The Rigorous Theology of Carbonara

[This article was originally published in Italian and online at Loci Communes is an online evangelical magazine in Italy that seeks to promote evangelical culture and reformation thought.]

As someone with a great appreciation for delicious food, April 6 is a day close to my heart. Carbonara Day is an event organized by the Italian Food Union. Since 2017, this international event has been celebrated through the sharing of carbonara recipes from world-renowned chefs via live streaming directly to your kitchen. The world’s largest “spaghetti social” can be followed on social media.

A simple search for #Carbonara or #CarbonaraDay will reach millions of people who appreciate this famous Roman dish. Living in Rome, I continually add to my list the best places to find this delicious gift to humanity. It truly brings me to worship our Creator. One bite of a well-cooked carbonara can lead even non-believers to thank God out loud as their palate explodes with the delicious flavors of the pasta, egg cream, PECORINO cheese, pepper and guanciale. It is truly an incredible experience to thank God for, and a sign of his common grace towards sinners.

Joking aside, this simple yet delicious dish is truly a national treasure that Romans are proud of. While there may be many debates about how best to prepare this dish and what type of pasta to use, Italians are united in one thing: you can’t change the simple ingredients of this dish by adding or taking away anything. And this doesn’t just apply to carbonara. Many people witnessed Neapolitan chef Gino D’Acampo’s ire on British television when his guest wanted to add some sour cream and mushrooms to the bolognese sauce. “Che schiffo!…this is what’s wrong with your country!” he said. We laughed, but his anger was real. After living in Italy for almost 10 years, you can’t deny that Italians are food purists in the strictest form.

If you want to add cream to bolognese, fine. But don’t call it bolognese! If you want to add pineapple to pizza, go ahead, weirdo. Just don’t call it pizza anymore! (Their thoughts, not mine. I actually like pineapple on pizza. But don’t tell my Italian friends). If you really want to see an upheaval in Rome, add peas or mushrooms or cream to the carbonara. Now you’ve gone too far and you definitely can’t call it carbonara anymore! Some things are simply too precious to change.

The same is true of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s salvation to both Jew and Greek (Romans 1:16). I’m talking about the biblical message of the gospel that was rediscovered and boldly proclaimed during the Protestant Reformation. It is a simple recipe not to be trifled with. It is the message we find in Scripture of God’s salvation that comes by His grace alone, through faith alone, in the works of Jesus Christ alone, and to the Glory of God alone. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this does not come from you: it is the gift of God. It is not by virtue of works so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This simple recipe cannot be subjected to additions or subtractions, otherwise it becomes something else and you can no longer call it gospel. Just as a Roman would be astonished to see someone add peas to carbonara, so the apostle Paul would have been astonished to see the simple recipe of the gospel altered. In fact, he was! He angrily wrote to the Galatians who were tempted to add new requirements to the gospel (adherence to certain dietary and ceremonial laws) saying:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1.6–7 ESV) (Galatians 1:6-7)

Just like adding cream or butter to carbonara changes it completely, adding anything to the simple gospel changes it completely. In a city that understands the significance of this when it comes to food, it is sad to know that it does not understand this point when it comes to the gospel. Scripture says that it is by grace alone that you are saved. But Rome says it is grace plus works. Scripture says it is by faith alone in the works of Christ, the only mediator between God and man. But Rome says it is by faith plus the works of Christ, plus the priests, plus saints, plus Mary. Is it not clear that the recipe has changed? The simple gospel is no longer the gospel and that was Paul’s point. Call it what you will, but it is no longer the gospel, and therefore no longer has the power to save.

P.S. If you are ever in Rome and want to buy me lunch, I would make myself available to worship the Lord with you over a plate of carbonara.

Gustav Klimt, there is more behind the kiss

From the 27th of October 2021 to the 27th of March 2022, the Museo di Roma a Palazzo Braschi is hosting an exhibit with art from one of the greatest and most influential artists of the late 19th century. I am talking about the Austrian painter, and bridgehead to the modernist art movement in Vienna, Gustav Klimpt (1862-1918), whose many works can be viewed at the highly anticipated exhibit titled, Klimt. La Secessione e l’Italia. Klimt is best known for his highly decorative style and use of gold leaf to create two-dimensional iconic figures reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics. Of the most famous of his works include “Judith” (1901), “Danae” (1907), and “The Kiss” (1908), which is perhaps one of the best-selling reproductions of all time. In fact, a large reproduction of this work used to hang in my wife and my first home. “The Kiss” shows a man romantically embracing a woman in his arms and giving her a gentle kiss and it reminds me of the early days of our marriage. So, what better way to celebrate our 20th anniversary than by visiting an exhibit to learn more about the artist who created it. After all, Klimt himself said,

“Whoever wants to know something about me…they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want.”

To be honest, Lauren and I had very little knowledge of Klimt and what drove his art form before our visit. Our appreciation and attraction to his work came from our own personal reflections of how “the Kiss” made us feel. And while there is nothing particularly wrong with that, once we came face-to-face with some of Klimt’s art and listened to the story of the man behind it, what became obvious to us was the powerful influence creative collectives can have to engage culture, and the distorted worldview about beauty, sexuality, and society that shines through Klimt’s work.

The power of creative collectives:
Klimt understood the importance and power of collective collaboration. After both his father and brother died within the same year, Klimt left the Company of Artists and helped launch a new creative collective known as the Secession. His most famous works come from this period of his career. Once a leader whose work conformed to traditional aristocratic artistic norms, Klimt became a leader in a movement that rejected those norms, pushing the boundaries of the art culture and causing much controversy.

The Secession was a creative collective made of artists, designers, writers, and architects that wanted to promote freedom of expression and change the way art was created and shared with the public. They challenge societal norms through new forms of art and literature that provoked new ways of thinking and served as the bridgehead to modernism in Viena. In a patriarchal society with conservative values, and in a time when women still had no right to vote, Klimt produced works that sought to empower women by showing their independence, beauty, and sexuality in ways that generated both praise and much criticism throughout Europe.

A distorted sexual ethic:
Many of Klimt’s works on display in Rome left us amazed by his talent and technique. This sign of God’s common grace is on display in his work with gold-leaf, his incorporation of beautiful designs and patterns, and through beautiful works such as Klimt’s Lago di Garda (1913), Lady in White (1917-18), and Portrait of a Woman (1916-17). But there were also works that left us troubled and saddened. He is famously known to have been a sex addict who fathered at least 14 illegitimate children and who had many affairs with society beauties, models, and whores. Like Freud did for psychology, much of Klimt’s art bring sexuality to the fore. Some of Klimt’s art from the Secession period was labeled as pornographic and at times had to be hidden behind a screen to protect innocent eyes. Many of Klimt’s sketches on display in Rome are erotic are filled with nude women in provocative poses and acts of self-pleasure. There is no other word to describe some of Klimt’s work besides “pornographic”.

