The Mystery of Melchizedek — Part One
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The Mystery of Melchizedek — Part One

Hebrews 7:1–11  (ID: 1917)

Melchizedek’s royal priesthood casts an intriguing shadow down the corridors of time. Bringing his Old Testament background to light, Alistair Begg explores the role of this mysterious biblical figure. As a priesthood established by personal worth rather than lineage, the order of Melchizedek foreshadowed the reality of Jesus as the Great High Priest. Through Christ’s sacrificial work, the Gospel invites sinners to set aside self-dependence and fix their belief upon the power of the Spirit of God.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Hebrews, Volume 2

Our Great High Priest Hebrews 7:1–11:1 Series ID: 15802

Sermon Transcript: Print

In teaching through the Bible in a systematic and consecutive fashion, one inevitably discovers that there are certain portions of Scripture which one might be tempted to skip, and yet you just can’t. The reason I mention that: because Hebrews chapter 7 is a potential “skipping” chapter. If I were teaching topically through the Bible, then I perhaps would wait some time before I came to Hebrews 7, and maybe even hope that someone else would deal with it in my absence. But given that we have planned to go through it in this consecutive way, there’s nothing else for me but to put my head down and try and get through it. I was tempted to go directly to 8, working on the premise that nobody knows where we are in any case, and that you would be looking at one another, saying, “Goodness, I can’t remember chapter 7; he must have done it, and I didn’t notice it.” Believe me, you’ll notice it. You’ll remember it for a long time.

Indeed, having gone through it once in the early service, I was reminding myself of the fact that on one occasion when I had minor surgery, the surgeon was about to give me some injections—he said he had four injections to give me—and he looked at me and said, “If you can make it through the next forty seconds, you’ll be okay.” And having gone through the first, I have to say to you, “If you can make it through the next forty minutes, you’re gonna be okay.” Because Hebrews chapter 7 is one of the most demanding, fascinating, challenging, and rewarding sections of the epistle to the Hebrews. And we’re going to spend the day in it, and it will be necessary to do so. And without any sense of trying to manipulate the evening congregation, I need to let you know that you will be left with a sense of … at the end of the morning hour, because that which comes at the close of the chapter rounds out the nature and significance of the arguments and imagery to which we’re going to give ourselves just now.

The real burning question in coming to this section of Holy Scripture is, Who is this mysterious figure called Melchizedek? Who is this man, this shadowy chap, who has been introduced in 5:10, referred to once again in 6:20. And the answers that have been provided throughout the years are many and varied. For example, if you read commentaries, you will discover that there are those who say that Melchizedek was a personification of the third member of the Trinity—namely, the Holy Spirit. There are others who believe that he was a divine virtue, with dramatic powers greater even than the powers of Christ. We can certainly x that one out. Others have suggested that he was simply an angel. And others—and quite a number of others—have proclaimed the fact that Melchizedek was nothing other than a preincarnate appearance of the Son of God.

Now, before I come to my own personal explanation of this as a result of my study, it should not be surprising to us that when he mentioned Melchizedek for the first time in 5:10, he immediately paused at that moment and said in verse 11, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” Now, that ought to be a key right there. It’s almost as though he comes right up to it, and he backs off it. He breathes for a while as he introduces areas of pastoral concern—the problem of spiritual infancy, the pathway to spiritual maturity, the peril of spiritual apostasy—and then he comes back to him again at the end of [6:20], the closing—the ellipsis, if you like—the parenthesis then complete. And he says this Jesus “has become a high priest … in the order of Melchizedek.” And then he must have looked at his amanuensis, his secretary, and said, “Well, we might as well go for it. We’ve mentioned him twice; let’s just see it through. Let’s tackle this issue of Melchizedek.”

What you have in the Old Testament, in people and in practices and in events, are foreshadowings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, this particular section is probably as daunting as any in the epistle of Hebrews, because the imagery which the writer employs and the argument which he makes takes us into unfamiliar territory. If a twentieth-century theologian were setting out to establish the same essential truth, it is unlikely that they would go at in the way in which the writer goes at it. And the reason for his approach is because he is addressing a first-century audience that understood the nature of Judaism, were facing peculiar challenges in relationship to their profession of faith, and the application of these truths would be as familiar to them as it is apparently unfamiliar to us. And so I need to ask you to try your best to concentrate. And I believe that if you will, then, in understanding, you will be helped. If you lose it early on, it’s unlikely that you will get it back at all. The intricacy of the argument, in other words, should not be allowed to prevent us from grasping the necessity and clarity and wonder of the application.

