The mystery priest of the Bible
Hebrews 7: God intervened and called this new, permanent priesthood into being.
The writer of Hebrews spends a great deal of time talking about a little known person named Melchizedek from the Old Testament book of Genesis. Abraham goes out to fight a great battle which he wins by the help of God. As he returns with the people he’s rescued and the spoils of the battle this “king of Salem” greets him. Abraham, the man with the promise of God, treats him as a priest, giving him a tithe of the spoils and receives a blessing from him. It will be centuries before Abraham’s descendants will have a formal priesthood and the case could be made that if anyone’s positioned as a priest it would be Abraham, not this otherwise unknown man. The Hebrews writer concludes that Melchizedek was ordained to the priesthood by none other than the Lord and that in him we have a priesthood that operates completely outside the Levitical priesthood of Israel. Then, many centuries later, another priest who’s outside the Levitical tradition appears. In a much greater way, he serves in the priestly role. This great priest makes the ultimate sacrifice for sins and thus blesses all people. The writer of Hebrews connects the dots for us that here’s another priest ordained, not because of lineage and not by man, but by God’s own decree. In Jesus we have a never ending, absolutely effective, God-ordained priest.
Take Away: Jesus is our high priest. We need no other.
I’ve been included
Romans 9: They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them.
Big issues are in play here. Paul says that while the descendants of Abraham are the people with the promise of God that promise remains under God’s control. Even among Abraham’s descendants some are excluded and have no part in the promise. For instance, twin brothers (Jacob and Esau), before they’re ever born are treated differently from one another by God. One will be part of what God is doing in the world and the other won’t. Some Israelites have the idea that salvation is uniquely theirs because of their lineage. Paul says that’s not how it is. The only real decision maker here is God, so when some of Abraham’s descendants have tried to take the ball and run with it, making salvation their personal property, they’ve run head first into the Almighty who reminds them that this is his doing and not theirs. Israel doesn’t own salvation – God does. This is Good News for those of us who would otherwise be considered outsiders and ineligible for this wonderful plan of salvation.
Take Away: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
A “me-story” or a God-story?
Romans 4: The story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
The Old Testament story of Abraham doesn’t start with “Abraham sought God” or “Abraham was a righteous man.” Rather, the focus is on God who approaches Abraham, makes promises to him, and calls him to follow. Obviously, without Abraham’s response there would be no story. However, it’s even truer that without God’s first call, Abraham would have had no opportunity to obey in the first place. In the book of Romans, Paul wants us to understand the route to righteousness. We don’t arrive at a certain place where the Almighty is impressed by us and decides to take us under his wing. Rather, even when we’re hopelessly lost the Lord seeks us out, calls to us, makes promises to us and then awaits our response. The greatest thing Abraham ever does is to respond to what God does. As I apply that to my life I find all the rules being rewritten. If it’s just me doing stuff, even things that impress others, it’s not worth much. However, if I respond to God’s grace in my life, and then live my life in him, things happen that would have never otherwise been accomplished. My life becomes, not a “me-story,” but becomes a God-story.
Take Away: It all starts with the grace of God. I plug into that grace by faith.
Isaiah 15: A Message concerning Moab.
Lest it appear that Isaiah has it in only for Babylon, we must note that a quick journey through this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy brings to light God’s displeasure with several other groups. There’s Philistia, Moab, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tyre and others. In other words, not only have God’s people gotten themselves in trouble with the Lord for their sin, they’re surrounded by sinful nations that would like nothing better than to wipe Israel off the map. (Somehow that sounds familiar — oh yes, we heard something like this on the news this morning!) Across the centuries God’s people have survived only by the grace of God. Their own failures have brought judgment and their enemies have posed a very real threat to their existence. Today, that’s still true for all of God’s people. We Christians believe we’ve been “grafted in” and are, by faith, children of Abraham. As his people, God holds us to a high standard and we must not forget that. Also, as did they, we live in hostile territory. For some believers, this is literally true and for all believers it’s spiritually true. We’re surrounded by that which would destroy our life in the Lord. Israel’s only hope is to reconnect with God. Today, our remaining “in Christ” is also our only hope.
Take Away: Our journey through life takes us through some dangerous territory, our only security is in the Lord.
Genesis 12: So Abram left…He moved on…Abram went down…So Abram left.
I imagine there was a lot of excitement in that first “so Abram left” moment. The Lord had directed him to go and now, Abram, his family, and his belongings were moving out to a promised and glorious unknown place. That first step goes off without a hitch and in a relatively short time the travelers find themselves in the Promised Land of Canaan. That’s when things get complicated. Canaan’s already occupied and there’s no place for Abram and family. He moves on and settles down, at least until a famine hits the area. He moves again, relocating to Egypt. Abram and company are now as far to the southwest of Canaan as he had been to the northeast when his journey began. In a few years they’re all kicked out of Egypt and end up back in Canaan. However, even now they’re outsiders and aren’t really accepted as residents. What started out as an exciting relocation to the Promised Land has become an uncertain life with no permanency for Abram and his family. Years have passed since that original exodus and they’ve become a tribe of nomads rather than possessors of a land to call their own. If Abram had known this journey would fill the most of his life I wonder if he would have left in the first place. Being the hero he is my guess is “yes.” However, when I internalize his story, I wonder how I’m doing in the similar circumstances of my life. Years ago, the Lord called me to follow him. He promised that he’s building a city and has a place in it just for me. As I travel through life, I tend to treat each step as though it’s permanent. I amass possessions, settle down, and behave as though I’ve arrived at the destination promised me at the beginning of the journey. It took Abraham a lifetime to actually arrive. Everything else was “in transit.” So it is in my life. I want to appreciate the moment; after all, God’s good to me. However, I also want to remember that, like Abraham, I’m also “in transit.”
Take away: Appreciate the moment, but don’t forget this is just a part of a great journey.
Genesis 12: God told Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than taking a trip and our young family often hopped in the car to go and see something new. Then, I ended up traveling for a living, sometimes being gone weeks at a time. That, for me, cured my wander-lust and when that period of my life ended I emotionally overcompensated and became a homebody for several years. These days, I like to think I’ve found the middle ground in this, but I confess that I still like to be comfortably at home. Not long ago we took a 2900 mile road trip, and while it was fun to go, it was sure nice to get home: my bed, my chair, my patio – yep, it is good to be home. I’ve come to realize that it’s possible to be too comfortable. Sometimes, God has things he wants to do in my life: transitions he wants to take me through. He has something better for me, yet I hesitate. “Lord, it isn’t all that bad right here – if it is all the same to you, I think I’ll just settle down here in this place of comfort.” It makes perfect sense to me – but to fail here is to miss something much better he has for me. When Abraham obeys the Lord in the call to begin a journey into the unknown, he’s about to leave the comfort of home and set out on a decades-long journey. There are going to be some big bumps in the road but the destination the Lord has in mind for him is going to make it all worthwhile. What’s true for this, the first Patriarch, is true for you and me too: God initiated trips are always worth taking.
Take away: Don’t get too comfortable and miss out on something better the Lord might have in store.