False empowerment:
As previously mentioned, the Secession sought to empower women, encouraging their independence and freedom in a society that lacked equality. Klimt masterfully portrays the strength, beauty, and independence of women in his art. Unfortunately, his empowerment of women was often through the eroticization of them, communicating a lie that so many still hold today, namely, that liberating power can be found through individual freedom of sexual expression and the satisfaction of sexual desire. It is no wonder that Klimt’s work received much criticism from the second-wave feminist movement. Having had the reputation of sleeping with many of his models, it begs the question: Were these women truly empowered, or were they simply objectified and used? What kind of beauty and empowerment is that? Not the one Lauren and I want our sons and daughters listening to.

In conclusion, there is much beauty to appreciate behind Klimt’s work. His talent is unquestionable and his technical skills are to be praised. But what can evangelicals learn from Klimt in Rome? I offer two thoughts.

1) Creative collectives can have a powerful impact on culture when they work together to challenge cultural narratives to undermine the norms with something different. For the church this means that our artistic brothers and sisters are to be appreciated and encouraged to do create works of art that reflect the beauty of our Creator’s world and the human experience within it, to expose the false ideologies that have captured the hearts and minds of people in our cities, and to promote the liberating power of the Gospel.

2) When it comes to art, Francis Schaeffer agrees with Klimt, that we can know about an artist through their art because an artist’s worldviews influence and come through what is produced. But while art exists to be judged, criticized, and appreciated, and while we all have different opinions to offer, the Christian is called to judge, criticize and appreciate art through the lens of God’s Word and the Gospel with renewed hearts and minds. With Klimt, we are not called to embrace the ideology behind much of his work nor are we to ignore it. We are called to point out the bondage of the faulty worldview it promotes in order to lovingly proclaim the truth of the Gospel that undermines it. As Shaeffer says,

“We should realize that if something untrue or immoral is stated in great art, it can be far more devastating than if it is expressed in poor art. The greater the artistic expression, the more important it is to consciously bring it and its worldview under the judgment of Christ and the Bible. The common reaction among many, however, is just the opposite. Ordinarily, many seem to feel that the greater the art, the less we ought to be critical of its worldview. This we must reverse.”[1]

[1] Schaeffer, Francis A.. Art and the Bible (IVP Classics) (Kindle Locations 525-526). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Temptation is not the trial – James 1:13-15

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

James 1.13–15

The first chapter of James teaches us that we are to consider the trials in life with joy. Why? Because through trials God is forming his people, growing their faith and dependence in Him, shaping them to be a testimony for him, to shine brighter in a dark world, and preparing them for eternity. James reminds us of how God provides wisdom in trials to those who ask him in faith. He provided wisdom in His Son, the Word, Jesus, and through his Word, the Bible, so that we can stand firm in the faith in the midst of life’s challenges. James teaches us that God tests His children to reveal and to strengthen their faith. Therefore, trials in this life are inevitable. But what James tells us next is that something else is inevitable in life AS we face trials— namely, the temptation to sin. A temptation is an enticement to sin and evil—to do that which is contrary to God’s law and his will.

What James wrote at the beginning of verse 13 is important to note and cannot be missed. He wrote, “Let no one, WHEN he is tempted…”. James did not write, “IF he is tempted…”, but, “WHEN he is tempted….”. And I do not think that any of us would disagree with him. We are all tempted to sin, and in the midst of life’s trials the temptation at times seems more intense. So, the inevitable question that James confronts next is this: If God places us in the inevitable trials of this life, and if temptation to sin in these trials is inevitable, does that mean that God is tempting us with sin? The answer…is no! And James wastes no time telling us that when he wrote, “No one, when he is tempted, says: “I am tempted by God”” (13a). James knew that some people might blame God for their being tempted to sin in the midst of life’s trials. What I pray we see in these three verses is not only why God does not tempt us to sin, but where temptation comes from in the first place, how it affects us, and what we are supposed to do when we are tempted. The point is that Temptation is not the trial. But in order to understand why temptation is not the trial, we need to do three things: consider its different origin, observe its deviated development, and then research the true response for dealing with it.

1. Consider the different origin
James wants us to begin by considering the origin of our temptations. It is different from the origin of trials. He says that no one can say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, because God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (13). James reminds us here that God is sinless. That is what makes God, God. He is perfectly and eternally holy and pure, and therefore cannot be tempted with sin. As a sinless being, then, God is also incapable of enticing others to sin.

Now before we continue to look at who really is to blame for our temptation to sin, let’s point out something I think James touches on here—namely, that we have a tendency to blame other people for our temptations to sin. We can trace this tendency all the way back to where our sin problem began, in the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they blamed someone else for their failures. Adam blamed God and his own wife, Eve, that God gave him (Gen. 3:12-13). Eve blamed the serpent. And on and on it went. Just like Adam and Eve, we blame other people, or our circumstances, for our temptations to sin. This is especially true in the midst of a difficult trial, aa so James wants to ensure us that God is not to blame for the temptations that come in the midst of them.

So, if God is not to blame for our temptation, then who is? Often, like Eve, we cast the blame on Satan, right? We all know that Satan likes to tempt God’s children. But Satan isn’t omnipresent, he can’t be in more than one place at a time. How could he possibly be to blame for everyone’s temptation? Furthermore, James doesn’t even mention Satan here. Instead, he says that there is no one to blame but yourself…no exceptions. In verse 14 it says that EACH person is tempted—not some persons, EACH person is tempted, when—again, not if, but WHEN, he is lured and enticed, by what? By HIS OWN desire (concupiscenza).

James says it’s an inside job! Your situation is not to blame for your temptation to sin. Your friends or colleagues or family members are not to blame for your temptation. Not even Satan is the one to blame for your temptation to sin, although he certainly likes to tempt us. Instead, temptation to sin is a result of our own desires that flow out of an ongoing struggle with our sinful nature.

I want to point out that not every desire we have is evil, but all of our desires have capacity for evil. It’s not sinful to desire love, peace, or intimacy, for example. But because we are sinful beings, with a corrupted nature, our flesh seeks to fulfill those desires through sinful means. In these verses James is talking about our evil desires to commit sin and where it comes from. He says our temptation comes from being attracted and seduced to satisfy our own flesh’s desire, or appetite; a hunger and a thirst for power, for intimacy, for independence, for pleasure in ways that are evil and contrary to the will of God. James paints a picture of what a fisherman does to attract and entice its prey with a lure.

