Monthly Archives: May 2019

Hebrews 8:1-13 – A New Covenant

Probably like many of us, I’ve grown up hearing about the Niagra Falls—seeing pictures of it.  To be honest with you, I was always kind of like, whatever.  This past summer my wife and I decided to take a little vacation and go spend a few days at Niagra Falls, and I have to tell you, I found it absolutely mesmerizing! It’s astonishing!  It was mesmerizing, and I realized there’s just no way, once you’ve experienced that, you would ever settle for just a picture.  That’s exactly the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make.  Once you’ve experienced the real thing, you’d never settle for a picture again. That’s what we want to talk about.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 8, continuing our study through a very complex part of the book of Hebrews.  We pick it up in chapter 8, verse 1: 
Now the main point in what has been said is this:  we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, (*NASB, Hebrews 8:1) 
So, he says this is the main point: we have such a high priest.  Now that word such is basically referring to everything we’ve already learned about the high priest in Hebrews.  We’ve learned that the high priest is the ultimate high priest king, who has made the ultimate sacrifice for sin, offering Himself to make propitiation for sins, and when He completed the offering, He sat down, indicating that the work was done. He is no longer doing a further work of blotting out sins or waiting to do any such things. He has done it. The long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world had come! 
What are His qualifications?  He is qualified because He has an indestructible life.  He is the high priest forever.  God promises.  As long as this priest is the high priest, His offering for sin remains valid.  We will never be without an intercessor. Therefore, if He is the high priest forever, then His offering for sin is valid forever.  And He gives Himself as the guarantee that this is true.  Since we have such a high priest, verse 2: 
…a minister (which is a typical word for a priest, one who serves) in the sanctuary, the holy place, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 
So, what is the tabernacle?  The tabernacle was a tent, a version of the temple in the Old Testament.  When the nation of Israel was moving from the land of Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave very clear, very precise, detailed instructions about erecting a tent, which basically would be a mobile temple that would reflect God’s presence in the center of the nation of Israel.  The tabernacle then gave way to the temple.  What the text is telling us is that even though the tabernacle represented the dwelling place of God, it was just a replica; it was a shadow.  It was a picture of the ultimate dwelling place of God, which is pitched or erected in the heavens.  When the text says the true tabernacle, it’s not saying true as in the other was false, but true as in that one was a replica.  But the dwelling place of God in the heavens is the true dwelling place of God with all of its glory.  Verse 3: 
For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 
The verb tenses, which aren’t all that obvious in the English, are important in the original language.  When he’s talking about the priests making offering—the present tense verbs— basically the writer of Hebrews is saying this is currently still going on in Jerusalem, as the priests are continuing to make their offerings.  This is one of many comments that helps us date the book of Hebrews.  So that would mean it would have to be pre-70 AD because that’s when the temple was destroyed, so probably late ‘60s.  But his point is that while the priests continue to make offerings in Jerusalem, this ultimate high priest that now dwells in the heavenlies, it was necessary—the language could be it is necessary or was necessary—for Him to make an offering.  The verse is a bit of a teaser because the writer doesn’t come back to what that offering was until the following chapter.  We just kind of file that away for now.  Verse 4: 
Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy (The Greek word there is the word from which we get the English word type—a copy, a shadow.) and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN TO YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN. (Vs. 4-5)
What’s he saying there?  He is saying this ultimate high priest who came, made the ultimate offering for sin and now dwells at the right hand of the Father in the true tabernacle, the true dwelling place of God.  But if that priest were to come to earth and go to Jerusalem, He would not be allowed to function as a priest in that temple.
Now he’s not criticizing so much as he is pointing out that the old covenant was designed in such a way there were very clear guidelines and restrictions on who could be a priest in the temple and how everything functioned.  But it was actually designed in such a way that the ultimate high priest—God Himself in the flesh—could not fit in the old covenant.  In other words, the purpose was not for Jesus to just slide in and blend into the old covenant.  It was actually purposefully designed in such a way that was not possible.  Rather the old covenant had to come to an end in order that this ultimate high priest would usher in something new…and something better! 
One of the big problems was that the Judaizers and even potentially these Jewish Christians, were tempted to just blend Jesus into the old system.  “Let’s just kind of add Him in there.”  This continues to be a huge problem today among certain groups.   
Now you think about all the different religions and denominations of the world—many of them are just simply trying to blend Jesus into their religious system. They may have a high view of Jesus, but they’re just trying to blend Him in with the other religious activity.  This is Paul’s concern in writing to the Galatians—you can’t blend Jesus in!  He is very clear that if you add one single work to the gospel of grace, it ceases to be a gospel of grace.  There’s no blend.  It’s either Jesus or it’s a religion of works.  There’s no combining the two. 
The point the writer is making is the old covenant was actually designed in such a way that if the ultimate high priest were to come to earth, He couldn’t function in that system.  That system with all its laws would have to end, and there would have to be the launching of a new system, or a new covenant.  Verse 6: 
But now (Here’s the contrast) But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry (So something has changed.) by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 
This whole idea of mediation has always been the problem.  All the way back to Genesis chapter three, the question has been, “How does a holy God have a relationship with sinful men and women?”  The whole idea of the old covenant system—the law, the tabernacle, the temple, the priestly system, the sacrificial system—all of that was meant to be a type or a shadow of this layer of mediation.  How do sinful men and women have a relationship with a holy God?  Answer is, “They had to go through this level of mediation somehow to make it possible.” 
Now it’s important to understand that that could not save them.  The Scriptures are very clear that people in the old covenant could be saved, but it wasn’t on the basis of that religious activity, but on the basis of their belief, by faith, that God made a promise that one day He would send a Savior who would die for their sins.  In essence, people in the old covenant were saved by faith—kind of on credit—looking forward to the belief that one day God would keep that promise.   
It would be right to say that if Jesus had never come, none of those people could have been saved.  It was all on credit, hanging on their belief that one day the Savior would come.  So their entering into the system was basically an act of faith, that this middle layer of mediation is somehow a shadow or a picture of God’s ultimate fulfillment of the promise.  That’s what he’s talking about in verse six, that there is now a better covenant that is built on better promises, and we learned in the previous chapter that includes a better hope.   
