Jesus Is Better (Genesis 14:18-20)

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Introduction

One of the struggles that all preachers have to deal with is the great diversity within the people to whom they preach each Sunday. For example, on any given Sunday, we have people in this room during our sermon time who are barely in the double-digits, and we have some that are getting close to triple-digits. We have new believers; we have long-time believers. We have men and women. We have people who process things primarily through the left side of their brain, and others who process things through the right side of their brain. We have those who prefer a high-level overview of the passage, and we have those who like to dive down deeper into the details. And so, one of the challenges I face each week is deciding what to put in and what to keep out of a sermon so that it is appropriate and helpful for as many people as possible. You sort of get a better feel for this the longer you preach—and particularly the longer you preach in one particular place. Over time you gain an understanding of what is too much and hopefully do a better job knowing what to put in and what to keep out.

Early on in my preaching—when this was more of a struggle for me—Lara was a great help in this regard. I used to have her read each and every sermon, and she would tell me when I had crossed the line between helpful details and an overabundance of details that added very little to the message. She’s teaching again now and has enough on her plate, so I don’t burden her with that anymore, but hopefully, I have come closer to figuring out the right balance now and am able to do that most of the time on my own. (Now, if I see a line of people after the service today talking with Lara over in a corner with pleading looks on their faces, I will know that I need to work a little harder in this area.)

Now, why do I bring this up? Well, I bring it up because in preparing my sermon for last Sunday, I had a decision along these lines that I had to make. And that decision revolved around whether or not I would dive off into great detail about this man named Melchizedek who was introduced to us in Genesis 14:18-20. Ultimately, I decided that getting into too much detail about Melchizedek would be crossing that “too much detail” line for one particular sermon. So I decided to stick with the narrative from Genesis 14, and then make up my mind later about whether or not I’d preach another sermon that would deal with the significance of this man named Melchizedek. Well, right after the service last Sunday, I began having a few folks admit that they wish I’d have said more about Melchizedek. And then, throughout the week last week—particularly on Wednesday night—I kept getting requests to go into a bit more detail on who Melchizedek was and why he’s important to us as Christians. So, I made the decision to spend some time today talking a bit more about Melchizedek, and particularly what the Bible tells us about his relationship to our savior, Jesus Christ.

So, with that said, I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles, back to Genesis 14 today. In this morning’s sermon, we will focus only on verses 18-20 from Genesis 14. We’ll also jump over to the book of Hebrews here and there throughout today’s sermon—because that is where we get some more information about Melchizedek. But, we’ll begin our time together this morning in Genesis 14, and so, I invite you to turn there with me now. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, I encourage you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find Genesis 14 located on page 10. Once you make it there, please follow along as I read from verses 18-20.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18–20 ESV)

Melchizedek and Typology

Now the truth is, while we ought to read each and every verse of Scripture with curiosity and expectation, when we read these three verses from Genesis 14, it would be hard to perceive (without any knowledge of the book of Hebrews) that they would have any great significance upon our belief system as Christians. Melchizedek just sounds like another one of those names in the Old Testament that struggle to pronounce and immediately forget. But, as we are going to see today, these three verses are, in fact, of great significance to us as Christians. As I have already said, we know this primarily because of what the book of Hebrews has to say about this man named Melchizedek. Yes, while in the book of Genesis, he doesn’t seem like anything more than a mysterious figure who is here one minute and then gone the next, the book of Hebrews shows us that Melchizedek is actually of great importance to what we believe as Christians about who Jesus is and what he came to do.

You see, one of the ways that the biblical authors teach us about Jesus is through the use of something called typology. I guess it is really God who is teaching us in this way, but the biblical authors are the people God uses to help us understand how so many of the things that took place in the Old Testament were really pointing forward to Jesus.

Let me give you just a few quick examples. For those of you who have been in Sunday School recently, you may remember that one of our recent lessons covered the strange story about God telling Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a pole for the people of Israel to look at if they were bitten by a deadly serpent in the wilderness. Remember that story? Well, what happened if they were bitten by one of these fiery serpents and then looked in faith at the serpent on the pole? That’s right, they lived. Now, that would seem just like a strange little story, if Jesus hadn’t told us in John 3, that serpent on the pole was an Old Testament picture of him on the cross. In John 3:14-15, Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That, friends, is an example of typology.

