Why Study Melchizedek?
priesthood, grace, works, Hebrews
When your children first learn to swim you give them a warning: stay out of the deep water. You tell them not to go into water that is over their head. You tell them this because you know that if you get into water over your head and aren’t able to really swim yet you may drown.
However, you also know that in order to learn how to swim you do have to eventually go into go into deep water. Otherwise you won’t really be swimming at all.
It is the same with our discipleship. When we first become a follower of Christ we try to grasp the elementary things. It is unprofitable to talk heavy theology with someone who is still trying to grasp what it means to find new life in Christ. It is like talking to a 1st grade student about calculus. However, if you want to grow in knowledge and understanding you have to begin to work through deeper truths. If you think more deeply your growth in faith will be very limited. You may think you are a mature believer (because you have followed Christ for a long time) but you will be just a baby.
This is what the author of Hebrews said to his audience at the end of Hebrews 5 and in the beginning of chapter 6. He said he was frustrated because they were still babies and had never really worked at understanding the deeper truths. He urged them to crave for solid food rather than just milk. He wanted them to become theologically literate. I suspect he would say the same thing to us.
Let me warn you. You are going to get the chance to grow a little deeper as we look at the next few chapters of Hebrews. In Hebrews 7 through the beginning of chapter 10 the author of Hebrews gives us some deep truths to ponder. These next chapters are not easy to understand, but they are valuable.
I believe the key to understanding these chapters is to keep in mind the big picture. It is easy to get so wrapped up or overwhelmed by the details, that we miss what is really being taught. That same thing happens when we debate the specific events of the Second Coming of Jesus, or divide over our views of the Millennium, or even with how much water we should use in baptism or how frequently we should observe communion. These are good things to discuss but they are side issues and we must not fixate on them.
The point of the book of Hebrews is to show the superiority of Christ over anything in the past. Our loyalty should be to Him above anything and everything else. We are to love our spouse deeply . . . but not more than we love Jesus. We are to love our children passionately, but not more than we love Jesus.
Many believe the people being addressed in the book of Hebrews were people who had come out of the Jewish faith to follow Christ. Because of the persecution of the church they were thinking about returning to Judaism. Our author shows this would be the wrong decision. He has already shown that Jesus is superior to the angels and to Moses. In this chapter we will see that Jesus is superior to both Abraham and the priestly system that the Jews relied on.
This morning I am not going to read a great deal of the text in the message. Though the message is based entirely on Hebrews It is an intricate argument being made and it is easy to get lost. So, I hope you are a good swimmer because we are heading into deep water.
Melchizedek is Like Jesus
In chapter 7 we return to a discussion of a guy named Melchizedek who was mentioned earlier in Hebrews 5:6 and 5:10. We mentioned back when we studied chapter 5 that Melchizedek is really not a major figure in the Bible. He appears in Genesis 14:17-18, Psalm 110 and here in Hebrews. Back in Genesis we learn all we are going to know about Melchizedek.
Abraham had just came back from a battle to rescue his nephew Lot who had been taken hostage. Abraham had a stunning victory even though he was greatly outmanned. As he was coming home he was approached by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem. The King of Sodom was corrupt, the King of Salem, a guy by the name of Melchizedek, brought out bread and wine to Abraham. We are told he was a priest of God Most High.
Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham responded by giving him a tenth of the spoils of war to acknowledge that God got the credit for winning the battle. The King of Sodom tried to get involved and offered Abraham a reward for his success in battle, Abraham refused to be enriched by the King of Sodom. He was not going to compromise with evil.
That’s the end of the story! We don’t see Melchizedek again. In Psalm 110:4 David talked about the Messiah and said He would be a Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Those are the only references before this lengthy discussion in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews sees Melchizedek as an illustration that helps him drive home his point about the superiority of Christ. From what we know (and don’t know) about Melchizedek the author draws some parallels.