Our sinful desires tempt us like the shiny lure of a fishermen attracts a fish. My grandfather was a fisherman for hobby, and still is in his old age. Some of my best memories with him are of the two of us fishing together. He had this old tacklebox that was filled with all kinds of different lures and I used to love looking at them. There were lures of various sizes and colors and smells (usually gross smells). Some of the lures were designed to appealed to the fish’s desire. Some of them looked like smaller fish, frogs or insects. Some would spin under the water, reflecting light in order to grab a fish’s attention, making it think, “Hey that’s something I like to eat!” Then there were other lures that were designed to agitate the fish, rather than seduce it. Some would buzz across the top of the water’s surface, making noises that would agitate the fish until it was enticed to bite the lure because it wanted the noise to stop. When the fish bit the lure, they were hooked, dragged out of the water and into our boat, taken to the kitchen, and prepared for our bellies.

This passage also reminds me of the days when we used to go deer hunting. Our work would begin months before the hunting season started by planting food plots with vegetables that deer love. We setup a container with a machine and a timer that would scatter corn and grains every morning and evening. We also bought big jars of peanut butter that we attached to the side of a tree, cutting a hole in the jar so that the deer could lick the delicious treat, which is definitely one of God’s blessings. Obviously, the deer would begin to visit our camp site and enjoy all of the treats we provided. By the first day of the hunting season, the deer’s daily routine included a stop at our camp. They were fatter and all we had to do was cover our scent, put them in the crosshairs of our rifles, and pull the trigger. The deer were not smart enough to recognize the distorted reality of nature in our camp, that it was filled with things that didn’t belong there. But they didn’t care because they were momentarily satisfied, until death.

That’s the image James is painting for us. Our temptations are like the hunter who sets out desirous bait for his prey, and then patiently waits to trap the prey in his snare. But James reminds us that the origin of these temptations is our own flesh. Not God! So, brothers and sisters, in the midst of your trial, in what ways are you being attracted to and seduced by your sinful desires? Before you bite, before you take the bait, consider its origin. We need to be like the fish or the deer that smells the scent of a human on the bait, realizes that something isn’t right, and refuses to take the bait. When we are being tempted by our own sinful desires, we need to remember that temptation is not from God, the giver of life. We need to remember that trials are not obstacles to our spiritual growth and development, temptations are. Why? Because they have different origins… and they also have different results.

2. Observe the deviated development
The next thing James helps us do here is observe the deviated development of temptation. Look at how James describes the deviated development of temptation. It begins with a sinful desire, then leads to a decision to act, then to bondage, and finally to death.

The first stage is a desire that attracts and seduces us. These are those moments when we are being tempted and begin to say to ourselves things like: “You deserve it!” “Just this once!” “You’ve got to learn to love yourself!” “It’s what you really NEED, isn’t it?”. It’s the moments when we are filled with self- pity because of the difficulties of our situation and we start the journey down the road of self-justification. Like the husband who doesn’t feel satisfied by his wife and justifies his sinful desire to be with another woman. It begins with the seduction of our sinful desires.

The next stage is a decision to act. In this stage is the decision to visit that inappropriate website; to write a flirtatious message in WhatsApp; to open your mouth to criticize others; to lie in order to avoid being caught; to take the cookie or candy that mom said you couldn’t eat; to cheat on your test because the professor was just too unreasonable; to remove necessary boundaries that protect you in your moments of weakness and place you in a compromising situation.

The next stage in development is committing the sinful act. This is when the decision to sin takes place. And it is usually this stage that we would consider the first, not the third. To be clear, the initial stage of temptation is no less of a sin than the act of sinning. Jesus said that even if we look at another person with lust, or hate someone in our hearts, that we are guilty of the sin of adultery or murder (Mat. 5,21-22 and 27 and 28).

Then the next stage in the development of temptation is bondage. Giving into to temptation doesn’t just let us get it out of our system. It keeps drawing us back for more and more because our satisfaction is only momentary. It is brief. Like the married man or woman who in the stress of life, solitude or unmet desires finally decides to commit adultery, for only a brief moment of pleasure. Or like the addict who starts with just one dose, and then finds himself needing more and more in order to attain the satisfaction he requires, until his body cannot take it any longer.

And that leads us then the final stage of temptation, death. Sin kills. It kills physically and spiritually. Paul wrote in Romans 6,23 that the wages of sin is death. Death is the logical conclusion in the life cycle of sin. Death is the fruit of what is being sown in sin. That’s the way it works. But it doesn’t kill us right away, does it? And it just doesn’t hurt us, does it? It can hurt other people. For just a brief moment of sin, relationships are destroyed. What began as a temptation and decision to visit a website, has now destroyed lives. How many faithful men of God have lost their marriages, their ministry, or their children as a result of their sins? Sin kills marriages. It kills careers. It kills family bonds. It can kill unity in the local church. Just this week we read about the tragic example of this in the life and ministry of the late Ravi Zacharias.

James uses this metaphor of childbirth here. The desire sows the seed to sin, the decision to sin leads to the birthing of a sinful act, the sin like a child grows and gets stronger until it leads to death. We aren’t talking about beautiful babies like our little Sara, Stelvio or Lydia. We are talking about an ugly baby, as if you were to give birth to a beast that will eventually eat you for coddling it, for caring for it, for helping it grow. One church father said this about the deviated development of temptation to sin:

“It stands in contrast to women in labor. For before they give birth, such women have great pain and suffering, but afterwards the pain goes away, leaving their bodies along with the child. But here it is quite different. For until we labor and give birth to our corrupt thoughts, we are happy and joyful. But once the wicked child called sin is born we are in pain as we realize the shame to which we have given birth, and then we are pierced through more deeply than any woman in labor.“


The American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson said something similar:

“Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. It begins in the mind.”

Actually, though, it begins in our hearts. God’s word says in Jeremiah 18,9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17,9).

Brothers and sisters, trials are from God and are meant to lead us from death to life. To help us grow in our faith, to grow in holiness, to grow in our testimonies for Christ. But temptation to sin has a deviated development that weakens our faith, bring us shame, destroy our testimonies for Christ, and lead to death. Temptation is not the trial. Observe it’s origin, it isn’t from God, but comes from our sinful desires. Consider its deviated development that leads to death, not life.

3. Search the only true solution
So, what are we do to do with this universal problem? What we have to do is research the only true response to this problem. We have to start at the root of the problem. James says that our temptation to sin comes from within us because we are sinful creatures. Paul said in Romans 7,

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. …Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Romans 7.18–19, 24

Paul knew that the response to this problem inside of us cannot come from within us, it must come from outside of us. In Matthew chapter 4 we read how Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted. But unlike us, Jesus was not tempted by sinful desires because he had no desire to sin. He was without sin (2 Cor. 5,21) because he is Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh. His temptations in the desert were not sinful like ours because they came from outside of him, not inside of him. There is no other like him. Therefore, only Jesus can be the true response to our sin problem. Jesus, the Word of God, overcame Satan’s temptations with the Word of God. Jesus is the sinless one who suffered an undeserved death on a cross and died in the place of sinners, so that God might provide the true response to our sin problem—the death of death.

