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A Better Blessing

Why would you leave Jesus to go back to what is inferior?


The theme of the Book of Hebrews is that we are to keep moving forward, we can't turn back. That we're to move forward in faith, constantly trusting in Christ, persevering in our faith. And these Hebrew believers, there was something in them that wanted to turn back. They began to long for what they considered the security of the law, which was a false security. But they believed that if they could do something, that they could somehow contribute to their salvation, if only they could keep the law, if only they could fulfill the law of Moses. So the writer to the Hebrews is reminding them that there is nothing in the law that can add to what Christ has done. He wants them to keep moving forward and they're facing some persecution, they're facing some trials, and he exhorts them to keep moving in the right direction.

The author of Hebrews is going through a section where he's reminding them that everything in Jesus is better than anything they find in the law. Jesus is better than Moses. He's better than Abraham. His covenant is a better covenant. His blessing is a better blessing. Everything that they are longing for, compares unfavorably to what they have in Christ. What a reminder that is to us that when our flesh desires something that anything that's outside of Christ is inferior in spite of the weakness of our flesh that wants it, that thinks that we must have it, it is inferior. Hebrews is calling us to have a higher aspiration, to pursue Christ, to trust in him, to move on in faith.

A Better Priest

There's been several times now, Hebrews 5, again, in Hebrews 6, the author mentioned that Jesus is a better priest. We have a better priesthood in Christ than in that old Levitical system, The sacrifice he makes is a better sacrifice. It's a better offering. And Jesus is made a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is only mentioned a couple of times in the Bible. Back in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is mentioned. We have the story of Abraham meeting Melchizedek. He's a strange character. He appears out of nowhere. We don't know anything about him. We don't know who his mother was. We don't know who his father was. He's not a Hebrew, Abraham's the original Hebrew. He's not part of Abraham's family. He's a king of a place called Salem. And he just shows up. Abraham meets him. Abraham is blessed by him. Abraham pays his tithes to Melchizedek.

And then, Melchizedek disappears off the pages of scriptures, not to be mentioned again until Psalm 110. Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm. It's a psalm that Jesus would quote. Sometimes, remember when Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees and they said, "Well, how do you say such and such?" And Jesus said, "Well, I'll answer you that if you answer me this. How was it that David said, 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies my footstool. So how, how could David call himself Lord? Is that really about David?'" And they couldn't answer it. The implication there is clear that Jesus is saying, "Hey, that was about me." Jesus identified Psalm 110 as a psalm about him. Then at the end of Psalm 110 it says, “The Lord has sworn forever. You are a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Speaking of the Messiah.

Well, there he is again, Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and then he's completely gone again until Hebrews. The writer to the Hebrews says, "Oh, this is an incredibly significant event."

(Read Heb. 7:1-10)

The Relationship of the OT and NT

Who is this strange character? Why is this encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14 so significant? Well remember this that I think one of the great faults that a lot of preachers have is that they don't preach the Old Testament. I think a lot of Christians are woefully ignorant of the Old Testament. But the Old Testament always points to Christ. We're always reading the Old Testament through Christian eyes. The Old Testament is ultimately still about Jesus, even though it was written thousands and hundreds of years before Christ. This Old Testament encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek teaches us about our need to go to Christ.

Augustine said this, "The New Testament is in the Old concealed. And the Old Testament is in the New revealed." That's a great way to see it. The way that these two inform each other. The Old Testament gives us the need for the Christ because we are fallen we are sinners, and you have the Old Testament is this story of this longing for Christ. This desperate need, we're looking for a King, we're looking for a righteous King. But every King disappoints, every government fails, every act of worship is ultimately tainted. The Old Testament is the record of the failure of man. Even when God gives his perfect will in the law, we don't keep it. And so the Old Testament is the story of longing and it's sort of the set up for the coming of the Messiah. And you get these glimpses in Old Testament narratives and in the songs and in the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah who will ultimately establish his kingdom.

