141210 Hebrews 7:23-28

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Hebrews 7:23-28
Theme: Hail To The Lord's Anointed: Priest

What is Jesus' last name? That was the question I posed to Miss Myers' second grade class earlier this week, and as you might expect I was given some pretty interesting answers. Some students thought that Jesus' last name was "God" or "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost." Others were convinced that his last name was just plain "holy" because that is what Jesus is. And there was a small, but vocal minority who thought Jesus had a regular last name.

One answer I was a little surprised not to hear was "Christ." At the beginning of this sermon, I said, "Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." "Jesus" and "Christ" are paired together so often in the New Testament that it almost seems Christ is Jesus' last name. But it's not.

Christ isn't a name at all. It's a divine title. The Greek word, "Christ," and the Hebrew equivalent, "Messiah," both mean the same thing, "the Anointed One." In the Old Testament special people were anointed, or sprinkled, with oil. Anointing was God's way of setting people apart for sacred service. And there was no more sacred office than the Old Testament priesthood.

Beginning with Aaron and his sons in the wilderness, the priests were anointed to represent the people before God and to represent God before the people. They offered up prayers and sacrifices. They served in the tabernacle, and later the temple, the earthly representations of God's presence among his people.

God's presence among his people is what Advent is all about. We are preparing to celebrate our Savior's first coming in fourteen days. We eagerly anticipate Jesus' second coming on the Last Day. We thank and praise him for everything he has done for us and for all the things he still does for us. And tonight we focus on the saving acts of Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, as our Priest...

HAIL TO THE LORD'S ANOINTED: PRIEST

As we work through these six verses from the letter to the Hebrews we will examine and apply two key words/phrases, words that make the priesthood of Jesus unique, words that give us comfort and hope: "Once for all" and "Always."

The letter to the Hebrews is not exactly easy reading. In fact, it ranks right up there with Revelation as one of the most challenging books in the New Testament. Part of the reason for this is because the letter was originally written for Hebrews, for Jewish Christians. The author assumes that his readers have a thorough knowledge of the customs and traditions of the Old Testament. And you and I don't. We are not Jewish Christians. We have never been to the temple. We have never seen a priest.

We have to rely on the Old Testament Scriptures, on books like Exodus and Leviticus to give us a picture of the priesthood. And we can be sure that everything we read about priests in the Law of Moses is reliable because Moses was there. He was the one who anointed his brother Aaron and his sons to serve as the first priests of Israel.

In many ways the life of a priest was a life of routine. The law spelled out for them what they should eat and how they should dress. There were clear guidelines about what sacrifices to offer and when to offer them. The priests repeated the same rituals, day after day, year after year, generation after generation...until a new kind of priest burst onto the scene. He didn't come from the tribe of Levi. He wasn't raised in a priestly family. He was unlike any priest, or any person, who had ever lived.

This is how Hebrews describes him: "Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens" (26). Jesus is the high priest who meets our every need. And we desperately needed him. We needed him to be holy because we are far from holy. We needed him to be pure because our lives are polluted by sin. We needed him to be exalted about the heavens because far too often we are too focused on life down here on earth.

There is something else that sets Jesus apart from the sinful world and the sinful priests who went before him: "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" (27).

Picture a group of priests working around the altar outside the temple proper. Some are supervising the slaughter of animals. Some are preparing the sacrifices. Others are stoking the fire. Without any warning one of the priests climbs up onto the platform, and before the others can reach out to stop him he throws himself onto the altar.

It's a disturbing picture, isn't it? Words like suicidal and delusional come to mind. Probably not special. Certainly not beautiful. But a scene very similar to this one plays out in the letter to the Hebrews, and this is what Jesus has done for us. Our perfect High Priest offered up himself as our perfect sacrifice. John the Baptist correctly identified the Son of God as the Lamb of God, who would sacrifice his life for the sins of the world.

And unlike those Old Testament sacrifices that were offered up day after day after day, unlike the hundreds of thousands of animals that were slaughtered at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus' sacrifice didn't need to be repeated. The sacrifice Jesus made was complete. Jesus offered up himself, once for all, for every sin, for every sinner, for you.

Do you know what that means practically speaking? If there is a sin in your life that is troubling you, if the devil keeps throwing it in your face, if you can't put it out of your mind, if you can't put it behind you, read Hebrews 7 and remember that Jesus sacrificed his life for you. Remind the devil that that all your sins (including that sin) have been forgiven. Read and re-read and rejoice in those beautiful words, "Once for all."

"Once for all" takes us back to Good Friday. "Once for all" declares that our salvation is an established fact and that what Jesus has done cannot be undone. "Once for all" removes any and all doubt about our salvation. And those three words are complemented by another key word in our text, a word that inspires Christian confidence, a word that assures us our Savior will never leave us or forsake us: "Always."

Always sets no limits. Always lasts forever, and if you are a student of history you know that nothing lasts forever. Empires rise and fall. Earthly kingdoms come and go. People are born and every day they live brings them one day closer to the day they will die. Death is the fate of all people, even godly people, even priests: "Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office" (23).

The Old Testament priesthood was a revolving door of men who lived and served and died, an ongoing cycle from one priest to the next until a very special high priest came along and brought that cycle to an end. "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" (24, 25).

Jesus our high priest was radically different from all the priests who served before him. Not only was he the only priest to offer himself as a sacrifice. Not only was he the only priest to offer one sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is an eternal high priest. He is the only priest whose service never came to an end. He is always working, always serving, always saving, always interceding.

What does that last word mean? What does it mean that Jesus is always interceding for us? I like to think of it this way. I am a sinner. I know that. I know that I sin multiple times every day. And I know that every sin I commit is serious. My sins disappoint God. They anger God. They separate me from God. They make me worthy of death.

But just when God the Father is getting ready to punish me for my sins, right when he is about to push the button to release the trap door to hell under my feet, at that moment Jesus rushes in and says: "Stop! Father, I know what he has done. I know what he deserves. I know that his sins have to be punished...and they have been punished because I took his place. On the cross I paid for his sins, and now they are gone. Now there is nothing that stands between the two of you, nothing that separates you. You are his Father, and he is your dear child."

I have no idea how many times God the Father and God the Son have had that conversation. And I shudder to think how many times a day they need to have that conversation. But there is no reason to worry. We don't need to be afraid. We don't have to be the least bit concerned about our sins or our future because we have the best defense attorney in the universe, because Jesus is our Savior and our mediator, because he is always interceding for us.

Always is a long time. Always lasts for an eternity, and thanks to Jesus that is what we have to look forward to...eternity. Because Jesus is our Great High Priest, because he sacrificed his life once for all, because he is always interceding for us, we can't wait for his return. We can't wait for him to come and take us to live with him forever. And so we pray, "Come, Lord Jesus." Amen.

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