The Eternal Priesthood of Christ
Passage: Hebrews 7:23-28
Since we have set aside this day as Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Day, churches across our nation will be fuller today than on a normal Sunday. I saw a poll that in 2015 50% of Americans intended to attend church on Easter, which is substantially more than normal. But among the millions who are attending church today, there are a variety reasons why they are in church, which speak to how they view Jesus.
For many people, Jesus is nothing more than mythological figure, or maybe a great man and wise teacher. He certainly is not the Son of God. These people will attend church today, not to worship the Savior, but to keep a family tradition, or to make Grandma happy.
A second category of church goers today are those who view Jesus as a benefactor who can fill my life with good things if I can manage to keep him happy. These people are in church today because they want something from Jesus.
Still others are in church today because they see Jesus as a cold-hearted judge. They are in church today out of fear. They hope that being in church will somehow quiet God’s wrath toward them.
Maybe you fit in one of these categories. If so, I am glad you are here because I want to introduce you to a Jesus who is so much more than the one you have imagined. He is infinite God and humble man. He is just and compassionate. And the depth of his beauty is drawn together in the Easter story like nowhere else. I pray that you will leave today with a new understanding of who Jesus is and a new relationship with him and that those of us who do know this Jesus will leave rejoicing and resting in what he accomplished for us. In order to reach these goals, I’d like to consider Hebrews 7:23–28.
It is very important for our study to understand why the original author wrote this rich description of Jesus. Following Jesus had become very costly for a group of Jews who had converted to Christianity. They were being persecuted for their faith, and they were asking themselves whether or not Jesus was really worth the cost. And so the fundamental purpose of this text is to show these weary saints the beauty of Christ and of what he has provided so that they would see that he is worth every sacrifice. And I pray that God will use this Word to also show you just how wonderful Jesus is so that you will rest in the salvation he has provided and so that you will live for him the rest of your days.
The author makes his point by contemplating Jesus’ life and death, and so I’d like to begin this morning with vv. 26–28 where we see that…
Jesus died the perfect death (vv. 26–28).
I said earlier that the original readers of Hebrews were converted Jews, and because of that, the author describes Jesus death using the language and imagery from the OT sacrificial system. In particular, he describes Jesus as our high priest, and he compares Christ’s death and resurrection to the work of Israel’s high priest on the most sacred day in Israel’s year—the Day of Atonement.
Throughout a given year, Israel’s priests would offer thousands of sacrifices on the Altar of Burnt Offering that stood outside the tabernacle, and every day the priests would minister inside the first compartment of the tabernacle that was called the Holy Place. But only once a year on the Day of Atonement would the high priest enter the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwelt on the mercy seat that sat on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. On this most holy day, the high priest would stand before the glory of God, sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, and plead for the sins of the nation.
It was a sober and yet glorious day, because it highlighted both Israel’s sin and God’s great mercy. And God tells us in our text that it also looked forward to the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Jesus made in his death on the cross.
In particular our text highlights three truths about the sacrifice of Christ that make it superior to OT sacrifices and able to provide an infinitely superior salvation. Notice first that…
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice (v. 26).
This verse gives 5 descriptions of Jesus that are intended to distinguish him from the OT priests. The first 3 highlight the fact that Jesus is absolutely pure and righteous. First, Jesus is holy. This isn’t the typical word for holy. It especially highlights Jesus’ righteous character. When you read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus was not like any other man. He had a unique love and a unique godliness. Second, he is “harmless,” or more particularly “innocent.” And third he is “undefiled,” or entirely pure and clean.
We all know this, but it always bears emphasizing that Jesus did not deserve to die. He is the only perfect man who has ever lived. He is the only man who did not deserve God’s just wrath against sin, and yet he died a cruel death. There are many injustices in our world, but none of them even raise a finger to the injustice of the perfect Son of God dying such an awful death.
Jesus is also “separate from sinners.” We may immediately assume that this phrase also refers to Christ’s purity but in light of the final description, it’s best to take it as referring to his location in the presence of God. He has been exalted above the highest heavens.
We might wonder why the author jumps to Christ’s current position in heaven while discussing Jesus death. The reason is that Jesus position at the right hand of the Father sets him apart from the OT priests. They were sinners; therefore, they had very limited access to the Holy of Holies. Only one man could enter God’s presence once a year and only, as v. 27 mentions, after offering a sacrifice for their own sins. But not Jesus. He is so pure and perfect that he SITS in the presence of God.
Folks, this is our priest; this is our sacrifice. Jesus did not deserve to die; rather he laid down his life out of love to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. The true Jesus is absolutely pure, and he loved us with a perfect love.
Jesus is the perfect priest and sacrifice. Second…
Jesus is the permanent sacrifice (v. 27).
This verse is built around a contrast between the constant sacrifices Israel offered under the Law and the one time sacrifice of Christ.