Well, then we get to the Gospels and here's the story of the Messiah, he comes. He doesn't come in his glory. He doesn't come in his power like we expect him ultimately to. But, he has come to earth and he's given himself a sacrifice. Then in the Epistles they interpret the Gospels. They tell us what the Gospels mean. The Book of Acts between the Gospels and the Epistles sort of tell us how the gospel spread and how it was applied and the establishment of the church. The Book of Revelation tells us about the consummation. It's the reestablishment of the paradise that was begun in the first part of Genesis. God created a perfect world, in Revelation the world is made perfect once again by the victory of Jesus Christ.

So that's the whole story, but it's all about Christ, the need for Christ, the longing for Christ, the coming of Christ, what Christ means, how he brings atonement, forgiveness of our sins and how one day he will once again rule the world and establish his reign of righteousness. That's the sweep of all the scriptures. And the writer to the Hebrews is telling them you're not reading the old Testament right. You're reading the Old Testament like it's the point. You're wanting to go back to it, like doing that stuff that's the point. And that was never the point. The Old Testament was always pointing toward what was coming. So why do you want to go back to the stuff that is the shadow, the foreshadowing of what will come.

Abraham Meets Melchizedek

Let's take a story from the Old Testament. Let's take the narrative of Abraham meeting Melchizedek. The writer of Hebrews sees in Melchizedek a picture of Jesus. Melchizedek is a type or a picture of Jesus. And look at all this stuff he says about him.

First of all, let's get the story. He puts it in a story and the story is recorded in Genesis 14. You remember Abraham and Lot, Lot was Abraham's nephew, and God blessed them so much that their flocks and their herds grew to the point where there were too many. If you're a nomadic people wandering around out there in the countryside, the land can only support so many sheep and goats. You got to have water, you've got to have grass to graze and all that, and they got too many. So they said, we need to split up. There's too many. God's blessed us too much for us to stay together.

So Lot chose the well-watered plains of Jordan. He chose the good part. He's going down there where there's grass and there's water and he leaves Abraham to sort of stay up in the high country where it's rocky and it's harder to find food and water. But down there are those little cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. And Lot goes down there and he makes that his home. And this is before all the bad stuff happens in Sodom and Gomorrah that we know about, but it's a wicked place. And in that day, in the ancient near East, every little municipality was its own people group. So the mayor is, in essence, the King. He's the King of a country.

So when you see a battle between Kings it's really one city trying to go over and conquer another. They're trying to steal their food supply, trying to make slaves of their women and their children. This is what life was like. You think you live in a high stress world. Can you imagine? Every day when you're farming, you're not just worrying about whether or not you're getting rain and stuff. You're worried about whether or not someone's going to come and club you in the head and take your stuff, and enslave your children. I mean, this was the life in the ancient near East.

So there's this one King, his name was Kedorlaomer and he's the toughest dude around. He conquers all these surrounding villages, these city states, and he makes them pay tribute to him. The King of Sodom, the King of Gomorrah, and three other Kings decide they don't want to do that anymore, and they go to war with him. So Kedorlaomer and three other Kings they come with their people and they fight against Sodom and Gomorrah and three other cities. So you've got four Kings against five Kings, and they have this battle and Kedorlaomer wins, and what does he do? He steals their stuff. I mean, that's the whole point of war is to get their stuff.

So he goes into Sodom and he takes their stuff, including Lot. He takes Lot. He gets all these spoils and away he goes. Well, Abraham hears this. Now, here's how both rich and powerful Abraham was. Abraham hears that this has happened. Abraham has enough servants, and the Bible says they were trained at war. He had 318 men that he considered warriors and he gets them and he says, let's go. He goes all the way to the North. He goes from down in the Southern part of Israel, all the way to the North part called Dan or later called Dan, and Kedorlaomer and his army is there and Abraham pursues them and defeats them. And what does Abraham do? He gets back all the stuff they stole. As he comes back down South, he comes to this place, Salem, and the King of Sodom comes to meet him. Abraham offers to give him back his stuff. The King of Sodom says, "No, we're glad to just have the people back. The people that he stole. The spoils of war belong to you."

Abraham says, "No, no." He said, "If I keep your stuff, you'll say you made me rich instead of God." So Abraham doesn't even keep the spoils. He says, "I do want you to pay my men." He has the King of Sodom pay his men, give them their fair share, because they fought, but Abraham takes nothing. But at the same time that the King of Sodom comes out there or it says that he comes there and the King of Salem is there.

