How do you respond to pressure? There’s the subtle but pervasive pressure from the culture around us not be too passionate about our faith, or too dogmatic about the gospel, or too vocal about Jesus being the only way to be saved. There is the pressure of popularity or just maintaining friendships which means we feel there are topics we’d better stay silent on. Then there is the pressure that comes from just being different, just feeling that bit alien that is apparent in our attitude and approach to Christmas and Hallowe’en, or marriage, sex and relationships.
Pressure works in a number of ways, it can be passive or active and our response to it can be equally active or passive. The Hebrews are under pressure; they are facing pressure because they are different to society and they have been persecuted for it in the past. They just don’t fit in, they don’t follow pagan ways of worship with its polytheism, ritual and thinking but nor do they fit with Judaism its laws, religion and thinking.
They are reacting to these pressures and how they react can be dangerous, some of them are reacting passively; drifting, being lazy and the like, others come from a wrong active response; hardening their hearts, refusing to believe, not maturing in their faith. But whether the response is passive or active the outcome is the same they are losing their assurance, shrinking back, no longer confident about their relationship with God and living out their faith.
Here in the meat of the letter the pastor is calling them to recognise that they have assurance, confidence, help, hope, and they are God’s children and should persevere because of Jesus their great high priest.
Are you feeling the pressures this morning? One of the most subtle dangers is that we can be unaware of our active and passive responses; our drift is so gradual that we don’t spot it, our laziness passed off as just being laid back, or our hardening hearts excused as the result of various circumstances.
How do you spot if you are in danger of responding wrongly? The early warning sign is losing your joy in the gospel. Reading the Bible, prayer, being with other believers is becoming a habit, you don’t anticipate it, you aren’t excited by it. Look again at Jesus and rediscover your wonder in what God has done for you.
1. Jesus: Our Unique High Priest
What can you tell me about Melchizedek? In Gen 14 Abram gives him a tenth of his plunder from defeating the kings. He is then referred to in Psalm 110:4. But that’s it – he is mentioned in 4 verses besides Hebrews 5-7 in the rest of the Bible. So why is he mentioned here?
In ch5 twice we’re told Jesus is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, and the point of Melchizedek’s supporting appearance here isn’t that we try to work out who he is, he functions simply to show us something amazing about Jesus. He is there to provide fuel for our faith in Jesus not to confuse, befuddle or fascinate us.
(1-10)provide a summary and commentary on the Gen14 meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. He is King of Salem (Hebrew for peace) and his name means king of righteousness, and he is priest of God Most High. What are we told in (3)? He is without father or mother.
Now here is where the debate starts, some contend that this verse is telling us that because Melchizedek is without father or mother, beginning or end and resembles the Son of God he is a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus.
I don’t think that is right. The phrase without father or mother is clarified with the next clause which is what? “without genealogy”, in other words we don’t have his genealogy, we don’t know about his father and mother, we also don’t know about his birth or death because he only appears for 3 verses in Gen14. But the key phrase is; “resembling the Son of God”; who resembles who? Melchizedek resembles Jesus, Melchizedek is similar to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t resemble Melchizedek, instead Melchizedek has certain features which give us a picture of who Jesus is and his role is.
Melchizedek is a man, he combines the roles of priest and king just like Jesus and he was a priest whose priesthood had no end. What is the point the pastor is making? Look at the last phrase (3) "he remains a priest forever”
Melchizedek priesthood functions as a picture of, it is similar to, Jesus High Priesthood.
He then moves on to tell the Hebrew believers that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham because Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder(4-10), and that his priesthood isn’t like that of the Levites. Melchizedek isn’t part of a succession of priests, he isn’t a priest because of family or descent he is priest of God Most High because God appointed him to be, his priesthood is unique and greater than Levi’s. And yet this great priest greater than Abraham to whom the promises are given, greater than Levi is just a pale picture of Jesus High priesthood.
