Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 December 2016

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 5, verses 5-6.

First let’s discuss the Son and Father:  there is nobody else in all of human history who can hold that title other than Jesus Christ.   Christ is the only Son of God the Father while still being one with the Father.  He could have taken on the glory of accepting God’s calling to be an ordained high priest of the Jewish faith, but He didn’t.   He could have assumed God’s glory for Himself, but He didn’t.   If He had done these things, He wouldn’t have been the perfect Christ who satisfied the hundreds of Old Testament Biblical prophecies about the Christ.   And yet Jesus did become the ultimate priest, the ultimate pastor and Good Shepherd of God’s flock that is the church.   It is only Jesus who intercedes for us with the glorious Father, who demands perfection to satisfy His just holiness.   It is only Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that something could be done that had never been done before and couldn’t have been done since.   Only Jesus could atone for all of humanity’s wrongdoings; nobody before or since has so satisfied all the requirements of being the penultimate and perfect Passover lamb.

And then there’s Melchizedek.   Verse 6 quotes Psalm 110, which says “you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.”  Perhaps ancient Jewish discussions focused a lot on Melchizidek, who is a minor, almost obscure figure in the early part of Genesis.   But he was important.  Melchizedek is the “king of Salem” who came out to meet Abraham and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all he owned (providing precedence for our practice of ten percent tithing).   Historically, almost nothing else is known of him though it’s interesting to note that “king of Salem” likely means that Melchizedek was the ruler or high priest of Salem.   That location was, according to some scholars, what became Jerusalem.  How fascinating is it, then, in knowing this considering the later importance of Jerusalem to the stories of King David, King Jesus, and even in our world today.

Some Bible scholars say that Melchizidek may have been a pre-incarnate Jesus, come to reside for a short time with His people but, as the author of Hebrews notes, “a priest forever” (and the only priest forever).  Other Bible scholars think Melchizekek may actually have been Shem, the son of Noah.   Shem had been on the Ark with Noah and the rest of their family, and is regarded as the father of the line of Semites (“Semite” being derived from the name Shem).   Shem was the son whom Noah blessed after Noah’s post-Flood sin of drunkenness.  He lived an extraordinarily long life both before and after the flood; after the flood he and so many others bore many children to repopulate a lonely and empty earth.  If you flow out the timeline, you find that there is a short period of overlap in the lives of Shem and Abraham, so the theory becomes possible, maybe even plausible.  That about exhausts my non-internet-researched knowledge of the topic; if more is to be known, we’ll have to consult Google, Bible scholars, or both.

In a few chapters we’ll talk more about Melchizidek; much of Chapter 7 is about him.  Whether he was the pre-incarnate Jesus or Shem or someone else altogether, if we navel-gaze about who he was we miss the point of what he represents in this verse (and in Psalm 110).   Melchizidek was the example of an ultimate high priest, one who would be able to intercede for man on man’s behalf.   Pastors do this.   They are men of character who both minister to us in ways we need, and pray to God on our behalf, which we also very much need.   The priesthood was and is a necessary function to human existence even when we don’t hold it in regard.   Pastors and priests, other than Joel Osteen, don’t make much money.   We hold them in high esteem yet we insist that the most effective of them live in near poverty.  Like God Himself, when times are good most of us don’t seem to want our pastors around, but when we fall on hard times we want them there immediately.   Whether he was Jesus, Shem or someone else, this is the kind of person Melchizidek must have been.   He must have been a deeply spiritual man who sought God’s will and God’s wisdom.   He must have been a man of impeccable character.  Melchizidek is a man from whom we can learn much even if we actually know very little about him.

Hold on to these thoughts…we’ll need them in a little while.

For more reading:   Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:1-22, Psalm 110:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the life of Melchizidek, and for the example He set in how You want Your priests and pastors to live here.   Indeed, Lord, for how You desire all of us to live.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 October 2016

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.

There’s so much to unpack here.   Let’s start with an overview of it.

Paraphrasing Chad Bird again, much of the book of Hebrews is a history lesson.   It is written to former Jews who were new to the Christian faith.  Their entire history had been lived in obedience to God as He revealed Himself through the Torah (what we know as The Old Testament).  The author of Hebrews spends considerable time poetically tying the history of the Jews to the divinity and life of Jesus, drawing parallels and showing how the Old Testament was made complete in Jesus, who was revealed in the New Testament.

So consider this:  Abraham’s descendants are everyone and everywhere.  Abraham was the first Jew.   The word “Semitic” is derived from the name Shem, who was one of Noah’s son’s.  Indeed, Genesis 9 reveals how Noah sinned and it was Shem and his brother, Japheth, who helped Noah in his time of need.  If you read from Genesis 9 through 11, you find the account of mankind from Noah to Abram, who later became Abraham.  In those words, you see that Abraham was the first man since Shem who followed God and obeyed Him.  He became the first true Semite.  Because Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3:   “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”), even if you aren’t Jewish, you can count Abraham as, at least, your spiritual ancestor.

What’s more, Jesus was made like men and made like angels and made like Abraham’s descendants and even Abraham.   He didn’t live, die, and rise for the salvation of angels.   No, Jesus did those things to save men.   He did them because, while fully God, He became fully man to do for us what we couldn’t do ourselves.  Think about it:   You and I wouldn’t accept it if someone who wasn’t like us did something for us.   In the short run, perhaps.   But in the long run – and a human life here followed by eternity is the ultimate long run – we simply wouldn’t go for it.   Jesus had to be a man to save men.

And He did it to sacrifice blood.  Abraham’s first spiritual descendant was Issac, whom he willingly brought to sacrifice.  Men had begun to “call on the Name of the Lord” (meaning worship) God as early as the life of Adam and Eve, but Abraham is the first man recorded since Noah who offered a life to God as an act of worship.   He did it because Abraham understood that life was in blood, that God expected our deepest motivations to be focused on Him because He is all life.   We’re held captive by our fear of death and, thus, by our sins.   Only life could atone for those sins and release that fear.   Indeed, generations after Abraham, God instituted priestly sacrifice as a way to make atonement for sins.   Just last week, Jews around the world celebrated Yom Kippur, which is the day Jews celebrate the Day of Atonement.   In ancient times, this is the day when the Jewish priest would enter the temple, enter into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant.   In this way, by God’s command, the priest could signify (for the people) God forgiving their sins.  Our first picture of that is of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Issac.

Finally, Abraham, then later Jesus, is the picture of the merciful high priest.   He is the one who, on behalf of all the people, can walk into God’s presence and make that atonement by blood.   He does this according to God’s own commands and the process He gave to us.   God gave us (through Moses) specific instructions on how and who to sanctify and what to do to make atonement for all the guilty sins of the people.   For over a thousand years Jews did this, first in the tabernacle in the deserts, then in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later, when Jesus died, God nullified the need for further animal sacrifice because He alone had made the perfect sacrifice.   Jesus took on himself the role of high priest in ways no other human could.

We’ll talk more about these things in the days to come.

For more reading:   Genesis 9 – 12, Luke 3:8, Philippians 2:7, Hebrews 5:2, 3:1, 4:15, 5:5,10, 7:27, Romans 3:25.

Lord Jesus, You alone are all the wonderful things described in these verses.   Bless You and thank You for Your sacrifice, Your priesthood, and Your love as both man and God.