Thursday, 7 October 2021

The Church Has To Be Israel (Hebrews 8).

 



Sermon video here

Introduction –

So over the last couple of weeks we have looked at what Hebrews 7 says about tithing, and what it has to say about the law of the Old Testament. Last week we looked at how Hebrews tells us the law is “not faultless”. This is a not a fault of design, at all. The law did perfectly what it was designed to do, but people could not live up to it, it was temporary. But it was also good. David tells us the law of the Lord is good, reviving the soul. Yet still, the Old Testament law has a bit of a bad rap in Protestant circles. This is partly because we misunderstand its nature and purpose, and partly because bacon sandwiches and pork are so good. Especially if you are English, or Northern European.

We English people are descendants of the Germanic tribes, the Alemanni as they called themselves, which means “all men”, and German most likely means “spear men”. The Germanic tribes include people from all the way up in the Scandinavian Viking Lands, to the Angles and Saxons of England, to the Franks of France, the Lombards of Italy, the Vandals of north Africa, the Rus of Russia and Germany and its surrounding nations. The Germans were known for every man having his spear and his shield to defend his family, village and nation. But you know what else a spear was good for? A spear is brilliant for taking down a boar, a big pig, so the German man could feast. The “all men” loved their boar. It was a delicacy. The Anglo-Saxons even had a tradition that married couples who could prove that they had not had an argument for a certain period of time, it was a year, or years, somewhere I even read twenty years, could claim a leg of ham, or a chunk of bacon. It was rarely claimed.

But so far back goes the tradition of loving pork in our ancient Germanic veins, pork roast, pork belly, pork crackling, bacon, and the crème-de-le-crème of all pork products BBQ pork ribs, that it is not surprising that our ancestors looked with suspicion at the Old Testament law that said eating pork was evil. There is of course more to it than this, but this is part of the reason why the Old Testament has a bad rap in Protestant circles. Now we are not under the law anymore, and Jesus has declared all foods clean, but this doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the Old Testament law, as we noted last week. It was good and perfect for what it did, and I think it is superior in many ways to our modern laws. One thing our modern laws struggle to do is restrain evil. Indeed, our modern laws encourage it, support it, and give it legal cover, in many ways. This is not good.

But we don’t want to bring back the Old Covenant. It is like not an old Mustang 71 Mach 1 that may be old, but is still cooler than most modern cars on the road. We don’t look back at it with nostalgia. We live in a superior covenant, where the Davidic King rules on his throne. But the fact that we talk about Old Covenant and New Covenant says some important things about our identity, and about what the Hebrew’s writer was seeking to do with these Jewish Christians he is writing to.

What he was seeking to do was to warn these Israelites not to look back to Israel because they were already part of Israel. Sound confusing? Well, what I want to this morning is show you how the Church has to be Israel, otherwise most of the New Testament makes no sense, especially this passage. So, we will look at that, but first we need to recall the context of this letter.

      1. The Context Of Hebrews – I mentioned last week that Hebrews was likely written in about 67AD and it was certainly written before AD70. We can know this, because it refers to the sacrifices as current, and we know exactly when the sacrifices ended. They ended when different Jewish groups fighting in the temple set it on fire while the Romans were bashing down the gates outside of the temple complex. Those stuck inside were the ones who ignored the warnings of Jesus: Luke 21:20-22 – “20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”

1.1  From our perspective and the perspective of the disciples, ignoring Jesus when he said this was foolishness. Indeed, many Christians remembered Jesus’ warning and when they saw Jerusalem beginning to be surrounded by armies they took off.

1.2  But from the perspective of the Jews who followed the Sadducees and Pharisees they believed that when they ignored Jesus, they were ignoring a radical rebel rabbi who healed people with witchcraft (they accused him of using the devil’s power [Matt 12]), and broke all of the leaders rules and was rightly punished as a criminal.

