Hebrews 7. It’s a rump steak of a chapter. Chewy, rich, dense, meaty. Melchizedek, my goodness, the choicest of choice cuts, Melchizedek. But... it’s a shame isn’t it? Shame you guys aren’t really up to digesting this kind of material are you? I mean, you’re sweet and I love you, you should know that.
But – you’re not really ready for meat are you? You like your bible to be vanilla milkshake. Sweet and frothy and bland and pre-digested. That’s you guys isn’t it? “Ooh – you’re bible is too chewy. Can you mush up the bible and put some sugar on it. I can't handle your heavy bible study.” That’s you guys isn’t it? Shame because, Melchizedek, wow – the complicated splendour, the rich mystery, the deep profundity. Never mind. I can tell you’re not ready. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. In fact, why don’t we just skip over chapter 7. Let’s forget the sermon this week. Musicians, let’s get back and sing some choruses. “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” – that should suit you bland, milky milk-loving children.
But it’s just a shame, cos Melchizedek. I mean, that’s some of the good stuff... What’s that? You want to study Melchizedek? All right. Strap in, because we’re about to go on a wild and crazy ride.
Ladies and Gentleman, that was my impression of the writer to the Hebrews. Check out Hebrews 5 from v11. You’ll notice that in v6 and v10 he’s mentioned Melchizedek. And you can just tell, he’s weighing up whether he should explain the whole Melchizedek thing. And from v11 he seems to decide that Melchizedek is a bit beyond these Christians.
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s laid Melchizedek out there and said – I got a lot of stuff on Melchizedek. Meaty stuff. But... nah... you won’t want to hear that. You’re milky, bland, frothy, milky milk-lovers. You’re not ready for steak.
And so chapter 6 talks about their maturity (verses 1-3) and how they’re not as bad as those apostates over there (verses 4-9) and from verse 10 he concedes that they are growing and bearing fruit in their Christian walk. And so by the time he gets to chapter 6, verse 19 he feels he can drop Melchizedek back into the discussion:
19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.
And so now he’s mentioned Melchizedek three times. He’s teased them long enough and so from chapter 7 he decides to give up the good stuff on Melchizedek. He’s going to serve up a sirloin steak of a chapter.
Are we ready for sirloin steak? Or do you want your vanilla milkshake? Meat or milk?
Let the record show – meat is what you want. Meat is what you will get.
But before we get into the details of Melchizedek, let’s first understand why he’s important. If I could identify one over-arching theme to Hebrews it would be the perfect priesthood of Jesus. Jesus is our perfect High Priest. Why is that important? Well...
When you think of getting into God’s presence? What do you imagine? I think we live today in an age of individualism and performance. Everything is individualistic and everything is performance based. That is the air we breathe, and so when we think of getting into God's presence: We imagine being a good boy or a good girl. We imagine reading our bibles solidly every day for a month – that brings me closer to God. We imagine constantly doing things we don’t like doing, day after day – that will get me closer to God. Or we think about some kind of spiritual or religious experience or practice. And we imagine that gets me closer to God. We basically getting into God’s presence is about my performance.
And if we think like that, we haven’t understand the first thing about the bible. In the bible – getting into God’s presence has NOTHING to do with my performance. It has everything to do with your PRIEST. Your priest gets you into God’s presence. If you have a good priest you’re in, if you have a bad priest you’re out. That’s how important your priest is.
Now for 1500 years the Israelites had priests from the tribe of Levi. And these priests were a picture of true priesthood. They didn’t actually get you into God’s presence, but through the sacrifices and the tabernacle and the temple they modelled to the people what the true Priest does.
So the Levite priests were a picture of Jesus, our Great High Priest, given in the OT. But there are three problems with Levite priests.
One – Jesus wasn’t actually a Levite. Jesus is from Judah, the tribe of kings. You didn’t have Priest-Kings under Moses’ law. So how can Jesus be a priest if He’s not a Levite?
Second problem – Levites died. They ministered from age 30-50, then they retired, then they died. We don’t want to say that about Jesus and His priesthood. He never goes into retirement. He never dies.
