 and 19 are getting at. 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.

A former commandment (or a better translation is “regulation”), which is a reference to the Levitical priesthood, was weak and useless, but one positive thing that it accomplished is introducing us to and helping us understand the ministry of Christ. The Levitical priesthood served a purpose, but it was never meant to be trusted in for salvation. It was supposed to help you see your need for salvation.

That was King David’s point in Psalm 51 when he said, For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and contrite heart.

Because Christ is a better hope through which we can draw near to God. The Old Testament sacrificial system is abolished by the blood of Christ. There’s no need for us to make animal sacrifices because a perfect sacrifice has been made. 

And it’s through the perfect sacrifice of Christ we can have access to God. That’s the significance of the veil being torn in two. Only certain Levitical priests could be in the presence of God. But because of Christ, we all can have direct access to God. 

This portion of Scripture is pretty technical. But it makes the case that we can have a superior hope through Christ’s work of redemption.

The world wants you to believe that you can find “hope” and “redemption” outside of Christ. And yet, depression and suicide are at all time highs. In America, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people under 35. Something is absolutely broken but we continue to believe that politics, entertainment, and education will solve our problems.  

One of the unique things about Christianity is that there’s nothing you can do to purchase redemption. We often think that if the good outweighs the bad at the end of their life, God will have to respect that. God will have to grant you eternal life because you tried to be a good person. 

I’ve heard it described in this way: It’s like being on trial for murder and telling the judge, “I’m guilty, but look at all the good I’ve done! Look at all the habitat for humanity houses I’ve built, look at how kind of a person I am and so on. 

And if he’s just he’ll laugh and say, I’m not judging you based on the good you’ve done, I’m judging you based upon whether or not you’ve violated the law.”

God’s standard isn’t whether or not you’ve kept his law to the best of your ability. God’s standard is perfection! So why should you care that Jesus fulfills the office of a priest after the order of Melchizedek? We have hope for drawing near to God. 

King David understood that his only hope was to cast himself upon the grace and mercy of God, but it hadn’t yet been revealed how that grace and mercy would be dispensed. 

The grace and mercy of God comes through Christ, the perfect priest who offered the perfect sacrifice for all of time. And he continues in his priestly role because he ascended into heaven. Jesus doesn’t minister in a temple offering animal sacrifices.  

Rather, he stands in the very throne room of God pleading with him, appealing to himself and his sacrifice as the basis for God to show us mercy and grace. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says at the end of verse 19 that, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

We are able to draw near to God not on the basis of anything that we have done but on the basis of what Christ has and is continuing to do. The waters of God’s well isn’t something you draw from once and never again. It’s a well you come back to over and over again.

Jesus Christ has taken away our sins and reconciled us to God. Because of Christ, you can draw near to God and God will draw near to you.  

Let’s pray.