The Superior Order of Melchizedek
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Hebrews 7:1-7:22 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
Sermon Series: Hebrews - Christ Superior
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Questions, questions, questions.
As far as I’m concerned, it is good for us to come to moments like these and ask our questions. We should bring our really big questions, right?
Who – What – Where – When – Why – How?
If we’re going to get to the bottom of things, we’re taught that we should ask questions… and we should start by asking who. So we bring our big who questions to church.
• Who is God?
• Who is Jesus?
• Who am I?
• Who are We?
We look to God’s word, and we find answers. We really do find answers… sometimes they are so very plain and right there on the surface; sometimes they come with study and experience and prayer.
Sometimes when we walk carefully through the Bible, like we are with this series in Hebrews, we run across specific figures that demand our attention.
This is the case this morning, here in chapter seven, with this character Melchizedek. So we better ask ourselves now, who is Melchizedek?
If one goes to the Internet to answer this question, there are all sorts of claims made in the name of Melchizedek. I found a newager who claims to channel Melchizedek in order to lead other priests of the light into reunification. You may have seen an article on 60 minutes a few years back regarding the Dominion of Melchizedek. At melchizedek.com you can file for citizenship and apply for a passport from the dominion… of course no reputable government will recognize your citizenship or passport. A lot of fringe religious groups make a lot out of Melchizedek; the Mormons and the Freemasons have special high orders that bear his name. Various religious groups with ties to Christianity make claims regarding Melchizedek. Ancient Gnostics claimed that Melchizedek was actually Jesus. Other’s say he was the archangel Michael. I even found a group that claims that Melchizedek is the Holy Spirit.
Suffice it to say… I don’t recommend an Internet search when answering these sorts of questions.
The passage before us today, here in Hebrews 7, contains the most information about Melchizedek in the entire Bible.
Of course Melchizedek first shows up in our Bible in Genesis, near the front of the book… just 12 pages into my Bible. It is a fairly brief mention, just as we heard David read it a few minutes ago. Putting this in context:
• Genesis 12 contains God’s call of Abram and God’s promise that he would make Abram into a great nation and bless him (Genesis 12:2)
• Genesis 13 includes the story of Abram and his nephew Lot agreeing to separate and occupy different territories.
• In the beginning of Genesis 14 there is the report of a war among several kings. Caught up in the spoils of war, Lot was carried off by the victors… and apparent victim of circumstances. Lot was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
• In the middle of Genesis 14 Abram learns of his nephew’s predicament, takes a contingent of 318 soldiers (an indication that Abram was a wealthy leader himself), routes Lot’s captors and liberates Lot, his possessions, and all the people with him.
It was after Abram’s return from victory that this story unfolds with Melchizedek. Even though it is contained in just these three verses in our Bibles, it was a significant encounter for Abram. Mostly because it was a moment in which Abram acknowledged God’s blessing on his life:
• He chose the blessing of the priest over the spoils of war offered by the other kings
• He credited God for the victory won in that recent battle
• He tithed, giving an offering in worship to “God most High”
And this is the end of the account. There are no more details about Melchizedek to be found in Genesis. Most ancient history books don’t deny the existence of Melchizedek… but they don’t have much else to add either.
Aside from the passages in Hebrews, the only other place that mentions Melchizedek in the Bible is Psalm 110. It is a messianic psalm, a prophesy that describes the ultimate savior, the victor that would deliver God’s people for all eternity. The Psalm describes the Messiah in terms that include:
• One who sits at the right hand of God the Father
• With enemies a footstool for his feet
• Holding a mighty scepter of power
• The supreme ruler
• Arrayed in holy majesty
• The supreme judge
And, the Psalm describes the Messiah as a “priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Sound familiar?
Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
It is the last little bit of the passage that Tim brought us last week.
When I’m writing sermons, I try to hold off on delivering the big punch lines until near the end of the sermon. You know, I’m a creature of habit and I’ll say “so what”… many of you have told me that you awake from your slumber at that moment and pay attention because if I have anything worthwhile to say at all… it is usually at that moment in a sermon.
This is one of those big punch lines… but I couldn’t figure out a good way to leave it for the end, so you’re just going to have to pay attention now.
This duplication of this specific language at the end of chapter 6 in the precise language of Psalm 110 reminds us that none of this is primarily about Melchizedek… this passage is all about Jesus.
Although it might be really titillating to think of all this in terms of unlocking some great secret about this mysterious figure Melchizedek… the main point here is to tie Jesus to the prophecy in Psalm 110. This is, primarily, yet another bold statement that Jesus is superior… that Jesus is the Messiah.
So we will be best served to look to this passage not so much for answers to the question “who is Melchizedek?” But what we are really after are answers to the more profound question “who is Jesus?” The pastor who penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had no interest in leading us to Melchizedek… we are being led to Jesus. What we find in this passage, now, is Melchizedek being used as an illustration to help us understand more about Jesus.