1.2.1       Remember Jesus broke many of the Jewish leader’s rules that he considered harmful and wrong and unbiblical. Often doing it deliberately in ways that angered the religious leaders. Like when he healed a man on the Sabbath Day by getting dirt, and mixing it with spit and making mud to put on a man’s eyes (John 9:14). This was technically working on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees traditions.

1.2.2       So, to many Jews, Jesus was the Messiah, and he is the Messiah, we know that. But to many more then and also non-Christian Jews today, Jesus was a rebel who was punished as rebels are punished.

1.3  The Christian Jews our writer is addressing, would have had many of their Jewish family and friends begging them to get back involved in the synagogue services, and to stop following the disciples of that “rebel” Jesus. They would have been under immense pressure to return to the ways of Moses.

1.3.1       “Remember what happened to those who rejected Moses’ message in the wilderness?” “Remember what happened to those who challenged Elijah?” “Remember what the leaders did to that rebel Jesus?” They would have been hearing all of this and more.

1.4  For us deciding between Jesus and the Pharisees is a no-brainer. I don’t see anyone here this morning wearing their phylacteries loud and proud. But for these Hebrew Christians this would have been one of the hardest decisions of their lives.

1.4.1       Hindsight makes every decision easier. Some people now are going through a similar hard time. It’s not easy when you have strong voices coming at you from different directions.

1.4.2       Imagine the pressure these Jewish Christians would have been under. Families fracturing, churches fracturing, synagogues fracturing.

1.5  Our Hebrews writer is speaking into this difficult context. His argument to these Hebrew Christians is that it is not a choice between Jesus and Moses. His argument is that from Abraham to Moses to Jesus this is all the same team, working for the same goal, and to be in Jesus is to be in Israel. Hebrews 8 proves this powerfully, as do other passages, let’s have a look:

      2. Christ and Moses Have The Same Tabernacle – We read in Hebrews 8:1-5 – “8 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” We noted this last week and the week before, our writer’s point is the kind of priest Jesus is. He is the perfect kind. The priesthood of Aaron and their temple/tabernacle was simply a copy.

2.1  Moses built a holy place, and likewise Jesus is in the “holy places” ministering, as the Mosaic priests did. His ministry is of a higher quality, after all he is the Son of God seated at the right of the throne of majesty in heaven. But he is doing the same thing, ministering on our behalf.

2.1.1       In Job we see the accuser standing before God seeking to attack mankind. But now Satan has been kicked out, and our advocate is speaking up for us: 1 John 2:1 - “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

2.2  Jesus’ holy place is the true tent, “in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” It is fascinating that it is referred to as a ‘tent’ or ‘tabernacle’, because these are temporary shelters. This may be because in the new heaven and the new earth, where sin is no more, it will not be necessary for Jesus to intercede on behalf of our sins, because sin is finally defeated.  

2.2.1       But even though it is a tabernacle, Jesus’ version is the heavenly, incorruptible version, attended to by a better priest.  

2.3  When the Mosaic priests were doing their rituals and sacrifices, this was set up to be a dim reflection of Jesus and his perfect ministry to redeem us. Therefore, Jesus is the new Moses, but he is also the new sacrifice, the new advocate, the new priest, he is all the rituals of the Old Covenant rapped into one person, the God man.

2.3.1       The ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant of Israel were simply an illustration, “5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

2.3.2       Just like ancient Israel we still have a tabernacle, a sacrifice, a holy place, a priest with something to offer. It is all just focused in and around the person of Jesus, the Son of God himself.

2.3.3       Jesus is not replacing Israel with the Church, he is changing the nature of Israel. National Israel and International Israel, the Church, are different stages of God’s same plan to redeem for himself a people. In national Israel the holy of holies was a building on Mt Zion, now it is the heavenly temple on the true Mt Zion, in heaven.