Another example we have of this comes to us from the book of Exodus. Do you remember what God told the Israelites to do so that their homes would be passed over on the night of the final plague he was going to bring upon Egypt? Remember, he told them to sacrifice a lamb, and to spread the blood of that lamb around the doors of their homes. And sure enough, the plague passed over all the houses of Israel that night, while every Egyptian home experienced the loss of their firstborn children. So, in that way, the “Passover” lamb served as a substitute for all the Israelite firstborn. Well, when we get to the New Testament, John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), and the Apostle Peter describes him as “a lamb without blemish” (1 Peter 1:19 ESV) which matches the languages God used about the Passover lamb in the book of Exodus. And, finally, the Apostle Paul, makes the connection between Jesus and the Passover lamb very clear when he says, in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Again, this is typology. The Passover lamb was an Old Testament picture, or a type, or a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.

Well, what we are going to see today, is that the author of Hebrews does the same thing with this guy named Melchizedek. And because of that, Melchizedek is a classic, and important example of biblical typology. Like the bronze serpent, and like the Passover lamb, Melchizedek is presented as another Old Testament picture, or type, or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.

So, keep your finger in Genesis 14, but turn with me now to Hebrews 7. If you are using the pew Bibles, you can find Hebrews 7 located on page 1004. And once you are there look with me at verses 1 and 2. Follow along as I read. This is what the author of Hebrews has to say about Melchizedek. He says,

1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. (Hebrews 7:1–2 ESV)

So, after repeating some of the details we have about Melchizedek in Genesis 14, he begins to show us why Melchizedek ought to get us thinking about Jesus Christ. Notice in verse 2 how he says that Melchizedek “is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” Now that sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? Especially when you realize that Salem was a reference to what would become the capital city of Israel, Jerusalem. And then, in Hebrews 7:3, he tells us that in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is presented ”without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3 ESV). Again, this sounds a whole lot like Jesus. In fact, he makes it very clear that Melchizedek is a whole lot like Jesus by saying that he resembles the Son of God. Now, it's important to note that its not Jesus who resembles Melchizedek, but Melchizedek who resembles Jesus. Right? Do you see that? Hebrews 7:3 says that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God, not the other way around. Melchizedek is the picture, or the type, or the foreshadowing; Jesus is the fulfillment and the reality. And what this means, is that the only reason we have anything about Melchizedek in our Bibles at all is because God wanted to teach us some things about Jesus. And, it would be getting things backward, for us to spend too much time trying to figure out things about Melchizedek that God has no desire for us to understand. The fact is, all we really know about Melchizedek is pretty much what we have in those three verses from Genesis 14. And the author of Hebrews reiterates those things to us. But, he does so only because he wants us to understand some very important things about Jesus—things that would have been particularly relevant to his first century Jewish readers. And, before we wrap up today, I want to show you some of those things.

But for now, let’s turn back to Genesis 14 and look at what this passage does tell us about Melchizedek, not so that we can know more about him, but so that we can know more about the person he was pointing us toward—Jesus Christ. And when we look at Genesis 14, two things stand out to us about Melchizedek that are certainly true about Jesus.

Jesus Is Our King

And the first thing we see about Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20, that is also true about Jesus, is that Melchizedek was a king. Genesis 14:18 begins by telling us that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” Do you see that? And, what makes this more significant is that Salem, as I have already said, was a reference to the city that would later become the capital of Israel, the city of Jerusalem. And so, this is one of the ways that Melchizedek resembles Jesus and teaches us something about Jesus. Remember, that’s what the author of Hebrews said about Melchizedek, he said that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God.

So if Melchizedek was a king, that means that the person he resembles is also a king. Yes, friends, there is a reason we sometimes refer to him as King Jesus. And it’s interesting that even Pilate, the pagan man who sentenced Jesus to die on the cross, asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3) and had those words hung above Jesus’s head on the cross (John 19:19).

But the truth is, while we probably understand what it meant for Melchizedek to be a king, we may struggle to understand what it means for Jesus to be a king. Yes, what does it mean for him to be King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:6)? And more importantly, what does it mean for him to be our King?

Well, there is just so much here. So you'll have to forgive me for only focusing on two things. First of all, remember that the Bible presents Jesus as the Messianic Son of Israel’s King David who will rule over God’s people for all of eternity. He is the fulfillment of a promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:16, where he said, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” So the first thing it means for Jesus to be our king is that he truly is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. The Jews knew that is what he was claiming. Pilate knew that is what he was claiming too. That is why he asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And this claim is super important because there are so many Messianic prophecies within the Old Testament that tell us a great deal about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is described as someone who will sit on David’s throne, over God’s people, forever and ever. That is what it means for him to be the Messiah, it means he will reign forever as the king of God’s people and the king of the universe.