First, Melchizedek was a King and a Priest (7:1). These two things did not go together normally in Israel. You had to be a descendent of David to be a King and a descendant of Aaron to be a High Priest. Melchizedek shows that one can be both a King and a Priest. In that sense Melchizedek is like Jesus who is also the King of Kings and our priest (the one who is our advocate).
Second, the name Melchizedek meant “King of Justice” and his title, King of Salem (later known as Jerusalem). means “King of peace” (2). So Melchizedek, like Jesus, represents Justice and Peace.
Third, we are told that “There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.” (3) The point is not that Melchizedek didn’t have a mom or dad. The point is that his priesthood was not based on a line of descent (like the Israelite priesthood) and there is no record of this priesthood ending (which doesn’t mean Melchizedek didn’t die). In the same way, Jesus is a priest even though He did not descend from the tribe of Levi. His is a never-ending priesthood.
Melchizedek’s Priesthood is Superior to the Levitical Priesthood
In verses 4-14 we are shown that the priesthood of Melchizedek (and Jesus) was superior to Abraham and to the Jewish priesthood. There are three reasons. First, Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek. The point is that the lesser person honors the greater person. The boss pays the employee, not then other way around! Abraham acknowledged the superiority to Melchizedek by giving him a tithe. Since Abraham is the forefather of the Jewish priesthood, All of Abraham’s descendants in a sense paid tribute to Melchizedek too.
Second, Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The same point is made: generally speaking the superior person blesses the subordinate person.
Third, in verse 11 the question is asked, “If the Jewish priesthood was sufficient why was David looking for someone to come in the order of Melchizedek?” With a superior priesthood must be a change in the laws about the priesthood (which is what David seems to be anticipating). The new priesthood did not have anything to do with who you were related to, it had everything to do with having an indestructible life. (16) Jesus was a priest because of who He is and not because of who he was related to. His life is indestructible because Jesus conquered death. He rose from the dead proving that even death cannot defeat Him! This makes Jesus superior to the Jewish priesthood.
Jesus is the Superior High Priest We Need
All of this build up is to say that Jesus is superior to any High Priest that has ever held the position in Israel.
We are given five reasons Jesus is the superior High Priest. First, He was appointed by the Lord Himself. (v.17) In verse 21 we see that Jesus was made a priest FOREVER in the order of Melchizedek. God promised that he would be our priest forever.
Second, Jesus guarantees a better covenant.
22 Because of this oath, Jesus is the one who guarantees this better covenant with God.
Jesus initiates a better covenant. This is a covenant that is not based on what we do but on what Christ has done for us. In other words, it is not about living “good enough” lives, it is about trusting and following the One who has given up His life on our behalf. It is not about hoping you have adequately offered enough sacrifices for sin, it is about trusting the once and for all sufficient sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Jesus guarantees the covenant. The priests of Israel could help us move toward God’s covenant but they could do no more. Jesus makes it possible for us to KNOW that we are made new in Christ. We can know for certain that we belong to the Lord.
Third, the priest could only serve temporarily, Jesus “Lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf”. Many of you have learned that when a church changes Pastors the personality of the church and the approach to ministry also changes. The new Pastor is unaware of traditions and deeply held practices. He doesn’t know the history of the people. He is unaware of problems that have been faced. Hopefully we have learned that there are some real advantages of a long term relationship. But even the longest tenured High Priest was still going to die. Inevitably someone new would come into office and things would change.
Jesus is consistent. He is ever-present. He will ALWAYS be our High Priest. He will always be working on our behalf. He will always be “up to speed” about the issues of our life. We will never be without His assistance.
Fourth, He is Holy rather than sinful. We read at the end of chapter 7
27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people.
A Jewish priest had to begin each day by offering sacrifices for his own sins. He, like the person coming to him, was a sinner in need of forgiveness. He had the same problem that we do. It would be like Rick asking me to help him fix his car! A case of the blind leading the blind. The priests were following God’s instructions but . . . they were limited because they too were sinful.
Jesus didn’t have that problem. He was holy and perfect. His attention was fully focused on paying for our sin, not his own.
