Hebrews 4:14-7:38: A Better Priest

When you go to a doctor, you want to make sure he’s got THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS. If you’d been unlucky enough to require surgery in Bundaberg in QLD in 2003 to 2005, you might have been operated on by Dr Jayant Patel.

Despite having his medical license RESTRICTED by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners in September 2000, and finally CANCELLED by the NY Board of Health in April 2001, he somehow managed to get EXCELLENT REFERENCES.

And with the help of these, he eventually found his way to Queensland where he was appointed head of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital in 2003, under the “Overseas Trained Doctors” programme.

Despite his impeccable credentials, it didn’t take long for his true abilities to surface. His surgical work was described as “sloppy”, and some nurses even claimed that they HID THEIR PATIENTS FROM HIM when they knew that he was in the hospital, referring to him as “Dr. E. coli”.

He’s alleged to have shown a poor regard for hygiene/ with claims that he responded to a nurse’s concern over his unwashed hands with “doctors don’t have germs”.

Overall, Patel is linked to at least 87 deaths out of the 1,202 patients he treated between 2003 to early 2005, 30 of whom died while under his care in Bundaberg.

When you place your LIFE IN SOMEONE’S HANDS, you want to make sure they’ve got the right credentials.

Concerns with Jesus’ credentials

And for the Hebrew Christians. The ones who received this letter. It seems like they were concerned about JESUS’ CREDENTIALS – his qualifications AS A PRIEST.

After all, it’s a fairly important matter. If someone was REPRESENTING you before the God of the Universe – your CREATOR AND JUDGE – then you’d want to know whether that person’s got the goods. Whether he’s QUALIFIED.

And when it comes to THIS LIFE. Whether he’s WORTHY of all your trust. Because if you’re risking your life to stand up as a Christian, you want to be confident that Jesus is going to be dependable when it counts.

And these chapters seem to be answering their doubts.

It wasn’t that these Jewish Christians had a problem with PRIESTS. Priests had been an everyday part of their whole lives.

They knew the sorts of credentials a high priest had to have. First, he had to be from the tribe of LEVI. But more specifically from Aaron’s family – the FIRST high priest.

And they knew the sorts of things the High Priest had TO DO. Like it says in Ch 5 v1

5:1 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to REPRESENT THEM IN MATTERS RELATED TO GOD, TO OFFER GIFTS AND SACRIFICES FOR SINS.

But, for one reason or another, they were beginning to DOUBT JESUS’ CREDENTIALS. His ability to do a better job than the priests they’d left behind. They were tempted to go back to the EARTHLY High Priest – the one in Jerusalem – the one whose work they could SEE, whose sacrifices they could SMELL.

Concerns Answered – Jesus’ credentials

And so Hebrews wants to ANSWER THEIR CONCERNS. To spend some time CONFIRMING JESUS’ CREDENTIALS. Proving his references. In a way perhaps the QLD Health Dept should have done with Dr Jayant Patel.

Look at how it begins at Ch 4 v14. It sums up the whole argument. The next 3 chapters in a nutshell.

14 Therefore, since we have a GREAT high priest who has gone THROUGH THE HEAVENS, Jesus the SON OF GOD, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

He’s not just ANY High Priest – he’s a GREAT High Priest. Because he doesn’t just go through the CURTAIN in the TEMPLE into the Holy of Holies – that just REPRESENTS heaven. He goes THROUGH THE HEAVENS into God’s VERY PRESENCE.

And he’s not just a son of LEVI, or AARON, but the SON OF GOD.

And finally, since all of that is true, you need to HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH YOU PROFESS.

That’s the argument. And he spend the next three chapters fleshing it out.

Let me show you. Into Ch 5. Look at Jesus’ credentials. First thing. V4. He’s been APPOINTED BY GOD HIMSELF.