Now, the King of Salem wasn't involved in the war at all, and his name is Melchizedek. In Hebrew, it's two words, Melchizedek. Melchizedek means my “God is righteous.” I want to point out to you just how different this is. If you study ancient near Eastern religions, what you find is that the gods they worship are usually carnal, lust-filled. It's all about fertility. It's all about sex. Their statuary is very sexual. You know, there is radically different. But the Hebrews, Abraham, the God that they worshiped, his primary attribute is righteousness.

This is unique, not just in the ancient near East, this is unique in the world. Show me any people anywhere who's god or gods have as a primary attribute that they are holy. When you study Greek mythology, there's nothing holy about those guys. They're tricksters and liars and deceivers. But the Hebrews, the God that Abraham knows, is a God of holiness. We understand how God reveals himself to Abraham in Genesis 12 and how all his descendants would know the holiness of this God through Abraham, and that's passed down from generation to generation.

Here's the question: How does Melchizedek know this God? His very name implies that he knows this God. But we're not told. The name my God is righteous, or my God is righteousness, Melchizedek. And he's called a priest of El Elyon. This is the first time that specific name for God is given and yet after this, it's throughout the Bible. The priest of the Most High God, El Elyon. So look at this, he's King of a place called Salem and the word Salem means peace. In fact, it's on the site of what later becomes Jebus Salem, Jerusalem, the new Salem, the new peace after that.

Some archeologists claimed that they have found Melchizedek’s house now. I don't know if that's true or not, but they're trying to substantiate that. But they have certainly found the home of an important king, a leader in Jerusalem and they're calling it Melchizedek's house. So Melchizedek, his name means King of Righteousness. He's the King of Salem. The word Salem means peace. He's the King of peace.

What does Melchizedek do, he comes out and he blesses Abraham. There's actually a verb for this in Greek to receive tithes. We don't have a verb for that in English. I wish we did, I like that. But we have to say it with two words, to receive tithes, to take tithes. He receives tithes from Abraham. His name means King of Righteousness, Melchizedek, King of Righteousness. He is the ruler over Salem, which the writer to the Hebrews says, all right, that means he's the King of Peace, King of peace. All right, you see these pictures of Jesus we're getting here.

And then it says this, uses three words in Greek: a mater, a pater, a genealogist. That is, “without mother, without father, without genealogy.” In other words, he just shows up. We don't know his birthday. We don't know the date of his death. There's no inscription about his birth. There's no stone about his death. He is not who he is because of biological descent. And he's not a Hebrew. He doesn't descend from Abraham. We don't know where he comes from. He has no beginning, no ending. Which the writer of Hebrews says, therefore, his priesthood doesn't end.

This is in distinction to the Levitical priesthood. You know, when God gave the law to Moses, you know, and this will be a site, so, hundreds of years later, when Moses comes on the scene, God gives the law to Moses. And he has Moses establish the Levitical priesthood, the High Priest. The first High Priest is Aaron, Moses' brother. First of all, to be a priest, you have to be of the Tribe of Levi, a descendant of Levi, a descendant of Aaron. It's passed down from generation to generation. So all the Levites are priests. Those that are descended from Aaron are supposed to be the High Priest. So you inherit that office and you're the High Priest as long as you live, and then you die and then the next guy is the High Priest.

The author of Hebrews says the priesthood of Melchizedek is very different. He has no predecessor and there's no successor. So he's totally different than the Levites that's just a succession, one guy after another. They start, they end, they do their job, they've served the Lord in their generation and they're gone. But not Melchizedek. Melchizedek, no beginning, no ending. His priesthood does not end. When you say the Levitical priesthood, you're talking about Levi and all those guys after Levi. You talk about the Melchizedek priesthood, who are you talking about? Melchizedek.

