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- And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.
- He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth;
- and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.
Last held on the 25th of August 2002 at Hattem
Abraham and Melchizedek
May I present Melchizedek? Do you meet him for the first time? Did you never hear of that man? Or do you only know him by name? Because you know he appears in the Bible? But that's all?
However, it's also possible that you say: I know a little bit more about him. Because I know the parts of the Bible that talk about him. But what I already know about him is so unfathomable to me, so incomprehensible. I've never known what to do with that amazing figure.
In my first congregation someone once said to me: What a strange man is he, pastor? Melchizedek! We at home are reading the Bible in the Book of Hebrews. A difficult book. But when I read about the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, it's completely over my head. I hope you'll meet him in this sermon and it'll be a nice introduction.
Abraham is returning from his war against the kings of the east. He conquered them and freed Lot, who had been taken as a prisoner by them. We imagine all kinds of feelings in his heart, fighting for primacy. He's thankful and happy that the Lord has given him the victory, and Lot and his family are safely home again. But he's also sad because so many people lost their lives. And now that the tension has passed, he feels exhausted, physically and mentally.
And during or immediately after that return trip, something wonderful happens. Suddenly a certain Melchizedek appears before Abraham's eyes. Out of the blue. The Bible doesn't say anything about him at all. Nothing about his lineage. About what happened to him before. For only a moment, God turns the heavenly spotlight on him, But shortly afterwards he disappears totally into the dark of ancient history.
And everything on him is strange. He has a beautiful name, that's true: Melchizedek. It means 'the king of righteousness'. Great, if the people came to call you that way. So if there's justice under your rule, while other kings destroy righteousness by fighting and robbing each other. What a name! Fast unreal, as if from a fairy tale. He's the king of the town of Salem. That's a beautiful name as well. It means peace. Great if there's still a Salem, a place of peace, in strife and war violence. By the way, later that same place will be called Jerusalem, the city of God, where the Lord Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection, will let prevail justice and peace and will send it to the whole world.
And this Melchizedek has a remarkable combination of two offices. He is both king and priest. A unique combination. We don't see it anywhere else in the Bible with earthly kings. Also, a great combination, if you look closely. He kingly ruled his people by priestly telling them about God, giving them God's blessing, learning them to pray, and interceding for them, and also helping them sacrifice to God. And what's even more wonderful in this purely pagan land: he was a priest of God Most High. Of the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. The Lord had established his name in Salem before his people lived there.
Well, this Melchizedek unexpectedly comes to Abraham. He strengthens him and his companions after the battle and the heavy journey back home with, mind you, bread and wine. And he blesses Abraham and says: 'Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!' Abraham, I tell you, the victory was God's, who blessed you and will continue to bless you. And deeply impressed by this, Abraham shows himself to be the inferior of Melchizedek. He honours him and gives him what a king and a priest are entitled to receive: ten per cent of the spoils. And then that wonderful meeting ends, and Melchizedek disappears into the dark again. We don't find him anywhere else in the history of Israël.But the people of Israël have never forgotten this wonderful story. They became more and more amazed about it. And when they thought of Melchizedek, the ancient mysterious priest-king of Salem, they must inevitably think of the promised Messiah as well. The new king of Jerusalem, whom God will give. They then dreamed of Him, who will one day stand between God and his people in the same way as Melchizedek, also as king and priest. Then they dreamed of Him who will be the true king of righteousness and the true prince of peace. Then they dreamed of Him by whom they, as Abraham's people, will be richly blessed. Then they dreamed of Him who, in their troubles and worries, would completely surprise them with refreshing gifts, although they could not yet have an idea of what deep meaning the words bread and wine would get. Then they dreamed of Him, before whom they once hoped to kneel, to pay all their tribute, at whose feet they once hoped to lay all their tithes, all their treasures. Then they dreamed of Him, who also would emerge as unexpectedly and surprisingly as the God-given comforter in life's battle. Oh, how they dreamed of Him who would act in the way of Melchizedek. How eagerly they looked forward to Him.
