Tag Archives: Melchizedek

Prophecy and Reality

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’
Zechariah 6:12-13 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership of late. With the dawn of 2018 I find myself stepping into not one, but two different leadership opportunities. Yesterday one of my colleagues asked me over the phone how I felt. I answered honestly. There’s a certain level of sobriety and humility that comes with any kind of leadership in which others are depending on you.

In today’s chapter Zechariah shares the last of a series of visions he recorded. Prophetic dreams and visions are an admittedly strange lot. Yesterday over morning coffee Wendy compared them to descriptions of what an acid trip is like. They certainly allow for wide-ranging conjecture, and my experience is that they only gain clarity in retrospect.

One of the things about ancient prophecy is that they often have layers of meaning. On one layer they reference current or recent events, but on another layer they reference future events on a broader scale. Jewish scholars long understood Zac’s vision in today’s chapter to be Messianic in nature. The political-religious system of the Ancient Hebrews was dualistic. The monarchy and civil government was the role for a king from David’s line. The high-priest responsible for spiritual leadership was from the line of Aaron. There were always two leaders.

In Zac’s vision there is a blending of the two leaders into one. A crown is fashioned and placed on the head one called “Branch,” who rebuilds the temple and is a “priest on his throne.” Monarchy and priesthood are made One.

Fast forward to Jesus, whom we just learned in our annual telling of the Christmas story is from the royal line of David. Magi come looking for a royal ” King of the Jews.” Jesus indeed spends His ministry proclaiming the “Kingdom of God” and tells the Jewish leaders “I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days.” The author of the book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as “high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Royal line of David. Kingdom of God. High priest proclaiming that with His death and resurrection old things pass away and new things come. The old Temple system is destroyed and a new Temple has come; A Temple not made with bricks and mortar but with flesh and Spirit.

It’s Zechariah’s vision. Harmony of monarchy and priesthood. Two joined in One.

When you read Jesus’ story there is one thing that becomes abundantly clear. Jesus was not the Messiah most people were looking for. That’s the tricky thing with prophecy. You can think and believe it means one thing all you want…until it doesn’t.

Along this life journey I’ve learned that every leader has a target on his or her back. You don’t step into any leadership position with everyone thinking “Oh yeah, he/she is the perfect person; He/She is destined for the job.” There’s always at least some who are thinking, “He/She is not what I expected. I’m not sure about this.”  This morning I’m taking encouragement in the fact that even the King of Kings had to face that human reality.

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Messiah’s Soundtrack

The BlacklistThe Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies     
a footstool for your feet.”
Psalm 110:1 (NIV)

Now that Wendy and I have had a few nights free to sit on the couch together and enjoy some entertainment, we’ve been wading into the backlog of our DVR queue to enjoy a few of the new shows from this fall. This past week we’ve been making our way through The Blacklist, which we’re finding to be a unique and well written show. The other night we were watching one particular episode in which I thought that the music choices they made to play beneath the action were brilliant. At the beginning of the show, the anti-hero, played by James Spader, is seen being led in shackles by FBI agents. In the background we hear The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Later in the episode as the plot is revealed in a flurry of action we hear the unmistakable rhythm of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man (“Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?”).

Music makes such a huge difference in the telling of a story in television and film. It’s amazing how some songs become iconic and take on layers of meaning that were originally never intended in the writing.

In the catalog of David’s song lyrics (a.k.a. The Psalms), Psalm 110 stands out as one of the most unique and important that David penned. In the nearly 1000 years between it’s writing and the public ministry of Jesus, the lyrics had already be considered “Messianic” (e.g. about the coming messiah) by Jewish scholars. In particular, there are two verses of this song that are of particular importance.

The first verse (see above) was actually quoted by Jesus in an argument with the religious leaders who were trying to trap and kill him:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:41-46 (NIV)

In writing “The Lord said to my Lord” Jesus teaches that David was writing about two persons of the trinity: “The Lord (God, the Father) said to my Lord (God, the Son [Jesus])” having been inspired by the third person of the trinity (God, the Holy Spirit) to write the prophetic lyric. Jesus’ point was that David did not call the Messiah his progeny, his son, or his child. The messiah was “Lord” and authority above his own earthly throne.

The other important and prophetic lyric comes in the fourth verse:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

In the Old Testament there is a clear distinction between the offices of priest and king. God established in the law of Moses that only descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi could be priests. After the monarchy is established (which we just read about this past month or so in the book of 1 Samuel), God establishes that the messiah will come from the royal line of David. David was from the tribe of Judah. And so, we have a conundrum. The messiah cannot be purely from both the tribe of David and the tribe of Levi.