It’s really quite difficult for us to comprehend how many sacrifices Israel had to make in the course of a year. Every day Israel was required to offer a morning and evening burnt offering. And every family was required to offer a sacrifice during Israel’s major feasts. At these times the priests would kill so many sacrifices that they were literally wading in blood. And the Law also prescribed sacrifices for various sins and forms of purification that would be necessary throughout the year. Israel’s religion was incredibly bloody, and that’s not because God has some sort of demented obsession with death. No Israel’s religion was bloody to teach Israel how terrible sin is and how far we fall short of God’s holiness.
Israel offered sacrifice after sacrifice, and v. 27 notes that even Israel’s high priest needed to make atonement for himself. This statement again references the ritual of the Day of Atonement. The high priest had the unique privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, but that wasn’t because he was somehow above the nation’s sin. No God made sure that everyone knew that he was a sinner like the rest of them because before he sprinkled blood on the mercy seat for the nation he first had to bring blood for himself. He was a sinner, and ultimately the atonement he provided for the nation was insufficient because there was always a need for more sacrifice.
But Jesus is an entirely different kind of priest, and he offered a very different kind of sacrifice. Jesus didn’t merely bring the blood of a sheep or goat; rather, v. 27 concludes by saying “He offered up Himself.” Folks, Jesus sacrificed for us like no human priest ever sacrificed. He gave his own life.
And in so doing he satisfied God’s justice “once for all.” This phrase is very important throughout Hebrews for highlighting the unique power of Jesus’ death. It states that in one act Jesus did for us what tens of thousands of animal sacrifices could never do. He definitively satisfied God’s just wrath against sin so that no more sacrifices will ever be needed. He is the permanent sacrifice.
This is a wonderful truth, but sadly most people don’t get it. I said earlier that many people are in church today either to pay God off or to earn some credit before him. And many religions are filled with rituals that are intended to pay for my sins. What they fail to see is that Jesus already paid for sin. Jesus was the definitive sacrifice for sin and nothing more needs to be done.
It might be that you have never fully appreciated this reality. You have always thought that either you need to earn your way to God or maybe you have thought that getting to God is impossible. You’re just too much of a sinner for God to truly accept you. I would urge you to see today that Jesus paid it all. He gave himself as an infinite sacrifice. And all you need to do to receive the benefits of his death is put your faith in what Jesus did as the only way of salvation. If you’ve never done that, I hope you will rest in Jesus today and find forgiveness in what Christ accomplished.
For those of us who are saved, how we ought to rejoice that God’s wrath no longer abides on us and that there is nothing more that we need to do because Jesus satisfied God’s wrath once for all.
Jesus is the permanent sacrifice. Third…
Jesus is the prophesied sacrifice (v. 28).
This verse basically summarizes all of chapter 7, and the heart of the verse is the contrast between law and oath. The oath it has in mind is a prophecy that God made in Psalm 110:4, and which is quoted for us in v. 21.
There’s a lot of significance to this prophecy, but for our purposes today I just want to emphasize the permanence of this promise. Roughly 500 years after God gave the Law, he prophesied that he would establish a new priesthood that would replace the OT system. And this priesthood would never need to be replaced. It would last forever because it is based on the promise of God.
This is because this time God did not set up weak humans, as v. 28 calls them, as priests. Instead, this oath has set up “the Son” as our new priest. How incredible is that! My relationship with God is no longer through a sinful man but the second person of the Godhead, whom the author states “has been perfected forever.”
In the context of Hebrews that doesn’t mean moral perfect because Jesus has always been perfect; rather it means that he became fully qualified to act as our priest. In particular, he became a man. He was born just as small and weak as any other baby. And then he endured life in a sin-cursed world just like the rest of us. He got hungry and tired just like us. He grieved like us, and he was even tempted like us. But he never gave in. He never sinned. And then he went to the cross for us. He experienced the worst of human evil in how he was beaten and mocked and then he suffered maybe the cruelest form of execution man has ever devised as he died on a cross.
Jesus sunk to the lowest depths of humility, but this darkness brought incredible light because it qualified Jesus to serve as our priest and to bring us to God. Praise the Lord today that Jesus died the perfect death.
But of course we all know that the story does not end with the death of Christ. The point of Easter and the reason we worship on Sundays are because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the weak. Notice in vv. 23–25 that…
Jesus lives as our perfect priest (vv. 23–25).
These verses never specifically mention the resurrection, but the whole argument is built on the fact that Jesus lives and will live for all eternity.
Because he lives, vv. 23–24 argue that…
Jesus is a permanent priest (vv. 23–24).
These verses make their point through a relatively simply contrast. Verse 23 points out an obvious weakness of the OT priesthood and that is that the priests were limited by death. The priests were the mediators between God and man, but every time the high priest died that mediation was broken.
It’s not as if this had some sort of devastating effect on Israel’s relationship to God, but the author of Hebrews uses it to simply point out that the OT system was not perfect. Something better was needed.