Think of it this way:  Let’s imagine that I convince you to go see Niagra Falls.  You drive to Niagra Falls and you stay in at the Niagra Falls lodge.  You stay in the lodge, but you never leave the lodge.  You just stay in the lodge and look at the pictures all day long.  You go down to the gift shop and you look at the postcards, which are pictures of the Niagra Falls. And the writer of Hebrews is trying to convince you, “Hey, you’re so close!  But you have to put down the pictures and go to the rim and see the breathtaking view for yourself!”
What he’s saying is Jesus could never fit in the old covenant.  The old covenant was just a picture, and the picture has to come to an end.  He’s ushering in something new, which is something better because it’s built on better promises.  Verse 7: 
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 
Let’s back up a little bit and explain this old covenant/new covenant thing.  The story of redemption starts in Genesis chapter three.  God makes a promise that through the seed of a woman He would send one who would bring life back out of death.  It’s developed in different ways. You have a covenant made to Abraham, for example, and the promise is that that promised seed would come through Abraham’s line, and God would make Abraham a great nation. Then you go from Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, which gets them into Egypt.  God blesses the nation of Israel and they become a nation—well over a million people strong—when God raises up Moses to lead the nation out of Egypt and into the land of promise.  En route God appears to Moses on Mt. Sinai and gives him what we call the old covenant.  It was all the Laws; it included the tablets of the covenant, it included the book of the covenant, it included the ark of the covenant, the blueprint for the tabernacle and the temple and all the furniture.  It included the priesthood; it was all of that. 
And all of that was meant to be a shadow, or a picture of God’s ultimate fulfillment of the promise going all the way back to Genesis chapter three.  You get into the four Gospels, and it’s really important to remember the Gospels are still under the old covenant. The new covenant is not ushered in until the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus Himself in the upper room, the night He was to be arrested, took the elements of Passover and said, “This is the beginning of the new covenant.”  His broken body and His shed blood—so clearly He indicated that it was still yet to come.  His death, burial and resurrection would usher in this new covenant, a better covenant, built on better promises.  That’s what we’re talking about.   
In verse seven, this is the same argument he made in chapter seven: that if the old covenant was faultless—in other words had the ability to save us—there would have been no need for a change.  The message is not, “Try harder.”  The message is not, “Let’s give it one more go.”  The message is not, “Let’s tweak it to kind of blend Jesus into it.”  The message is, “It didn’t work!”  He told us last time it was weak and useless in terms of its ability to save.  But what he’s saying here is the fault wasn’t with the covenant;the fault was with the people and their inability to keep the covenant.  So, he says, verse 8:
For finding fault with them, He says, “BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, 
Now he’s quoting from Jeremiah chapter 31.  Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet.  The nation of Israel was divided between the North and the South.  The North was Israel; the South was Judah.  The North, Israel, has already been taken away into captivity; Judah, the South, is getting close to being taken away into captivity, and Jeremiah is writing this prophecy to them.  There is a clear sense in which we as a people, fail to keep the covenant.  The promise of Jeremiah’s prophecy is God is going to usher in a new covenant that will deal with people’s inability to keep the covenant—in other words, to make some way of salvation possible. Verse 8-9:
…I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; (And of course we learn that we as Gentiles have been made part of this covenant.) 
In other words, they didn’t obey, so God didn’t get to bless them.  God’s heart is to bless His people but He can’t do that when they are full of sin and disobedience.  So what are the better promises in this better covenant?  He starts then in verse 10: 
The first promise is the new covenant would be an internal covenant, not an external covenant, not written on tablets of stone or parchment of paper, but written on the human heart.  2 Corinthians 3, which is the other extensive discussion on this, talks about the fact that the change would be that now the message, the law, would be written in the hearts of the people rather than on tablets of stone or with ink on paper.  It would be internal rather than external.  Until the price was paid for sin, it was an external covenant.  It was about a limited set of laws; it was about rules; it was about a written standard. It was about, “Obey and you will blessed; disobey and you’ll experience the consequence of that.”  But it was external, with all of the religious activity.  The radical change in the new covenant is this would actually come from within.  The language of the new covenant is radical.  It’s not a tweaking; it’s not a try-harder theology. It’s not a righteousness expressed through just Ten Commandments.  It’s language is, “You will be born again.  You will become a new creation in Christ.  You’ll be transformed—literally metamorphized.  You actually will become a partaker of the divine nature,” according to Peter.  You’ll produce righteousness beyond and above a written code of laws.
Paul says that your old self will actually die with Christ, and a new self will be resurrected in Christ. You’ve been radically changed and transformed.  The old you doesn’t exist anymore; you can’t go back.  You didn’t receive a ticket to heaven. You didn’t receive just a remodeling job.  It’s a complete, total, radical transformation from the inside out, to such a degree that you actually have the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Himself  now within you that empowers you to walk in obedience and live out this new life in Christ in a way that people in the old covenant couldn’t have imagined! 
Think of it like this:  I think all of us would agree that I should remain faithful to my wife.  I don’t think anybody disagrees with that.  In the old covenant, why?  Because it’s the law; because it’s the rule; because if I don’t, there will be consequences to that.  Therefore, I seek to abide by the rule.  But in the new covenant, it’s different.  I actually have the nature of Christ.  I actually stand in the righteousness of Christ.  So why do I remain faithful to my wife?  Because I want to, because it’s intrinsically motivated, because my heart is for righteousness.  The motivation does not come from a list of external laws; it doesn’t have anything to do with whether somebody catches me or sees me…doesn’t have anything to do with that.  It has to do with the fact I’ve been radically changed from the inside out and my heart is for righteousness.  It’s my passion; it’s how I want to live. 
In the old covenant, which continues to be true today for those that are stuck in legalism, they want everything black and white, they want a narrow list of don’ts and do’s, and the reason they want it black and white is because they want to be able to get as close to the line as possible without going over it.  “Give me real clear lines so I can come up to the line, but I don’t want to step over the line.”   
The new covenant is radically different from that.  I’m not trying to see how close I can get to the line; I’m full speed the other direction.  My heart is for righteousness.  I want to do the right thing; I want to please God.  It’s the motivation of my heart. You say, “Is that because you’re such a really good guy?”  “It’s because I’ve been radically changed by the power of Jesus.  I actually have a new self.  I’m a new creation.  There’s a new me, and through the power of the Spirit in me, my life is headed a different direction, and that’s what I want!  That’s what I’m passionate about!”  It’s an intrinsic motivation that is radically different than the external motivation of the old covenant—a better covenant built on better promises!  The second promise is in the latter part of verse 10: 
