Monday, October 22, 2012
“The Sinless Priest” [Hebrews 7:26-28] October 21, 2012 Second Reformed Church We began chapter seven of Hebrews with an assumption: we are all born sinners and we cannot approach God – we cannot be right with God – without a high priest intervening. We began our discussion of chapter seven, with the assumption that we have sinned and broken the Covenant with God and that we cannot be right with God unless there is a high priest who mediates between us by offering up a blood sacrifice which is acceptable to God. Last week, we looked at the oath that God took in making Jesus, God the Son Incarnate, a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, and we noted that, by God swearing by Himself – He was swearing that He would effectively self-destruct if He did not keep His Promise, but knowing God's Character – that God cannot lie and cannot change – the fact that God took an oath is an assurance and comfort to us. In knowing that God has taken this promise so seriously, we can be assured that heaven and earth will pass away, but not the Promise of God. We have a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek in the Person of Jesus, God the Son. And we saw the Jesus intercedes for us always, and we saw that He saves us to the outermost. Jesus, as Holy High Priest, merited salvation under the Law, and in offering up himself to be the Holy Sacrifice, He paid the debt for all of the sins of all of the people who would ever believe in Him Alone for salvation, and He credited us with that perfect keeping of the Law. He stands between us and God – even now – bringing our prayers to God, providing for our needs, sanctifying us, conforming us to His Image, sending God to indwell each one of us who believes, and so forth. “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” “Because, so, therefore, it makes sense, it is logical, that we should have such a high priest”– in order for Jesus to save us to the uttermost and to intercede for us constantly, it was necessary that the personal qualifications of the High Priest – that His State and Condition – should be holy, innocent, unstained, not a sinner, glorified – all of the Levitical priests were unqualified to make us right with God. There are many purposes of the Law, and much good that the high priests did, but the Law was never intended to save anyone – and it cannot save anyone – salvation is through faith alone. As Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV) The author of Hebrews uses a number of words to describe the Purity and Sinlessness of Jesus: Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, is Holy – that is, He is utterly separate from sin – His Inherent Nature is one of Purity – He is Divine. He is Innocent – He is One Who has never done any evil. He is Unstained – He is Morally Pure. He is separated from sinners – He lived a life that opposes sinful living. He is exalted above the heavens – He dwells in perfect humility in the highest state of exultation. And we may ask, “Aren't all human beings born with a sin nature?” “Would Jesus really have been human if He was not a sinner?” The answer is found as we look back to the Creation: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:27-31, ESV). The fact of the matter is that sin – original sin – having a sin nature – is not essential to being human. Adam and Eve were created good – without sin – and they were human – and we will be re-created – resurrected – without sin – and we will still be human. Sin is not necessary to be a human. In fact, sin is against how God created and what God is making us through Jesus. God in His Providence incarnated through the Virgin, born in the person of Jesus, but without original sin – without a sin nature – was created in His humanity as our first parents had been created. Jesus was – and always remains – a real, complete, sinless human being – just as we will be after the resurrection. And He is exactly what we needed, because the Levitical priests and Levitical Law were a failure as far as salvation is concerned. There is no hope of salvation through the Levitical Law. We can never do enough good to be right with God. And so my friend, who wrote on her Facebook page that she doesn't need Jesus because she has Yom Kippur, does not understand the depth and the horror and the affront to God that sin is. She also holds too highly the ability of sinful humans to offer up the sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. Not to mention the fact that they had offered up animals, not humans – so the system is utterly hopeless for salvation. I know so many people – and I'm sure you do to – who say in the end, God will judge us on our faithfulness, God will judge us on the good works that we have done – but how faithful have we really been? How many good works have we done? How pure is our motivation? Peter wrote, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16, ESV). Is anyone of us such a fool as to say we are holy in all that we do and say and think? Therefore, “it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” because we are sinners and we cannot make things right with God on our own or through the Levitical Law or through the Levitical high priests – we are still left sinners. Therefore, we needed a high priest who