2.4  To bring this back around to our Hebrew Christians, being tempted to turn away. Hebrews is telling them: you are not leaving Israel by following Jesus instead of Moses. You are remaining in Israel, because Moses and Jesus are the same team, and leaders of the same people, God’s gathering, the Church. He expands on this:

      3. A Different Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-10a) – The Old Covenant was between God and Israel, his people, his gathering, his Church. It might seem odd to refer to the Old Testament Israel as the Church, but the Bible itself does this, if you have your KJV’s there with you, it says in Acts 7:37-38 – “37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. 38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us…” In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word we translate Church was used about 96 times to refer to the congregation of Israel. But let me come at it the way Hebrews does: who did God promise the New Covenant to? To Israel. Therefore, the New Covenant does not create a new people, but rather it changes the nature of God’s people. We read in Hebrews 8:6-9 – “6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord…”

3.1  Who is this New Covenant for? Well he tells us directly, “I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel.” The New Covenant is for the house Israel, the people of Israel. Then how can it apply to us? Because all who believe are now in Israel, and all who do not believe have been cut out:

3.1.1       Romans 11:17-21 - “17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”

3.1.2       The tree is Israel, the way of salvation, the root, is Jesus and those who rejected Jesus were cut off the tree, those who believed Jesus were grafted onto the tree. Jew or Gentile, the only way to be saved is in Jesus, and the New Covenant is for all who believe.

3.2  And this covenant is “…not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…” God was not creating a new people, the covenant just changed the nature of his people. What was once national, is now multinational. Israel was not replaced, Israel has been changed, that is partly why the New Covenant is so different. This was always God’s intention, Ephesians 3:4-6 says, “4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

3.2.1       The Gentiles are “fellow heirs” and “members of the same body”. Fellows heirs with who? The Jews. The mystery is that the Gentiles, the goyim, were always meant to become part of Israel, and Israel was meant to eventually change to bring them.  

3.2.2       We read earlier in Ephesians this, 2:11-20 – “11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”

3.2.3       The two have become one. Israel was not replaced, Israel was opened up so that Gentiles could be “fellow citizens”, no longer far off but “brought near”, no longer “alienated”, no longer separate, no longer strangers, but now made into “one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” The two peoples have become one, we are now “fellow heirs”, “members of the same body” which can be called,  the “commonwealth of Israel”, or the “household of God” or the Church, and they are the same thing: 1 Timothy 3:15 - “15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

3.3  This new covenant is for Israel, just like the Old Covenant. The difference is this: the nature of Israel has been changed. It is not that the Church replaced Israel. It’s that Gentiles replaced the Jewish branches that were cut off, and joined the Jewish branches who believed in Jesus.

3.3.1       All of the early Church started off Jewish, the majority of the Church was Jewish for some decades, and for centuries there was a massive minority of Jewish Christians in the Church.

3.3.2       Both the Jews and Gentiles of the Church considered themselves part of Israel. This is why some Judaizers got so angry, they were upset about Gentiles being allowed to join the Church without being circumcised and still being allowed to eat pork. Because the debate was not about: “did the church replace Israel?” The debate was over: what should Israel look like going forward. The answer was: different.

      4. A Covenant For Pork Eaters (vv.10-13) – Hebrews goes on to say, “10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

4.1  The Old Covenant is finished because it served its purpose. It was designed to create a particular kind of nation, according to a particular standard, and pave the way for the Messiah to come. It worked, the Messiah is here.

4.2  Now we need the New Covenant, one that is designed to be empowered by the Spirit of God, with the law written on people’s hearts, and certain aspects of the Old law done away with, to make it easier for pork eaters, aka Gentiles, to become a part of God’s people.

4.3  Note that he says in verse 10, “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This promise to Israel is reiterated to the Church many times in the Bible:

4.3.1       2 Corinthians 6:16“16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

4.3.2       Revelation 21:3“3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

4.3.3       1 Peter 2:10“10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

4.3.4       This promise of a New Covenant was made to Israel and is fulfilled in the Church, which is Israel revitalized, made new, and made effective for reaching the pork eaters, people like us.

