By Allen White
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. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
The writer of Hebrews is sort of playing with his readers here. If people could live perfect lives, then the priesthood wouldn’t have been necessary. If there is no offense, then there is no redemption. If sin didn’t disrupt their relationship with God, then they didn’t need a priest to mediate for them.
The priesthood of Aaron resulted from the Law (Exodus 28). People would eventually violate the Law and needed some way to atone for their sins. If everyone obeyed the federal, state, county and municipal laws today, then courts would be unnecessary. Jails would be unnecessary. If there were no lawbreakers, there would be no prisoners. If there were no sinners, there would be no sacrifices.
When the people of Israel sinned, they paid the price with an animal sacrifice. The Law dictated that their offense should cost them something. The problem was that the redemption was external. All of the sacrifices in the world couldn’t erase their guilt and shame.
Their religious system was working as well as it could. The Law defined right behavior and the priesthood mediated for wrong behavior. But, as Andy Stanley says, “Your system is perfectly designed to achieve the result you are getting.” As long as the religiously frustrated fell short, business was booming for the priesthood. What they were doing wasn’t getting them to where they wanted to go.
The writer, then, refers to a real, but nearly mythical priest, Melchizedek. Before the Law of Moses, Abraham had paid a tithe to this priest before tithing was even dictated (Genesis 14:18-20). Melchizedek’s priesthood was apart from the Law. The point the writer makes is that Jesus, the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15) also operates outside of the Law. Jesus wasn’t subject to the Law because He lived a perfectly sinless life and fulfilled the Law. The system wasn’t the Savior.
The only thing the Law does for any of us is point out how bad we are (Romans 3:20). For most, this doesn’t lead to a concerted effort to improve. It leads to guilt that typically gets drowned in something somewhere. But, what if our sin and guilt could be removed? What if there was a better way?
Jesus provides that better way. Even Christians live defeated lives because they are ashamed of themselves and of their behavior. Jesus didn’t die so you would be ashamed. Jesus died so you could be free.
None of us is perfect. We all have plenty of room to grow and certainly need improvement. But, God doesn’t work in our lives by reminding us of how terrible we are. God starts with how much He loves us and with His vision for our lives.
Guilt doesn’t motivate anyone toward healthy things. God knows that. That’s why God removes our guilt and shame so we can get on with who He’s called us to be.
What guilt are you carrying today? If you’ve offended someone, then apologize. If you have sinned, repent. If you think God is mad at you, think again.
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