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Monday, February 8, 2010

Melchizedek, King of Righteousness (Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 7)

February 7, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

"Melchizedek, King of Righteousness"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 7

Sometimes the delivered sermon varies more significantly from the written version - this is one of those times and I commend the audio above to you.

Do you like mysteries? It doesn’t have to be the kind you find in novels. It might be movie-mysteries or real-life mysteries. Nobody likes being stumped, but I think most of us like the surge of satisfaction that comes when we solve the mystery. Whether it’s a “whodunit?” or a “what does it mean?” it’s a delight to figure it out.

And life is full of mystery – part of living life is being stumped and part of living life is discovering some answers along the way.

The Bible has it’s own mysteries, too. Particularly in the Old Testament – in the early days – much of what God said and did seemed more than a little mysterious.

Today we will look at one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible and see how he is connected through history and through God’s plan to Jesus Christ and God’s plan to rescue us from death and all that was separating us from Him.

Ancient Mystery in Genesis

Genesis tells the story of Abraham, first known as Abram. His story begins with God calling him from his country of birth to a new place God was to show him. Abram obeyed God and worshiped Him publicly, as God promised to bless him and give him this land. Abram finally settled just south of present-day Jerusalem in a place called Hebron.

After a local clash of kings resulted in the defeat of all of the Jordan River valley and the capture of Abram’s nephew, Lot, Abram went after the victorious king and defeated him, rescuing his nephew and the possessions of the local kings.

That’s when Abram ran into Melchizedek. One of the local kings – the king of Sodom offered Abram a reward of the goods he recovered. Abram refused his offer, saying that the Lord God Most High had made him rich. But then, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, offered Abram bread and wine and blessed him in the name of God Most High. Abram received the bread and wine and gave Melchizedek a tenth of his possessions.

Who was Melchizedek? We know he was king of Salem, presumably the region where the city of Salem or Jerusalem was later built. We can translate his name – it means King of Righteousness or “the Righteous King.” We know that he not only knew the real and living God, but was considered a priest of God before the priesthood was even established with Moses and Aaron. We also know that Abraham – the father of God’s people and one of the legends of faithfulness, humbly worshiped with this man and even tithed to him.

Who was Melchizedek? All we really know is that he was a godly King who also functioned as a priest of God and whose kingdom was known as “Peace.”

We would probably remain in the dark about him… except he is mentioned again in two significant places in the Bible.

Mystery in Psalms

From Abram’s time on through the time of Jesus, God’s “system” for dealing with human sinfulness was through priests and a system of animal sacrifices. But that system depended on human priests, who themselves were sinful, and who lived and died and had to do the work of atonement again and again and again.

Mysteriously, in the midst of that system, which lasted for many hundreds of years, God established a king for His people. They were not satisfied with being governed by God’s Law or by judges. And God listened to His people’s prayers for an earthly king and God raised up David as the great king of Israel. Just as He had done with Abraham, God made a covenant – or promise – to David that his throne and rule would last forever.

In Psalm 110, God speaks and makes reference to this everlasting promise, saying “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind…” Then, God says to David the king, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” There he is again – our mystery man from ancient times.

What does that mean… that David is a priest like Melchizedek? It’s mystery attached to mystery!

We can see similarities between David and Melchizedek. Both were kings, and both were kings of the same area – Salem/Jerusalem. By David’s time there was a great city where Melchizedek had once walked. Both men also worshiped the one Lord. In that sense, both were RIGHTEOUS kings, because they rightly worshiped and served the one God. And God attached to both of these righteous kings the role of being a priest forever.

But we are still left with a mystery. God had a whole system going with priests who offered regular sacrifices of thanks, atonement, and worship. Why have these alternate priest-kings whose duties somehow seemed larger and more consequential?

Mystery Solved: Jesus as Priest-King

The mystery is solved in the New Testament book of Hebrews. In chapter 5 and more fully in chapter 7, we are told that Jesus is also a “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” It was expected that God’s promised one would be a king like David, so it is not unexpected that Jesus is linked to David. What is interesting is the link to this mysterious saying about David being a priest like Melchizedek.

The amazing “aha” moment comes in the first few verses of Hebrews 7. First, the encounter between Melchizedek and Abraham is retold, along with some of the significance of this mysterious figure. Then, in verse 3, we are told that Melchizedek was made “like the Son of God.” Let that sink in!

Melchizedek was made to be like the Son of God… like Jesus.

You see, the whole book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus is both the fully righteous (or right) King and our eternal High Priest. Unlike the priests of the Old Testament system, Jesus is without sin. Unlike them, Jesus doesn’t die after a mortal life, but lives on forever to intercede – to be our go-between – with God the Father. And the sacrifice Jesus made – of his own life – is not a repeating and limited sacrifice, but a once-and-for-all sacrifice.

And here’s the really amazing part: in order to prepare us for a Savior and a salvation based on yielding our wills and lives to a righteous Lord and King and based on the gracious sacrifice of a Priest whose work would be effective for all time, God put at least two significant righteous priest-kings into human history to point us to Jesus Christ.

In literature we call it foreshadowing. In music it’s the theme or motif introduced at the beginning that is later developed and conclusively returned to at the end. In everyday language we call it a “heads-up.”

Right there at the beginning of God establishing His people through Abraham, God provided a memorable encounter with an earthly king, whose righteousness and acknowledgement of the one God qualified him as a priest. With that man, whom Hebrews says was “like the Son of God,” Abraham worshiped and made offering. If you really want a mind-boggler, notice that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and worshiped God as he shared bread and wine with Abraham. Jesus would later do the same with his disciples around the table, just before his crucifixion.

And right there in the midst of God’s laws and prophets, God raised up King David to be a godly king who also functioned as a priest to those who served the Lord.

It was as if God was saying to His people and to us… ultimately human priests and the blood of animals cannot save you. Get ready, one day one will come who is not only like the Son of God, but who IS the Son of God. And what will be required of you is the submission you show a godly king, for he will truly be the King of Righteousness. And he will also make the final sacrifice once and for all, so that things between you and me will be right. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and you will know my peace.

Solving the Mystery: Peace at Last

Peace with God – that is the hope we have in Jesus Christ. And just as the godly priest-king Melchizedek’s kingdom was known for and called Salem (peace), and King David was known for establishing God’s peace in his kingdom, so Jesus brings God’s peace at last. Why all the mystery? It’s because God wants us to discover the answer: His Son, Jesus Christ.

God wants us to yield our lives and our wills to him and trust in the gracious and saving sacrifice Jesus made to set things right between God and us. In doing so, we will discover God’s desire for us – peace with Him and hope of life with Him forever. Amen.

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