On June 27, 1976 armed men from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) surprised the twelve crew members and 91 passengers of an Air France jet and hijacked it. The plane was tracked heading for Central Africa where it landed with the approval of the tyrannical Ugandan President Idi Amin. And there it remained apparently secure at the Entebbe Airport where the hijackers spent the next several days preparing for their next move. It seemed that they were in complete control.
However, 2,500 miles away in Tel Aviv, three Israeli C-130 Hercules transports was secretly boarding a deadly force of Israeli commandos, who within hours attacked the Entebbe Airport under cover of darkness. In less than sixty minutes the commandos rushed the old terminal, gunned down the hijackers, and rescued 110 of the 113 hostages. The next day, July 4, Israel’s Premier Yizhak Rabin triumphantly declared that the mission will “become a legend,” and he was right.
But this is not anything new for Israelis. The fact is, we can trace this bold attitude all the way back to Genesis 14. In this passage we an army made up of an alliance of the armies of four Kings sweep across the land of Canann defeating everyone they come in contact with. When they reached the southern areas they overthrew Sodom and several other cities. Not only did they subdue the cities, they also took hostages. Among those hostages was Lot and his family.
One captive escaped and reported to Abraham what happened. So Abraham assembled his 318 men that he had trained for war and went in pursuit of the raiders. When Abraham and his men caught up to the armies they waited until nightfall. Then Abraham divided his men and ambushed the armies rescuing Lot and his family.
The part of the story I focus on this morning is what happened when Abraham and his men returned from this campaign. We read that he was welcomed as a hero and the King of Sodom and the King of Salem, a Priest of the Most High God, a man by the name of Melchizedek were there to greet him. Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine and then pronounced a blessing on him acknowledging that God Almighty had been behind the work of Abraham. Abraham, in response, gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of war.
Truth is, I really struggled with this passage this week. There are several different lessons I saw in the text but no overarching theme. . . so, I’m just going to share these lessons by focusing on the three main characters in the account.
LESSONS FROM ABRAHAM
This passage tells us a great deal about the character of this faithful saint of God. We can learn a great deal by the way Abraham conducted himself.
First, we are reminded that a faithful man is not content to simply enjoy his blessings while others suffer. It would have been easy for Abraham to stay out of the entire mess. He could have concluded that Lot was the one who chose to live in Sodom. And that Lot was the one who compromised himself by becoming a part of that perverted community. He also could have concluded that there was little he could do against such a formidable foe. And we probably would have understood his actions. But of course, that isn’t what Abraham did.
Abraham understood that we are not here only to take care of ourselves. He knew that we have an obligation to help each other. He couldn’t simply stand by while others suffered. Abraham understood that he was blessed in order that he might bless others.
And so it is with us. God has gives us opportunities to get involved. He has blessed us with resources so we can tangibly help others. He makes us aware of needs so we might take action.
Second, we learn that the best way to face a formidable foe is through faith. Abraham took his 318 men (trained though they were) and went against an army that was much larger. Remember, this is an army that subdued almost the entire area of Canann. Abraham knew that he could not prevail by his own strength . . . so he trusted the Lord.
The foe you face may be something other than an invading army but just as formidable
- Cancer or some other devastating illness
- Mental deterioration
- Relationship problems
- Constant Anxiety
- Legal problems
- The plague of emotional distress
- The Effects of Suffocating loneliness
Friend, the mountain may be different, but the solution is the same. Those times when we know we are most helpless are the times when we need to be most trusting. God can see us through. He can lead us to victory over the most overwhelming odds. When you doubt that, remember Abraham, or David with Goliath, or Elijah with the Prophets of Baal, or Moses facing Pharaoh. God has a proven track record of success in “hopeless” situations.
Third, we see that Abraham saw the importance of guarding his heart. Listen,
- The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:21-24)
This is an odd passage isn’t it? Abraham receives the food and blessing from Melchizedek but refuses the reward that is offered by the King of Sodom. He certainly had earned the reward but refuses to have anything to do with the King of Sodom. Why?
Abraham recognized that Sodom was a corrupt and godless city. Any association with the city was bound to lead to a compromised faith. Even in this seemingly harmless relationship Abraham knew that there is always a price to be paid when we unite with the world. This is the same principle the Apostle Paul was thinking of when he told the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked together. We must be careful who are friends are, who we associate with, and what kinds of values we embrace.
There is always a price when we unite with the world
- we water down the truth so as not to offend.
