Lent 3

Preached: March 23, 2014

Your High Priest Excels Forever. Believe it!
Psalm 110:4

Other listening options or try the podcast at iTunes (You will be leaving our website.)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which tells us about Jesus our Savior is Psalm 110.

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 NIV84).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A hush fell over the courtroom as the final witness came to the stand. The life and death of the defendant hung on the coming testimony. Had he murdered his wife in cold blood, or was he a victim of mistaken identity now grieving a heart-wrenching lose? How vital for the witness to tell the truth!

“You do swear that the evidence you shall give relative to the cause now under consideration shall be the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help you God” (). When the truth is of the utmost importance, an oath is taken.

Before us today is a matter of greater importance than life and death. Your eternity, heaven or hell, is in the balance. The Lord God wants you to have no doubts about the outcome. He wants your faith to stand completely sure and certain without wavering. So he himself takes an oath. What astounding mercy he shows us! His promise by itself is unbreakable, for he is the Lord, the unchanging, faithful God of grace, who does not lie. Yet to that unbreakable promise he also adds an oath to make us doubly sure. Believe what he says.

And what is this vital truth that changes everything for you and me? That Jesus Christ is priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Yes, dear friend, your High Priest excels forever. Believe it, for the Lord God has sworn it. It’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Your High Priest excels forever. Believe it.

A. A priest like Melchizedek

In the days of King David, whom the Lord used to write this Psalm, all the priests came from the tribe of Levi. In fact, they had to be descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother. That’s the way the Lord God had established it almost five centuries earlier at Mt. Sinai when he gave Israel his law.

Every day the priests were to offer sacrifices. They sacrificed for their own sins and for the sins of the people. Bulls and rams, lambs and goats, one after another. The courtyard around the altar would have struck us more like a slaughter house than a house of worship. When one generation of priests passed on, the next generation continued the sacrifices, day after day, year after year. For as bloody as that altar was, sin, our sin, had not yet been paid for.

That’s the priesthood that the people of David’s day knew. But through this Psalm, the Lord promises an entirely different kind of priest. To bring that home, he says that this new high priest is like Melchizedek.

Who’s Melchizedek? He was not from the tribe of Levi, like the other priests. In fact, he lived before Levi was every born. This goes back to the time of Abraham, the great-grandfather of Levi. The Lord had called Abram to leave behind his home and go to the land of Canaan. There the Lord would make his descendants into a great nation and send the Savior, who would be a blessing for all.

Abram believed the Lord’s promise, though he was childless and already too old to have children. His wife Sarai and his nephew Lot along with their households went with him. Lot eventually settled in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. Afterwards four kings from the east led by Kedorlaomer attacked the five cities in the Jordan valley including Sodom and Gomorrah. They carried them away as plunder along with Lot and his family.

Abram with his men and allies went after them to rescue Lot. He defeated them and recovered the goods and the people that had been taken as plunder. On the way back, Melchizedek, king of Salem, met Abram with bread and wine to refresh them. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram. Abram gave him a tenth of all he had, confessing him to be a very special priest. That’s about all we know of Melchizedek.

But as great as Melchizedek was, whom even Abraham, the father of all believers, submitted to, Jesus is a greater high priest. He excels even Melchizedek. Like Melchizedek Jesus did not come from the tribe of Levi and did not receive his priesthood due to ancestry. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, from the family line of David. The Lord God himself sent Jesus to do the work of a priest, and he continues as priest forever, unlike the Levitical priests, who needed successors. Like Melchizedek Jesus was not only priest but also king. No Levitical priest had a right to the kingship. The name “Melchizedek,” means “king of righteousness.” He was king of the city of Salem, and “Salem” means “peace.” How Jesus fulfilled these names in the highest degree! He alone credits us with the righteousness that stands before God, bringing sinners acquittal in his courtroom. He alone brings us peace with God, reconciling the world to him. Your High Priest, Jesus Christ, excels forever.

B. A sacrifice unlike any other

For you see, dear friends, Jesus offered a sacrifice unlike any that the Levitical priests ever offered. They sacrificed animals again and again. Jesus sacrificed himself once and for all. They served only the nation of Israel. Jesus served all people, offering himself once and for all for you. Your High Priest excels forever because he offered a sacrifice unlike any other, the once-and-for-all sacrifice, the only sacrifice that truly atones for all sin.

Do we see, though, the seriousness of our own sin? We hear so much about free forgiveness that we may imagine that sin mustn’t be all that bad. Easy come, easy go. Those Old Testament sacrifices, though, constantly displayed how serious sin is, deadly serious. Animal after animal. Blood smeared on the altar. All because of sin, your sin, my sin. Does the thought of sinning turn our stomachs sick like the stench of a slaughter house? Instead, how often we brush away our sins as insignificant, thinking, “God will forgive me, right? What’s the big deal?” We may even enjoy sin’s odor at times.

But a heart that thinks lightly of sin does not believe in the greatness of our High Priest. Such a heart may claim to believe and may even use Jesus’ sacrifice as an excuse, saying, “My sin’s already paid for, so what’s the big deal if I keep on doing it?” But that’s not faith.

Rather, dear friends, as the seriousness of your sin overwhelms you, as its stench turns your stomach with the horror of hell, look to your High Priest and see the once-and-for-all sacrifice he offered for you. Believe that no matter how bad your sin is that once-and-for-all sacrifice counts for you. For Jesus is your Brother, your flesh and blood. He came to take your place. As your High Priest, he is like us in every way except without sin. He offered himself in your place. His sacrifice redeemed you.

Believe that no matter how bad your sin is his once-and-for-all sacrifice has fully paid for every one of them. He shed the blood of God for you, not animal blood, but divine blood, holy, precious blood. The highest price possible. For your High Priest, Jesus Christ, is your God, the eternal Son of the Father. How infinite the value of his sacrifice! Believe that his once-and-for-all sacrifice truly atones for all your sins. It covers their stench completely. How your High Priest excels forever! Believe it.

Since he is your High Priest, he is your King of righteousness, your Melchizedek. His perfect obedience throughout life, even to death on the cross, covers your sinfulness with the sweetest fragrance of all. He is your righteousness. You have peace with God. For the death of your High Priest in your place reconciled you to God. He is your King of peace, your King of Salem. He is your High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

So his sacrifice in your place stands before God forever. For he is seated at God’s right hand. He excels above all. As your High Priest, he continues to intercede for you. How this gives you and me the courage to turn away from the stench of sin, to refuse the devil’s wiles, and to eagerly do the good our God wants no matter what the cost! Your High Priest, who loved you so much that he gave himself as that once-and-for-all sacrifice in your place, he’s the one that intercedes for you. Rely on him for the courage and strength to deny yourself and follow him.

Yes, boldly live for him who died for you. For because of your High Priest, you don’t have to wait until the final witness takes the stand. Rather there is no doubt about the eternal verdict when you stand before God through faith in Jesus alone. The Lord has sworn his oath that Jesus is your High Priest forever. Every time you look to the cross, every time you see his once-and-for-all sacrifice, every time you remember it in the Lord’s Supper, believe that he sacrificed himself for you. You have God’s promise and oath on it. Your High Priest excels forever. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

To learn more about Melchizedek, read Genesis 14:18-20 and Hebrews 7:1-28

To learn more about Jesus as our High Priest, read Hebrews 4:14--10:39

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313