Death died because Jesus Christ lived. He rose from the grave! The puritan John Owen describes this as “the death of death in the death of Christ”. Through repenting of our sins and looking to him in faith, we move from death to life and we share in his resurrection. This transition from death to life happens through the regeneration of our hearts. It is the gift of God when he graciously provides sinners with salvation through faith in Christ and makes them his children. By God’s grace he fills his people with the Holy Spirit, who seals their adoption as His children and CUTS OFF the development of sin and death. In being united with Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s children are empowered to live by faith and wage war against the sinful desires of their flesh. Listen to how Paul describes this new reality for God’s children in Galatians 2,20.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2,20

The one true response to our problem with sin and temptation is God’s grace. It is faith in Christ that helps us die to ourselves and walk by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Christ died to free us from slavery to sin, so when temptation to sin comes along we are to recognize it for what it is and respond accordingly! That means we wage spiritual war against our flesh. John Owen has another famous phrase describing this war. He wrote: ”Be killing sin, or it will be killing you”. Owen was summarizing the Apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 8,12-17:

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””

Romans 8,12-15

Or again when he wrote this to the Colossians,

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” .

Colossians 3.5

So, what is the response to temptation? Faith in Christ, and a Holy Spirit empowered WAR against every sinful desire that comes from our hearts. We prepare for war by learning God’s commands. We prepare for war by discerning our sinful desires. We prepare for war in prayer and communion with God and his saints.

We wage war by the power of the Holy Spirit when we remember God’s promises and when we eliminate the things that tempt us. We wage war through prayer, self-denial and through confessing our struggles to our brothers and sisters in the church, that they might pray for us and encourage us in the battle against our temptations, and that we might grow stronger in our faith.

Brothers and Sisters, trials are inevitable. When they come, we will either endure by faith in God, or give into temptation and sin. In a recent interview, Pastor Timothy Keller was asked how he was doing in his fight against pancreatic cancer, obviously a major trial in his life. Keller’s response is a testimony of what we are talking about. He said, “I’m not fighting cancer, I’m fighting sin! I’m much more concerned about fighting my sin”. Brothers and Sisters, that is a response that come from knowing and experiencing God’s saving grace! But we still fail at times, don’t we? Remember, beloved, God’s grace is always available to us in Christ, to lift us up and to restore us. Let us conclude with this encouraging promise from 1 Corinthians 10,13:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10.13

Friends, if you do not have life in Christ, you have no way of escape. Your desires will lead you from death to death. That is the natural progression of sin’s development. It requires a supernatural solution that only God in Christ can provide you. Repent to the Father for your sins, trust in the Son, and by the Spirit move from death to life.

Church, as you face the trials of life in the city where God has placed you, may you be alert to the temptations that will surely come. And when they do, may you consider temptation’s origin—it is not from God. Observe its deviated development that only would lead you into bondage and death. Live by God’s grace through faith in the one true response to temptation, Jesus Christ. And walk in the power of the Holy Spirit to wage war against your flesh, that you might glorify God and make him known to others. Amen?

The Greatest Wealth. Hebrews 11:23-29

The longer I live in Rome the more aware I become of the immense riches of this city, the empire it once was, and in a religious sense, still is. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Vatican Museum again with friends from America. I have forgotten how many times I have walked through it. Yet, every time I go, I am always amazed to see the immense wealth that has been compiled and collected from all over the world. As I walk through the streets of the city, I see the wealth of both modern times and of ancient times.

There are symbols of power, status, riches, and comfort everywhere we look. It is not unusual to walk down an ancient street and see an expensive car pass by the ancient ruins. We see the elaborate cathedrals and homes that once belonged to the ancient elite families of this city. There are obelisks and buildings adorned with the name of an emperor or pope. We see the names of fashion designers whose clothes only the wealthiest of people could possibly afford. There are Italian flags that wave in front of incredible state monuments and buildings, at times adorned with the giant billboards and signs by corporations advertising how their products might help you become the better you, or provide you comfort and security, or fulfill your greatest need.

We are surrounded by symbols of both ancient and modern riches. We are reminded of the people who had dedicated their entire lives to achieving such wealth, success, comfort, and status. And today we see people who are spending themselves in pursuit of the same kinds of riches. At times we hear stories of what it ultimately cost someone in their pursuit of wealth. Maybe it was their marriage, their children, their friends, their possessions, their reputations, their comforts, only to be left broken and hopeless as they watch all their honest or dishonest work crash to ruins, claiming victims in the collapse.

It is the Sweet Life! A successful and stable job, financial freedom, an amazing wardrobe, a happy family, a happy you. These are the idols of this culture, are they not? And people spend their lives trying to obtain them. Once they have laid hold of them, they do whatever is necessary to keep them, worshipping their new masters that give them status, wealth, comfort, pleasure and security.

What about you? Do you desire status and power? Do you enjoy your comfort? Do you seek pleasure? Security? Wealth? What is it that you treasure most in this world and to what do you look to obtain it? Perhaps you already have it. What do you do to maintain it? What would it take for you to walk away from it all?

What if I told you that there was something far greater than all of the combined wealth in the entire world? Worth more than all of the historic wealth the city of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church?! Worth more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined! Worth more than the CEO of Amazon or Alibaba combined? A wealth so great that if those men could truly see it, they would be willing to walk away from everything they have built up for themselves. Would you want to know what it was?

What if I told that acquiring this wealth does not cost anything? Now you really want to know what it is, right? Well, it’s true, the greatest wealth does not cost anything. Sounds too good to be true, right? It is true! But there is only one way to see it.

Is seen by faith
The greatest wealth can only be seen by faith, the kind of faith we read about in our next section of Hebrews. So, let’s open our Bibles together and read from the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Let us read from verse 23 to verse 28.

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” (Hebrews 11:23–29 ESV)

Verse 26 tells us that Moses had discovered something far more valuable than all of the riches of Egypt, because he was looking to the reward…Moses had a different sight. He was able to see something that could not yet be seen, because it was not yet realized. However, it was already worth far more than the empire that stood before his eyes and all of the riches it contained. How is this possible? What allowed him to see the greatest wealth? It was the eyes of faith!

By Faith Moses saw with new eyes. He had been given true sight to see something far more valuable than any worldly status (v. 24), more fulfilling than any worldly pleasure (v. 25), and much greater than any worldly comfort (v. 27). With the eyes of faith, what Moses found as most valuable was not temporary possessions, but an eternal promise. It was a promise that God had made to his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A promise that through Abraham’s line God would rescue sinners and restore the lost members of God’s family into an eternal kingdom.

