Hebrews 7:26a

Sermon preached on July 09, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Last week I read an article that stated that researchers have finally figured out why the concrete that the Romans used 2000 years ago was impervious to sea water. It has long been a puzzle because modern concrete, even though it is strengthened by steel, deteriorates quite rapidly if it is in contact with sea water. Part of it actually disintegrates and washes away. After awhile the steel bars inside are exposed. It looks a mess and eventually stops doing its job.

Ancient Roman concrete was quite different. Pliny the Elder waxed lyrical about this concrete in his Natural History. He said that it was,

"impregnable to the waves and every day stronger".

What he said was true. Rather than eroding in sea water, Roman concrete actually became stronger. Scientists discovered that the Roman recipe was a mix of volcanic ash, lime, seawater and pieces of volcanic rock. The volcanic ash and rock were the key. Over time, seawater would seep through ancient concrete and dissolve the volcanic crystals. This caused another chemical reaction to take place. One of the pictures I saw looked like the concrete actually grew to fill the cracks that were between the pieces of concrete so that the pieces bonded together into a monolithic whole. The concrete became stronger over time as the seawater reacted with the volcanic material. Some of these structures have survived over 2000 years.

If I was going to build a wharf in salt water from concrete I'd much rather use Roman concrete. It's exactly suited to the job. Over time it would get stronger, unlike modern concrete that get weaker and deteriorates and dissolves over time. Ancient Roman concrete is totally suited for the job. It's exactly what is needed.

In our text we have another example like that. The writer is speaking about Jesus and how He is exactly the kind of high priest that meets our need. Our text says of Jesus, (Hebrews 7:26)

"Such a high priest meets our need—
one who is holy, blameless,
pure, set apart from sinners,
exalted above the heavens."

The contrast is between the Levitical priests and Jesus. We are told that the Levitical priests did not fully meet the needs of sinners. Their ministry was incomplete, imperfect, inadequate. But in contrast to them—

Jesus exactly meets our need.

He is a high priest who has done and can do everything that we need. William L. Lane says that Jesus is a high priest that, (Hebrews 1–8, WBC 47A; p. 191)

"was precisely appropriate to us."

Philip E. Hughes puts it more quaintly, (Hebrews, p. 271)

" 'such a high priest exactly befitted us,' that is to say, answered exactly to the requirements of the predicament in which we, as fallen creatures, were placed."

We are sinners. Because of that, in order to save us, our high priest has to meet certain requirements. In verse 26 the writer to Hebrews lists 5 criteria where Jesus is exactly the One we need. He says that Jesus is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinner, exalted above the heavens.

Some commentators have suggested that the first three descriptions, (Hughes, p. 271, quoting Teodorico)

"may be taken in turn as expressive of the sanctity of Christ in relation to God ('holy)… in relation to his fellow men ('blameless'), and in relation to himself ('unstained')."

That may be so. But the main thing to note here is that these things were necessary if a priest was to save us. This morning we're going to look at the first criteria—the fact that

Jesus is holy and thus is a high priest who is exactly meets our need.

One of the problems with the Levitical priests is that they were sinners. In a very real sense they were inadequate. For a sinner to come before God on behalf of other sinners is incongruous. He's a sinner himself—how could that work?

Before the Levitical priests could offer sacrifices for the people they had to offer sacrifices for themselves. The fact that they had to do this repeatedly, time and again, year after year—shows that they remained sinners. Their sin was covered, but it was still there.

One of the ways the priest's sin was covered was with his clothes. The priests were commanded to wear clothes that were, (Vern Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, p. 53)

"of material similar to the tabernacle material, of gold and blue and scarlet."

As Exodus 28:2 says, these garments were given to Aaron,

"to give him dignity and honor."

John Calvin says of the clothes the priests wore when they were going about their duties, (Hebrews)

"why were those costly and splendid vestments used with which God commanded Aaron to be adorned while performing holy rites, except that they were symbols of a holiness and excellency far exceeding all human virtues? Now, these types were introduced, because the reality did not exist. It then appears that Christ alone is the fully qualified priest."

The priests clothes, in a way, covered his sinfulness. It's interesting that Exodus 20:26 commanded the priests,

"And do not go up to my altar on steps,
lest your nakedness be exposed on it."

Their clothes covered, in a sense, hid their sinfulness. The Old Testament priests in themselves were not holy. Verse 28 (of Hebrews 7) says of them,

"For the law appoints as high priests
men who are weak;"

That showed itself in many instances. When Moses was on the Mountain Aaron made the golden calf for the people—a horrendous sin. Two of his sons were struck down by the Lord because they offered unauthorized fire to God. Indeed, Micah 3:11, Jeremiah 1:18 and Ezekiel 22:26 tell us that the sins of the priests was one of the causes of the exile to Babylon.

We see the same today. Although ministers have a somewhat different function to the Old Testament priests—they are similar in one way—they're sinners. Sometimes you hear about some ministers who seem to be exceeding qualified and you're so surprised when you learn that they failed in their calling. They themselves have fallen into some great sin. I mentioned a couple of months ago about one of the brightest stars in of a great denomination in Scotland, was found to be seriously deficient. He had several moral failings that disqualified him from continuing to serve as a minister.

So it is clear that the Old Testament priests were inadequate. They were still sinners themselves and they could not adequately represent sinners other before God.

Perhaps an image that will help us understand how they functioned is the blood that they used in their sacrifices. They used the blood of animals. Yet Hebrews 10:4 says,

"it is impossible for the blood of
bulls and goats to take away sins."

