A Priest for All Times

Hebrews 5:1-10 (and beyond)

I’ve mentioned before that I like the mysteries of Christianity. There are basics about our faith that are easy to understand, so easy that a child can believe them and be saved. Those basics are only the front door to a vast mansion, however, one with so many treasure-filled rooms that we cannot explore it all in a lifetime.

Christians living at their best follow up the basics by exploring the mysteries, in the process growing to be more Christ-like in their own being. The New Testament book of Hebrews points us down this path of exploration.

The author (himself a mystery) links Jesus Christ to an ancient Old Testament character, Melchizedek, who had in many ways puzzled Jews for centuries. You may recall his being mentioned in Genesis 14, as Abram returns from rescuing Lot and his family, who had been taken in war. Out of nowhere comes Melchizedek, a “priest of God Most High.” He also is described as king of “Salem,” possibly the area that would one day become known as Jerusalem.

This mysterious priest predates the Jewish people and seems to have an understanding of the one true God the Jews would later be called to worship exclusively. He blesses Abram, and Abram gives him a tithe, 10 percent, of his possessions. Melchizedek also appears in Psalm 110, a prophecy of the Messiah.

The original audience for Hebrews was used to the idea of priests, human beings who made sacrifices for their own sins and for the sins of the people. The laws given to Moses by God dictated from which particular lineage these priests were supposed to come. The Book of Hebrews is trying to show us there is a higher priesthood, however, one timeless, eternal, and ordained by God for the complete salvation of humanity.

Melchizedek seemed to come out of nowhere, “without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” In this way, he resembled and foreshadowed Jesus Christ, who in his earthly life was beyond understanding.

The author of Hebrews is pointing us toward Christ’s divinity, toward the understanding we now have that the Spirit within Jesus is eternal, present at the creation, carrying his followers with him through an endless eternity despite their mortal fragility.

If you don’t quite get the Jesus-Melchizedek connection, it’s okay. In fact, if you feel stretched spiritually and mentally, that’s good.

We’re being invited to meditate on concepts that take us to the limit of human understanding. When we slow down and meditate on such things, we are better for it, even if we do not fully grasp the answers.

It is similar to when we talk about Jesus being both 100 percent human and 100 percent divine, or when we assert God is one being expressed as three persons, or when we dwell on what creation must look like post-resurrection.

We are, to borrow the author’s words, avoiding becoming “dull in understanding,” learning to eat “solid food” rather than infant’s milk. That solid food causes us to grow. It’s unlikely a human mind can grasp these concepts fully, but in trying, we glimpse what the divine mind must look like.

Over time, we also should develop new abilities from these brushes with God. Hebrews points out what made Christ effective, and for human beings, these attributes are counterintuitive. We see power, be it expressed in physical, political, financial, mental or other worldly categories, as the driving force shaping humanity. But salvation came from one who carried in him the mind of God, yet humbled himself to the point of dying a low, shameful death on a cross.

Hebrews celebrates Christ’s willingness to offer supplications—prayers rooted in deep humility—despite Jesus’ divine right to seek exaltation. Hebrews points to Christ’s suffering, despite his right to demand glory. Hebrews reminds us that Christ was obedient to the end, even unto death.

These ultimately are attributes we should seek for ourselves, too, if we are to follow Christ. How humility and obedient submission benefit us remains a mystery, particularly if we have yet to live into these concepts. Truth is truth, however, and if we believe in Christ we must follow the mysterious truths revealed to us in Hebrews.

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