4.4  The Old Covenant is obsolete in large part because it could not achieve this goal. There are some people who think that the Old Testament law could be applied fully to Gentiles, but Gentiles always struggled with it, especially with the food laws. But that is completely obsolete now:

4.4.1       Mark 7:18-19 – “18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.).”

4.5  A newer, more nimble covenant, designed to spread through many nations was needed, and now we have the Lord within us teaching us whose we are: “11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Instead of a religion led by priests, Christianity was designed to spread through every believer, who knows Jesus in his or her heart.

4.6  If you believe in Jesus, if you trust in him and worship him, you are saved under the new, superior covenant with the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, and your sins are forgiven: “12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” This promise is for all who believe, Jew or Gentile. If we believe in Jesus, we are saved under the New Covenant.

      5. So, what does this mean for the nation called Israel? There is so much that can be said here, but at the end of the day the answer is very basic and simple: Galatians 3:25-29 - “25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The answer is, like anyone, of any other nation, they need to look to Jesus. There is no advantage of being Jewish on judgement day, unless they have taken advantage of using the law to look to Jesus. All nations will stand before God. The Palestinian and the Israelite, the Chinese man and the Taiwanese man, the Englishman and the Frenchman, the German and the Polish man, whoever we are, whatever nation we are from, there is only salvation by faith in Jesus.

6.     Conclusion – So What Does This Mean For You?? It means you, I and everyone else need to trust in Jesus.

 

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Hope, Faith, and the Jigsaw Puzzle

 


My friend Ryan Watson has written a book to help people put the whole of the Scriptures in perspective. Ryan has a Bachelor in Theology, a Masters in Theology and a Graduate Diploma in education, and is a very clear thinker and teacher. To help him plug his book he has written this guest blog for Matt's Musing, you can catch him at his blog, details below. If you are not sure how the Bible fits together, or would like a simple book explaining how it does, this is the book you should get. In the legacy of Goldsworthy, this is an excellent summary of how the whole Bible is one continuous account of God's plan to save his people. 

Below is Ryan's blog:

I love a good story. I love the way a well written narrative helps us to understand more about the human experience. Creative ways that help us think about what it means to live, promote virtue, and cautionary tales that challenge prejudiced and faulty thinking. As part of my role as an English teacher, I need to help students understand different novels and narratives so that they can appreciate these experiences and lessons. To do this, I need to explain how all the pieces fit together. Who’s the main character? What is their setting? How do their thoughts and actions reflect or challenge that context? And as we go along, they need to think about how any given moment fits into the larger picture. Doing so helps the reader understand character development, and how each moment relates not only to the next step, but the overall journey and how it contributes to the end. This is why I typically begin any study of a novel, play or film with a general overview of the plot, and then refer back to it as we go along.

When it comes to short and simple stories like The Outsiders or Macbeth, it’s pretty easy to see how each moment is contributing to the overall narrative. The trouble with the Bible is that there are so many different parts, events, and genres to keep in our mind as we try to balance a complicated and extended revelation. It’s easy for us to read parts in a stand-alone fashion as though it were a collection of short stories and small character arcs. But when we do this, for some elements, by detaching them from the overarching narrative, they can feel overly complex and become hard to understand, perhaps boring, or even irrelevant. 

There are a number of parts of scripture that just feel completely random and we read it and wonder, ‘What was that about? Why was that in there? It doesn’t seem to contribute anything.’ Going back to my film study example, my students get restless and bored when there’s too much talking. They’re more interested in the action. But this is because they fail to appreciate the significance of that conversation, what it reveals about that character, and how it’s contributing to the story. In a similar way, being able to know what those seemingly out of place portions of scripture contribute to the overall narrative helps us to not only appreciate it better, but understand it better too. In some instances, detaching a portion of Scripture means that we’re only missing some nuance about its meaning, but with others, we can end up misreading, misinterpreting, and misapplying it. 

