Mysterious Melchizedek, the Pattern of Jesus Christ Our Lord - Fifth Sunday in Lent
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Hebrews 5:1-10
March 21, 2021

Do you like mysterious characters? We have one today in our epistle reading from Hebrews 5. It says there in verses 9 and 10: And having been perfected, He, that is Jesus, “became the cause of eternal salvation to everyone who obeys Him, having been designated by God as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:9-10).

I am going to take the word “order” here as pattern, meaning that Melchizedek pre-figures the Christ.  

Who is this Melchizedek? We have to go all the way back to Genesis 14 to find out. We meet him there in the story of Abraham.

There was a war going on. There were five kings led by a guy named Chedorlaomer. Let’s call him Mr. C. They went against four kings, one of which was the king of the town called Sodom. Sodom is where Lot lived, with his family. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. Mr. C. and the kings with him defeated the four kings. Mr. C. and his allies plundered the goods from Sodom and also took captive Lot and his family and many other people.

Someone ran and told Abraham about this. So Abraham assembled and armed 318 trained servants who had been born in his household. They pursued Mr. C. and his allies. It turns out that Abraham defeated them and rescued Lot and his family, as well as all the women and people from Sodom that Mr. C. and his allies had taken captive (Genesis 14:14-16).

As Abraham was returning home, Melchizedek came out to meet him. Melchizedek brought with him bread and wine (Genesis 14:18).

We are told that Melchizedek was king of Salem. We are also told that he was priest to God most high, God most high being a reference to God. He met Abraham and blessed him (Genesis 14:18-19). Then He also blessed God because He had delivered Abraham’s enemies into his hand. Then Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth of all of the spoils he won from defeating Mr. C. and his allies (Genesis 14:20).

Abraham was a man of faith in God’s word and promise. Pursuant to the promise, Abraham had the Christ according to the flesh in his ancestry. He was also courageous and a genuine hero, though he also showed times of weakness.

Back to Melchizedek. His name means king of righteousness. He was king of Salem, salem coming from the word for peace in Hebrew. So he was king of peace. Salem here does not really refer to a place. It refers to that state of well-being and absence of hostility we call peace. To be in the order of Melchizedek means to bring this peace.

But why is he a mysterious character? There are number of reasons. First, he shows up out of nowhere. He does not show up before this in the Bible, and we do not see him again in the Bible until Psalm 110. Genesis offers no explanation of where he came from. Boom, he is there. Boom, he is gone.

So the writer of Hebrews says this about him: “Being without father, without mother, without genealogy, neither having beginning of days, nor having end of life” (Hebrews 7:3). In other words, it sounds like he is eternal. He has no human origin. The writer of Hebrews concludes from this that “he is like the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3).

He is also mysterious because he brought out bread and wine, when he came to meet Abraham (Genesis 14:18). Now maybe this is just because bread and wine were essential items of food back then. But if you watch mysteries or read them like I do, there is one thing our dogged detective does not believe in, and that is coincidence. And this is especially the case when we are dealing with God and His plan of salvation. Is it just coincidence or happenstance that he brought out bread and wine? No, not if we don’t believe in coincidence in God’s plan of salvation.

Melchizedek is also mysterious because he, as priest of God most high, blessed Abraham, of all people. Melchizedek blessed Abraham as Abram of God Most High, that is, belonging to God most high, possessor of heaven and earth. Why did he do that? Because Abraham had the promised Savior in his ancestry. Abraham was uniquely important in God’s plan of salvation because it was promised to him that blessing would come to all peoples of the earth through him; blessing that would overturn the curse God had to pronounce due to Adam’s sin. There would be a descendant of Abraham, a son, in whom this blessing would be realized. So Melchizedek, a couple of thousand of years before this son of Abraham would come on the scene, blesses Abraham for the sake of that son, the son who would be priest before God in the pattern of Melchizedek.

 There is one other way that Melchizedek was mysterious. This is that he was both priest and king. Kings rule. Priests offer sacrifices for sin. These are usually two different offices and roles, held by two different people. Melchizedek is both.