had no sin nature and who is morally without sin or evil. Otherwise, there is no hope. The author of Hebrews continues: “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” The Levitical priests had offered daily sacrifices for themselves and their family – so they were not always available or able to minister to the needs of the people – they were sinners and had to offer up sacrifices for their sins and for their families sins – so it was not possible for the Levitical priests to bring us to salvation to the uttermost and to intercede for us always. The Levitical Law even calls for a second high priest be at the ready, in case the high priest of the day could not serve because of his sin. What does this indicate, except that there must be a better high priest? If you and I are relying on our good works, we are doomed. With the Better High Priest, Jesus, we have the offering up of the One Sacrifice which covers all of the sins of all of His people throughout time and space. And there is no need for sacrifice ever to be offered again. Jesus, as our Sinless High Priest offered up Himself once, for everyone who would ever believe, and that Sacrificed paid for all sin because it is holy and the High Priest Who offered it is Holy. Jesus is the Only One Who is sinless and could offer up Himself to save us to the uttermost and make intercession for us always. Since the sacrifice He offered is Holy, it need not be repeated – God is satisfied with His Sacrifice – our debt has been paid, and we have been credited with His Righteousness, so we are now seen – through Jesus – as holy keepers of the Law. The Levitical sacrifices had to be repeated because they were never enough; Jesus's Sacrifice is once and for all, complete and finished. The final sentence of chapter seven is a summary of his argument: “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.” The Levitical Law appointed sinners to be priests, so their service as high priest and the offerings that they offered up were never enough. But God appointed Jesus – God the Son Incarnate – to be a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek – and God gave an oath against His Own Life – His Own Existence – that God the Son would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The Levitical priests could do nothing except offer what was given, and that was only animals, and that was never enough. On the other hand, Jesus, as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek forever – Holy and Sinless – could function as the Priest and give Himself up as the Sacrifice for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and it would be enough – it would be the Final, Perfect Sacrifice for all those who would ever believe – the Only Way of salvation. And so we have salvation through Jesus Alone – turning back to the Levitical sacrifices in the face of persecution is not an option, because they cannot save. But through Jesus, all we who believe throughout time and space, are saved eternally – to the uttermost – and He is interceding for us now and always that we might become like Him and that the Father might be glorified. And so Jesus is an example of how we should be – innocent, sinless, holy. That is what we are to strive for, by the working of the Holy Spirit in us. As Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV). Salvation is given to us by God the Son Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, the One Holy High Priest after the order of Melchizedek forever. And now we are called to fight and strive, to work the power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, to become like Him. Let us not give up, until we find ourselves made into the Image of Jesus Christ. And let us not despair, but hold to the promise Paul reminds us of: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). Let us pray: Almighty God, we thank You that You made it clear that we are unable to save ourselves. You set the Levitical Law the Levitical priests before us to show us that we are sinners and unable to be right with you except through Jesus Christ Alone. Help us to understand that He is our High Priest – our Mediator – the One Sacrifice that makes us right with You. Change us by the Holy Spirit Who indwells us, that we might be Your sons and daughters and become like that Sinless Priest Who suffered and died for our sake. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thank you to everyone who was involved in our Community Lunch. We plan to hold the next one on Staurday, November 17th. Please reserve time to help cook, serve, and clean up. Your help is greatly appreciated as we seek to minister to our neighbors. And spread the word!
Friday, October 19, 2012
Tomorrow, D.V., we will have a first community lunch of the year from 12 to 1 PM. If you are in need of a meal, please feel free to join us, no questions asked, no strings attached. Come to the downstairs Florence Ave. entrance and enjoy a homecooked lunch with us. See you then!
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
We continued our study of the Apostle's Creed last night, looking at the Son and His titles in the creed and the relationship among the Persons of the Trinity. Join us in two weeks,D.V., when we resume to begin discussing the Virgin Birth. 7:30 PM, Tuesday, October 30th.
