Hebrews 5:1-10 CEB
Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.
In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,
You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father,
as he also says in another place,
You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.
During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Qkay, here’s a quick quiz! Melchizedek features prominently in Hebrews, but what other two places does this character pop up in the Bible? It’s a tough question because Melchizedek is a very minor character in Genesis that is also mentioned for just a few lines in one the Psalms. He is the king of Salem, which is fitting as his name literally translates as “My King is Righteousness.” Why? Why would Hebrews be so concerned with this minor character, and why would Hebrews make Jesus a priest from the order of Melchizedek? Hebrews takes pains to describe how Jesus is not just a priest, but the great high priest, and how he both fits and exceeds the priests that descend from Aaron and the Levitical line of Israel. Hebrews wants to prove to us that not only is Jesus one of us, sharing in our common humanity, but he has also been chosen by God as our high priest. In both of these ways, Hebrews reminds us that Jesus matters not only because of his death and resurrection, but his very life serves as the kind of model for our own priesthood, one that functions as a bridge between God’s peace and the divisions and conflict of our contemporary lives.
Before getting to Melchizedek, Hebrews first outlines in our verses this morning what it takes to be a priest of God to the people. As the opening verses of chapter five remind us, the priest is from the people. In this way, they can offer gifts and sacrifices on behalf of the people before God, and in turn, they will deal gently with people because they share in their weaknesses. Secondly, the priest must be chosen by God to serve as a priest. No one chooses themselves, instead being called by God. Hebrews goes on to attribute these qualities to Jesus, as Jesus was one of us and can relate to the temptations and weaknesses we all have by being human and living a human life. Plus, we have Jesus being appointed by God to serve as a priest, and this is where things get more interesting. While, we might assume the Son of the Living God would naturally serve an important role for God, this is not what Hebrews says. Hebrews informs us that Jesus was not made our great high priest because of his parentage, instead it is because of his obedience. In verse five and six, Hebrews quotes from Psalm 110, which was probably a liturgy used during the enthronement of the king in Jerusalem, so Hebrews links Jesus to the kings of old from the line of David. You see, when you became king you were adopted by God as the son of God. Jesus is not simply the Son because of being the actual son of God, rather it is through his obedience that he is elevated to this place of serving as high priest over the people of the world. Jesus becomes the Son twice over. Jesus fulfills the requirements of the priesthood of Aaron and then some, but Hebrews does not stop there, in comes Melchizedek.
Melchizedek first appears in Genesis 14:17-24 where he interacts with Abram after a great battle where Melchizedek, the king of Salem and the priest of El Elyon, blesses him. Abram identifies El Elyon, which translates as God Most High, as the God that first spoke to him while in Ur before heading to Canaan and the promised land. Again, Melchizedek appears briefly in Psalm 110, quoted by Hebrews, to say that the king and, in Hebrews, Jesus is a priest like this king of old. This matters to Hebrews because this priesthood predates Aaron. This priest-king blesses Abram and the Israelite people through Abram. Since Melchizedek is a priest of God prior to Aaron, Jesus being a part of this line means that he can serve as a priest to Israel and to the whole world! The priests from the line of Aaron were all Levites, so Hebrews needs another way to claim that Jesus is a priest as Jesus descends from the tribe of Judah, and Melchizedek foots the bill. Now Jesus can be our king of kings and our high priest. Jesus becomes a high priest outside of the old covenant and serves as a better priest because he never sinned or had to offer a sacrifice for his own weaknesses. Hebrews lays all this out in order to open the door. We have established that Jesus shared in our humanity and has been called by God, but how can Jesus serve as the priest for all people? It is through Melchizedek and his priestly order that Hebrews argues that this can be done.
Why does this matter? Why does Melchizedek and the establishment of Jesus as a priest matter at all to our lives as Christians? It is an important question and one that boils down to what we think matters about Jesus. For many Christians, it is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus. They might say that Christ saves us from death through his own death and resurrection, and now everyone must accept Christ to be saved from the clutches of the grave! This stance narrows the focus on a view that we have sinned which has doomed us to death, so we must be saved from it. Now, we have to ask, is that all there is to Jesus, just his death and resurrection? What do we do with the life and work of Jesus? Are they just the prologue, the introduction, to this salvation, or do those pieces of Christ matter as well?
For Hebrews, the life Jesus had and the way he lived it among us matters a great deal, and this is why Hebrews describes Jesus as our priest. Jesus is the source of our full salvation, not simply saving us from ourselves but also providing us a model to follow through our lives. Starting with verse seven in chapter five, Hebrews talks about Jesus offering prayers with loud cries and tears and that Jesus suffered, and through all this Jesus learned obedience to God. Jesus in the gospels mourns, cries, gets angry, sweats blood, shouts, and intensely prays. He lived and experienced human life. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he embraced our condition fully, and this divinity did not exempt him from suffering or from learning. It is important for all us to remember that Christ was not play acting at being human because of his divinity. To accept otherwise robs him of his humanity. If we accept that he is fully human, we must also accept that he genuinely shared in our stresses and struggles as well as our tests and trials. The difference is that he overcame these through his obedience and faithfulness to God.
Christ emerges as not just the pioneer of our salvation in our verses today, but through being part of the priesthood of Melchizedek and through being human, Christ becomes the source of salvation for the whole world. Christ becomes our model as his obedience was necessary to become our salvation, our obedience to Christ is necessary on our own journey toward God. We are not so different you see. On our own bulletins, it says that anyone who believes is a minister, so we are all priests to the Most High God. Our high priest has modeled for us what this looks like. To be a priest, to be a minister is to serve a function, just like Jesus did. Each of us is an essential piece to this ministry to the world. Going back to this issue of death and resurrection as the only necessary parts of our salvation is to only be concerned about our fate after death. To “save” another simply becomes about saving them from impending doom. Hebrews disagrees because to say that this is all salvation is misses what Christ has done through his life and through his work in our world. Jesus stood in the gap between our world and God, bridging the two so that God could powerfully reach across and touch each and every one of us. We are here to also serve as bridges. We are all priests in the order of Melchizedek, because if we were just priests like Aaron perhaps we would only be concerned about other Christians, but instead, we should be a bridge, a priesthood that shares in the weaknesses of the whole world to reconnect it to God.
My friends, I am inspired by this because we are not simply waiting around to be rescued and we do not need to be perfect to bring this world into contact with God! Look at the Bible, look at the people littered through its pages. We have lusty David, stuttering Moses, proud Miriam, cranky Paul and so many others! They are all weak, but that marks them as human! They are all called which marks them as ministers of God! We are all human and we are all called! Look around this world. Look at the divisions! Look at the arguments and the hatred. Look at the polarization and hostility that exists between people! The disharmony in our own lives and in the world around us is easy to see as we share in it daily, but here we are in the middle between this world and the shalom of God that Hebrews speaks of in its pages. Can we speak to the world through our weaknesses? Can we humbly reach out to those lost in the chaos and the clutter of this world, not simply carry them away from death but into the life promised to them by God through our savior, Jesus Christ? A restored relationship with God, sharing in the peace of God with all the world is our true salvation. We are all learning and we are all weak. There are days we are going to get the message right and fully model Christ and there are other days where we are going to miss the mark. What matters my friends is whether we will step up to serve as that bridge to the world, one where we gesture back to God. The scariest and most inspiring thing is that God may well reach back through us across that bridge to touch this world and these people to bring us all a little closer to the holy of holies where we will all know and be known by our God. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman