Essay / Theology

God Swears He's Telling the Truth

(For the sermon that this is an excerpt from, go here)

Here’s our last baby step in learning to hear God speak: We’ve overheard God. We’ve overheard the Trinity speaking in OT QUOTES. We know it’s about salvation. The last step is to recognize that when God takes an oath, he really, really means it.

Hebrews 7:17 tells us that the Father says to the Son, “you are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

But look at 7:21, which zooms out and shows us some context:  it was not without an oath: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever.”

Now why would God have to promise? Why would he make an oath? Why would he swear?  If you know somebody who makes oaths, in human situations those are usually the people who you don’t trust much. Think about someone who says, “I will be there at noon” versus somebody who says, “I promise, I swear, I do hereby vow that on my word I will be there at noon.” That’s usually somebody whose word you don’t trust unless it’s backed up by some special oath. You’re more inclined to believe the person who simply lets his yea be yea, and affirms, “I will be there at noon.” That is, you believe him if his proven character, based on previous performances, indicates that he is trustworthy.

But when it comes to God, we know his character and we know he means every word he says. So when HE backs something up with an oath…. well then, he MEANS it means it. Reallyo trulyo. All of the Bible is the perfect word of God, but what are we to say of the oath parts? If the words of Jesus sometimes get printed in red, maybe these should be printed in gold. Maybe we should double underline those. They’re apparently MORE SO.

God would take an oath, not because his word wouldn’t be credible without one, but because an oath has the character of solemnity, of formality, of intimate commitment. Think of a wedding vow: it’s an extremely intimate self-promising, and simultaneously an act of public accountability that we gather witnesses to hear. God’s oaths have that private-public character.

The Father has sworn to the Son: “you are a priest.” Jesus is our priest. Forever. 

A bit of a side point here: the priests of the Old Covenant were put in place by lineage, by descent, by being of the right tribe. Jesus is not from that tribe of Levi, he’s from the tribe of Judah. Does that disqualify him from being our priest? No. It disqualifies him from being a Levitical priest. But he’s not a Levitical priest, he’s a Melchizedek priest.

Is that better or worse? It’s better. Levitical priests have lineage. But Melchizedek priests have oaths. There are a lot of reasons why an oath is a better basis for priesthood, but just consider some of the disadvantages of a bloodline priesthood. After Israel returns from exile, in Nehemiah 7:63-5, some of the priests couldn’t prove their lineage or their descent from their father’s houses, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. They were not allowed to partake of the priestly food “until a priest with Urim and Thummim should arise.” Now I’m not going to go into detail about the Urim and Thummim here; I’m already covering Melchizedek and am not trying to lead a tour through every weird topic in the Old Testament! But the basic idea is that some sort of special revelation, some way of knowing God’s will for an immediate situation, would have to come to pass, to certify the lineage. Unless a word from God could vouch for them, who could be sure of their lineage? But Jesus has the word straight from God: You Are A Priest. Forever.

It’s all in Psalm 110, where the Father says to the Son, sit at my right hand… you are a priest forever. This is the main thing God has to say. But he says a little more… “you are a priest forever… according to the order of Melchizedek.” About him, as Hebrews remarks, “we have much to say…”

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