Now first of all, that language was in the old covenant, but it had great limitations.  God dwelt in the center of the camp, in the Holy of Holies, in the tabernacle, and to get to God, you went through the mediation, the priestly system.  It was true they had a relationship, but not a relationship like we have today as the people of God.   
When Jesus died on the cross, when His death completed payment for salvation, miraculously in the temple, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the holy place split in two— miraculously by itself!  The message was that that limited access to God through the system of mediation is now over, and we now as the people of God, having been made right by the ultimate offering, by the ultimate High Priest, have direct access into the presence of God ourselves.  We are God’s people, and He is our God, in a way that people in the old covenant could never have imagined.  The New Testament says we call God, “Abba, Father”…Papa, daddy.  That’s language in the old covenant that was unimaginable to those people!  Hebrews has already told us we come boldly into the presence of God.  They couldn’t have imagined that in the old covenant.  But now: better covenant, better promises.  The third is kind of similar to that.  Verse 11: 
Now you say, “What does that mean?”  Basically it’s capturing this idea that in the old covenant people had to go through the mediation level to get to God.  And so the mediation level, the priests, basically taught the people and directed the people, and to get to God you went through them.  But as a result of a better covenant with better promises, that mediation level is gone.  That mediation level was meant to be a picture of the Savior to come.  Jesus is the fulfillment.  Paul tells Timothy there is no mediator between a holy God and sinful men and women other than Christ Himself.  There is no clergy class; there is no priestly class; there is no pastor; there’s no denomination; there’s no special church; there’s no person you have to go through now or in the end times.  You have direct access into the presence of God in a way people in the old covenant could never have imagined. 
 God does not live in a building.  God is not housed in some sort of a sanctuary.  You don’t go to a building to visit God. There’s a lot of confusion around that today.  There’s no sanctuary that’s any more sacred than you walking through a city park, because you have become the temple of God.  You have become the dwelling place of God.  You have an intimate access to God that was unimaginable in the old covenant.  The text even says it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest; it doesn’t matter if you’re the least.  That wasn’t true in the old covenant.  So, many people felt no possibility of access to a holy God.  Whether you are the greatest or the least, God has opened up direct access into His presence.  Better covenant, better promises, and all of it is built on the fourth promise, verse 12: 
That word FOR—Greek word gar—we call it an explanatory gar.  I know you’re thrilled to know that…but mention that to somebody at work tomorrow. The idea of the explanatory gar is that verse twelve explains the basis for the other promises.  In other words, lose verse twelve, and nothing else we’ve talked about is possible.  “How is all this possible?”  Answer:  “Because God has forgiven our sins in Jesus.  The ultimate high priest has sacrificed Himself to make payment for sin, the propitiation for sin in order that we as sinful men and women can stand right before a holy God.  Offered once for all, He is seated at the right hand, and as long as the ultimate high priest lives, that sacrifice for sin remains valid.  Therefore, because we stand forgiven, the other promises are true as well.  Better covenant, better hope, built on better promises. 
Now that is the longest quote of an Old Testament passage without interruption in the entire New Testament.  You would think at the end of that there would be a significant amount of conversation.  But it’s actually quite limited.  Verse 13: 
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first covenant obsolete (It feels like what he is saying in verse thirteen is when He said a new covenant, He meant a new covenant…which means the old one is old; the old one is obsolete; the old one is done.  He has made the first obsolete.)  But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. 
A lot of scholars think that was kind of prophetic, hinting toward the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  It’s kind of the idea that if they’re not going to stop, God will allow it to be destroyed in order to stop it.  It wasn’t long after verse thirteen that the temple was actually destroyed.  But the greater argument is because there is a new one, the old is obsolete.  Therefore, the old has to go…be done…replaced by the new. 
Over the years it is just curious, concerning how many Christians seem unwilling or unable to let go of the old covenant.  The old covenant is gone.  Read 2 Corinthians, chapter three.  It’s the most comprehensive discussion on this.  It is faded away; it’s gone!  It was a picture, but once you’ve experienced the true, you would never settle for a picture again.   
Again, let’s imagine that I convince you to leave the lodge at Niagra Falls and go to the rim…and see this absolutely breathtaking site! I say to you, “Put the picture down!  We’re done with the picture. Enter into the breathtaking view of the real thing!”  You say, “What exactly are you talking about?”  Well, things like this:  People have trouble letting go of the Sabbath.  People have trouble letting go of the dietary laws.  People have trouble letting go of some of the feasts and festivals.  People have trouble letting go of the Ten Commandments.  You hear all these evangelicals talking about wanting the Ten Commandments in the schools and the courthouses.  You do understand that the Ten Commandments are old covenant, don’t you?  What would be the biblical basis by which you choose ten commandments and move them forward and ignore over six hundred other commandments?  What is the biblical basis by which we have permission to do that?
But it’s even other practical things—ways we use the old covenant to reinforce our opinion.  Somebody comes along and says, “I don’t think you should have a tattoo.”  You say, “Why is that?”  “Because that’s what the Bible says,” to which we say, “Where does the Bible say that?”  “Well, there’s a verse in Leviticus.”  “You mean the same verse that says you shouldn’t shave your sideburns or cut your hair or your beard?  Is that the verse you’re referring to?”  What is the permission to cherry-pick certain laws from the old covenant to reinforce our opinion?  What is the biblical basis by which we do that?  You understand: “The old is old!”   
What’s not fine is so many Christians reach back into the Old Testament—to the old covenant—and cherry-pick verses and laws that reinforce their opinion as their way of saying, “God’s on my side,”  to which I would say, “Wait a minute.  What is the biblical basis by which you can cherry-pick one verse, one law, and ignore the other six hundred-plus?  You can’t just go back and cherry-pick what you want out of the old covenant.  The old covenant is old; it’s obsolete.  There is a new covenant.  It’s a better covenant, with better hope, built on better promises.  You’re never really going to get a breath-taking view of the new covenant until you put down the pictures and realize this is something different, and something so much better! 
It’s the whole message of Christmas.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, and it is Christ the Lord!   Blend Him into the system?  That’s not what it says.  It was the beginning of something radical—the transition from the picture to the reality—better covenant, better hope, built on better promises.  Not Jesus plus anything else.  It’s built on Christ, and Christ alone.  The new covenant theology is Christ is enough!  
Our Father, we are reminded of the importance of entering into the fullness and the wonder of the new covenant.  Lord, we can’t keep the covenant any better than the nation of Israel did.  Without a new covenant, we would be lost forever.  But the new covenant, built on new promises, gives us a new hope, because we find our life in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus alone!  Lord, that’s what we celebrate, and it’s in whose name we pray, Amen. 

