A Deeper, More Enduring Identity - Hebrews 7:20-28

April 18, 2021 Preacher: Series: Hebrews

Scripture: Hebrews 7:20–28

If you like action movies with mystery and suspense, you’ve probably seen one or more of the Jason Bourne movies. The plot revolves around a man who wakes up with no memory of who he is, but he has advanced fighting skills and he’s fluent in several languages. He learns that he has some kind of connection to the CIA, and he goes on this journey to discover and remember his true identity. In fact, the first movie is called “The Bourne Identity.”

There is a tremendous urgency today to say, “This is who I am; this is my identity.” So many want to find out who they are; so many labor to create an identity. Each of us has an identity of course. We have a story of our lives and experiences, of our upbringing, where we’re from and what we’ve done, what we’ve been through, what we like, what we believe, what we value. 

In the movie, Jason Bourne can remember none of that from his own life. He literally doesn’t know who he is. You, however, could tell me who you are, and you probably take some pride in it. And that makes this section of the NT book of Hebrews even more relevant today. 

The original audience of this book consisted of many people who formerly practiced the Jewish faith. Their Jewish background was part of their identity; the traditions and foundations were part of who they were. They were comfortable with it, familiar with it, proud of it. 

Because of persecution for following Jesus, some were going back to Judaism. And so the writer of Hebrews argues that Jesus Christ is the better option. But he doesn’t tell them, “You can go back to that, and it’s ok; it will work, but Jesus is better.” 

Instead, he completely dismantles Judaism as a viable option for knowing God and having peace with God, and he uses their own holy book and sacred history to do it. He takes the Old Covenant Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and he shows them that the whole Hebrew religious system is now ineffective and obsolete because Jesus Christ has fulfilled everything for which the Jews had watched and waited. He explains that the traditions and foundations which once formed so much of their identity were only temporary, and that there is something better and eternal on which these people must build their lives, in which they must find their identity. 

This is very relevant to our lives because we, too, naturally base “who we are” on temporary traditions and foundations that will one day pass away, and returning to them appeals to us. The things on which we once based our identity draw us away from Christ. We look for redemption in them; we look for peace and happiness in them.

But the Scriptures testify that only Jesus Christ and his finished work provides the deeper, more enduring identity that we long for. Only an identity found in Jesus is based on the oldest, longest-lasting, and surest of truths. What this means is that those who claim to believe in Jesus and to follow Him must recognize faith in Christ as more than an “add-on” to our lives. If you are born again, Christ is your identity, and everything else that you would say defines or makes up who you are comes under the lordship of Jesus. 

In Christ, we receive a new identity which is to be the lens through which we interpret everything and the overarching factor in every decision we make. Jesus Christ more than one option among many. He is the only true option for knowing God, and everything about us must submit to His truth, character, and purpose.

But it is not natural or easy to submit to Christ and His Word in this way. We have loves and loyalties, other things which are so foundational to who we understand ourselves to be. 

So how do we embrace the deeper, more enduring identity that is in Christ? Well, by looking to Christ, today and everyday. And this passage of Scripture holds three things about Jesus Christ that we should consider: the changelessness, the permanence, and the perfection of the identity God provides in Jesus. As we compare each of these characteristics of identity in Christ, the other things in which we might find our identity are shown for what they truly are, and our love and adoration for Jesus will grow. So let’s look at each one.

We pick up today in the middle of an explanation of how Jesus became the priest to represent His people to God and represent God to His people. Now, in the mind of a Jewish person, a Hebrew person, Abraham is the top. He is the granddaddy of everyone. God made the big covenant with Him. 

But we saw in the previous verses that Abraham looked to this man named Melchizedek as his priest. Genesis 14 describes that. So not only was Melchizedek superior to Abraham, but he is superior to all of Abraham’s descendants, including all the priests of ancient Israel. God established a law that men from the tribe of Levi, who descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother, would serve as priests; again, representing the people to God and God to the people. 

You might call them priests after the order of Aaron. These men were born into the role, and none of them were perfect. In fact, they had to make sacrifices not only for the people’s sins, but also for their own. 

So they were the only priests, after the order of Aaron, but the great Israelite king David wrote these words in Psalm 110: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is superior to Aaron, therefore the priest to whom God is speaking in Psalm 110 is superior to all the Levite priests. 

Now look at verse [20], “And it was not without an oath.” “It” refers to the appointment of this priest by God in Psalm 110. Psalm 110 describes God the Father appointing God the Son, who came to the earth as Jesus Christ, as priest. 

This oath is very important. We saw in chapter 6 that God’s covenant with Abraham was confirmed by God’s sworn oath and that the covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Here we see that Jesus was appointed as high priest by God’s oath as well. 

The importance of the oath is the changeless nature of it. It can never be modified or altered. Last weekend, I performed a wedding, and the bride and groom took vows. They made an oath.

Modifying or altering the vows at a later time is not appropriate. That which is sworn must stand as is.

Now, the way Jesus became a priest is different from the Old Cov priests of Israel. Notice it says, “For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath.” Without God’s oath. The descendants of Aaron became priests by family descent, based not on an oath sworn by God but rather on a law made by God. 

Of course, God’s laws must be kept by His people, but laws can be changed by those who make them. Laws can be repealed, annulled, amended or updated. But an oath is final. The priests of the Old Covenant were appointed by God’s law, but God annulled that law and made their priesthood obsolete. 

Those priests were made such without an oath, but notice verse 21 says, “this one [meaning Jesus] was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him [and note that this is from Psalm 110]: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” Where they use the “Lord” in the English translation of Psalm 110 David originally used “Yahweh,” the covenant name of the one true God. 

