By Simon ManchesterSunday 6 Dec 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
The question that faces us in the letter is the question, is worth it to be a Christian? If you give up what Christ calls on you to give up and if you take on what Christ calls on you to take on, which will be costly, will he compensate? Is he worth it? That is a very ‘businessey’ question to ask, and it is a very reasonable question to ask, and it is a very sensible and a sincere question to ask. Is it worth it or are we fools? Because Jesus himself said ‘before you follow, use your brains’ – so think about whether it’s worth following Christ’.
If you’ve read the classic Pilgrims Progress, you’ll know that it’s a story of a man travelling from conversion to the Promised Land and there are many on the journey who give up following Christ. Some of them give up for the fact that the cost is too high. Some of them give up because the world is too alluring. Think of a character like ‘Mr Facing Both Ways’ who could never quite decide whether Christ was Lord. Some of the characters in Pilgrims Progress gave up because of doubt and unbelief.
These readers for whom this letter was written have a completely different reason for giving up and going backwards. Their reason is their old religion (Judaism) looked more reasonable. Christianity was too difficult and Judaism, their old faith, looked more reasonable.
Of course, God had put Judaism in place, and it had been going for 2000 years by the time the gospel was preached, so it is a very established and important religion. Not only that, it was more physically real. There was a temple, a priesthood, an altar and sacrifices. It was safer because it was a Government protected religion whereas this new sect called ‘Christianity’ was dangerous and it was all hanging on a man who had lived, died, gone away, and it had left behind some promises and called on his people to be people of faith.
We need to get our heads into the Hebrew tension because if we understand what the Hebrews were facing, then we will grasp a little of the wonder of the letter.
Now, of course, we are not tempted to go back to Judaism, but there are many Christians today who are tempted to give up their Christian faith and go back to their old religion. There are many people today who are choosing an easier religion than Christianity. There are many today who are picking the very inviting and powerful ‘world’ and therefore are putting on the Census – “No Religion” – how convenient.
But there are many people in the world of the Hebrews, and there are many people today who are asking why don’t we do something easy? Why don’t we do something comfortable? That’s what the writer is addressing, and he wants his readers and us as well to know that attaching ourselves to Christ is infinitely wise and infinitely worthwhile.
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I have a great concern for myself and a great fear for you as well. Not that Christianity will fly out of your head or that you will stop in some bodily way from doing the occasional Christian thing. My great fear is that your heart will secretly and imperceptibly attach itself to something which is perishing and then you will follow your heart. That is a great fear.
What we have seen in Hebrews so far is that the writer has told us that Jesus is God and man. Perfect as a mediator and that he is King and Saviour and that he is powerful, sympathetic and that he is able and he is willing.
You just don’t get a better person in the universe to belong to than Jesus Christ. And that’s why all the warnings are there – DON’T GIVE UP ON HIM – DON’T TURN BACK, and that’s why all the promises are there. KEEP TRUSTING HIM – that’s what Hebrews is calling us to.
As we come to chapter 7, the writer is going to do a very unusual thing. He’s going to make use of an Old Testament character called Melchizedek, and he’s going to teach us that Melchizedek is like an object lesson – pointing us to Christ who is superior and he wants us to know that Christ is superior so that we will know that he is infinitely worthwhile to trust and obey.
So I want to think of it under two headings this morning. First Melchizedek the Model (verses 1-10) and then Jesus Christ the Fulfilment (verses 11-28).
Melchizedek, the model
Melchizedek was a King in the Old Testament. He appears for three verses in Genesis 14 at the time of Abraham. Abraham has just won a victory and as he was returning home with the spoils, out came Melchizedek, King of Salem and Salem became Jerusalem and Melchizedek congratulated Abraham, entertained him, gave him hospitality and blessed him in the name of God. Abraham gave to Melchizedek, this great King, a tenth of the spoils.
- Who is this King Melchizedek?
- Is he a normal historical figure?
- Is he some Angel?
- Is he a Theophany? An appearance of God
- Is he a Christophany? An appearance of Jesus before the Incarnation
There is only one other brief mention of Melchizedek in the whole Bible, that is Psalm 110. The New Testament writers seem disinterested in him except the writer to the Hebrews. And the writer of the Hebrews is interested in him because (let’s be blunt) he is useful for the writer’s argument. He is grabbing Melchizedek to make him an object lesson for what he wants to say about Jesus.
Just as a New Testament writer might decide to make a big thing of Noah or Enoch or Elijah, this writer is going to make a big thing of Melchizedek.
Here are 5 things he wants us to know that come from the passage:
Melchizedek was a king
His name means ‘King of Righteousness’, and he was king of a place called Salem. Salem is a place that means ‘peace’. Salem, Shalom come from the same root word. Here is a historical character called ‘Melchizedek’, his name means king; he rules a place and therefore because he is King of Righteousness (his name) and because he is King of Peace (that’s his place) it sounds very useful, sounds very like Jesus. Is it just a coincidence that his name means King of Righteousness and his place is peace? No, there is God placing somebody no doubt in the Old Testament who is going to be an object lesson for believers forever, and that’s what this writer wants us to know – Melchizedek was a King.
