Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sermon: Genesis 14 1-24 Meeting Mysterious Melchizedek

One of the challenges of venturing into the Old Testament comes in a passage like ours this morning. It’s the sort of reading that strikes fear in the heart and a twist in the tongue of whoever has been allocated it to read. A list of unheard of and unpronounceable names, people we might only hear about once in the whole Bible. Why would we want to bother reading about Chedorlaomer or Shemeber?

It might transport you back to your history classes at school, when you heard of kings from over a thousand years ago. At least those kings could be pronounced easier. What could Genesis 14 teach us?

We want to be a church family that takes Jesus’ words seriously. In Luke 24:44 Jesus says that ‘everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ The whole Old Testament is all about Jesus. So that means that Genesis 14 will, in some way, point us to Jesus as well. Yet it comes in a way you wouldn’t expect. It’s a blink and you might miss it type of signpost. And it comes in one of those hard to pronounce proper names, as we’ll see.

On Friday, Parliament was recalled to debate joining a Middle Eastern alliance to wage war on ISIS. As Genesis 12 opens, we find a royal rumble taking place. On the sermon outline, I’ve tried to summarise it. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim are taking on the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela. For so long, the second group had served Chedorlaomer, but now they rebelled. So he brought his mates to fight against them.

The Sodom group turned and ran away, so Chedorlaomer took all their goods and provisions and went away. They’ve taken the spoils of war, captured the tanks and tents and all the food and wine. But look at what else they took. Verse 12: ‘They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who lived in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.’ A fortnight ago, Lot pitched his tent near Sodom, now he’s living in the city. But he has been captured, kidnapped.

Someone escapes, and they run to tell Abram what has happened. Abram has his own private army and sets off with them and his friends to rescue Lot. Abram is a powerful man - he has 318 men of his household trained in war. He sends his forces by night, with military strategy. He wins the victory and brings back the goods and everything that had been taken. The rescuer returns. We see that in verse 17. As he returns, the King of Sodom goes out to meet Abram. His conversation is found in verses 21-24.

Abram refuses to take any reward - not even a thread, not even a sandal-thong (a shoe lace) - ‘so that you might not say, “I have made Abram rich”’ Abram is holding on to God’s promise of descendants and land and blessing. That’s all he needs. And so that the glory goes to God, he refuses to take anything from Sodom. You can imagine the king of Sodom in later years: ‘Ah yes, that Abram is all rich now. I remember when he had nothing. You know, I started him off. I gave him his first break. He would still be nothing if it wasn’t for me!” But the glory is God’s. The rescuer returns.

I wonder if you noticed something strange when we were reading earlier on. Look at verse 17. The king of Sodom went out to meet Abram. You expect him to speak, to say something, but before he does, this other mysterious king appears and speaks instead. When you look at it closer, we could probably do without verses 18-20. The king of Sodom comes out in verse 17, and he speaks in verse 21. You could seamlessly move from 17 to 21. But why are 18-20 there? Why do we need to deal with Melchizedek? Let’s see what we’re told first. He’s king of Salem. He brings out bread and wine. He is priest of God Most High. He blesses Abram, and Abram gives him a tenth, a tithe.

If this was the only reference to Melchizedek, we could lump him with the other kings from the royal rumble. Interesting, but not particularly helpful. Perhaps only useful for a Bible Trivia Quiz. Who was the King of Goiim? Tidal. It’s as if Melchizedek drifts in and out of the text in these three verses.

The next time he is mentioned comes in Psalm 110, a psalm written by King David. The LORD is speaking to David’s Lord - King Jesus. In verse 4, the king is given another role. ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”’

There’s something about this mysterious Melchizedek that shows us what the true King of God’s people will be like. But nothing more is said in the Old Testament. A couple of strange references. It’s only in the letter to the Hebrews that the light fully comes on. Here, the Spirit-inspired writer gives us the commentary on who Melchizedek is, and why he matters.

Unlike everyone else in Genesis, there is no genealogy for Melchizedek. We’re not told of his parents; we’re not told that he died. It appears that he lives for ever. ‘But resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.’

Melchizedek, the king and priest, points us to Jesus, the Priest King. We think regularly of how Jesus is King Jesus, the one who reigns. But Jesus is also the Priest King. The King is our priest, the one who makes sacrifice for us, the one who prays for us, the one who has already entered into heaven on our behalf.

After Abram’s victory, Melchizedek brings bread and wine. Some reckon that this is what a returning soldier needs - some food and drink to keep him going. But others see in these gifts a pointer to the Lord’s Supper.

Melchizedek the priest king speaks out God’s blessing on Abram: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ Abram, you’re blessed, not because of what you have achieved, but simply because God has given you the victory. God has been gracious to you, given you what you didn’t deserve. It’s then that Abram responds by giving the tenth - recognising that everything he has comes from God’s hand. It all belongs to God.

Among the bitumen pits and in the King’s Valley, we meet with mysterious Melchizedek. As we look at this blink and you miss him old testament character, we find that he show us what Jesus is like. Jesus the priest king, who sustains us for the journey. Jesus the priest king, who declares God’s blessing. Jesus the priest king, who receives our response.

Is this the great high priest you need to know about today? You have a great high priest who has entered the most holy place, who constantly lives to intercede for you. Your burdens are his burdens. Your concerns are his concerns. He lives to pray for you right now. Every moment of every day. When you sleep, or when you toss and turn. Know that Jesus is praying for you.

And know that where Jesus is, is where we will be. He is already in God’s holy place. His presence there, sacrifice completed, is our hope - hope like an anchor which is grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love. We can hold firm to God’s promise, because he is holding us firm.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 28th September 2014.

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