Once upon a time, a very long time ago, in Genesis 14, five kings joined forces. The king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the kings of Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. For years, the five kings had been pushed around by four other kings, the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. Because it makes my jaw hurt to say those names, letâ€™s call them the five kings verses the four kings. The four kings were ruthless and every year conquered more territory, until one day the five kings had had enough.
The five kings drew their plans and went to war against the four kings, and stood to face them in the Valley of Siddim. And it turned out the five kings were idiots because the Valley of Siddim where they chose to make their stand was full of tar pits. With their feet stuck, they were sitting ducks and the four kings killed most of them and the five kings fled into the hills. The four kings sacked Sodom and Gomorrah and took all of their stuff and all of their food and all of their people. One of those people was Lot, the nephew of Abram, soon to be called Abraham. Years earlier, Uncle Abram and his nephew Lot had parted company, and Lot chose to live in Sodom, not knowing that the five kings that ruled that part of the world were such idiots. And now, Lot is a prisoner of the four kings.
A messenger eventually arrived at the tent of Abram. A messenger, possibly one of the men in service to the five kings that had fled into the hills came and gave the bad news to Abram. â€œHey, um, Abram, Lotâ€™s recently moved. Would you like his new address?â€ Abram was not amused. Abram called out 318 trained men and went in pursuit. He caught up to the four kings and their soldiers and routed them, scattering them to wind. He recovered all of the goods and rescued of all the people, including his nephew Lot.
Then, starting in Genesis 14 verse 17, something unusual happens. Abram is returning from his victorious battle, and Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the God Most High, comes out to meet Abram with bread and wine and blesses Abram and says,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And Abram responds by tithing a tenth of everything, then returning all the spoils of war back to the five kings. Abram says he doesnâ€™t even want a thread or the thong of a sandal; he gives it all back to the five idiot tar pit kings.
The idiot five kings, the ruthless four kings, Lot, Abram, and Melchizedek, priest of the God Most High. Who was this Melchizedek? Heâ€™s obviously an important person; heâ€™s providing a blessing to Abram. But letâ€™s look at the things Melchizedek does â€“
â€¢ â€œbrought outâ€. Did Abram have to go look for Melchizedek, or did Melchizedek come looking for Abram? I think of the parable of the prodigal son when the father rushed out to greet the returning son.
â€¢ â€œbread and wine.â€ When a priest brings out the bread and wine, what does that remind you of? Exactly, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But how could that be, so far back in the Old Testament?
â€¢ Blesses Abram. Do we bless God, or does God bless us? Do we bless Jesus, or does Jesus bless us? Weâ€™re going to get into this again in a bit, but the greater blesses the lesser. Melchizedek blesses Abram and is the greater of the two.
â€¢ Praises God and gives thanks. Melchizedek worships God.
â€¢ Accepts a 10% tithe.
This Melchizedek seems to appear out of nowhere, blessing Abram and accepting a 10% tithe. The interesting thing is, we donâ€™t really know that much more about him. This is the first and only time he appears. His name is also interesting â€“ â€œMelekâ€ means â€œking,â€ and â€œZedekâ€ means â€œrighteousness.â€ His name means â€œthe king of righteousness.â€ And heâ€™s listed as the â€œking of Salem,â€ which means â€œpeace.â€ The king of Righteousness and Peace. He has no lineage; he doesnâ€™t descend from a line of priests. Before Moses, sacrifices were usually offered by the head of the family, so Abram would normally have been offering sacrifices to God for his family, but for some reason he recognized Melchizedek as a priest and defers to him.
Later after Moses, the 12 tribes of Israel had grown and a priesthood was created by Aaron out of the tribe of Levi. These became the Levitical priesthood for the sacrificial system of absolving sins. The kings were to rule the people, and the priests were to mediate between God and man through sacrifices.
This is consistent throughout the Old Testament, with the Levitical priesthood passing down from father to son, and the Jewish people have extensive records of these priests through history. Except Melchizedek doesnâ€™t appear in their priesthood records, just this one event with Abram.
Most biblical scholars believe Melchizedek was a â€œtheophanyâ€, or a â€œChristophany of Christ.â€ A foreshadow of Christ. An Old Testament snapshot of Christ. I think we could spend hours digging into who Melchizedek was or wasnâ€™t, but it was pretty clear that in Jesus day they considered Melchizedek a very important priest outside of the Levitical line.
