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Hebrews

Consider How Great

Hebrews  7

We must not let the details of the argument in this passage obscure the great and central truth – the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ. As you read through the passage, remember that theme.

1This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.

4Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5Now 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. 6This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. 8In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

11If 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? 12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16one 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. 17For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,

in the order of Melchizedek.ӣ

18The 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.

20And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn

and will not change his mind:

‘You are a priest forever.’ “£

22Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

23Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25Therefore he is able to save completely£ those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

 

The argument sounds strange to the ears of a modern, evangelical Christian. Perhaps that is because we have discarded liturgy. At any rate, it is now sufficiently unknown that some words of explanation must come first.

The Formal Argument

Let us begin by acknowledging the audience for whom this letter was written: the Jewish Christians of the first century. They are a people almost completely apart from us. But there is one fact we do need to recognize: they worshiped at the Temple. The Scripture tells us that Jerusalem is the place where God put his Name; that the original temple was confirmed by God to be that most specific place. If one bit of geography on earth could be said to be holiest, this is it.

Now we must remember that this Temple was a part of their ordinary experience. Though this letter will provide the basis on which we determine that Temple worship is no longer required, it was certainly their habit to go there. So Paul uses what they know to instruct them in what they should know.

Step by step

Let us consider his argument step by step, seeing it as they would.

  • They accepted as indisputable fact (which we deny) that the father is greater than the son. So, in their view, Abraham was greater than Levi.
  • They also accept the fact that “the greater blesses the lesser.” Therefore this Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. This is also seen in the fact that Abraham tithes the spoils of war to this Melchizedek.
  • Mathematically, if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C. So Melchizedek is greater than Levi.
  • Levi is Aaron’s ancestor. So (by the same argument) Melchizedek is greater than Aaron.
  • Both Aaron and Melchizedek are priests – but of different “orders.” They are not of the same priesthood. Melchizedek is greater than Aaron; but does that mean his priesthood is also greater?
  • We can only determine the answer to that question in the information which God has chosen to give us. We know a lot about Aaron and his priesthood; what do we know about this Melchizedek?
  • His name means “king of righteousness.” Interestingly, Aaron means “light bringer.” One brings the light; the other carries it intrinsically.
  • He is also “king of peace” (a play on the word salem, which means peace, but also refers to Jerusalem). There is no royalty to Aaron.
  • By a distinctively Jewish argument, we find that Melchizedek is eternal. How do we know? No genealogy; no parents. How could the Scriptures omit such detail for one so important, unless such details do not exist?
  • The telling difference is this: Aaron’s priesthood is based upon God’s choice. God makes it clear that it is not Aaron’s worthiness; the argument indeed is that God will select someone like this as an indication that no one is worthy. But Melchizedek bases his priesthood on his indestructible life.
  • Finally, Aaron’s priesthood had no oath; Melchizedek’s had an oath of God.

Confused? Welcome to the club. Commentators differ on whether or not Melchizedek is simply a type (a picture) of Christ, or was the pre-incarnate Son. It does not matter; the point is simply this. The priesthood of Christ is superior to the priesthood of Aaron – just as Christ is superior to Aaron.

Consider How Great

I like the King James Version in verse 4: “Consider how great…” It is in the form of a command where the NIV carries the idea of a suggestion. Please humor me in this; for I believe you should consider how great Christ is.

Why should we consider?

You may well ask, why should we do that?

  • First, because it strengthens our hope. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” as the old hymn goes. His greatness strengthens my hope of eternal life.
  • Next, because it encourages our faith. We need to remember that Jesus cares for us – and has the power to change our lives. Our faith is not pie-in-the-sky, but rather the power of Christ in our lives.
  • Of great importance is this: knowing his greatness helps keep us from sin. If we think of our Lord as a only a good teacher, with no control over the universe, we miss the mark, badly. His power is available for his purposes, one of which is to keep us from sin.

One of the sad facts of the Reformation is that evangelical Christians are deprived of the discipline of devotional worship of Jesus. It seems so “Catholic.” But here we have it laid out for us.

Consider his relationship

Sometimes greatness is in who you know:

  • Consider his relationship to God. He is so much divine that we call him the Son of God. And such he is; he is “of the same essence” as God the Father, and therefore an equal before him.
  • Consider his relationship to men. He is not “part God, part man” but completely God and completely man. He knows your pain; think of the humiliation he went through so that you might know God.
  • Consider his relationship to the church. The most common figure used for the church is “the bride of Christ.” Anyone living in this time would have known (contrary to our modern thinking) that the bride is in submission to the groom. The church is (or perhaps was; I don’t know how far the rot extends) in submission to her Lord. God’s living body on earth, the church, is to be subject to Jesus.

I do not know how to define greatness to any greater degree than that.

Consider his history

It is not just who he is; consider also what he has done.

  • Think of the humility of his birth. The one who created the universe descends to the point of becoming a human being. Even in doing that, his birth was to humble parents in the lowest of circumstances. This he did for us.
  • The Holy Spirit saw to it that he was “born of woman.” Meaning, of course, the virgin birth, it also means he was without sin. If that isn’t greatness, the word has no meaning.
  • Consider the life he lived. Thirty years in obscurity, then an itinerant preacher – and yet his words still guide men today. By his teaching he has shaped our civilization.
  • Consider even more the death he died. He was not only killed to atone for us, it was done in humiliation. Greatness is shown in what it will endure.
  • Consider his resurrection. He has done what no man could do: broken the power of death. Our return from the grave is sure, for his word proclaims it.
  • Consider his ascension. Having endured all that, for us, he returned to his Father, going back to his place in eternity.

There is greatness in service, and there is no greater example than this.

Therefore …

… is a dangerous word. The student should be wary in turning the “therefore” corner, for it usually precedes something of power.

Able to save completely

By his greatness he is able to save “completely.”

  • First, he is able to save … us! No matter what we have done, no matter how vile we are, his grace is sufficient.
  • Not only us, but those of whom we despair. We look at someone and say, “he will never come to Christ.” His power extends beyond their sins - and beyond our sight.
  • Not only the vile, but also the unpleasant – those people we’d really rather not associate with. These, too, are within his sight.
Lives to intercede

It is his purpose! He did not ascend to the Father simply to evade us on the planet. Rather, his purpose is to intercede for us, pleading with the Father in regard to our weakness.

Do you see what a model that is for us? If you walk away from this lesson with nothing else, walk away with this: “As Christ intercedes for you, so you should intercede for others.”

Meets our need

I cannot say for your part, but for mine I would not want to meet God the Father face to face – without Jesus Christ. I am not fit even to be in his presence. How then can I be saved from the wrath of God? I need some help; I need someone to plead my case and beg my forgiveness. Jesus meets this need:

  • He meets my need in purity. Where I am unclean in sin, he is perfect in his purity. He can take my case to the father.
  • He meets my need in position. I have no intrinsic standing before God; I have no right to say anything to God. I’m the pot, he’s the potter, remember? But in Christ I have the standing to speak to the Almighty.
  • He meets my need in power. Trying to live in imitation of him is not easy – but he has power to uphold me in the attempt.

Consider, then, how great Jesus truly is.

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