Laurie grew up going to church sporadically as a child. Her mom and dad didn’t participate, but some of her friends did. Whenever Laurie would spend the night with one of her friends she would often end up going to church with them the next morning. Laurie wasn’t opposed to going to church. She was fascinated by some of the stories she heard while she was there, but she didn’t really understand too much of what was going on.
While Laurie was in college she met a guy and the two of them fell in love. When they began to plan their wedding Tim wanted to go to Vegas and get married in one of the wedding chapels, but Laurie wanted to get married in a church. There was one preacher that she had met when she went to church with her friend that she really liked a lot. She really hoped that Pastor Miller would do the wedding. He didn’t seem starched and serious like some of the other preachers she had met. Pastor Miller could laugh. He made you feel like he was really glad that you were in church and he taught the Bible in a way that Laurie could understand. When Laurie thought about where she would like to be married her first choice was New Hope and Pastor Miller.
Laurie called Pastor Miller on the phone and he said that he would be honored to perform her wedding. He told Laurie that he would need to get together with them and talk about the requirements before they signed on the dotted line.
Laurie and Tim met with the pastor. As the weeks passed they went through premarital counseling, made weddings plans, and even attended church on occasion. Laurie had never attended New Hope on a regular basis, but the more she and Tim attended church the more she looked forward to Sunday morning. Laurie grew to love the morning Bible study time, she invited many of her friends to attend church with her, and she hardly ever missed a Sunday.
Pastor Miller was a young guy barely in his thirties, but the news came one day that he was very ill. Doctors had discovered that he had cancer and it was advanced. Pastor Miller underwent chemotherapy. Doctors had hope, but Pastor Miller knew in his heart that his time was short. When his death came the church was devastated. They held his funeral and people from all over the city attended the funeral. Pastor Miller had taken what was a small, struggling church and in only a few years had grown it into one of the largest churches in the city…but now he was gone.
As the weeks and months rolled by Laurie began to struggle to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Things just weren’t the same. About a year later the new pastor arrived at New Hope and Laurie was there on his first day. She listened with an open heart, but he just wasn’t Pastor Miller. Laurie said, “This is my church and I am going to continue to stay involved because I know the Lord has placed me here.” Two years later, Laurie hardly ever attended New Hope. She hardly ever attended any church.
Laurie is not uncommon. So many people today begin attending a church because they like the pastor’s teaching, they enjoy their Sunday school teacher, youth leader, or there is some aspect of the church that really captures their heart. If the leadership changes and things aren’t like they “use” to be, then many folks lose their passion and commitment. Notice, I didn’t say “change direction,” I just said that a new leader arrives on the scene.
This reality is one of the Achilles heels of the Church. It has always been one of the Achilles heels of the Church. The priesthood of the Temple changed hands often because priests died, the leadership of churches changes because pastors and priests die or get fired or leave for another church. New leaders have new strengths and weaknesses, goals and passions, and some of those might not be the passion of our hearts. With such problems as these you have to ask, “How do you draw near to God when those who are leading you are transient, fallible, sinful people like you and me, different than what we are use to, and come and go with regularity?
In our study for this morning we are going to learn that God has given us a Priest, a Pastor, a Leader who will never die, who will never leave us, and who is faithful to the very end. Not only is He all of these things, but He can do for us what no pastor or leader of the church could ever do. He has all power to forgive us of our sins and to lead us into the very presence of God where our hope, salvation, and forgiveness reside.
Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Hebrews 7:1-19. I need to let you know before we read the Scripture that you are not going to hear many sermons or Bible lessons taught on this section of Scripture because it can be hard to understand. Once again we need to remember that God has hidden some of His greatest blessings in some of the most difficult passages of Scripture. If we will refuse to simply pass over these difficult Scriptures, humble ourselves before His presence, and confess our lack of understanding…God will reveal to us His will through His Word. Let’s dig in.
1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. 4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people-that is, their brothers-even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. 11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come-one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:1-19 NIV)
Whenever we study God’s Word we must seek to know, “What is God trying to teach me through what I have read?” If we use that principle here in this section of Scripture then it is not be too hard to understand the lesson for today. The writer of Hebrews, if you will remember our earlier studies, is writing to Jewish people who have revered the Mosaic Law, attended worship services in the Temple for more than a thousand years, and who bristled at the thought that God had done something new through His Son Jesus. All of what he is trying to teach them is really summed up in verses 18-19, where he writes,
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19 NIV)
The wording of verse 18, where we read, “The former regulation is set aside,” is confusing to some because we ask, “What regulation is he talking about?” When you study the Greek word that is translated, “regulation,” then you can see clearly what is intended for us to understand. The Greek word, “evntolh,,” (entole) means, “of the Old Testament law commandment, precept, or ordinance.” (Luke 23.56) It can also mean, “Official commands, edict, decree, or order.” (John 11.57) The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 19:19 when it is written,
19 When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 19:19-22 NIV)
The priesthood, the Law, and the sacrifices were a gift from God to deal with the people’s sins, but it was not all that God would do to remedy His people’s predicament. When Jesus came and gave His life as an offering for our sins, the time came for the old to be put away and for the people to receive Jesus as the total and perfect offering of God.
Hebrews 7 begins by talking about Abram encountering the “King of Salem,” the priest whose name was Melchizedek. There is a very good reason why the writer of Hebrews tells us about Abram’s meeting Melchizedek and offering him a tithe, ten percent, of all that he had taken from the kings he had defeated.
