Thoughts at the beginning of worship
Today as we continue working through the Book of Hebrews, I want to get off on the right foot and remind you of the doctrine of Total Depravity. There’s no place better to start than at the bottom. We can work our way up. This doctrine of the Reformed Tradition helps us understand our need for a High Priest.
I’m reminded of the old theologian who had enough humility to thank God for the doctrine of total depravity. His students were shocked, especially when he acknowledged it to be the only doctrine of the church he could admit to having lived up to.
We are flawed with sin which breaks our relationship with our Creator. We need of someone to plea our case and represent us before God, the best advocate we can find. That’s why it’s good to have Jesus as our High Priest. Think of Jesus as our lead counsel in a high-profile legal proceeding.
What is Total Depravity?
That said, the doctrine of total depravity doesn’t mean we’re as bad as we can be. Sadly, we can always be worse as is often demonstrated. What this doctrine means that sin has tainted everything in our lives and world.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, acknowledges this when he speaks of creation itself groaning from the bondage and decay it’s under because of sin. Our only hope to get out of the mess we’re in is to have a Savior like Jesus. Jesus pulls us up out of the muck, pleas our case before God, and covers us with his own righteousness. This sums up the message of Hebrews. It sums up the gospel. Our faith is all about Jesus. We trust in him. We follow him.
Insight into Hebrews
In today’s text we learn about several things which have already introduced.
Perhaps because much of Melchizedek’s history is shrouded in the past, he’s an intriguing character. We know from literature of the New Testament era, Melchizedek was frequently mentioned in Jewish rabbinical teachings. This means, those who first heard this message, would likely to have been familiar with him. In Hebrews 7, the author spends a third of the chapter writing about old Mel. But even here, this isn’t a chapter about Mel. The author wants to exalt Jesus and Mel becomes an archetype for Jesus’ priesthood.
The second theme already introduced to us earlier in this book is Jesus’ role as a high priest (Click here to read the first sermon on this topic). We might recall that the author mentioned this earlier (in the 4th chapter). But the topic was lightly covered. Think of it like drinking milk. Now he develops this role of Jesus more fully. He’s grilling steak. We’re getting into the solid food, now.
Today we’re looking at the first two-thirds of Chapter Chapter 7. I’m going to read the text from The Message translation, to give you a new way to hear this passage. I would encourage you to listen to it being read. If you think about it, Scripture was first heard as most people couldn’t read. So, listen. As we get into the text, use you Bibles or the sheets in the bulletin to follow along.
After the Reading of Scripture
One day, Calvin (the boy who used to be in the comic strips) stood before a mirror. Wearing only underpants, he admires his physique. Pumping his biceps, he proclaims, “Made in God’s own image, yes sir!” Hobbes, lounging on the floor, looks up and mutters, “God must have a good sense of humor.
I like Hobbes. He keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. The truth is, although created in God’s image, we have digressed from God’s original intention. Thankfully, God provides a way for the stain of sin to be removed through the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Christ: Prophet, Priest, & King
As I’ve shared before, the church teaches that Christ has three positions: Prophet, Priest, and King. As King, he has ultimate authority over our lives and the world. The other two positions, Prophet and Priest, complement each other.
Think of it this way. The prophet is like God’s transmitter, broadcasting God’s word to the people. The priest is like God’s receiver, collecting the people’s concern to present to God. As prophet and priest, Jesus is like a transceiver, a radio that does both functions. Today our focus is on Jesus as priest.
Jesus as High Priest
As I pointed out at the beginning, this is the second time the Preacher in Hebrews delves into the role of the High Priest. On January 31, the sermon you had to watch or read online because of the snowstorm we were experiencing, I spoke about how as High Priest, Jesus was our advocate. Because he’s lived among us, he knows our weaknesses and identifies with us.
The Non-Linear Nature of Hebrews
As we’ve already heard about Jesus as High Priest, let me say more about the structure of Hebrews. The author often introduces a subject, sometime even deals with it on one level, then returns to it later for a more detailed treatment.