Now, at the very heart of it is an issue which many of you may never, ever have encountered, some of you will be familiar with, and others will be somewhere in between. The issue is referred to in biblical, theological terminology as typology, or “type-ology.” That is, t-y-p-o-l-o-g-y. And we are introduced here to a classic statement of this means and method of illustrating the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. What you have in the Old Testament, both in people and in practices and in events, are foreshadowings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We saw this on a number of occasions in our studies in Joseph, where, as we unfolded the text of Joseph, our minds shot away forward to Christ. And we realized that what we had in Joseph was not simply an historic statement concerning the reality of the unfolding of God’s plan for the life of Joseph, but we also had in that a type that was pointing us forward to the antitype. The type in the Old Testament is the representation of the antitype, which is the reality which we discover in the New.

Now, if I give you a couple of concrete illustrations, you’ll have this in no time at all, and it will be plain sailing. For example, in Numbers chapter 21—and you needn’t turn to it; this can be your homework—but in Numbers chapter 21, God commands Moses, if you recall, to hoist up a serpent, or a snake, on a pole in the wilderness. And Moses is then to tell the people that all who look to that serpent, or that snake on the pole, will live—they will be cleansed, and they will live.[1] Now, that is a type. And the antitype, the reality which it foreshadows and to which it points, is the lifting up of the Lord Jesus upon the cross, providing the atoning answer to the sins of men and women in the way in which the serpent on the stake, in looking to that, foreshadowed it in the physical cleansing back in the Old Testament. So the type is the snake on the pole, the antitype is Christ.

Now, if we were tempted to say, “Well, I wonder where he gets that from,” we would need to turn—as I encourage you, just so you can see it—to John 3:14. This is Jesus himself speaking. He said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [so] that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So Jesus takes the Old Testament picture, and he applies it immediately to what is going to happen in his death.

In the same way—and there are many to which we could turn—but in the same way, in Exodus chapter 12, in providing instruction concerning the Passover, we’re told in verse 5, “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.” The sacrificial lamb spoken of in the Passover celebrations in Exodus was a type; the antitype is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[2] So that, for example, when Peter writes to the scattered believers of his day in 1 Peter 1:19, he says to them, “You weren’t redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but rather with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb”—notice—“without blemish or defect.”[3] When people read the Old Testament, and they say, “Why were all these things so important? Why was it so necessary? Why did they pay such attention to the detail in that way?” And the answer is often—although, not always—because what is provided there is a type which finds its antitype in the fulfillment… in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, the reason that I mention this should be obvious to you by now: this individual Melchizedek is a type of the antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And the uniqueness of the priesthood of Melchizedek as it is described for us in the Bible is described in exactly the way in which it is provided in order that it might foreshadow and point us forward to the one who is the absolute fulfillment of the nature of the role of high priest.

Now, it is interesting, at least to me, that we only have three mentions, or three places in the Bible, where Melchizedek is mentioned. First, in Genesis chapter 14, which is the historic encounter to which the writer refers here in the opening verses of Hebrews 7. First, then, in Genesis 14, then in Psalm 110:4, then in Hebrews 5:10, and then in Hebrews 6:20, and then in the unfolding of Hebrews chapter 7.

Now, can I just make an aside here which I think is of importance and certainly should be instructional for us? Here we have a mention of this shadowy character, first of all appearing, as it were, from nowhere in Genesis 14. And there’s only three verses that refer to him, and then nothing—total silence. And about a thousand years later, David reintroduces him in Psalm 110:4. Then silence, and approximately a thousand years later, he appears in Hebrews 5:10. You say, “Well, what’s the significance?”

Well, here’s the question. Now, people encounter me all the time, and they want to tell me that the Bible is a collection of writings where people got together and collaborated on material so as to make sure that they could stick it all together in a way to con the guileless—in a way to satisfy the weak-minded individuals who are prepared to buy this whole notion. I don’t know how you get a Melchizedek from nowhere in Genesis 14, then a thousand years and a Melchizedek in one verse in the time of David, and then a thousand years and Melchizedek in the first century in the writer of the Hebrews—unless the same individual who authored Genesis authored the Psalms and authored Hebrews. ’Cause how, otherwise, would people have known about this person?