Hebrews 7:11-28 – How Do We Become Perfect?

This whole discussion about Melchizedek, it is complicated, so a couple of things to keep in mind. One is it’s helpful to remember that the first readers are struggling. They’re primarily Jewish Christians that are headed into persecution, but there is clearly some influence seeking to convince them to return to the old covenant, to the old ways. It was not so much abandoning Jesus as much as it was blending Jesus into the old covenant. For example, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, the concern was not an abandonment of Jesus but kind of the blending of Jesus into the old covenant system-cherry picking those laws—and that’s what these people are wrestling with, and that’s what the writer is talking about. If something far better has come, a new covenant, why would you do that? Why would you go back to something that was a shadow?

So the writer of Hebrews present Melchizedek very skillfully with limited details, and all the details are meant to fit this picture or type. We refer to it as a literary figure. We learned that he is the ultimate king priest and we learned that he’s greater than Abraham and greater than the Levitical priesthood. That’s pretty much where we left it last time.   We pick it up in verse 11: 

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people [Jews] received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? (*NASB Hebrews 7:11)

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood. In Colossians chapter 1, the end of it, when Paul talks about presenting every person complete, that’s this word perfect in Christ. So that’s what this whole discussion is about. How does that happen? How is someone presented perfect or complete before a holy God? This chapter will explain. Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood, sins would have been removed and man would have been reconciled to God. Perfection was not possible under the Levitical priesthood because there was no sacrifice that brought forgiveness of sins.

For on the basis of it the people [Jews] received the Law. So what is he talking about there? He’s basically saying, “If the Levitical priesthood, which is by necessity tied into the Law—in other words the two are inseparableso the Law is connected to the priesthood; and the priesthood is connected to the Law. The priesthood is the basis of the law. Through the priesthood, God’s people were furnished with the Old Testament law. One thing he’s not saying is that when this ultimate priest in the order of Melchizedek was to come, he was just going to open a new line of priesthood within the old covenant or that Law. What he’s saying is this would be a complete and total change. The change in the priesthood would mean a change in the entire law and the entirety of the old covenant. By the way, this is the Law of Moses (including the ten commandments), which was the Law of God given to the Israelite’s. The Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable. If someone wanted to incorporate the Mosaic Law or parts of it into their religious system today, they would also have to incorporate the Levitical priesthood because it was the basis for the Mosaic Law. The Levitical Priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable.

What further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron. If perfection comes by the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek and not after the order of Aaron? The answer to this question is there would be no need for another priest if the Levitical priesthood had accomplished what man needed: forgiveness of sins.

For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. (*NASB Hebrews 7:12) 

The priesthood is the foundation of the Mosaic law. Since the priesthood was “changed”, there had to be a change in the entire law. The new priesthood was superior to the old; thus, the new law was also superior. Paul explains that Christians are no longer under the “law of Moses”, but under the authority of the “law of Christ” (which is the law according to Jesus’ teachings and the commandments which He gave the apostles), which of course restates all the moral principle of the Old Covenant, but also do not command many ritual laws such as sacrifices, circumcision, weekly, monthly, and yearly Sabbaths among many other things. Paul explains it this way:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law [of Moses], I became as one under the Law [of Moses], though not being under the Law [of Moses] myself, so that I might gain those [Jews] who are under the Law [of Moses]; to those [gentiles] who are without the Law [of Moses], I became as one without the Law [of Moses], though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law [of Moses]. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)

When Paul was with Jews who were under the Mosaic Law (613 commandments including the ten commandments), he acted as if he were under the Mosaic Law (v.20). Paul, as a New Covenant Christian, was not under the Mosaic Law (v.20). When Paul was with Gentiles, who were never under the Mosaic Law, he did not observe the Mosaic Law either (v.21). New Covenant Christians are not without “the Law of God” (v.21). New Covenant Christians are under “the Law of Christ” (v.21). There are over 1000 moral commands and a few rituals (like Baptism, Lord’s supper) restated  and commanded in the new covenant, but the Law of Christ goes beyond a written code, for God’s perfect standard of righteousness cannot be confined to a limited list of do’s and don’ts (2 Corinthians 3:6).

So, it’s not a little change; it’s a complete change. Now to understand how tense this was felt with the Judaizers, the first Christian martyr that we know of is in Acts chapters 6 and 7—Stephen. When the Judaizers (a faction of Jewish Christians) are preparing to stone Stephen to death, they identify two reasons why he must die. One is because Stephen was proclaiming that Jesus was going to replace the temple, and number two is that Jesus was going to replace the Law (not just the ceremonial law, but the entire law of Moses). They accused Stephen, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law” (Acts 6:13). Similarly, it is a similar tension that arises when we discuss today with modern day Sabbath keepers (such as the Seventh-day Adventists, and many others), who insist on enforcing parts of the Mosaic Law.

So it’s the exact same two things that the writer of Hebrews is talking about here. They found that message so offensive that they stoned Stephen to death! So this was pretty intense stuff. What the writer, then, is saying is that with this change of priesthood—that there’s nothing in the old covenant law that identifies anyone from the tribe of Judah to somehow be qualified for the priesthood.

For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests (Hebrews 7:13-14) 

The one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe is alluding to Jesus, who is from the tribe of Judah, from which no one has officiated as priests. The only recognized priests came from Levites. “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah”. Here the writer repeats his message to emphasize to his readers their need to choose between the Jewish traditions and the Christian faith. They must know it is Jesus, the new and better High Priest, came not from the family of Aaron but from the family of Judah. Now some were probably arguing that Melchizedek showed up in Genesis 14, but after that would come Moses and the Law (the old covenant), so perhaps some were saying that the old covenant, the Law, the Levitical priesthood superseded or was superior to Melchizedek. And that’s why the writer of Hebrews will keep quoting from Psalm 110 that there is still one coming in the order of Melchizedek who would be the ultimate priest/king and the writer of Hebrews has already identified Jesus as the fulfillment of that type. Verse 15: 

And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, (in other words genealogy) but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”(Hebrews 7:15-17)

Now that’s the fourth time the writer has quoted Psalm 110, verse 4. What he’s saying is, “If this new priest comes along, and he’s already identified Jesus as that person, and He does not qualify on the basis of His genealogy, or what tribe He’s from—but rather He qualifies on the basis of the fact that He lives forever—an indestructible life. This will be a critical part of the argument that he is going to make. The Bible mentions Jesus is the King, not because of his genealogical record, but because he is King. He’s the ultimate high priest, not because of his genealogical record but because he is the ultimate high priest, and what are his credentials? His credentials are that He conquered sin and death once and for all, and He lives forever. Those are pretty good credentials. He goes on to say, verse 18:  

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment (meaning the old covenant; why?) because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect) (Hebrews 7:18-19a) 

The term “setting aside” (athetesis) means “abolition” and denotes an eradication of the commandment. For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also (Hebrews 7:12). The “commandment” refers not just to the priesthood but to the Mosaic law in its entirety. It is equivalent to the word translated “commandment” by Mark: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:7-9).

