Sunday, September 30, 2012
“The Imperfection of Levi” [Hebrews 7:11-14] September 30, 2012 Second Reformed Church A friend of mine who is practicing Judaism these days posted on her Facebook that she didn't need Jesus, because she has Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. The message was a short but important one: if we can do something to make ourselves right with God, do we need Jesus? This past Tuesday evening began the twenty-five hour holiday of Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition. Yom Kippur is “the Day of Atonement” which God commanded believers in Ancient Israel to keep every year. We have a description of what is to be done on the day of Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16. Let me summarize it for us: God commanded Aaron, who was the high priest at that time, not to go into the Holy of Holies or he would die. But on one day a year, on Yom Kippur, the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies after the following was done: the high priest was to take a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for himself. Then he was to bathe and put on the priestly garments that God had given to the high priest. Then he was to take two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering for the people. Then he would take the two goats chosen for the people and cast lots – one goat would be given to God and one goat would be given to the devil. Then he would slaughter the animals that he chose for himself to make atonement for his sins and his family’s sins. Then he would take a censor full of coals and placed two handfuls of incense on them and slide the incense into the Holy of Holies between the veils. Then he would take blood from the sacrifice and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant – that box which contained the Ten Commandments among other things. Then he would kill the goat of the sin offering for the people and bring the blood from the goat into the Holy of Holies and spread it on the Mercy Seat to make atonement for the people of God – to make the people of God right with God – that God would forgive their sins. Then he would come out and lay his hands on the live goat – which was called “the scapegoat”– and symbolically transferred all the sins of the people of Israel onto the goat, which they then released into the wilderness to the devil to die. After all this, the high priest and those helping him with the animals would bathe themselves and their clothes and burn the remaining parts of the animals. This was the Levitical Ceremonial Law for becoming right with God. As you might imagine, this does not happen in modern-day Judaism. Why not? For a number of reasons: there is no more Temple, there is no more Holy of Holies, there is no more Ark of Covenant, and there is no longer an offering of animals as blood sacrifices in Jewish worship. So what do modern Jews do for Yom Kippur? You may be aware that there are different traditions in Judaism today, but generally speaking, on the day of Yom Kippur, modern Jews do not work, they fast, and they attend services at synagogue. Their understanding is that in doing this, all of the sins they committed against God during the previous year are forgiven. (In checking the current Jewish understanding, one author noted that Yom Kippur has no effect as far as sins between you and another person – the celebration of Yom Kippur is only for the forgiveness of your sins against God.) [http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday4.htm, accessed 9/29/12]. That being said, we might question how they came to the conclusion that this was an acceptable substitute to what God has instituted. Nevertheless, we are faced with the question of whether or not there is another way to become right with God other than through Jesus Alone – we might also ask if the Levitical Ceremonial Law, which was instituted by the God we confess we believe in, is just as good as, or even preferable, to faith in Jesus Alone. (You may have heard – I have certainly heard – people say that there are two ways of salvation – keeping the Law for the Jews, and faith in Jesus Alone for everyone else.) That question is at the heart of what the Hebrew Christians were wondering: under persecution, they were asking themselves whether it was wise to continue in their confession of faith in Jesus Alone for salvation, or did it make more sense to turn back to what they knew to be God's way of becoming right with God – which Israel had observed for thousands of years – through the Levitical Ceremonies – including Yom Kippur. We saw that the author of Hebrews argues in chapter seven that it is foolish to return to Levitical laws. The author of Hebrews explains that there are two priesthoods that have been ordained by God: the priesthood, which began with Abram and ran through Aaron and Levi and the Levites, and the priesthood of Melchizedek. We saw the author of Hebrews argue that the priesthood of Melchizedek is of a higher order than the priesthood of Levi – and thus is to be preferred. He argues this is so for a number of reasons: when Abram and Melchizedek met after the slaughter of the kings, Melchizedek blessed Abram, Abram gave the tithe to Melchizedek, the priesthood of Abram through the Levites is one of succession, whereas the priesthood of Melchizedek is one of direct appointment by God, and thus the priesthood of the Levites ends, whereas the priesthood of Melchizedek is eternal, and all of these things show that the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Levi. The problem for humans is and always was and will always be, how can a person become right with God? In this morning’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews argues that perfection is not attainable through the Levitical Law – through the Levitical Sacrifices. What does God require to be right with God? Holiness. Perfection. Sinlessness. “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” The problem is sin. How can sinners become right with God? God provided a way through the Levitical priesthood to become right with God in a relative sort of way through the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. The reason we say it is in a relative sort of way is twofold: First, this sacrifice did not pay for the sins between people – it only made an individual right with God. Second, the blood that was shed to pay for the sins of the people was the blood of an animal – and an animal cannot rightly, fully, wholly take the place of a human being. For example: a number of people in this congregation have had children. Would there have been any problem, if, after the rigors of delivery, the doctor brought you a bull? Or ram? Would your expectation have been upset if you did not receive a human baby? Would you believe that a bull or ram is just as good – just as appropriate – just as fulfilling as a human child? Now, some of us have pets – and some of us like me who have pets have never had children, but as much as I love my pet, I know she is not really a human being. There is something lacking in my relationship with her that would be there in a relationship with a human child. Similarly, the author of Hebrews tells us that perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priesthood. It is not possible to become sinless and righteous through the keeping of the Levitical Law. It is not possible that a partial, temporary, being made right with God would be enough to make us truly right with Him on the Day of Judgment. In other words, let's say the animal sacrifice showed a person's willingness to repent, and then God had mercy upon the person, despite the fact that human blood was not shed for a human. Yet, in order for the atonement sacrifice to be complete and eternal, the blood that was shed had to be from a human who had never sinned, and who had perfectly kept all of God's Law. Do you see the problem? The author of Hebrews explains that God gave Israel the Levitical priesthood and the Levitical Law, but at the right time, God raised up another priest of the order of Melchizedek. The fact that God raised up another priest of the higher order of Melchizedek shows that the Levitical priesthood and the Levitical Law could not – and in fact was never intended – to truly, eternally make a person right with God. For example: If you have a desk lamp and you put a fifteen watt light bulb in it, and you realize that a fifteen watt light bulb will not give you enough light to do your work, it doesn't matter how long you use the fifteen watt light bulb, it will never be enough. It will always be imperfect for that job. But if you take a sixty watt light bulb and put it in the desk lamp and the light shines brightly and you can do the work that you need to do – that is proof that the fifteen watt light