He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. Hebrews 7, verses 13-14.
Background matters here on the Third Rock. It’s not the Harvard diploma that gets you the job, but the Harvard name can get you in the door. It’s not the brand name Velveeta that you buy: it’s that big block of cheesy love that makes great queso. It isn’t the car brand that matters as much as it is the smooth ride. Yet background still can matter to us: you get a better ride from a Mercedes than you do a used Kia. And you get a better queso from Velveeta than you do from store brands. And you get more resume inquiries if you have an Ivy League pedigree than you do if you only graduated from high school. But background isn’t everything, and background will only carry you so far. If you want quality, you have to dig deeper. You need to get past the superficial things that live in front of the background.
The verses since verse 11 have talked about how Jesus is like Melchizedek, the faceless, background-less king of Salem and high priest of God who met Abram in the Canaan wilderness. The author illustrates how, if human qualifications were enough, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus. Melchizedek had a pedigree; he may have even been Jesus Himself. But we needed more reminders, so God gave us strict rules through Moses about who should be priests. Moses and his brother, Aaron, were descendants of Levi; they were Levites. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain all kinds of codes for Israelite priests. What to do, how to act, what to wear, when to offer sacrifices and how; it was detailed for a reason: God’s reason. Priests weren’t allowed to change the rules; only God could do that.
Becoming a priest in ancient days wasn’t for just anyone…literally. To be a Jewish priest, you had to be a Levite, descended from Jacob’s son, Levi (one of Abraham’s great grandsons). It was to the Levites and only the Levites that God had given the priestly calling. Exclusionary and discriminatory? Only if you’re shallow. Look beyond those twenty-first century words and you see the reason from antiquity was two-fold. One, God wanted His people to understand that His calling was set apart and unique. And, two, that His calling would matter, that it would teach people about His glory if they adhered to certain processes. God gave us these rules for our benefit, not His, so He used groups and symbols that we could understand.
Yet Jesus wasn’t a Levite. He was descended, both on His father’s and mother’s sides, from Judah (another of Abraham’s great grandsons). The referenced verses from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation talk about Jesus’ lineage from the tribe of Judah. And when He wanted to institute a priesthood that would supersede anything earthly, God reminded us that He is the ultimate rule maker, that He is over those rules and not subject to them. He sent His Son to live by every earthly rule, even those of the priesthood to which He wasn’t subject, yet was not bound by the restriction of being a Levite. Indeed, Jesus’ human restriction was that He was descended from Levi’s father, Jacob, and grandfather, Abraham, and ultimate Father Himself, God Almighty. In fact, word, and deed, Jesus ministered as a man in ways to both fulfill God’s priestly requirements and to demonstrate that, as God, He would supersede them for all people.
And Jesus’ background was meager. He didn’t have a rabbinical background. He wasn’t a trained Levite or priest. He didn’t go to all the right schools, and He didn’t have any upbringing to set Him apart from anyone in particular. Jesus was a simple carpenter’s son, from royal but undisclosed heritage, who hailed from a poor, simple town in Judea. No Harvard degree; no Velveeta branding; no sweet ride for the streets of Nazareth. When all will be said and done, Jesus matters more than the background.
For further reading: Hebrews 7:11, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 1:2-6, Luke 3:33, Revelation 5:5.
Lord Jesus, thank You for signs and things that matter here in this world. Let them all be to Your glory and be ways that help me to point to You.