The Necessity of Jesus’ Priesthood • 03.12.23
The Necessity of Jesus’ Priesthood
Comprehending our need for Jesus
- Only Jesus can help us
- Jesus offers us eternal hope
- Jesus’ covenant makes us new
My name is Jordan Bray and I serve as the Worship Director here at Harvest. This year, we are studying the book of Hebrews and learning specifically about how Jesus is Better, and I am excited to preach God’s word this morning from Hebrews chapter 8 in just a moment, but first…
Dismiss 4th + 5th graders to go upstairs to Harvest Kids (at 9am service only)
Our text this morning marks a very important transition between what the author of Hebrews has been talking about in regard to the Old Covenant and what he is now going to say about the New Covenant. That being said, I think it would be helpful to begin our time by refreshing our memory on the nature of covenant relationships.
Firstly, we cannot move on until we have defined what a covenant is. It’s not a word that we use very often, but in the Bible, it comes up over and over as a significant theme, so here is a definition for us to work with:
Covenant – a strong, binding agreement between two parties. (*repeat*)
Can anyone think of a modern example of a strong, binding agreement between two parties?
A wedding! I have here a picture of mine and my wife’s wedding day. On October 19th, 2019, we stood before a cloud of witnesses and entered a covenant agreement to be faithful to one another. Now these vows were not secured by a simple pinky-promise or secret handshake… No, this was far more serious than that– we went to the courthouse to sign a marriage license, we had witnesses sign our marriage certificate, and we even exchanged rings as a symbol of our bond because we were entering a strong, binding, legal agreement!
Now, “covenant agreement” may seem dull or not exciting, but when we understand the nature of a covenant, we see that it is so much more special and beautiful than any other kind of agreement.
Because a covenant is an agreement where both parties vow to fulfill their end of the deal REGARDLESS if the other person does or not… Let me tell you, I did not stand before those witnesses and say, “I [Jordan] take you, [Em], to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health… SO LONG as you do the same for me…” NO, it ended with “so long as we both shall live.”
This is SO important when we consider the fact that our righteous and perfect God relates to his imperfect, wicked people with covenant agreements. The entire Bible records how God’s people repeatedly fail to keep their end of the covenants, yet God faithfully upholds his end time after time.
Sometimes that even meant that God was faithful to enact punishment for the disobedience of his people – He is a man of his word, and he does just what he says he will do. But, as we will see, even as his people disobey him, even as they turn their face from him and endure the punishment for their disobedience, He never relents in his love for them, and His faithful pursuit of them as their God.
Grab your Bible or smart devices and turn to the very back of the New Testament to the book of Hebrews. If you don’t have a Bible and would like to have one in front of you, just raise your hand and the ushers will have one for you to read. If you’re using one of the black Bibles that the ushers are handing out, our text for the day is on page 1192.
8 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
Do you ever read a passage in the Bible and just feel stumped, confused about what the point is? Or where the author is going? Well, thankfully, the author of Hebrews set us up well, because this passage begins with: “Now the point in what we are saying is this…” Up until this point, he has been speaking about the priesthood from the Old Covenant, that God disclosed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The priesthood was a system that God initiated that provided his people with a mediator to offer sacrifices for their sin.
So far in our study through Hebrews, we have learned about some concerns with the Old Covenant Priesthood:
- “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office…” Heb 7:23.
- The former priests were dead in sin.
- The former priests had to offer repeated sacrifices for sin.
- Their ministry provided temporary relief from sin’s guilt but did not provide eternal reconciliation to God.
Now, by God’s grace, this system served a great purpose in mediating between God and man, but as we learn from Hebrews, there is a better system now in place and this system is mediated by a better High Priest. A High Priest who…
- “holds his priesthood permanently…” Heb 7:24 (he is never prevented from continuing in office because he is eternal)
- “[is] holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens…” Heb 7:26 (not like the earthly priests who were sinners just like the people they were mediating on behalf of)
- “has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily…” Heb 7:27 (because he would only need one, perfect sacrifice to put an end to it all)
THIS is the kind of High Priest that we need. And friends, do we have one?? YES!