bulb was not enough. It was imperfect for the job, and it proves that the sixty watt light bulb was of a higher order. It was greater than the fifteen watt light bulb in being able to do the job required. Similarly, the author of Hebrews says, if the Levitical priesthood and its Law had been enough – if it had been perfect for what the Hebrews needed – for what the people of God needed, then God would not have sent another priest after the order of Melchizedek. But since God did send another priest after the order of Melchizedek, it is proof that the Levitical priesthood and its Law was not enough to make the people right with God – it was not enough to make atonement. Does that make sense? The author of Hebrews continues by considering what the consequences are that a new priest of the order of Melchizedek would arise rather than a new priest from the order of Levi – a son of Aaron. And he says: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” The two priesthoods have different laws. The laws of the Levitical priesthood were partial and temporary in their effect, whereas the laws of Melchizedek's priesthood are complete and eternal in their effect. With the rising up of a new priest after the order of Melchizedek – a priest of the higher order of Melchizedek – he takes preeminence over the Ceremonial Law. Why? Because as we have said the order of Melchizedek is a greater order of priesthood than the order of Levi. If we have a priest of the order of Levi and a new priest after the order of Melchizedek and the order of Melchizedek is greater than the order of Levi, so the priest of Melchizedek is greater than the priest of Levi. So, if there has been a change in the priesthood, then there is a change in the law, and the old law is no longer valid. The old law was an imperfect shadow of the new law, which is perfect and real. Are you with me? During the election – such as we are coming up upon – one candidate promises to do this and another candidate promises to do that and we believe that the candidate who promises to do this will do this if he is elected and the candidate who does promises to do that will do that if he is elected. If the one who currently holds the office does not continue in his position, the expectation is that the person who takes his office will do things differently. In a similar way, we see the two priesthoods: the Levitical priesthood, which does things in one way, and the priesthood of Melchizedek, which does things in another way – and we are told in the Scripture that the priesthood of Melchizedek – as the author of Hebrews is arguing throughout this chapter – is of greater order of priesthood – it is a more perfect, a more whole, a more complete priesthood. “For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.” Not only is there a change in the priesthood, the author of Hebrews explains, but the priest now comes from a tribe where a priest has never come before. From the earliest days of the nation of Israel, God said the priest shall come from the tribe of Levi, but the priest who arose after the order of Melchizedek did not come from the tribe of Levi. This would have been revolutionary: you don't just take a priest from any tribe – God said the priest shall come from the tribe of Levi, but not so with the priest of the order of Melchizedek. It's like saying that the governor of New Jersey has always been a New Jersey resident, and suddenly the person who is elected governor of New Jersey is someone who lives in Missouri. A change has occurred. As far as the priest who arose after the order of Melchizedek, the change was to fulfill the prophecies made from the beginning of the Savior Who God would send to make all of His people eternally right with Him. “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” Jesus, the Incarnate God, was born into the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi, and He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Christ's Priesthood – after the order of Melchizedek – replaces the Levitical priesthood – He does not continue to serve under the Levitical priesthood, but He does away with it by faith. And here we have another difference between the two priesthoods: the priesthood of Levi was effectively a priesthood of works – works that no mere human being, born after Adam, could ever perform completely and sinlessly. The Priesthood of Jesus Christ – after the order of Melchizedek – is a priesthood of faith – of faith in Jesus Alone, in His Works, in His Sinless Life, in His keeping of all of God's Law on our behalf. So again the author of Hebrews is turning to his brothers and sisters in the faith who are suffering persecution and saying to them, “Look, the priesthood of Levi is imperfect; it could never completely and eternally make atonement with God – no one could ever be right with God for eternity through the keeping of the Levitical Law. But through Jesus, who is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek – of the tribe of Judah and not of the tribe of Levi – He came to earth, God Himself in human flesh, to live sinlessly under God's Law, to die for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Him, that we might have atonement with God through Him, that we might be made right with God eternally through Him. That's why it doesn't make sense to turn back to the Levitical Law – that's why it doesn't make sense to try to work your way to heaven – it cannot be done. At the very best, through the Levitical Law, a person is partially, temporarily made right with God, and that is not enough. Paul wrote, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:1-4, ESV). And again Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:2-11, ESV). Then what's the point of the Law today? What is the point of the Levitical sacrifices? Does it mean we can throw out the Old Testament? Is it all a waste of paper, since we know Jesus has come? No. The Old Testament Law still has a number of purposes – one of which Paul describes while denying that we can be saved through the Levitical Law: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, ESV). Well, why didn't God just stick with Melchizedek’s priesthood from the beginning? Why did God give the Levitical priesthood to Abram? Why did God confuse the issue of how to become right with Him? He didn't. God's promise from the beginning was that salvation would come through God the Savior, not our works – even Abram knew that: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13, ESV). The author of Hebrews continues to argue his point that Jesus, high priest of the order of Melchizedek, is a greater high priest than Abram and Aaron and Levi and all of the Levitical priests. The point he is making to the Hebrews and all of us who read this is that no matter what happens to us for the sake of Christ, believing and following and obeying Him, is the greater path and our only sure hope. God promised from the Garden that He would send the Savior, and the prophets recorded that the Savior would come from the tribe of Judah. The prophets also told that the Savior would come as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. And we continue to see that the order of the high priesthood of Melchizedek is higher than the order of Levi. Today we saw that the priesthood of Levi is imperfect because it is temporary and partial, whereas the priesthood of Melchizedek is complete and eternal. And since Jesus came from a different tribe and a different priesthood, we are now under a different law, so it is foolish and useless to return to the Levitical Law in search of salvation. And some ask, “Well, who would do that?” I told you, my friend on Facebook said that she doesn’t need Jesus, because she has Yom Kippur. I’m sure many of us have friends who say they don’t need Jesus because they are better than most people – they are good people, they don’t need a Savior. In one way or another, everyone who denies Jesus to be God the Savior is saying that they believe they can make it on their own. It’s a fool’s wager. God requires holiness. Let us pray: Almighty God, we thank You for Jesus, High Priest after the order of Melchizedek for His people. We thank You that You took the work of salvation upon Yourself and did not leave us in our sin. Help us to understand that You are the Holy God Who cannot tolerate sin in Your Presence. And help us to understand the depths of the wickedness of sin. And spur us on to let others know that there is salvation, but only through Jesus. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
I'm sorry about the lack of paragraphs in my positng recently. Something seems to have changed in the way my posts are put up, and I haven't been able to figure out how to get the paragraphs back yet. If anyone knows what's going on can help me, I would appreciate it.