Do you know this too? Are you faithful dreaming and hoping, generated by what you've read in the Bible? Dreams about peace and justice from God? About someone who will act as Melchizedek did? Who will bless you, to whom you can entrust yourself, whom you can honour, to whom you can dedicate your life? And each time a new king ascended the throne in Jerusalem to rule in the name of God, this messianic dream, this hope for the true king and priest, the real bringer of peace and salvation, was given new impetus. Just think of Psalm 110, a joyful song, sung at the feast of the coronation of a new king. You can read there: The Lord has sworn, and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Especially in the period between the old and the new testament, when the people of Israël were in deep need, they expected the coming of the Messiah and with Him the end time, the deliverance from all needs, and the eternal Kingdom of Peace. There was a stream of writings about it. We call that the apocalyptic literature. They're similar to the Book of Revelation. Ad in these books we also encounter the name Melchizedek often. Like a kind of coat rack, on which one hung all expectations of God's salvation through the promised Savior.And again later, a man hangs on the cross at Jerusalem. He also is a special person. He also suddenly appears among the people, between their turmoil and sinful activities. There's also a mystery around his origins, a secret. And a mystery around the end of his life. He also cannot simply be fitted into the human line of the generations. His mother is his mother in a different way than other mothers are regarding their children. His father isn't his birth father. Before He is born, He is called the son of God, by an angel no less. And he says of himself: before Abraham was, I am. He doesn't fit in our frames. He's just as surprising and different in his performance as Melchizedek. And if anyone appears righteous, He does. If anyone radiates peace, He does. If anyone is encouraging, strengthening, invigorating those in need and distress, He is. And now they've nailed Him to the cross. And above his head hangs a sign: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. A sinister joke by Pilate and his soldiers, who've made Him a king, who is mocked. But meanwhile, He's the true King. God has sent and anointed Him to save his faithful subjects. How? As a priest, He's atoning for the sins of his people with the sacrifice of his own life. On the cross, He's king and priest at the same time. On that cross, the King priestly redeemed Zion by justice, and Jerusalem by righteousness (Is. 1:27). God's righteous punishment for all sins came upon him. He carried God's rejection of sinful people. He, the righteous, has suffered for the unrighteous, and thus He, the prince of peace, has made peace. Peace through the blood of the cross. Peace between God and man and therefore ultimately peace on earth. Peace by justice. Let's repeat the Dutch Confession of Faith (Confessio Belgica ) with joy and gratitude: (article 21)
"We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek — made such by an oath ( Hebr. 7:21)— and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his Father's wrath with full satisfaction by offering Himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted. For it is written that "the punishment that made us whole" was placed on the Son of God and that "by his bruises, we are healed." He was "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter"; He was "numbered with the transgressors" (Is.53:5,7,12) and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent. So he paid back what he had not stolen (Ps. 69:5), and he suffered—" the righteous for the unrighteous, 1 Petr.3:18) " in both his body and his soul—in such a way that when he sensed the horrible punishment required by our sins "his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk.22:44)" He cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matth.7:46)" And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore we rightly say with Paul that we know nothing "except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor.2:2)"; we "regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. (Phil.3:8)" We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever. (Hebr.10:14)Yes, that's how He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him; we can read it in Hebrews (Hebr. 5:9). It's that bible book, in which Melchizedek appears last but also most often. But the writer of that book desires nothing else but to convince the Jews and the again somewhat doubting Christians from the Jewish people that the glorious dream of Israël about the Messiah, which they had hung on that old story of Melchizedek, has become real with Jesus. The Holy Scripture is explained there in a different way than it's done today; more like the Jewish rabbis did then. But precisely to reply to them. It's quite a clever and funny explanation. Listen: yes, you Jews with your keen interest in pure family trees ask, of course, how can Jesus of Nazareth be the true high priest? He's not even from the tribe of Levi. Let alone descends in a straight line from the first high priest, Aaron. But do you know that there's a priesthood of an even higher lineage? That's the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. And Abraham gave Melchizedek the tithe. These acts show that Melchizedek was above Abraham. So he was also above Levi, who came from Abraham.
And didn't Jesus appear in the same strange way in the limelight of history as Melchizedek? Out of the blue. Dropped by heaven. Completely human, but without a clear place in the human line of generations. He was a priest like Melchizedek has been. According to his manner and order. Superhuman. Divine. So it's Jesus! He is the true Messiah. The Savior from God. Jesus has fulfilled the dreams and hopes awakened by the figure of Melchizedek. He's the one to whom we must go.
After all, we too, just like Abraham, are involved in the battle of this hard life. It sometimes makes us tired, disappointed, sad. Especially when we hear and see how many people are fellow sufferers of Lot, prisoners of evil powers, carried away by them. And when a call is coming to us to help these people. There's much not going well in this world, and we got tired of fighting against it all the time.
We also see so much iniquity around us that makes us sad. There's for instance, the injustice of the murder of two girls. I mention but one of the many cases of murder and manslaughter that are in the news almost daily. There's the injustice of fraud in the construction industry, now in the Netherlands, the injustice that one earns millions in the world of crime, mainly due to the misery of drug addiction, gambling addiction, prostitution. The iniquity of overcharged claims. The iniquity of a bribe. Black money made from white. The iniquity of terrible poverty and great wealth side by side. But then we suddenly meet a 'certain' Jesus on our way through life. The King of Justice. Who guarantees that it'll not always stay that way. He on earth was already putting things right. And someday He will reign in the new heaven and on the new earth, where righteousness dwells. What great consolation and encouragement! Injustice doesn't have the last word. Justice will prevail. By Jesus Christ.
We also see so much discontent around us; so much tension; so much hatred between people, between white and black in Zimbabwe, between Roman Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland, between North and South Koreans, between Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East. Sometimes also between natives and immigrants in the Netherlands. Sometimes even between family members, between husband and wife. All over the world hatred is brewing and glowing. And sometimes it breaks through into brutal violence of war, which causes much suffering and takes many lives. Or in deadly stab wounds, gunshot wounds, strangulation.
But then we cross Jesus. The Prince of Peace; who has already brought peace to the earth and once will bring it fully. We may approach in faith and hope His Kingdom of Peace. What great consolation and encouragement.
But we don't see iniquity and discontent only round about us. We often have it inside, in our heart. Then we are wrestling with our shortages and errors. We feel guilty for what we do wrong, say wrong, think wrong. We also say as believers with Paul: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:19,24) We sing as David did: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Ps. 51: 1-3).
But then suddenly Jesus stands in front of us. And He says: As king of righteousness, I've fulfilled all righteousness for you also. For as a priest, I carried and atoned for your sins on the cross. As a prince of peace, I made peace between you and God. And so I want to give you peace and tranquillity in your heart again. Peace and tranquillity by believing that God has forgiven you all wrong because of me.
And when it's difficult for you to take that as the truth, when your faith needs reinforcement, here you have bread and wine. The signs that 'my body has been broken and my blood shed for the complete atonement for all your sins' - words spoken during the celebration of the Holy Communion in the Dutch Protestant Church. It strengthens your heart in life's struggle. It's food for your life of faith. I assume we are children of Abraham, the father of all believers. And like Abraham, we trust in God's promises and walk in God's ways. Like Abraham, we meet fellow human beings who've been destroyed by the fight and competitions in this world and the hunt for wealth. Like Abraham, we help and liberate them, taking risk and trouble, suffering. And if we sometimes are tired, then the Lord Jesus comes to us with all his rich gifts. And we receive out of grace, as a surprise fallen from heaven, all we need in the struggle and troubles of life. Christ supports us with his power. When we lose heart, He encounters us to encourage us. When we're grieving, He's on our way to comfort us. When we no longer have any perspective, He's there to show us new ways. When we see everything dark for a moment, Christ is there to give us light and joy. Christ, the Melchizedek par excellence. And especially He comes to us at the Lord's Supper to strengthen us with bread and wine, so that we can continue on our tiring journey through life.
And then He also blesses us, just as Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Amazing, Christ is the true priest after the order of Melchizedek, who after the sacrifice of his own life, gives us the blessing of the Most High. Did He not also leave the earth at his ascension with his arms outstretched in blessing? Yes, He gives us God's love, God's mercy, God's faithfulness, God's goodness. What a wonderful surprise on our journey through life, this encounter with our priest and king Jesus, who gives us everything that flows out of the reconciled and gentle father heart of God. Have you met Him yet? Has He already met you by surprise on your journey through life? Just like from heaven? With hands full of refreshing and strengthening gifts? With blessing hands? What a blissful encounter that is; for the first time or again. What a wonderful spiritual experience.
And then you want nothing more than to honour and serve this Savior. Didn't Abraham also give tithes of everything to Melchizedek? That means, he pays him the tax due to Melchizedek as king and priest. And he so recognizes him as king and priest of God Himself, of the Most High. He shows Him the honour and esteem worthy of a true priest and king. Abraham wants to be inferior to Him. By giving the tithe, he indicates that he wants to be his servant, entirely at the disposal of Melchizedek with all that he possesses. Because tithes, ten per cent of the property, represents the whole of the property.
In this way we may give the Lord Jesus all the glory we owe Him. We may praise Him, let Him be the superior, the king, in our lives. We may pay homage to Him. We may relinquish our possessions in his service and for his honour. Yes, this is how we can dedicate our whole lives to Him, follow and obey Him. It's a privilege because whoever truly realizes what the Savior has done for him, is glad and happy that he may express the gratitude for this in the life he dedicates to the Lord Jesus. He has no difficulty in following Abraham, the father of the faithful.
I introduced someone to you. Melchizedek. He indeed is a wonderful person. And he plays a strange role in the Bible. But he just introduced someone else to us. Jesus Christ. And he made clear to us the great mystery of the Lord Jesus, his life, his suffering and death on the cross, his unique kingship and priesthood, his gifts and blessings for us. Which makes us sing so happily: (Dutch hymn)Jesus Christ, the salvation of the earth,
the source of wisdom, strength and light,
nothing compares to your service in value,
nothing to the redemption, founded by you.
What you've prepared for your friends
abides and lasts forever.
Blessed are who want to be named after you
and glorify you as Lord en Saviour. Amen.