When Marshall McLuhan argued that “the media is the message,” he was suggesting that you cannot separate the content of the message from the means by which it is received. He emphasized the fact that new technology can change the values and norms of society over time.
The means through which we approach God is critical to our understanding of the content of his revelation. The means by which the Old Testament saints approached God was different. While they belonged to the same covenant of grace, we recognize that the administration of that covenant has differed throughout history. The priestly administration radically changed everything!
To revert to an older administration is to depart from the fulfillment in Christ. We might also infer that developing a new administration, apart from special revelation, is to depart from the better hope that Christ has achieved.
The means by which we commune with God must be governed by the word of God. Unfortunately, humans are fickle creatures enamored by creative means of approaching God. However, when we acknowledge what Christ has accomplished, we won’t be so easily led astray from the biblical prescription for worship. Fundamentally, that means we: Draw near to God through a better hope empowered by the indestructible life of our Savior.
Read Hebrews 7:1-19.
The Superiority of Melchizedek (4-10)
I titled this sermon series, “Jesus >”. It is a synonym for the word “better,” a word that occurs in Hebrews more than the rest of the New Testament combined. The author is not contrasting a bad thing with a good thing, but a good thing with something that is better. The point? Jesus brings us into a better hope (19), one that establishes a better covenant relationship with God.
Last week we began by reviewing all of the passages, up to this point, that referred to Jesus as our high priest. We considered what led up to his case for the character of Melchizedek. This week we will look at Melchizedek in comparison to Abraham, then Christ.
This first section highlights the superiority of Melchizedek over Abraham. The author focuses on the tithe Abraham offered and the blessing Melchizedek gave, two things he already mentioned in Heb 7:1-2.
1. Melchizedek Received a Tithe from Abraham (4-6a; 8-10): Throughout Israel’s history the Levites were commanded to receive tithes from the people. Although they were all descendants of Abraham, the Levites were given a tithe instead of an allotment of land for their inheritance (Deut 18:1-2). This tithe also served as payment for their priestly service (Num 18:21-29). Whereas the Levites are mortal men, Melchizedek is prophesied by the psalmist to live (Ps 110:4). No Levitical priest could ever be superior to Abraham, but Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
2. Melchizedek Blessed Abraham (6b-7): If Melchizedek blessed Abraham, his superiority extends to Abraham’s descendants as well.
Herveus: “If Melchizedek, who was a sign and shadow, is preferred to Abraham and to all the levitical priests, how much more Christ, who is the truth and the substance!… If a type of Christ is greater than he who has the promises, how much more so is Christ himself!”
Tithes are offered by the inferior to the superior, while blessings are given by the superior to the inferior.
Simple Offerings, Superior Blessings
All through my high school years I had a mentor named Dave Peterson who was a great encouragement to me. He was on staff at the church I attended and served as the director for YoungLife in Fresno. At one point, he went on a short-term mission trip to Japan. One of the men he met on that trip wanted to give him a gift as he was leaving, but he didn’t have anything with him. So the young man bent down and took the leather shoelace out of his shoe and wrapped it around Dave’s wrist. He was a bit embarrassed by the simplicity of his gift, but that bracelet was very meaningful for Dave. It became a symbol of their friendship and reminded him to pray for the young man often.
Dave bought some the same leather laces and gave them to a few of us high school students. I remember wearing that thing until it dissolved and replaced it with a new one until that dissolved too. What that young man in Japan had given as a token of his friendship, Dave gave to us as our mentor. Throughout high school that wristband reminded me of the blessing I had received from Dave’s mentoring.
Oftentimes, it is the simple gestures of blessing and friendship that speak the loudest over the years. The superior reward is found in the simplest of gestures.
The Most Expensive Offering
When we come into God’s presence, we bring a very simple offering in faith. It isn’t the amount of what we’re offering, but the recognition that we are offering it as a symbol of our loyal friendship to the most superior Mediator.
When we worship God through Jesus Christ we receive the greatest blessing of truly drawing near to the living God! God has now brought us near, as friends, who were once his enemies, through the sacrificial offering of his Son. Jesus offered up himself upon the cross — the most expensive offering in history — so that we might be reconciled to God through him.
We have simple emblems of bread and wine that remind us of the blessings we have received through our union with Christ. Whenever we’re distracted by another shiny object, or means of approaching God, let us remember the greatest sacrifice — through one of the simplest means of grace — that he instituted for us.
The Order of Melchizedek (11-14)
The focus in this section is on the inadequacy of the priesthood after the order of Aaron. The Levitical priesthood promoted the law, but could not provide the ability to obey it (11). This is why another priesthood was necessary.
What does it mean that a change in the law was necessary (12)?