Monday, September 24, 2012
“Do You Fish?” [Matthew 4:18-22] March 4, 2012 Second Reformed Church September 23, 2012 Hope Reformed Church Do you fish? During this past Lent, I preached and taught on five foci – or principles – of church growth. We noted that when we talk about “church growth,” we do not merely mean increasing the number of people who attend any given worship service or increasing the amount of money in the offering plate. God tells us that it is God’s job to “add to [our] number” (Acts 2:47b. ESV). In preaching through that series of sermons, we saw that there are a number of ways in which we ought to be engaged, which God does use to grow us – that is, we grow in faith and obedience – that is what biblical church growth is – it’s growing in faith and obedience. One of those five areas that we discovered is evangelism. Now, God is Sovereign over salvation; we cannot force people to believe and become part of the Church. We’ll say more about that in a minute. However, lest we go to the opposite extreme, let us understand that you and I – but especially you – must be engaged in evangelism. And here we have the principal or foci of church growth related to evangelism: if we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to evangelize. If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to evangelize. Well, what does that mean? In the section of Scripture just before this morning’s text, we read that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness preparing Himself for His Ministry. Once that time was up, He came out of the wilderness and chose twelve men to be His inner circle – the apostles. Our text concerns the call of the first four apostles, though what we learn here applies to all. “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me,’ Let us understand first this morning that Jesus commands the apostles – and us – to follow Him. The phrase that is translated “follow me” in our text is in the imperative – it is a command. Jesus does not say, “If you guys would like to follow Me, I will do this and that.” He does not ask them, “Hey guys, would you like to follow Me and be part of my new ministry?” What Jesus said, literally, is “You, get over here, get behind me.” Jesus commanded Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him. And this would not have been as shocking as it may seem today. In that day, teachers were often peripatetics – that is, the teacher walked around town, and his disciples – his followers – his students would follow behind him, listening, learning, and interacting with their teacher. Walking behind the teacher was a sign of respect: the teacher leads, because he is the teacher. This method of commanding the student to follow may have been strong, but it was not unheard of, and it is how we understand biblical salvation. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV). They key word is “draws,” and we often read this as though Jesus said that the Father “entices” or “woos” a person to salvation. For example, “Hello, woo-hoo, would you, could, you, please believe in Me?” But that is not what the word means. Here, the word “draws” comes from the imagery of pulling a heavy, full bucket of water up from the bottom of a deep well – you draw the water up, and from the imagery of dragging a fugitive into court – you draw him into the court. In both cases, the word could be translated “drag” and means “compelled.” We compel a bucket full of water to come up from the bottom of the well, and we compel a fugitive to come to court. Similarly, God compels us to believe – to salvation. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me [compels] him.” No one comes to God of his or her own free will: we naturally hate God and seek to run away from Him and rebel against Him. God has to go after those He has chosen to be His and drag us back to Him, changing out our heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. God said, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 11:19, ESV). Jesus commanded the apostles to come and follow in a similar way that God commands us to come to Him in salvation. We are compelled to believe and follow Jesus, just as these fishermen were. “’ and I will make you’” Let us understand, secondly, that Jesus promises to empower – to make – the apostles – and us – exactly who He wants us to be – and able to do what He wants us to do. God empowers us through the giving of God the Holy Spirit, and then we receive grace to do the work God calls us to through the reading and hearing of the Word of God preached, through the Sacraments – including the Lord’s Supper, through prayer, and so forth. Jesus said, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:4-15, ESV). Jesus promises to equip them for the work. The work that Jesus called the apostles to in this passage – and calls us to as well – is work that we cannot do on our own – Jesus makes us able to do this work. And Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to be taught and guided as Christians. “fishers of men.” Thirdly, Jesus made them “fishers of men.” Have you ever been fishing? When I was young, my father would take me fishing in Cape May. We would walk out on the jetties and cast our lines out into the sea – and on a few occasions, we also went out in a boat. You put food or an attractive lure on the line, throw it in the water, and wait for something to bite. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, practiced a larger scale of fishing, where they would throw nets into the water and wait to see what would swim into it and get caught in it, and then they would haul the fish in. Notice, neither with a fishing line, nor with a net, does the fisherman try to convince the fish to put the hook on or to swim into the net. No fisherman will ever lean over the boat and say “Here fishy, fishy, come into the net I’ve set out for you – bite the hook on my line.” No, what they do is throw out the line – or net – and wait. They do not cause the fish to bite the hook or swim into the net. They cast out and patiently wait. The same is true with evangelism – with fishing for men, which is why Jesus used the expression. We are to throw out the line and wait for God to draw – compel – a person to it. The line that we throw out – the net that we throw out – is the Gospel. Our job is to tell people the Gospel – that’s being a fisher of men. God draws – drags – the people in as He will. Evangelism is not about getting one more person to pray “the sinner’s prayer” – it is to clearly present the Gospel and see what God does with it. And you might be saying to yourself, “It’s all well and good for the apostles to tell people about the Gospel, and it’s all well and good for you to tell people about the Gospel, but that’s not my thing. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not comfortable telling other people anything about Jesus. Anyway, isn’t it the pastor’s job to do the evangelism?” And so we need to understand that God has called – commanded – all Christians to be evangelists. Everyone here who believes savingly in Jesus Alone must tell others the Gospel. Where does it say that? Listen to these Scriptures: The first two texts were spoken to the eleven apostles, but we understand what Jesus said to apply to all Christians throughout time, as we see in Scripture – in texts like the others I will read following it: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15, ESV). “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV). “And there arose on that day [the day of Stephen’s martyrdom] a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1-3, ESV). “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21, ESV). The example we receive of the text is that all of the Christians of the early Church applied Jesus’ Command to evangelize to themselves. They recognized that evangelism is the duty of every Christian. Every Christian must tell other people the Gospel. If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to evangelize. If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to tell other people the Gospel. Remember, evangelism is not getting someone to commit to anything, much less get them to convert to Christianity. Remember, conversion is God’s job, not ours. We do not have the authority or the ability to cause someone to convert. We do, however, have the command, and the ability – given to us by Jesus through God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us – to evangelize – to tell other people the Gospel. So, fourth, we see, we must know what the Gospel is! What is the Gospel? Paul gives, perhaps, the briefest summary in I Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, ESV). The Gospel is relating something that happened in history. You don’t need to be a great theologian to tell someone what the Gospel is – you could even be a fisherman. Here’s the Gospel: Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. Can you remember that? Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. Do you believe it? Evangelism is telling those historical facts to others. And all Christians must tell others. “I can’t do it,” some of you are thinking. I am too inhibited to go door to door and tell people. I’m not good at talking to strangers. Evangelism is not about going door to door. There are people who are gifted in going door to door, but that is not evangelism. Do you know any of your neighbors? Do you have any friends? Do you know the name of your mail carrier, or the clerks at the stores where you shop? Do you ever talk to any of these people? Do they know you are a Christian? Have you ever said, “Would you like to visit my church?” If the people you are regularly in contact with have no idea you’re a Christian, something is wrong. They should know by the way you act and the things you say. Every Christian is commanded to tell those few historical facts. Then it’s God’s job what He does with them. Our job is to tell people: Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. Let me give you an unexpected example: On the Wednesday before I first preached on this point at Second Reformed, I went to Whole Foods to get some information and a couple of items that are not available in the other stores I shop in. I said “hello” to the healthy food specialist, whom I met at a book signing in February. Since February, I have attended some of her healthy cooking classes, and most of the time I was wearing my clerics, so she knew I am a minster. I had said nothing to her about the church or the Gospel – until that Wednesday, when she asked, “May I ask you a question about religion?” I spent the next hour and a half listening to her story, and I told her that we believe that everyone is a sinner, and because we are sinners, we are separated from God, and we can’t make things right. I told her that I preach and we believe that Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. She asked a few questions related to her story, and thanked me for talking with her, and I gave her my card and invited her to worship with us. That’s evangelism. I didn’t give her any fancy theological stuff. I didn’t press her for a decision. I told her that God and humans have a problem, and the only way to make things right is to believe that Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. What God does with that is up to God. But, I told her the Gospel and I left it open to her to ask more questions. Are you able to do that? Repeat after me: Jesus came to earth. Lived. Died for our sins. And physically rose from the dead. Again: Jesus came to earth. Lived. Died for our sins. And physically rose from the dead. One more time: Jesus came to earth. Lived. Died for our sins. And physically rose from the dead. Have you got it? Are you able to say that to someone that you know well? If not, can you say, “I’d like you to visit my church, my pastor has something he wants to say to you”? “Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22, ESV). Fifth, and finally, let us notice that the fishermen: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, followed Jesus immediately. They immediately knew the authority in His Voice and followed Him as He commanded. What about us? When Jesus commands us to do something, do we immediately drop everything – even the very life that we were leading – to follow Him? Are we ready and willing to drop everything when Jesus calls? Can we do any less for God Who became human, lived under His Own Law, and allowed Himself to be put to death for us – for our sins – and then physically rose from the dead, so we would be right with God? In our text, we see five things: Jesus commands us to follow Him. Jesus gives us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and with Him equips us to do everything He has commanded us to do. Jesus has commanded us to be “fishers of men” – evangelists. That means we are to tell others the Gospel: Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. And since Jesus is our Savior, we ought to obey Him immediately. Brothers and sisters, if we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to evangelize. If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus’ Command to tell others the Gospel: Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead. Let us pray: Almighty God, we are intimidated by the task of evangelism. Forgive us for our sin, and give us the grace to be able to open our mouths and say, “Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead.” Increase our love for others that we would pray and desire to let others know the only way to be right with You. Put those words in our mouths, give us love abounding, so this week – and even this very day – we would have the opportunity and would, indeed, tell others the Gospel. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Randy Alcorn's devotional, 90 Days of God's Goodness: Daily Reflections That Shine Light On Personal Darkness, is a book that I have savored for many months now. The readings average three pages, beginning with the Scripture, then a meditation on the Scripture often including quotes and insights from famous Christians of times past and present, and ending with a prayer. These devotions were crafted to assist those who wonder, “If God is good why is there so much evil and suffering?” Alcorn largely addresses the questions by leading us to look at the hope of the future that we have in Christ – not merely as spirit bodies, but, as resurrected flesh and blood people living in the kingdom. In 90 different ways Alcorn looks at the suffering of the world, more and sit and confesses it to be true, and then points us on to the hope that we have in Jesus. I appreciated the use of Scripture to begin each meditation as well as his prayer to conclude each one, but above of all, is the meditations themselves in the wealth of examples of quotations from persons other than himself that make this work stand out and be helpful to a wide variety of people. The book not only helps one to come to some sort of peace with suffering in the world. But it raises questions and makes one think about what the kingdom will be like. That is not to say that Alcorn has been there or knows all perfectly – as one reads through the meditations, he moves back and forth between using the word “heaven” and describing the physical kingdom of earth that we will live on in our resurrected bodies. I must say I was not sure how Alcorn conceives of the kingdom or heaven – he certainly affirms that our resurrected bodies will be physical bodies, but at times it seemed as though heaven and the new earth were different places, other times that they were the same place, and other times where there was almost a merger or a connection between the two (cf. 128). Perhaps that is simply a matter of working with what the Scripture tells us in not knowing all the details. Again, this is a book that will make the reader think and question and look back at what the Bible actually says not only about suffering and evil, but about what is prepared for us after death. There were times I questioned how he came to his conclusions: for example, on page 149, he states that Hal is the absence of God. While I have heard that before, I'm not sure that is clear biblically. Also in meditation 48 he seems to indicate that it would be possible for God to lose some of the elect. On page 264, he states that death was not part of God's original plan, but that human sin brought it into the world against God’s Will. This is an idea I cannot accept – the Fall and all of its results were part of God's original plan to glorify Himself through the sending of His Savior – that is what I read in Scripture. Overall I found this to be an excellent book, a thought-provoking book, a biblical book – one that will help many people –whether struggling with sin and evil and suffering now or at some point in the future. Although Alcorn is not infallible, this book is well worth reading, taking days, weeks, months to meditate on, and then to turn back to the Scripture and think about the glorious reality that will be when Jesus returns. [This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]
Monday, September 17, 2012
“Greater Than Abraham”
September 16, 2012 Second Reformed Church
One of the difficulties in reading the book of Hebrews is that we do not normally use the language of the sacrificial system anymore – we don't normally consider sacrificing animals as a way that people would be made right with God – or even that those sacrifices of animals was a foreshadowing of the way that people would eternally be made right with God through the Savior He would send.