Third problem – the whole Levite system was the very foundation of the old covenant law. When we about OT law, we think about the 10 commandments and loving your neighbor as yourself. But no – the vast majority of OT law was about priests and the tabernacle or temple and the sacrifices and the festivals. The OT law actually orbits around the tabernacle with its priests – that’s the centre of gravity. If Jesus comes with a different kind of priesthood – not the Levite priesthood – does that mean He’s going to change the whole law? The priesthood and the law go together – if Jesus changes the priesthood, is He really going to change God’s law?
What’s the answer? The answer is Melchizedek. Hebrews 7 says “Remember Melchizedek!” Remember the first Priest in the bible. Melchizedek was the original Priest. THAT’s the kind of Priest Jesus is. And when we see HIM we will have great assurance that we can draw near to God.
So let’s dive in and look at Melchizedek. Keep a finger in Hebrews 7 and turn back to Genesis 14:17-20. Here is the first mention of Melchizedek. And in fact it’s the first mention of a priest of any sort. Melchizedek is the original priest. Five hundred years before Moses would make his brother Aaron High Priest – Melchizedek was there long before that.
We pick up the story after Abraham has won a battle:
17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Melchizedek’s name means “King of Righteousness”. Salem is probably Jerus-salem. And Salem is basically the word Shalom, meaning Peace. So here is the King of Righteousness, King of Peace, King of Jerusalem. Ring any bells?
He brings out bread and wine. Ring any bells? He’s called Priest of God Most High.
Now if you ask me – and different Christians say different things on this – but if you ask me, Melchizedek is a title for someone who appears quite a lot in the Old Testament. He shows up again in chapter 15:1 under the name, “The Word of the LORD.” You see ‘the Word of the LORD’ is a title for someone who comes to Abram, first in a vision, and then in v4, in real life. And v5 He takes Abram outside for some star-gazing. I think these kinds of appearances are not uncommon in the Old Testament. But the title for the Person who appears is different depending on the incident. Sometimes He’s called “Word of the LORD”, sometimes like in chapter 16, He’s called “Angel of the LORD”, sometimes He’s just called “the LORD”. And if you ask me, Melchizedek is one more title for the Person you and I know as Jesus. Here is the Son of God before His incarnation. That’s my opinion anyway.
John chapter 1 verse 18 says “No-one has ever seen God, but God the Son who is at the Father’s side has made Him known.” All those appearances in the Old Testament are appearances of “the Son of God.” But of course “The Son of God” is just one more title for this Person we know as Jesus. And I reckon “Melchizedek” is another title for the pre-incarnate Christ. But I won’t go to the stake for it. And you can ask me about it after.
The thing to recognize is that Melchizedek is the original priest. 500 years before Moses and Aaron and the Levites and the tabernacle and the sacrifices and all of that – here is a Priest who is ALSO a King. And that will be crucial.
Well the name Melchizedek drops off the pages of Scripture for the next thousand years until, Psalm 110. Turn with me to Psalm 110.
This Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in all the bible. Jesus and the Apostles keep going back to it. It was written by David around 1000 BC. And this is what it says:
Of David. A psalm. [So David is speaking and he says] The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
So David is aware of two Heavenly Persons called Lord. There’s the LORD (the Father) and there’s ‘my Lord’ (the Son). And David reports on their conversation. The LORD (the Father) tells David’s Lord (the Son) to sit at His right hand. That’s the place of honour and power. So the Son is God’s true King. But, v4, He’s also God’s true Priest.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest for ever.”
Now hang about David. You can’t be king AND priest. David should know that because his predecessor Saul lost the throne precisely because he tried to be a priest. You can’t be a king who’s a priest. Except that David remembers “the order of Melchizedek."
And so David is saying to the world – the REAL HEAVENLY priesthood is not the Levite priesthood. It’s the order of Melchizedek. And here’s the point – the OT saints KNEW that the Levite thing was only pretend. They KNEW that the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the priests were play-acting at what David’s Lord was going to do when He came as the REAL Priest. Psalm 110 is telling us that the faithful OT saints did not fix their eyes on Levi and Aaron and the sacrifices and the tabernacle. They saw through all these shadows to the Reality that cast them. They were always looking to the Great High Priest, the Original High Priest, the Melchizedek kind of Kingly High Priest.