Having what’s known as a metanarrative (an overarching story or storyline that gives context, meaning, and purpose to the story) to pin each element to, definitely helps. This is why I enjoy teaching Dan Harmon’s Story Circle (a simplified version of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or Hero’s Journey) to my students at is helps them track what’s happening and where they’re up to. For the Bible, most Christians know that it’s all about Jesus. Every moment, element, character, and ordinance are all in some way pointing the reader to the person and work of Jesus Christ. But what if we had something more detailed? What if we had not just a start and end point, but an actual ‘road map’ that compliments this metanarrative to follow?

This is a big part of why I wrote Forgotten Covenant, to help people make better sense of the Bible’s narrative and to see the artistic beauty of its unified narrative. Through study, conversations, and research I began to recognise how Abraham and the promises made to him tower over much of the Bible’s narrative. His name appears 287 times across 27 books of the Bible between Genesis and 1 Peter. He is referred to by various authors of Scripture as the foundation of the blessing to Israel and their occupation of the land, the chief exemplar and basis for justification by faith, motivation for patience and obedience, and the basis of global missions, among many others. But more than that, the three promises of land, descendants, and blessing lay the foundation of the Bible’s narrative of God’s restoration of humanity.

In Abram, the Lord set apart a person, who would become a Holy Nation that would include the families of the Earth. And these people would not only occupy a portion of land, but eventually inherit the Earth. More than that, they would know not merely the material blessings of God, but the spiritual blessings of forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation through Jesus, the ultimate Son of Abraham who would make all these promises come true. In my book, I not only unpack the promises made to Abraham, I also look at the many key parts of the Bible’s narrative like the Exodus, conquest of the land, the spread of the Gospel and the eternal state to see how they are a fulfilment of the three promises made to Abraham. 

My nearly four years of research, planning and writing had a somewhat surprising twist. What I thought would be an interesting study of a few simple and interesting examples, actually turned into a road map through the Bible more detailed than I could imagine. Of course, it is not completely exhaustive, and it’s not supposed to be some kind of ‘theory of everything’, but I do believe that it can explain a lot and will help many in their study of the word. But he part that I most enjoyed the most is the way I began to deeply appreciate more the way God uses His sovereignty to fulfil His promises and His faithfulness to His covenant. To think about all the millions and millions and millions of small details that needed to take place, not just in the line of Abraham, but globally too, to get to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins so that the Lord would remain true to His promise is phenomenal. And that’s only the ‘half way’ point. How God orchestrated all those events is mind-blowing.

In times of upheaval and uncertainty, and in seasons of meaninglessness and trials, it is this kind of big God that we need. It’s easy to feel like God’s not only asleep at the wheel; He’s no longer in the car. But by understanding the story of Abraham better, and recognising the way every step in the Bible’s narrative is working towards the fulfilment of God’s promises to Him gives me a deepened hope and encouragement. Nothing, not even the forces of evil, the will of man, the forces of nature, can stop Him achieving his good, loving, and perfect plans and purposes for us. This, more than anything, is what I want my readers to be left with once they close that final page. Yes, I want to help Christ’s followers be better students of His Word, and to better understand what the Abrahamic story has to say about their identity, but overall, I want God to be glorified as the faithful one who reigns over all creation and history, and who according to the promise justifies and saves His people by faith.

Ryan Watson is a teacher and former Youth Pastor who lives in Brisbane with his wife and four boys. He has written a number of blog articles on various passages and theological issues, and has self-published a short book, ‘Why then the Law?’

https://rlwatsonauthor.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Monday, 23 August 2021

Do We Need To Pay The Tithe Like Abraham?

   


Sermon video here

 Do We Need To Pay The Tithe Like Abraham? 

