The story is told of John Newton, the 19th century Anglican minister who is famous for having written they hymn Amazing Grace, that when he was nearly eighty his sight began to decline significantly. Even though he got to the point where he was almost blind and could scarcely see to read his sermon manuscripts, he did not let this deter him from the ministry of the pulpit each Sunday.
On one occasion while Newton was preaching he twice read the words, "Jesus Christ is precious." At that, his helper whispered to him, "You have already said that twice, sir. Go on."
Newton looked at his assistant and said to him, "I said that twice, and I am going to say it again." The roof timbers rang as again he cried, "Jesus Christ is precious!"
All along our study I hope that we’ve had the same refrain ringing in our ears. This, you may say, has been the whole aim of the book of Hebrews. The author has been repeatedly declaring how precious Jesus. He is precious because he is superior to all others, and thus he is able to save us from our sins.
And as we come to our passage today, we are probably not surprised that our passage today has the same theme. Our passage shows us once again shows us how Christ is superior. He is precious because his high priestly ministry vastly supersedes the work of any other high priest.
How is his ministry superior? Well, our passage points out that he can’t be beat because none can match his place, or his posture, or his promises. And as we see his superiority in these things, we sinners will see how precious our Savior is once again
Most of the passage is concerned with where Christ’s ministry takes place.
I. His place is superior
Look at verse 1 and notice where the locus of Jesus’s ministry is. It says that He is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.”
I like what he says in verse 4 too. He says, “Now, if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all.” That’s kind of saying, “Christ is out of this world!” His place of ministry is not down here. It’s up there.
Verse 2 and verse 5 help to clarify by making the distinction between the earthly tabernacle and the heavenly one. Verse 2 says that Jesus ministers in the true tent that the Lord set up and not man. He’s referring to the real dwelling place of God in heaven, as opposed to the tabernacle that they carted around in the wilderness all those years.
Verse 5 points out the significance. The earthly tabernacle is called a “copy and a shadow of the heavenly things”. In other words, it is a small scale replica of the real place where God dwelt. That’s why it goes on to say that Moses had to make everything according to the pattern that was shown to him on the mountain.
Have you ever gotten bogged down in those details in the book of Exodus? There are about 5 chapters dedicated to the construction of the Tabernacle and all its furniture. And it can be a little tedious to trudge through in your bible reading plan.
But why was God so finicky about it? Why did it have to be designed exactly according to his blueprints? It was because it was supposed to point to a greater reality. It was supposed to be a copy or a model which reminded people of heaven and of the real place where God dwelt.
This is, then, why Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood. The Levites were, in all reality, playing house. It was just like your kids, who pull out the Little Tikes kitchen set and set up all their plastic dishes with the plastic forks, spooks, and knives. What they are doing there is not real, is it? It is just a copy of the ultimate reality. That’s what these Levites were doing. The tabernacle was the Little Tikes edition, pointing forward to the ultimate reality.
And Christ is the fulfillment of that ultimate reality. Jesus has appeared in heaven to do his priestly work.
This of course is a superb argument against the Levitical priesthood. But for us it provides a special comfort. It gives us the reminder of how sure and comprehensive our salvation is. Since Christ is in heaven, we have can have the peace of mind that our flesh will be redeemed. Christ’s appearance in heaven is something like a deposit (or guarantee) that we will be there too one day.
Think back to the story in Genesis where it goes through the genealogy of the godly line of Seth. It is kind of depressing. Every person’s life that you encounter ends with the constant refrain, “and he died.” It is a barrage of death you hear it repeated, “He lived x number of years and he died. So & so lived x number of years, and he died…and he died, and he died.”
But then you come to Enoch. And the pattern is broken. It says that “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.” All of a sudden you have a reprieve from the tale of death. The author inserts a ray of hope. Here is a man who didn’t die. As a matter of fact, his flesh now resides in heaven. It was a reminder of the promise of salvation and it served as a signal to the OT that they had the hope of the resurrection.
And Christ’s appearance in heaven does the same for us. After his death and resurrection His body ascended into heaven. And there his flesh abides as a reminder that one day we who trust in him shall stand there too.
And that is for us a precious thing.
But as we look at this passage, it not only says that Jesus has a superior place. It also says he has a superior posture.
II. His posture is superior
Look at the first verse again. Yes, it says that Jesus is in heaven. But what is he doing there? It says he is sitting. It says that he is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty.”
The idea of his being seated at the right hand of God demonstrates his superiority. In ancient times, if you were seated at someone’s right hand, it meant you had the place of highest honor. You may remember that Solomon gave his mother a special seat at his right hand. That was a designation of how esteemed she was. And you may remember that the disciples argued who would sit at Christ’s right hand and who would sit at his left. What they were doing was arguing who was #1 and who was #2 in Jesus’ eyes.
So here you have the author saying that Christ ranks far above your average priest because he has the highest seat of honor that ever has existed.
But there’s something more to this. It’s not just recognizing his loftiness as the King-priest. It is reminding us that, unlike the OT priest, the priestly work of Christ has an enduring value.
Christ has done something no other priest has done: He sat down. He not has a posture of perfect rest. This is something that is completely foreign to the priests of the Israelite world.
In the tabernacle, you had various pieces of furniture. But there is one item that it definitely lacked, and that was a chair.