The old covenant priests maintained the covenant relationship between God and the Israelites. The covenant, and therefore the priesthood, were part of the Israelite identity. For the Hebrews, the covenant was everything.

But notice verse [22], “This” [referring to God’s oath] makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” This is the only place in the NT where we see this word which we translate “guarantor.” It could be translated “guarantee” or “surety.” It is what gives a person full assurance that what has been pledged will be delivered. 

You must understand: Jesus himself is the guarantee that God’s covenant with his people will stand forever. God changed the way in which people were to approach His holy presence. It was always God’s plan to do this. He always intended to replace the temporal, insufficient human priesthood with an eternal, sufficient, and divine one. The changeable was replaced by the unchangeable. The law gave way to the oath.

On what changeable things have you built your identity? Money, possessions, physical appearance, career, titles, roles, abilities, accomplishments? Those can all be nice thing, but you don’t know God’s plan for any of those things in your life. If God hasn’t sworn it,  if he hasn’t promised it, it can change. 

In fact, all of those things that I just listed change eventually for everyone. But, you see, here through the God-sworn priesthood of Jesus, we possess an identity that will never change. That’s where you want to build your life. That’s ground on which you can stand: the changeless ground of Jesus Christ.

Let’s look next at the permanent nature of that ground, that identity, that God provides in Jesus. Look again at verse [23], he says, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office.” 

Why were there multiple priests in ancient Israel? Very simple answer: because each one would eventually die. Priests had to be replaced. So there was always a sense of the impermanence of the system. Exodus 29 even describes the succession of one priest by another. 

But the high priesthood Jesus Christ is different, verse [24], “but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Jesus did die, but only temporarily. He was raised by the Holy Spirit. The wages of sin is death. Jesus had committed no sin, therefore it was unjust for him to remain dead.

So he was raised, and he lives to serve as our priest forever. He needs no successor. Jesus will never pass the baton. Notice verse [25] Consequently, [meaning “as a result”] 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.” He always lives to appeal to God on our behalf. When a believer sins, God accepts the appeal of Jesus on the believer’s behalf, and we remain in God’s favor. 

Jesus guarantees this to the uttermost, completely. He has dealt with our sin completely. It makes sense that the Old covenant priests could not deal completely with sin because they were temporary like the system in which they served. Their priesthood was not permanent, and it was never intended to be.

I’m sure you all have memories and get nostalgic feelings about times gone by. I am very nostalgic. Many years ago, before I was born, my parents moved out to Alligator Road, onto a piece of land that belonged to my grandfather, who was a farmer. My parents put a little mobile home out there, with plans to work and save and build a house on that land. 

I remember living in that little mobile home, and I recall when the new brick house was finished enough to move in, and they sold that small trailer and someone hauled it away. We went on to enjoy our much bigger and more stable home; but not long after that, we took a ride over to where they had taken our old mobile home and set it up. I remember looking at it and you know, I missed it. I can still vaguely picture it in my mind. It was a good little house for our family for a season. It was a blessing, but it was never meant to be permanent. My parents always had a vision for something longer lasting.

You know, the words “changelessness” and “permanence” are similar in meaning but not exactly the same. “Changeless” means something can never be modified or altered. But “permanent” means that something will never cease or come to an end. 

What things are so essential to your identity which may not necessarily be bad things but which are not permanent? It’s good to love being an American, being a Southerner, being from South Carolina, living in the Pee Dee, enjoying your home and all the trappings of your life, but none - none - of those things are forever. 

Have you allowed impermanent things to take precedence over what is permanent? Because being found in Christ, with an identity based in Him, is the only way to rest on something permanent, something changeless, and finally, something perfect. 

Look now at verse [26], “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest.” Now hold on. It was fitting?! It was appropriate? We are sinners. How could it be fitting? In Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul writes that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” 

It was fitting because of the election of God’s people to salvation. The next verse in Ephesians says, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” So yes, it was fitting. It was “indeed” fitting! 

What kind of representation do believers have before God? Look there: our representative is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” He is a perfect priest. Believers have perfect representation before God in Jesus. Notice this explanation of Jesus’ perfection, verse 27: “He has no need, like those high priests [the old covenant priests of Judaism], 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.”

You often hear us speak about the Triune God, the Trinity. Three persons uniquely existing as only one God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each has a role in our salvation. God the Father elected his people to redemption, God the Son accomplished that redemption, and God the Holy Spirit applies that redemption to those who believe. The Spirit applies that perfection to us. 

And notice how the writer summarizes this priesthood argument, verse [28] 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. God’s law and His oath are obviously contrasted here, and clearly the oath is better.

Here is an identity that can never be improved, never be found to have any fault. There is no aspect of identity in Christ of which you might be proud of today but may later cause you embarrassment or regret. But what does it mean that Jesus was “made perfect?” 

Well, it means that he was made complete as our Savior through his life and suffering for our sins. He was always sinless, but he had to experience human life to stand in our place.

Nothing we do is perfect, is it? We want perfection. Some of us want it more than others! If you are a perfectionist, you should study Jesus closely. What you long for in yourself and in others is actually available in Him. 

But even if you’re not a perfectionist, you must admit that the changing nature of life, and the temporary nature of it all, and the imperfect nature of it grates on us and hurts us and disappoints us. And I proclaim to you today that it leaves us longing for everything that is found in Jesus Christ.

You know who you are. Can you see who He is? And will you submit to Jesus all your loves and loyalties and all the things that compose your identity, so that like the apostle Paul, you can say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as [worthless], in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

Bow with me in prayer.