A “weak and useless” path to God

Hebrews 7 is an interesting chapter. In it, the pastor (shorthand for “the person who wrote Hebrews”) gets to the meat of his discussion and proves that (1) the Old Testament anticipates and necessitates a priest to come in the order of Melchizedek (2) that Jesus is that High Priest, and that (3) this allows us to be saved completely. (Read the whole chapter to get context over at BibleGateway.com.)

In doing this, the pastor demonstrates the superiority of the Jesus as the High Priest to that of the old priestly system. The perfection that could not be obtained through the Levitical priesthood (7:11, 18) is realized now in Christ (7:24-28).

This passage is about the great and free salvation in Christ:

“Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike 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. For 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.” (7:26-28)

But, it’s not just about the superiority of the new. It’s about the inferiority of the old.

The pastor is almost harsh in the way he speaks: “The former is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect)” (7:18-19a). This is startling to me because God was the one who setup the Levitical priesthood. The priesthood wasn’t just some pagan ritual. This was the way that God ordained for his people to worship Him. And now this new Christian pastor calls it “weak and useless”!

Them fightin’ words.

He better have a good reason for saying them. Why is the old useless? In short, because it was dependent on human priests, people who were subject to weakness, sin, and death, men who were the recipients of God’s blessing, not ones who are in a position to give it, men who are priests based on a human regulation, not by the oath of God.

The pastor says elsewhere in Hebrews 8, “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…” Notice that the problem with the first covenant isn’t on God’s side (as though God made a bad decision) but on the side of the people.

God’s solution? Fix the people. The new Covenant, for which Jesus is the guarantor and the mediator, is one in which God transforms the hearts and minds of his people (gives grace) and remembers their sin no more (grants mercy) for those who draw near to God through Christ (8:10-12; 4:16).

All of this is excellent and orthodox truth and yet I confess that I am finding it difficult to draw out applications for my message. The reason is this: Hebrews was written in order to encourage new Christians to remain faithful to Christ despite strong pressure to return to Judaism. They needed to be convinced that the Levitical system was now obsolete.

Now, I don’t know about your church, but I suspect our church will not be filled with people who are tempted to go to Jerusalem and offer burnt sacrifices. But…

I suspect there will be people who are tempted to replace the free offer of salvation in Jesus – based on promises of God – with a man-centered, man-dependent religious system.

I suspect there will be those who feel that Jesus’ work is not sufficient, that they must add something to it, or that they need someone else to stand for them – a priest, a pastor, a parent.

I suspect there will be those who think that Jesus’ work is not necessary, that they can do it on their own, that their good deeds outweigh their bad.

The common error is this: Any system that says you can get to God through another person, or that you need to add the work of someone other than Christ (yours or another’s) is bound to fail because it relies on man who is weak, sinful, and mortal.

But the freeing truth of Hebrews 7 is this: Christ is both necessary and sufficient. Because He is holy, and because He has an indestructible life, He truly meets our need.