4 No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “YOU ARE MY SON; today I have become your Father.”  6 And he says in another place, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Appointed by God as A SON, and an ETERNAL PRIEST. And something to do with Melchizedek – who we’ll come back to in a few minutes.

He’s been declared to be the man for the job by GOD HIMSELF.

Competencies

And then we take up the issue of COMPETENCIES. Job Skills. What was Jesus LIKE at actually DOING THE JOB OF A PRIEST?

EARTHLY priests represent men before God, and offer gifts and sacrifices to Him. Well, Jesus does the SAME. V7.

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus was EFFECTIVE as a priest. His prayers were HEARD. And so, he’s become THE SOURCE OF SALVATION.

And there’s that guy Melchizedek again! V10. Don’t forget about him, because we’re COMING to him.

You Are What You Eat

But before we get to Melchizedek, the writer needs to stop and give them a bit of A PEP-TALK. Because what’s coming isn’t easy to listen to. It’s going to take some concentration. Some hard-work. Some APPLICATION to THE TASK. Just like what you need in the Christian life.

The problem is/ as Christians/ they’re getting a little FLABBY AROUND THE MIDDLE – spiritually speaking.

A bit soft. A bit lazy.

And it’s all to do with their DIET. Because, just as with PHYSICAL FOOD, when it comes to the Christian life, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

There was a national health survey released a few months ago. And it showed Australians are GETTING FATTER and drinking more. Australians are eating themselves to death.

This is hard to imagine, but the Bureau of Statistics says 62 percent of Australian men and 45 percent of women fell into the overweight or obese categories, up about 10 percent in the past decade.

But the survey found that only one third of adults considered themselves fat.

Another survey found that, on average, Australians spend A QUARTER of their household budgets on takeaway food and restaurants. We’re eating ourselves to death.

The basic problem is WE ARE WHAT WE EAT. If we eat junk, then we can expect that to affect the way we look. Bad food leads to bad health.

And it’s the same here in Hebrews. As Christians, we are what we SPIRITUALLY eat. Our choice of spiritual food will determine what sort of Christians we are. And what we’ll BECOME.

And the sad news is/ these Jewish Christians have been pigging out on spiritual junk food. Comfort food. Easy to digest, but no nutrition.

Look at how they’re described. Ch 5 v11. They’re SLOW TO LEARN. It’s literally dull to HEAR. They’re LAZY LISTENERS. They should be TEACHERS by this stage, but they’re stuck on drinking milk. They’re spiritual babies.

Jesus says to take up a cross and follow him. But that’s a bit risky for these guys. There are some pretty intense consequences for taking their Christian faith too seriously. So they cool their heels, putter along in first gear, but don’t really get SERIOUS about LEARNING MORE ABOUT FOLLOWING AND OBEYING JESUS. There’s not a lot of CROSS-CARRYING to be seen.

V13. They’ve forgotten about the teaching about righteousness. About maturity and obedience.

And, so, they’re encouraged, at the start of Ch 6, TO GROW UP. To start eating REAL FOOD. HEALTHY food. “Leave the baby stuff – and go on to maturity!” Listen hard to the RISKY stuff. The life-changing stuff. The stuff that if you’re serious about following it, could get you into a lot of trouble.

But it’s more than just a choice of meat or fish for dinner. It’s deadly serious. In fact, their VERY SALVATION DEPENDS ON IT.

They’re scared of the EARTHLY consequences of growing in maturity. But there are ETERNAL consequences of wanting to stay IMMATURE.

What’s described next is the effect of staying on junk food. Of TASTING all the good stuff, but never really FEEDING ON IT.

People who deliberately choose POOR FOOD, who choose to stay as babies- risk MISSING OUT ON THEIR SALVATION.

They’re described in Ch 6 v 4 to 6. They’re people who haven’t taken the warnings and encouragements SERIOUSLY. The sorts of things he’s been saying right from the beginning.

Ch 2:1 Pay more careful attention so you don’t drift away.

Ch 3:12 See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from God.

