August 6, 2017
Recently, I had a conversation with some friends about the importance of reminding people where we are going and why we are going there.
I guess that in some ways, life in the church is like taking a long road trip with the family — everyone starts out eager and excited, but after a couple or a few hours of driving, the refrain: “Are we there yet?” begins to echo from the back seat … and sometimes from the front seat as well.
There is a difference in the personality of travelers. Some are all about the destination (this is the “are we there yet” chanters). To them, the trip is a necessary evil and can be tolerated so long as the destination is desirable enough.
Others tend to be about the trip. They know the destination, but there is an adventure to be had in between — so exploring all of the little side roads rather than taking the highway is half of the joy of the trip.
Typically, all of us are a bit of a mix. But this provides us an illustration for the church in the Christian life as well. For the believer, the destination is glory…the trip is life.
For some Christians, the mindset is destination focused. “So long as I’m saved, guaranteed a spot in heaven as one of God’s elect, then that’s all I’m really focused on.” And those who have this mindset, all they really want in a worship service and in a sermon is a reminder that “I’m going to heaven and that though life might be rough right now, it will be okay in the end…and if I hear that, I’ll stop chanting, ‘Are we there yet,’ at least for a little while.”
The problem, though, is that is not how the Bible says we should approach life.
You see, since we have no say in how long the car ride is going to be — either individually or corporately, God says that we need to pay attention to the journey as well. Even more importantly, it is the journey that God uses to prepare you and me for the destination. We call that Sanctification — the process of being made holy — of being conformed more and more into the image of Christ (at least that of his human nature). For the Christian, the destination is the same: glory. The road is the same: Christ. But the experiences that we will have along the road will vary greatly.
So why is it important to pay attention to this sanctification?
The obvious answer is because God says so.
But just like our sinful children never seem satisfied when mom or dad says, “Because I said so,” we sinful Christians also tend to balk at that answer.
So, while “Because God says so” is a sufficient answer and it should be enough for us, let me reason with you for a few minutes.
First, when someone does something kind for us, our natural human reaction is that of gratitude. In fact, someone who is ungrateful is considered rude and called an “ingrate” or worse, “a self-centered jerk.”
So, given that Christ has done the work of saving us from damnation — a damnation we deserve because we are wicked down to the depths of our being — doing something for us that we could never do for ourselves nor have anyone do for us — what then does it say if we do not show Christ our gratitude?
And how do we show Christ our gratitude? Obedience. And how do we learn obedience? Studying the Bible and putting it into practice and by being committed to loving and serving the God who has given us that Word as the perfect expression of his character.
But that’s personal sanctification…there’s a corporate aspect as well.
So, secondly, think this way. As Christians in the church, we often complain about the state of the world around us… millennials are falling away from the church … Islam is on the rise …Homosexuality is celebrated in society and has been embraced by the apostate church … people are living together out of wedlock and it is seen as normal … vulgarity is on the radio, TV, and in the movies … abortions are funded by our tax dollars and medical research is commonly done on aborted children … atheism is being taught in school…revisionist history is considered truth…and the church is seen as irrelevant in life and society around it.
Do you know why this is the case? I believe that it is because the church has become destination focused — “Get ‘em in, Get ‘em saved, and get ‘em out to get more people in! Jesus will fix the social evils when he returns.” And as a result of this mindset, the church has forgotten her calling in society.
What is the Biblical purpose of the church? Two things:
1. Matthew 16:18 — to tear down the gates of hell — the entrance points as we raid the enemy’s strongholds.
2. 1 Timothy 3:15 — To be a pillar and buttress of the Truth
Tearing down the strongholds of Satan in this world and replacing them with the Truth of God’s Word. That is the purpose (Biblically) of the church. But for that to happen, it requires a vital and vibrant Christianity to exist in that church. And for that to happen, it requires work — spiritual body-building if you will.
When I was a kid, I was scrawny…really scrawny. I did not even break 100 lbs until I was in High School. And, as a kid, I hated being scrawny because it is the scrawny kid that gets picked on the most.
So, in High School, I started lifting weights. By 10th grade I was working out with heavy weights for two hours every other night and running in between. By graduation I had reached 160 lbs…still not a “beefy” guy, but I was solid and no longer the scrawny kid that got picked on. But it took me years of dedication, self-discipline, and hard work to get there, exercising and eating right.
In the same way, spiritual muscle neither develops easily nor does it develop overnight. It takes hard work and discipline…exercising the Word in application and eating the meat of scripture. And it is a commitment like that that will make Christianity vital and vibrant in the life of the church… which takes us back to the purpose of the church: Tear down the gates of hell and be pillars and buttresses of the Truth. This purpose is not given to individual Christians — our job is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, but individuals are brought together as a church in a local place and together we are to labor to tear down and to replace. Yet, to do that, the church as a whole, not just a few, but all of us are called to pump some Biblical and Theological Iron. If we don’t, the church will fall into obscurity. Thus Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26, when we gather together all things are for “building up” — strengthening the body.
That’s the reason we are on this road together at Burry’s and why we must build up our spiritual muscle, because we cannot fulfill our purpose without it.
By why trudge through Hebrews? It is indeed a meaty book, but let me remind you of what I said when we started studying this book together. All of the Old Testament is a roadmap that leads us to Christ — that’s not original, Spurgeon was the first one to use that analogy.