Better than Abraham and Melchizedek

So what he's saying to them is, “You're wanting to go back to Abraham? You think that by going back to the old covenant, that somehow that that is the highest thing? I want you to know that even Abraham recognized that there was somebody greater than him. And the evidence is what he did when he met Melchizedek.” So in this encounter we see a picture of Jesus, because Melchizedek and all these facts that I've just given you about Melchizedek are true of Jesus. Jesus is greater than Abraham in the same way. He says that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. You know, we look at Abraham as the father of faith, but no, he says, Jesus is greater than Abraham because look, Abraham paid him his tithes.

If Abraham is the guy, then everybody would be paying him the tithes, right? If he is the representative of God, if he's God's man, how do you give your money to the Lord? You know, every now and then someone will say, "Well, I'm mad about what the church did. I'm not giving money to the church, not just in this church, in any church and every church." Well, first of all, you don't give your money to the church. You give your money to the Lord. That really shouldn't have anything to do with whether or not you're mad at the church. Why do I tithe? Not because of Buck Run Baptist Church, because of the Lord. But there has to be a vehicle by which I give it to the Lord and that has to be a person or a physical entity. In my case, it's Buck Run. In the case of Abraham to whom did he give his tithe? He gave it to Melchizedek.

So he gets back from the slaughter of the Kings. He's had this incredible battle, and he won. God gave him victory. In the gratitude that he felt, he really wanted to acknowledge that. So he goes to Melchizedek, Abraham paid him his tithes.

Here's the thing, Abraham wanted to pay him his tithes. Did you notice that? Melchizedek doesn't come out and extort him. Melchizedek doesn't convince him. Melchizedek blessed him. Abraham received a blessing and the writer to the Hebrews points out that that means that Abraham is inferior.

I'll never forget, 1979, the first time I went to Brazil in my adult life. I would be walking down the street by the church I was working with, Decembru Baptist Church, and little kids would see me come out of the church. Little kids come up to me and they go, "Deus me abencoe, deus me abencoe." I didn't know what that meant. And I asked Brother Brachers, he said, "Oh, they're asking you to bless them." And of course, this was from their Catholic background, you know? They identified me as like a priest and they would come up to me and, "Bless me, bless me." I didn't know what else to do, so I go, "Deus te abencoe." I didn't make the cross but I'd say, "God bless you, God bless you."

Now, here's the thing, I never went up to one of those little kids and said, "Hey, you bless me." They would have thought that ridiculous. You know, when you ask somebody, "Would you pray for me? Would you give me a blessing?" You're asking somebody that you believe has God's ear, has God's heart. The fact is that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, Abraham didn't bless him.

Remember the last scene of Jacob's life. He calls in his sons one by one. What does he do? He blesses them. The sons don't bless him, he blesses them. The blessing is very important. It's a very important thing, especially in the Old Testament, because it's a conveyance, a favor. It's an expression of intention. It's a passing of something real. And the fact that Melchizedek blesses Abraham. Abraham receives that blessing from him, he says that Abraham is the one who is inferior.

Now, why is he saying this? Because he doesn't want the Hebrews to go back to the law. Abraham was never the point. Moses was never the point. The Old Covenant was never the point. They were always about Jesus. So his reasoning is why would you leave Jesus to go back to what is inferior? And he's showing them this truth from this encounter. He's saying why do you think God put that story there? That little vignette tells us something really significant. You know, the fact that this happened right after the battle, battles and victories in my life should drive me to Christ.

I want to be blessed. I want God to bless me. But I tell you what I have done. I've learned to quit defining what blessing is. In thinking about this, I looked at Joel Osteen's Twitter account. Joel Osteen, I think is probably one of the nicest guys ever to walk the Earth. I don't question his sincerity. I don't question that he helps people in certain ways. I looked at his Twitter account and he talks a lot about blessing. But if you look at it, number one, I read back for months and months and months, and did not see the name Jesus mentioned one time. He says a lot about God. He says not one word about Christ, about sacrifice, about repentance, about sin. It's all, "Hey, you know, your day of destiny is coming. You just keep believing God." Well, that's really no different than what Marianne Williamson or some other positive thinking guru would give me. You can say it, you can put Buddha in there. It's no different.

The blessing that we seek, it's not necessarily the blessing of a healthy life or a full bank account or power or prestige or position. What is it that he's going to Melchizedek for? Well, it's to find righteousness: Melchizedek, My King is Righteous. That's what Abraham needed.