This is important with respect to the Christ, because the Christ suffered in giving Himself as the sacrifice for sins. How can this be? The word Christ as anointed one is a kingly title. Thus, he should rule. How can He, therefore, like a priest, offer sacrifice for sins, even the sacrifice of Himself? He can if He is both King, that is Lord, being the Son of King David, and high priest of God most high. He can be both in the order of Melchizedek.

We see this in Psalm 110, which the writer of Hebrews refers to in our Epistle reading. Now the writer of Hebrews refers to Psalm 110 verse 4. But we need to refer first to Psalm 110:1, where King David said this: “Yahweh says to my Lord,” that is, Adonai, or my Master, whom David in another place calls God, “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Now this verse is understood to refer to the Messiah, son of King David. So this verse is saying that King David’s son, who would be the Christ, is also Lord, that is God. But as the ancestor of King David, it speaks of His royalty; as being king.

But then we come to verse 4 of Psalm 110, the verse the writer of Hebrews quotes (Hebrews 5:6). It says, “Yahweh has sworn and will not relent, that is, change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). The “you” being spoken of here is the One spoken of in verse 1. It is the Son of King David, who is also Lord,  and, therefore, King. Psalm 110:4 tells us that He is also priest. How can this be? Because He is priest in the pattern of Melchizedek.

So Melchizedek shows us the Christ. As Son of God, Melchizedek shows us that the Christ comes out of nowhere; He has no human origin, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. As Christ, He is also Son of King David, King. So He is also Lord. But being in the pattern of Melchizedek, He is also priest. He is both King and high priest. So as king, Jesus can suffer for the sins of the people, yes for all sins, to make atonement for them, because He is also priest.

This can solve a dilemma that was raised by Peter. Remember when he confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16)? Jesus then began to tell him and the disciples that He would be rejected by the leaders of Israel, be killed, and rise on the third day, like He does in our Gospel reading today (Mark 10:32-34). Peter vehemently rebuked Jesus (Matthew 16:21-22). Suffering and dying like that does not belong to Kingship for the Messiah, Peter thought.

But now what if the Messiah is also the High Priest, who makes atonement for the sins of the people by the sacrifice of Himself? Now that would change things in God’s plan; that would change what being the Christ means for Jesus in our thinking about Him. And so as King, that is exactly what He did; He suffered and died, because He is also High Priest in the pattern of Melchizedek.

And what a priest He is for us, as the writer of Hebrews tells us. Being Son of God in the pattern of Melchizedek, Jesus is the minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle in which God dwells in His glory, the true tabernacle made by God, not made by human hands (Hebrews 8:2). And He entered that sanctuary, the true holy of holies where God dwells, not with the blood of bulls and goats as the priests did according to the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical priesthood of Israel; Jesus entered into that holy of holies, where God dwells, with His own blood (Hebrews 9:11-12). This is the blood shed by the Son of God, also our true brother; our King and Lord, who rules over all things; but also our High Priest, who offers the true and eternal sacrifice for sins by shedding His own blood for us.

And having made such a God-pleasing sacrifice, He rose in indestructible life on the third day and took His place at the right hand of God. And now He serves us in the presence of God as our high priest, being with us here and also making intercession for us there, as priest according to the pattern of Melchizedek (Hebrews 9:24). And so He has become the cause of eternal salvation to all who obey Him in faith (Hebrews 5:9).

And now, like Melchizedek, Jesus, our Lord and High Priest, brings out bread and wine. And here He feeds us with the sacrifice and blood of the eternal covenant. This is the covenant promised through Jeremiah, in which which sins are forgiven and we are renewed. In the bread and wine He feeds us with His own body, given in sacrifice, and blood shed for forgiveness, in mystery, like Melchizedek is mysterious, yet, in reality, according to His words of the new covenant.

So we rejoice in Jesus, our Melchizedek; King of righteousness and King of Peace, priest of God most high, who rules over the nations. For He is our King, as well as our atoning sacrifice with God. In Him we have indestructible life and peace with God. Amen.


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