IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




In the Order of Melchizedek

Date: Apr. 2, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 7:1-28

Key Verse: Hebrews 7:25

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

This past Thursday, for the first time ever, SpaceX launched a rocket that was launched and landed before. The rocket was launched, landed, inspected, repaired, refueled, launched again and landed one more time on a drone ship. This could drive down the cost of launching rockets a hundredfold. It’s the latest milestone in a new space race. The first milestone of the original space race happened on Friday, October 4, 1957, when the Sputnik 1 satellite became humanity’s first artificial satellite. The second milestone occurred on April 12, 1961, when the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin in to space as the first man to leave this planet. Less than a month later, on May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. The space race was so important for the two nations. It signified who had the most power and ability in the world. The ultimate prize was landing people on the moon. On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a famous speech about the goal to put people on the moon by the end of the decade, and on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The space race was over. The Soviet Union never landed a person on the moon. Now, we are at the beginning of a new space race, a new order of space race, if you will. However, this space race is not between nations. This time, a new vanguard is leading the way. NASA has its Space Launch System or SLS being prepared. It is a massive rocket that is more powerful than the one that took astronauts to the moon. With it, NASA wants to send people to Mars. However, there are other challengers to this goal. There are two companies that have huge goals to get people into deep space. One is Blue Origin, led by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. They have a couple of huge rockets in the wings ready to take on the world. They’ve done much in terms of suborbital launches and recovery, but orbital launches are a whole other level. The other company that is in this race is SpaceX led by Elon Musk. They’ve been flying their Falcon 9 rockets for some years delivering payloads to the International Space Station and satellites to orbit, but they have a trick up their sleeves. For the past couple of years, SpaceX has been launching rockets and landing them on a drone ship. It lands up and down. SpaceX has announced that it will launch two paying customers around the moon sometime next year using a new rocket the Falcon Heavy, and they too have plans to send people to Mars. The new space race makes it a very exciting time. This new vanguard is opening the heavens like never before.

This kind of reminds me of what we have been going through in Hebrews for a while. We heard that Jesus is the great high priest, but he doesn’t come from a priestly line. How is Jesus truly a great high priest? He is a great high priest not because he is from a long line of priests, but because he is of a different order of priests, separated from what came before. And this order is greater than the one of Aaron. It is because of this new order that heaven is opened like never before.

For the past two weeks, the messages have been speckled with the phrase “in the order of Melchizedek”. The term comes from a verse written by King David in Psalm 110. But who is Melchizedek? Today’s entire passage is an explanation of who he is and why it is so important for Jesus to be in the order of Melchizedek. Our passage starts out, “This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” (1-2) Melchizedek was a king and a priest during the time of Abraham. His appearance in the Bible is sudden and quite mysterious. Abraham had just won a great victory by defeating a powerful king and his allies. That king had taken his nephew Lot and Abraham went to get him back. Upon winning, the king of Sodom came out to meet Abraham, but the narrative stops, talks about Melchizedek for three verses and goes back to talking about the king of Sodom. It is really strange. So, the story of Melchizedek is entirely three verses in the book of Genesis. Let me read it for you, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.  And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20) That is the entire account of Melchizedek. We know very little about him, and the author of Hebrews summarized the entire account in first two sentences of this chapter. “Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” (1-2) That’s it. It is an odd little, random passage, but the author of Hebrews reads a lot into it because of David’s reference to it in Psalm 110.

The first thing the author points out is the meaning of Melchizedek’s name and title. “First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace.’” (2) Here, we have Melchizedek as the king of righteousness and the king of peace. The city of Salem would become Jerusalem, the city of peace. The name Salem gets its name from Shalom, which is peace. It was a common Hebrew greeting: “Peace be with you.” Shalom became Shalem, which became Salem or in English Salem. With all the names, Melchizedek had lofty expectations put on him. He is the king of righteousness and the king of peace. Definitely a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.

The next thing the author points out is Melchizedek’s random appearance. “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (3) The author points out that Melchizedek does not have a father or a mother and there is no record of his birth or death. This is a hyperbole to explain a point. I am certain Melchizedek was a man, who has born and had a mother and a father, but his sudden appearance makes it seem like that. It is taken for dramatic effect to show the suddenness of his appearance. If you remember, the main recipients of this letter to the Hebrews are Jewish Christians, and Jews held genealogies in high regard. Lineage was an important thing to them and they took great pride in knowing which tribe they were from and that Abraham was their ancestor. However, Melchizedek appears without a genealogy. He just shows up for three verses, blesses Abraham and takes a tenth of the spoils. With no genealogy, the author is pointing out that the father and mother, the birth and the death are not important. The author takes this mystery to be a shadow resembling the Son of God, foreshadowing the eternal priesthood.

The author, then, turns his attention to Melchizedek’s greatness. The author writes, “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” (4-6) The Jews held Abraham in high regard. He is the Father of Faith, and yet Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the plunder. Now, God set it up that the priests would come from the tribe of Levi, and the priests were to collect a tenth from the people. Melchizedek was not from the tribe of Levi, but he collected a tenth and he blessed Abraham. He was a king and a priest. Normally, these two offices are separate, but Melchizedek held them both. Being king of Salem at this time, meant that he was probably from one of the clans of Canaan. Although he shared no lineage with Abraham, he was still considered a priest of the God Most High, one that Abraham highly respected. Beyond the tithe, Melchizedek blessed Abraham.  As the author says, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.” (8) Blessings can only be given by one who has more. You don’t see children blessing their parents. Parents give their blessing to their children. So, when you put the tithe and the blessing together, you get the idea that Abraham considered Melchizedek greater than himself. Meaning, you get the idea that Melchizedek’s priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood.