Ok, now we can flick back to Hebrews 7 and hopefully it will all fall open for us.
Verses 1-3: Jesus like Mel
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, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means [see it’s an argument about NAMES, it’s about TITLES. His name means…] "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace". 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like [here’s another title that’s been so important in Hebrews, like] the Son of God he [Melchizedek] remains a priest for ever.
If you ask me this means “King of Righteousness” is like “Son of God.” If you ask me these are two titles for the same person. If actually King of Righteousness and Son of God are two different people, you get into trouble I think by saying there’s four members of the trinity. There’s Father, Son, Spirit and Melchizedek this eternal Priest. I think it’s safest to say Melchizedek is a title like Son of God and they both refer to Jesus.
But whatever view you take the main point is that Jesus is very like Melchizedek who is the original King-Priest. And so Melchizedek is far greater than any of the Levites.
Mel greater than Levi:
4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!
5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people--that is, their brothers--even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. [Here is someone greater even than Abraham]
8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Abraham’s great grandson was Levi. But Levi was still in the body of Abraham as Abraham paid the tenth. So Levi paid Melchizedek, Melchizedek didn’t pay Levi. Melchizedek is much greater.
Just a quick aside, this language of Levi being IN the body of Abraham, that’s just the way the bible speaks. Levi was in his dad Jacob who was in his dad Isaac who was in his dad Abraham. And you know what, you can trace the family tree all the way back to the beginning.
Which means of course we were all IN Adam. That’s the way the bible talks doesn’t it? We were all IN Adam. Sometimes people say “If I was in the garden of Eden I wouldn’t have fallen.” The bible says you were IN Adam. You were in the garden and you did fall.
1 Corinthians 15:22 says “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
To put it in priestly terms the human race from the beginning have had their Representative, their Advocate, their Priest. His name was Adam and he was a terrible representative. He led his people OUT of God’s presence. All in Adam will die. But Christ has come as the Second Adam. He has come to take our humanity and to be a different Represetative, a different Priest. And He brings His people back INTO God’s presence.
That’s the aside – back to the main point – Melchizedek is far greater than the little pretend priesthood of Levi.
In verses 11 and 12 we learn: Melchizedek means Levi was never IT
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come--one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
Melchizedek was always the real priesthood, which means Levi was never meant to be trusted as the perfect priesthood. And this means that the whole Old Covenant system, with all its tabernacle and priests and sacrifices and even its commandments – that whole thing was ALWAYS only a temporary shadow. And now that Jesus has come there MUST also be a change of the law. We’ll find out more about the change of the NEW covenant next week in chapter 8.
In verses 13-17 we learn, Jesus is in Melchizedek’s order not Levi’s
13 He of whom these things are said [that’s Jesus] belonged to a different tribe, and no-one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 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. 17 For it is declared: "You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek."
Jesus is from the tribe of Judah – the tribe of kings. So although the Levite priesthood points to Him, Jesus isn’t part of that system. That system was only a shadow, only a pointer – by itself the law was weak and useless and never saved ANYONE. That’s how verses 18-24 continue: Levi is OVER, Jesus is eternal!
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:`You are a priest for ever.'" 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood.
If nothing else convinces you that Levite priests are useless – remember that they die! And if the person you’re counting on to get you to God dies, you are scuppered. But Jesus is an eternal Priest and that’s great news because:
25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 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. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever.
Jesus is the perfect High Priest.
Now if I’ve lost you up till now, come back to me. This is the conclusion – Jesus is the Perfect High Priest.
I was in court once while a friend was in the dock. The prosecutor read out the charges and he was guilty as charged. The hearing was to establish the severity of the sentencing. But my friend did not have any legal representation. He wasn’t afforded a lawyer by legal aid. He had learning difficulties and didn’t fully understand what was going on. So really he stood in that court room guilty, weak and defenceless. And the prosecutor made accusations against my friend that I knew were not true and could be easily refuted. And it was all I could do not to call out from the public gallery “Not true”. How I wished that my friend had good legal representation. Because here’s the question – How did my friend look to the eyes of the court? Without representation, he was defenceless, weak and guilty.