Ch 3:14 Hold firmly to the end the confidence you had at first.

4:1: Be careful none of you be found to have fallen short of God’s rest.

4:14 Hold firmly to the faith we profess

He keeps hammering the same point because the danger is REAL and IMMENSE. Their salvation is AT RISK.

But the OPPOSITE is also true. Look down to v9. People who FEED on the good things of God. Who WORK HARD at listening and learning and growing. Who take note of all those encouragements. Then they end up HEALTHY.

And the writer’s CONFIDENT that that’s what THEY’LL be. Because he’s seen evidence of their obedience and hard work.

But they’ve got to keep up the hard work of LISTENING WELL. And of putting what they hear in to practice.

He finishes up with ANOTHER ENCOURAGEMENT to STICK AT IT. V11 of Ch 6.

11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

It’s a terrible thing for someone to give up on what they’ve been promised. Because it all seems too hard. Or too long to wait. Or not worth waiting for.

In the last few months I’ve heard of a friend who’s decided to give up on being a Christian. He’s convinced himself that it’s not worth fighting anymore. It’s all too hard. And there’s something else he’d rather be doing. Something that seems more important than following Jesus. It’s TRAGIC.

Perhaps you’re feeling like that. You’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth. Or perhaps you know someone who is. Then SPEAK THESE WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO YOURSELF. Speak them to your friend.

Jesus is WORTH it. He won’t let you down. It’s rock-solid. Look down to v19 of Ch 6.

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Mel – who?

And so we come back to Mechizedek again. And THIS TIME, we’re going to explain it all. Because all the answers to the questions about how different Jesus is/ center on this shadowy figure of Melchizedek.

Now, you might be thinking “Mel-who?” But don’t worry too much if you’ve never heard of him. Because he’s only mentioned in four other verses in the whole Bible – apart from here in Hebrews. Three verses in Gen 14, and one in Ps 110.

And you get a rough biography if you look at the first paragraph of Ch 7. Back in Abraham’s time, Melchizedek was King of Salem – which became Jerusalem. We don’t know anything about his ancestry. Or how he died. But he IS described as a priest of the Most High God.

And he comes into the Bible storyline/ because one day Abraham’s returning from a battle, and he comes to Melchizedek. And gives him a tenth of his spoils from a battle. And then Melchizedek BLESSES him.

Have you got that? Keep that in your mind.

The OTHER reference to Melchizedek is in Ps 110. And we’ve already seen that quote. Back in Ch 5 v6, and again over in Ch 7 v17.

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek .”

God’s promising to send a king. Someone LIKE Melchizedek. Someone who’ll be A KING. But who’ll also be a PRIEST.

And Hebrews is saying that this promise comes true IN JESUS. A priest like Melchizedek. And goes on to SHOW all the ways in which Jesus is LIKE Melchizedek.

Melchizedek’s name MEANS King of Righteousness. Which is just what Jesus is.

They were both kings of Jerusalem.

The old name for Jerusalem was SALEM, or SHALOM. Which is PEACE. And so Melchizedek was the King of Peace – Just like Jesus

And since we don’t know where he came from or how he died – without genealogy- there’s a sense in which he’s without beginning or end. Just like Jesus – who LIVES FOREVER.

And then the point REALLY gets hammered home. From V4. Melchizedek was so great, he received a tithe from Abraham. And then he blessed Abraham.

And so, in a sense, the whole Jewish race, INCLUDING the PRIESTS, paid tribute to Melchizedek. Because their father was Abraham.

The Jewish race pays tribute to Melchizedek. And were blessed by him. Which means/ the whole Jewish race is LESSER than the one who blesses them. Who’s GREATER.

So, if Jesus was a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Then ALL OF LEVI’S priests are less important than Jesus. The one who’s like Melchizedek. That’s down to v10.

The temptation was to think that Jesus was LESS of a priest because he wasn’t FROM THE TRIBE OF LEVI. But down to v19, the point is/ that being in the order of Melchizedek actually made Jesus a priest of GREATER importance than the normal priests.