Melchizedek’s position is noteworthy. The beginning of Hebrews 7 explains that he is both king and priest. Specifically king of Salem (ancient Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Jesus, too, is both king and priest.
This mention of genealogy may seem curious. Think of this in the context of Bible, especially the Old Testament historical books. Unlike most every other figure in Old Testament historical books, Melchizedek has no genealogical context. He isn’t identified as “the son of” anyone; there are no begats. Neither his birth nor death is recorded. In Melchizedek’s case, the Scripture is silent about all that, and it makes Melchizedek sort of unique. In this case what distinguishes Melchizedek isn’t necessarily genealogy, but righteousness, peace, and his association with God Most High.
Verses 4-12 make us mindful of Abraham’s position in respect to Melchizedek. Abraham, the father of faith, the one through whom God chose to create a special people for himself, was subservient to Melchizedek:
1. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek – giving him, in an act of worship, a tenth of what he had
2. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The lesser person is blessed by the greater.
Jesus, too, is greater than Abraham. Jesus, through this illustration, is associated in a superior order to all the kings and priests, especially all those kings and priests that would come from Abraham.
Verses 11-14 make more of this idea of genealogy and ancestry. The Law, given by Moses, established the tribe of Levi as the tribe of priests. But Jesus was not a Levite, like Melchizedek was not a Levitcal priest; Jesus was from the tribe of Judah.
Under the old covenant, one would be a lawbreaker if one claimed to be a priest but was not qualified by his genealogy. If he were not a Levite, he could not be a priest.
But like Melchizedek, who preceded the Levites, Jesus is a priest because he superseded the Levites. Jesus is a priest superior to the Levitical priests not on the basis of rules or lineage,
but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.
Jesus did not inherit his position based on the birthright of his humanity. He came to his position, this superior order, through his eternal nature as the son of God, through his sinless life, and through his resurrection and eternal life.
So, Jesus makes possible what the imperfections of the old priestly order could never deliver. Jesus introduces “a better hope” as it is described in verse 19.
In the old priestly order, only a select few could dare to approach God, but Jesus set aside what “was weak and useless” and made a way “by which we draw near to God.”
The old order of sacrifices, the old order of Levitical priests, in which men continually offered payment for sin through offerings, was set aside. There were no chairs in temple or tabernacle; the work was never done. But Jesus accomplished for us, once for all, a new hope by which we draw near to God.
Finally, these last verses in the passage takes us back to the prophecy in Psalm 110. Remember, the point here is that Jesus isn’t merely like a king, like a priest, like a Messiah… the point here is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is sealed with an oath from the creator… not a priest by association or ancestry, but a priest by declaration.
God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’”b 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
A whole new order, a new way, a new deal, a better covenant… and we’ll hold off on all that since there is more to come in the passages and sermons that lie ahead in our series.
At one level, the so what is simply the benefit of study. This illustration found in Hebrews regarding Melchizedek gets a little technical, but it is powerful. There is real reward that comes with a more clear understanding of God’s Word. That understanding draws us near to God… and for this confidence that comes from God’s word, we can be glad.
But I think there are a few more things we can take away here.
There is, of course, this very practical reminder to keep our focus on Jesus. Melchizedek is one of those figures that has been hijacked and made into something that was never intended by so many.
If you were to start following some of the mysterious, strange, and mystical sites that you’d find by googling Melchizedek, you’d soon find yourself way out in the theological weeds. You can go to Amazon.com and find all sorts of books that would want to take you down all sorts of weird roads.
It doesn’t take long to see that these roads in the name of Melchizedek, whether it is newage or Mormon or Masonic or Gnostic or the kooky stuff that comes from the Dominion of Melchizedek, these roads take people away from the plain and simple basics of our faith.
We can take away from this study today a reminder that Scripture points us to Jesus. We don’t need to search for secrets and mysteries about Melchizedek; the intent of this passage is clearly to draw our attention and understanding to Jesus.
So from that practical lesson, we are drawn to Theological reminders of just who Jesus is:
• King of Righteousness
• King of Peace
• Priest Forever
We’re reminded of the continuity of our faith. That all of ancient history points to the hinge of history, Jesus our Savior. That all religious practice, all rules and law, all sacrifice and worship… all of it is trumped (if you will), superseded by a Superior Order, Jesus, the promised priest forever.
So as we close in prayer, we can take this understanding, we can take this awe of a Savior that is superior to all other feeble attempts to draw near to God, we can take this Truth that Jesus has made a better hope for us and leads us to draw near to God, and we can rest in His peace.
Father, help us to follow you wholeheartedly. Help us to submit ourselves fully to the Lordship, the Kingship, the eternal priesthood, of our dear Savior Jesus. Guard our hearts and minds. When we are tempted to follow some way that takes us away, draw us near to You, through Jesus.