It says of Abraham, and it's one of the most foundational statements in the Bible, that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. What did Abraham need? The same thing you need, the same thing I need. He needed righteousness. He was fallen and sinful and faithless just like you, just like me. But when he believed, God said, "I'm counting that as righteousness, because I'm supplying your righteousness."


The late Christopher Hitchens could make me very, very angry sometimes with his dismissal of Christianity. But, he was a brilliant critic of theism in general, Christianity in particular. He was doing a tour after he wrote his book, God is Not Great, in which he talked about how religion caused all the problems in the world. He was being interviewed by a woman named Marilyn Sewell, she is a Unitarian minister. For the Unitarians, you can believe anything. Sewell happens to be a liberal Christian. No, you don't have to be a Christian to be Unitarian. You don't really even have to be a theist to be a Unitarian. You can literally believe anything and be Unitarian.

She was interviewing him and she said, "Well, most of your criticisms seem aimed at fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalists in general, who believe, you know, in a literal interpretation of the Bible," she said, "I don't believe in the miracles of the Bible and, you know, silly things like that. And I don't believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead and things like that." So in essence, she asked him, "Are you comfortable with my kind of Christianity?" Here’s his answer, "I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice, our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian." Now this is from an atheist, who never spoke truer words in his life. I mean, he gets it. In fact, really in his book, a lot of his book was against liberal Christianity. I don't know, she must not have read his book because I read his book and he really attacks the liberals because he says, "You pick and choose which parts you believe." He had more respect for people that believed all the Bible than those that did not.

Look, Abraham needed righteousness. He was coming to Melchizedek because he's the King of Righteousness, the King of Salem, he needed to find peace. Following that battle, he comes to find peace and to receive the blessing. When I come to Christ, I come to find righteousness. I come to find peace. I come to receive a blessing. It's a blessing greater than any 19-year old missionary could give. It's a blessing greater than the Pope can give. It's a blessing greater than Joel Osteen is talking about—if I just find the strength in myself and keep hoping and keep driving and keep believing for those temporal things. No, it's a far, far greater blessing than that. It's a blessing of eternal righteousness that Jesus died in my place.

In the same way that Abraham came to give tithes, he came because following this battle, he wanted to bless the Lord. I come to Christ to give what I possess. To say that everything I have is a gift and I have no claim to it. I come to Christ to acknowledge that he is Supreme. Well, this is important to the writers of that Hebrews, because he says, now, look, you've got to see that the fact that Melchizedek blesses Abraham means that he is superior and Abraham is inferior. The superior one gives the blessing. This is a picture of Christ. We come to Christ for righteousness, for peace, to receive the blessing of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, to give to him all that we possess, not just Savior, but Lord of all that I am and to acknowledge that he is Supreme without mother, without father.

Oh, Jesus had an earthly mother, but he existed before her. Jesus' existence is not dependent on Mary, merely his entrance into the world as the incarnate Savior. Tim Keller said this, “Here's the gospel. You're more sinful than you ever dared believe. You're more loved than you ever dared hope." That is it. You're more sinful than you ever dare believe. You need to come to Christ for righteousness, for peace. But you know what? You're more loved than you ever dared hope, you get a blessing. When you give him everything, when you acknowledge that he is supreme, when you come saying any victories of my life belong to him, I'm a sinner, I need his righteousness. I repent of my sin. I put my faith in him. That's when you receive the blessing and it's a blessing.

You know what? Poor people in mud huts have the blessing of eternal life and rich people in 60,000 square foot mansions need it. It's a blessing. It's got nothing to do with what you can do, with what you can achieve, with what you can be trained for. It's got everything to do with what Christ has done. You might have come through some battles. Don't for a moment think that those battles, even if you had temporary victory, that you won those battles. No, let those battles in your life drive you to Christ just like Abraham. Because no battle in my life is really over until I acknowledge Christ Jesus as Lord.

Hershael York is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, as well as professor of Christian Preaching and dean of Southern Seminary's School of Theology in Louisville, Kentucky.

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