(Sermon 13 Of My Hebrews Series)

Introduction

So, a couple of weeks ago we looked at how Melchizedek, this random figure in the Old Testament mentioned only a couple of times, points to Jesus. The efforts to identify exactly who Melchizedek was, were pointless. That is not the reason he is in scripture, he is there to point to Jesus. The application we drew from this was very simple, just as Melchizedek existed exclusively to point to Jesus, so do we. That is our purpose, that is our calling. Too often we Christians can forget that calling, we can forget our purpose in this life is very simple, to be the lights of the gospel. We do this best by understanding how God wants us to live.

Today we are going to look at what Hebrews 7 says about the tithe and about the law. A lot of Christians get confused about the relationship of the law to Christianity. Some say it is gone completely, just forget the Old Testament, focus on the New. Some go to a whole other extreme and say that Christians should follow the law, the Bible calls these people Judaizers (Gal. 2:14, Greek) and they still exist. Others say we need only follow some laws, moral laws, but not ritual laws, that is things relating to the temple. I once probably sat to the first extreme, and now I am closer to the third position. I think Hebrews 7 helps us understand how this all works.  

So, today we are going to look at what Hebrews 7 has to say about the law, and our relationship to it as Christians. Different Christians have different views on this, but what does the Bible say about following the Old Testament Law, and specifically the tithe? Let’s have a look at Hebrews 7 and see.   

      1. Melchizedek is Superior To Abraham (vv.4-10) – Let’s begin with what our Hebrews writer says about the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham. “4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

1.1  The emphasis of our writer here is that the priesthood of Melchizedek is far superior to the priesthood of the Levites. He is picking up this argument from way back at the end of chapter 4 and beginning of chapter 5. Remember he said at the end of chapter 4, Hebrews 4:14-15 - “14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

1.1.1       He then went on to challenge them about how dedicated they are to studying God’s word. He does this, because he is about to get into some complicated teaching about the priests, Melchizedek and the law, and he wants to make sure that they can follow him. Now he is going to get into that complicated argument, and we are going to follow him. This will be fun.

1.2  His argument is based on the superiority of Melchizedek to all mortals in Abraham’s line.

1.1.1       Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, “4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!..7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

1.1.2       Which means that Melchizedek is superior to Levi who is descended from Abraham, “9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

1.1.3       Therefore, all that are descended from Abraham are inferior to Melchizedek, “5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham.”

1.1.4       This is a simple argument: Abraham was not the top of the food chain, therefore, the priests of his line are not the greatest priests.

1.2  Hebrews’ emphasis here is simple, even though Abraham had the promises, and is the patriarch, Melchizedek blessed him, therefore all mortals who are descended from Abraham are inferior to the order of Melchizedek.

      2. Abraham Gave Melchizedek The Tenth (vv.6-10) – Because of this superiority Abraham and in him Levi, Moses and Aaron, the priests of Israel and the writer of the law, gave the tithe to Melchizedek – “6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” This is an intriguing passage, because isn’t Abraham the patriarch of the whole Church? The man through whom God founded our faith? As Galatians says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7). But here he is giving the tithe to this mysterious priest. I have heard some use this as justification to say that Christians should continue to give the tithe. After all, they say, this shows that the tithe predates the law, Melchizedek is like Jesus and accepts the tithe, therefore Christians should do as Abraham does and give the tithe. I find this argument really strange, for several reasons:

2.1  Firstly, Abraham is just following an ancient custom here. Many people think of the tithe as an Old Testament practice, they debate over whether we should follow it still, but they think of it as an Israelite law thing. But that is not the full picture.

2.1.1       Giving a tithe, or a tenth, or a cut of the booty to the leader was an ancient custom practiced by many peoples. It was not always the same amount, but the general practice was there. You would give a significant portion of your takings in loot, or crops, or other takings to your superior, or to your God, or both.