Weâ€™re going to move forward through history now and come to the family of David. In 2 Samuel 7:11-15, let us read â€“
The LORD declares to you [David] that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him […]. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
The Lord told David he would have an offspring that would endure forever. Obviously that cannot mean a purely human offspring, because humans die. And Godâ€™s words are never in error, and the crucifixion of Jesus is foretold here. What does David say about his future offspring? Letâ€™s turn to Psalm 110, where David cries out to his future son who is also his Lord â€“
The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
Jesus quoted this scripture about Himself, the coming of the Messiah. But letâ€™s read a bit further â€“
The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.
The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
Thatâ€™s a powerful Psalm; Jesus rules, does he not? I really only needed that one line, but I wanted to read the whole thing because itâ€™s so beautiful. The one line is, â€œYou are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.â€ David tells us that the Lord will be a priest, but not a Levitical priest. A different kind of priest. To be a Levitical priest, a Jew had to be able to trace his lineage back to Aaron, the great-grandson of Levi. A Melchizedek priest was a divine appointment.
Ok, now we can turn to Hebrews and begin our lesson now that weâ€™ve laid the groundwork. Meredith told of the ancient Hebrews last week, and how they were encouraged to grow up in spiritual maturity. What was happening at the time was that these Hebrew Jews had given themselves to The Way. The Way, which we now call Christianity, was not an easy path. You were likely to be stoned by the Jews and fed to the lions by the Romans. The Hebrews were tempted to re-embrace Judaism along with their Christianity. They felt a comfort doing this â€“ adding their centuries-old traditions to their faith let them get along much better with the orthodox Jews who were less likely to throw rocks at them because from their external appearance they acted like ordinary Jews. They also had a â€œjust-in-caseâ€ philosophy â€“ just in case Jesus wasnâ€™t the way, perhaps they could still get to heaven by observing the law.
The author of Hebrews sets them straight. If youâ€™re observing the Old Testament law, youâ€™re missing out on the freedom in Christ of the New Covenant. If youâ€™re pretending to be a Jew, youâ€™re not being that light on a hill that Christ wants us to be for Him. The author goes point by point to show the Hebrews it was ok to let go of the old traditions and to put their faith in Jesus, and that Jesus was a new priesthood, and the new priesthood had different rules. Jesus is a better Covenant than the old one the Hebrews are trying to follow.
Ok, so letâ€™s look at our first verse weâ€™re going to study in Hebrews, Hebrews 6:13-14:
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
The writer is telling us that we must be patient, but God always fulfills His promises. God promised Abraham a whole lot of little rug rats, and Abraham had to wait 25 more years before he and Sarah started having children. God never lies, and because of that, Godâ€™s promises give us hope.
What was Godâ€™s greatest promise? He first made this promise to David. Thatâ€™s right, throughout the Old Testament we are promised a messiah who will trample our enemies and intercede for us in front of the Living Lord. And just like Abraham had to be patient, we, too, must be patient. But we have hope, because God always fulfills His promises.
Hebrews 6:19 tells us about this wonderful hope.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
This hope is to be an anchor for the soul. Remember a few weeks ago when we were cautioned not to drift away? The bottle floating down the river until it could not be seen? If your anchor is in Jesus Christ, you wonâ€™t drift away. Donâ€™t just toss the anchor overboard; your anchor is likely to catch on something worldly. Instead, cast your anchor upward, so it catches on something heavenly.
The Hebrews were casting their anchor, not on Jesus, but on Jewish tradition. They were concerned that since the Old Testament had instructions regarding sacrifices that maybe they were still supposed to follow the Levitical priesthood as well as Jesus. Hebrews 7:4-9 is a little convoluted on this point; so Iâ€™m going to try and unravel it. The author points out that Abraham is greater than Levi because Levi was Abrahamâ€™s great-grandson. And that Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed him, and verse 7 says â€œAnd without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.â€ Therefore, Abraham is greater than all the Jews, all the Levitical priests who were essentially Abrahamâ€™s children. And Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. So isnâ€™t Melchizedek greater than all the Levitical priests? The Melchizedek priesthood is divine, but the Levitical priesthood is by man.
Ok, I see some glazed looks, so hereâ€™s a diagram. The Levitical priesthood is great. But isnâ€™t Levi himself greater, since all the Levitical priests came from Levi? And since Levi came from Abraham, isnâ€™t Abraham greater? And since Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, Melchizedek was greater. And Jesus is a divine priest forever on the order of Melchizedek.
The Hebrews were still focused on the Levitical priesthood and all the rules and rituals that went with it. But there was new priesthood with new rules. The Hebrews were still using horse and buggy for spiritual transportation, but they could be driving a Ferrari.