Melchizedek was a priest
Melchizedek was a Priest (verse 2), he probably acted as a way of helping his people relate to God. Maybe he offered the sacrifices; we don’t know. But there was no one in Israel who got to be a king and a priest. If you were king and you grabbed the role of priest, as Saul did, you got punished. If you are a priest and pretended you were a king for a day, you would probably get executed. So nobody in Israel was a king and a priest.
Nobody got to be king and priest but long before the Israelites was a man called Melchizedek, and he sets a precedent.
There was a person who was king, and priest and the Bible is telling us that there will be a person who will be king and priest and if you don’t think that is significant, let me tell you that if Jesus is king he runs the universe and if he is the priest, he solves our salvation and if that doesn’t seem impressive, do you think hard about it?
Because he has got all the power
And he has got all the ability
He has got all the authority
And he has got all the saving grace
And that’s exactly what this world needs. And this writer is basically saying Melchizedek was a king and a priest.
Melchizedek had no time frame
Melchizedek had no time frame – very strange verse. He was without father, mother, genealogy, beginning of days or end of life. He remains a priest forever. Now, this looks like a very spooky thing to say about Melchizedek, and it makes it look as though he must be divine. But the writer is not saying that Melchizedek is God – listen very carefully – he is simply saying that the Genesis record leaves those details out.
The author of Genesis is perfectly capable of writing who is somebody’s father and who is somebody’s mother. The author of Genesis is perfectly capable of telling us somebody’s genealogy if he wants to but there is no record, and the writer of Hebrews latches on to this and says ‘isn’t this helpful’?
There is somebody in the Genesis record who has no father, mother, beginning or end. That’s like Jesus because Jesus as God of course had no mother and Jesus as a man had no earthly father so here is the writer using Melchizedek again to teach that Jesus is superior forever, he has no time frame.
Melchizedek was a ‘blesser’
Melchizedek was a ‘blesser’. He blessed Abraham; Melchizedek the King blessed Abraham, the nomad. Melchizedek gave Abraham food and drink.
Those of you who like amusing details in the Bible may be interested to know that in Genesis 14, Melchizedek actually gave Abraham bread and wine. And you can imagine that if you were interested in writing a Eucharistic Communion dominated letter, you would go crazy about the bread and wine. But this writer is not the slightest bit interested in recording that Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine because he is interested in something much more significant and that is that Melchizedek is a signpost to Jesus who is the blesser, who can give the blessing.
And because Melchizedek was greater than Abraham he blessed Abraham and we therefore must recognise that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and because he points to Jesus, Jesus is greater than all.
Melchizedek was a ‘taker’
Melchizedek was a ‘taker’ – he took a tenth of the spoils (verses 4-10). Usually, a priest would go around and take a tenth from the people but here is Melchizedek taking a tenth from Abraham and therefore Melchizedek is superior because he is the taker of the tithe. Even the Jewish priests who are someway down the historical line of Abraham and would normally be taking the tenth – here giving the tenth.
If all of this makes no sense to you, we are not meant to get too pre-occupied with Melchizedek – he’s not meant to fascinate us. He’s just a signpost. Bill Dumbrill says in his commentary “he’s not being cast as a supernatural being, he is a foil”. God has therefore put a man in the days of Abraham who has got some very great lessons to teach us which will help us appreciate Jesus, and that’s what we go to now.
Jesus Christ the fulfilment
We would of course have ignored Genesis 14 except it is smack-bang in the Old Testament and in Psalm 110 which was a very important Psalm and God says to somebody in that Psalm ‘you are going to rule, and you are going to be the High Priest forever. This Psalm is of course written in the time of David when he was the King and of course the priesthood was flourishing, absolutely gripped the Jewish people. Somebody is going to be a king and a priest – who is that person?
The writer uses this quote in Psalm 110 to tell us that the fulfilment is Jesus Christ and therefore that you are not to give up on Jesus Christ because he is the King and you won’t get any authority outside Jesus that will really work for you, and you won’t get any salvation outside Jesus Christ that will really work for you.
Idi Amin the mega-maniac Uganda dictator back in the 1970’s, decided that he needed to be taken seriously and so he wrote his own identity, and this is the way he was to be referred to;
His Excellency, President for life, Field Marshall VC
Lord of all the beasts of the earth and fishes of the sea
Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa
That is how you were to address him. I suppose if you were kind of a dictatorial crazy and you don’t deserve anything you just have to invent something and stick it on yourself.
The writer is saying this is the complete opposite when it comes to Jesus Christ. He has the most amazing qualifications that he deserves, and if you were to miss them, you’d be crazy. And that’s why he proceeds to tell us five things about Jesus.
