The Lord’s Day Morning
May 19, 2013
“The Guarantee of a Better Covenant”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 7 as we continue to work our way through this book together.В I’d remind you, we’re going to be looking at verses 11 to 28 today, but I’d remind you where we’ve been.В In Hebrews chapter 6, the author of Hebrews is desirous of explaining to Christians where we find the basis of our perseverance, our assurance, and our hope.В That is, what enables us to keep on keeping on in the Christian life?В What enables us to experience a sense of security, the security of God’s love, the security of the salvation that He has given us?В And what is it that gives up hope in the midst of the trials of this world and the struggles within our own hearts?В And over and over again, he points us to the covenant and to the promise of God in Hebrews chapter 6.В
And then in the very last verse of Hebrews chapter 6, he mentions Melchizedek, this mysterious figure whom Abraham had an encounter with in Genesis chapter 14.В And when I preached on that passage in Hebrews chapter 6 and didn’t say a lot about Melchizedek, a number of you met me at the door of the church and said, “Are you going to say anything more about Melchizedek?” and I said, “Yes, I am!” because the first ten verses of chapter 7 explain what the author has been hinting at about Jesus being a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.В And that’s what we studied last time together.В When we looked at Hebrews chapter 7 verses 1 to 10, we learned the significance of Jesus being a priest after the order of Melchizedek.В In Hebrews chapter 5 verses 6 and 10, the author of Hebrews had mentioned this Melchizedek theme.В He raised it again at the end of Hebrews chapter 7, but then when you get into Hebrews chapter 7, he really camps on that theme and he begins to unfold it and explain it.В And that’s what we did last week when we were together.В
And we saw at least three important things.В We saw the reason why it was absolutely necessary that Jesus be a priest not according to Levi and Aaron but according to Melchizedek.В We saw that understanding Jesus as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek explains why He is a superior High Priest, why He can be called the great High Priest.В And we saw that those unique qualities of His priesthood are absolutely essential to us in the Christian life.В So today we’re going to continue looking at this theme of the superiority of Jesus Christ as a great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.В And as we look at Hebrews 7 verses 11 to 28, I want you to be on the lookout for three things that is says about Old Testament priests and two things that is says about Jesus.В So as we work through the passage together I’ll highlight those things to you, but be on the lookout for them even as we read the passage together.В Let’s pray before we read God’s Word.
Lord, You inspired this Word by Your Holy Spirit and we need the Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts and minds to understand it.В So open our eyes, Lord, to behold wonderful things in Your Word, and apply those truths to our hearts by Your Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name.В Amen.
This is the Word of God.В Hear it in Hebrews 7 beginning in verse 11:
“Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?В For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.В For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.В For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.В For it is witnessed of him,
‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’
For on 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.
And it was not without an oath.В 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:В
‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’’В
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
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.В Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.В 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.В 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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.В May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This whole passage is about how a person draws near to God.В And the author of Hebrews is saying you must understand why it is absolutely essential that Jesus was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek if you are going to understand why it is absolutely essential that you draw near to God in Jesus Christ only, and that when you draw near to God in Jesus Christ only, you have no fear of rejection.В You have hope for perseverance, you have reason for assurance, and you have a solid ground for all your hope in the Christian life.В So I want you to see three things that the author of Hebrews says about the Old Testament priesthood and then two things that he says as a consequence, as a deduction, about Jesus, as we work our way through this passage and as we think about what it means to draw near to God. В
ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS NOT BASED
ON THE OLD TESTAMENT PRIESTHOOD
Now the first thing you’ll see in verse 11.В The very first thing that the author of Hebrews teaches us here is that our perseverance, our continuing in the Christian life, our assurance, our security about the love of God in His salvation, our hope and our sanctification, is not secured through the Old Testament priesthood.В Look at the words that he says.В “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek?”В You see what he’s saying?В He’s saying that the Old Testament priesthood and the Old Testament ceremonial law and the Old Testament ritual order, could not give you the grace of perseverance and assurance and hope and sanctification.В It could not, in and of itself, cause you to draw near to God.В The author of Hebrews is saying that that whole Old Testament order was unable to bring about the reality that it symbolized.В This is stunning.В When he says that perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priesthood, you can imagine how Hebrew hearers would have heard what he was saying.В This is a very strong word that he’s saying.В He’s saying that not one sin was forgiven by the sacrifices of the Old Testament priesthood, not one.В That not one conscience was cleansed by the sacrifices of the Old Testament priesthood, not one.В That not one believer was enabled to assurance by the Old Testament priesthood. ВThat in and of itself, the Old Testament priesthood was not the culmination of the promise of God’s plan and had inherent limitations.В