Now it is not the case that when one is freed from the restraints of one legal system, that such disengagement automatically implies that he now is at liberty to pursue any conduct that was prohibited under the former regime. When the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in the 18th century, that did not suggest that the inhabitants of this new country were free to live recklessly as outlaws in a land of terror. Common sense and maturity demand that the previous legal system would have to be superseded by a new framework of law that embodied similar moral ordinances. If one is driving at 70 m.p.h. on an Arizona interstate, and he crosses the state line into California, does he assume that he is now free to accelerate to 90 m.p.h.? Of course not. And why is that the case? Because he is aware that there is another law — a California law — that limits the speed at which he may drive. If one acknowledges the logic in the simple illustrations cited above, why should he have difficulty in recognizing that the same principle is applicable in the realm of religious law? The fact that the law of Moses, with its Ten Commandments, was abolished at the cross, does not suggest that man is bereft of moral or religious regulation under the Christian system. There is a “law of Christ” to which men are amenable (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Sin is condemned under the law of Christ, as it was under the Law of Moses, but the two systems are not parallel, in many respects (cf. Jn. 1:17).

So on the one hand, the old covenant is completed; it is fulfilled, it is set aside. It is weak in terms of its ability to make one perfect or complete or right before a holy God. Now this is not to say that somehow the old covenant failed. It accomplished exactly what God intended it to accomplish. It was never meant to be a means of salvation. It was never meant to make people right. It was added only until Jesus would come. “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed [Jesus] would come to whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19).

The fallacy of religion is to think religious activity somehow makes someone righteous in the presence of a holy God. The problem is sin, which is falling short of God’s perfection (which actually cannot be captured by a written code of laws, and certainly not 10 narrow set of laws) and sin is offensive to God and no amount of religious activity un-sins us. That’s just a ridiculous notion. You can do religion until the day you die; it doesn’t erase the sin. The old covenant was never meant to un-sin the people. It was meant to accomplish two things: One is it created a standard for those who think they can accomplish self-righteousness. Here’s the standard (613 commandments in total) by which everybody could measure themselves and realize, “We’re in real trouble here!” The second thing it was meant to accomplish was to create a shadow, a foreshadowing of the one who would ultimately come to be the Messiah of the world. The temple, the furniture, Sabbath day (weekly or other), the sacrificial system—all of that was meant to be a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the promise.

The promise goes back to Genesis chapter 3, verse 15. God made a promise He would do something through the seed of a woman that would ultimately crush the head of the enemy and bring life back out of death. He re-ups the promise to Abraham in a covenant. It is pictured through the old covenant Law, but all the way through there was always an awareness that no amount of religious activity could make us perfect, could make us complete before a holy God. Therefore:

…on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19b) 

How could we as sinful men and women ever draw near to a holy God? There has to be some other way. The old covenant, with its laws—was weak and useless to do this. So God ushers in a better hope. This is language that the writer of Hebrews really likes and uses a lot. Why would you go back to something completely ineffective and useless, when God had provided something better? “For instance, You observe days (weekly) and months (monthly) and seasons and years (yearly). I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain (Gal 4:10,11). Something better is Someone better, who has done for you what you could never do for yourself.

He told us earlier in Hebrews, “Hope is what we anchor our souls to.” There’s no promise that everything is going to be rosy and make sense in this life. We anchor our hope to the promise that through Christ there is a world to come—a new heaven and a new earth—that will be everything that our souls long for today. How do we get there? Not through the old covenant, not through a religious system, or a special church, not through observing holy days in the last days, but through a Person, a new covenant, a better hope through which we draw near to God. Verse 20:   

 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”); (Hebrews 7:20-21) 

So what is he saying there? He’s saying that when God brought forth the Levitical priesthood in the old covenant, there was never a moment where God promised that the Levitical priesthood would last forever. It was always understood to be temporary. But when God promised—this is the fifth time he’s quoted Psalm 110 verse 4—there is an oath, a promise, that this new priesthood, this fulfillment of the order of Melchizedek—the writer has already identified Jesus as the ultimate High Priest, the fulfillment of the order of Melchizedek—that when this One comes, this will be the ultimate high priest forever. God says, “I promise I will never change my mind on this.” Verse 22: 

 …so much the more also, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:22)  

This word covenant will be a really important term in the book of Hebrews, but this is the first time that he mentions it. This is the new covenant, this is a better covenant. The idea, then, is Jesus is the guarantee; literally the text says that he is the guarantor of the promise. We learned in the very first verses of Hebrews chapter one that Jesus is not another word from God; he is the last word from God. So no church should have any special message to us anything other than what Jesus has spoken to us. This is what the whole story has been working up to is the fulfillment of a promise from Genesis 3:15—that God would ultimately send one who would be the better hope, who would usher in a better covenant that would make it possible for sinful men and women to stand right before a holy God. How do we know that this covenant will endure? Answer: because God promised; He will not change his mind. How do we know? There’s a guarantee. What is the guarantee? It’s a guarantor. It’s a Person, and as long as this Person lives forever, the guarantee lives forever.  Verse 23:

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers (Why?) because they were prevented by death from continuing, (in other words they died) but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God (How?) through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)  

So what he just said is under the old covenant there were hundreds of priests. Why?  Because they died. They lived and they died; they lived and they died. But along comes the ultimate high priest. What are His qualifications? An indestructible life! He’s conquered sin and death once and for all! Because He lives forever, He will be a priest forever! Therefore He holds the priesthood permanently; therefore the salvation that He offers is permanent. It will endure forever.

Can you imagine getting to heaven, getting a thousand years down the road and having God show up and say, “Alright, we have a problem! The ultimate high priest who was your salvation; He’s dead. Therefore I’m changing my mind: you’re out!” The whole idea is that could never happen. We are never without an intercessor!  Ellen White (the SDA a prophet) said, “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.—The Great Controversy, 613, 614 (1911)“. How erroneous! We are never without an intercessor!

God made a promise; this priest has an indestructible life; this priest will last forever! He will be the priest forever; therefore His salvation will be forever. How do we know that? He’s the guarantee and He’s forever.  The last verse then, 25, is often misunderstood, where it says …since He always lives to make intercession for them. Now intercession is not the same as making payment for sin. Nowhere in the Bible do the Scriptures say that Jesus is continuing to make payment for sin or making some kind of a final atonement or blotting out sin from heaven. He’s not! When He hung on the cross, Jesus himself uttered the words, “Tetelestai,” meaning, “It’s finished…paid in full.” We learned in the first part of Hebrews that as the ultimate high priest He offered the sacrifice, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, indicating, “Mission accomplished; ultimate price paid; work is done; He is seated.” So it is just wrong that Jesus still is somehow making payment for sin or blotting sins out.

