Friday, May 02, 2008

Sermon - Ascension Day - Psalm 110:4

Ascension Day
May 1st, 2008
Psalm 110:4
“A Priest in the Order of Melchizedek”

Today, Ascension Day, marks that event in our Lord's work for us, when, after he was born and lived and died and rose – he completed his earthly tour of duty, and ascended into Heaven right before his disciples' eyes. He was going back from whence he came – re-taking his heavenly throne. He was resuming his rightful power and majesty and glory as the Lord of Heaven and Earth – God of God over all. Today is a triumphant day for him – and for us his people, as our Lord not only rules all things – but rules all things for our benefit.

The Introit for Ascension day takes a note from Psalm 110, which is also quoted in Heberews 5 and 6. An unusual thought – that Jesus Christ our Lord is a “Priest in the Order of Melchizedek”. A good Lutheran question is always, “what does this mean?”

Your first question might be, “Who is Melchizedek?” There are some interesting legends about Melchizedek from Jewish tradition. One holds that he was born circumcised. Another says he gave the robes of the first man, Adam, to Abraham. Still another says that Melchizedek was actually Shem, one of the sons of Noah. In any case he is a mysterious figure, barely even mentioned in the Old Testament.

What the Bible does say about him, is however, very instructive. For Melchizedek stands as one of those “types” or foreshadowings of our Lord Jesus Christ. His unique role and description point forward to the unique role our Lord assumes, especially in his Ascension to his Father's throne. So just who was Melchizedek?

Abraham had just gone on a mission to rescue his nephew Lot from the clutches of four kings who had conquered Sodom and Gamorrah (this was before the fire and brimstone, you see). In a nighttime raid, Abraham and his fighting men were victorious over their enemies, and a sort of victory celebration ensues – it is then that Melchizedek appears, abruptly. We read:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

"Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand."

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Later, Psalm 110 prophesies the coming Messiah, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

So why does the New Testament writer to the Hebrews connect Christ to this mysterious Old Testament figure? And what does this mean for our faith? We could suggest the following:

Melchizedek – the name means “king of righteousness”. Certainly Jesus Christ is our king of righteousness. A king unlike the kings of this world, especially now that he is ascended on high. He not only rules over us, but also guards and protects us from all enemies – keeping us safe from Sin, Death and Devil. And in Christ's righteousness, we are also made righteous.

Melchizedek was also the “king of Salem”. Salem means “peace” and Jesus, of course, is called the “prince of peace”. However, it's also been suggested that the city Melchizedek ruled was actually Jerusalem (Salem being an older name for the same place). Jerusalem, the city of David, the capitol of Israel – Jerusalem, which is synonymous with “God's people”. Jesus is the king over us, his people, the New Jerusalem, and one day over the Heavenly Jerusalem, which Revelation describes as his own bride. Jesus is the king that brings us peace with God forever.

Melchizedek. A king, but also a priest. A ruler over his people, but also one who intercedes with God for them. A representative of the people before God. So too, Jesus Christ – the great High Priest. The one who offered the ultimate sacrifice of his very self on the altar of the cross. He, who now intercedes for us all with his Father. Jesus' kingly priesthood exceeds all Levitical and Aaronic priesthood. He was, like Melchizedek, a priest before them And he is a priest forevermore – our high priest in Heaven.

It's also worth mentioning that since Scripture calls the church a “royal priesthood”, we could see ourselves, also, in the Order of Melchizedek. We are kingly priests – who will share in the reign of our great High Priest now already seated on his throne.

And strangely, Melchizedek appears, bringing bread and wine. Could this be a foreshadowing of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, who brings us bread and wine that is also his body and blood? Are there sacramental overtones in the priesthood of old Melchizedek?

Finally, Abraham, awash in his success, and wealthy in plunder, nonetheless offers a tithe to this strange kingly priest. In an act of worship, Abraham honors God through the priest – offering a portion of what he had received. We too return to the Lord a share of our blessings, sometimes even a tenth, sometimes more. We too give thanks for the victory he grants us, victory in the battle over sin and death. A victory won on Calvary, and made ours at the font and rail. So we bring to his altar the firstfruits of what he gives in joyful gratitude.

So what of Melchizedek? He points to Jesus. And what of Jesus? He is our king, he is our priest. He brings us blessings and victory. He rules over us, and he watches over us. He intercedes for us with the Father – a perfect go-between, just as he was the perfect substitute and the perfect sacrifice.

On this Ascension day, as we ponder our king who now reigns on high – remember he is your king, your prince of peace, your mighty God, who rules all things for your good. But remember he is also your priest, who made the sacrifice for you, and who goes to God on your behalf, even now, and for eternity.

“You are a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek” Hail, oh kingly-priest, receive our thanks and praise. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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