David provides the answer to the conundrum by writing in reference to a shadowy, footnote of a figure from the book of Genesis:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High…. Genesis 14:18 (NIV)

Long before the law of Moses was given, establishing the rules of who could become a priest in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, there lived in Salem (an ancient form of “Jeru-Salem”) a king named Melchizedek who was also a priest of God Most High. Little is known of Melchizedek, but he blessed Abraham, the father and patriarch of Israel. The order of the priesthood from Melchizedek is far older and more mysterious. But David points to Melchizedek as the model of the messianic King-Priest combination, and in doing so also establishes his authority as God’s king on earth with limited, but very real priestly responsibilities.

Forgive me this foray into a little arcane lesson of prophecy and theology. As I mentioned in the outset of this post, soundtracks add layers of meaning to a movie or television program. The Psalms are the soundtrack of God’s story. The more you study them, the richer they become in depth and meaning. And, the more they compliment  your understanding of everything else you read in God’s Message.

The Mystery of Melchizedek

Melchizedek
Melchizedek (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 14

And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Genesis 14:18 (NLT)

Time to put on your Geek glasses this morning and connect some dots. Melchizedek appears in today’s chapter. Mel is an interesting figure on the landscape of God’s story. Let me share a few reasons:

In today’s chapter, Melchizedek is called “priest of God Most high” but he lived and is identified as “priest” many centuries before the priestly system of the Old Testament was established in the Law of Moses. At this point of history, there is no mention of an organized and systematic worship of God. We’re not sure who Melchizedek really was or where he came from.

In the lyrics of Psalm 100, David refers to God as “High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” It presumes a divine and priestly position separate, older, and greater than the priestly system established in the Law of Moses.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, a great conflict rose up among the Jewish followers of Jesus and their Jewish leaders. Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah argued that He couldn’t possibly be because the Messiah would be God’s “High Priest” but priests in the law of Moses could only be from the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. It’s an interesting argument anyway because prophecy clearly pointed out the that Messiah would also be King in the line of King David of the tribe of Judah, so how one person could be King from the line of Judah and Priest from the line of Levi at the same time is a head scratcher.

In the book of Hebrews (see chapter 7), this argument about Jesus having to have come from the tribe of Levi is addressed. The author points out that Jesus is, indeed, God’s High Priest, but not from the earthly system established by Moses through the tribe of Levi, but through the older and more eternal order of Melchizedek just as David established in his song.

Notice that when Melchizedek goes to meet Abram he brings bread and wine, a interesting parallel to Jesus’ last supper when He established bread and wine as a metaphor of His eternal sacrifice.

One of the cool things about an ongoing journey through God’s Message is the way the layers of time, teaching, and tradition fit together in the larger story that God is telling. I’ve always said that those who avoid reading and learning about the story of the Old Testament are missing the opportunity to mine the depths of meaning that exist in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 7

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...
Image via Wikipedia

Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7:16-17

Some sections of God’s Message are difficult to understand outside of the context of the time and situation in which they were written. Because Jesus was Jewish, and his initial followers were Jewish, the early followers of Jesus were simply one of many sects of Judaism that have existed through the centuries. As Jesus’ followers began sharing that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah that had been prophesied, they encountered a myriad of questions about their claim as it related to Jewish law and tradition. The book of Hebrews was, in fact, a letter written to address some of these questions.

For example, a priest is one who stands in the gap between man and God and who represents man before God. In Jewish tradition only the high priest can enter the holy place of God and he can only do so once a year to make atonement for the sins of all the people. Jesus’ followers has been explaining that Jesus, God’s Son, was the Great High Priest who came from Heaven to Earth to make atonement once for all with His sacrificial death and resurrection.

“Point-of-order!” their good Jewish brethren responded. Jesus could not be a High Priest because Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and the law of Moses states quite specifically that only members of the tribe of Levi can be priests.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews addresses this question and refers them back to a verse in the Psalms in which the messiah is described as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was a mysterious figure who enters the Biblical narrative during the time of Abraham, 500 years before Moses and the Jewish law. Melchizedek was recognized as High Priest by Abraham before there was a Jewish law or a Jewish tradition because Abraham was the father of the Jews. The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus was not a High Priest as defined by the constrictions of Jewish law of Moses. Rather, Jesus fulfilled the prophesy in Psalms and was a High Priest in the tradition of Melchizedek. Melchizedek presupposes and represents a higher, more ancient order of priesthood.

Today, I’m reminded that what I believe is a story that has been planned and revealed in chapters that span thousands and thousands and thousands of years. The story began long before my lifetime and will carry on long after this Earthly sojourn of mine is completed. While I believe that the great story is already written, today I continue to live out my own chapter of that same story in my life, my words, my actions, and my relationships.