Have you ever missed out on a great opportunity because you weren’t in the “in crowd”? …Been passed over for a promotion or excluded from membership because you didn’t have the right last name? …Thought that whatever connections there must be that make things happen, you have been left with an open circuit? If so, then you will connect with the message the writer of Hebrews is trying to communicate to us in the seventh chapter of Hebrews.
I need to share with you a short history lesson from the OT and then we’ll get right to the heart of the matter.
Names like Moses, Aaron, Abraham and Joshua are pretty familiar to us because they are the stuff of which children’s Bible school lessons are made. Melchizedek? He’s another matter. We’ve heard the name mentioned briefly, but good grief, we’re doing well to pronounce it, let alone give you his biography.
But when the original recipients of this Hebrews letter heard the names of Moses, Aaron, Abraham and Joshua… and the name of Melchizedek, they not only knew about them, they knew them – they were their ancestors, they were their heritage, their lives were lived with those names ringing in their ears.
To learn about Melchizedek, you have to travel back to Genesis 14.
Here we read about the battle of the kings in the valley of Siddim. (And it’s important that you understand, when we say kings in that day and place, they were little more than tribal leaders. Don’t think national leaders – every city had its “king.”) Siddim is the valley outside of Sodom and Gomorrah now covered by the southern end of the Dead Sea. But this all happened before the brimstone rained down, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.
Kedorlaomer was the king of Elam and he and three other kings were going across the country pillaging and plundering. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and three other nearby cities go out to defend their lands and property, but are thoroughly routed.
Our interest in the story comes with the fact that Lot, the nephew of Abraham, is caught in the middle of all of this. Lot and his family and possessions are taken captive by these kings and they head north.
A messenger quickly notifies Lot’s uncle Abraham, who gathers his force of 318 trained fighting men who head after them and overtake them far to the north in the country of Dan. They attack them and soundly defeat these four kings and their armies and recover Lot and all of the possessions that had been plundered.
As they head for home they camp in the Valley of Shaveh outside of Salem (or what is now called Jeru-salem). The king of Salem, named Melchizedek, comes out to provide them with bread and wine and a blessing. Listen to this beautiful blessing:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen 14:19-20)
After Melchizedek blesses Abraham, Abraham in turn gives him a tenth of everything they have recovered in tribute for his benevolence to them.
Melchizedek served in a very prestigious and powerful position, occupying both the role of king and priest over Salem. You’ll notice that nowhere in Genesis 14, or anywhere else in the OT, is a family connection with Abraham mentioned. Melchizedek isn’t included in any genealogy of God’s chosen people. Yet, there he is – obviously a believer in God and a priest in his service.
Centuries later, David, writing the messianic Psalm 110, signifies that this king/priest was no ordinary priest. He, in fact, prefigured the priesthood of which the Messiah himself would belong: The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)
Now, as we return to our text in Hebrews 7, the writer finds tremendous significance in the symbolism of this mysterious figure who appears for but a moment in the life of Abraham.
Melchizedek is translated, “king of righteousness.” As king of Salem, he is also, “king of peace” (because Salem is the Hebrew word for “peace.”)
In the Genesis account, Melchizedek is introduced abruptly. The writer gives no background, no genealogy, yet he is proclaimed to be a king and a priest, and after his encounter with Abraham we hear nothing more about him. The writer takes this introduction and says, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (Heb. 7:3).
He is not trying to picture him as a superhuman being. We have no doubt that as a man he was born with parents and at the end of his life he died and was buried. But, for our writer’s purpose this is significant that Melchizedek’s priesthood isn’t based on his lineage with Aaron or his membership in the Levitical priesthood.
The conclusion he draws is that Melchizedek’s priesthood transcends human limitations and standards (i.e., limited by death, limited by his own sin, and ultimately limited by the inadequacies of the covenant under which they serve).
