CHRIST: HIGH PRIEST ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK
Article 21 begins with a reference to Christ being a High Priest "after the order of Melchizedek." The concept "order of Melchizedek" comes from Hebrews 7 (and Psalm 110; see also Genesis 14:18ff). The author of Hebrews echoes God's revelation in Genesis 14 concerning Melchizedek, that he was "king of Salem, priest of the most high God." This man who was both king and priest was "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually" (Hebrews 7:1-3).
In stark contrast to the priests of Israel, we do not read of a genealogy of Melchizedek, nor a record of his birth or death. In Israel, Aaron and his sons were appointed to priesthood by God (Numbers 17 & 18). Aaron was appointed by God as High Priest, and his oldest son would succeed his father as High Priest through the generations. Not just anybody could become priests, then; to become a priest, one had to be from the tribe of Levi, and then specifically from the family of Aaron. The reverse was also true: all the sons of Aaron had to become priests.
Jesus of Nazareth was not of the family of Aaron, let alone of the tribe of Levi. He could, then, not be a priest. Yet God ordained Him as priest forever, not after the 'order of Aaron' (ie, with genealogical credentials befitting the priesthood), but after the order of Melchizedek (ie, without genealogical credentials). It is because God ordained Him as priest that Jesus could function as our Mediator on the cross of Calvary and is our Intercessor in heaven today.
SIN OFFERINGS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In Leviticus 16 we read of God's stipulations for the annual Day of Atonement. On completion of the performance of the ritual of purifying the Most Holy Place, Aaron had to place both his hands on the head of a live goat, "confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat" (vs 21). By so doing Aaron transferred the sins of the people to the goat. The goat, laden with the sins of the people of Israel, was then sent into the wilderness. In Scripture the wilderness is symbolic of the domain of Satan. The wilderness is a place in total contrast to the Garden of Eden: a Garden of Plenty versus a place of nothing. Hence it was not without significance that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, there to be tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4). Sending the sin-laden goat into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement was a symbolic casting into hell. Sin had to be removed; the goat being sent away was a symbolic removal of sin.
The notion of the transferral of sin from the sinner to another is also evident in the sacrifices the Israelites themselves had to bring on account of sin. When any person in Israel -be it the anointed priests or the whole congregation or the ruler or anyone of the common people- committed a sin unintentionally, or became aware of having sinned, the guilty person had to offer an unblemished young bull or male kid of the goats as a sin offering (Leviticus 4). He had to bring his sin offering to the priest, lay his hands on the head of the animal, and then kill it. God had decreed in Genesis 2 that death was the penalty of sin (vs 16; see also Romans 6:23). By rights, then, the sinner ought to die. But the animal was killed instead because the sin was transferred from the sinner to the animal. Here is pointed up the justice of God; sin must be punished, there must come death, the animal died. Here is pointed up also the mercy of God; God allowed the sinner to transfer his sin to the bull or the goat, and the animal died in the place of the sinner. Sin having been transferred, the animal became the sinner's substitute. Through His requirement of the sin offering, God taught His people Israel that they had to take sin seriously. Even one's unintentional sins required a sin offering. This would certainly have made one act or speak more consciously, lest in doing so he should sin - and have to collect an offering from the paddock and make the trip to the priest.
CHRIST: OUR SUBSTITUTIONARY LAMB
In Isaiah 53:4-6 we read how Christ became THE substitutionary sacrificial Lamb for sinners. Here the prophet Isaiah was moved by God to speak concerning the Man of sorrows (and from a NT perspective we understand this Man of Sorrows to be the Saviour Jesus Christ) these words, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
God told Adam in Paradise (and so told all mankind) that death had to follow on sin. "From every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16, 17). Furthermore, in Romans 6:23 we read, "For the wages of sin is death ..." But Isaiah 53 speaks of a transferral of sin. Just as the Lord instructed the people of Israel to lay their sins on the goat, God likewise took my sins and laid them on Jesus. The coming Saviour is here portrayed as suffering in the place of the sinner, as the Substitute. This is what the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, "And she (Mary) will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." Jesus came to take away my sin -how?- by substituting Himself in my place.
The following texts are further evidence of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, whereby my sins are imputed, transferred, to Christ and that I may thus benefit from what He achieved. Said Jesus concerning Himself, "... the Son of Man (came) to give His life (as) a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). At the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus said to His disciples, "For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). To the Romans Paul wrote: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" and "God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 6, 8). To the Corinthians too, Paul said, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.... For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us..." (2 Corinthians 5: 18-20). In all the above texts, the operative word is the little word 'for'. Christ's death on the cross was for us, in our place (substitute) and for our benefit. By His death on the cross Christ fulfilled the sin offerings required in the Old Testament.
The fact that Christ died in my place is certainly nothing I can be proud of, for it again points up how deeply I fell into sin and the extent of my depravity. I sinned, I had to pay for my sin, but I could not do so; I deserved to die. Yet through this depressing reality shines the richness of the gospel of salvation, that Christ died FOR me. That little word 'for' contains such incomparably rich gospel; though I deserve to suffer the infinite wrath of God forever, Christ died on the cross in my place. So there is no wrath from God for me; there is only grace, love and mercy. What a God, that He should prepare such good news for me!
SINNERS MAY REJOICE
What was Paul's response to such a Gospel? "We ... rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:11). A Gospel such as this cannot leave one untouched. I am no longer on the receiving end of God's anger!! Christ bore God's wrath, and so God's wrath is there for me no more! True, there are those times when I feel as though God is angry with me on account of my sins, perhaps when I'm confronted with the troubles of this life, or when I find it difficult to forget my sins of the past. Yet God lays before me the wonderful news that His only Son bore God's wrath for me, so that my sins are gone, I have been freed from them, freed from the wrath of holy God! DeBres confessed it this way: "He presented Himself in our place before His Father, appeasing God's wrath by His full satisfaction." Article 20 concluded with these words, "Out of a most perfect love (God) gave His Son to die for us ..." Yes, this little word 'for' captures the whole Gospel. Christ died on the cross when I should have. My sinful baggage of the past no longer matters, for Christ has done away with it for me. Though my conscience may still bother me, Scripture tells me that Christ has died for me, in my place. Focussing on this reality, I can only be thankful to God and moved to rejoice on account of such a rich Gospel, such Good News.
DeBres concluded Article 21 with these words, "Therefore we justly say, with Paul, that we know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus our Lord." DeBres, in fear of his life, without a bed safe from his persecutors, without a house where he didn't have to be concerned about being found out, confesses the one thing that matters most in life: "Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2). Since deBres has received such riches from God, nothing else is important; house and family and peace and security is nothing in the light of "the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8). He is prepared to give up anything in his life for that which is most important: with his sins removed by Christ he enjoys reconciliation with the Creator. "We find comfort in His wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means of reconciliation with God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which the believers are perfected for all times." All that deBres is concerned about is Christ and His sacrifice of redemption for sinners.
That was deBres' confession in his situation. It is also my confession,
in my situation.