Friday, October 24, 2014

Hebrews 6:20-7:3 Who is Melkizedek and Why Should I Care?

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. 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. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3 NIV)

I have backed up one verse before starting in chapter 7, because we need the context. The author has just stated that our hope is secure because Jesus is our high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This begs the question, who is this Melchizedek? He is a mysterious person, given only four verses in Genesis 14, who appears, then is barely mentioned again.

First I need to set up the background. When Abraham was traveling around with his nephew Lot, they settled in a place called Bethel. However, the land wasn’t large enough for both of them with their herds and people, so Abraham suggested they part. Abraham selflessly suggested that Lot choose the land he wanted, and Abraham would take what was left. Lot looked out and saw the plain of Jordan, in the east, and found it was perfect, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10). So Lot headed east and pitched his tents near Sodom, where the people were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. (vs. 12-13) This would not be a good move for Lot! He thought he was getting the best deal, but not so much.

If you know the story of Sodom and Gommorah, you know that angels had to forcibly remove Lot and his family from Sodom before God destroyed it. Even then, his wife, having been ordered not to look back, couldn’t help herself from gazing back at her precious home, so she turned into a pillar of salt. Well, even before the destruction of Sodom, Lot found himself in trouble there. There was a war between several local kings, and Lot and his family were carried off with all of their possessions as a result of this war. When Abraham heard what had happened, he gathered 318 trained men from his household, and they routed the men who had taken Lot and rescued his nephew and all of his family and goods. On his way home from this victory, Abraham met Melchizedek:

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). 

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 14:17-20)

That’s all that we know about Melchizedek. He was the King of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” and his actual name means “king of righteousness.” His name is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament, in what is considered a prophetic word, spoken by God the Father to Christ, the Messiah: 

“You are a priest forever,

    in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)

Melchizedek was both a king and a priest of the Most High God. It was not permissible under Jewish law to have both roles. Yet, Melchizedek did. And he blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him a tithe. The author of Hebrews indicates that this man had no beginning or ending, no father or mother, and he was like the Son of God, a priest forever. So who was he, and why is it important that Jesus is called a priest in the order of Melchizedek? Well, many commentators believe that Melchizedek was actually a Christophany - an appearance of the Son of God before his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.

The significance of linking Jesus to the priesthood of Melchizedek is that it shows His superiority over Abraham, the revered father of the Jewish nation. The argument is that Jesus is even superior to the founder of the Jewish faith, which would be noteworthy to these Hebrew believers, who were in danger of going back into slavery to the law and tradition. But for now, note that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, a tenth of EVERYTHING! Tithing preceded the giving of the law. It is a natural response of worship. Abraham was acknowledging that God had brought him this miraculous victory, and in gratitude He gives back to God what was really God’s anyway. More about that next.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hebrews 6:16-20 The door's open! Come on in!

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:16-20 NIV)

When a politician takes an oath of office, he ends the oath with, “So help me God.” When someone says that it signals that the oath is solemn and binding, because it’s been made in God’s name. Our verses today tell us that when God made His promise to Abraham, there was no one greater, so He swore by His own name. And because of this, the promise is more than just solemn - it’s “unchanging. . .an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” The Message puts this in modern language in this way:

When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable. 

I love that there is something God can’t do: He can’t lie! His Word is unchangeable, just as He is. This is why our hope in Christ is an anchor. It is held by God’s very own Word. When we say we hope in Christ, we don’t mean we wish. It’s not like, “I wish I could get a new car.” This hope we have is a solid promise - a guarantee. This is why, when the entire world around us is changing and seems to be crumbling, we can remain unshaken. We know that we know that we know that God’s Word is true. We know that we have an eternal home. We know that our sins are forgiven and we are His. We know that He is coming back, and that He has the ultimate victory.

Jesus is not just superior in His person, but also in His promises. The author is telling the readers that Jesus is the solid anchor of our faith. And He is our eternal high priest. He is the One who enters the inner sanctuary to God. In the temple, the Holy of Holies was where the ark of the covenant and God’s shekinah glory was. Only the High Priest could enter in there once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make sacrifices for the sins of the people.

 The veil of the temple, which separated the people from God’s glory, measured 60 feet by 30 feet and was 10 inches thick. Jon Courson says it was “so heavy it took one hundred priests to move it.” (Courson, Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1472) Yet, you may remember that, when Jesus completed His work on the cross, the veil of the temple tore in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). The way to the Father was open.