By Faith, Moses and his parents boldly denied the decrees of a king. By Faith Moses rejected the status and wealth of an empire. By Faith Moses was willing to suffer alongside and for his people. Moses did what most would consider as foolish, dangerous, strange, and scary…to deny power and status and riches for something not even seen?!

Friends, to be clear, earthly wealth is not evil, positions of power are not bad, desiring comfort is not sinful. And there are God-given pleasures in this life that we should enjoy. But they all fail in comparison to that which is most valuable in this life and the next. It is the person of Christ, and the promises of God. Pray and ask God to give you the eyes of faith to see it.

By Faith, Moses refused to enjoy the sinful momentary pleasures of this life, in order to honor a Holy God and the heavenly King he would get to enjoy in the next life. Through the eyes of faith, what Moses could see as most valuable was not the power that could be given by a finite pharaoh, but the reproach of an infinite person, Jesus Christ, in and through whom the greatest riches are found.

Doesn’t cost anything
The greatest riches can only be seen by faith. And the greatest riches do not cost anything. You cannot pay anything to obtain it. It has already been acquired by the One who paid it all. By Faith, Moses looked to a reward that was ultimately secured in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of God’s Son.

By Faith, Moses defied an empire and led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, because the Son of God would one day defy death and lead God’s people out of slavery to sin (Hosea 11,1; Matt. 2:13-15). Moses refused the riches of an earthly kingdom, looking to the One who, according to Philippians 2:6-8,…

“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6–8 ESV)

Friends, the greatest wealth is found in knowing the Son of God, Jesus. In Him alone can you experience the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life God has provided for those who repent and run to Jesus by faith. He laid down His life for sinners, shedding his blood on a cross in the place of sinners, and in doing so He secured an eternal wealth for God’s people. You need not do a thing to obtain this wealth because it has already been obtained in the work of Jesus. And it is a wealth that will never fade away.

As you walk through the forum near here, you will be reminded of the mass wealth this city has known. But if you look closely, you will see steel beams and braces that have been mounted and fixed to the ancient and valuable riches of this city. These support systems are there to protect the integrity of these ancient treasures because of the work that is taking place around and under them. Let it be a reminder to us of the temporary nature of the wealth of this world. All of the hard work that was carried out to build and sustain these treasures will ultimately fail. The names of the people who constructed them will one day crumble.

Jesus tells us that while heaven and earth will pass away, the Word of God will never pass away. Brothers and Sisters, the greatest riches are not insured by an earthly institution, but by a heavenly promise that has been fulfilled in Christ. Our eternal reward will never crumble because He cannot fail. No manmade system is necessary to prop Him up, for not even death was able to stop Him. God raised him from the dead, guaranteeing our freedom from sin and eternal inheritance as His children.

Friends, the greatest wealth can only be seen by faith. The greatest wealth does not cost anything because Jesus already secured it. God graciously gives it to those who receive it by faith alone, to those who receive His Son by faith alone. But God’s grace is not a cheap grace. So be warned. Because while the greatest riches do not cost anything, it will ultimately cost you everything.

But it will cost you everything
The original audience who received this letter was at risk of losing everything. They were at risk of suffering persecution and being rejected by their own people because of their faith in Jesus. With Moses as an example, they were being encouraged to follow this great hero of the faith. They were being encouraged to see, by faith, that there is more value in suffering for the sake of Christ than in anything the world had to offer.

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. You see, there ultimately is a cost to a life that walks by faith in God. As Moses grew in his awareness of who he was in being part of God’s people, He found himself in situations where he had to refuse the sinful tendencies and temptations of the culture in which he lived (v 25-26). And he did so with boldness.

Likewise, Brothers and Sisters, we are all called to mature in our knowledge of God through His word. Like Moses, have we grown in our understanding of who we are in Christ? We are no longer slaves to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. Do we see Him as more precious than all of the world’s wealth? Like Moses, are we ready to refuse, in faith, the things that stand contrary to God?

In Christ, our values will often be in conflict with the values of this city. In a culture that values the pursuit of fleeting pleasures, we are called to be a people in pursuit of purity. In a culture that esteems comfort and power, often pursued through questionable means, we are called to a life of sacrifice and humble servitude. In a culture that values working to obtain both a temporal and eternal reward, we are called to trust in the work of the one who has already obtained it for us. In a culture that values finite possessions, we are called to value an infinite person, our beautiful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Friends, have you counted the cost? There is a question of contentment here for all of us. I am not saying you need to reject your status, your wealth, and your comfort to follow Jesus. But what God’s word is telling us is that those who have faith to see the greatest richness and beauty of Christ would be willing to, if and when the time comes.

Brothers and Sisters, what we have in Christ is greater than any worldly status, because Jesus gives us a higher status as God’s children (v 24). The freedom we have from sin is far greater than any fleeting pleasure because God’s Spirit leads us into eternity in the presence of our good Creator (v 25). The joy we find in Christ is far greater than any carnal comfort, because Jesus gives us peace and courage, even in the midst of suffering (v 23, 27). When God called us out of slavery to sin and into a life of freedom, He gave us the eyes of faith to move forward. And even when the first step is all that we can see, He graciously reminds us of the death that once enslaved us, and He gives us the faith to move forward knowing our enemy has been defeated (v 29).

Breccia di Roma, may we walk in faith like Moses did, with our eyes on the reward. May we always remember what God has graciously done for us through His Son, and may we live in light of God’s grace. When culture says we are foolish, remember that God gives us confidence. When culture says it is too dangerous to live biblically, remember that God gives us courage. When culture thinks we are strange, may God embolden us.

Do you still want the greatest riches? By God’s grace alone, you will find it by faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. I pray that God would grant you the eyes of Faith to see and cherish Christ at the most beautiful treasure eternity has to offer. The Greatest Riches can only be seen by faith, it does not cost a thing, because it has already been acquired. But it will cost you everything.

Let’s pray.

Ending prayer based on Ephesians 1:3-14

“Blessed be you God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for having blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as you chose us as Yours before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before you. In Your love You predestined us for adoption to yourself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of Your will, to the praise of You glorious grace, with which You have blessed us in the Christ. In You we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of Your grace, which You lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of Your will, according to Your purpose, which You set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in You, things in heaven and things on earth.  In You we have obtained an inheritance, the greatest riches, having been predestined according to Your purpose as You work all things according to the counsel of Your will, so that we who hope in Christ might be to the praise of Your glory. Thank you for Your word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, our faith in your Son, through which we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the One who guarantees our inheritance and leads us until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of Your glory.” May we be a testimony to your Son as we treasure Him above all others. Amen

(adapted from Ephesians 1:3–14 ESV)

-Clay Kannard


The Power that Unites, Grows, Protects. Colossians 2:1-7

[This sermon was preached in Rome on January 13th, 2019]

Good morning everyone. It is an immense blessing to be here with all of you this morning. My name is Clay Kannard. My family and I are members of the church Breccia di Roma, from whom I bring a warm greeting to all of you. This is my first time visiting your church. It is a joy because our church prays for all of you, and for your testimony in this part of the city. Although we come from different churches, we are united in Christ through the power of the Gospel.