This was an important point â€“ when Jesus came, he brought a new set of rules. The first rule he set aside was that all priests had to be Levitical. Jesus was greater than all of them, and it was no longer necessary for human priests to intervene on our behalf, to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Jesus himself sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes directly on our behalf. We have no reason anymore to appeal through human priests.
There was a story I remember from Readerâ€™s Digest. â€œI told a co-worker I was concerned I might lose my job. My co-worker told me she would pray for me, and told me she keeps a list of ten people she believed needed her prayers the most. I asked her if there was room for me on her list, and she said, â€œOh yes, 3 people have died.â€
I donâ€™t know about you, but I want a better system than that. The Hebrews wanted to place their faith on people. Up until Jesus, that was the best system available. But Jesus was a new priesthood, a better system.
Jesus illustrated the weakness of the Old Testament. The regulations restricting the priesthood were weak and ineffective. They required frequent sacrifice to atone for sins, and all that did was wipe the slate clean temporarily until it was time for the next sacrifice. Jesus is a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice for all time.
What are we placing our hope in? Are we firmly grounded in faith in Jesus? Abram tithed ten percent to Melchizedek, then gave all the plundered loot back to the idiot kings. Do we tithe ten percent, and do we tithe it with a joyful heart?
I heard a story this week of an old $20 bill and an even older $1 bill, all wrinkled and worn, talking about their lives. The twenty dollar bill said, â€œIâ€™ve traveled all over the world, Iâ€™ve been shopping in New York, Iâ€™ve been gambling in Los Vegas, and Iâ€™ve even been on a cruise!â€ The one dollar bill said, â€œIâ€™ve traveled a bit, too. Iâ€™ve been to a Baptist church, a Catholic church, a Methodist churchâ€¦â€ The twenty dollar bill interrupted and said, â€œWait a minuteâ€¦ whatâ€™s a church?â€
If we cannot tithe with a cheerful heart, perhaps our hope is not in Jesus. Maybe weâ€™re only giving lip service that our faith is in Jesus, but our real faith is in our job, in our home, in our family, even in our spouse. Perhaps we want to withhold some of our tithe to add to our safety net or because weâ€™re accustomed to a lifestyle that needs a little extra money.
These worldly things distract us from faith in Jesus. We may think weâ€™re placing our faith in Jesus, but when the rubber hits the road, we want to make sure we build our own little safety net to catch us, just in case Jesus isnâ€™t there. Just like the Hebrews wanted to fall back on the rules of the Levitical priesthood, we say we rely on Jesus, we say we understand that God will provide all our needs, but we want to hold a little something back, just in case. Is that truly placing our hope in Jesus, or are we secretly placing our hope in something worldly, just in case?
Jesus should be our hope. Nothing worldly lasts, but Jesus lasts forever. And not only does He last forever, he intercedes for us forever.
Hebrews 7:26-28 sums up perfect hope in Jesus:
Such a high priest meets our need â€” one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
There are five descriptions of Jesus here â€“
A. Holy. Jesus is holy. One definition of holy is â€œperfect fulfillment of all that God is and all that He requires.â€ Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament and fulfilled all the requirements of God. Holy can also mean â€œset apartâ€ or â€œdedicated to the service of God.â€ In that sense, our bible is holy, our church is holy, they are set apart for the service of God. That is their only function. Jesus, too, was set apart and entirely dedicated to becoming our hope in salvation.
B. Blameless. Innocent. Jesus had no sins of His own He had to atone for. The Levitical priests had to offer atonement for themselves first before they could offer atonement for others. Jesus had no need to do that, He was a perfect sacrifice.
C. Pure. Unstained. Undefiled. Little imperfections in the presence of something great are magnified into something destructive. The little piece of foam that fell off the space shuttle left an imperfection that destroyed it. A balloon with a pinprick in it doesnâ€™t stay a balloon. Jesus was pure and unblemished, and can stand in the glory of the Lord.
D. Set apart from sinners. This is a moral separation, not a physical separation. He was able to walk among us and remain free from sin and never fell to temptation. Jesus was able to walk among sinners without being a sinner.
E. Exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 1 opened up describing how Jesus is better than angels. And He is for us. Jesus has entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain and into the presence of the holy of holies. And the glorious things is that Jesus did it for us.
Where is your hope today? Is it in your spouse? Is it in your job? Is it in your appearance? Is it in your friends? Where is your hope today?
Place your hope in Jesus and Jesus alone, because Jesus is perfect and nothing is better than perfect.