Faithlife Sermons

January 24, 2021 Worship Service

New and Improved: The Better Covenant  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:07:39
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Last week we learned that the new covenant between God and man that came into effect through Jesus is better than the old covenant which was instituted through Moses. The author of the letter to the Hebrews had proving that as his goal when he wrote the section that begins at 7:1 and goes through 10:18.
He developed that thought along 3 threads — that the new covenant has a better priesthood, a better temple, and a better sacrifice than is found under the old covenant. This morning we will consider the better priesthood of Jesus Christ as it is described to us in Hebrews 7-8. Please keep your Bible open so you can follow along as we work through these two chapters.
The emphasis we have throughout these 2 chapters is twofold: 1) Describing Jesus qualifications as the ideal/perfect high priest, and 2) Describing the difference the ideal/perfect high priest makes for us.

The Ideal High Priest’s Qualifications:

As we make our way through these chapters I’ll point out 6 descriptions of the ideal high priest that the priesthood of Jesus is better than the levitical priesthood described in the OT. The ideal high priest:

1)Is from the order of Melchizedek.

The point of 7:1-17 is that Jesus is a priest who belongs to the order of Melchizedek. That’s a point previously stated in 5:10 and 6:20. Now the author picks up that statement and expands upon it. It is one of the most unusual characteristics of Hebrews that great significance is given here to this rather obscure man from the OT. There is more written about Melchizedek in Hebrews than in the rest of the Bible combined. In fact, he is only mentioned in two other places — Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4.
So, why does the author of Hebrews make such a big deal about someone who is only mentioned in 4 OT verses. My answer is that it was because of the combined meaning of those two OT passages that he saw this man as highly important. Genesis 14 provides the historical reference - after a battle in which Abraham rescued his nephew Lot, he encountered Melchizedek who is described as a priest of God Most High. That’s the crucial detail from the Genesis account. Melchizedek was a priest of God who was not descended from Abraham or Aaron to whom the old covenant priests had to trace their ancestry.
Psalm 110 was written by David many centuries after that encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek. Imagine that you’re the author of Hebrews in the 1st century. You’re studying your Bible and find in the Psalms this reference to Melchizedek. How would you react? You would ask yourself, “What possible interest would David have in Melchizedek?” And what you’d see is that David identified a priestly order under the name of this obscure figure. You’d see the Messianic implications — that David was looking forward to a priesthood under the Messiah outside of the levitical priestly system.
The OT references to Melchizedek establish the principle of a priesthood that preceded the old covenant priesthood, and would be fulfilled through the Messiah. They establish a priesthood, separate from the descendants of Aaron, that supercedes and supplants that old covenant priesthood. The new covenant priesthood is better because it, not the old covenant priesthood, was God’s plan all along. Jesus’ priesthood is better because he is a priest from the order of Melchizedek.

2)Is appointed by God.

In vss. 20-21 God’s oath in designating the Messiah to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek is featured:
Hebrews 7:20–21 ESV
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.’ ”
He’s saying that the Messiah’s priesthood is specifically ordained by God. God declared him to be a priest forever. With the old covenant priests, no such oath was taken by God. A man became part of that priesthood by birth. The “better” priesthood is the one which God brought about through a formal declaration of His will.

3)Exercises a permanent priesthood.

Look at 7:23-24:
Hebrews 7:23–24 ESV
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.
The old covenant priesthood changed constantly because the members of that order were subject to death. No matter how trustworthy they were, they could not provide a secure relationship with God because death ended their priesthood.
Jesus was also subject to death. He died on the cross. But he rose from the dead. Therefore, his priesthood is permanent because death has no further claim on him; he continues forever. Consequently, his priesthood is stable and trustworthy. He is a better high priest.

4)Is not guilty of sin.

Vss. 26-27 give us the next contrast between the character of Jesus and the character of the old covenant priests:
Hebrews 7:26–27 ESV
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 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.
Follow the logic in these verses: The problem of sin doesn’t apply to Jesus. He is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. But the high priests under the old covenant had to make sacrifices for their own sins before they could do anything for anyone else. They were affected by the same problem as the people they were meant to help. Consequently, they had to make sacrifices over and over again. Their sacrifices were highly limited in their effectiveness because their own sinfulness tainted their ministry. But Jesus, the perfectly holy high priest offered a single sacrifice that took care of the problem of sin once and for all.

5)Carries out his ministry in heaven.