And God provided just that in Christ. Jesus died just like the OT priests, but he didn’t stay dead. He conquered death, he rose again, and he ascended to the right hand of his Father, where as v. 26 says he “has become higher than the heavens.” As a result, v. 24 notes that Jesus “continues forever.”
This is a big piece of the argument in Hebrews 7 as to why Christ is better than the OT priests (vv. 16–17). The fact that Christ lives forever speaks to the fact that he has a power far greater than any human priest.
Have you ever needed your doctor only to find that he isn’t available? You need help, but he is on vacation and won’t be available for another week. Or maybe you have a doctor that you really like, but then he retires and you have to go through the frustrating process of finding a new one. These kinds of things are frustrating because your health is important, and you want to know that your doctor is there when you need him.
What a blessing is to know that Christ will always be there because sin is an even greater threat than physical challenges, and we need a lot of help with sin. I sin every day, and I battle temptation every day. I need lots of grace and so do you. But if you are saved, there will never be a time when you look to Christ for grace and he is asleep, away on vacation, or has retired. He has an “unchangeable priesthood” that “continues forever.” And so rest in him, trust in him, and run to him because he will always be there.
Because he lives, Jesus is a permanent priest. Notice as well that because he lives…
Jesus provides a complete salvation (v. 25).
I’d like to begin at the end of the verse with the activity of Christ before we talk about its significance. Because Jesus rose again, “He always lives to make intercession” for his children. Again, we need to understand this phrase in light of the Day of Atonement ritual. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, and intercede for Israel’s forgiveness.
Like the high priest, Jesus has also appeared before the throne of God to intercede for us, but his intercession is far more powerful because Jesus doesn’t just appear once a year. Jesus is always interceding. And his presence is significant for a couple of reasons.
First, it is a testimony to the fact that God has accepted Christ’s sacrifice and so he accepts us. First John 2:1 says, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We will continue to sin until the day we die, but as long as we are in Christ, we can be assured that God will forgive whenever we confess our sin.
But Christ doesn’t just intercede for our forgiveness; he also prays for our perseverance. Luke 22:31–32 tell us of some comforting words that Jesus spoke to Peter just before his crucifixion. He said, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” Our text indicates that this prayer ministry of Christ continues today in the presence of the Father. He is praying for my faith and yours that it would remain strong and not fail.
There aren’t many more encouraging thoughts than that the Son of God is alive and he praying for me. Maybe you are weighed down by sin this morning and you feel a tremendous weight of guilt. Or maybe your faith is weak, and it feels like you are hanging on by a thread. Maybe you feel very alone, and you are carrying a burden that no one else seems to understand. Whatever burden you feel, I would urge you to look up today and to find comfort in the fact that Jesus is praying for you. He is on your Advocate, and he will always be there.
And notice the implication the author draws from this incredible ministry. “He is also able,” or you could say “mighty” or “strong” “to save…” The idea behind “uttermost” is “completely and forever.” And so this phrase promises that because Christ is interceding for us, we can be sure that God will finish his work of salvation. Again, he will sustain our faith in this life, and one day he will finish his work and eradicate every remnant of sin. And then we will live with him forever and ever in perfect fellowship and communion. Because he lives, we will live also.
If you are a child of God, v. 25 ought to be a source of great confidence. The Christian life is really hard. If it doesn’t feel hard, you are doing something wrong. We constantly struggle against sin, and we battle guilt, discouragement, and blindness to eternal realities. And sometimes we wonder if we will make it. Praise the Lord that we will. Because Jesus lives, he is interceding for us, and he is mighty to save to the uttermost.
And so rest in him and run to him (4:15–16). Verse 16 tells us that there is an inexhaustible treasure of mercy and grace in the presence of Christ. Seek it out. Find that mercy in the Scriptures and in the community of faith, and pray earnestly because God promises to give just the grace that we need. Christian, rest secure in the salvation Christ has provided.
Before I close I want to speak again to the people I mentioned in my introduction. Maybe it has become clear through this text that Jesus is so much more than you ever realized. You see for the first time that he is more than a genie or a cold-hearted judge. You see that he is a Savior. You see that he is precious. You see that he would be worth suffering persecution or loss because of the great treasure of salvation he offers, and so you want to know how you can have a relationship with him. The answer is there in v. 25 when it says that salvation belongs to those “who come to God through Him.” It’s really that simple. You just have to come. Say to God, “Lord, I am a sinner, and my sin is so wicked that it put Jesus on the cross. He didn’t die for his sins; he died for my sins. And I believe that his death is sufficient to save me, and so I want to believe on him for my salvation.” If you come to him with that kind of humility, you can be saved today. You can leave a child of God. You can leave changed. I hope you will do that today.
Maybe you aren’t sure you are there yet. If you have questions, then I have a gift we’d like to give you today that will tell you more about who Jesus is. I hope you will take one and listen to it and then talk with someone you trust about who Jesus really is.