But a few years earlier I had a very different experience. Again, a friend was on trial. He was from Afghanistan and he was seeking asylum but was rejected by the home office. Now I don’t know much of anything about the law and he didn’t know much of anything about English and this was his final appeal before they would deport him. It all looked lost. EXCEPT that on this occasion my friend was represented by Mark Mullins. His name might ring a bell with those who keep up with Christian Concern for Our Nation. Mark Mullins is a brilliant barrister. I don’t know the difference between lawyers and solicitors and barristers, but all I know is, if I ever go on trial I want a barrister. And I want Mark Mullins. The Home Office prosecutor did not know what hit her. It was like Mike Tyson versus Daisy Duck. It was electrifying watching him carve every one of her argument into shreds. And I was there in the public gallery – I who love a good argument and I who a couple of years earlier had been basically deported by the home office. I was saying “Go on my son.” It was no contest, we won the appeal and my friend remains. Without his barrister, my friend had no hope. With his barrister he had no fear. How did my friend look in the eyes of the court? He looked as good as His representation. And when Mark Mullins is your representative, you look pretty good in the eyes of the court.
That’s a small example of – verse 25 – intercession. Here is an advocate, pleading the case of another. That’s intercession. And you and I need intercession more desperately that we can possibly imagine.
The bible says “God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice.” (Acts 17:30) None of us will be in the public gallery on that day. We will all be in the dock. And the charges against us will be read. And by rights all of us should be sentenced to hell.
But for those who have trusted Jesus – step forward our Perfect High Priest. He is a Brilliant Advocate: v26: holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. But not only that, v27, our Advocate Jesus has already sacrificed Himself for our sins. It’s as though Jesus takes into the court with Him a cheque written in His own blood covering all our crimes. “Your honour, I think you’ll find these charges have been satisfied.” But actually this Advocate doesn’t call the Judge ‘your honour’. He calls Him “Dad”. Now if you’re on trial and your lawyer calls the Judge, “Dad”, things are going to turn out alright. Well our Advocate is the Beloved Son of God Most High. And He and His Dad agree on everything.
So if Jesus takes on your case – you CANNOT lose. You are – v25 – saved COMPLETELY. If Jesus is your High Priest – how do you look in the eyes of heaven? You look as good as your Representative. You look as good as your Priest. Verse 26: you look holy, blameless, pure.
Do you see how important the perfect Priesthood of Jesus is? Without it, you look to God like my first friend: Defenceless, weak and guilty as sin. With Jesus as your High Priest, you look to God, holy, blameless and pure. That’s the difference the Priesthood of Jesus makes.
Now if that’s the case, then your standing with God has NOTHING to do with the quality of your life. It has everything to do with the quality of His life. Your standing with God has nothing to do with your abilities. It has everything to do with His abilities. Your standing with God has nothing to do with your performance. It has everything to do with His Priesthood.
So if you want to do what verse 19 describes – if you want to draw near to God – then you DON’T need a moral pep talk on how to be a better Christian. You DON’T need religious rituals to clean you up. All you need is to LOOK to your Perfect High Priest and realize verse 25:
25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Do you understand the perfect priesthood of Jesus? If you do you know you are ANCHORED securely right in the very presence of God. If you don’t you’ll feel like you yo-yo in and out of God’s presence. You’ll play that old game:
He loves me, He loves me not.
I do nice things, He loves me. I sin, He loves me not.
NO – look to your Perfect Priest.
Do you feel like you’re in the story of the prodigal son but you’re always finding yourself in the pig sty in the far country. Perhaps you picture yourself continually having to come to your senses and make your sorry speech and weedle your way into the Father’s presence. I promise you, If Christ is YOUR Priest you are IN the Father’s arms. Even as you stink of pig. You are in the Father’s arms. And tomorrow, you wake up in the Father’s house, His ring is still on your finger, His robe of righteousness is still around you. You begin each day, each week in the Father’s love. It’s not about your performance. It’s all about your perfect priest.