My professor in seminary once talked about how he viewed ministers as a kid. He called them “lotion men.” He described them as lotion men because he thought they didn’t do “real” work. Instead they put lotion on their hands and kept them nice and soft.
But that certainly couldn’t be said of the OT priests. They had to be some pretty rugged individuals. They would have to heft a bull into the courtyard, and slay it. Then, they had to manipulate the dead weight of the corpse. After that they would have to hoist all the parts of it that were to be offered up as a burnt offering upon the alter, which was almost 5 feet high.
Then, after they did that, they had to do it all over again! They were anything but lotion men. Their routine would have involved some callouses. Certainly it was one of constant activity. They would have been like you mothers who feel like you never get to sit down and take a rest because they always had to make sacrifices.
But Christ’s ministry is superior because his sacrifice was a one time deal. It was powerful enough to accomplish what it intended. So, after Christ offered himself up, he could do what no other priest could ever do: He could take a seat.
And we are reminded of this every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed. We confess that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. And this is an important part of our confession because it reminds us that Christ’s work is complete. And there is nothing left to do until it is time for him to come again.
And this ought to be a precious thought: Christ is seated. He is in a state of perfect rest. And that should enable your soul to be at rest.
You know how the guilt and shame can begin to well up in your mind. You know how your sins can sometimes haunt you. They can be like ghosts flitting around in the attic of your mind. And that can cause a great deal of unease.
But when that happens, all you have to do is remember that Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Christ has fully atoned for your sins and His sacrifice endures for all eternity.
Jesus is precious. He is precious because he is a superior priest. He ministers in a better place. He adopts a better posture. And, as the last verse we read says, he enacts better promises.
III. His promises are superior
Look down at verse 6. It says that “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant that he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
Now, notice that. It says that it is a better covenant with better promises. That means that the old covenant wasn’t as good. The same goes for its promises. Sure they were fine and all, but they lacked luster in comparison to the promises of the New Covenant. The new Covenant is a superior covenant because it has superior promises.
You know what they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If the old covenant was working, they wouldn’t have needed a new one. But it wasn’t working.
To say that the Old covenant was dysfunctional is putting it mildly. Virtually the whole tone and tenor of the life of Israel is that they are a bunch of misfits that are doomed to being ejected out of their land. Why is that? It was because they weren’t able to keep the covenant! Why didn’t they get to enjoy the promises? It was because they didn’t have what it took to obtain those promises.
Mark mentioned a few weeks ago one of the reasons why we demur from believing in a system of belief that says that there will be a return to the OT rules and regulations. I think that what is said here is another reason. What we have in the New Covenant is superior, and going back to the Old Covenant would be a serious regression.
There is a sense in which Old Covenant was like getting a Christmas present without the batteries. It was neat and all, but there was no power in it. The people of God didn’t have the ability to fulfill it and enjoy its blessings that it promised.
Think about the promises given to the OT people. In Deut. 28 you have a long list of promises. God promises to make their nation great. God promises to make them the head and not the tail. God promises that when their enemies attack they will be turned back. One will chase a thousand. He promises that their wombs will be opened and that their granaries will be overflowing.
He makes all these promises. But what characterizes these promises? They are very temporal, aren’t they? They pertain to this world and specifically to that portion of the world (i.e. to the state of Israel). So, in that sense, they are very limited.
What’s more, these promises were conditional. They were based on what they could do. The key of Deut. 28 was “Do this and live.” If you obey, God would bless you. So the weight of the promises was on them. God would bless them, but they had to obey first. That’s like giving a Christmas toy without any batteries.
And if you ever read Deut. 28, you might have also noticed that right after the promise of blessing there is a huge long list of curses for disobedience. It is twice, if not three times, as long as the first list of blessings. So, it is almost as if God is anticipating their failure and spelling out what was going to happen to them so they’d be ready for it.
In contrast to this we have the promises of the New Testament. These promises are richer and not dependent upon our performance. Skip ahead with me to verse 9. This passage is for next week, so I don’t want to speak at length on it. But I want you to catch a quick glance at these promises that are linked to the New Covenant and get an overview of their superiority.
He’s quoting here from Jeremiah who is talking about the New Covenant that was to come. And he says in verse 9 that God’s not going to “make a covenant like the one that he made with their forefathers.” They weren’t able to keep it. It was broken in that it didn’t give any power. So the covenant he’s going to make isn’t going to be like that.
Then in verse 10 he says, “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.”
Not the repeated use of the words “I will.” Is any of this dependent on what they do? No, God’s saying he is going to do it. He’s going to make them do what needs to be done. And hopefully you see how these are not limited to this world or to Israel. Hopefully you can see that these promises have an eternal dimension to them and a much broader scope.
In sum, the New Covenant is a complete upgrade. They are better promises because you get the batteries and a whole lot more. And again, it is all because of Christ. He is precious because he enacts all these promises and he is the one who makes them a reality.
The Author began by saying: “This is the point of what I have been saying: we have such a high priest.”
Hopefully I don't have to make that same sort of emphasis. I hope that this point has been all too clear. We have a savior. And he is not just any savior, but he is one who is superior in every way. And it is my hope that you can see just how precious He trust in him more fully because of it.
 See The Chiastic Structure of the Book of Hebrews.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.