We see this at the end of today’s passage with the mention of a better covenant. But the author doesn’t pick up this theme until the next chapter. This scattered style can drive those of us educated in the West crazy. We’re used to linear arguments. This book, to us, seems scattered. One theologian writing on Hebrews makes this useful analogy:
Hebrews has been compared to an intricate crocheted piece which picks up a new thread again and again, but then carries all the threads through the piece, weaving them into the pattern. Thus, to take hold of one thread is to have hold of the whole piece. Those schooled in the ways of Western literature and seeking an ordered progression of ideas will seek in vain in Hebrews. What is always true of the Bible is emphatically true here: texts must be read in context.”.
Old Testament background
To fully understand Christ’s role as our High Priest, we must spend some time in the Old Testament and grasp what the priesthood meant to the Hebrew people. We almost get the idea that someone spoke during this sermon, asking how Jesus could be a High Priest. After all, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. The priests were Levites (which, by the way, had nothing to do with wearing jeans).
The Levites received the assignment of all priestly functions for Israel. So, Jesus, who was not from the Levite clan, the preacher insists, belongs to a higher priesthood. This is where King Melchizedek comes in. He was identified in Genesis as a priest of the God Most High.
Melchizedek becomes an archetype for Jesus’ priestly role for several reasons. First of all, he received a tithe from Abraham, a tenth of the spoils of war that Abraham had collected after he had released Lot and his family who were hostages of war. Second, the author points out Melchizedek’s name, which implies righteousness. And his city is named for peace. Peace and righteousness are attributes of Jesus. And he notes that he has no genealogy.
You know, genealogy is important in Scripture. Even Jesus, at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, has a genealogy. This may seem to conflict with what we are told in Hebrews. But the preacher in Hebrews, at this point, is focusing on the divinity of Christ. He’s already made the case for the timeliness of Jesus, who was at creation. We have seen throughout this book how Jesus leaves heaven and comes to earth and then returns, which emphasizes his eternal reign, instead of his life as his earthly son of Mary and Joseph.
The role of the tithe
Interestingly, the preacher in Hebrews even shows how this priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levite priesthood because through Abraham, Levi gave a tithe to Melchizedek. We may see this as a stretch. Levi’s father is Jacob, which makes Abraham his great-grandfather. In other words, Levi won’t be born for a couple of generations. But since he comes from Abraham’s line of descendants, the author makes the case that Levi was in Abraham’s loins.
Limitation of Levite Priests
The second reason for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood is the limitations of the Levite priests. They die and have to be replace. They are sinful and have to make extra sacrifices for their own sins before they can take care of others. But Jesus, as our High Priest, is eternal and sinless. He can focus on our needs.
What this has to do with us:
Sooner or later, we’re all going to die and will have to answer for our lives and what we’ve done with them. We have a choice. We can defend ourselves, but you know the old adage, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”
Or, we can try to find some ambulance chaser, but remember, they’re only in for the money. They won’t have a reason to help us after death. Our only hope is to accept the gracious offer of the best counselor available. We let Jesus him defend us with his own righteousness. His offer is the only one that makes sense.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we know we are sinful. Sin has crept into our world and taints our lives. Unable to pull ourselves out of this state, we depend on Jesus Christ, our lead counsel, our High Priest, who covers us with his righteousness. Freed of sin, help us to we live for him. Amen.
 Romans 8:22.
 See Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalms 109:4.
 He’s already been introduced. See Hebrews 5:6, 5:10 and 6:20.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, WJKP, 2006), 181-183. In Excursus 4, Johnson provides detail into the Jewish writings on Melchizedek.
 See Hebrews 4:14-5:6.
 See Hebrews 5:12-13.
 Westminster Confession 8.1, Westminster Larger Catechism questions 41-45, Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 23-26.
 Stanley N. Olson, “Wandering But Not Lost,” Word and World, 5/4 (1985) St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, page 429. Seehttp://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/5-4_Gender/5-4_Olson.pdf
 Numbers 3:5-13.
 Genesis 14:18 (and this reference to the God Most High occurs twice again in this short passage about Melchizedek.
 Matthew 1:1-17.
 Hebrews 1:2