The point is that He is the priest forever. He is the guarantor forever. Therefore, correctly read: “Since He always lives—as long as He lives, the intercession is good.” How long will He live? Forever! How long is our salvation? Forever! How do we know? He guarantees it with a promise. He is the guarantor; He is the eternal Son of God. Verse 26:  

 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest… (Hebrews 7:26)    


Now in modern English that can be misleading. We sometimes say, “Well, that’s fitting,” kind of meaning, “Well, that’s what the person deserved.” That’s not what this is saying. It’s not saying that we somehow deserve this. What it is saying in the greek is what Jesus the ultimate high priest did, fit the problem. The solution fit the problem. We have a huge problem; we needed an ultimate high priest. What Jesus did for us fit the problem. Verse 26:

For it is fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, (which has to do with no sin in His behavior)separated from sinners (meaning He wasn’t a sinner) and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all (not for some, for everyone) when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, (the promise) which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.  ((Hebrews 7:26-28) 

So what the text is saying is that the Levitical priest had to first offer sacrifice for their own sins before they could offer sacrifice for the sins of the people, but because Jesus was sinless, He did not sacrifice for His own sins but rather, as the perfect spotless lamb of God, He sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world.

The very last line, a Son made perfect forever.  This has been the discussion, starting in verse 11: “How does one become complete, perfect before a holy God?” If it could be done through the old covenant, if it could be done through religious activity, if it could be done through good works, why the need for a Savior, why the need for the ultimate high priest making the ultimate sacrifice for sin? Answer is, “Because there is no other way.” We need a better way, a better hope, a better covenant that would come with a guarantee that as long as this Savior lives, then you stand right before a holy God if you have received His salvation.

Now back to that description in verse 26 …exalted above the heavens. We see this throughout the New Testament. He sits above all rule and authority. He is the King of the universe. He is the King in heaven. He is in charge!

Now we live in a culture where there’s a lot of argument as to whether or not all roads lead to God. But ‘There’s only one way.’” It’s through a better hope; it’s through a better covenant; it’s through the One who came as the ultimate high priest to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice in payment for sin, in order that we as sinful men and women might stand right before a holy God. There’s only one way. And as long as He lives, He says so! God promised, “I won’t change my mind; this is the way it’s going to be.” What are His credentials? An indestructible life! He will be the high priest forever…for the rest of eternity. He will acknowledge, “My payment was sufficient;” Christ is enough! Not Jesus plus some religion, not Jesus plus some other activity, not Jesus plus weekly Sabbath day, not Jesus plus anything. Paul in writing to the Galatians says that if you add one single religious work or activity to Jesus, it’s no longer grace. It’s Christ and Christ alone for salvation!

There may be some of us who’ve convinced yourself there’s no way I could ever be right before a holy God. I don’t know what you’ve done.  I don’t know what’s been done to you. I only know that God offers everyone salvation freely as a gift of His grace if you choose by faith to receive it. Christ died for your sins and He’s willing to offer you salvation today and forever as the ultimate high priest, if you just choose by faith to receive it.

There may be others who are up to their eyebrows in religion. One of the earmarks of religion is fear. There’s this restlessness, because in religion you never know how much is enough? How good is good enough? It’s full of despair; it’s full of fear; it’s full of this restlessness. Religion is this endless effort to somehow try to make yourself right before God. But what Hebrews tells us is that is weak and useless because you cannot un-sin yourself. Someone had to pay your debt. Someone had to die for you. Someone had to sacrifice for you and make payment for your sin in order to offer you salvation freely as a gift. It’s not religion; it’s not programming; it’s not activities. It’s a Person. It’s a Person, the ultimate high priest, who sacrificed Himself in order that you might know salvation forever! This is something to be very thankful for!

Our Father, we are thankful this day that when there was no hope, You sent Your Son to be the Savior of the world. Lord, you couldn’t be clearer. It can’t come through religion; it can’t come through religious activity or good works or end times sabbath day or feast day observance. Those ultimately are weak and useless to make us perfect. It would have to come through the ultimate high priest who would make the ultimate sacrifice for sin. God, my prayer is that none of us would end a day without having the experience, the salvation you freely offer today.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Hebrews 7:1-10 – It’s All About Jesus