- we compromise our reputation and witness. This was Abraham’s concern. He didn’t want people to think that he had been blessed by the King of Sodom. He wanted the world to know that his blessing was from the Lord Almighty.
- we lose our spiritual sharpness. As we dabble with the things of the world our spiritual sharpness is dulled. Sin doesn’t bother us as much. We aren’t as affected by the immorality, the vulgarity, the violence, the disrespect shown to God. As we develop an appetite for the things of the world we dull our appetite to things of God.
Any connection with the world will distort our thinking.
- If we allow our culture to define riches . . . we will become obsessed with the material
- If we allow our culture to define love . . . .we will find ourselves embracing perversion
- If we allow our culture to define worship . . . we will focus on external feelings rather than inward humility
- If we allow our culture to define self-image . . . we will end up with an arrogance that refuses to submit to God’s authority.
- If we allow our culture to define what is appropriate to feed our minds (e.g. in the media)… we will end up compromising our pursuit of that which is holy.
- If we allow our culture to define God . . . we will end up worshipping a reflection of ourselves
Abraham refused to run the risk of compromise. He gave up what he was “entitled to” in order to retain his purity before the Lord. It’s a vitally important lesson in our day of constant compromise.
LESSONS FROM MELCHIZEDEK
Another main figure in this passage is Melchizedek. He is called “Melchizedek the King of Salem”. Here’s what we know about this man:
- His name means the King of Righteousness
- He is the King of Salem and “Salem” means peace. So he is the King of Righteousness and Peace.
- Salem is the town that later became Jeru-salem . . .the place where the Temple of God would dwell
- He is a priest of the Lord God Almighty. He is a man in the middle of a corrupt and depraved society who is serving the Lord. This is the first time the word “priest” is used in the Bible.
- He brings Abraham a message from God making him a Prophet, Priest and King
- He is considered great by Abraham and given a tenth of Abraham ‘s riches.
Some have suggested that Melchizedek is really a pre-incarnate (before the birth of Jesus) visit of Christ. They say he was like the angels that appeared to Abraham on the plains of Mamre, or the divine being that appeared to Joshua at Jericho, or like the fourth man in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrews. They may be right. But even if he was just one man who was seeking to faithfully serve the Lord there is still something for us to learn.
God is doing more through us than we realize. Melchizedek was a guy trying to do what God wanted him to do. He set out to serve a meal and encourage a tired and faithful servant. And this he did. He returned home having been honored by this warrior with a tithe of his bounty. I would think that Melchizedek would have felt pretty good about things.
But God was doing more than encourage and feed a tired warrior. Centuries later David points to this priest (who appears this one time) by name in Psalm 110. He says that the Messiah will be “of the order of Melchizedek. And then hundreds of years later Melchizedek’s simple act is spotlighted in the book of Hebrews. God was using Melchizedek’s simple act to point others to Jesus!
I’ve learned something over the years: we must never conclude that we see the whole picture. We must not conclude that what we see is what we get. We may think we know what our legacy will be . . . but we have yet to see what God is doing in and through His faithful followers.
- You don’t know how God is working through your faithfulness as a teacher. Who knows what kind of change has come to a life because of your faithfulness? Who knows how many people that changed person will change?
- You don’t know the impact your act of kindness. Perhaps you turned someone away from despair. Perhaps you lifted a heart that was discouraged. Perhaps you have inspired someone who will make an impact on another life . . . and then another.
- You don’t know who God is changing from watching your example.
- You don’t know the difference you are making with your prayers
- You don’t know what God will do through that book or tape you share with another
- You don’t know what kind of dividend God will bring from your financial investment in a ministry
- You may not see that your service opened the door for further ministry, or may have freed someone to do something they could not have done without your help. The people who have worked on our platform renovation have no idea what their work will make possible in years to come.
Week after week I am staggered when I hear from someone who listens to our radio broadcast, gets help from our Internet site, or is benefiting from the tapes sent to them. It spurs me on to catch a glimpse of what God is doing through our meager efforts. But even in this work think about those who were doing what seemed right in the past little knowing their investment in this ministry,
- those who gave to put in our sound system
- those who faithfully recorded messages week after week
- those who support the broadcasts with their finances
- those who point their friends in the direction of our web site or broadcast
- those who worked to bring the Internet to our community
- those who were involved in teaching me about web development
- teachers and authors through the years that have influenced what we teach
Most of us feel insignificant. But a person who is faithful before the Lord will be used by God in ways that will stagger us. When we arrive in Heaven and God pulls back the curtain, I am certain that we will fall on our face, deeply humbled that God has used us, and has used so many to enrich us. Melchizedek had no idea how God was really using Him. Neither do we.