Monday, October 15, 2012
“The Eternal Priest” [Hebrews 7:20-25] October 14, 2012 Second Reformed Church As we continue to consider chapter seven of the book of Hebrews, let us remember that God ordained two different priesthoods: the priesthood of Levi and the priesthood of Melchizedek. The priesthood of Levi was imperfect, partial, and temporary. Its priests came in succession from father to son. The priesthood of Melchizedek is perfect, complete, and eternal. Its priests were appointed individually by God Himself. And so we saw that the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the order of the priesthood of Levi. We also noted that a priest must be human in order to stand between God and humans. Jesus, though He is human, is also God, so Jesus is the greatest of all high priests, being the Final High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. In today's Scripture, the author of Hebrews considers the oath given regarding Jesus’ High Priesthood and the eternality of Jesus’ High Priesthood. He begins, “And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever.”’” Again, the author of Hebrews looks at Psalm 110, which we reviewed last week – the Psalm in which David reveals that his descendant – Who would be the Savior – is both human and God and that He reigns victorious over all, and one day all of His enemies will be put under His Feet. We also saw in this Psalm that David reveals that the Savior would be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. In this morning’s Scripture, David emphasizes the fact that God swore – God made an oath – that the Savior would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek forever. The author of Hebrews notes that there was no requirement that an oath be taken relative to the office of the high priest. There were ceremonies to go through and clothes to wear, but there was no requirement that an oath be taken by the high priest, or anyone else. And the Levitical System was a simple succession from father to son. There was also no requirement for an oath in the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek – to hold the office. Here we have God swearing by Himself – because there is nothing and no one higher that God could swear by – that Jesus, the Savior. is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek forever. Some weeks ago, we looked at God swearing by Himself as He walked through the pieces of bisected animals in swearing His Oath to Abram. We noted that that symbolically said that if God broke His Oath, God would be torn in half – God would self-destruct – but we know it is impossible for God to lie, so there was no possibility of that impossibility occurring. And we might wonder when God swore that Jesus would be a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek – and the answer is, we are not told, but we can make a reasonable guess. Again and again in the Scripture, we see that God had a plan from before the creation and that plan is being carried out exactly as He always intended it to be carried out. When Pilate asked Jesus if He didn't understand what serious trouble He was in, “Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:11, ESV). What Jesus tells Pilate is that everything has been predestined – God has sovereignly planned out all of created history, and that is exactly what is occurring. How does that help us? It helps us as we understand that God sovereignly planned out and predestined everything that would be throughout time and space and the created order before He created. So, God swore to God the Son, Who is incarnate in the person of Jesus, that He would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek – and God swore this before the creation. And, in the Providence of God it pleased God to reveal this fact as David wrote what we call Psalm 110. Now that we have thought about the when, the question becomes, why did God make an oath about Jesus being a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek? Why did God swear by His Own Self – by His Very Being – that Jesus is forever High Priest after the order of Melchizedek? The answer has to do with the Character of God: Moses records, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19, ESV). And James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). Do you remember the bumper sticker – or at least my mentioning the bumper sticker –“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”? Do you remember I said that there is one proposition too many in this bumper sticker? The “I believe it.” is unnecessary. The witness of the Scripture is that if God has said something, it will happen. If God has made a promise, it will come to pass. If God has said something is true, it cannot be a lie. In other words: “God said it. That settles it.” If the God who cannot change and cannot lie and cannot make a mistake swears something by Himself – because there is no one and nothing greater that He could possibly swear by, then we know, in God's Time, it cannot but come to pass. So if God has sworn that Jesus is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, then Jesus is High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek and absolutely nothing can possibly change that. Paul, writing about the confidence that we should have in prayer, writes, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5, ESV). And we have this promise that when we don't know how we should pray in any given situation: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28, ESV). God