2.1.2       We read in Genesis 47:24, “And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” Even though this was for a specific time, both this passage, and the Melchizedek passage show this principle was widely known in this region at this time.

2.1.2.1 Some cultures did it differently of course, the Viking leaders would pay off their men with their loot. Like a modern criminal gang. But similar tithes like the one Abraham is giving have been noted in other ancient societies.

2.1.3       Melchizedek is effectively acting as arbitrator between Abraham and the king of Sodom, as the superior he was due a portion of the loot. A tenth may have been customary, or Abraham may have been generous, he was determined not to look like he was profiting off of the goods of Sodom remember.

2.1.4       So, drawing a permanent law out of Abraham following a custom of his day is a bad way to apply scripture.

2.2  Secondly, this approach misinterprets the place of tithing in God’s faith. The tithe in Israel was part of a larger system of taxes. There were two tithes, and other taxes which brought their tax to between 20% and 30% depending on the year. The first tithe was for the Levites, Numbers 18:21, “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting…” The second tithe was for a big party, Deuteronomy 14:22-23 - “22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.” These tithes and other taxes paid for the running of the nation of Israel, supported the Levites who were effectively the government workers, and provided welfare for the poor and destitute.

2.2.1      These Levitical taxes do not apply to Christians, because we do not live in national Israel. We are to pay the taxes to Caesar that the New Testament commands us to. The average tax rate in Australia is 24.1%, making it very similar to the rate in ancient Israel. Modern Israel pays about 20.7%.

2.2.2       To apply the Old Testament idea of the tithe to the Church is just wrong. If you wanted to really copy what Abram is doing here, you would have to give 10% of your local Viking raiding party’s next haul to your local warlord, or council member, or the reigning king.

2.2.2.1 This might be how things work in a few years after our governments are finished suppressing our economy into oblivion, but not quite yet.   

2.3  But the third reason is the most important reason, because if we were supposed to pay the tenth still today because Abraham paid the tenth, why doesn’t the writer of Hebrews say that? In fact, the writer goes in a completely different direction.

      3. A Change In The Law (11-14) – The writer goes on to tell us that things are very different now, the obligations of the law are finished, “11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”

3.1  God’s goal with humanity is to perfect himself a people. This has been the goal since the beginning, Genesis 1:26 – “26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” We see the thread of how he is going to do this through the seed of the woman, then through Seth and then again through the line of Noah, then through his son Shem, of whom Abraham was eventually descended, and in Abraham all the whole world is to be blessed. The promise was given to Abraham and he believed and was declared righteous on the basis of his faith.

3.2  This shows us that God always intended faith to be the marker of his people, not the law. The law was not a way for Israelites to be saved, different to Jesus. The law was a schoolmaster to protect God’s people until the coming of Jesus. Galatians 3:23-24 – “23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

3.2.1       Israelites were trained by the law to look forward to Jesus in faith, and the Exodus was their picture of what he was like.

3.2.2       Christians are trained by the law of Christ to look back to Jesus in faith, and forward to his return.

3.3  The law was a temporary steward. It was not capable of perfecting God’s people. “11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?”

3.3.1       This does not mean the law was bad, God’s law is incredible and in its own right it is perfect. But just because something is perfect, does not mean it can do what it is not designed to do. If someone were to make the perfect car, it would still make a terrible airplane. If you have a perfect sword, like Excalibur, it does not make you a better fighter. The sword will fulfil its purpose, if you use it correctly.

3.3.2       The law was not intended to make Israelites right before God, faith did that, it was meant to help the righteous be protected from evil.

3.3.3       The law fulfilled its ultimate purpose, to preserve a blameless remnant from which the Messiah came. If Aaron, or Eli, or Zadok had been capable of this perfection, then it would have come through them, but they weren’t and so it didn’t.

3.4  So, we got a better priest, “12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”

3.4.1       So, we see that the Hebrews writer’s point is not that we should continue to pay the tithe, because Abram paid it to Melchizedek. His point is that the way of faith in Jesus is better than the Old Law.

