A man named Melchizedek…

Old school. When I think about “old school” I think about a lot of things…  a lot of people, a lot of ideas.

But rather than any sports or entertainment figure, I tend to think of the three women who had the most influence on me in my youth.

My mom, her mother Nan, and her mother Nanny. My mom was a young mother (like both of her female ascendants), but the way in which those two stepped up and stepped into the gaps played a huge part in the man I am today, and thus the people my own children will become.

Nanny, my great-grandmother was the epitome of old school. She just a little over 5 feet tall and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew to be much bigger than she, but she’d quickly put any of us in our place. She smoked like a chimney and drank gallons of black coffee. True story. As a child of the 80s I grew up in the “Just Say No” era, when medical science finally discovered that everything is bad for you and can cause Cancer.

One time when I was still but a grade-schooler I asked Nanny about her bad habits. You have to understand, to me she was both incredibly old as well as hale and hearty enough to give me a good shake whenever I was acting a fool. This didn’t make sense. She smoked one Chesterfield after the next, washed it down with a cup of black coffee, and usually capped off her evenings with a lager.

“Nanny,” I said, “How come you still drink and smoke?”

She focused her pale blue eyes on me and, with a sly wink said: “Because I started doing it before it was bad for yous.”

That was Nanny, and her daughter, my Nan, was little different. My own mother, whom my children now call “Nanny” carries this same cavalier posture into the slings and arrows of life.

But to say something is “old school” is to imply that it holds to certain fundamental virtues.

A man holding a door for a woman in our day and age is, sadly, considered old school. In a like manner I would say that a woman keeping a home and making her children a priority would be considered old school. A young person courting rather than hooking up is decidedly old school, as is getting married and staying married ’til death do you part.

Any and all of these fit the cultural criteria of being ‘old school’ whether we would value or denigrate them.

That said, I’m not here to camp out on a social issue and make a clumsy attempt to make the timeless word of God align with my own cultural preferences, or lecture you with my opinions of societal norms. I want to share my understanding of what is beautiful about our faith, and maybe help all of you better see how altogether lovely our God is.

In order to do that, we need to start at the beginning… that is, Genesis. Now, I’m not going to retread the path that Carl has already done an excellent job of covering, but I do want to refresh your memory, as well as to provide some context for those who might be visiting here for the first time.

Carl has already taken you on a journey through time with the stories of Adam, and Noah…  and it stands to reason that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are soon to follow. But I want to talk without about a guy by the name of Melchizedek.

Okay, right now half of you just said to yourself: “Who?” While the other half of you probably smothered a yawn and thought: “Oh great, it’s gonna be one of those dry, long-winded sermons where the guy shows off how much Hebrew he knows talking about God-knows-what and I’m not gonna get out of here till the Chili’s is already packed, so we’re gonna have to get drive-thru burgers and I’m gonna have indigestion and won’t be able to take a nap. Carry on with the bore-a-phil!”

No? Well, maybe that’s just Tim.

Actually, y’all can blame Tim for this sermon.  He told Carl he wanted me to preach on Melchizedek, not knowing that I’m actually a HUGE Melchizedek fan and have just been chomping at the bit to preach on Melchizedek. So, yeah, blame Tim. Resident genius, and scapegoat.

Okay, so the first thing you’re probably wondering is if everyone called him Melchizedek, or if he had a snappy one-syllable nickname. The answer is, I don’t know. They don’t teach you that in seminary or in Sunday School, so we’re all just gonna have to assume he didn’t. But he probably did.

Melchizedek, after all, is written in the Masoretic texts as “malki zedek” and it means “my king is righteousness” or “my king is just” and occurs only a few times in the Scriptures…  though significant each time. The first of which, we’ll talk about this morning.

Context. Genesis 14 basically it gives you a breakdown of some of the various political intrigues of an obscure ancient province. You could spend all day unpacking all this. Literally. It’s like trying to summarize on Homers Odyssey with four-line poem:
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Achilles died taking an arrow to the shoe.”

Yeah, just doesn’t cut it. So I’m not going to delve into all that, except to say, there’s a lot of conflict going on. A group of five kings are warring with a group of four kings. Allegiances are hazy, folks are switching sides. It’s messy.

So our guy Abram’s minding his own business, hanging out with his boy Mamre the Amorite in what’s to become known as Canaan (the Amorites being descendants of Ham, who was Noah’s cursed son), when word reaches him that his kinsman Lot was caught up in the conflict.