So, in a subtle and yet wonderful way, as an aside, here is one of the internal proofs as to the veracity of the authorship of the Bible: that it is, as Paul says to Timothy, “God-breathed,” theopneustos, and profitable therefore for all of our instruction, correction, and training in righteousness, and so on.[4] It is not, as men and women want us to believe, a ragbag of material generated by some well-meaning religious freaks in the early centuries AD. You have to have more faith to believe that than you have to believe in the divine authorship of Holy Scripture.

But that’s an aside. Let us move to the instruction concerning Melchizedek.

Take the opening phrase of verse 1, add it to the closing phrase of verse 3, and you’ve got the essential picture: “This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. … Like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” “This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High,” and I’m adding it to the closing phrase of verse 3, “[and] like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” Not that we’re going to pass over the elements in the middle, but that will give you the very heart of what’s going on.

The snapshot, if you like, which is given to us in the Bible of Melchizedek leaves him at every point in permanent possession of his priesthood. Now, that’ll become clear what I mean by that as we go on, or it won’t. But I hope it might. He was the “king of Salem,” we’re told, which almost certainly should be identified with Jerusalem, because that was another name for Jerusalem. He is the “priest of God Most High.” And his name is significant, especially when you think of that which he portrays, insofar as he was called the “king of righteousness” and the “king of peace.” There could be no better description of the one who was to be the fulfillment of the shadow which he cast—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And in the third verse, we come to the most troubling element, which provides individuals with some of the more fanciful ideas about who Melchizedek is: “without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days … end of life.” So what is this? Is he the original “Nowhere Man”?[5] Did he come from nowhere, was about essentially nothing, and go to nowhere?

I have concluded in my own personal study—and you’re sensible people and need to judge for yourselves—I have concluded that Melchizedek was an historical figure: that he had a real birth, a real life, and a real death. In fact, in researching it, it seems distinctly possible that he may well have been a descendant of a fellow by the name of Japhe or Japheth, who reigned over a certain territory, a small tribe in Canaan, and the territory over which he reigned had as its chief town Salem.

And while there is much which appeals to the idea of Melchizedek being a preincarnate manifestation of the Son of God, I can’t get there, because it doesn’t say that. In fact, it says that he was “like the Son of God”—or in the King James Version, he was “made like unto the Son of God.” Now, we only need a knowledge of the English language to think this out. If he was the preincarnate Christ, then the writer would have said, “He was without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or life, and hey, you shouldn’t be surprised: he was the Son of God.” But he doesn’t say that. He said, “He was like unto the Son of God.” He was a type. And the way in which he is described for us in the Bible is in such a way as to focus only on that which provides for the fulfillment in the totality and reality of Jesus himself. So, if we take it in context, clearly, he didn’t come from nowhere. If he was a mere man, he had parents, and he lived, and he died.

“Well then,” you say, “why does it say ‘without father or mother’ and ‘without genealogy’?” Well, again, the context is the answer. For the Levitical priesthood, genealogy or ancestry was everything. You could not be a priest after the order of Levi unless you were a literal descendant of Aaron. And indeed, your mother had to be a person who qualified by certain stringent requirements to be a priest’s wife. And furthermore, certification of that had to be placed within the genealogical register.

Even the silences of Scripture are pregnant with meaning.

Now, let me just earth this in history again for you. In Ezra chapter 2—and you find the exact same statement in Nehemiah; most of us will have forgotten it. But in Ezra chapter 2, in the list of the exiles who have returned after their captivity in Babylon, in verse 61—and it’s an interesting chapter in Ezra; you might like to turn to it and begin memorizing it right now. But Ezra 2:61 provides us with a list of unpronounceable names, and then it says of them, verse 62, “These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood.” These were guys who were showing up and saying, “Hey, I’m in the Levitical priesthood!” And the answer was, “Show me your birth certificate. Show me your identification.” And in all of the chaos that had ensued in their lives, they were unable to go and produce the genealogical records, and therefore they said, “On the strength of that, you cannot be a priest.”

Now, Melchizedek, in contrast, had no reference to genealogical records. He is not introduced to us on the basis of his genealogy. He’s not introduced to us in the Bible—we don’t find him in the Bible—under the lineage of his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather; there is nothing of that. He appears in the Scriptures as if from nowhere, disconnected in his description from his realistic origins as a mere man but described in a way that attaches nothing to his origins and provides us with no record of his ending. Why? Because he is a type of the one who was to fulfill a priesthood which had nothing to do with genealogy and which would go on forever. And so in order for him to be a fit type of the fulfillment, it was necessary that he would have this shadowy depiction within the pages of Scripture. He belonged to an order of priesthood where natural descent wasn’t regarded at all.