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest…” Heb 8:1
And who is it?? JESUS!
So, today, we are going to be learning from Hebrews 8 about The Necessity of Jesus’ Priesthood.
And in learning about this necessity, we will be Comprehending our need for Jesus.
Firstly, we need Jesus as our Great High Priest, because without a better high priest, we are helpless.
- Only Jesus can help
The former system of the priesthood was endless. One, because the priests themselves were finite. They could only atone for the sins of the people so long as they were alive! And once a priest had died, then what? You need another priest!
Well, what about the sacrifices themselves? Also, endless! Not only did the priest have to atone for the sins of the people over and over again, but he himself was a sinner! He had to atone for his own sins as well. It sounds exhausting, right? Which is why this endless cycle should cause us to carefully read this next part in Hebrews: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven…”
Now think for a second, “Why would it be significant for the author of Hebrews to include that Christ is seated?…”
BECAUSE THE WORK IS FINISHED!!!
- Jesus’ seat communicates the work is finished.
In the Old Covenant, the high priest was not found sitting after he atoned for the sins of the people and himself, because it wouldn’t be very long after that that he would need to be on his way to prepare to atone for more sins! But Jesus Christ, after offering himself up as a sacrifice, once and for all, sat down because the work was finished.
Without Jesus as our great High Priest, we would still be caught in an endless cycle of atoning for our sins. Can you imagine if we were still under the Old Covenant and had to atone for our sins by continuing to offer animal sacrifices day after day after day?? Can you imagine making your daily trip to the church to sacrifice a pair of doves or a lamb to atone for that day’s sins? Can you imagine doing that 7 days a week? Or 365 days in a year?! How exhausting!
Because Jesus Christ finished the work, we can be reconciled to God through faith in Him once and for all. What freedom! We also recognize that Jesus alone can help us because he has been exalted, unlike the other priests.
- Jesus’ seat communicates his exaltation.
The point of Jesus being seated at the right hand of the throne of “the Majesty” (God) is significant because it communicates his superior status. As Al Mohler puts it in his commentary on Hebrews,
Jesus is not just an option along with a smorgasbord of saviors, he is THE One! He is the only way, truth, and life! He is the One who is worthy of our worship and adoration!
From his exalted seat at the right hand of God, Jesus continues his work as our intercessor in the better tabernacle.
- Jesus intercedes in the better tabernacle.
Now, I just pointed out that by Jesus sitting down, he had communicated that the work was finished, so why are we now talking about his work continuing? Well for those who are a part of a small group here at Harvest, you may remember from our study of Gentle and Lowly that author Dane Ortlund explains the difference between Jesus’s finished work and his current work.
This is why in Hebrews 8, after explaining that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, he is also a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (vs. 2). Jesus, today, is ministering as our Great High Priest in the heavens.
How often do we think about that?! It’s great and glorious to reflect on the cross and the empty tomb – the work that Christ accomplished in the past, but how often do we think about the work he is doing right now?! We are ongoing sinners, and so we need a Savior to continually mediate on our behalf and that is what Christ is doing for us right now.
Not only is Jesus the better high priest by continually offering intercession for us, but his ministry is also better because it is taking place somewhere far better and eternal than the earth! He serves in the “true tent” or translated literally, the true tabernacle that the Lord has set up. (verse 2)
Now, I am going to guess that tabernacle is not a word that you casually drop into conversations from time to time… It’s a word that, if you were raised in the church, you may have heard before, but without a firm understanding of the Old Testament, it can be one of those words that we just skim over and miss the depth of what it communicates.
So, what is the Tabernacle? Well, at its most basic, a tabernacle is the same as a tent (that’s why our English translation says, “tent”). A tent is in its very nature a temporary dwelling place. And in this case, the author of Hebrews is alluding to the tent where God met with his people after bringing them out of Egypt. It was in this tabernacle where the high priest would atone for the sins of the people and God’s presence would temporarily dwell inside as a part of the Old Covenant.