Animal blood was not adequate. Their blood was used temporarily because it was pointing to the blood of the Messiah, Jesus. It was inadequate, but until the Messiah came, it had to do. It pointed to something beyond itself—to the perfect and precious blood of the Messiah.

In the same way, the Old Testament priests, were inadequate. They served for a certain period of time, till the great high priest, the Messiah came. John Calvin writes, (Hebrews)

"that there was no perfection in the Levitical priesthood; nor was it indeed in itself legitimate, unless it was subservient to that of Christ;"

Only the fact that the Levitical priests served looking forward to Christ, the Messiah made their service temporarily acceptable. It was a remarkable example of God's mercy and grace to the Israelites.

Another illustration might help. I saw a movie once that was essentially a court-room drama, it was actually a court-room farce, a comedy. In that movie the defense lawyer was way out of his depth. For the most part he presented bad arguments. He dressed inappropriately. His courtroom behavior was so bad that it constantly annoyed the judge. It was a movie where you'd expect the judge at some point to ask the defense lawyer,

"Did you actually pass the bar examination?"

And it would have the lawyer answer,

"Well… I didn't really pass but there was a real shortage of lawyers that year and because I was all they had, they accepted me."

Now imagine further that lawyer is representing a client that he can't control. In the courtroom the client is acting like someone who is guilty and his lawyer can't get him to stop. Time after time he shows evidence of his guilt. His lawyer tries his best to cover it up, but he's so incompetent himself that he can't adequately cover up his own faults, let alone his client's.

If your salvation ultimately depended on the holiness of the Old Testament priests, of New Testament ministers, of me, of any human being besides Jesus—

you would be in an awful lot of trouble.

You'd be lost. You'd be without hope. We, in ourselves, are not qualified to bring you to God. Our best efforts will not do it.

We're not holy ourselves. We try to be holy, but even our best our holiness is relative and falls far short of what God requires. Our holiness can't even save ourselves let alone other people. Even when we do our best we fall short.

It's only because of God's grace and mercy that we can even minister. God overlooks our sins and enables us to serve you. If His favor to you depended on our holiness—you would be doomed. We cannot represent you adequately.

But there was a second consequence of the Old Testament priests not being holy in themselves. It is this:

They could not make the people holy.

The Levitical priests worked to cleanse and remove the defilement of both the tabernacle and the people. They offered sacrifices for the people to make them holy. But just as the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin, so the Levitical priests could not make the people holy.

But with Jesus everything is different. Unlike the Levitical priests, Jesus did not have mere outward trappings of holiness. He was holy. He could do what the Old Testament priests only pointed to. He could take away our sins and give us His holiness. Hebrews 13:11–12 says,,

"The high priest carries
the blood of animals
into the Most Holy Place
as a sin offering,
but the bodies are burned
outside the camp.
And so Jesus also suffered outside
the city gate to make the people holy
through his own blood."

Jesus could die on our behalf and by dying, the righteous for the unrighteous, He could cleans us. By rising from the dead and ascending into heaven He could justify us and send us His Spirit to transform us and make us holy.

In order to make the people holy, Jesus had to be holy.

Jesus is holy and because of that He is able to make His people holy.

One of the great tasks of Jesus our high priest is to make us holy. The Old Testament priests could not make the people holy. They couldn't even make themselves holy. But Jesus actually makes us holy. Hebrews 2:11 says,

"Both the one who makes men holy
and those who are made holy
are of the same family."

Hebrews 10:10 adds,

"we have been made holy
through the sacrifice of the body
of Jesus Christ once for all."

This making us holy is permanent, something that only He could do. Hebrews 10:14 says,

"because by one sacrifice he has made
perfect forever
those who are being made holy."

We see this work summarized in Hebrews 8:7–12. It says,

"For if there had been nothing wrong
with that first covenant,
no place would have been
sought for another.
But God found fault
with the people and said:
The time is coming,
declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and
with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did
not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make
with the house of Israel after that time,
declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother,
'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

Only Jesus could remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts that love God. (Ezekiel 36:26) 1 Peter 2:24 says,

"He himself bore our sins
in his body on the tree,
so that we might die to sins
and live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed."

One day Jesus is going to present us to the heavenly host. On that day we will be perfect. In bringing many sons to glory, Jesus is going to stand with us and say, (Hebrews 2:13)

"Here am I, and the children
God has given me."

Then we will be completely holy. We will be able to be in the presence of God. We will be able to dwell with God.

What a Savior we have in Jesus. He did what on one else could do. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, came to this earth. He took human nature upon Himself. In that nature He suffered and died. He did that to wash away our sin. He rose again to give us new life, life in the Spirit.

If you're not a Christian, I hope this makes it clear that you need Jesus to save you. All your efforts to save yourself, to be good enough, will not save you. Do you think you can be good enough when Aaron, the great high priest, couldn't be good enough? Fallen human beings are in a situation that they can't rectify on their own. As the prophet Jeremiah put it in Jeremiah 13:23,

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil."

You need to be holy and yet you're not holy enough. You need a holiness that you can't attain on your own. You need a perfect holiness. It's interesting that the word 'holy' that is applied to Jesus here sometimes has the nuance of, (BDAG, 728)

"pleasing to God,"

On your own, you can never be pleasing to God because you're not holy.

Only in Jesus can you get the holiness you need. Only in Jesus can you obtain the Holy Spirit to dwell in you—to make you holy. Only in Jesus can you be made fit to dwell in God's presence. Go to Him today. Believe in Him. Trust in Him.