The End of Credit Card Debt (Hebrews 7:23-28)

Those of you who know my family and my sons know that one of them owns a landscaping company. I help him by doing much of his bookkeeping and that sort of thing. It is a dirty business – literally, it is. Not much about it is clean, but rather it involves dirt, rocks, sand, mulch, etc.

Ben has a lot of problems with keeping his credit cards functional. They are constantly exposed to all the abrasive ingredients of his business, and before long, they won’t work anymore when swiped. We are forever ordering replacements. In fact, a new one came in the mail today.

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament Law was a lot like this. It constantly had to be repeated over and over. The sacrifices were seemingly endless. There were the daily sacrifices, and of course the one big event on the Day of Atonement (check in Friday for Chris’ article on this). It was a dirty and bloody business.

And not only that, there was the issue that the priests themselves were as sinful as the people whom they represented before God. Before they could do the job for others, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins. As proof that they were not categorically any better, they kept dying off and others had to take their place. This was repeated for centuries.

There will be more detailed discussions on this theme later in the letter, but the writer closes the Melchizedek section with these summary thoughts …

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 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 truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike 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. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Let me ask you this:  What would you rather have, an endless supply of credit cards that demand continuous payment of the debts you run up on them, or an inherited custodial account of limitless positive credits to cover your debts? Well, of course you would choose the latter. (And of course this does not mean that it is right to sin that grace may abound! That’s a Roman’s discussion and devotional for another time.)

And that is what we have in the work of Christ. Jesus was a better priest from a superior order. He was permanent and therefore does not need to be replaced. His payment was a once and for all final payment. And his eternal life with the Father positions him to intercede for us and guarantee our presence with God forever … saving us completely as we have come to God through him.

So if you were a recipient of this letter and read this argument, would you want to go back to the Levitical system of sacrifice?

And as a modern-day reader of this letter, seeing what God has done for those who trust in Him through Christ, why would you want to trust in anything else? And why would you not be daily grateful for the debt of sin being paid on your behalf, even before you were born?

You’re Messing with my Categories! (Hebrews 7:11-22)

If you think about it, we all work with categories and pigeon holes. When we are learning something new or meeting a new person, we want to place that knowledge or that person within the context of what we know.

For example, when I randomly run into another person who serves as a pastor, I know that I go into pigeon hole mode – I’m asking questions about what church or denomination they are in and where they attended seminary, etc.  I’m working in my mind to get them categorized into such columns as conservative/liberal, charismatic/non-Pentecostal, denominational/independent, Calvinist/Arminian, or traditional/contemporary.

The entire argument of the writer to the Hebrews about Jesus as a high priest was totally messing with the categories of this historically Jewish group of young Christians.  Accepting Jesus as the king of kings, the Messiah, was one thing, and it at least made sense. His genealogy as given in Matthew and Luke affirmed his rights to this – being from the kingly tribe of Judah.

But seeing Jesus as a spiritual high priest! That was categorically earth-shaking. Those from the tribe of Levi (Levites) were priests, and the high priest had to come from the family of Aaron and be affirmed with certainly through ancestral records.

In the previous section, the writer affirmed the superiority of a priest of God named Melchizedek over the historic priesthood of Levi, as ultimately realized through the generations of Aaron’s family. Jesus did not have this pedigree; but the argument is that he had the better connection to the higher order of Melchizedek. God declared this in the 110th Psalm – clearly recognized by everyone as looking forward to the Messiah – where it says that he would be a priest like Melchizedek. The basis of this was not ancestral but rather was founded completely on the character of “an indestructible life.” The earthly Aaronic priests would come and go (as will be written about in chapter 10) and clearly had sin issues of their own … Jesus was of an entirely different categorical character.

So if a new priest and category now is in effect, and it is the final and perfect version of such, the old order and system of things has therefore now expired and is of no continual need of service. So, as this writer says, the old order is “useless,” and returning to it would be foolish. Rather, “draw near to God.”

And all of this is guaranteed by God by his own swearing of an oath that these things are true and final and forever.

Jesus Like Melchizedek

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one 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. 17 For it is declared:

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

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.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath,21 but 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.’

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

Because of these great truths, we have had our own categories entirely messed with. We have gone from strangers with God, to now being his family. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light… from sinners to saints!

Thank God the categories were messed with!

This priest is better than that priest – Hebrews 7:1-10

Sounding again like a broken record, remember what we have been telling you about the background of the readers of the letter to the Hebrews. These were new believers in Jesus who were from a Jewish background, who were now getting abused by the world around them for their faith, and who were considering going back to their roots.

One of the warm memories of their past was the high priest of the nation – a person whom they could see and experience. But the writer will essentially say to them here, “Why go back to that when you have a better, true and eternal high priest in Jesus?”

So the unspoken question the writer anticipates from his readers is how it could be that Jesus is a better high priest. In fact, how could he be a high priest at all? They knew he came from the wrong lineage to be a priest.

So the writer is going to tell them that Jesus is from a better category of priests – that of the order of Melchizedek, not of Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Levi >>>> Aaron >>>> generations of Levites in the family of Aaron. This is an argument about who is greater: the Levites, or Jesus and Melchizedek?

Armed with yesterday’s devotional and historical explanation of Genesis 14 and the story of Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek, you are ready to begin today in Hebrews 7 …

7:1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

The writer here is not saying that Melchizedek was without parents; he is not (in my opinion) saying that he is some spiritual being such as even a theophany – a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. Rather, there is no record of his parents or his beginning or ending. By comparison, the priests in Israel had very, very strict dictates about family and lineage before they could qualify for the high office of representing the people before God. So, Melchizedek was LIKE a Son of God in that regard, and there is not a record of any end point to his role as a priest.