The author continues, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (11) At the time the Jewish priesthood through Moses’ brother Aaron was established, the law was also established. The priesthood was set up to atone for the sins of the people and to teach the people of the ways of God, but David mentions a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Why would a priest need to come from a different order, if the original priests were working? With David’s words, it is revealed that there is a need for a priest of the order of Melchizedek because perfection could not be obtained by the law. That’s not the law’s purpose. The law is intended to show you where you fall short, not how to be perfect. God established the Levitical priesthood through the line of Aaron with the law. Therefore, if a new priesthood is to take the place of the old one, then a change to the law is needed. (12)

Now, in all of this we are talking about Jesus. As we first heard a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is the great high priest, but as the author says in this passage, “He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (13-14) Jesus was, humanly, descended from the line of Judah. He is called the Son of David and David was from Judah. Judah was one of Levi’s brothers, so there is no way that Judah was a Levite, which means Judah has no genealogical tie to the priesthood. The author continues, “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” (15-16) Now, these verses are a little confusing, but all this talk about Melchizedek is culminating in Jesus. A change in the priesthood is needed because the Levitical priesthood was merely determined by lineage, but the new priest is one because of his indestructible life. The verse often quoted from Psalm 110 tells us: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (17) A priest forever has an indestructible life.

We needed this change because the law could not give us what we truly need. “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (18-19) Like I said before, the law made nothing perfect. The law only told you what you did wrong. Think of it this way. The laws of our country do not make us perfect. You can follow all the laws: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t speed, don’t hurt, don’t park where you are not supposed to. However, you can still be a jerk. There is no law about being a jerk. The law does not give perfection, it makes you guilty by showing you what you have done wrong. In order to reach perfection, we need a better way: we need a better hope. That hope is given through Jesus, who through an oath is a priest forever. “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (22) The original covenant, which was given to Abraham, was a promise to establish Abraham’s descendants and to make them a blessing to the whole world. This covenant was given with a condition to follow God’s ways, but what unobtainable because the law does not provide us with a path back. Because of the oath, Jesus is the guarantor of a new covenant, not the law.

Jesus can guarantee the new promise to us because of that indestructible life. The author writes, “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (23-25) The priest’s job is to intercede between the people and God, but every other priest had died and it was up to his replacement to carry on in the intercession. Priests would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, but if the priest died while in office, there was the possibility of someone slipping through the cracks. If a priest died before a sacrifice could be offered, there would be a time where sins weren’t forgiven, but Jesus has an indestructible life and lives forever. His priesthood is permanent, which makes Jesus the only one who can save completely, because he is the only one who can always intercede for us.

We need this intercession because we constantly keep sinning. We need to have someone standing between us and God because we would be dead otherwise. The law says that sinners need to die, but we need someone to stand between that judgement and us. Jesus can do that. “Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (26-28) All the other priests were sinner themselves. They needed offer sacrifices every day, first for their own sins, and then for the people. However, Jesus is pure and sinless, and he became the sacrifice on the cross one for all. Our sins are forgiven once for all, because Christ sacrificed himself once for all.

What we have here is the coming of a new order. The old order was based on the law and the new order is based on grace. With the law, as soon as you broke one ordinance, you were a sinner and the law offered no way back to God. Now, we are all human. We’ve all made mistakes that we regret. But if there was no way to be redeemed for those mistakes, we would all be lost. We would be in a fire burning forever because of even the silliest of mistakes. We need a way to come back to God and the new order of priest, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, provides us with the grace we need to come back to God. We have a new priest and a new covenant that can give us life. The old is gone and the new has come. We are no longer bound by the law, but we are now free to follow it back to God.

Like I said, we have all made mistakes. As we grow older, we are supposed to grow more mature and aim to sin less, but as we saw last week, one of the ways we mature is that we can better discern between good and evil. One of the things that means is that we can see better the difference between good and evil in our lives, and we start to see our sins even more. As we grow in faith, the amount of sin in our lives does not increase, but we can see it better. I always thought that I was a good person. I was kind and caring and thoughtful and really concerned about making sure that everything is right. I see a lot of it in my son Lucas right now. He is a very sweet and caring boy, but since I have come to live in Christ, I have witnessed my anger and seen the pain it has caused. I was always there, but I never noticed it. Also, I have this drive to see things be right. It kind of sounds noble, but it really comes off that I want the last word and I want to prove that I am right. It frustrates others. I want to be right, but not to win an argument. I want to find the truth and become right. To me, it sounds noble, but it has caused pain for others. It becomes sin because it doesn’t lift others up. It tears them down and makes people feel dumb. That is not my intent, but it is my result. However, because of the order of Melchizedek, which is not bound by law, there is hope for me. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice once for all, there is a way for even me to come back to God.

Melchizedek was a mysterious fellow and, prior to the coming of Christ, his inclusion in the Bible was hard to understand. However, with Jesus’ coming, we can see that Melchizedek was a prototype of Jesus and the basis for Jesus’ priesthood. The order of Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood because even Abraham honored him as greater. A priest in the order of Melchizedek is a priest forever, always standing between us and God. He atoned for our sins with his own blood and we are made perfect. With Jesus, there is a break in the law, where the old is set aside and the new is embraced. It is disruptive and earth shattering. Those vested in the old ways are resistant to change, but we have freedom because of the new order. There is a new covenant and a new sacrifice so powerful that it redeems once for all. As his blood flowed to the ground, he redefined our future. We are free because of Jesus. We have hope because of Jesus. We have life because of Jesus. It’s a whole new day.

Daily Bread

Listen to God and Live

Proverbs 1:8-33

Key Verse: 1:33

  but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

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