As civilized Americans, we rarely slaughter animals as part of our religious beliefs – now religion is clean and free of blood – and so we miss the central problem in the book of Hebrews: which sacrificial system is best? Is Jesus really the Savior that God sent? Is He really God in the flesh? Is He really the perfect high priest who is able to offer up Himself to save all those who would believe in Him by dying for our debt and crediting us with His Righteousness? Or, is it too risky to believe in Jesus? Is it too risky to believe that He is the One that God had promised 6000 years ago? Would we be safer following the sacrificial system that God instituted through Moses and Aaron and Levi?
That's where this group of Hebrew Christians was in their thinking 2000 years ago, when the author of Hebrews wrote to them. They were suffering persecution and wondered if it might be safer – wiser – to go back to the sacrificial system that they had known all of their lives – to the sacrificial system that would bring peace between them and the other Jews – as well as their Roman rulers – or should they continue to stand firm in what they had confessed and believed about Jesus, the Son of God?
Last week we began to look at chapter seven of the book of Hebrews, and we noted the chapter seven is really the linchpin of the book of Hebrews – chapter seven addresses the central question or problem of the whole letter – and the author of Hebrews introduces us – or reintroduces us – to the high priest of God Most High, and the King of Salem, who was Melchizedek.
And we saw that there are reasons to believe that Melchizedek was a real human being who foreshadowed Jesus, the Savior, in many ways. We considered the first point of chapter seven – that being that the line of Aaron and the Levites are not the only line of priests that God authorized – there is also the priestly line of Melchizedek. And here's the difference between the two: the line of priests in the Levitical priesthood was a line of succession from father to son, whereas the line of the priesthood of Melchizedek was not one of succession, but was of God calling individuals to be high priest eternally.
And we considered, then, that if the priesthood of the Levites was one that only lasted for a term, and the priesthood of Melchizedek is one that lasts eternally, then the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Aaron and the Levites by virtue of its eternally – of its lasting nature.
In this next section, the author of Hebrews argues that the priesthood of Melchizedek is of a higher order than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites. And the argument of the author of Hebrews is really quite simple: people of lesser rank give respect to those of higher rank. So let's see how this works out:
“See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham”
First, the author of Hebrews points out – as we saw in the book of Genesis last week – when Abram and Melchizedek met after the slaughter of the Kings, Abram, who was the father of Aaron and the Levites and the Levitical priesthood, and Melchizedek of the priesthood of Melchizedek, stood before each other – they each represented a priesthood authorized by God – yet without hesitation, Abram gave the tithe – 10% of all of his profits from the war – to Melchizedek for him to offer to God. As we read: “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20b, ESV).
Both men and their priestly lines had received the command from God to receive 10% of the income of all the people of God and to offer it to God for His Work on earth. There was no discussion. There was no quarrel. Abram recognized that Melchizedek’s priesthood was of a higher order than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and Levi, and that is why Abram gave the tithe to Melchizedek.
Does that make sense?
Let’s pretend you are a cashier at a store that you do not own. During the day, people make purchases and give you money, which you put in your drawer. The money is to go to the owner of the store, but your manager comes along and collects the money instead of your giving it directly to the store owner. Both you and your manager work for the store owner, but your manager is of a higher order within the store, so, if he or she comes, you would defer to him or her and hand over your money drawer.
Similarly, Abram and Melchizedek, both represented priestly lines authorized by God. But Abram recognized that Melchizedek's line was of a higher order, so Abram offered the tithes to Melchizedek for him to offer to God.
Here, we are considering the relative position – or the order – of the two priestly lines. We are not considering the character or the morality of Abram and Melchizedek, only that one line is greater and one line is lesser – one line is a higher order of priesthood – Melchizedek’s – and one line – Abram’s – is lower. And the proof that Melchizedek’s order is the higher order of the two is that although both priesthoods were commanded to collect the tithes, Abram turned the tithes over to Melchizedek when he met him.
“And blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”
As we read last week: “And [Melchizedek] blessed [Abram] and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’” (Genesis 14:19-20a, ESV).
Second, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and the author of Hebrews argues it is beyond dispute – everyone agrees – that the superior person blesses the inferior person – and not the other way around. The person who holds a superior position blesses the person who holds an inferior position. In other words, the ability to bless someone indicates authority or power.
We frequently see, in Scripture, fathers blessing their sons (or grandsons) before they die. For example, we read: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21, ESV). In this case the father is superior to the child – he has authority and power that the child does not. This makes parents of a higher order than the child – both of them are humans but because the father holds a higher position in the family, the father blesses the child and not vice versa.
In the Scripture, we see Jesus, priests, and the apostles pronouncing blessings on the people – we do not see the laity pronouncing a blessing on Jesus or the priests or the apostles. Jesus answered Peter and said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17, ESV). Aaron blessed the people of Israel by saying, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, ESV). And so forth.
The reason a pastor gives the benediction – the “good word” – a blessing – at the end of the service is because of the position he holds as the pastor. The priests, the apostles, and pastors are not better or holier than anyone else, but they are of a higher order as far as giving blessings in the worship order is concerned. So, the blessing is given by the apostle, the priest, or the pastor to the laity – or by Jesus to His Church – and not vice versa.
“In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives.”
And here we have a sentence that may cause us to reconsider what we said about Melchizedek last week. Last week we said there are really only two possible explanations for who Melchizedek is – either he is a Christophany – a pre-incarnate visible appearing of the Son of God – or he is a man, named Melchizedek, who, in many ways, foreshadowed Jesus, the Son of God. Last week I argued that the better understanding is that Melchizedek was a real human being and not a Christophany.
So then what are we to do with this verse that tells us that that tithes are received by mortal man, but in “the other case” – in the case of Melchizedek – the tithes were received by someone who lives – who is eternal? Is the author of Hebrews giving more support now to the idea of Melchizedek being a Christophany? The answer is “no.”