Like an ancient Hebrew version of Chuck Norris in Missing in Action, Abram gathers about 300 of his “trained men” and goes storming into the fray. Abram divides his forces and proceed to mop the desert with King Chedorlaomer, chasing him all the way to Damascus. If that’s not enough, he takes all their stuff. Yeah. Abram and his 300 or so pulpwood-hauling boys whoop the army that came out on top of World War whatever, they take off with all their loot and all the slaves captured from other kingdoms. Reaching Sodom, Abram encounters King Bera who says he can keep all the loot, he just wants his people back.

This is how the Bible records the encounter:

After Abram’s return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, Bera the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley) and Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

Abram gave him a tenth of everything and the king of Sodom said to Abram: “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the king of Sodom: “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

As much as Melchizedek is someone who probably flies under most folks’ radar, he’s actually a person of special significance within the Scriptures.

In Psalm 110:4 our Messiah is described as a priest for ever “after the order of Melchizedek” and in Hebrews 5:6-7 (where these two passages of the Old Testament are quoted), the typical relation of Melchizedek to our Lord is stated at great length.

He’s also something of a mysterious figure. I’ve read some scholars who’ve wondered if Melchizedek is actually a preexistent figure of Christ in the world. I’ve read others who postulated that he might in fact be a messenger. These are legit scholars, not fringe wackos on late-night cable access stations.

But since I am no scholar, I’d like to point out that Melchizedek reminds me of Boba Fett. At least, the Boba Fett before George Lucas started his weird revisions and rewrites. I remember Boba Fett being an oft-discussed figure among Star Wars fans. Y’see, no one really knew much about him or where he came from, but he certainly turned up at crucial times and in pivotal situations. That’s Melchizedek.

The truth is, no one is certain exactly who Melchizedek or what entirely he signifies, except the obvious implication that he occupied a very important role in ancient times, he was God’s representative: His high priest, His hand in the world. Melchizedek, by the grace of God, saw the promise that was in Abram and knew that he would become the father to this promise. Thus, his blessing, and Abram’s tithe, represented this transfer of lineage. The turning point by which the history of the world turns, because what happens next? What happens in Chapter 15?

Genesis 15:5-6. God establishes a covenant with Abraham. This is huge. If you are reading this sermon somewhere, I hope what I just said is written in all capital letters because my tone of voice can’t translate it, because THIS IS HUGE. Israel. Ishmael. Judaism. Islam. King David. Jesus Christ. It’s all here, and Melchizedek sets it up.

You see, we are part of an ancient tradition.

I mean, I know we’ve got a really cool vibe in here. I dig the music, the laid-back environs, and the welcoming attitude that are part and parcel to what Cornerstone is all about.

But far surpassing that is the ancient Covenant that we participate in. We are all the children of a scared promise made to our spiritual ancestors. Bringing this back to the theme of “old school,” we participate in a very “old school” faith, but it is a worldview that is as timeless as our Lord God Himself.

The ideas and teaching of Jesus Christ, in how we are to conduct ourselves as individuals in our relationship to our God as well as to our communities, are no more out of date today than they were 2,012 years ago, or 2,012 years before he came to earth. Or 2,012 years before that.

Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Elijah and the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ Himself, the apostles, martyrs, the church fathers, the reformers, the puritans, the evangelists, the missionaries. We are part of this family of faith, a family that is also the ancestors to another generation.

In Adam we have the epitome of mankind, especially in its fallen aspects, but in Jesus Christ we have our ideal. What does the Bible say?

I Corinthians 15-22. Sin and death became a sad fact life for the race of men because of the failing of our covenant head Adam. But this isn’t the end to the story. Righteousness and life everlasting are now our inheritance because of the victory of Christ our King.

Though his descendants, we are not destined to be slaves to Adam’s failing anymore. Our liberator has come in the form of Jesus. Jesus, who is constantly busy about the task of tearing down walls, setting captives free, laying low the proud and exalting the humble.

So that is my invitation to you this day.

Tell me you’ve got issues, I’ll tell you to join the club.

As I look around this room, I see a bunch of messed up, feeble, broken-hearted, and beautiful children of the eternal Lord and Creator of the Universe.

Cast all your burdens upon Him because He cares for you. Only He can help you find the peace that you seek.

As the musicians return to the stage, and as we prepare to return to a time of worship, I would ask you to join me in prayer. That the Spirit, the Comforter, would move within our midst. Let’s pray…


About Matthew

Backwoods philosopher, itinerant journalist, and poet laureate of the pine curtain... my old writings can be found at A Place to Stand, but if you look for me again, I can be found under your boot-soles.
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