His greatness? Consider the writer’s logical argument: 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, their brothers—even though their brothers 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. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. 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. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Heb 7:4-10)
Abraham offered a tenth of the reclaimed plunder to Melchizedek. The lesser always tithes to the greater. The greater always blesses the lesser. In fact, if we are going to argue that Melchizedek doesn’t measure up as a priest because he didn’t come through Levi, we’ll have to admit that though Levi was still generations from being born, he, through his ancestor Abraham, offered the same tithe of honor to the greater high priest.
What are we to conclude from all of this history lesson?
The writer is addressing the question in the back of his readers’ minds: How can Jesus be a priest if he can’t trace his lineage back to Levi and Aaron? We may not think this is important, but to the Jews it was an absolute impossibility – it violated both scripture and tradition. It was a deal breaker. So, our writer acknowledges the unorthodoxy of it: 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. (Heb 7:13-14)
You see, Jesus didn’t have the right name, he didn’t come from the right family. But his priesthood didn’t depend on rattling the genealogical chain back to Levi. Look at verses 15-16: 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.
His priesthood is on the basis of an indestructible life.
I love that phrase – “indestructible life.” Everything these days is made with built in obsolescence. Give it enough time and it will destruct – put it in a room with a 3 year old and it has a survival time of 55 minutes max.
But Jesus’ life is indestructible. They couldn’t end it by nailing him to a cross, by sealing the tomb where they buried him, by crushing the church in which he lives on. He lives and reigns eternally.
His life and his relevance aren’t limited by time or culture. What Jesus said applies to our lives just as powerfully today as it did to those people who sat around him and heard him speak for the first time. His message is indestructible.
The writer makes an astute observation in vs. 11, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood… why Jesus?”
In the following verses, he makes two conclusions why Jesus needed to come – not in the lineage of Levi, to carry on the traditions of the Levitical priesthood – but in a new order, like Melchizedek, without genealogy and tradition, without beginning or end.
First, the old law and the old covenant could not do what we needed most.
For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law…. The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect)… (Heb 7:12,18-19)
And then he continues in vs.19 and 22, he tells us …a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
And remember what we learned back when we began our study in chapter 1: the word better isn’t midpoint between good, better, best. It is really the word “superior.” It implies the ultimate pinnacle of perfection.
the old priesthood was limited by sin and death
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office… (Heb 7:23)
Jesus had all of the human qualities to make him sympathetic and understanding of our weaknesses. But while every human priest offered sacrifices first for his own sins, and every human priest forfeited his priesthood at death, Jesus reigns forever, his priesthood is permanent, his sacrifices are unhindered by his own sinfulness: … but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (Heb 7:24)
Jesus’ priesthood can never be terminated by death – his sacrifice was perfected by his own holiness and purity. “He is able to save completely… such a high priest meets our need… holy, blameless, pure.” (Heb 7:25-26)
The question we need to ask is, “Is all this ancient history or is there something that applies to our lives here and now? How should it affect you and me? After all, this all happened centuries before Jesus, and almost three millennia before us. I wouldn’t know a Levitical priest if he stepped on my foot. But, it means just this:
God can use a nobody. I don’t have to worry about having the wrong last name or not being born to the “right” family. My lineage traces directly back to the family of God. I don’t need a priest with a pedigree to draw near to God. I need Jesus, who can take me to the foot of God’s throne and claim me as his very own. God can take me – a nobody without connections or name and use me powerfully.
Jesus isn’t the only one with an indestructible life. It would be one thing to be condemned to death by my weakness and sinfulness, left helpless and hopeless. And in ourselves and by our own power we are. But Jesus Christ does not leave us. When Jesus spoke to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus he said,
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).
I also have an indestructible life because I am a child of God. Disease might one day eat my physical body, death will one day come and end my earthly life, but my hope is in heaven, my eternity is with God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor 5:1-5)
As I grow older, this is the scripture I find myself returning to more often than any other. Not in a morbid way, but in a hopeful way, an empowering way, a realization that while my body may not last forever, my life will – I, like Jesus have an indestructible life. Listen to Paul one more time:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
If Jesus is your King of Righteousness, your great high priest, your life is indestructible.