In other words, the author of Hebrews is preparing to argue that the goal of God’s grace work in believers is realized only in Jesus.В Now he’s going to argue this all the way to chapter 10.В And at one point in chapter 10 you remember what he’s going to say?В He’s going to say the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sin.В So this argument begins here but it continues to build for the next three chapters.В His point is if you’re going to have assurance, if you’re going to draw near to God, how are you going to do it?В Not through the Levitical priesthood; only through Jesus.В What did David quote before the baptismal service?В “What can wash away my sin?”В The blood of bulls and goats of the Old Testament Levitical priesthood?В No.В “What can wash away my sins?В Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
JESUS’ PRIESTHOOD IS NOT BASED ON THE OLD TESTAMENT PRIESTHOOD
Second, look at verses 12 to 17.В Here, the author of Hebrews goes on to say while the Old Testament priesthood points to Jesus, Jesus’ priesthood is not based on the Old Testament priesthood; it’s not based on the ceremonial law of Moses.В It’s not based on Jesus being physically descended from the tribe of Levi.В If you were an Old Testament priest, you were not from the tribe of Judah; you were from the tribe of Levi.В And if you weren’t from the tribe of Levi, you couldn’t be an Old Testament priest.В Now Jesus was from the tribe of Judah.В You remember what John calls Him in the book of Revelation?В The Lion of the tribe of Judah.В The author of Hebrews is saying Jesus is a priest but He’s not a priest based on the Old Testament priesthood.В Look at what he says in verse 12.В “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”В And this priesthood is not based, look at verse 16, on the “legal requirement concerning bodily descent.”В In other words, the priesthood that Jesus receives is not based on His being descended from Levi; it’s based on something else.В
And what does he say?В It’s based on two things – the power of an indestructible life and the oath of God.В So listen to what the author of Hebrews is saying.В He’s saying that while the Old Testament priesthood points to Jesus, by all of those sacrifices and all of that ritual points to Jesus, Jesus’ priesthood is not based on being descended from Levi and it’s not based on the laws that Moses gave for priests in the Old Testament.В It’s based on the fact that Jesus lives forever and that God has sworn an oath to make Him a priest forever.В This is where the author of Hebrews quotes in verse 17 from Psalm 110 verse 4, the words that were spoken to David’s Lord.В You remember how that psalm begins?В “The LORD said to my Lord” – this is David the king talking about the LORD – who’s that?В That’s Yahweh, that’s the God of Israel – “said to my Lord.”В Now wait a second.В God said to David’s Lord?В Who’s David’s Lord?В You remember Jesus asked this question at one point in His ministry.В Who’s David’s Lord?В And Jesus’ answer is, “I’m David’s Lord.В I’m the Messiah.В The Messiah is David’s Lord.”В And the Messiah was promised in Psalm 110, not only that He would reign but what else?В That He would be, verse 4, “a priest forever.”В And the author of Hebrews is saying that’s the thing that’s established the priesthood of Jesus.В He lives forever and God swore Him an oath that He would be a priest forever.В So Jesus’ priesthood is not based on the law of Moses, it’s not based on Levitical descent; it’s based on the indestructibility of His life and the oath that God has sworn to Him.
THE LEVITICAL CODE IN ITSELF CANNOT BRING SOMEONE NEAR TO GODВ
Third, look at verses 18 to 22.В The third thing that the author of Hebrews teaches us about the Old Testament priesthood is this.В The Levitical code is merely considered in itself utterly useless for bringing someone near to God.В Listen again to the words of verses 18 and following.В “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect).”В Now those are very strong words.В Can you imagine how offensive those would have been to Hebrew ears?В The law is weak and useless, in and of itself, for bringing someone near to God.В In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying the Old Testament ritual system brought absolutely no one near to God.В
And look what he goes on to say.В “On the other hand,” verse 19, “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”В And who do we draw near to God through?В Verse 22 – “Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant,” verse 25, “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him.”В This is stunning.В The author of Hebrews is saying Abraham did not draw near to God through sacrifices of animals; he drew near to God through Jesus.В Moses did not draw near to God through sacrifices of animals; he drew near to God through Jesus.В And today, the only way that you can draw near to God is through Jesus.В He is the only efficacious priest.В He is the priest that God made an oath to in Psalm 110, after the law had been given, that He would be a priest forever, and He is the only priest who’s activities on behalf of believers is utterly and unfailingly and everlastingly efficacious.В His sacrifice for us prevails.В His redeeming work for us forgives.В His intercession on our behalf enables us to persevere, enables us to have assurance, enables us to have hope, enables us to grow in grace.В So he’s showing how the Old Testament priesthood could not do any of these things and how all of these things happen only in Jesus.
ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS BASED ON JESUS’ PERMANENT PRIESTHOOD
And then he wants to tell you two things about Jesus.В Look with me very briefly in verses 23 to 26.В Here’s the first one.В The first thing he wants you to see is your security, your security is based on the permanency of Jesus’ priesthood.В Notice verse 23.В The former priests were prevented by continuing in their ministry – why?В Because they died!В You know, preachers die.В Preachers die and you cart them out and you bury them and you bring another one in and you go on.В Sean Lucas and I were talking yesterday about how we often look at the pictures of our predecessors on the walls at the church and say, “You know what?В One day our picture is going to be up there and First Pres. is going to keep on rocking right along.В And we’re going to be six feet under and somebody else is going to be in that pulpit preaching the Word of God and preaching the Gospel.В Praise the Lord!”В But priests were like that too.В They served the Lord, they got buried, they plopped the next one in place, and they went on.В But Jesus is not like that.В His priesthood never comes to an end; it goes on forever.В And your security is based on the permanency of that priesthood.В
And just think about that, my friends.В This is so important.В Why?В Because the problem with sin doesn’t end at the beginning of the Christian life, does it?В You know, we rejoice when we finally realize we’re sinners, finally realize that we need God’s grace, we trust on Him for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel, and we feel the bondage of sin and the guilt of sin, we feel the enormous pleasure of forgiveness and acceptance of God, and then we never have to worry about sin again, right?В No!В We fight against sin every day and we will until the day we die.В We need a priest who will be around through that process.В A friend of mine, a number of years ago, was going through very difficult marital troubles.В And she and her husband saw a godly Christian counselor for a number of years who was a real help in their lives and he was killed tragically in an accident.В And she said to another friend after that happened, “You know, when Bill died, things died with him that nobody else knows in this world about me or about what my husband and I have gone through.В When he died, knowledge about my heart and my struggles died that nobody else in this world knows.”В Well that’s how it would have been with an Old Testament priest. You might have borne your soul to a godly, faithful, Biblical priest and then one day he dies and all the things that you shared with him – he may have ministered to you in a very significant way – all of the things that you shared with him are in the grave with him.В
Not with Jesus.В When you bear your soul to Jesus, He is a priest who will always know what you’ve gone through and He will always be there for you.В He is a permanent priest.В I want you to think of this, my friends.В Even in glory, when you have forgotten, Jesus will remember what you have gone through in this world.В He is a priest forever.В He is the priest that you need.В His priesthood never wears out.В It never ends.В It goes on forever.В He is a permanent priest.В And the author of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t you understand that your security is absolutely dependent upon having a permanent priest?”
ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IS BASED ON THE PERFECTION OF JESUS’ PERSON
The second thing he says – look at this in verses 26 to 28.В He says that your security is not only based on the permanency of Jesus’ priesthood, it’s based on the perfection of Jesus’ person.В “It was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens, who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people.”В You remember how it worked?В The Old Testament priests, before they could offer sacrifices for you, had to offer sacrifices for themselves because they were sinners.В Yes, they were appointed by God, yes, they were to represent you to God, yes, they were to offer the sacrifices, but they were sinners and so they had to offer sacrifices for themselves.В Jesus did not; He was perfect!В And not only that, how often do they have to offer those sacrifices?В Not only yearly, but daily!В Thousands upon thousands of sacrifices from 1444 BC all the way to Jesus’ time, daily offered – why?В Because the blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse the conscience.В
And yet what is said about Jesus’ sacrifice?В Look at verse 27.В “He did this once for all when he offered up himself.”В You see what the author of Hebrews is saying?В He’s saying that none of those sacrifices forgave a single sin and that Jesus, in one sacrifice, forgave every sin of everyone who draws near to God through Him.В Once for all.В So your security rests not only on Jesus being a permanent priest, but also on Jesus being a perfect person.В And this is why the author of Hebrews wants you to understand about this obscure Old Testament figure, Melchizedek, because he wants you to understand that Jesus’ priesthood was a better priesthood than the priesthood which the laws of Moses established.В He is a priest forever and He ever lives to intercede.В If you are trusting in Him, you may be certain that you will draw near to God in Him and through Him.В The whole point is – What can wash away your sin?В Nothing but the blood of Jesus.В Or, as David Strain told us on Wednesday night in his sermon – The title deed of every spiritual blessing you will find on it your name inscribed by the nail-pierced hands and purchased for you by the blood of the Redeemer.В Nothing in our hands we bring; simply to His cross we cling.В Everything that we need to draw near to God is found in Jesus.В Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the multiple reminders of the Gospel that we have had throughout this service, and especially in this passage, and it is my prayer right now, Lord, if there are friends that are in this room today who have not put all of their hope on Jesus, it’s my prayer that right now, by the work of the Holy Spirit, you would bring them to faith in Jesus and that they would never ever stop trusting Him.В And for those who are struggling with sin today and they’re discouraged in their struggle against sin, I pray that You would remind them that in Jesus they have a priest who will never quit and He will bring them near to God.В And I pray these prayers in Jesus’ name.В Amen.
Now let’s continue to sing about this very theme, taking our hymnals in hand and turning to number 305, “Arise, My Soul, Arise!”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.В Amen.