We need to remember that the most important thing in the comparison between Abram, Aaron, and Levi and Melchizedek is not the men, themselves, but their priesthood – the nature of the office that they held – the rank of the priesthood they held in regards to the other priesthood.
We will remember the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites, was for a term, and, at the most, a person served until his death, and then his son would take over. That was not the case in the priesthood of Melchizedek: the priesthood of Melchizedek was an eternal priesthood – in this sense: the priesthood was given by God to Melchizedek and it was never taken away – it was never given to his descendant – it was his eternally. It is in this way we understand that the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites, was a mortal priesthood: The priest died, and he did not hold his office after he died – it passed on to his descendants, whereas the priesthood of Melchizedek is a living priesthood – an eternal priesthood – it was unending even though Melchizedek died – the office of the high priest of God Most High never ended and never will end – it is never taken away, never passed on, it is eternal. (Remember, the point the author of Hebrews is making here is about the office of the priesthood and not about any particular priest.)
So the third argument for the priesthood of Melchizedek being of a higher order than that of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites is that the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites ended with death – it was a finite priesthood. But the priesthood of Melchizedek is eternal. And that which never dies is greater than that which does die. So the priesthood of Melchizedek is of a higher order than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites.
“One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”
The author of Hebrews ends this section by addressing one argument: that argument is: Levi was not present when Abram met Melchizedek, so it is unfair to say that Levi is of a lower order than Melchizedek. Abram may have been of a lower order that Melchizedek, one could argue, but that does not prove that Levi would be of a lower order than that of the Melchizedek.
But the author of Hebrews answers, “Yes, it really does mean that. If the priesthood of Abram was of a lower order than Melchizedek, so was the order of Levi lower than the order of Melchizedek.”
We know that some generations after Abram, Levi was born. So there is a direct connection biologically between Abram and Levi. Abram had children who had children who had children who gave birth to Levi. So we can say that Levi – though he was not yet born – was in the loins of Abram – he was part of the biological generation of the people that would occur – Levi would be born somewhere down the line. The fact that Levi was not there in person does not make a difference, because he was part of the line of priests from Abram to Aaron to Levi – there is no disruption of the line – Levi was born into the line of the finite priesthood, which became the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament.
In fact, we can say, symbolically, that since Abram and Levi were of the same line in the same priesthood that when Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek, Levi also paid tithes to Melchizedek. This is the idea of federal headship – and the idea of representative government. Just as Adam was the representative of humanity before God in the Garden, and all of mere humanity inherited the results his sin, so when Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek, as part of that priestly order that followed out from him, all of the priests, including Levi after him, also took their place in submission to Melchizedek, as though they had paid their tithes to him.
And so we see that the priesthood of Melchizedek was of a higher order than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites – for these reasons: First, Abram gave tithes to Melchizedek, showing his submission to Melchizedek's priesthood. Second, Melchizedek blessed Abram, showing his authority over Abram. Third, Melchizedek's priesthood is eternal, and therefore greater than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites, because their priesthood was finite. And fourth, Abram acted as the representative head of the whole priestly line, which included the Levites, and since he acted as representative, everything he did applied to his descendants. And since he submitted himself and offered tithes to Melchizedek, symbolically, all of his descendants submitted and offered tithes to Melchizedek, and in fact, this shows that the priesthood of Melchizedek is of a higher order than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites.
So how does this help answer the question of whether the Hebrews should turn back to the Old Testament sacrifices, or whether they should continue to stand for and confess and believe in the high priesthood, and Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God?
The answer is found in the promise that God made in the Psalms to the Savior He would send: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4, ESV).
Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Therefore, Jesus is superior – He is greater – He is of a higher order – than the priesthood of Abram, Aaron, and the Levites. Since Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, His Priestly Work is greater than the Old Testament sacrificial system. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to go back – Jesus fulfills and ends the Levitical priesthood. How does He do that? He does that by being the Only Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Whose office is not only eternal, but He Himself is eternal – being not merely a human being, but also the Eternal God. Lord willing, we'll talk more about this in a couple of weeks.
For now, we prepare to turn to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – that celebration that Jesus has given us in place of sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Since Jesus has already accomplished salvation through His Work as Priest and Sacrifice, we need not and ought not to offer any other blood sacrifice. Nor does Jesus need to be offered again – His Work of Salvation is finished.
We receive the bread and the wine neither to earn salvation nor to make Jesus’ Sacrifice complete, but to meet with Jesus Himself, remembering and having hope in the Gospel. As we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus is here, and He gifts us with the grace we need to be His people.
So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the symbols of the Old Testament sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood which pointed to Jesus and shows all those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, that Jesus is of a higher order of priesthood, and He Alone can save us from our sin and make us righteous in Your Sight. We give You thanks and ask that You would continue to work in us and through us and make us into the Image of Your Son. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Last night at 7 PM, we began our study of The Apostle's Creed. We looked at the idea that we have creeds in order to remember fundamental doctrine and teach and also to counter error. We concluded at even "non-creedal" denominations hold to creeds. We saw that The Apostles' Creed was not written by the apostles and it changed over the centuries, until about 600 A.D., when it came into the form we use today. We concluded by noting that the Scripture -- the Word of God -- is the inerrant and infallible Word, which never changes, and which alone has the final say, even if the creeds must change. We plan to begin to look at the propositions of the creed next week. Join us at 7 PM Tuesday evening!
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
September 9, 2012 Second Reformed Church
Three times now in the book of Hebrews, we have read the author of Hebrews state that Jesus is “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” We've understood from the author of Hebrews that Jesus is our Forerunner – our Leader – into salvation because He is “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” And we understood from last week's description of an anchor that the forerunner was the person who went out in a boat to tie the ship to the anchor – so we understand that Jesus has secured our salvation by Himself. Our salvation is entirely Jesus’ Work and we can be assured of our salvation because He has tied it to His Gospel which is immovable. Yet, we have not seen what it means that Jesus is “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” I hope that makes us wonder “who was Melchizedek?” and “what does it mean to be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek?”