Now, learn this, in passing: even the silences of Scripture are pregnant with meaning. What it doesn’t say about him teaches us something. For the Levitical priests could only begin at the age of twenty-five. For five years they were allowed to do a kind of interdisciplinary priestly function amongst themselves, and then from the age of thirty they could begin ministering to the congregations that gathered. But that only lasted for twenty years, and at the age of fifty it was done and gone.

Now, the writer is going to provide for his beleaguered first-century readers the story of a permanent priest, with a priesthood that never ends. And these people are scratching their heads and saying, “How can you have a priesthood that never ends? For everything that we know of the priesthood begins at twenty-five and quits at fifty.” So nobody out of the Levitical priesthood would be able to provide the type of the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have to be somebody with another kind of priesthood—namely, Melchizedek, who, unlike the others, is not introduced to us on the basis of these things, nor is his priestly function limited by these time frames which were part and parcel of the others.

Melchizedek’s priesthood was not founded upon his genealogy but was derived from his personal dignity. It was not limited to a prescribed period. There is no record given of it coming to an end; it obviously came to an end, but he doesn’t have it described as coming to an end, because of the purpose for his existence in Scripture. And in this respect, he foreshadows the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood. Because the priesthood of the Lord Jesus rested upon the eternal dignity of his sonship. The priesthood of the Lord Jesus was not on the basis of his lineage; the priesthood of the Lord Jesus was on the basis of his personal worth.

Now, we’ll come to this later in the day, but if you just cast your mind forward to verse 13: “He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe”—that is, Jesus belonged to a different tribe—“and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that [the] Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” So in other words, if the priestly function of the Lord Jesus is going to be traced to genealogy, he doesn’t have the genealogy. He has no earthly right to perform the functions which were the functions of the Levitical priesthood. So the priesthood of Christ must, like the priesthood described for us in Melchizedek, emerge not from ancestry but from personal worth and dignity.

Now, we’ll come back to that. That may encourage some of you and worry others of you, but we will come back to it.

From verse 4 to verse 10, the writer now goes on and, again, to employ arguments—that are not immediately familiar to us, but stay with it—to employ arguments to reinforce the superiority of Melchizedek to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. Now, some of you are saying, “Does it really matter?” And the answer is, yes, it does, but it’ll take time for the penny to drop. So for now, it does matter; therefore, pay attention. It’s the same thing you asked in calculus: “Excuse me, sir? I’m planning on being a grocery store manager. Does this really matter?” And the chap said, “Yes, it does matter. Shut up, sit down, and pay attention to what I’m telling you.” And that was what you should do. So, in a far more gracious way, I’m encouraging you along those lines.

How, then, does he establish the fact of Melchizedek’s superiority over the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood? Well, he does it, essentially, in two ways. Takes six verses to do it, but this is what he does. First, he says, “If you want to realize how superior Melchizedek and his priesthood is, well then, think about this,” verse 4: “Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” You say, “Uh huh. Is that it?” Yeah! “Wow,” you say, “that’s interesting. I don’t know what it possibly means, but it is interesting.” Well, let me tell you.

In verse 5: “The law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people.” So when you became a priest of the order of Levi, you were on the receiving end of the tithes of the people. They sustained your life, physically. And you got it from your brothers, even though your brothers were descendants of Abraham—who is, if you like, if I may say so reverently, in the mind of the Jew, the “daddy of them all.” So you were a Levite, and you received tithes from those who were your brothers, and all of us, whether giving or receiving, had this in common: that we were, as it were, underneath Abraham, who was the great and key figure. But Melchizedek received tithes from the father of them all, proving to the Jewish mind that whoever this Melchizedek was, he was greater than these Levitical priests who had emerged down through the corridor of time. A far higher honor attached to him, because the sacred dignity of the offering of these gifts was made by Abraham himself.

Now, let’s just turn to Genesis 14 and set the historical record there. Abram went to rescue his nephew Lot. And in the rescuing of Lot, he secured a significant victory over a fellow by the name of Kedorlaomer. And after he’d given him a drubbing, he was heading back to his own territory, and in verse 18 it says, “Then Melchizedek [the] 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[s].’ Then [Abraham] gave him a tenth of everything.”