swore an oath that Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek so we would be assured that it is true that Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. He swore an oath that we would be comforted in knowing that what God has said, He will do, and there can be no change. He swore as an added confirmation of His Call on Jesus – that we would know without question that this Jesus is God the Son, the Savior that was promised from the beginning. He swore an oath that we would be encouraged and find security and consolation in the faith. God swore an oath that Jesus is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek for our sake – that knowing God's Character, we can hear His Words and believe them and have a secure hope in them. “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” What is the “guarantor” something? A “guarantor” is someone who is bound by a promise to do something. So Jesus is bound by a promise to do something. Jesus is bound by the Oath of God that He is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek to provide a better covenant – a better treaty – a better agreement – between God and we who believe. And we might wonder for a moment if this was fair for God to make Jesus the Guarantor of God's Promise. But we have to remember Jesus is not merely a human being but He is also God – the same God who swore to uphold Jesus’ Priesthood. So there was nothing wrong with God making Jesus the Guarantor for God's Promise about Jesus because Jesus and God are the same One God. It's almost comical to call it a better covenant: under the Levitical Law, it was not possible that a person could become right with God – the Only Way to become right with God prior to the Incarnation was to believe and have faith and hope in the Savior that God would send. After the Incarnation – after Jesus was revealed to be the Savior – we now know that the Only Way to be right with God is through believing in Jesus Christ Alone for salvation. And as we saw that belief is not merely an intellectual assent that the facts of history are true, but it is a heart belief that makes one love Jesus as God the Son and Savior. So, yes, it is better, it's better in the sense that it is the Only Way to be right with God – it is the Only Way that God has made salvation – it is the Only Way that we can be forgiven for all of our sins and credited with having lived a righteous life under God's Law. Better? Yes, far better indeed – our only hope. “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Is Jesus the Only Way? Could there not arise another priest after the order of Melchizedek? The priests of the order of Levi were many because they died and had to be replaced. That is not the case with the priests after the order of Melchizedek. All of the priests – except Jesus – died in the flesh and stayed dead, but their office is held eternally. In the one case of Jesus, we have a high priest Who did die in the flesh, but then rose again from the dead in His flesh – and so He continues forever. There is no need for another high priest – He is the One and Only. As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV). Jesus makes it quite clear: there is no other way to be right with the Father except through Jesus Alone. There is no other complete truth except for the Truth, which is from God, Who is Jesus. There is no life – and life eternal – with God and in His Kingdom, except through Jesus Alone. No one – and no one does not mean a few people – no one means no one, not even one person – no one can be right with God except through salvation in Jesus Alone. There is no ambiguity in what Jesus is said – He is the Savior, no one else is the Savior, there is no other way to be saved except through Him – and we have the Oath from God swearing that Jesus will be High Priest after the order of Melchizedek forever – so God's Plan of Redemption – the Way that we may be saved – has never changed and will never change. And that means two things that continue to make Jesus a better hope: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him,” First, Jesus saves us to the uttermost. What does it mean that He saves us to the “uttermost”? There are two things in mind in this context: first, Jesus saves us completely. Jesus has done absolutely everything necessary to save us from the Wrath of God and Jesus has done absolutely everything necessary to save us by making us righteous in the Eyes of God. Those are the two things which much must be done to save us – we must be forgiven for all of our sins -- those we've committed in the past, those we've committed today, and those that we will commit before we die – the debt for all of those sins must be forgiven – they must be paid for – and Christ paid for them by suffering in His Life, and especially through His Death on the cross. Paul wrote, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” (Colossians 1:19-22, ESV). Also, through living in sinless, perfect, righteous, and holy life, Jesus alone was able to keep all of God's Law and now He graciously credits each one who believes in Him with the perfect keeping of the Law – so now we are seen as righteousness, even though the righteousness that we have is not our own. Paul speaking of his own life, talks about this imputing of righteousness to him – this crediting of his account with the Righteous of Christ, “and be found in [Jesus], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“ (Philippians 3:9, ESV). It also means, secondly, the Jesus saves us eternally. Because Jesus is a perfect and holy human being and at the same time the One Holy God, and because God has sworn that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek forever – it is not possible we should be lost. As Paul tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, ESV). Jesus is also a better hope because, secondly, “since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus did not just do something back then. He did something immensely important: He paid the debt for all the sins of everyone would ever believe and He lived a righteous life, which He credits to everyone who will ever believe so we can be saved and live eternally with Him. But Jesus did not just do that and then go take a nap for the last 2000 years. Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, is actively interceding for us now. What does that mean? It means a number of things, but here are a few: First, it means that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, so God Himself now lives in every Christian to help us to remember and understand all that Jesus said and to live as God has called us to live. Jesus is with the Father right now and one of the ways in which He intercedes for us is that He asked the Father, and They sent God the Holy Spirit to live in everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation. As Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV). Second, it means that Jesus reigns over the Church. Jesus intercedes for us by being the Sovereign King over His Church. We are His responsibility. He answers on behalf of His people, and we answer to him. Paul explained, “And [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18, ESV). Third, Jesus is working for the good of the Church. Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). The mistake we make in thinking about Jesus working for the good of the Church, interceding with the Father, for the good of the Church – is that we think that means that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise – that we will have no difficulties or pain. No, what it means is that in the end, this is the best way, and we are being brought to the best – being brought into His Kingdom in all its fullness. This same Paul talking about the persecution by the Romans and the Jews of the Christians endured suffering and even ended in a horrific death, saying, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV). We are not promised an easy life, but with Jesus interceding for us, we are promised that the glory that we are entering into all make the worst of anything anyone ever experiences as a Christian for Christ “light and momentary.” Fourth, Jesus, through His intercession, perfects all we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. Paul wrote about how Jesus continues to intercede on our behalf that we would be perfected according to all those things that God wills for us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). We are Jesus’, His workmanship. We were created in Jesus for good works. Those good works were planned from before the creation – they were predestined. And we will do them, by the Grace of God, through the intercession of Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit working in us and through us to the Glory of God. Fifth, Jesus through His intercession shows His Mercy, Compassion, Love, and Tenderness towards us. We see this in His acting as High Priest between us and God that we might be able to live, through the laying down of His Life that we could be forgiven, and now as He stands before the Father, He speaks on our behalf, telling the Father that we – and all those who believe – are His. Consider this one image of Jesus acting as our High Priest and interceding for us: one commentator wrote, “For all the prayers of the Church from the first to the last are lodged in the hands of the same high priest, who abides forever; and he returns the prayers of one generation onto another” (John Owen, Hebrews, volume 5, 521.) Consider what he is saying: Jesus is human, so he understands and has experienced every type of thing we ever go through. Jesus is God, so He is Sovereign over all, and He cannot endure sin. God remedied our fallen situation through coming to Earth in the person of Jesus – a high priest forever after the order Melchizedek. Because Jesus is human and God and cannot die, He remains the Greatest and Eternal High Priest for His people. So as the High Priest, Jesus continues to stand between us and the Father bringing our prayers to Him – and this is not overwhelming for Him. As a human, He understands: as God, He will carry out His Good and Perfect Will. All of the prayers of all of the Christians throughout time and space have been handled by Jesus as our High Priest – as the Intermediary between us and God, and the prayers of our ancestors for them and for us, for our children and their children and the children after them, are not in vain, because Jesus hears them and brings them before the Father and They answer them, in time, according to God's Will. Let us pray: Almighty God, we thank You for revealing another reason for us to be assured of our salvation in Jesus: the God Who cannot lie and does not change has taken an oath for it. And we thank You for giving us hope and comfort in knowing that whatever we endure for your sake, and for whatever temptations we struggle with in this life, we have Jesus, as High Priest Who stands up on our behalf and saves us to Your Glory. Fill us with awe, and help us to walk in confidence and hope, and in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Monday, October 08, 2012
