August 20, 2017
I have discovered that some of the phrases and teachings that my parents emphasized the most are the things that I remember the most — and often the things that I repeat to my kids — even when as a kid I swore that I would never repeat or value those things. Funny how that works.
Some of the things were basic things:
— squeezing the toothpaste from the end and not from the middle
— changing my own motor oil
— a love for splitting firewood and corny jokes
— statements like “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it” or “If I ever catch you with a pack of cigarettes I am going to sit you down and make you eat them.”
But there were important things too:
— the value of sitting down to family meals together in the evenings
— packing lunches as a way to show your love
— an appreciation of working the soil and of cooking as a male
— and a priority placed on being in church…nothing in our home was permitted to take its place when I was growing up. And I am grateful for these emphases.
But it seems that as humans, when it comes to good behaviors and habits, we are rather slow and we need them drilled into us over and over again. That, by the way, is how sin works in our lives.
Isn’t it interesting that when it comes to trivia, we can become warehouses of useless information: lyrics to songs, lines of favorite movies, sports statistics. When I was in High School, I memorized all 18.5 minutes of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” just to impress an English Teacher at lunch.
But when it comes to memorizing Scripture — something of worth — note how much harder we must work and how quickly it goes away.
That, friends, is what theologians refer to as the “Noetic Effect of the Fall.” In short, that means that sin only affects your mind in the things that you think about or are tempted by, but it also poisons you to the things that you most need for growth in spiritual maturity…namely the study and application of Scripture. So, I while wouldn’t have to work too hard to convince you to spend an hour watching a favorite TV show, but to convince you to spend that same amount of time studying the Word and in prayer is a bigger challenge.
And since we are slow, things that are important need to be repeated over and over and over again. If you play ball, you practice your sport repeatedly. If you are learning multiplication tables, you repeat them over and over again until they are second-nature.
So, if we repeat things that are importance, the Author of Hebrews is clearly establishing that the principle of Jesus’ priesthood replacing the failed priesthood of the Old Testament is massively significant.
The author began speaking of Jesus’ greater priesthood in chapter 4 and will continue this discussion into chapter 10. That’s 7 chapters, about half of the book, that is dedicated to this idea.
It’s like the author is saying, “Jesus’ priesthood replaces that of Levi. Get it?”
“Jesus’ priesthood replaces that of Levi. Get it?”
“Jesus’ priesthood replaces that of Levi. Get it?”
And you might be tempted to say, “yes!…why emphasize it over and over for seven chapters?”
Let me present it to you in this way…
The book of Hebrews is meant to interpret the Old Testament for us, telling us how to see the Old Testament in the light of Christ. So here is man, separated from God by sin, saying who will atone for me? Who will be my priest and advocate with God?” And the author is saying, Jesus is!
The priest intercedes for the people and for 4,000 years, God’s people had been making blood sacrifices, first through the patriarchs and prophets, then through Levi, for sin. Blood flowed. Just to put it into perspective, Josephus, was a Jewish historian at the time of Jesus. He records that on one passover in Jerusalem in his day, they sacrificed 256,500 lambs on the altar with blood flowing everywhere.
And that was repeated annually. And anyone who has ever studied Leviticus knows that Passover is only one of several annual festivals. In addition there were sacrifices made for other things and for sins daily…over and over again. Do you get a sense of the futility of this work?
And that doesn’t even mention what happened for the seventy years that the temple was destroyed and left vacant. No sacrifice for sin. And since it was destroyed again in 70 AD, never to be rebuilt, spending the last 1,947 years vacant and covered with a Muslim Mosque. What now? There must be a greater priesthood.
The 11th century monk, Anselm, wrote a short book tackling this question entitled Cur Deus Homo, or Why did God become man? His point was that the people were in a predicament that they could not get out of and the only one who could get man out was God himself, but to do that, God had to take on flesh to identify with us and serve as our mediator — or what we would call a “Covenant Head.”
Does that mean that the Old Testament saints died and went to hell? No. But they didn’t go to heaven because of the effectiveness of the sacrificial system. They didn’t go to heaven because of the effectiveness of their priests. They went to heaven because they had faith in a coming Messiah. “Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness.” and “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The Old Testament saints went to heaven because of faith and they were atoned for because the sacrificial system was meant to foreshadow the greater sacrifice and atonement of Christ who would come.
This, friends, is why our Jewish friends and neighbors will not enter into God’s eternal kingdom. They are still relying on a failed priesthood which has no way to offer sacrifices and they reject the one that their priests were meant to foreshadow. And while none of us are Jewish, this should be important to us if we care about the eternal souls of our Jewish neighbors.
And so, the author says in verses 23-24:
“And the priests, on one hand, existed in great numbers, for they were prevented from continuing because of death, yet, on the other hand, He (Christ) remains eternally. He holds the priesthood permanently!”
To understand the significance of this, let’s go back to the Old Testament for a moment. In ancient Israel, God established Cities of Refuge that were controlled by the Levites (see Numbers 35:6ff). If you killed someone, perhaps in a fight, this was a place to which you could flee for refuge. If you made it to the city before the Avenger of Blood caught up with you, you would be given refuge so long as you stayed there under the authority of the Levites, until the death of the High Priest. At the death of the High Priest you would be pardoned (Numbers 35:25).
