In last week’s message, we considered how the nature of the priesthood has changed throughout history. Prior to the Law anyone could act as a priest before God on behalf of themselves, their family, their city, or their kingdom. During the Levitical Priesthood era particular individuals were designated to represent and serve the general population as priests. In Christ, we see a more clearly transparent return to the original order.
In truth, I believe that Jesus has always been our Perfect High Priest. Though His role as mediator was not recognized during the original patriarchal priesthood, it existed nonetheless. The mention of Melchizedek, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament, confirms this. The Levitical Priesthood was established as a means to foreshadow the coming revelation of Jesus as high priest, never to serve as a substitute for it. After His death on the cross, Jesus’ exalted office as our Great High Priest was finally and fully disclosed. This sequence is an example of “progressive revelation”.
“The Priesthood of the Believer” or “The Universal Priesthood” is a widely held doctrine among many Christian denominations, including Southern Baptists. It teaches that all Christians have equal and direct access to God through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, human priests are no longer necessary (they never truly were) and the Levitical priesthood is obsolete. Christ alone serves permanently as the divine mediator between God and man. This amazing truth is made abundantly clear throughout the New Testament.
While “The Priesthood of the Believer” stresses a Christian’s unfettered and privileged access to God, it also highlights their responsibility to Him. We as believers are to serve as priests by daily offering sacrifices that are pleasing and acceptable to God. These sacrifices are made by the things we say and do. We are to become “living sacrifices” in that we fully commit our entire selves to the LORD - body, soul, and mind. It is not someone else’s job to do this on our behalf; for in Christ we are fully competent and accountable to stand before God on our own.
The message this morning is titled “A Better Ministry”. It is the 15th installment of our sermon series through Hebrews called “Jesus Is Better”. It focuses on Hebrews chapter 8, verses 1-6. Open your Bibles and let’s begin.
I. THE HEAVENLY TENT (v1-2)
The author of Hebrews begins this portion of his letter with a remarkable statement. He declares that Jesus, the Great High Priest, is currently “seated at the right hand” of God in Heaven. Following His ascension from the Mt. of Olives, Jesus Christ reassumed His stately position at the Father’s right hand in glory. The Lord’s location is repeated and confirmed several times both in the New and Old Testament.
In ancient times a person with the highest rank stood or sat at the king’s right hand. This special location conveyed great authority and/or closeness. Even today people might call a friend or companion who is very important or close to them their “right hand man”. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand is a picture of the deep relationship between He and His Father. Further it declares His dominion and power.
From His lofty position, Jesus serves as “a minister in the holy places”. He acts as our high priest in “the true tent”, which was “set up” by the Lord and not by man. Jesus intercedes for us in this heavenly tabernacle before God Himself. Amazing! The apostle Paul attests to this in Romans 8:34 where he says, “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
II. THE EARTHLY COPY (v3-5)
Earthly priests (including the high priest) offered sacrifices on the brazen altar which was located in the outer court of either the tabernacle or temple. Of course, this required the use of animals and/or other gifts to be sacrificed. All of this was done in strict adherence to the rules and procedures which were laid out in the Mosaic Law.
God personally provided Moses with specific and detailed instructions for building the tabernacle and its furnishings. There are several chapters in the Old Testament that pertain to this particular issue. While many view these passages as extraneous and even boring, clearly the LORD was concerned that the tabernacle be constructed in a particular way. Moses was not allowed any freedom in the design or construction of the tabernacle, but rather was to follow God’s strictly prescribed “pattern”.
The design and functionings of the earthly tabernacle were intended to mimic the heavenly tabernacle. They served as “a copy and shadow of heavenly things”. For this reason, it was important for them to appear and operate exactly as God intended. Only in this way could they properly portray and provide insight into the heavenly reality after which they were modeled.
III. THE DIVINE MEDIATOR (v6)
The writer concludes this portion of his teaching by saying that now Jesus “has obtained a more excellent ministry”. He is referring to Christ’s role as mediator between God and man. The risen Lord has returned to His heavenly home, again taken His place at the Father’s right hand, and is actively serving as an intercessor for Christians.
Jesus mediates “a better covenant” which is founded upon “better promises”. Back in chapter 6:9-20 the writer already talked extensively about God’s “better promises”. The LORD has promised salvation to anyone who will repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. In the remaining verses of chapter 8, the writer will discuss the “better covenant”. This will be the topic of next week’s message.
The content of today’s message is illustrated by the diagram below. Take a few moments to study the images and consider how “The Heavenly Tent” and “The Earthly Copy” are similar yet different. Do you see and understand how the Levitical copy depicts God’s original design?
We as believers have access to God through our intermediary, Jesus Christ. He patiently and lovingly appeals with the Father on our behalf. In Him alone we have reconciliation and peace with the LORD. This is the ongoing work of Jesus - as you can see, it is truly “a better ministry”.