Priest, law, hope (Hebrews 7:11-28)

Teachings about Christ (see Hebrews 6:1) occupy a central place in the thinking and writing of Hebrews’ author. He wants readers to understand these teachings–but more than that: he wants them to motivate decisions, actions, and attitudes. To paraphrase James here (and my personal view–a minority position, to be sure–is that James may have been this book’s author), he wants people to be both hearers and doers of ‘the word’.

How do “teachings about Jesus” affect one’s outlook? One way is that they form the basis for a hope that both anchors and propels. That is, by counting on Jesus’ person and work to align with how the NT writers describe it, we walk into the future with confidence, and look forward to the day when all will be clear. It does make sense will, I expect, be an expression repeated by many who stand with God ‘in that day’ and find their faith exonerated. Hope, from that perspective, is the whole batch of who Jesus is and what Jesus has said, promised, and done. Hope fulfilled means we stand there and exclaim: it was all true.

But that’s then. What about now? Our writer goes to great pains to explain Jesus’ service as high priest–both in going through with God’s plan all the way to the cross and by interceding (this comes in Hebrews 8:1, which dovetails with Romans 8:34) for us. How is Jesus’ priesthood possible? Well, by following the path of Melchizedek, of course.

Here the logic sounds a bit more strained–in part because it is not one we commonly employ, and also because the stories this writer appeals to are not familiar. Suffice to say that since Melchizedek could be recognized and honored as a priest of God (Hebrews 7:1) on the basis of God’s appointment, the same could be true of Jesus. Membership in Levi’s family line was not the sole prerequisite for such a role; Melchizedek’s case established a different precedent.

Further, our writer insists that ‘law’ and ‘priesthood’ come as matched pairs. Thus, Jesus’ priesthood, existing–legitimately–outside the Levitical strain needed a ‘law’. But as we know from Jesus’ own teaching, such ‘law’ exists–Jesus’ ‘new commandment’ summarizes it. Not only this, but Jesus’ ‘law’ sets aside the former regulation (i.e. the Mosaic ‘law’ handed down at Sinai, which accompanied the Levitic/Aaronic priesthood).

So: Jesus is appointed priest and installs law, and thus occupies a position that is superior (this resonates with the opening chapters of Hebrews) to what had been in place. What does Jesus do with this position? From it, He sacrificed Himself. In it, He reigns (that He sat down at the right hand–Hebrews 8:1–implies royalty, along with all its attendant activity) and intercedes.

And we have access to this Jesus.

This is breath-taking, and life-altering. For if Jesus is all this, and we have access (and not only access, but we are actually sought by Jesus, and warmly received), well then: what might life be like?

For one thing, it means that my hope is well-founded. That is, if God has been at work in and through Jesus as witnesses insisted, if the Biblical testimony is true, if the internal testimony of the Spirit is meaningful–then one’s hope that all Jesus is and stands for is the expression of a deeply sane and blessed individual. For another, it means that faith in the God who set this all up also makes eminent sense. More than that, too, for faith is a privilege for which to be grateful, and a gift that ought to be tended.

And how else does this touch life? By assuring us that God forgives, and that as forgiven people, we need not labor under guilt. By driving away fear and anxiety, for the One in whom we have faith is strong, good, and true. By draining the swamps in our hearts where anger, greed, prejudice, and all those other monsters lurk–because we who have thrown ourselves on the mercy of the One who is holy, blameless and pure are not bound to them, or victims of them any longer.

Fine words, these–but let us–let me–admit that success in such areas is not as frequent or long-lasting as one might prefer. And yet: we do not follow One whose standards are beyond reach, but rather He who bids us follow, who offers strength, who extends forgiveness still, who saves and keeps saving, who shapes and gives and loves and cares and wants us no longer to live in a realm bound to a law that dessicates us but where we are attentive to the Lord who gave all so that all might live, and not die. Now we can be subjects (and siblings! see Hebrews 2:11) of a great and good king, a royal priest, the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

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