Now, hold onto that thought…
You see, the scriptures are also filled with references to fleeing to find refuge in God and in his Messiah — for example, Psalm 2:12 — God being a kind of eternal city of refuge.
Now, Jesus the High Priest died and all who find refuge in Him through faith are pardoned of our sins. But notice, Jesus did not die again and again. On the one hand, our pardon is final and eternal but those who sought refuge elsewhere in an earthly city of Refuge, have no hope of the death of this Eternal High Priest and thus no promise of pardon for Jesus holds his priesthood permanently.
Pardon is only for those who flee to Christ. Or, to borrow the words of the old Toplady hymn:
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked come to thee for dress; helpless look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I die.”
“And for which reason (that is, his permanent priesthood), he is able to save completely those who come near to the Father through him, always living to make intercession for them.”
First, not that it says, “able to save completely.” That means that there is no room for your works in your salvation. If you are saved this morning, born again, it is not because of you. It is not because of a work you did. It is not because of a decision you made. It is not because of some kind of foreseen faith or work that God might foresee in you. If you are saved this morning it is because God chose to save you, unworthy wretch that you are. And it is for no other reason than that. God’s election is based solely on God’s good pleasure and not on anything in you or me.
That is where our Methodist friends, for example, and some of our Baptist friends down the road get things wrong. They think that you are still responsible for making the final decision as to your eternal fate…that God only takes you so far and leaves the final decision of heaven or hell up to you.
The problem with this is not only does it subordinate the will of God to the will of man and not only is it not reflective of the teachings of scripture, but it does not reflect a right view of sin. Because, sinner such as I am, were eternity a choice that was in my hands alone, I would choose Hell over and over and over again — 10 our of 10 times with no room for error.
When the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:18 that there is nothing good in him…he means nothing at all, an the all means all…everything about him. And since choosing Christ is a good decision, how can I do that in my flesh?
No, I can only choose Christ if the Holy Spirit has first worked in me (we call that regeneration) and enabled me to choose. Thus, it is God doing the work and not me, leaving me no room to boast. I need an intercessor; I need a priest! And in Christ I have one who is permanent and who lives to make intercession for me, which is my second point.
You see, even as a believer, while I try to live righteously and to honor my God, I don’t — nor consistently or perfectly. I need forgiveness and I need it in ongoing ways.
“Furthermore, it is fitting that our Chief Priest is such as this: devout, innocent, and pure (perfect in the eyes of the Law), distinguished from sinners (that is from the Levitical priests) and exalted above the heavens.
We are sinners, condemned to Hell before God. We seek a priest to intercede for us and we have two options:
— a human high priest who is a sinner and who will die and be replaced by another sinner.
— or, an eternal and permanent priest who is not a sinner and who is glorified over the heavens (which is Bible-speak) for “a whole lot.”
Take your pick, I think it is a “no-brainer.”
“Who did not need, according to the necessity of the day — as did the former High Priests — to offer up sacrifices for their particular sins and then for the people.”
The Levitical priests could not come before God before they had made sacrifice for their own sins; Jesus did not need to make a sacrifice for himself. He was perfect, pure, and sinless without the stain of original sin, which we inherit from our father — his Father is God and so, no guilt of sin did Jesus inherit.
The other guys had to sacrifice. Again, on whom will you rely?
Notice, though, how the verse ends: “for he did this once and for all time by offering up himself.”
The meaning is plain: He did not need to offer a sacrifice for his sins, so he went directly to work, offering sacrifice for the sins of his people…but not for all people.
A priest always has a as particular or definite people for which he is sacrificing. In the same way, Jesus’ sacrifice is not limited in power but it is limited in its application…application to those elect for whom He died, just as any other sacrifice would be.
And while the Levites sacrificed lambs and goats and bulls and birds and other things, Jesus sacrificed himself making a perfect sacrifice. An eternal being sacrificed for the sins of his people eternally.
“And so, (verse 28) the Law appoints men as High Priests in their weakness, but the word of the oath, which is after the Law, appoints a Son — made complete forever.” Again, “complete” in terms of his covenantal work of redemption.
One final point in close.
I worded the title of this sermon in an ambiguous way for a reason — you can understand in three senses:
First: “Jesus who did not need to sacrifice for himself.” In other words, Jesus was perfect and need not sacrifice for his own sins.
Second: “Jesus who did not need to sacrifice himself, but who chose to for our sake.” In other words, God became man to save a people for himself…he didn’t need to himself, but he chose to for us.
Third: “Jesus who did not need to sacrifice himself to save us. In other words that there might be another way to redeem us apart from sacrifice.
Out of these three interpretations, only the first two are orthodox. A sacrifice needed to be made for sin. “The wages of sin is death” and “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” Sometimes people ask me, “could God have just given us amnesty?” The answer is “no.” God is just and the demands of the law needed to be satisfied for our salvation. It took Jesus to do it.
So, why did God become man? Because without it we were utterly lost and we needed him to do the thing we could have never hoped to do for ourselves…satisfy the Law.