3.4.1.1 It is rather strange to want to sneak in paying tithes through a backdoor loophole, off such an obscure passage.

3.4.2       Jesus is not of the tribe of Levi. His priesthood does not come from his genealogy, like Aarons did, or Eli’s did. His priesthood comes from being indestructible, “15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

3.4.3       Now that we have this new, indestructible priest, we are no longer under the Old way of laws. And, if you want to make the case that well the tenth was part of Melchizedek’s order, therefore we have to pay that still now, then if you want to be truly faithful to the context, you would have to say this means every time you raid some people to rescue your nephew, you need to give a king 10% of your loot to the king.

3.4.3.1 Because Abram is not tithing income here, he is not tithing his crops, he is not tithing his herds, he is honouring the king who oversaw his peace treaty with the king of Sodom.

3.5  The Hebrews’ writer’s point is not that we have to return to some obscure law of an order called Melchizedek in the ancient world. His point is Jesus is superior to Aaron, and Levi and Moses, therefore follow the way of Jesus now. Hebrews 7:18-19 – “18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”

3.5.1       A better hope is introduced, the fullness of the faith of Abraham is finally here. Now Trust Jesus, and live as he wants you to live, and neither he, nor any of his apostles ever told Christians to pay the tithe. They all taught, give generously. Depending on your circumstances that could be less or more than 10%. Work it out yourself before God, as Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

3.5.2       So, according to this passage, which parts of the law are done away with? All? Some? What exactly is done away with?  

      4. Ceremonial Law Is Abolished – According to Hebrews 7, it is the ceremonial law that is done away with. Hebrews 7:22-28 – “22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

4.1  So, we come now to answering my question at the start of this sermon, what does the book of Hebrews say about following the Old Testament law? Well, in reading chapters 7, 8 and 9, which we will cover more over the next few weeks, it becomes clear that at the very least that the ceremonial law is abolished.

4.1.1       The ceremonial law is all that is connected with the priests and their ritual sacrifices. This is done away with. Why? Because they point to Jesus who is the ultimate sacrifice. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

4.1.2       The sacrifices pointed to the final and complete sacrifice. Nothing in this world lasts forever, therefore for an eternal forgiveness a sacrifice of eternal quality needed to be made. Now that it is made, our salvation is secure.

4.2  Because the ceremonial law is abolished, everything that applies to it is now abolished, which includes the tithe, the second tithe, the other small taxes and everything else. These existed to maintain the old priesthood, there is no priesthood to maintain, therefore we do not need the taxes that were designed for that purpose.   

4.3  This means we live in a better age. With a better priest, an age where this should be our focus: 1 Peter 4:8-9 – 8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (KJV). 

4.3.1       It’s not that we have no law in the New Testament age, it is that it has changed, it has focused, as Paul puts it, fulfil the law of love.

4.3.2       The Old Testament law still has a lot to teach us, but our relationship to it is different to ancient Israel’s relationship. I want to examine this as we go forward in the next few weeks.

4.3.3       But for today our focus should be this: when it comes to our money, our time, our heart or our focus, charity should be the goal.

      5. Conclusion – There is still a lot that we need to look at over the next few weeks. I want to explain a couple of the different views on how the law interacts with Christians, and explain why my view has changed slightly over the years. I want to show that there are still uses of the law, taught by Paul and others.

5.1  As Christians we do not live under the Mosaic covenant. But just because we are not bound by it, does not mean we cannot learn from it, and learn some incredible things. We’ll look at this more over the next couple of weeks.

5.2  But Praise God, we have a better priest, a better law, the law of Christ, and a better way of living. We do not have to pay the tithes, but we are commanded to be generous, so let’s be generous.

5.2.1       Because we have a superior priest, we have a superior way of reaching people, and therefore we should proclaim it boldly wherever we are.