The tabernacle was an amazing demonstration of God’s covenant love for his people. It provided a means for his presence to temporarily dwell among sinners! And inside, the high priests were able to offer sacrifices to provide temporary relief from sin’s guilt! But that’s just it… tem-por-ary– it wasn’t meant to last! That’s why Jesus serves as our Great High Priest in the TRUE tent – the true dwelling place of God– in the heavens! A dwelling place not built by man like the earthly tabernacle. Instead, it is made by the Lord and thus will last forever! (verse 2).
Think about what this means for us in our battle with sin today… through Jesus, we have IMMEDIATE access to the Father! We can be freed from the guilt and shame of sin instantly. We don’t have to wait for a certain day of the year when a high priest can enter the tent and mediate on our behalf, Jesus is doing that right now in the heavens!
Praise God that we have such a high priest, one who is seated in the position of power and authority in heaven! One who has secured our salvation through his finished work. Jesus is worthy of your worship and allegiance! It is through his finished work that we are provided eternal hope.
- Jesus provides an eternal
Let’s reread verses 3–7.
Now, the author is digging into specifics about why not only Jesus’s ministry is better, but the covenant that he has enacted is better as well. Partially because the Old Covenant priesthood was only meant to serve as a shadow of something better.
- The Old Covenant priesthood was a shadow of something better.
As the text says, every high priest was appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices in the tent where God’s presence would meet them; thus it is necessary for Jesus as high priest to also have something to offer and to offer it in God’s presence. The difference is that the tabernacle, the high priests, the sacrifices, they were all just a shadow or copy of the real deal, Jesus!
That is why God disclosed so many specific instructions to Moses when he was building the tabernacle:
“See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” Hebrews 8:5b – quoted from Exodus 25
So, what was the pattern? How exactly was the priesthood a copy or shadow of Jesus?
Firstly, the priests offered animal sacrifices, but Jesus is THE sacrificial Lamb who offered himself!
The priests mediated in an earthly tent where God would temporarily dwell, but Jesus not only serves in the true tabernacle in heaven but is also God in the flesh!
In John’s Gospel, he utters, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14
The word “dwelt”, translated literally in this sentence means he “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent” among us. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, dwelt among men!
Lastly, the high priests served as a temporary intercessor for sinners, but Jesus is the Great High Priest who eternally intercedes for sinners.
All the aspects of the earthly tabernacle served as a copy or shadow of Jesus Christ who would come and enact a better ministry and a new covenant.
A “much more excellent” ministry. One that is enacted upon better promises of a new and better covenant. And here is where we learn why we needed a new covenant in the first place! There was a problem with the old one…
- The problem with the old covenant.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Hebrews 8:7
Well, what went wrong with the first one? Did God change his mind? Did he realize that he made a mistake and come up with a plan B?
If we keep reading, in verse 8 we find the key about what went wrong with the Old Covenant. It’s subtle so we have to pay close attention: “For he finds with them when he says…”
Do you see that? For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault in… not the covenant, not in God’s plan, not in the Law itself, but IN THE PEOPLE! THEIR UNFAITHFULNESS! THEIR REBELLION! THEIR DISOBEDIENCE!
The Law was holy, righteous, good, but it could not save a person – only lead him to see his need how wicked he truly was and how great his need for salvation. The problem was not a bad law, but bad hearts.
I think we can all agree that murder should remain illegal, right? I mean, people break that law each day, so does that mean something is wrong with the law? No! The issue is not with the law, the issue is with the heart of man.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
Desperately sick! And Jesus explains more in Mark 7 about the kind of sickness we are talking about: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:21–22
Can you see anything from this list that is in direct opposition to the 10 Commandments? Pretty much all of them, right?!
“All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:23
This is a big problem! How could a person EVER be devoted to the Lord and obedient to his commands if this is the condition of their heart? And by heart we mean the immaterial inner-man – the part of us that contains our thoughts, our volitions, our beliefs, our emotions. If that part of us is desperately sick, we are in big trouble! How could we ever be right with God and experience the blessings instead of the curses of our covenant relationship with him?
Well, we have to keep reading! Let’s see what our covenant God will do.
Friends, this is the good news– God promised, through Jeremiah, that he would bring about a new and better covenant in which we are transformed, and Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the old covenant, making it possible to enact the new one!