“A Better Hope” [Hebrews 7:15-19] October 7, 2012 Second Reformed Church How can a person be right with God? That is the most important question a person will ever find an answer to. Last week we saw that the Levitical Sacrifices cannot save a person – it is not possible for a person to keep the Law to be right with God. The reason that this is so is due to the fact that the Levitical Law is temporary and partial – it is imperfect for the work of making a person eternally right with God – because it does not deal with all of the sin of a person's life, nor does it make a person righteous. The Hebrew Christians in the day of the author of Hebrews were facing persecution and wondering if it would make sense to go back to Levitical Law and Sacrifices – even if it meant that would become apostate to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We remember that that means that they would turn away from where they stood – in other words, they would deny the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which would leave them in a hopeless state. We began to see that there is a better hope found in a priest of the higher order of Melchizedek. The order of Melchizedek is one to which priests are called directly by God, it is an eternal priesthood, and it is a complete priesthood – so those who seek their salvation through it will find eternal salvation. We ended last week, noting that the high priest – the Final High Priest – Who was called according to the order of Melchizedek is none other than the Son of the tribe of Judah, our Lord Jesus Christ. And so we saw that Jesus, as a priest of the order of Melchizedek is higher and more perfect in His Work than the priests of the line of Abram, Aaron, and Levi and the Levites – and in changing from the Levitical priesthood to the priesthood of Melchizedek there is also a change in the law. Those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation are not required to keep all of the Levitical Law – we are required to keep the Moral Law, but not for our salvation. The Ceremonial and Judicial Law – and especially the Levitical Sacrifices – have been done away with – they have passed away into the shadows in the light of the coming of Jesus. And so the author continues, “This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek,” – the superiority of the order of Melchizedek is even more obvious when we look at the Priest Who was called after the order of Melchizedek – that is, Jesus. “who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’” Jesus did not become a priest based on the legal requirement of succession from father to son, but He was called by God Himself and appointed by God Himself to be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek for all the people He came to save. Jesus became High Priest not according to the tradition of the Levites, and not merely through being appointed to the office, but because He Himself is indestructible. We might ask why the author says that He is indestructible? Isn't it true that Jesus suffered and died – that in His flesh He was destroyed and killed and buried? The focus here is not that Jesus' physical body could not be killed – the note is that Jesus, the Incarnate God, is God Himself, so He can never die. We have said before that the priests of the order of Melchizedek had an eternal office, even though they died. Jesus is the First and Only High Priest of Melchizedek, Who not only holds an office eternally, but He Himself can never die, because He is Divine – He is God in all His Fullness taken on human flesh. And so we see a new dimension of the greatness of the order of Melchizedek. Not only is the order of Melchizedek greater and higher than the order of the Levites, because it is eternal and complete in that the office goes on eternally, but in Jesus Christ, we have, for the first and only time, a high priest Who is Himself God – the Eternal God – raising the position to the highest of heights. “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” The author of Hebrews justifies this argument by quoting the Scripture – by turning to Psalm 110. Listen to the whole of the words of this Psalm of exultation: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head” (Psalm 110, ESV). David begins his Psalm with that quotation which so confused the Pharisees in the days of Jesus: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:41-46, ESV). Jesus confronted the Pharisees about the Christ – the Savior – the Messiah – and asked them a question which effectively asked, “Will the Savior merely be a human being or will He be someone more? The Pharisees answered – rightly according to the Scripture – the Savior would be the son of David – He would come from the line of David. It is true the Savior is and must be a human – if He is to take our place and be the Savior of humans. However, Jesus then asks how it is that David could call one of his descendants, his Lord? A father – an ancestor – would not call his son or his descendent, Lord. The respect of the title of Lord only goes to someone who is greater – and a father or an ancestor is greater than a child or a descendent. So Jesus asked them how to explain this. And they couldn't – because they were unwilling to believe that the Savior would not merely be a human being, but that He would also be