The Bible teaches that Abram is the father of our faith and the Jewish people believe that to the letter. The descendants of Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, became the priests for the nation of Israel. The priests were all from the tribe of Levi, the great grandson of Abraham. Not only did they have to be from the tribe of Levi, but they also had to be descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother. There was no opportunity for anyone born of any of the other eleven tribes to become a priest because being a priest was a hereditary thing. In Leviticus 21 God spoke to Moses about those who would be priests and the requirements for them. Some of the requirements were:
* He must marry a virgin.
* He must not have a defect such as being blind or disfigured.
* He can’t be a hunchback or dwarf.
* He must not enter the place where there is a dead body.
* He must not let his hair become unruly.
That is quite a list. The list goes on and you can read about it in Leviticus 21:10-24 if you would like to know more about the requirements of the priests of the Temple.
Now that we have taken a look at some of the rules you can see that the requirements were pretty stringent, but the number one rule was that you qualified for the priesthood because of your lineage and not your faith. John MacArthur writes in his commentary,
A man, who served as a priest did so because he was born into the right family, not because he lived a right life. A priest served from the age of 25 until the age of 50, after which his ministry was over. (MacArthur, Hebrews, pg. 174.)
When Abram met Melchizedek he gave him a tithe of all that he had captured. The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers that the lesser person always gives an offering to God or to His representative and receives a blessing from the greater person as well. If Abram and his descendants were the most noble and greatest of all people, then why did Abram pay tribute to a Canaanite priest? Why did he receive a blessing from a Gentile, especially a Canaanite? Great question. If you want to read the story as it was originally told then you can turn to Genesis 14:17-20 and read it. Take a look at it with me.
17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17-20 NIV)
As the representative of God, the priest of God, Melchizedek blesses Abraham. Melchizedek is a mysterious man to say the least. The Scriptures tell us that he had no genealogy, no mother or father. It would be easy for us to be led to believe that somehow he just appeared on the scene, but what is really intended is to reinforce that Melchizedek didn’t receive his appointment as priest because of his family – his family was irrelevant for the task God had given him. What is also interesting is that in Psalm 110 his name is mentioned again. This time in teaching us that another priest will one day come who will be, not of the tribe of Levi or of the lineage of Aaron, but a priest of the order of Melchizedek. Read Psalm 110 with me.
1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” 2 The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. 3 Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. 7 He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110 NIV)
Third Day has an awesome song out that seems to play every morning while I am out running and it really gives me a burst of energy when my legs are wobbly. The songs lyrics run like this:
Who is this King of angels, or blessed Prince of Peace?
Revealing things of Heaven and all its mysteries.
My spirit’s ever longing for His grace in which to stand.
Who is this King of Glory, Son of God and son of man?
His name is Jesus, precious Jesus.
The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart. The King of Glory.
The King was coming during the days of Abram. He was coming during the days of Aaron. He was coming during the days of King David and He came at the appointed time of God for the entire world to see His glory.
When Jesus came to earth the Jews were so accustomed to the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement and all of the other routines surrounding the Temple that they just couldn’t let go. It’s like a small child who has had a favorite blanket from the time of her birth. After a few years the blanket is worn out, full of holes, and nasty even when it is washed, but she won’t let go. You can entice her with a brand new blanket. You can bribe her with candy if she will only let you throw it away. You can do whatever you wish to try and get her to turn loose of her favorite blanket, but it isn’t going to happen. The Jews felt the same way about their Temple and its practices, but the writer of Hebrews says,
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come-one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
Perfection most often in the Bible describes spiritual maturity, but here in Hebrews it means a perfect relationship with God. The Levites, the descendants of Aaron, were flesh and blood — sinners just like those who came to the Temple. Their ancestry couldn’t sufficiently deal with the people’s sins. They could go beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies, but only once a year. They sure couldn’t take anyone with them. It was as if there were a sign over the veil that read, “No SINNERS ALLOWED.” If sin were to ever be dealt with in a lasting way then there would have to come another priest, an altogether different kind of priest, one who would be of the order of Melchizedek, a man with no pedigree, but a man with a calling. Behold, the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world. Jesus didn’t come from the tribe of Levi, He came from the tribe of Judah – He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Perfect High Priest, the King of Glory! He didn’t just open the veil for all of us to peer inside, He tore it from top to bottom so that He could usher us into the very presence of the Father.
Jesus wasn’t appointed the Priest of God because of His daddy’s genealogy, but because God chose Him to be our High Priest, to cancel the annual sacrifice, and to offer us His glorious salvation! In Galatians, Paul wrote,
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:4-9 NIV)
Paul tells us that we are no longer slaves to the Law because we have been set free through Christ. Those of us who are free should passionately desire to walk and live in our freedom instead of returning to our old way of doing things. I don’t know if there are any Jewish people here this morning, but I know that for all of us who have come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior we need to heed this warning.
Before Christ came into my heart and forgave me of my sins I was aware of sin. I may not have called it “sin,” but I knew that my life was not right and certainly not pleasing to God. There were all kinds of ways that I got around that fact. I compared myself to others who were worse than I was, who were doing really bad things. I justified my actions based upon how others treated me. Since he treated me bad then my actions were justified, they weren’t sin at all. These and other thoughts helped me momentarily deal with the sin of my life, but only momentarily. Paul tells me to continue to walk in my freedom and trust in Christ and to refrain from going back to my old ways of doing things.
What was true for the Jews is also true for me and you and that is why the writer of Hebrews says,
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19 NIV)
A better hope has come our way through Jesus our Savior. There is no need to trust in anyone or anything else because they can’t deliver you from the bondage of sin, shame, and guilt, but Jesus can. I pray that today you will rush to the foot of the Cross and cling to the hope that only Jesus can bring. Won’t you invite Him into your heart as your Lord and Savior. Draw near to God this morning and trust in His saving power.