But just like reading a map, there is a legend — a key at the bottom of the map — so you can understand the symbols that are there, the book of Hebrews is that key, that legend for the map of the Old Testament so that we can understand it properly.
So, that was a long way to introduce our text this morning, but it has been a couple of weeks as we had Youth Sunday and I thought perhaps it might be good to answer the question of those saying, “Are we there yet,” by reminding all of us why we are on this road…along with giving us a vision and a renewed zeal for the road that lies ahead.
Now, chapter 7 begins with Melchizedek, a name which sounds odd to our English-speaking ears, but which was wonderful to a Hebrew speaker. In English, Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness” and he is the King of Salem, which is derived from the Hebrew word, “Shalom,” thus he is the King of Peace. Melchizedek shows up in Genesis 14. There was a pagan king named Kedorlaomer who had taken the residents of Sodom into captivity…along with Abraham’s nephew, Lot.
Abraham then launches a strike team composed of himself and 318 men and defeats Kedorlaomer and his 5 armies. Note that this is a feat only attributable to the hand of God, much like Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites or Samson’s defeat of the Philistines.
After Abraham’s return he is greeted by two kings: the cowardly king of Sodom, who had hidden and the King of Salem, Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is introduced as a priest of the Most High God and he blessed Abraham and in return, Abraham offered him a tenth of the spoils.
Melchizedek is a foreshadow of Christ. He functions as prophet, priest, and king (a priest-king of Salem making a prophetic blessing over Abraham) and some have even suggested that he is the pre-incarnate Christ as well, though I believe that to stretch the text too far.
The author of Hebrews focuses on two things:
-the eternal priesthood
-the submission of the Levitical priesthood to him
And both are essential to understand if we will understand Jesus’ priesthood properly.
Verses 1-3 read this way:
“For this Melchizedek, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, came to Abraham after his return from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to whom Abraham divided a tenth of everything. First, by the interpretation of his name, he is King of Righteousness and then he is also the King of Salem, that is King of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy — having neither beginning of days nor an end of life, but similar to the Son of God, he remains a priest continually.”
Okay, folks, here is ht most important thing: For Jesus to make an effective sacrifice for sins, he had to be a priest. But Jesus was of the line of Judah, not Levi. Judah was the line of kings, not priests.
So, let’s say you are speaking with a Jewish neighbor or coworker and you say to him or her, “Jesus’ sacrifice paid the debt of my sin before God.” That’s part of sharing the Gospel…but he is going to respond, “No, Jesus cannot do that because he is not a Levite and thus is not a priest and only priests can make sacrifices of atonement…God does not change the rules midstream.
Do you see how important this is to understand? No priest, then no sacrifice; no sacrifice then no atonement. And we are lost.
The author answers this Jewish objection by pointing back to the Old Testament and says, “here is a priest of the Most High God, to whom Abraham showed honor (the tithe) and who predates the Levitical priesthood.” The Bible does not record his father or mother nor does it give us a genealogy — even so, he is presented as an ongoing priest and he is not Levitical. So, if you can accept Melchizedek’s priesthood (and if you believe the Bible, you must), then you can accept Jesus’ Priesthood, Jesus who is the greater Melchizedek.
That leads to verse 4:
“Now observe how great this man is to whom Abraham, the Patriarch, gave a tenth from the spoils!”
— in other words, this is a man to whose authority Father Abraham submits.
“And thus, the ones who, from the Sons of Levi, receive their priesthood, have a commandment to collect tithes from the people according to the Law, that is from those who are their brothers, though they descended from the descendants of Abraham.”
Principle: Priests receive tithes from whom they serve as intercessors and this principle is based on Abraham’s action.
“But the one who cannot trace his descendants from them received tithes from Abraham and he blessed him who had the promises. And it is without any room for dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”
i.e. Melchizedek acts as a priest for Abraham and blesses him, making Melchizedek the superior.
And thus, on the one hand, mortal men receive the tithe, but in that place, one bears witness that he lives.”
Human High Priests live and die, but still receive the tithes, yet here is a type of Christ, who lives and who is greater than the one who is mortal.
“And one might say that Levi who receives tithes also gave tithes through Abraham, for he was in the loins of his Father when Melchizedek met him.”
And thus, the Priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the Priesthood of Levi. Anything that the Jewish Priesthood can offer is superseded by Christ — anything and everything.
Sadly, though, there are still professing Christians in our community that are converting to Judaism and there are Christians that advocate a kind of blending of Jewish practice with Christianity (despite what Paul writes about the Judaizers in the book of Galatians).
Why does this happen? A big part of it is because the church’s witness has not been compelling enough to steer people away from that which is inferior to Christ who is superior. People like the structure of Judaism and how Judaism orders every aspect of their lives and they don’t see that in Christianity…but they should.
So, if we care about the spiritual well-being not only of those in our midst, it is our job to communicate the truth of God’s word in a way that is vibrant and attractive to the world while also being vital to our lives, wherever God takes us in our journeys. But that takes work and Biblical/Theological heavy-lifting. Yet if we are going to tear down strongholds of Hell and replace them with Truth, we must be about this task. That is how we will show our gratitude to God rather than annoying him from the back seat, crying out, “Are we there yet.”