So, “First,” he says, “I’ll tell you why and how great he was: because Abraham tithed to him. And secondly, because it was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham, and it wasn’t Abraham who blessed Melchizedek.” Now, again, we look at one another and we say, “Well, so what? I mean, what does it matter if you say hello first or I say hello first? You know, ‘Hello,’ ‘Hello.’ Say, ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good morning.’ Is it that kind of thing?” No, it’s clearly not.

As verse 7 makes clear, the bestowing of blessing was always something which came from the greater to the lesser. So the father blessed the children. The grandfather blessed the children’s children. The grandchildren do not bless the grandfather. And in the mind of the Jew—the first-century Jew—they might assume that it would always be Abraham who was bestowing the blessing. Because, after all, in their mind, there was nobody really greater than Abraham. That was why they got into such difficulties with Jesus in John chapter 8. Jesus says to them, “Before Abraham was … I am!”[6] And they took up stones to stone him. Why? Because they were so proud of the fact, “Abraham is our father. We have never been slaves to any man.”[7] Jesus had looked them in the eyes and said, “He that sins is a slave to sin.”[8] And they came back, choosing to miss the point and arguing on the basis of their religious heritage, “Hey, cut out the ‘sin’ stuff. Don’t you know where we’re from? Abraham is our main man.” Jesus says, “I’m going to tell you something: before Abraham ever was, I am—I existed.” And Melchizedek bestows the blessing on Abraham, thereby advancing the way in which his type points forward to the antitype—the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

So the tithes were being paid—verse 8—to priests and “men who die.” Not only do they die physically, but their priesthood died at the age of fifty. But Abraham, he says, paid tithes to a priest who lives on—or, in the NIV, to a priest “who is declared to be living.” Since no death is recorded of Melchizedek, his priesthood is typically eternal. See? The reason that he is provided for us in Scripture without this beginning and without this ending is in order that he might typify the one who is to come. Melchizedek was, if you like, the facsimile of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the reality.

What he’s going to go on and point out is that Jesus is the only priest who is alive forevermore, and on the basis—verse 16—of his indestructible life: “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”

Now, y’gotta understand how important this was to these first-century Jews. They had been brought up in all of the significant heritage of Judaism. They had been brought up to believe—indeed, to depend upon—the ceremonial law and the sacrificial system to provide them with any possibility of having their sins forgiven and of being brought into the presence of God. Now, as a result of the preaching of the gospel, they had turned their back on all of that ceremonialism and of all that had represented religious and spiritual security to them, and they had stepped out in obedience on the strength of the claims of the apostles that this Jesus Christ had made an atoning sacrifice for sin, once and for all, that he had torn the curtain to make it possible for men and women to go into the very Holy of Holies, and they needed to leave all of that behind and go on.

Hardly surprising, as they began to gather in little groups, that when the seeds of doubt, the times of difficulty came, and the pressure of those around them was upon them, that they were tempted always to look back over their shoulders, always to say, “You know, there’s nothing really here. What is it that we’re really doing? We don’t have an altar. And we don’t have a sacrificial system. And we don’t have robes, and we don’t have bells. And we’re not swinging incense, and we’re not doing any of these things. Do we really have anything at all?” you see, they would be saying to themselves. “We used to rely so much on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. We relied on the fact that our high priest went into the Holy of Holies, offered sacrifices for his own sins, and then went and offered for us. But now what have we got?” You remember what the writer is saying: he says, “Listen. The ones who stay the course are the ones who are really his. If we hold firmly to the end, we will be saved.”[9]

And as they’re buffeted by all these things, the writer comes to them and says, “Listen, I know that many of you are struggling with the issues of what you’ve left behind and what you’ve now embraced, and I know you’re tempted to believe that you’ve given up the whole priesthood and that there’s nothing there at all, but I want to tell you: the priesthood to which you have come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is a far more significant priesthood than that of the Aaronic, Levitical priesthood. It is a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. And if you’re wondering about Melchizedek, he was actually greater than your father Abraham, because Abraham tithed to him.” And they would have said to him, “Well, you know, that’s true.” “And also, he was the one who bestowed the blessing on Abraham, and it is always from the greater to the lesser.” And they would have said, “Well, that is true.” And they would have been putting the pieces together in a way that isn’t common for late twentieth-century dwellers to put together. That’s why many of us are standing on the outside looking in. We’re saying, “Well, this must have been very important to somebody, but is it really significant to us?”

