I heard the scariest words I had ever heard in a seventh- and eighth-grade Sunday school class. That Sunday morning’s topic escapes me. All I remember are three sentences uttered by the teacher. “Boys, one day you will die. If the good you have done outweighs the bad, you will get to go to heaven. If your bad outweighs the good, you will go to hell.”
Words could not describe the sense of panic that set in as I attempted to do the math on how far behind I was. I figured I had done way more bad than good during the time I had lived, so it would take at least ten to twelve years of almost perfect living to catch up. Then I remembered how much I liked the bad things I did, so I wasn’t sure how I could turn things around. Plus, we learned in church that sin starts in the heart, so the bad things we think are sinful as well. I came to the inevitable conclusion that my situation was hopeless. Sadly, in my ponderings about my own sinfulness, lack of goodness, and eternal life, Jesus never crossed my mind.
Today’s Scripture passages offer good news that destroys both our excessive guilt and our futile attempts at self-justification. In chapter 7, the writer of Hebrews argues for the superiority of Jesus’s priesthood (vv.11–28). It’s a different line of argument from the one he uses at other places in the book.
The author of Hebrews draws from Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 to show that Jesus is a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek. The priests under the Levitical priesthood could not continue in their service perpetually because death prevented them from doing so. However, since Christ lives forever, He fulfills the promise made through David in Psalm 110 that He would have an everlasting priesthood. In this way, “Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22).
In other passages in Hebrews, the author shows that Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest because He took on our humanity and can sympathize with our weaknesses. In chapter 7, he instead emphasizes Jesus’s perfect life as the qualification for His eternal priesthood. He stresses that Christ has no sins of His own to atone for, but rather He is “holy, innocent, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (v.26). Christ’s priesthood offers us hope because He lived a sinless life on our behalf and now sits at the right hand of God in His glorious perfection.
John shows us in 1 John 2:1 why we should trust Christ, our Great High Priest. He says he was writing so they might not sin. He follows this with what I believe to be the most humorous conditional clause in all of Scripture: “But if anyone does sin… ” Not just “anyone” is going to sin. We all have sinned in serious and tragic ways. Yet John points us to our advocate before the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one,” emphasizing Christ’s perfect righteousness deliberately because His perfect righteousness is our only hope before a holy God.
We experience real guilt when we sin, and rightly so. We feel a separation from the Father and are tempted to shrink back from coming into His presence because of the weight of our sin. When that happens, we must look to Jesus, the perfect high priest and our righteous advocate. He gives us His righteousness so that we can stand before the Father knowing the same blessing and approval Jesus does.
Written by Scott Slayton