One of the most important general lessons we need to learn from this morning’s Scripture is that when we reach a portion of Scripture that is difficult or confusing, we ought not to skip over it. When we come to a Scripture that doesn't make sense or doesn't seem to fit or confuses us in some way, we ought to ask questions that help us clarify it. There may be times when we can't reach a conclusion – at least not immediately – but if there is a Scripture that you don't understand, you ought to go back to it and go back to it and go back to it until you have some understanding of it – until it makes sense within the whole context of the Scripture. (We ought to also ask each other what we understand, and we ought to look to good Christian writers throughout the ages to see what their understanding of difficult passages has been.)
Something else we ought to understand from this morning’s Scripture – and this is not the first time this was true for me in the book of Hebrews – as we continue to study the Word of God and understand it better, our understanding of the text might change. Some of you will remember that I wrote about Melchizedek in our newsletter a couple of years ago and I said something very different in that newsletter than what I am going to say this morning – and I hope you will understand why.
We need to keep in mind that the author of Hebrews was addressing a group of people who were questioning whether Jesus is the Savior or not. They had confessed their faith in Him, but they had begun to doubt under persecution. They had begun to wonder if they should return to the sacrificial system. At this point in the letter of Hebrews, the author addresses his main point: Jesus is greater than Levi – Jesus is greater than the approved priesthood of the Old Testament. And the author of Hebrews is going to take some time explaining why this is true – and if it is true that Jesus is greater than Levi, then it is ridiculous to return to the Old Testament sacrifices because they are something inferior to the Work of Jesus.
We have heard our Scripture read this morning, and we do well to look at the one other Scripture that tells us something about Melchizedek as we try to understand who he was. (There is one psalm that mentions him as well, but it does not add any historical information.) Almost everything we know about Melchizedek comes from the history recorded in Genesis about his meeting with Abram:
“In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
“Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
“Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
“After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’
“And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. And the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share’” (Genesis 14, ESV).
God had called Abram out of the land of Ur and promised to make a great people from him – one whose seed would bless all the nations. God told Abram to leave and to travel to Canaan and to take the land that God would give him. Initially, Abram and his nephew, Lot, travel together.
The time came when their flocks had grown so large that they needed to divide and separate in order to keep the flocks alive. Abram gave Lot the choice, and he chose to live in Sodom and to raise his flocks there.
The time came when a group of kings created an alliance and attacked Sodom, and the king of Sodom formed an alliance of kings to fight alongside of him, but the king of Sodom and his forces lost, and Lot and his family and his possessions were taken into captivity.
One member of Lot’s household escaped and ran to tell Abram. Abram gathered 318 of his soldiers together and set out against the kings. He chased them as far as the north of Damascus, and there he slaughtered them, and saved his nephew, his family, and his possessions.
When Abram returned, the king of Sodom went to meet him and also the king of Salem, Melchizedek, came to meet him – and Melchizedek offered him bread and wine. And the text tells us that Melchizedek was the high priest to El Shaddai – to God Most High. Abram received the bread and wine from Melchizedek, and Melchizedek blessed Abram in the Name of God Most High, and Abram offered Melchizedek 10% of everything that he won in his battle against the kings.
The history ends with the king of Sodom saying that he would not take anything from Abram, but Abram refused and said that those who helped fight in the war would each receive their share because he would not let it be said that the king of Sodom made him rich.
All clear now, isn't it?
Here our text again: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”
We have a king who lived during the time of Abram. He is mentioned once in history and never again. He offered bread and wine to Abram and blessed him, and he accepted the offering of the tithe. The name, “Melchizedek,” means “the king of righteousness.” His title was “the king of Salem,” which means “the king of peace.” And we are told that he had no parents, no children, no beginning and no end, but he was like the Son of God and his priesthood continues forever. Who is Melchizedek?
If you look at the discussions over the centuries, there are many candidates: it has been argued that Melchizedek is an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Rahab, a pre-incarnate visitation of Jesus, the Son of God, or the true earthly father of Jesus. There are really only two possibilities that hold water: a pre-incarnate visitation of Jesus, the Son of God, or a man named Melchizedek, who was king of Salem.
There are in theology two concepts – one called a theophany and another called a Christophany. A theophany is an appearing of God, in a visible way other than the Incarnation of the Son of God – an example of this could be the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus at His Baptism. A Christophany is a pre-incarnate visible appearing of the Son of God before the Incarnation – some people have argued that Melchizedek was a Christophany – that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate visible appearing of the Son of God before the Incarnation – that is what I had argued in the newsletter – after all, we have someone who is called the king of righteousness and peace, the text tells us he has no forerunners and no descendants, he gave bread and wine and receive the tithe. That certainly sounds like someone who is more than human – and the symbols are very much of God.
However, I am now convinced that that is a mistaken opinion – Melchizedek was not a Christophany – Melchizedek was not a pre-incarnate visible appearing of the Son of God before the Incarnation. As I read through commentaries on this passage this week and studied the text, one argument above all others, has driven me to the other major conclusion about who Melchizedek was – that he was a man named Melchizedek, the king of Salem – that reason is God requires a priest to be human. If Melchizedek was Christophany, then he could not have been the priest of God Most High, because he would not have been human. If Melchizedek was the priest of God Most High, then he must have been human and could not have been God.
Other points to notice in the text that indicate that Melchizedek was a human is that there is absolutely nothing that specifically states that he is divine. Also, the text does say that Melchizedek “resembled” the Son of God – he was “like” the Son of God – it does not say he “was” the Son of God.
So how do we understand Melchizedek and what is said about him?
Melchizedek's name means “the king of righteousness.” “Righteous” does not mean holy – even if we take Melchizedek's name to be an actual description of who he was, we have examples of other people in the Bible who are called righteous relative to the general community. For example, Noah is said to be righteous (Genesis 6:9), yet we are told, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one;’” (Romans 3:10, ESV). So we can understand Melchizedek to be righteous in the sense of compared with the rest of the people around him.
He is also the king of Salem – that is, the king of peace. Again, this could be symbolic of how well he followed God in comparison with the other people of his age. It may also simply be the name of the city. The city of Salem is what became, “Jerusalem.”
Perhaps most difficult is how to understand his having no mother or father or children. This can be understood when we look at the genealogies throughout the Bible. Almost always, when we have a major figure appearing in the Scripture something is said it least about their parents – nothing is said about Melchizedek. That does not necessarily mean that Melchizedek did not have parents or children – what it means is that we have this odd circumstance where no genealogy – no parents – are listed. So he is effectively – as far as the history is concerned – without parents and children.