And it’s the phrase “A priest FOREVER” that’s important. And that’s where Jesus’ priesthood is seen to be SO MUCH BETTER than the human priesthood – the FIRST priesthood.

The FIRST priesthood is outdated. Passing. Old technology. Like mobile phones. Good for a time. But never meant to LAST. Look down to v18.

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.

Human priests DIE. V23. One comes along, works for a while, then DIES. And another is appointed. Who works for a while. But then HE dies.

But Jesus is a PERMANENT High Priest. V24

Your Perfect Middle Man

And so he comes to his conclusion. And it’s where the rubber hits the road FOR US, TOO. Jesus really IS our perfect middle man. V25

25 Therefore he is able to SAVE COMPLETELY those who come to God through him, because he ALWAYS LIVES to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest MEETS OUR NEED-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

Don’t settle for someone who can’t do the job. Whether it’s YOU, or someone else.

For all the reasons he’s just mentioned an EARTHLY priest just won’t do. But Jesus CAN. He saves COMPLETELY.

When you’re powerless to fix a situation. When you need someone to stand up for you, you need a middle man who can achieve the results. He can do the job.

One of the ladies on our church, Andrea, lives in a housing department townhouse. And she regularly has problems with her neighbours. And it seems like the police don’t seem to be interested in that particular address anymore.

Because when she tried to report some drug-dealers nearby, there was no response. They took no notice.

What she needed was A MIDDLE-MAN. Someone who could put a word in the right ear. Who could vouch for Andrea’s report. What Andrea needed was A POLICEMAN. Someone like Adam, who ALSO goes to our church. Who just happens to be A POLICEMAN.

Someone like Adam was The perfect middle-man. Someone who knows Andrea, AND who knows THE POLICE. Someone who could make a credible report, and see that it was ACTED UPON. And he DID. And it WAS.

And that’s what Jesus is – the perfect middle man. Someone who always lives to intercede for us. A high priest who meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

Therefore…

SO what’s it all mean FOR US? The first hearers of this letter were being tempted to let go of Jesus, and to trust HUMAN priests. They were convinced they needed a priest to stand between them and God. They’d lost their conviction that Jesus was any better than the Priests they’d trusted before.

I think, in a way, our problem is the opposite. Our problem is, unless your Catholic by background, WE’RE NOT CONVINCED WE NEED ANY PRIEST AT ALL. Because we work from the assumption that we’re SO IMPRESSIVE AS WE ARE that God and us are just mates. That we can just bowl in to his office and put our feet up on his desk.

But the RESULT of that thinking/ ends up at the same place as the Hebrews. Because we’re ALSO tempted to let go of Jesus. Tempted to think there’s SOME OTHER WAY.

We, together with those Jewish Christians, need the encouragements that keep coming at us through the pages of Hebrews.

Heb 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.

Heb 4:16 Let us then APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

It doesn’t matter what sort of a day you’ve had – God still listens to your prayers, because it’s not about YOU, it’s about Jesus. So approach God CONFIDENTLY, but only if you do it through Jesus.

And when you’ve got that figured out, don’t let go of it. Especially not to turn back to human rituals and human priests and the regulations that came before. There are terrible warnings about that in chapter 6. Be patient. And press on.

Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY,

Heb 6:11-12 We want each of you to show this SAME DILIGENCE TO THE VERY END, in order to make your hope sure. 12 WE DO NOT WANT YOU TO BECOME LAZY,

Don’t be a Sunday- Christian. Don’t think you can be a Christian and be a SPECTATOR. It’s not a spectator sport. Get involved. Join a home group. Meet with someone to pray.

And finally, if you think this stuff is all too hard, make sure you’re not just being a lazy listener. Pay attention. Stay diligent to the very end. And keep your hope in the permanent priest who’s been made perfect forever.

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