Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hebrews 7:11-28 This Isn't Your Father's Priesthood!

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. (Hebrews 7:11-12)

The writer of Hebrews understands that his readers are struggling with leaving behind the trappings of religion, especially the reliance on an earthly priest to represent them before God. So he argues the weaknesses of the former Levitical priesthood as he also demonstrates the superiority of Christ’s priesthood. He starts with the argument that the Law could not make us perfect. In fact, it just showed us how sinful we are, because we could NEVER keep it. It pointed us to our need for a Savior! Therefore, the priesthood under the law, was also inadequate. We needed Jesus to be our High Priest.

But how could Jesus be a priest when He wasn’t from the correct tribe of Levi? He was from the tribe of Judah. The writer declares Jesus was a priest, not by genealogy, but chosen by the Father, and appointed by an oath made by God:

For it is declared: “You are a priest forever,

    in the order of Melchizedek.” 
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: 

“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. (vs. 17-22)

One of the problems with the old priesthood is that the priests kept dying!

. . .but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (vs. 24-25)

Jesus is the eternal High Priest. He is constantly interceding for us! I heard Greg Laurie on the radio the other day talking about how he was able to meet Billy Graham. He said that he had known and worked with Franklin Graham for several years. One day Franklin asked Greg if he would like to meet his father. So Greg was ushered in to meet Billy, because Greg had a relationship with the son. In the same way, Jesus, as our High Priest, ushers us into the presence of His Father. We are able to go into the Holy of Holies through prayer with the Father, because we have a relationship with the Son. My guess is that when Billy Graham met Greg that day, he could have said something like, “Any friend of Franklin’s is a friend of mine” And I’m certain that’s the same way the Father feels about us when we meet with Him in prayer!

Remember this when you hear the accusations of the world or of Satan, the destroyer and joy-robber, who loves to whisper, “You are nothing! Worthless! How dare you think that God or anyone else could love you!” Our eternal High Priest, Jesus, is pleading your case even now with the Father: “Look at her, Father! Isn’t she lovely? She is one of ours. She is spotless and pure because she has believed in me! She is just as you created her to be! How we love her!”

For this reason, the writer of Hebrews can boldly claim the following:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (vs.26-28)

If you are relying on ANYTHING or ANYONE (yourself, your pastor, your dead grandmother who prayed for you) to save you, you will be eternally disappointed. Jesus is our only High Priest, who has been made perfect FOREVER! Amen.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hebrews 7:4-10 Tithing: Try it, You'll Like It!

In today’s passage, the author points to the significance of Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek:

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:4-10 NIV)

Basically what this is saying is that by giving the tithe to Melchizedek, Abraham is acknowledging that Melchizedek is greater than he is. When Melchizedek blesses Abraham, this passage confirms that the greater blesses the lesser. The readers, who were steeped in Jewish law, would have questioned the priesthood of Melchizedek, since he was not of the tribe of Levi, which was the tribe given the priesthood by God. This author is saying that the priesthood of Melchizedek was clearly greater than that of Levi, since Abraham, the Patriarch, gave tithes to Melchizedek. Therefore,it would be as if Levi, as Abraham’s descendant, was giving the tithe. Can we all agree that Melchizedek was greater?? Having argued that, the author will turn next to how Jesus is like Melchizedek, with a superior priesthood.

But before we move on, we just can’t ignore this whole topic of tithing. Is there any topic that makes congregations squirm more? Mention money from the pulpit and you are guaranteed to tick off some in the pews! Why is that? Because deep down we believe that our money is OURS. WE EARNED it and we should be able to keep it. God doesn’t need our money, so why does He expect us to give it?

The truth is that all we have and all we are able to do are gifts from God. Tithing is a way of acknowledging this, and it is also the way God designed the church to take care of the needs of those who serve Him in ministry. The tribe of Levi was called to the priesthood, so their tribe was the only one which was not given any territory in the Promised Land. They could not earn a living from the land, and they were in service to God 24/7. So God provided for their needs with the tithe. So do we have to tithe today? No!

Because Jesus fulfilled the law, we are no longer under the command to tithe. In fact Jesus was harsh in his criticism of the legalistic way the religious leaders would tithe down to the tiniest part of their spices, while ignoring the weightier things that they should have been doing, like caring about the needs of the “least of these:”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

You won’t find a command to tithe in the New Testament! However, the New Testament makes it very clear that Christians gave to the church for the care of pastors and to take care of the needy. I read an article by John Ortberg in which he purports that giving is “one of God’s great gifts to us.” He writes:

“What if tithing is actually one of God's great gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? I'd like to go back to one of the classic statements about the tithe in Scripture, and look at why tithing is in fact God's great tool to create generous people. 

He quotes the best-known promise in Scripture on tithing: 

You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:9-10)

Ortberg continues:

Tithing is like training wheels when it comes to giving. It's intended to help you get started, but not recommended for the Tour de France.

How do you know when to take training wheels off? The quick answer is: when they're slowing you down. How do you know when its time to stop tithing? For all of us not living in dire poverty, the answer is when you're giving way more than 10 percent. Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor.” (“Tithing: Law or Grace?” John Ortberg)

I like his thought that tithing (giving ten percent) is just the beginning. Paul tells us that God is more interested in our intention than with the actual amount of money we give. Paul’s exhortation is to be as generous as possible with our giving:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:6-7)

Giving back to God reveals the attitude of our hearts. If we hold on to our belongings with a tight fist, and begrudgingly peel a few bills out of our wallets for the offering plate, we are saying we can’t trust God with our money. We fear our financial future, because we can’t trust God with it. Yet, God promises to bless us to overflowing if we will just test him in this area. He dares us to open up our pockets to give back to Him in gratitude.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at how it straightens out the rest of your budget! You’ll find that a tithe is, indeed, just the beginning.