completely God. And so Psalm 110 begins with David acknowledging that one of his descendants would be the Messiah – the Savior – but He would also be his Lord, He would be God in the Flesh. And, as God in the Flesh, the Savior that God would send would rule almighty over all the kingdoms of the world – He is Sovereign right now and forever and that sovereignty will be seen in all its fullness on that final day. David goes on to explain that the people of God would come to their Savior and that the Savior would make salvation for His people through being a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. The Savior that God promised to send would be human and He would be God – two natures in One Person – and He would assume that role by the call of God and the appointment of God to be High Priest after the order of Melchizedek for His people and to offer up Himself as the Sacrifice for His people – so that all we who believe would eternally and perfectly and completely be His forever. This Psalm ends with the vision of the end when God crushes the enemies of the Savior and brings about His full Sabbath Rest. And so we see that since the Savior fulfills the prophecy of a priest, not just of eternal law – or an eternal order of priesthood, but because He is an eternal person – He is God Himself – the Levitical Ceremonies are no longer to be kept. I hope this is making sense: the author of Hebrews began his letter by explaining that Jesus is not just one of the prophets, but He is God, the Son, Himself. Jesus is both a real human being and the Almighty God. So, when we compare the two lines of priesthood, we see the Levitical Priesthood and the priesthood of Melchizedek, and we see that the line of Melchizedek is of a higher order of priesthood because it has been ordained directly by God. Jesus is a perfect human being Who also is God Incarnate, and He was appointed by God to be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. So we do not merely have a new priest of the order of Melchizedek, but we have God Himself Incarnate in the Person of Jesus as the New Priest of the order of Melchizedek. Not only is the priesthood a higher priesthood than the order of the Levites – which is the Old Testament Law – but we have the highest possible Person acting in the role of Priest – God Himself, having become a real human being. And this is why it makes more sense to remain with Jesus – the Savior that God promised to come – Who is God Himself in the flesh – occupying the role of High Priest of the higher of the two orders of priesthood ordained by God – rather than to turn away from Him in the face persecution and turn back to the Levitical Law. But there is an issue yet to address: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect);” because a new priest has arrived of the order of Melchizedek – which is the higher of the two orders – and because the Priest who has arrived is not a mere man, but God Himself, in human flesh – the Levitical Law is set aside. How can that be? We understand that the Levitical Law was imperfect, partial, and temporary – and it was not possible for a person to be eternally right with God through the Levitical Law. However, how can it be that the Levitical Law has been set aside? How can it be that the Law that God gave is done away with? Doesn't that contradict with Jesus Himself said? Didn't Jesus say, after giving the Beatitudes, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, ESV). How do we reconcile the fact that the author of Hebrews says that the Levitical Law is set aside and Jesus saying that the Law and the Prophets are not abolished? Don't we have a contradiction between these two? There are two reasons why a law is done away with: a law can be done away with because it is bad or illegitimate. That cannot be the case here, because God gave the Law, and God cannot do what is bad or illegitimate – God cannot go against His Own Character – the Law that God gave through the Levites and the Levitical System of the Old Testament is good and legitimate. There is a second reason why a law is done away with: a law can be done away with because its obligation has ceased – the purpose for which it was created has ceased. For example: in the state of New Jersey, and unless there is a sign to the contrary, it is legal to turn right on red. Barring a sign that says otherwise, the law says that we are allowed to turn right when there is a red light and it is safe. That was not always the case: it used to be, if the light was red, it was the law that you were not allowed to turn left or right. That was a good and legitimate law. However, in the course of time, the purpose for which that law was created ceased, and lawmakers deemed it right – in a large number of cases – that it be legal to turn right on red when it is safe. So, it was not that the law about not turning right on red was bad or illegal, but that the reason for which it was created ceased – something happened which caused it to no longer be necessary that the law state that turning right on red is illegal. Does that make sense? What about what Jesus said then? The Levitical Law has not been done away with because it was bad or illegal – the Levitical Law has been set aside in two senses: first, the Levitical Law with its ceremonies and judicial rulings were given for the nation of Ancient Israel – which no longer exists – and effectively no longer existed once the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Second, the Levitical Law with its ceremonies and judicial rulings were given to point to Jesus – they were given, so we would understand that there is no way for us to become right with God – to be righteous – to be justified – except through the Savior that God would send – and so that we would recognize Him when He came. And these laws were given to show us the type of Savior that God would send. In other words, Jesus fulfills the Levitical Ceremonial and Judicial Laws in His Person – in Who He is as Savior – as High Priest and Sacrifice for the elect of God. As the author of Hebrews writes, “but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” Through the Levitical Law, the priests drew near to God – and only on the day of Yom Kippur. But now, through Jesus, all Christians may draw near to God through Jesus. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV). Christ has removed the impediment which kept us from coming before God and through His Work as High Priest of the order of Melchizedek and through His Sacrifice of Himself – the Holy God-Man, you and I can now come before God boldly. Through Jesus we are not merely the people of God, but we are the sons and daughters of God, and we are now invited to know and call God our Father. And so we see that the order of Melchizedek is a higher priesthood than that of the Levites. And Jesus has been called as another – and the Final – High Priest Who arises according to the order of Melchizedek. And Jesus is not merely another priest – another human being according to the order of Melchizedek, but He is God Himself in the flesh Who now stands as our High Priest between us and God. Since this is true, the Levitical System is set aside. That does not mean that we can forget the Old Testament, because the Law shows us what sin is, it shows us that we are unable to become right with God except through the Savior that God would send, and as Christians we are called to live according to the Moral Law of the Levitical System – which we are able to do by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus and the Father has given us. And so we have a better hope: we do not have the hope of possibly keeping the Law – which is impossible. We do not have the hope of participating in enough sacrifices and somehow shedding enough blood that it will be worthy of a human soul – which is impossible. But we have the hope that God Himself took it upon Himself to come to earth in human flesh – in the real person of Jesus – that He might live under that Law – and do so perfectly – that He would live a holy life and be counted as righteous – that He, as a priest of the order of Melchizedek, could stand between us and God and offer up the Sacrifice of Himself that all the sins of everyone who would ever believe would be forgiven. And so He could credit us with His Holy Life. We celebrate this hope each week as we receive the Lord's Supper. We remember that we were condemned in our sins under the Law of Levi – the Law of God. We remember that God came to earth in the person of Jesus and lived under that Law and did so without sin. We remember that Jesus willingly offered up Himself for the people that God gave Him – and suffered and died and was buried. And we remember that on the third day He rose from the dead in His physical body and walked out of that grave because death could not hold Him. Because Jesus is Holy – man and God – we know that He is here with us in worship – and our worship has replaced the Levitical Ceremonies and Sacrifices. So now as we receive the bread and the cup – though we do not receive real blood and real flash – and it does not become real blood and real flesh – we have something more true – something greater – in that Jesus Himself spiritually communes with us and gives us His Grace that we would be able to live according to all of the Moral Law of God – by the Gift of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us. And we look forward to that day – to that hope – to that promise – that we also will be raised in our physical bodies – perfect and holy – to be received into the Glorious Kingdom that Jesus is bringing even now. And we, with the Hebrew Christians of the first century, can look at the slight inconveniences and pains that we face in this world – and if God is well-pleased, we can even look at that horrific persecutions around the world, and even experience them ourselves – facing death, knowing that death is dead – and our hope is forever, because we have been saved by God Himself – a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek – a better hope than the Law. Let us pray: Almighty God, we are so easily caught up in proving ourselves – and showing ourselves to be better – and we have lost the awe in the Hope this is found through You, our High Priest. Forgive us for our sins – forgive us, especially in this very easy place to live that we would turn to our works and try to earn our way to You through the Law. Stir the fires of hope within us that we would trust not in ourselves, nor in our works, nor in the System of Law that You gave to Ancient Israel, but in You, and in Your Son, for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen
Saturday, October 06, 2012
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Saturday, October 6th, we are planning to have our Flea MArket from 10 AM to 2 PM, join us and help support the church through your purchases. I am planning to stay afterwards and have a prayer meeting for any would would like to join. See you then!