As people made in the image of God, there is something deep within us that longs to know God. But what many experience is religion, customs, rituals but religion ends up being distasteful and greatly dissatisfying. Many of them walk away, not realizing that what they experienced that was so distasteful was religion, and it didn’t satisfy because what their souls were actually longing for is an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. That’s what we want to talk about in Hebrews chapter 7.
If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 7. Continuing our study in the book of Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews introduced us to a very mysterious Old Testament figure by the name of Melchizedek in chapter 5. He quoted from Psalm 110 verse 4, and then he talked about Melchizedek again in chapter 5 verse 10, identifying Jesus as the fulfillment of the Melchizedek type in the Old Testament. Starting then at verse 11 of chapter 5, all the way through chapter 6, the writer diverts into what we refer to as one of the warning passages of Hebrews. But now, having given the warning at the end of chapter 6, he moves back to this ongoing discussion of Melchizedek. We pick it up then in Chapter 7, verse 1:  
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… (*NASB, Hebrews 7:1a)  
So this Melchizedek is both a king and a priest. There may have been kings in the pagan world that were both kings and priests, but not for the nation of Israel. Either you were a king, or you were a priest, but you weren’t both. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of kings in Israel’s history that tried to function as priests, and it did not go well. So this is quite a puzzling introduction—this one who is both king and priest.  
As king, he is the king of Salem. Now there is some discussion, but most scholars think Salem is a reference to Jerusalem before Jerusalem was called Jerusalem. There are psalms where Salem is clearly a reference to Jerusalem, so that seems to make the most sense. Salem, the word itself, is derived from the word shalom, which is a word that means peace or probably betterflourishing. So,  king of Salem, priest of the Most High God. 
Now Melchizedek was not Jewish; he was not from the line of Israel but he wasn’t priest over some pagan God. He was priest of the Most High God, the God of Abraham, the one true God, which again makes him kind of a mysterious, puzzling figure.  
…priest of the Most High God who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, (Vs. 1b)  
So, at this point it’s helpful to know the back story, to begin to make sense of this. One of the challenges of a section like this—there are two real challenges—is to just try to understand what the writer is saying. It’s very complex. The second would be: what is the relevance to us today? This is one of the passages you read before you go to work in the morning and you say, “Whatever,” and then you go on because it’s like, “I have no idea what this is saying!”  
So, part of this is built on the backstory. Melchizedek only shows up in four verses in the book of Genesis, chapter 14—verses 17, 18, 19, and 20. What’s happening is four kings from the East come together and basically attack the five kings around Sodom and Gomorrah. For convenience, we are just going to call them the kings of Sodom. They defeat the kings of Sodom; they plunder the cities, and they capture the people. Among those captured is the nephew of Abraham, Lot. So Lot and his family are taken away by the four kings of the East. Someone escapes, gets to Abraham, and tells Abraham, “This is what has happened!” So Abraham musters an army—three hundred and eighteen fighting men to be exact. They trace down the four kings of the East, and in the middle of the night they attack and win a resounding victory. The plunder is given back; the captives are set free. Abraham and his men are headed back home and they are coming through what most people think was probably the Valley of the Kings, or the Kidron Valley. There they encounter the king of Sodom but then also encounter this mysterious figure,the king of Salem by the name of Melchizedek. So the Kidron Valley would be right below Jerusalem, and that’s again a reason why most people think that’s what Salem is referring to. So that’s what the text—who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him—is talking about.
Now when we see that language of a blessing, we probably don’t think that much of it. But in an ancient Near East culture, in anhonor culture, this terminology was not just thrown about. As a matter of fact it was very strategic. Even today, in an honor culture, this has to do with the fact of one who is greater passing a blessing on to one who is lesser. The greater is called the patron or the benefactor; the lesser is called the client, and the idea is that it establishes a social relationship—the greater and the lesser. Abraham is the superstar for Israel but yet, in this moment, Abraham is identified as the lesser because it is Melchizedek, the greater, the benefactor, the patron, who is offering this blessing. He blessed him. Verse 2:  
…to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part (a tithe) of all the spoils… 
So the response of Abraham was to give Melchizedek a tithe from spoils not income. It was a voluntary thank offering without any law commanding it. Now this again would indicate that Abraham was entering into this relationship. He didn’t argue; he didn’t push back. He didn’t say, “Hey wait a minute, I’m greater than you.” As a matter of fact he was agreeing. He received the blessing and in return gave a tithe of the spoils, which in essence would say he was in agreement and entering into this social relationship. Now, why did he do that? The text tells us.
…was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, (Vs. 2b)  
Now in the ancient world, names were often descriptive. They weren’t just names; they were descriptive of the person. So the name Melchizedek literally means king of righteousness. The Hebrew melek, which means king, and then the rest of his name is a word we are pretty familiar with because of our studies in the book of Proverbs. It is the Hebrew word or a derivation of tzadik. It is the righteous one. Melchizedek’s name literally could be pronounced Melek-tzadik. He is the king of righteousness. The text goes on: 
 …and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. (Vs. 2c) 
I mentioned Salem is a derivative of the word shalom, which again is a critical term in the book of Proverbs. So two of the most significant terms in Proverbs—the tzadik and shalom— are part of the story. It’s also familiar Christmas language—that the One who was to come was the One that would be the righteous King and the Prince of Peace. So you’ve got a lot of significant language here. So Jerusalem means Jerufoundationsalemof peace. So Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, is alsoking over flourishing, in essence what the names are saying. Abraham knows that. That’s why he responds the way that he does.Verse 3:  
Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually (or continually)
So what does that mean? There are a couple of different views. One view is that Melchizedek was what was referred to as atheophany, an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament—the preincarnate Christ. Very few people hold that view. Even the text itself—when it says but made like the Son of God—if this was a theophany, it’s not He is like the Son of God; He is the Son of God, so even that language really rules that out. Some scholars think it’s a reference to a supernatural being, some sort of angelic being in human form, because he doesn’t have a mother, doesn’t have a father, doesn’t have a beginning and ending, doesn’t have a genealogy. While that is possible, it’s probably not likely. There are not a lot of scholars that hold that view. Most people, most scholars rather—and I think most likely—believe that Melchizedek is what we would refer to as a “literary type.” Now this is common in the Old Testament: he is a real person, a real king, over real people, but he is presented in a specific way as a “literary type,” or a “shadow” of one who would come later, who would be the fulfillment of that shadow. So the idea is not that Melchizedek literally didn’t have a mom or a dad or a birthdate or a death date. As a human, of course he did, but as this literary type, he doesn’t, and so you have someone that we don’t know his father; we don’t know his mother; we don’t know his genealogy
In the ancient world, being a king was all about the family lineBeing a priest was all about the family line. It’s all about the genealogy. As a matter of fact, if you were a priest and you could not prove your genealogy, you were determined to be unclean, and you could not be a functioning priest. And yet along comes this one who is not Jewish, who is identified as greater than Abraham, who is a king, not because of his family line…just because he is king….who is not a priest because of his family line…just because he’s a priest…and he’s identified as one who will be a priest forever.  
So the text is saying the literary figure doesn’t die. Go back and read the Old Testament. Abraham died. Isaac died. Jacob died. David died. Moses died. Aaron died. The text records the death of all those people, but all we know is in these four verses, this mysterious figure, the literary figure, doesn’t die. His priesthood continues forever. So that’s Genesis 14.  
So that would have been written let’s say roughly about 2000 BC. Melchizedek is then brought up in one place in Psalm 110, verse 4 a thousand years later—just identified as this priesthood that goes on forever. And then he is brought up another thousand years later by the writer of the book of Hebrews, and the book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of this ultimate King Priest that would remain a priest forever—very consistent with what we’ve already learned in the book of Hebrews. Verse 4:  