The laws regarding the priesthood and the Levitical sacrificial system necessarily came to an end when Christ fulfilled their purpose. This is the ceremonial law that is uniquely satisfied so that there is no more need for its operation. With the arrival of the substance, we do not need to revert to the shadows.
This is different than how Christ fulfills the moral law, because the purpose of the moral law is to do the will of our Father in heaven. By trusting in Christ we are being conformed into his image from one degree of glory to the next. The moral law is to be perpetually observed by everyone, while the ceremonial laws were abrogated (WCF 19.3) when Christ satisfied their righteous requirements.
“These things” all spoke of Jesus who did not descend from the tribe of Levi, but from the tribe of Judah—which never produced any priests (13-14).
Is Perfection Attainable?
Matthew 5:48 ESV
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
No one could attain perfection through the Levitical priesthood, but can they attain it through Melchizedek? How does the order of Melchizedek supply what was lacking in the order of Aaron?
Calvin: “There being a change of the priesthood, there must of necessity be a change of the law. All the sacerdotal functions were transferred to Christ, and in him fulfilled and ended (Heb. 7:12). To him alone, therefore, all the rights and honors of the priesthood have been transferred.”
Under the Levitical system, Christ never offered a single sacrifice. It was the religious leaders — the Jewish scribes and priests — who handed Jesus over to be crucified by Roman authorities. The very substance, of which their offerings were a symbol, was ministering among them, but they rejected him and offered him up as a sacrifice. The irony is that it was through that very sacrifice, that perfection was finally attained for all who place their faith in the Lamb who was slain!
Hebrews 10:14 ESV
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Reverting To An Inferior Means of Grace
Why would the author seek to downplay the Levitical priesthood? Why wouldn’t he simply talk about the greatness of the order of Melchizedek? It seems apparent to me, that the author would only feel the need to do this if he thought there were people in his audience who were reverting back to an expired practice. His audience needed to see how they were attaching living significance to a dead system. They perceived they might find religious value by maintaining a worthless tradition. That’s not hyperbole — he’ll call it “useless” in v.18.
They were on the verge of denigrating the priesthood of Christ and his sacrifice by appealing to the temple and viewing it with ongoing validity. They were tempted to replace the superior means of approaching God with the older, inferior means.
How do we avoid similar errors today? We want to appreciate all that we can about the shadows and symbols of biblical imagery, then recognize how our Lord fulfills them by satisfying their ultimate purpose. Then we approach God corporately and individually through the ordinary means appropriate to the administration of the gospel.
WCF 7.6 — “Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles…”
The simplicity of the ordinary means of grace serve to magnify the superiority of the new covenant. We don’t need to get creative with our approach to God. We simply continue to draw near through a better hope.
The Likeness of Melchizedek (15-19)
The Messiah would NOT arise from the order of Aaron (15). Judah never produced any priests, but Melchizedek was a legitimate priest of the Most High God who ministered before Aaron.
Whereas Melchizedek had no record of his birth and death, Jesus existed before his birth and he conquered death (16). That Jesus came in the likeness of Melchizedek implies that physical descent had nothing to do with his priestly order. What distinguished Christ from every other Old Testament priest was his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father — which enables him to be a priest forever (17; Psalm 110:4).
Every previous high priest died so that his priestly office had to be filled by another. On the other hand, as our great high priest, Jesus rose again from the dead and never needs to be replaced. He ushered us into the holy of holies (Heb 6:20) so that all believers might share in his priesthood.
Verse 18 is a general reference to the commandments of the law that were incapable of perfecting anyone or anything. The law that governed the Levitical system was incapable of making anyone perfect (19). The priesthood could never permanently achieve the righteousness that it symbolized.
But, in Christ, we are introduced to a better hope! He becomes our Eternal Mediator, granting us permanent access to the throne of grace!
RPM: “The practical lesson, of course, is that it is foolish to return to the old hope, when the better hope has come.”
A Fading Hope
The goal of the church under the new covenant is to retain the hope that Christ introduced. Humans will continue to introduce new ideas as long as we remain in this present age. New philosophers can spark debate and build anticipation.
Bavinck: “Philosophy, whenever after a period of decay it enters upon a period of revival again, always begins with an extraordinary and exaggerated expectation. At such a time it lives in the hope that by means of continued serious investigation it will solve the riddle of the wold. But always after this young over-excitement the old disillusionment enters in. So far from decreasing, the problems increase as the study proceeds.”
The greatest philosophies of this world can ultimately offer a fading hope. It can never satisfy the demands of our hearts.
Draw Near Through A Better Hope
The original audience was tempted by an inferior hope. They were on the verge of departing from the prescription of redemptive history. Similarly, we are often led astray by outdated tradition or newly developing philosophies. Listen to the repeated exhortation of Hebrews:
Draw near to God through the better hope that is held out to you by the resurrected Savior who conquered sin and death and ever lives to make intercession for you (Heb 7:25).