But, what does it mean for him to be our king? Not so much for him, but for us? Yes, that’s the second thing I’d like us to consider regarding what it means for Jesus to be a king. Well, if Jesus is our king, that means we are subject to him. It means we submit ourselves to his rule and to his leadership in our lives—both in the here and now, and in the age to come. Yes, one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. But we are supposedly confessing that right now. So, I wonder if our lives give evidence of that? Do those who know us understand that Jesus is our king? Would those who know us best say that we are committed to following and serving Jesus with everything we have?

Friends, let me remind you that the end we are looking toward with hope, is an end that includes Jesus establishing his eternal kingdom on this earth, with us as his happy and grateful subjects, serving him and worshipping him as our God and King. BUT… he does not intend for us to wait until he returns for us to start serving him with all we have and worshipping him with all we are. He intends for us to be busy doing those things right now. He is our king, he has given us a mission, and he intends for us to take it seriously. So again, when people look at our lives, do they see the evidence that we have a king named Jesus to whom we are completely and totally devoted? This is one of the reasons we have this story about Melchizedek—so that we can understand that Jesus is our king and that he demands our allegiance and obedience.

Jesus Is Our Great High Priest

Okay, so the first thing we learn about Jesus by looking at this passage in Genesis 14, is that Jesus is our king. Well, the second thing we see about Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20, that is also true about Jesus, is that Melchizedek was a priest. Now, you may have heard it said before that Jesus is our prophet, our priest, and our king. Well, that is true. We have already seen that he is a king, we won’t touch on what it means for him to be a prophet today, but we will discuss what it means for him to be a priest—specifically our Great High Priest who is a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Now, earlier I said that what the Bible claims about Jesus being the long-awaited Jewish Messiah is super important because there are so many Messianic prophecies within the Old Testament that tell us a great deal about Jesus. Well, interestingly, one of those prophecies is found in Psalm 110 which anticipates the coming of someone in the line of David who will be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4 ESV). And, we as Christians we know that the only person who will be a priest forever is Jesus Christ. And the only person who will be both a king in the line of David as well as a priest for his people is Jesus Christ. And in Hebrews 6:20, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise of another priest from the order of Melchizedek when he says that “Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

But, what does it mean for Jesus to be a priest? Well, let’s think about the job of a priest—specifically the job of a priest in the Old Testament. What did they do? Well, again, let’s focus on two things. First of all, we know that one of the responsibilities of Israel’s priests was to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. We don’t have time to go into all the details on the sacrificial system described in the Old Testament, but we do know that in that system, the Old Testament priests were responsible for making those sacrifices.

So, how does that relate to Jesus? Well, most of us understand that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice. We get that. But, it is also important to understand that he not only served as the sacrificial lamb, but in laying down his life, he also served as our priest. He served as a priest because he was the one who made the sacrifice. Yes, on the cross, Jesus offered himself. And because he was the one making the offering, he was not only the sacrifice; he was also the priest making the sacrifice. As our priest, Jesus was the one who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12 ESV). So that is the first way Jesus has blessed us as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He has blessed us by making a one time sacrifice for our sins.

But, making sacrifices is not all that priests did. Yes, in addition to their sacrificial duties, priests also served the people of God by acting as a mediator between God and men. Yes, they served as intermediaries. And, by putting on human flesh, and coming to dwell among us, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done that better than anyone else. And that is why, in 1 Timothy 2:5, the Apostle Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV). And because Jesus put on human flesh, and came to live with us in this fallen world that has been corrupted by sin, the author of Hebrews tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). That is what it means for Jesus to be our mediator. It means he has walked in our shoes and he has walked in God’s shoes as well. He has walked in our shoes because he is fully man. He has walked in God’s shoes because he is fully God. And for those reasons, there is no one else better suited to be our mediator and our priest, than Jesus Christ. And friends, this is the second reason we have this story about Melchizedek in Genesis 14—not so that we can understand anything about him, but so that we can understand that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. And so that we can understand that as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, he has carried out his priestly duties by making a one-time sacrifice for our sins and becoming the perfect mediator between God and man.

Jesus Is A Better King and A Better Priest

Now, there is so much more I could say about these things. But, I need to stop now so that I can drive home the main point of this connection between Jesus and Melchizedek. And we find this in Hebrews 7. So would you turn back there with me now? I promise I’ll make this point as quickly as I can.