As you know, today is the beginning of the Global Week of Prayer. Something that began with the European Evangelical Alliance in 1846 and that continues today as a global symbol of our unity in Christ and with evangelicals all over Europe. This unity is what we will be discussing this morning. In fact, it is the theme that hundreds of churches around the world will be discussing today.

So, let us open the Word of God this morning to the letter of Colossians. A letter that was written by the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned here in our city. A letter that proclaims the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ and warns the Colossian believers about deceptions that were threatening their faith. So, let us open our Bibles to chapter 2 of Colossians and read the first 7 verses together.

  1. The Gospel unites

Have you ever noticed that absence makes the heart grow fonder? My wife, Lauren, just returned from America after being gone for an entire week. I love my wife very much, but I grew more and more aware of how much I love her during her absence. Now, it was not because I had to do all of the cleanings, washing all of the clothes, taking and picking up the kids from school, or all of the cooking. The fact that I had to do the cooking most certainly made my kids grow fonder of their mother during her absence. Those things made me appreciate her more. My heart longed for her more because she was not near me. I was concerned for her safety as she traveled. I prayed constantly, asking God to protect her and guide her. I gave her instructions to help her stay safe and to find her way to the places she needed to go.

Perhaps you experienced this when your husband or wife had to leave for a trip, or your child had to move to another city for work or to university. Their absence makes us reflect on how much we love them. We long to be with them. We hope that they are safe from harm. This is especially true with our kids! We write them messages with wisdom and warnings so that they might be aware of dangers and deceptions, hoping that they would make wise choices. Or just to let them know how much we love them. It is normal for us. Right?

What is not normal, however, is having those same affections and longings for people we do not really know or have never met. However, that is what we find here with Paul. In this section of the letter, Paul begins to describe his ministry to the Colossians, the majority of whom he really did not know. He had only heard of what God was doing in and through them and he was thankful to God for that. But he had also heard of the dangers that surrounded them in their culture, and he was concerned for them. Here is Paul, imprisoned and suffering for his faith in Jesus and for proclaiming the Gospel of God, taking the time to write a letter to spiritual family members, a letter that exalts Jesus Christ, reminds them of the loving truth of the Gospel, and warns them about the immediate dangers and deceptions that were surrounding them.

What we discover is that Paul had a great struggle for these people (v1). And his struggle was not just for a single local church, or even for a particular region, but for everyone who had not seen him face to face. He had an immense struggle for all Christians. Paul had a great desire for them that we see here in verse 2. It was a desire that they would be encouraged by the power of the Gospel that unites us. But how does it unite us? In love and in truth. These two things go together.

There are lots of people who are united in love and lies. There are also people united in hatred and truth. But the Gospel, the Gospel creates true unity because it unites us in both love and truth in the purest forms, the truth of God and the love of God that we see in Jesus Christ. Without truth and love, there is no true unity. Paul understood this and was constantly reminding our ancient brothers and sisters of the power of the Gospel, the Gospel that is power of salvation to all who believe it, no matter what race, gender, or social status.

It reminds me of the beautiful mosaics we find here in Rome. Perhaps you have seen a beautiful painting in this city, and while staring at it you come to realize that what you are looking at is not a painting, but a mosaic. And then, when you look closely you see all of the little pieces of stone. They are different colors and shapes of stones that have been gathered from different places. And the artist has masterfully pieced them all together. United they create this beautiful image that can leave us standing there amazed.

Brothers and Sisters, are you in need of encouragement this morning? Then think about this beautiful truth. That the power of the Gospel of God has united us in love and truth. The truth that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The truth that we can rest in knowing that our works cannot save us, but that the work of Christ did. That through the one-time, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, THE TRUTH, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God has lovingly reconciled us to Himself. And not only to Himself, but to one another. You see the power of the Gospel creates a deep spiritual community. That fact should create within each of us a deep affection for one another, and not just for our brothers and sisters in our church, or in all of Rome, or in Italy, but in the entire world.

The power of the Gospel unites us. Be encouraged, that we are united in the truth and love of God. And let that encouragement lead us to love one another as we grow together in our relationships with Jesus Christ, which was Paul’s second desire. That the power of the Gospel would grow the Colossians’ faith…

  1. The Gospel grows us

You see, the power of the Gospel grows us. Paul knew that as the Colossians were united together in the love and truth of the Gospel, that they would also grow together in their knowledge of God. Paul tells us that all the hidden wisdom and knowledge of God is known in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (v 3). And that as a spiritual community, the church, we are to grow in that knowledge together.

You see, God does not reconcile sinners to Himself through Jesus and then leave us on our own, isolated in this world. When He saved us, we became His people, united in and under His Son and our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the reason the Colossians needed to cling to together. Because as they were united together in love for God and each other, they would continue to grow in the truth of the Gospel. If they were to experience a lack unity, and a lack of love, there would be a lack of growth in their knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. They would not be able to live as God’s people in front of a world lost in sin. It was crucial for their growth and for their testimony to Christ.

The same goes for all of us. As we grow together, we will be able to serve our Lord together in front of a broken community that needs to see the power of God’s grace at work in the context of loving and biblical community. As we remain committed to Christ and to one another, we will be led in love to a more mature understanding of God in Christ through His Word. The Word of God is sufficient. It is our authority. And if it is in Christ, who we know through God’s Word, that we find all assurance of knowledge and wisdom of God, why would we want to look anywhere else?

Friends, if you want to know God, look to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. The one through whom, and for whom the world was created. The one through whom reconciliation with God is possible because He shed his blood on the cross to wash away the sins of God’s people. So that all who would repent of both their good works and their bad works and look to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, would find it and become part of God’s loving family (Col. 1,15-23).

Brothers and Sisters, do you want to another reason to be encouraged this morning? Be encouraged, comforted, that you can know God because you can know His son, Jesus. The one to whom all of God’s Scriptures pointed. Through Him, we can grow together in our faith and live as a loving community, a testimony of how God’s Gospel changes every aspect of our lives and holds the power to change every aspect of our communities, our schools, our cities, and this nation.

The power of the Gospel unites us in love and truth. The Power of the Gospel grows us in love and truth and equips us to fulfill our calling as testimonies for Christ. And the power of the Gospel protects us.

  1. The Gospel protects us

The final point this morning is that the Gospel protects us. The reason Paul made the point that to know Jesus is to know God, and that there was no other place to look apart from Christ, is because the Colossians were in danger of looking to something or someone other than Christ to obtain knowledge and wisdom about, or approval from God. There were cultural pressures to follow what was a combination of mystical polytheism or instructions to obey various laws (v 4).

