The Tenth in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
You don’t hear much these days about Melchizadek. Other than a brief discussion of his priesthood on the White Horse Inn a while back, the last time anyone mentioned Melchizadek to me was when a nineteen year old Mormon elder stood at my door and told me that he belonged to the Melchizadek priesthood–whatever that means. It has long been common for Christian people to use biblical names for their children, yet I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named “Melchizadek.” No doubt, this lack of interest in Melchizadek is because he is a rather obscure and mysterious figure. Yet according to the author of Hebrews, Melichizadek figures prominently in redemptive history as a type of Jesus Christ. Understanding who this man is as well as the role he plays in redemptive history is essential to the author’s case for the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus. Although nobody talks about Melchizadek these days, perhaps we should.
We are continuing our series on the Book of Hebrews, and have come to chapter 7. In this section of the Book of Hebrews the author returns to a discussion he began in chapter 5 when he cited from Psalm 110:4 which speaks of the future messianic king as being a high priest forever after the order of Melchizadek. Having made his initial point about Melchizadek’s priesthood, the author of Hebrews then broke off his discussion about Melchizadek to express his frustration with this congregation when he realized that those to whom he was writing probably would not be interested in his theological arguments which demonstrated by Jesus was superior to Moses, to angels, and to the priests of Israel. This lack of interest in what the Old Testament teaches about Jesus Christ, sadly, was indicative of the circumstances under which a number of those in the church receiving the Letter to the Hebrews had quickly wilted under persecution, given up on Christianity, and then returned to Judaism.
Having made his initial theological point about Melchizadek, and realizing that his audience didn’t really care, the author then rebuked this church for acting like children who were unwilling to press on to maturity. In chapter 5:11-14, he writes, “about this [the superiority of Jesus Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Not only is Melchizadek’s priesthood an essential plank in the author’s overall case for the superiority of Jesus Christ, the fact the people didn’t care about the life of Melchizadek supplying powerful evidence for the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood reveals their immaturity, prompting the author’s ire and leading to his warning about apostasy in Hebrews 5:11-6:12.
The author is not saying that lack of interest in Melchizadek’s priesthood is the first step toward apostasy. But he is saying to a church where many have turned their backs upon Jesus Christ and committed the sin of apostasy that they need to understand how the Old Testament directed the Jewish people to expect the coming of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. This is why the author spent so much time proving from the Old Testament that Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant, and that one in whom Israel’s priesthood, the office of prophet, and that of messianic king, find their fulfillment. These new Christians must grow to maturity and that means understanding how the Old Testament points them ahead to the coming of Christ. It also means realizing that Melchizadek figures prominently in this case.
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