Jesus is needed. The Jewish system failed. It was weak, useless and could not fix things. Somebody had to come who would replace the Jewish ritual system.
It’s not that it was bad. It’s just that it was powerless.
It couldn’t actually solve our problem. It couldn’t substitute for us and pay for us.
It was just using the animals, and therefore says the writer, Jesus is necessary. Someone had to come who could do what the whole Jewish ritual system was only pointing to.
Jesus was promised
Jesus was promised (verses 20-21) God made an oath that he would come. The Lord swore by himself “you are a priest forever” he says in Psalm 110. Jesus comes with an oath behind him. Not just a promise, but an oath. The writer to his Hebrew friends if you are worried about Judaism being replaced and if you think that’s a disaster, let me tell you that Jesus came not just with a promise, not just to do the job but he came with an oath from God.
Jesus is better
This little word ‘better’ comes 17 times in the Book of Hebrews and it’s probably the theme of the letter.
Jesus is better. The work is better. The salvation he brings is better. He’s the guarantee of a better Covenant
And why is he better? Because he solves the distance problem. What is the problem between God and the human race? It is distance caused by our sin. Our sin means we are guilty and God is rightly angry, and there is distance.
What are the religions of the world trying to do? They are trying to build a bridge. How are they basically building the bridge? They are doing it by getting people to try and ‘do stuff’. But the only bridge that will come between a Holy God and sinful people is the bridge that God builds which is his Son who has come from heaven to earth, died on the cross to build a bridge which is capable of carrying any believer across.
And here is the writer basically telling us that Jesus Christ has come to solve the problem of separation by bringing reconciliation. What Jesus did for the leper in the New Testament you remember was to approach and to heal and what Jesus does for the sinner is to approach and to save. So he is better.
Jesus is forever
All the priests came from Levi, they were all human, they all died on the job, but there is one priest called Jesus who is alive forever. Because he arose and he does his work forever, therefore it doesn’t matter how long you live, it doesn’t matter how long your children live or your grandchildren they will find in Jesus the perfect priest forever.
That’s why FB Myers says in his saintly way “Don’t draw a line in your head which limits the power and the grace of Jesus”. It is very human for you to draw a line, and say ‘he couldn’t help and he wouldn’t help’ but he can, and he does.
Jesus is perfect
He can save completely. He’s not in the quicksand-like we are. He’s outside the quicksand. He can drop the rope, and he can lift us out and he can save us. Everything about Jesus is wonderful.
This might seem like a very technical and abstract chapter, and we may be scratching our heads and thinking ‘why would we even study this chapter?’ I hope you can see Melchizedek is being used as a great object lesson to point to Jesus who is a great king and saviour.
I want to finish by asking you some quick questions and they go like this:
Do you notice how Abraham treated Melchizedek? Very reverently and respectfully and we need to respond to Jesus infinitely more with great respect and great reverence if possible? Kneeling down before him and basically giving everything to him – that’s the way to respond to Jesus.
Do you notice how Jesus supersedes Judaism? He teaches us not to trust in outward things like this building or membership of a church or baptism or service sheets or coffee or links with clergy or anything that is outward, but we are to trust in Jesus, his death and his promises.
Do you see that Jesus is supreme and superior to every other person who has come into the world? That’s why the other religions of the world, in the end, are a tragedy. They are sincerely followed but a tragedy because they don’t have Jesus and therefore Mission is loving.
Do you see also that undervaluing Jesus and thinking perhaps the world is better? If I think I can slip Jesus into my back pocket that’s just a tragedy. You’ve devalued the one who has all the value and you’ve highly valued and over-valued the things that don’t have the value.
Do you see how Jesus is the one that we can approach and speak to and find power and sympathy beyond this world?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of people who are here are not wrestling with one or two issues which they can hardly articulate.
Whether it’s got to do with grief, struggle or sin, a battle, some kind of sadness and it just haunts you. Maybe it’s even crossed your mind that I should go and see a Counsellor. Maybe you have even gone to see a Counsellor which is a very good thing to do.
I simply want to ask the question, have you got round to sitting or kneeling and talking to the greatest Counsellor in heaven and earth, Jesus Christ?
Not because you’re going to get an immediate solution and quick fix. But because you will be talking to somebody who has all the power, sympathy, love, wisdom, understanding and all the resources to help you. That’s why, friends, he outweighs all the costs of being a Christian.
Whatever they are, they are going to look so little and so small, especially in the light of eternal blessings.
Let’s bow our heads and thank Him together
Our Father we give you thanks for this chapter and recognise the signpost in this Melchizedek character pointing us to somebody in the Lord Jesus, your Son – our Lord – our Saviour – our High Priest who is infinitely precious and we pray, our Father, that you would forgive us for undervaluing in our mind and heart.
We pray that you would impress upon us the truths that are here and then that you would incline our heart to walk in the way of those truths.
We pray that you would help us – you who have saved us – please graciously help us with all the resources which he came to bring.
We ask it in His Name – Amen.