On one part, the culture believed that Jesus was just one of many ways to know God. Or even one of many gods. And one way to receive additional revelations about God or from God was through mystical experiences. On the other part, there were those who believed that Jesus was God, but that in order to draw near to Him, they needed to continue observing the Laws of the Torah. For example, various dietary laws, observance of the Sabbath, and circumcision.

In both cases, the very message of the Gospel was at stake. Both of these cultural pressures were seeking to add to the Gospel by taking away from the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Both were trying to say that faith in Jesus was good, but not faith alone in Jesus. And as soon as that happens, you have a different Gospel.

In this culture, we have many false Gospels. One of the most influential traditions we find in this culture has aspects of both of these cultural pressures that the Colossians were facing. It is a tradition that claims the name of Christ, but rejects that salvation comes through faith alone in the work of Christ alone. One that claims that the Holy Scriptures are true, but then points to other authorities for knowledge of God and the Gospel. It is one that heaps a burden upon its adherents, telling them that they must follow rules and customs for forgiveness, to trust in their own works and their own righteousness for forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God.

It is a tradition that desires unity, but at the sacrifice of the truth of the Gospel. It teaches that it ultimately doesn’t matter which god or path you follow, as long as you listen to your conscience. That, my friends, is idolatry. In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin wrote…”all that think that they know anything of God apart from Christ, contrive to themselves an idol in the place of God.”

But that is not the only false Gospel narrative we find in this culture. I think about La Dolce Vita. An idolatrous narrative claiming that the key to happiness is found in pursuing your own pleasure, material wealth, success and status. A narrative that leads to so much corruption, the manipulation and exploitation of people, and the destruction of families as people seek to acquire approval, control, and fulfillment.

These narratives are false Gospels, voices of the culture that relentlessly put pressure on the people of our city, and at times even the people within our churches.

Brothers and Sisters, God’s word is telling us today that our best defense against these cultural pressures is through our being united together in the love of Christ, and growing together in our knowledge of Him through His Word. Growth in the context of a loving community is our best defense against false Gospel narratives. A loving community that reminds one another of simple yet beautiful truths…Like that we need not fret in gaining God’s approval and acceptance because Christ already did everything necessary for us to be accepted and approved by God. Or, that we need not fear for lack of knowing God because we have His Son and His word which last for eternity. This is a loving unity in the truth that lasts.

Some of the longest lasting art you will find in this city are those mosaics I mentioned earlier. Paintings fade easily with the changes in the climate. The humidity, the heat, the air, and the light are all a threat to the painting’s integrity. But the mosaics last. The durable materials used to make them are able to withstand the humidity, heat and time because all of those different pieces have been firmly established on the canvas by their creators.

Brother and Sisters, as a spiritual family, we have been chosen to display the beautiful mosaic of God and His Son. To paint a picture of His loving grace and mercy towards sinners. A mosaic firmly established in the truth that Jesus is Lord and that we receive Him by Faith alone (v. 6-7). A mosaic that testifies to the beauty of Christ and brings our sovereign Creator all glory. It is a beautiful and lasting mosaic in a world full of fading “beauty”.

Brothers and Sisters, as we walk through this Global week of united prayer, we will learn more about Biblical Christian unity and what we need to do to protect it. I want to encourage you to take time every day to read the meditations and to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. May our hearts be filled with affection for spiritual family members that we have never met. And as we pray for one another to experience the power of the Gospel, may we pray that our brothers and sisters around the world would be encouraged as they too experience the power of the Gospel, the power that unites us together in love, grows us together in the truth, and protects us from false gospels.

-Clay Kannard



The Better Order. Hebrews 7

When you walk through our city, especially near here, it won’t take long to recognize a man or woman dressed in priestly or religious attire and belonging to the Roman Catholic church. Right? They are members of religious orders of the Roman Catholic church. But their attire does not always look the same. Sometimes their robes are different colors. Sometimes they are wearing a hood. Some of them have ropes tied around their waists. The reason is that they are members of different religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church. There are different categories for these religious orders…contemplative orders, orders that serve the sick and the poor, orders that promote the Catholic faith.

These religious orders are religious communities led by people who have chosen to live a “consecrated life”, having given up vocations, possessions, family even. They are in a way, set apart from everyone else, adhering to the specific and diverse rules of their order while encouraging others to follow them. They serve as so-called “mediators” between people and God, believing their consecrated status gives them that role.

Now to be a member of an order you might have to take an oath of silence, an oath of solitude, or an oath of poverty. Some of the names you are familiar with might could include the Order of Saint Benedict, the Augustinian Order, the Franciscan Order…these are just a few of the many, many examples.

Well, the idea of a religious order is not something new. We find religious orders within other religions as well, and we see them in the Bible. Perhaps the most famous, well-known religious order we find in Scripture is the Levitical order…Israel’s priestly order made up of men who belonged to a specific tribe, the tribe of Levi. And according to their Law, it was this priestly order that served as Israel’s mediator between God and Man. They worked in the temple, teaching God’s word, and continually offering sacrifices to cover the sins of the people. But there was something fundamentally flawed with this priestly order. No matter how hard they worked for God’s people, to help make them holy, this priestly order could not provide a permanent solution for the brokenness and sinfulness that plagues the hearts of men.

What I love about this chapter is that it reminds us of something very important. That our faith, brothers and sisters, is not a blind, thoughtless faith. We are called to worship God with our minds as much as with our heart and our soul. We are called to think critically and to reason with ourselves and with others about the legitimacy of the truth we find in God’s Word. That is what the author does in Hebrews chapter 7.

A better order was needed, an order that could correct the imperfections of the previous one, an order that could provide salvation and eternal hope to God’s people. This is the point our author is trying to make in chapter 7 of Hebrews. That a better and superior priestly order had come, the order of Melchizedek. Let’s read it together, Chapter 7 of the letter to the Hebrews.


Now, in order to grasp the weight of this argument we need to know, who was Melchizedek and what does he have to do with Jesus? We see him first in Genesis 14, an ancient story of a man in the days of old. He was a priest and king of a city named Salem. The definition of his name and the city he ruled tell us that he was the king of righteousness and peace (v.1), and priest of the Most-High God. His birth and origin are unknown, and his days are not described as having a beginning, nor an end (v. 3). They just went on, and on, and on.

He was such a great man, this ancient priest. So great that one day, another great man named Abraham came to meet this great king and priest and gave him a tenth of everything he had just gained in victory of war ( v. 4). Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham received this blessing (v. 6). And so, the logical argument tells us that Abraham is inferior because it was Melchizedek who received the tithed and gave the blessing (v. 7). Furthermore, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham’s children, and to his children’s children, and so on (v. 9-10). And since the Levitical order of priests came from Abraham’s line, it too, is inferior to the priestly order of Melchizedek. Got it? I certainly hope so.