Our problem with this passage is that we can get so hung up on Melchizedek that we miss the point, he points us to Jesus. His priesthood gives us a little taste. It’s a bit like the preparations for a big meal, and you walk into the kitchen and are asked to just try a little bit of something, you taste it and it gives you a hunger for the whole meal with all its tastes and courses and splendour. Melchizedek is there to point us to Jesus, to focus on Melchizedek is to miss the point. Jesus is our Unique High Priest, that’s what the rest of the chapter focuses on, so let’s get on to the main course.
2. Jesus: Our Saviour and Security
The pastor now focuses on Jesus, he is in the order of Melchizedek not Aaron or Levi. What tribe is he from? Judah, no-one from Judah has ever been a priest, but perfection couldn’t be attained through the old covenant with its Levitical priesthood(11). The High Priests job was to intercede for the people and to make offerings for their sin, but it was a continual job, and every high priest died and someone else had to take his place and keep on interceding and offering. The whole system was a picture that pointed to the need for one to come who would bring a better hope, a way back to God, a way sin could be dealt with.
The old covenant spoke of the seriousness of sin and showed the need for a new priest who could save. Jesus is that priest and his coming shows the need for a new covenant which deals with sin.
But what evidence is there that Jesus is this new priest of the new covenant. (16)Jesus is that priest because he lived an indestructible life, he died but conquered death and now he is exalted and reigning at the right hand of God where he is our High Priest.
But secondly because (17-22)God speaks an oath, here the Pastor takes Psalm 110:4 and applies it to Jesus. Jesus is God’s priest because God said he is and God’s oaths are unbreakable, God is faithful to them. He has just referred to Abraham and the promises God gave, last week we saw the oath God made and kept with Abraham. God promises a Saviour who will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, who is a priest forever, Jesus is that priest and (22) the guarantor of a better covenant. What does a guarantor do? They pay the debt if you can’t, that is what Jesus does he assumes our debt when we cannot pay it – he is the price of the new covenant.
Levitical priests were temporary Jesus priesthood is permanent, Levitical intercession was temporary Jesus’ is eternal. Levitical sacrifices were a picture of the need for forgiveness for sin and the price of atonement Jesus sacrifice is once for all time(27), Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for their sin Jesus who was holy, blameless, pure, set apart, didn’t(27), Jesus is the perfect High Priest(28).
Jesus is the ultimate High Priest. Why does that matter amid the pressures of life amid the dangers of passively or actively responding wrongly to those pressures? Because:
- We have a better hope, that doesn’t depend on us or others but on Jesus, (23)who saves us completely – utterly and eternally.
- We have a new covenant – one which by faith in Jesus secures our future, by which we are forgiven and given the Spirit.
- We can draw near to God – does that amaze you? We can come to the almighty creator, in all his holiness, because of Jesus, we come as his loved children viewed through Jesus perfect record. That liberates us to pray doesn’t it? It’s not about a set pattern but a relational reality, dependent children coming to their loving Father.
- Jesus always lives to intercede for us, he is eternally before the Father on our behalf, interceding for us in our struggles and weaknesses because he has felt them. Because of Jesus we can approach God confidently not condemned knowing that we will find grace to help us in our time of need.
How are you respond to pressures? The Hebrews were responding passively drifting, not being too passionate, being lazy not feeding themselves or by hardening their hearts, refusing to believe, refusing to trust in God, maybe not theologically but practically.
Some of us our responding to the pressures we feel in the same ways. We are content to drift, or be lazy – look back and ask yourself have I grown in the last year, have I changed? Some of us practically are refusing to trust God but holding on to things ourselves, taking things to God but then taking them back. Some of us are looking back at the joy we once had and realise we have let it slip away. Some are battling not to let any of those things happen.
How do you get back to where you were? It’s not by effort. The Pastor doesn’t say try harder – he says see Jesus, see what he has done for you, see that he is your unique high priest of a new covenant and all the riches and treasures of relationship with God he opens up to you, be refreshed, be encouraged, see the resources that are yours in Christ because we have a high priest who truly meets our needs and intercedes for us forever.