Now, if I were going to give the book of Hebrews a subtitle, that subtitle would probably be: “Jesus is better.” And two of the ways that Jesus is better is that he is a better king and he is a better priest. He is better in many other ways as well, but let’s focus right now on how Jesus is a better king and a better priest. Now, the fact that Jesus is a better king is not really something that Hebrews 7 focuses on, so let me just get that out of the way right now and then we’ll focus on what Hebrews 7 has to say about why Jesus is a better priest. Very simply put, Jesus is better than all Israel’s kings because he was always obedient to his heavenly Father in every way and was always concerned about his people. There is no such thing as a human king who always has the best interest of his people in mind. But, Jesus always has, and always will, have the best interest of his people in mind. And, at the same time, he will always be 100% obedient to God’s laws, and will always perfectly follow the will of his heavenly Father. There were times when Israel’s kings did this well—King David in particular—but even Israel’s beloved King David ended up with some pretty ugly incidents on his resume. So, clearly one of the ways that Jesus is better, is that Jesus is a better king. And what a privilege it is to serve him, right?

But in addition to there being serious problems with Israel’s kings in the Old Testament, there were also serious problems with the priests in the Old Testament, and not just with the priests themselves, but with the whole Levitical priesthood that is described for us in the Old Testament. And this is what so much of the book of Hebrews is about, and Hebrews 7 focuses specifically on this. Yes, after reiterating many of the details about Melchizedek in verses 1-10, the author of Hebrews begins to focus on the deficiencies of the priesthood that began with Moses’s brother Aaron. And without going into all the details, because this is not a sermon on Hebrews 7, but a sermon from Genesis 14, let me succinctly summarize what the author of Hebrews is saying in this chapter by simply saying that Jesus is a better priest who has made a better sacrifice.

Remember, this letter was written to Jewish believers whose lives had revolved around a system of religion that relied heavily on priests and the priesthood. But, as this chapter and the rest of this letter makes clear, there were significant deficiencies in the Old Testament, Levitical priesthood. And because of those deficiencies, both with the priests and the priesthood that began with Moses’s brother Aaron, we needed another priest who was part of an entirely different order of priests. Again, we needed a better priest, but we also needed a better priesthood that worked in a different way.

Well, according to Hebrews 7, that better priest was Jesus, and according to Hebrews 7, that better priesthood was the priesthood that began not with Aaron or Levi but with Melchizedek who lived hundreds of years before Aaron and Levi, and who Aaron and the rest of the Levites submitted themselves to when Abraham made an offering to Melchizedek—an offering made by a lesser to a greater. That’s not the way we think about things today, but the Jews would have understood that Aaron and Levi where within the loins of their father Abraham and that when Abraham submitted himself to Melchizedek in this way, Aaron and Levi, and thus the whole Levitical priesthood, would have submitted themselves to Melchizedek as well.

Okay, I can feel Lara starting to roll her eyes at me now and hear her thinking to herself, “I am going to have to start reading his sermons again,” so let me reel things back in and get really clear once again. What the author of Hebrews is trying to demonstrate to these Jewish believers is that they no longer need the priests or the priesthood of their old religion. He wants them to understand that there were great deficiencies in that system. That’s what he means in verse 11 when he says, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” In other words, if the Levitical priesthood could have made you right with God, there was no need for Jesus. But, it couldn’t make you right with God. So, Jesus has come, not from that order of priests, but from a priestly order that was before the Levitical priesthood and better than the Levitical priesthood, and this better priestly order is the order of Melchizedek.

And according to Hebrews 7:22, “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” And according to verses 23 and 24, while “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” And according to verse 25, Jesus, unlike the Old Testament priests, “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” In other words, he is able to do what the Old Testament priests could never do. He is actually able to save people from their sins! And, he doesn’t need to offer up sacrifices day after day after day after day, like the Old Testament priests, but according to verse 27, he made a one-time offering for our sins when “when he offered up himself” on the cross.

Friends, that is why Jesus is a better priest. He is better because he only needed to make a single sacrifice because it was a perfect sacrifice.

Conclusion

There is so much more I could say, and one day I will get up the nerve to preach through the book of Hebrews from beginning to end, and when I do I will undoubtedly cover these things about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 in more detail than I have done today. But for now, I want you to know that Jesus is better. He is a better king; he is a better priest; he is better than anything human beings have ever come up with to draw themselves close to God. It is not that the Old Testament people of God were unable to draw close to God through the sacrifices and offerings they made—if they were made in faith. It is just that Jesus has given us a better and lasting way to do so. He has made a better and lasting offering for us because he is a better priest—a priest from an order or priest that was before and is better than the order of priests that served the people of God from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus. And as our priest, he has laid himself down, not on an altar, but on a cross, and through him, we can all be reconciled to God.

And, as our king, he has given us a mission—and that mission is to share with the whole world the good news that “Jesus is better.” He is better than all the religious systems that lead only to destruction. He is better than all the idols people are worshipping today. He is better than all the false promises of salvation that people are deceiving themselves with. Yes, friends, Jesus is better. And it is our job to tell the whole world.