Now observe (We would probably say in our language, “Now pay careful attention to this.”) how great this man (Melchizedek)was to whom Abraham, the patriarch (the superstar of Israel), gave a tenth (a tithe) of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. (Vs: 4-5)
Okay, what does that mean? What the text is saying is, “Now pay attention to this.” This one who is greater than Abraham—Melchizedek—is the one that received a tithe from Abraham. The priests, according to the Law, according to commandment, their job was to collect the tithe from the people, the temple tithe. But they did not collect the tithe because they were considered greater than. It simply was the commandment of the Law; that was their job. It wasn’t because they were identified as greater. It simply was their job according to the commandment. Verse 6: 
But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them (Melchizedek) collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.   
So what’s he is saying is, “But Melchizedek is different. He didn’t collect a tithe like the priest because that was his job; he actually received a tithe of spoils from Abraham because Abraham was agreeing that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. And, again, the language is that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, the one who received the promises, and Abraham agreed with that and gave him the tithe of spoils in return. Now, again, in an ancient Near East culture this would be abundantly clear that Melchizedek was identifying himself as the greater, and Abraham was agreeing with that, which is then affirmed in Verse 7:  
But without any dispute (nobody would argue with this) the lesser is blessed by the greater. (That just affirms what we just said.) Verse 8:  
In this case (meaning right now, today, while he is writing the book of Hebrews, present tense verbs) mortal men receive tithes…(The priests in Jerusalem are still doing their jobs. Mortal men, priests that have no ability to save them, are going out and collecting tithes.) …but in that case (meaning Melchizedek) one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.
The Jewish people understood that this fulfillment of this shadow by the name of Melchizedek would one day come who would be even greater than Abraham, who would be the ultimate king priest, not because of his genealogy, but simply because he is king and simply because he is the ultimate high priest! Verse 9:  
And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Vs. 9-10)  
So, Levi was the great grandson of Abraham. Abraham…Isaac…Jacob…Levi—and you had to be within the tribe of Levi to be a priest, and specifically within the family of Aaron. So what the writer is saying is even though it is the tribe of Levi, the priest that collects tithes, in this story Levi was still in Abraham, so he is in Abraham’s biology. He’s in his genetic code; he’s in there somewhere. So technically, even Levi, representing all the priests, paid tithes to Melchizedek, even the priests affirming that Melchizedek is the great high priest.  
So, having said all that, the application is abundantly clear, is it not? The writer will continue to talk about this in the rest of the chapter, and we will continue to move on step by step. But for us today, we want to talk about what makes this relevant; it goes to the, “So what?” question. 
The point that the writer of Hebrews has been trying to make to a group of mostly Jewish Christian believers who seem to betempted to go back to Judaism—and this has come up again and again in the book of Hebrews—is that there is a concern, and it’s likely that the Judaizers were talking to them saying things like, “If this was really true, if this was really what God wanted, you wouldn’t be persecuted. This must be God’s punishment. You need to go back to the old covenant, back to the old ways.” So, the writer of Hebrews is trying to remind them, “Wait a minute. Jesus is greater than the angels. He’s greater than Abraham. He’s greater than Moses. He’s greater than the Law. He’s greater than the Sabbath. He’s greater than all these. He is the fulfillment of the Melchizedek type from that story, the long-awaited Messiah.”  
Now stop and think about this. Everything in the temple system was set up to be a shadow, a picture of the promise of a coming Messiah. The temple, the priest, everything within the temple, the sacrificial system, the Sabbath—all of those things were meant to be a shadow, or a picture, of the One who would come and would be the fulfillment of the promise—the One greater than Abraham, the long-awaited ultimate King Priest. But when that Messiah actually came, you would think there would have been the celebration of all celebrations, that finally, after all these years, the long- awaited Messiah has come. “Shut everything down! He is finally here!” But as you know, that’s not what happened. As a matter of fact, rather, they rejected Him and executed Him in order to keep their religious machinery going. That is just a staggering concept! That at some point the shadows and pictures that were meant to reveal the Christ, actually became the substitute for the Christ when He comes. This is the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make. “Those were just pictures and shadows. He’s here! He’s come! The fulfillment of what Melchizedek foreshadowed has actually come! The ultimate King Priest is here!” 
Advance two thousand years: Certainly we don’t have the same problem, do we? The world is filled with religion—always has been, always will be—because religion appeals to our flesh. There’s something deep within us that wants to believe, “I can do this myself.” Religion is all about selfrighteousness. “Here is the practice. Here are the rules. Here is the liturgy. Here are the sacred days. Do this on this day. Here are the steps. Here is everything you do. Ultimately, if you do this, God will accept you.” How many thousands and thousands and thousands of people who were honestly, sincerely seeking God, experienced cold dead religion, and for them it was so distasteful, so dissatisfying, they walked away, not realizing what their soul was longing for was not religionbut an encounter with a person—the resurrected Christ!  
We live in a world today where we have convinced ourselves there’s no absolute truth; there’s no absolute morality. Nothing’s really nailed down and everything is kind of loose and up for grabs, and what that creates in people is anxiety and fear and confusion.  And so many people in today’s culture then are turning to something that feels like it’s nailed down, that feels like it is rooted, that feels like it has some sort of substance to deal with my anxiety, to deal with my fear and my struggles. So where do they turn? They turn to religion. They think that somehow they are going to find what they are looking for in a building. They are going to find what they are looking for in a practice or observance. They are going to find what they are looking for in a liturgy. They are going to find what they are looking for in a discipline or a practice or a ritual or custom of some sort. Many of them are not seeking to experience Jesus. They’re seeking to experience an experience. But at the end of the day, religion will never be enough. Religion can’t deliver the goods.  
It’s easy for us this morning to think, “Oh I know just what you are talking about. It’s those people. It’s that religion. It’s that denomination. It’s that church. Somewhere along the way we start to think it’s a practice; it’s a program; it’s a group; it’s a methodology; it’s something that we are doing that was originally intended to lead us into a more dynamic relationship with Jesus, but at some stage that thing that was supposed to lead us to Christ comes to an end in itself.  
Hebrews talks about Jesus and the gospel being the anchor for our soul in the midst of difficult times. But there’s another kind of anchor and it’s an anchor that holds us down into bondage, where we never really experience the life that God has called us to because somewhere along the way we lose sight and what was supposed to be, what was supposed to lead us to a deeper relationship to Christ, becomes an end in itself, which just becomes another form of idolatry.  
No religion, no practice, no discipline, no ritual will ever be enough. Only Christ is enough. What a tragedy it is that thousands and thousands and thousands of people very sincerely search for God and encounter religion, and in their confused mind they think they have encountered God, and it’s distasteful and it’s dissatisfying, so they wander away and they fail to realize that actually what their soul was longing for was a meaningful encounter with a Person—a relationship with the resurrected living Christ! At the end of the day, Christ and Christ alone will be enough. So my prayer is that we wouldn’t get lost in the programs, lost in the rituals, lost in observing days, lost in the liturgies and the traditions, lost in the disciplines and the practices…that we think somehow it’s a group…it’s a program…it’s a methodology, but instead we would never lose sight that it’s a Person!  It’s the Person that ultimately sets me free. It’s Christ and Christ alone that is enough! 
Our Father, we are aware that we are just as prone to getting lost in some sort of religious practice as anyone. Lord, well-intentioned, well-meaning, but at some point, we forget that it is Christ that sets us free! Lord, may we never forget that it is Christ and Christ alone that gives us life now and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.