In a time where there were few in the world who had descended from Noah who remained faithful to the one true God, (like Abraham) Melchizedek was one who did and who was God’s man in the place of his ministry – Salem … later Jerusalem. Everything about him pointed forward toward Christ; he was what is called a TYPE of Christ.

And he was pretty amazing …

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

Yes, quite an amazing guy! So amazing that Abraham – the man among all men whom God had chosen to work specifically with his family that in the end the entire world would be blessed through the work of Christ – yes, Abraham paid tithes of honor to him. This acknowledged that Melchizedek was seen by Abraham as the superior servant of God.

Coming in the other direction was a blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek. Take my word for it here that the sense of the word “blessing” that is used in this text has the connotation of something that is done with ongoing and lasting results. All the great things that had come through Abraham and his lineage – all of the way down to these Hebrews reading this letter – had roots in this blessing. This was true because it was all in the flow of what God was accomplishing.

And to bolster the argument further, the writer says that Levi and all of the priestly order that were to follow were themselves paying tribute and honor to Melchizedek!  What?  How?  Levi was not yet even born!  But the writer says that he was “in” Abraham when this homage was done.

We will come back to more on Abraham and Melchizedek next week. But let me finish with a next-step theological reference … stick with me – it’s not too deep, and when understood, it is a precious truth.

When did you become guilty as a sinner before God? Was it when you committed your first sin? Nope – all that did was prove you are what you already were – a sinner.  Did it occur at the moment of conception … you know, as David said, “in sin my mother conceived me”?  Nope. The actual moment was when Adam sinned in the garden. But hey, you might say, “I wasn’t alive then; I wasn’t even there!”  Yes, you were there – in Adam … just as Levi was “in” Abraham.

But here is the awesome truth. When were your sins paid for and forgiven? When you trusted in Christ?  Not exactly; that is simply when it was applied. You were “in Christ” on the cross when he paid the debt for sin, and “in him” you have his righteousness applied to your account that erases the debt with the payment and application of his perfection.

1 Corinthians 1:30 – It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

The Story Behind the Story Behind the Story – Genesis 14:1-24

Today we are going to take a field trip outside the book of Hebrews and go all of the way back to the first book of the Bible and into Genesis chapter 14. Actually, I am going to reference chapter 13 as well.

All of this is necessary if we are to understand the story in Hebrews chapter 7 on how Jesus (of the tribe of Judah, not Levi) was a worthy high priest. And the story behind this story is to understand who this fellow named Melchizedek really is from the history of the Old Testament. And the story behind that story, which is behind the story of Jesus as a priest, is to know how it is that Abram and Lot encountered this person some 2,000 years before Christ.

Abram, who would later be called Abraham – so let’s call him that today – was called by God out of the area of the cradle of civilization to go to a place of God’s leading. He travelled there in obedience, along with this wife and his nephew Lot.

Abraham settled and lived a nomadic life in the Promised Land, though he never really owned anything other than a place of burial. But he lived peacefully among an Amorite group, surrounded as well by various people groups and cities and small kingdoms.

You may recall that as his clan of servants and herds prospered (along with Lot and his possessions of the same), the herdsmen of each quarreled with one another about grazing lands. In Genesis 13, Abraham offers Lot the first choice as to which direction to separate off from one another; and Lot makes the self-enriching choice to take the better land, though it came at a cost of being near a morally wicked group of people in a city called Sodom.

In ancient cultures, more dominant people groups and kings would extort tribute payments from lesser groups – in other words, “give us what we demand from you or else we will come wipe you out.” The early portion of Genesis 14 is a rather tedious listing of kings and peoples of antiquity. Here is the story in a sentence: A group of five kings from the Babylonian area (modern day Iran) demanded and received tribute from four kings in the Jordan Valley – the latter of whom got sick of it after 12 years of such servitude and refused to pay, which led to a mega-battle.

14:1 – At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar,[a] Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five.

So, since Lot lived near Sodom, he was caught up in the battle that ensued, which went against Sodom and Gomorrah. And Lot was carted off by the bad boys from the East, along with all his possessions.

10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

When Abraham hears about all of this, he puts together a coalition of his servants and others of the Amorites around with whom he lived in peaceful alliance. He goes after the five kings of the East, whips them with a mighty spanking, and brings back Lot and others taken captive from Sodom (along with a significant cache of possessions).

13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

Abraham meets two kings who are totally different in every way. Bera, the king of Sodom, offers him the treasures captured as a reward, which are refused. Melchizedek, the king of Salem (as in what would later be JeruSALEM), blesses Abraham. However, Abraham pays tithes to Melchizedek, honoring him as his spiritual superior.

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

So who exactly is this Melchizedek guy – the one whose name means “king of righteousness?”  Some believe he was a theophany – a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. This is possible, though I lean away from that viewpoint. He was certainly a great man of stature before the Lord – recognized by Abraham as God’s man who was truly connected to the one true God.

The point of the passage and its reference in Hebrews (referring also to a passage in Psalm 110) is to say that Abraham saw Melchizedek as a greater person before the Lord. Abraham was the lesser, honoring the greater … and as we’ll see later, Abraham’s unborn great-grandson Levi was essentially paying tithes to Melchizedek as well. More on that next week.

An application for today is to see the great faith of Abraham. He had a promise from God that he and his family would be blessed. He did not take it upon himself to seize the best land. He did not take from the King of Sodom the great wealth offered him; Abraham rather believed in the promise of God that what was unseen was greater than what was visible. And this will be the story behind the story for Hebrews 11 as well. But let’s save that for a few weeks later.

But think of this story of Abraham when you hear our kids sing the theme song of the children’s musical program this Sunday. It is the BIG IDEA of what is a “Game Changer.”