 We have no further need of a mediator between God and man, because Jesus, our only Mediator, has opened the way to the inner sanctuary. We are welcomed in! This is great news! You and I don’t need to send anyone in there for us to reach Almighty God. We are guaranteed an audience with our Father, because the Son is at His right hand! This is why Hebrews 4:16 boldly proclaimed, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Can I hear an “Amen!” to that???

Jon Courson points out that the Hebrew audience may have doubted Jesus’ qualifications as High Priest, since only those of the tribe of Levi could be priests, and Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. So he jumps into a comparison of Jesus to Melchizedek, which will move us into chapter 7. Remember that, back in chapter 5, verse 10, the writer had asserted that these believers were not mature enough to understand a discussion of Melchizedek. But now, he is going to launch into an explanation of this mysterious figure who has only a few verses devoted to him in Genesis 14. The superiority of Jesus’ priesthood will be our focus. This is deep stuff, so we will need to pay attention, and I will be entering into it with all humility! Help me, Holy Spirit!  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hebrews 6:13-15 Part 2 Waiting. . . more waiting. . .

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13-15)

I am not the best “waiter.” I don’t like sitting in a freezing exam room for 45 minutes until a doctor can pop his head in; I feel my anger grow as I discover that, once again, I got in the wrong line at the store (if you see me at a store, NEVER get in line behind me). I want to scream at drivers who get on the freeway in front of me going 50 mph! I especially don’t like being put on hold, listening to REALLY bad elevator music, while I wait to get an answer to a simple question.

Yesterday, we focused on the promise of God. Today I want to go back to the same verses to look at the idea of waiting. We know that often there is a long time between the promise and the fulfillment. I have friends who have been waiting for years for their spouse or children to come to the LORD. I see couples struggling with infertility, or friends with a serious illness waiting for answers. Is God ignoring prayers? Will He EVER answer?

Sometimes the fulfillment doesn’t come in our lifetime. This was certainly true of Abraham. I can identify with the Hebrew believers in wanting the LORD to return NOW. What is He waiting for? 2 Peter 3:9 gives us the answer to that one:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Just as God has a gracious purpose in our waiting for Christ’s return, He is being gracious when He delays in answering our prayers. He is building our character, teaching us to be patient, to endure, to persevere, to trust. I love that God does not tell us what is in our future. I don’t think we could bear knowing that news ahead of time. Yet, somehow, over years of walking and trusting Him, we find Him faithful, no matter where He leads us.

Jon Courson says that one of the reasons God waits, is because what He has planned is so much better than what we could imagine. (Eph. 3:20). He uses the example of Zacharias and Elizabeth, who were very old and childless. They had given up the dream of ever becoming parents. Yet God gave them the boy who would grow up to become the greatest prophet in history, John the Baptist! I love what Jon Courson writes:

The language of eternity is faith. When the Lord has us ruling and reigning at His side, under His command, doing His bidding - whatever that means in the ages to come - He’s going to need men and women like you who are not second-guessing, not doubting, not faltering. Jesus taught about the faithful in this life who will rule over five and ten cities in the kingdom (Luke 19). In other words, Jesus is saying there is a destiny far beyond what any of us know or can imagine awaiting us in the next zillion years.

 And the language that must be fluently spoken by us if we are going to be ambassadors for Him in the realm and regions beyond is the language of faith. (New Testament Commentary , P. 1476)

What are you waiting for in this season? Are you waiting for a spouse? Are you wondering why you still have no baby in your arms, even though it is your greatest desire to love on a baby? Are you waiting for a clear diagnosis from the doctor? Are you waiting to find a job? Maybe you are waiting for the burden of overwhelming grief to subside. If God delays in answering, know that it is because He has the perfect plan for you - and that plan is part of His overall Kingdom plan - it’s for eternal purposes, not just our happiness. God is focused on our holiness, and He is working it into us in the waiting.

What can you do while you wait? Rest. Trust. Keep moving forward. Psalm 37:3-4 puts it this way:

Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 
Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (NIV)

God is the ultimate Promise Keeper. When He says He’s going to do something, He does it. That’s why believers, over centuries, have put their trust in Him. Rest. Trust. Keep moving forward. He is FAITHFUL! As we finish this chapter of Hebrews in our next passage, we will look at the imagery that the author uses to affirm that we have a God who can be trusted. Let’s take delight in Him!