8:1-5 provides a contrast between the locations where the priesthood of the new and old covenants are carried out:
Hebrews 8:1–5 ESV
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
Jesus’ priesthood is being exercised on our behalf in heaven in the direct, continuous presence of the Majesty in heaven. Old covenant priests do their work on earth in what vs. 5 calls a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. Let me draw attention to the word “shadow.” Think about the way your shadow works. If you do something in front of a bright light, you will cast a shadow on the ground or the wall behind you. And the shadow will appear to be doing exactly what you do. But your shadow doesn’t actually do anything except to show what you are doing. A shadow has no substance, just appearance. It simply shows the reality of what it is a shadow of.
That’s the comparison between the earthly ministry of the old covenant priests and the priesthood of Jesus. The ministry of the earthly priests accomplishes nothing but to show the reality of the heavenly ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ priesthood is the reality. The old covenant priesthood was a shadow showing how Christ’s priesthood works.

6)Mediates the new covenant.

Vss. 6-13 of ch. 8 point to the OT promise of a new covenant. The author quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. His point is that the promise of a new covenant means that the old covenant wasn’t meant to be God’s final solution to re-establish fellowship between Himself and mankind. Vs. 7 makes the point very clearly:
Hebrews 8:7 ESV
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
The very fact that God, who doesn’t change His mind and always keeps His word, would promise a new covenant means that the old covenant was always meant to be a temporary measure. The new covenant was always the plan. And Jesus, as the high priest of the new covenant, is the better high priest.
When we put all these descriptions together, there can be no doubt: Jesus is a better high priest than anything the old covenant had to offer. He is not just a better high priest. He is an incomparably great high priest. There simply is none to compare with him. He is the high priest.
If we see that, we do well. We can see who Christ is, how wonderfully great he is, and give praise to him for it. And we should do that. But that feels detached from everyday life. And our high priest is not detached from our lives. And the author of Hebrews describes clearly the practical implications of Jesus being our great high priest. Look at 7:25:
Hebrews 7:25 ESV
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.

The Ideal High Priest’s Ministry:

Notice two benefits we gain because Jesus is a better high priest than the old covenant priests:

1)Extreme salvation.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him. The word translated “uttermost” has two main definitions: 1) completely, and 2) forever. Which meaning is intended here. I think both. He is able to save completely and forever those who seek fellowship with God through him.
Other spiritual helpers may be able to provide life tweaks that may provide short term improvements to how we feel about our lives. But Jesus alone is able to save to the uttermost.
I’m calling this extreme salvation because there is no possibility that he would fail to save those who come to him. The author’s intention in this passage is to point out that the only one who can save us completely and forever is the high priest after the order of Melchizedek, chosen directly by God, with an eternal priesthood, free from sin himself, who has gone into heaven to minister, and who is central to the new covenant. Because Jesus fulfills all those qualifications, he, and he alone, is able to save from sin and bring us to God.

2)Constant intercession.

He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through him. Strong’s Enhanced Greek/English lexicon gives this definition of the word translated “intercession:” “ go to or meet a person esp. for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication.” Jesus, our great high priest, has gone into heaven where he lives perpetually to speak to God on our behalf.
Those who approach God through Jesus as their high priest are the constant topic of conversation between God the Father and God the Son in heaven. He is there, in heaven, to speak to the Father on our behalf.
It is the role of a priest to appeal to God on behalf of sinners so that God might forgive them and allow them to draw near. And that is what Jesus always lives to do. If you’ve put your faith in him as your Savior, he doesn’t as God to forgive you once and then forget about you. His appeal to the Father is constant.
Perhaps you picture the ascended Christ sitting in heaven relaxing while he waits for the Father to tell him it’s time for the second coming. Today’s passage gives a different picture. He is in the direct presence of the Father constantly speaking to Him about us, interceding on our behalf in the interest of our fellowship with God. He is fulfilling that priestly role of seeking the application of God’s willingness to forgive to our need for forgiveness. It is he who works in heaven to convince the Father to give grace and mercy to us in our need.
It takes the kind of priest described here in Hebrews 7-8 to effectively fulfill the priest’s role to appeal to God on behalf of sinners. And the wonderful truth presented here is that that is exactly what we have. We have a high priest who is able to save and who always lives to make intercession for us.
There is a qualification as to who may enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ priesthood. Vs. 25 identifies them clearly:
“…those who draw near to God through him...”
The immediate question facing each of us is, does this phrase of scripture describe us? It’s the question that each of us must answer personally and individually. We can break it down further into two questions which I would invite you to ask yourself right now:
Am I intent on drawing near to God?
Am I drawing near to God through faith in Jesus Christ?
Unless the answer to both questions is “yes” none of anything I’ve said this morning has any benefit to you. But if your answer to both questions is yes then everything I’ve said this morning is explicitly for your benefit.
Jesus is the better high priest. He alone is able to save you completely and forever. He alone is at the right hand of God the Father appealing to Him to forgive your sins and welcome you into His presence. He is exactly what we need. Therefore, let us draw near to God through Him. Amen.
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