Now, the question many people want to get stuck on here is this: Who was Melchizedek? And while there are many different opinions as to who he was, the focus of this chapter, and of this sermon is not Melchizedek, but Jesus Christ. Melchizedek prefigures the incarnation of Jesus to serve as a type or foreshadow that pointed to the coming of Christ and His priesthood. This character tells us that there was a high priest of another order before the Law and Levitical order.

In Psalm 110:4, which is quoted in this chapter, God promised that he would establish the coming Messiah as an eternal priest after the order of Melchizedek. You see, in Christ, this priestly order had reappeared, it reawakened as far superior to anything that came before it. Why is this order of Melchizedek better? It is the better order…

  1. Because it corrects imperfections, and
  2. Because it provides an eternal salvation
  1. It corrects imperfections

The previous order, the Levitical order, had been established by the Law to communicate the Law to God’s people. And what do we know about the Law? We know that it is unable to save us from our sins (Rom. 7:13-24). God’s word tells us that the Law is a teacher (Gal. 3:24-26), showing us that we are sinners, imperfect men, women and children. The Law teaches us who is God…totally perfect and holy. The Law shows us our need to be rescued because we are stuck, unable to live up to God’s standards. We are imperfect, and the old order was unable to bring us perfection, it just reminded us of our weakness. And that was its weakness.

But this new order, the order of Melchizedek, it corrects the imperfections and gives us hope.

Whereas the old order was established by the Law and unable to provide salvation, the new order was established by God’s eternal oath (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17, 21), and He provides us saving grace.

Whereas the old order provided priest who had to descend from the line of Levi, God, in the new order, sent His own Son as a priest, subverting the system (v. 12-14). This new order brought forth a priest from the kingly tribe of Judah. A Royal Priest.

Whereas the old order provided priestly mediators who were corrupt, sinful, and incapable of living up to God’s standards, God, in this new order provided a righteous priest who perfectly lived up to God’s standards.

Jesus is this royal, high priest of God’s better priestly order. The old order, with all its good intentions, was unable to bring transformation to the hearts of God’s people. The old order tried to conform people to a list of rules, but the new order transforms people, healing their broken hearts, conforming them to the image of a perfect high priest, Jesus. The old order provided a way to just cover sins through the giving of imperfect sacrifices, thus never totally removing imperfections. But this new order provides a way to remove sins completely through faith in the personal, life-giving sacrifice of Jesus, the Royal High Priest who takes His own righteousness and places on those who would repent of their sins and run to Him in Faith.

Brothers and Sisters, how often do you find yourself buried under the weight of your sin and imperfections? How much stress do you experience as you try to live up to expectations, whether they be your own or someone else’s? How often do you walk with your head down, focusing on your failures?…failures to honor God by being a better Christian, or loving your spouse better, or by being a better mom or dad, or pleasing your parents, or doing well enough in school, or on a test so that you can get that job? What order, or system, are you following as you try to live up to those expectations and overcome your failures before God?

Any order apart from God’s new order will only continue to remind you that you cannot measure up to perfection. But that, my friends, is why God instituted the new order, to tell you that you don’t have to measure up…That there is a perfect royal priest who can redeem your imperfections. His name is Jesus. Will you let the king of righteousness rule in your heart today? Only the king of righteousness can have you declared righteous and give you hope, a hope that your salvation is not based on your works, but on those of Jesus Christ alone, the king of righteousness. His priestly order can correct your imperfections, and it can also provide an eternal salvation.

  1. It provides an eternal salvation

The old order could not attain perfection for its adherents because its priests were imperfect (v. 23). They were unholy, guilty, stained by sin. Like the people they served, the priests themselves were plagued by sin, and thus died. And so, the trajectory of the old order was temporary and destructible.

How could any order that is temporary and destructible offer needy people an eternity, and preserve them from the wrath of God? It could not!

Therefore God, in His goodness and mercy established this new order as an eternal and indestructible order (v. 24). And He guaranteed it through the resurrection of His Son, the appointed High Priest of God’s new order. A Priest who will never die.

Brothers and sister, our High Priest is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, being exalted above everything. He is perfect, and so his sacrifice was perfect. There is no need to continuously offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, for you to work for God’s approval and favor and forgiveness. Because He lives for eternity, He is the High Priest eternal of the new order and able to offer an eternal salvation for those He serves.

He is the eternal priest, who offered the eternally sufficient sacrifice that can secure your salvation for eternity.

Verse 25 says it all, Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost, those who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. We draw not unto God through someone else, or through some other religious order, or through some saint, or through a church, or through any other system of works, including your own.

Friends, Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. He is the eternal priest, who offered the eternally sufficient sacrifice that can secure your salvation for eternity.

Now do you see why Jesus, the high priest of the better order, is described as the King of Peace? What peace it gives me to know that Jesus is interceding for me before the Father. Do you see the confidence we can have in Jesus, the certainty that our sins are forgiven and that we are in right standing with God? Do you see the security of salvation available through this better order? An eternal order that will not change.

You do not have to worry that God’s plan of salvation or your way to obtain it will change. You do not have to be confused that there might be other ways to draw near to God, because this order is perfect and eternal. You see, only an eternal order, with an eternal and perfect high priest can secure your eternity. Only the better order can provide an eternal salvation.

This is the message that the author of Hebrews was wanting to communicate. That the old order was imperfect and weak. That a new perfect and eternal order had come. The old order was placed into retirement because it fulfilled its purpose of pointing to a better order that finally had come. Why in the world would they want to return to something that had become obsolete? Something weaker? Something imperfect and not useful for bringing salvation? And this is the message God wants to communicate to us today.

In concluding, I want to go back to the subject of the various priests of different orders that we see in this city. I think of a tradition that still requires the mediation of other priests, and the requirement of man’s imperfect works in order to approach God, and I scratch my head. I think, did they not read this chapter in Hebrews?

But then I think of the times that I forget these truths and start to follow the requirements of another, useless and weak order or system. I think of the times that I try to please God through my performance and good works. I think of the times that I look to something other than Christ to find security, peace, and a sense of self-worth. Maybe that’s you.

God here is telling us to stop it because He provided a better way. He is telling us to look at His son, the high priest of a better order, one that is capable of correcting imperfections by covering us in the perfect righteousness of His Son. One that is able to provide eternal salvation to the uttermost, for those who draw near to God through Jesus….the perfect priest, whose perfect sacrifice can wash away your sins for all of eternity. May the King of Righteousness and Peace rule in your heart and mind. And may we, Breccia di Roma, point others to look to and trust in God’s better order.

-Clay Kannard