And then we are told that he resembles or he is like the Son of God – he continues a priest forever. Three things we need to consider here are: First, Melchizedek was priest to God Most High before Israel existed – before the Jews existed – before the Sacrificial Law was given. Second, since the Sacrificial Law had not been given and there was no family line of priests – because after Aaron all of the priests came from the same family – we need to understand Melchizedek as having been called to be priest by God. And third, after the Sacrificial Law was given, the priest served a term, and the high priest served until his death, but before the law, God called a priest forever – there were no boundaries set on his time of service.
All of this is not to say that Melchizedek did not foreshadow Jesus – that he was not a type of Jesus – that he did not exemplify in mere human terms what the Savior was to be. Melchizedek certainly was a foreshadowing of the Savior that God would send – (interestingly, Melchizedek was called from the Gentiles, because there were no Jews yet).
In fact, we find nine ways that Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus – nine points at which we find parallel between Melchizedek and Jesus – although in Jesus we see the perfection in the highest degree of these attributes.
First, as we have seen, Melchizedek is the king of righteousness and the king of peace. In Jesus we find the fulfillment of righteousness and peace. As Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV). Melchizedek lived a life striving toward righteousness, presiding over the City of Peace, but Jesus is Himself Holy, Holy, Holy – making His people righteous – and giving a peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Second, Melchizedek was called by God to be the priest of the Most High God – El Shaddai. Melchizedek received offerings and offered up sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. But Jesus is the Perfect High Priest – a priest who did not have to offer up a sacrifice for His own sin, because He is sinless – but presided at the offering up of His Very Self that He might pay the debt for all of the sins of all of His people and credit each one of those with His Righteous and Holy Life – having kept all of the Commandments of God perfectly. As Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18, ESV).
Third, Melchizedek blessed Abram – Melchizedek blessed the people of God Most High. To an even greater degree, Jesus blesses His people – not only in this life, but ultimately in the life to come. As Jesus promised He would say on the Day of Judgment, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34b, ESV). All those who believe in the Savior that God Most High has sent will be blessed by Him in this life and eternally.
Fourth, Melchizedek received homage from the people of God Most High – Abram paid him the tithe, since Melchizedek was the priest of God Most High, Abram worshiped God Most High by giving 10% of everything that he had received, as an offering to God through His servant Melchizedek. Similarly, God receives homage from us as we give thanks to Him by giving our tithes. We show that we have faith and hope only because of Jesus and the Work that He is done, as we give back 10% of our gross income, and then more, as God makes us joyful to do so and we recognize that nothing we have is our own.
Fifth, Melchizedek is said not to have parents, and we have the miraculous history of the Incarnation – of a virgin woman becoming with child by the Workings of the Holy Spirit – which is the greater mystery? Are we not amazed even in September that God became man through a human being without the normal course of events?
Sixth, Melchizedek is said to be without genealogy. We have no record of any sons of Melchizedek entering the priesthood – and we know that the day came when God appointed only the sons of Aaron and the sons of Levi to be the priests of God Most High. Jesus also left no children after His time on earth – despite what movies like “The da Vinci Code,” and other such nonsense might try the report – there is not one piece of responsibly received evidence to back up theories of Jesus' marriage and rearing children. And yet we have this promise from God that we are the sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus – “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from the midst [of idolaters], and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:16b-18, ESV).
Seventh, Melchizedek is said to have no beginning and no end – in so far as his serving as the high priest of God Most High is concerned. Melchizedek, the human being, had a beginning and an end, but the high priest of God Most High is without beginning and without end – the office is eternal. And so when we talk about Jesus, the Son of God, we understand that the human, Jesus, was born in time and He was murdered in time, but, being the Son of God, He is and was and will forever be and holds the office of high priest. In His Divinity, Jesus has held the office of high priest from before the beginning and forevermore.
Eighth, Melchizedek was like the Son of God. As high priest, Melchizedek stood between God and man, and he offered up sacrifices to God from the people that the people might be right with God again. Melchizedek spoke to God on behalf of the people and God forgave them through Melchizedek and their sacrifices and their hope in the One Perfect Sacrifice to come. We have already considered the fact that Jesus functions as high priest for His people – and that as high priest, Jesus offered up Himself, the Sacrifice for our sins – and since His Sacrifice was of a perfect and holy life, and since He was at the same time a real human being and the Almighty God, He was able to receive the horrifying penalty of God's Wrath for our sin and then stand up in the grave, alive, and walk out victorious.
Nine, Melchizedek was a priest forever – since the office of priesthood was given to him by God and was not passed down from father to son, he never lost his office. Jesus, the Son of God, also received His call to be high priest by God from all eternity, and since this priesthood – the priesthood of Melchizedek – is not handed down from father to son, but remains with the priest forever, so it also remains with Jesus forever.
If the Lord is willing, over the next few weeks, we will look at what it means and why it is so vitally important that the high priesthood of Jesus is the priesthood of Melchizedek and that it is a priesthood that endures forever. Understand for today that Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus – there were many things about Melchizedek and his priesthood that showed what Jesus and His Priesthood would be like. Let us meditate on these things as we continue to consider this chapter of the book of Hebrews and the importance of Jesus being high priest.
In a moment, we will be communing with Jesus – remembering the high priestly and sacrificial work that He did. We will receive the elements of the bread and the cup, and we will remember that God did come to earth, live a perfect life, and was put to death on the cross for the sins of everyone who would ever believe. But He rose from the dead in that same body, and ascended back to His throne and one day He will return – the clouds will part, and Jesus will return to earth just as those men saw Him leave 2000 years ago. Yet we are not without access to Him now: as we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus communes with us in this very moment – He ministers to us – He gives us the grace that we need, and for that we ought to be grateful.
Let us pray:Almighty God and Father, we thank You for the example of Melchizedek – a man who believed in You and lived according to Your Law – far above the people of his age. We thank You that we can understand something of the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus through the foreshadowing of Melchizedek. We ask that the Holy Spirit would help us to continue to understand and to apply these ideas,, and we ask now that Jesus would meet with us in the elements that we would see the Gospel through them, and that we would be enabled by Jesus, Himself, to do what You have put before us. Lord, make us thankful. In Jesus’ Name,