What is foreshadowed in Melchizedek is provided in all of its perfection in the priesthood of Christ.

I’m going to show you, in conclusion, that it is. What the writer is affirming is the absolute sufficiency and reality of the priestly function of the Lord Jesus Christ. And just before he moves on, in verses 9 and 10 he has a super little PS. He says, “You know, you could even say that Levi”—who represented the great collector of tithes—he was at the head of the line in terms of the priests. If anybody was on the receiving end, it was Levi. So the writer says, “You know, you could actually say that Levi, the big collector of tithes, paid a tithe.” In the sense that he was still, as the King James Version says, “in the loins of” Abraham—that Abraham was his representative. He was the progenitor, and Levi was to come from the seed of Abraham, and he would be the one who received the tithes. “But,” says the writer, “if you think this through in terms of solidarity, you realize that the Levi to whom we gave so much was himself bestowing tithes to this mysterious Melchizedek.”

Now, what he then does in verses 11–19 is to go on to display that what is foreshadowed in Melchizedek is provided in all of its perfection in the priesthood of Christ. Now, let me take just a moment to anticipate tonight and to try in some measure to give application to all that we’ve just said. Look at a phrase there in verse 18: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”

See, here’s the question: How do sinful men and women draw near to God? If we were to go out in the streets and ask that question, we’d get all kinds of answers. “Well, they draw near to God by going to church.” “They draw near to God by trying to turn the other cheek and living by the Golden Rule.” Some would say they draw near to God by being baptized. Some may say they draw near to God by engaging in religious ceremonies. Some may say they draw near to God by listening to the Bible preached, and whatever it might be. But the real question is, How does an individual draw near to God?

And the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is this—verse [11]: “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood … why was there still need for another priest to come?” If the Levitical priesthood answered the questions for men and women about forgiveness of sin, about knowing God personally, about being adopted into his family, then the sheer logic of it makes it clear that if that was possible in that way, then there was no need for another priest after the order of Melchizedek to come. But, says the writer, all of that was ultimately, in the final analysis, weak and useless—hence the absolute necessity of a pure, spotless High Priest who would make a once-and-for-all atoning, substitutionary sacrifice of himself for his people and invite those who knew themselves to be distant from God to come and meet him at the very place of sacrifice: at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, we’ll pick it up there this evening. But if you’re here this morning and all that you know to this point in your life is external religion, then we’d love to introduce you to the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some are here this morning, and this is who you are: you recognize that your life hasn’t being going the way it ought to go, for whatever reason, and you decided that you would clean up your act a little bit, and you found that religion was a help to that end, and so you’ve begun to get yourself involved in a process, and you have replaced one external way of life with another external way of life—and you’re calling that conversion. That’s not conversion.

The gospel is not an invitation to imitate Jesus Christ. The gospel is an invitation to be transformed by Jesus Christ—to be born again of the Spirit of God in a way that transfers any sense of dependence we might ever have had upon our religious professions, upon our righteousnesses, upon our good deeds, upon who we are or what we bring, and brings us unreservedly and helplessly before the cross of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the shadow cast down through the corridors of time by this mysterious man, Melchizedek.

Let us pray:

O God our Father, teach us by your Word, we pray. We’re glad that the writer acknowledged that some of these things are hard to explain and understand, and we feel that we’ve done a fairly good job of making that clear. But we know that your Spirit is able to take your Word and bring it to bear upon our lives in a way that is supernatural in its impact. And we ask you to do that as we spend time in this day and have opportunity for reflection. And as we gather this evening in praise and in worship and open your Word, we pray that we may put down spiritual milestones in our lives as we grow in clarity in our understanding of Scripture, as we grow in submission to the lordship of Christ, as you bring us from the confusion of externalism to the reality of personal faith and trust in this one who was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Thank you that he has gone through the curtain into the very sanctuary of heaven itself, and there to speak on our behalf. What a wonder! What grace! We bless and praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See Numbers 21:4–9.

[2] John 1:29 (NIV 1984).

[3] 1 Peter 1:18–19 (paraphrased).

[4] See 2 Timothy 3:16.

[5] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Nowhere Man” (1965).

[6] John 8:58 (NIV 1984).

[7] See John 8:33, 39.

[8] John 8:34 (paraphrased).

[9] Hebrews 3:14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.