Fifth, the sacrifice of Jesus need not be repeated. This one is as significant and it is staggering. Our text says,
But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. (27b)
The sacrifice of Jesus was different from the sacrifice of the priests. The priests offered animals; Jesus offered Himself. The priests were sinful; Jesus is sinless. The priests offered what was required by law. Jesus offered His life voluntarily. The sacrifice of animals is at best a temporary fix. Because of who Jesus is, His sacrifice was sufficient to pay for any sin past, present, or future. The Priest had to repeat the process day after day. Jesus only needed to offer His life once.
Jesus finished the job. His work will never lose its value. It will never fade in significance. It will never run out of power. Jesus is the Savior we have been looking for all our lives.
I realize you may have reached this point in the sermon and are asking the question: “So What?” Who cares about all of this? It’s a fair question. Let’s face it, we don’t need to be convinced that Jesus is superior to the Jewish priests because we don’t even know any Jewish priests! However, the principle does apply to our lives.
We don’t put our faith in priests and the sacrifices of animals but we are tempted to revert back to things that are unable to save us such as
- Our good deeds and attempts to live godly lives (I tithe, I had devotions every day, I have served in many capacities)
- Our religious formulas (such as in worship, taking communion and other things that are part of our church practice)
- Our experiences (How we feel, what we did in the past, some dramatic feeling or action)
- Our friendships with influential people (like God will be impressed by who we know)
- Our church
- Even our sacrifices (how much we give; or what we ‘give up’)
The message of this passage is simple: if you turn to anyone or anything other than Jesus you need to be reminded that Jesus is the only sufficient Savior. He is the ONLY one who can meet our needs.
You may be trying really hard to earn your place in God’s Kingdom. And even the best of us fail miserably. We have some spurts of goodness but we do not sustain it. The message is this: Jesus has done everything that is necessary for you to be made right with God. You can get off the treadmill. You can stop looking over your shoulder. You no longer need to feel frustrated at your failures. The Lord has done what is necessary and ONLY He has done (and can do) what is necessary.
It boils down to the same issue: will you trust Jesus or will you put your trust in something else? When you are tempted to turn back to your old ways it is important to remind yourself that you are already following the best way, the only way, the sufficient way to have life in Christ. To turn back is to go in the wrong direction.
At the start of this New Year I encourage you to ask, “Where am I looking for meaning in life? What (or who) are you trusting for your future? How did we get here and where are we going? Is life really just a roll of the dice? Is it just a futile dash to nowhere? Or is there more? It is easy to fall back into old patterns that are comfortable but empty. You may drift back into attempts to earn God’s favor by trying to be good-er that you have been.
I have become convinced by abundant evidence that Jesus is the only way. There is only one mediator between God and man . . . and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Wake up. Run to him. Choose the narrow road because it is the only one that will lead you home. To go in any other direction is to turn from the best to something or someone far inferior to the One who alone can save.
At the start of this New Year it is good to ask an important question: Have you reached that point in your life when you realize that you cannot get to heaven by being good enough? Do you understand that you are a “rebel” who is lost without Jesus? The arms of Christ are open. The invitation to follow Him still stands. Are you willing right now and right here to start the New Year right? If so, I encourage you to communicate this with the Lord. You might talk to God like this:
Jesus, I believe you did for me what I could not do for myself. You gave your life to pay for my rebellion and sin. You rose from the dead to show that your payment was sufficient and available to anyone who would trust you. So today I trust you. Today I choose to walk with you and honor you by the way I live my life. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit and begin the process of building your character more and more into my life. I receive the gift you have given me and I do it gratefully and humbly. Amen.
It isn’t easy to learn to swim in deep water. However, swimming is much more enjoyable when you can venture deeper. In the same way, it is not easy to understand parts of the Bible, but the more we wrestle with texts like this, the more anchored and stable we will be. And because we are anchored, when the storms of doubt, uncertainty and failure bombard us; we won’t turn and run. We will hide in the One who is sufficient to protect everyone and anyone who puts their trust in Him.