- Jesus’ covenant makes us new.
Here is where we see our covenant God’s faithfulness in making a way for his rebellious, hard-hearted people. What does he do? Does he give up on them? Absolutely not! He is a covenant-keeping God. Does he decide to grade on a curve, or lighten the Law? No! The issue is not with the Law.
No, he says, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to come and I’m going to transform you from the inside out. I am going to melt your stubborn, heart of stone and instead give you a heart of flesh! A new heart that longs to please me. A heart that doesn’t look at my commandments and say, “Oh what a burden!” but instead, like the Psalmist says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8
- Jesus’ covenant gives us a new heart.
Not only are we freed from the guilt and shame of sin, but we are completely transformed and given a new heart that loves God!
Do you realize how important this is? Without a new heart, we can’t live out our purpose in life – to bring glory to God! Our new, regenerated heart is what makes it possible for us to say:
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” 2 Corinthians 5:9
God’s New Covenant has made it possible for sinners to be made new and actually live for him in this life!
Christian friends, does your life reflect this?! Do you love God and his commands, or do you view him as a burden? Don’t you want your life to reflect a heart that has been transformed?
Commentator George Guthrie addresses the concern with a lack of a changed heart in a Christian by stating this:
People should see a difference in us! & when they do it can be a powerful testimony for Christ.
When we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and he comes in and does a work in our hearts, we should be SO in awe and grateful for what he’s done that it changes our entire disposition. We shout to the world, “I’m saved!!!!” I can’t believe God would choose not only to interact with me, but that he would actually enter a covenant agreement to be my God and to transform my heart to love him and empower me to live FOR him!
Not only does Jesus’ covenant give us a new heart, but it also allows us to know God personally.
- Jesus’ covenant allows us to know God personally.
Picking up in verse 11, “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord.’ For they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest.” Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t need Sunday school teachers or people to preach the word, but that every individual has an opportunity to know God personally.
He places his Spirit inside of us as a seal of our salvation to illuminate God’s word, to empower us to fight sin, to convict us when our ways don’t align with God’s, to compel us to love and good deeds. This is all possible because God’s presence is within us.
“In him you also, when you heard of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13
We don’t have to be ushered into His presence in the tabernacle. He is here, within us! We have immediate access to him!
Lastly, Jesus’ covenant makes us new because it offers complete forgiveness of our sin.
- Jesus’ covenant offers complete forgiveness of our sin.
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12
As a part of the new covenant, God promises not to remember our sins. Now, this doesn’t mean that God literally forgets the wrong that we’ve done – he is omniscient, or all-knowing. Instead, what this means is that God will not hold our sins against us any longer.
Once sin has been forgiven, it is never brought before us again! He deals with us according to his grace and mercy. “He will remember their sins no more.” That “no more” is special, because it is a double negative in the Greek – not like an English double negative which cancels out… God is not like “I will not NOT remember your sins… muahahaha!” No, it means “Absolutely no, I will never remember these again. Never again will I hold this against you.”
Think about what it would feel like to be an Israelite, hearing the words of this promise… That the days are coming when the Lord would remember their sins no more…
The ritual cleansing of the Old Covenant was only external. It did not provide moral cleansing or clear the conscience. It didn’t offer the complete forgiveness of sins. And our faithful God, who initiated this covenant, and as a part of his faithful character would not break his end of the deal–
He decided to send his perfect Son to dwell among us in the flesh, live a perfect, sinless life, offer Himself up as the perfect and final sacrifice, taking on the punishment for our sin which SATISFIED the requirement of the Old Covenant, making a way for the complete forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews: Jesus is Better (slide)
Praise Jesus! He is the covenant-keeping God who has made a way for sinners like us to be saved and spend eternity in paradise with him!
No one else is worthy of our worship, and allegiance – put your faith in him!
He is the exalted one who can help us because he finished the work we never could.
He is the one who offers us hope that is not just momentary, but eternal.
And He is able to not only free us from the guilt and shame of sin but give us a new heart that longs to please him. That longs to worship him with our whole lives because that is where we find our joy.