ESV Hebrews 5:1 For every high priest chosen from among men ais appointed to act on behalf of men bin relation to God, cto offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 aHe can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself bis beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins ajust as he does for those of the people. 4 And ano one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, bjust as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ adid not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, b”You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, a”You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, aJesus1 offered up prayers and supplications, bwith loud cries and tears, to him cwho was able to save him from death, and dhe was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although ahe was a son, bhe learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And abeing made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest aafter the order of Melchizedek.
“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (v 6). So says the writer to the Hebrews about Jesus, and he’s quoting from Psalm 110. So fair enough; it’s true. But who is this Melchizedek? Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who suddenly crosses the stage in Genesis 14, and then exits. It reads:
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was bpriest of cGod Most High.)
19 And he blessed [Abram] and said, a”Blessed be Abram by God Most High, bPossessor1 of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him aa tenth of everything.
That’s it! That’s all we know about Melchizedek. He just appears out of nowhere and then disappears just as fast. Then, a thousand years later, he is recalled in the Psalms and later again after another thousand years, in the New Testament. Yet he is a strangely significant person.
Melchizedek appears, unbidden, at one of the lowest points of Abram’s journey through life. Abram—later God renamed him Abraham—we do know. We know quite a lot about him. At this point Abram had been called by God to go to a new land, and he has been promised an heir, a son.
First he left his home and his father to go off to some distant place. He didn’t even know where he was going, but just followed God and went wherever he was told. Blind faith some might call it. To others he must have seemed like a wild eyed speculator, a dreamer with his head in the clouds, or perhaps some sort of lunatic.
Moreover, He has been told by God that his offspring will be as uncountable as the dust of the earth. God has promised to bless him and make his name great. However, after twelve years, Abram still does not have much to show for it all. He is still childless. His situation in life has gotten worse rather than better.
He has endured a famine, sought refuge in Egypt, but then was declared “Persona non grata” by the Egyptian king and was deported from Egypt. Later he mediated a dispute with his nephew Lot, who wound up separating from him and went off and took the best, green, well watered lands leaving Abraham with the dry, thorny wilderness to raise his sheep in.
Just now, as we come to our text, he has been drawn into a war with “Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar” (Gen 14:9). It shouldn’t have been his fight; he only went off to war to save Lot, who had been taken prisoner.
Abram has endured much and still has not yet received the promised heir. At the very least, he needs a sympathetic ear!
But God has something far greater for Abram. As the dust of battle begins to settle, this man Melchizedek, the “king of Salem” and priest of God Most High, suddenly appears to Abram—with bread and wine, no less! Does Melchizedek here point us to the Lord’s Supper? I believe so. Meals with God are so intimately connected to his blessings and promises. And that’s is what God does through the blessing Melchizedek pronounces over Abram. He blesses Abram, vindicates him, and defends his cause. And Abram is strengthened to continue patiently waiting for the Lord’s promise.
That’s it. That’s all biblical history records about Melchizedek. But are you beginning to guess why the psalmist and the writer to the Hebrews bring him up millennia later—and why he’s so significant for us today?
Christ Is for Us as Melchizedek Was to Abram, and Even More.
Like Melchizedek, Christ enters our life right when we need him the most. Right when things seem to be at their worst. But, unlike Melchizedek, he never disappears.
Born dead in trespasses and sins, separated from God, enemies of God, Christ, our Priest after the order of Melchizedek, enters into our lives. “…He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” In the flesh he hung on the cross for our sins. Now, today, he barges into our lives in Holy Baptism. There, like Abram, he separates us out from the nations and makes us his own chosen people. There, like Abram, he makes a covenant with us and gives us his promises. There, like Abram, he makes us his beloved children and calls us by his own name. There, we, like Abram, have been called by God, and like Abram, it is not to a life of ease or worldly glory. It is a call to take up our cross and follow him.
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that our call is to be servants, not masters, and to be slaves, not lords. This goes completely against the grain of our human sinfulness. We all want to be the master. We all want to be lords. None of us wants to be the servant, and we constantly try to be the guy in charge, the one who makes the decisions, the one who tells everyone else what to do.
Like Abram, our worldly situation isn’t always that pretty. We do not battle with kings but with the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. The battle rages on against our own sinful nature. We are called to suffer for the sake of Christ. We are called to sacrifice our lives for others and become their servants. To give up our comfort and luxury for their sake. We are called to become humble servants, not mighty lords. To give our lives for others, as Christ gave his life for us.
In many ways, we can identify with the Hebrew Christians to whom our text was written. Like Abram, they had discovered that their faith and loyalty to God exposed them to trial and suffering. Were they to fall back or press on? To be chosen by God is to be chosen to suffer for him. Abram found that out, and so have countless followers of Christ, starting with the disciples themselves.
At times like this, we need a sympathetic ear. We turn to those who can deal with us gently and who know as best anyone can what we are going through. But as good as that can be for us, our brothers and sisters in Christ are, like us, also beset by weakness.
We need more—we need vindication. We need a high priest after the order of Melchizedek! This is where Christ is to us as Melchizedek was to Abram—and more. To wit:
Christ intercedes for us. He prayed for us, “That they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…” And from the cross he prayed for our forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Today Christ is still our advocate with the Father and pleads to him on our behalf, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” He lifts us up in prayer and we have the promise, “The prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Christ is obedient for us. The Law of God must be fulfilled. On the final day of Judgment God will ask you, “Have you loved your neighbor?” “When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty did you give me to drink?” “When I was homeless, did you take me in and give me shelter?” “Did you take up your cross and give your life for your neighbor?” And Jesus will answer, “Yes, they have. Because I did it for them.” Jesus did fulfill the law in your place. Jesus did obey every command of God in your place. It has been accomplished. It is finished. For you! On your behalf!
Christ suffers for us. He suffered rejection by his brothers, his own people, his friends abandoned him and ran. His own trusted friend betrayed him and another denied him. He suffered the lashes and whips. He suffered the thorns and nails. He died and went to hell to suffer for your sins. He has suffered for you, and today he still suffers. Every pain and sorrow of yours he suffers. He hurt and insult you receive he suffers. He suffers the pain of death for you. He suffers the sorrow you feel.
But Christ doesn’t just feel your pain. He doesn’t just suffer in solidarity with you and along side of you. He suffers in your place. He absorbs your suffering and pain and hurt into his own flesh so that on the last day, your suffering will be taken away from you. It will be gone, completely! Christ is the source of your eternal salvation. Christ is the resurrection and the life so that at the last day you shall rise and stand, fully healed, fully victorious, fully glorified.
Like Melchizedek, Christ feeds you. In, with, and under the bread and wine, he gives you his very body and blood to forgive your sin, strengthen your faith, and energize you to press on.
Like Melchizedek, Christ blesses you by his Word, and by that Word he vindicates your from your enemies: sin, death, and Satan.
“Blessed be Abram,” Melchizedek said, and you too, “by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Gen 14:19–20). Amen.