I wonder how many people have given up on the race because they felt they weren’t getting anywhere or weren’t doing any good. Don’t give up friend! Keep running faithfully! God is using you in ways you may not see until you get home . . . but when you see, you will be glad that you continued striving for the goal.
LESSONS ABOUT JESUS
The third person is one who isn’t even mentioned in our text is Jesus. In Psalm 110 and Hebrews 6-8 we see that this story is meant to point us to Him.
Believe me, I know how difficult this is to understand and grasp. I’ve struggled with it all week long. But maybe an example will help. Every year at Baseball’s spring training we hear of ballplayers who might be the next Bob Gibson, or Willie Mays, Roger Clemons or Brooks Robinson. And then they begin to list similarities that remind us of these great ballplayers.
In a sense this is what happens here. The New Testament writers point at Melchizedek and say, “He is a lot like Jesus.”. He reminds us of Christ in some elements of his life.
- Melchizedek is not of the tribe of Levi which shows that there are true priests that are not Levites. Jesus can serve as our priest even though he is not from Levi.
- Melchizedek does not have any listing of birth or death. This reminds us that Jesus is eternal; without beginning or end. His ministry is not subject to term limits.
- Melchizedek was a prophet, priest, and King. A rare combination also found in Jesus.
- Melchizedek blessed Abraham which means he took a position of superiority over Abraham. Then Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek showing that Abraham recognized Mel’s superiority. This reminds us that the priesthood of Jesus is superior to the priesthood of men.
The author of Hebrews wants us to realize from this comparison some great truths about Jesus,
- Jesus is unique . . . He is not like other priests
- Jesus is eternal . . . His ministry will not end on our behalf. He will ever live to intercede for us.
- Jesus is Perfect . . .He is not distracted in his ministry by His own problems like any earthly priest or clergyman is.
- Jesus offers His own body and blood on our behalf. . . . His sacrifice is not temporary. His sacrifice frees us from the penalty of sin forever.
- Jesus is Superior. . . there is no one who is His equal. No one who can do what only He can do. No one who is better equipped for our needs than He.
So, once again the issue boils down to a simple question: Who or what will you trust? Where will you turn for the help you need?
- a bank account
- a careful attention to diet and exercise
- your education
- a counselor
- your charge card
- a bottle or other substance
- your friends
There is only One who can do what we need done. There is only One who can pay the debt we owe. It’s Jesus. His gift to us is like the wonderful blessing and refreshment that Melchizedek brought to Abraham. And like Abraham, it calls for a response. Abraham gave a tithe of all he had. God wants something a little different from us. He wants us to give Him ourselves.
There are three dimensions to “trusting Christ” for salvation.
- knowledge of the truth. We must know the facts. But knowing the facts is not enough.
- belief in the truth. We must believe in the truthfulness of the facts. But believing the facts is not enough.
- Entrusting yourself to the truth. This is what the Bible calls “saving” faith. It is making those facts the basis of your life, the foundation for your actions, the hope of your eternal destiny.
Maybe an illustration would help. Suppose I want to get to a certain destination. I’ve never been there before so I ask someone for directions. They give me clear directions and I understand them. But that won’t get me to my destination. I not only understand the directions. I believe they are correct and will get me to the destination I desire. But that still won’t get me there. There is another step necessary . . .I must believe and trust those directions enough to actually get in my car and start following the directions. Then and only then will I be able to reach my destination.
God gives us the directions to forgiveness, eternal life and friendship with God. He tells us that we must recognize our own sinfulness and believe that Jesus died for the sin that we committed. We must believe that when He rose from the dead He opened the door of eternal life to anyone who would trust Him. We must believe that anyone who truly believes is changed by God’s Spirit who takes up residence in our lives and will guide us to live faithfully for the Lord.
But it is not enough to know this information. It’s not enough to believe it. We must anchor our life and hope to it.
So, is it time that you did more than affirm the truth. Perhaps today you are ready to pray a simple and sincere prayer, such as, “Lord, today I am willing to take my stand on the truth. Today I trust the work of Christ alone for forgiveness and as my hope of eternal life. Today I receive your Holy Spirit to live in me and transform me from the inside out.” Realize His greatness and come to Him today.
If you will do this, you still may not understand all the details about Abraham and Melchizedek, but you will have gotten the message.