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…
- Because it corrects imperfections, and
- Because it provides an eternal salvation
- 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.
- 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.