Summary: The first in a series of messages on the complete sufficiency of the Gospel.
Put yourself in the place of your favorite Old Testament character for a moment. Imagine what it would be like to be them. Perhaps you’d like to be David or Esther or Daniel. What closeness they had with God! How they walked with him and were used by him! Wouldn’t it be great to be one of them? Perhaps you’d be willing to trade your own relationship with God for theirs instead? If so, I couldn’t agree with you less.
Less? That’s right, less.
Not in a million years would I want David’s relationship with God over my own. Nor Esther’s. Nor Daniel’s. Nor any Old Testament figure’s. I much prefer what I have right now.
How arrogant! How bold! I hope I’ve startled you and perhaps even ruffled your feathers a bit, because I intend to. I believe it’s time for the church to wake up and realize how good we have it today on this side of the cross.
You may know about the famous heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11--people such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Through the author of Hebrews, God tells of their commitment, their sacrifice, and their surrender to his ways. These heroes were mocked, imprisoned, and even stoned to death because of their faith.
Have you been tested to such lengths? Have you proven to be equally committed? Likely, the answer is no. Then how could you possibly obtain a better relationship with God than they had?
Before we answer the how, let’s make sure that this is indeed the case. Referring to Old Testament believers, the author of Hebrews writes, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39--40, italics added).
Such dedication, such commitment--yet what do we learn about these witnesses? They did not receive what was promised. And on this side of the cross, we possess something better than they ever enjoyed.
What is it that makes our situation better than theirs? Has God changed? Certainly not. God is the same as he has always been. Then what is it exactly that makes today so different from 2000 or so years ago? It has everything to do with the New.
Imagine being a fly on the wall during a hypothetical dialogue between Moses and Jesus of Nazareth. "Papers, please," Moses exclaims. But Jesus of Nazareth would have no papers, at least none that would meet the requirements. The law required that a person be from the tribe of Levi to qualify as high priest, but Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. No one from Judah’s line had ever served as priest. The law forbade such a selection.
Today, Christians regard Jesus Christ as their high priest. According to the law, Jesus as high priest makes no sense at all. How then can we rightfully look to Jesus as our priest today? If the priestly line has changed, then the whole system for relating to God has to be replaced. And that’s exactly what has happened--the whole system has changed!
It’s crucial to realize that the law and Jesus just don’t mix. "[Jesus] ... belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests" (Hebrews 7:13--14). Christians talk about Jesus as their Savior, their Lord, and the author (priest) of their forgiveness. Some of these same believers then claim that the law is still for us today. In so doing, they adhere to a major contradiction.
The issue of law and grace (Old and New) is certainly still hotly debated today: Do we live by law? Do we live by grace? Do we live by a combination of the two? Doesn’t God write the law on our hearts? Despite the countless pages in Christian books devoted to these questions, it surprises me that Jesus’ lineage fails to take center stage. We can propose all kinds of theories, compromises, and answers concerning law and grace, but one fact remains: the law discredits Jesus as priest. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews writes, "When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also" (Hebrews 7:12).
The bottom line is that if you appeal to Jesus as your priest, there’s no place for the law in your life. You call on a man from Nazareth, from the tribe of Judah, who shares no family lineage with Aaron, or Levi, or any other qualified priest of the law. You call on an outsider, a renegade, a table turner.
Christians readily accept the idea that Jesus is their priest. But it’s not clear to some that, through their adoption of Jesus as priest, they enter into a contract with God. A contract? Yes, a contract, an agreement, a covenant. In contrast to the old contract that God penned through Moses, this new one will never be replaced. It’s the final word concerning a human’s relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the author and guarantee of something totally new and revolutionary: For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15) and The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ’You are a priest forever." Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:21--22)