The Eternal Priest: Advent Devotional, Week 3

Read Psalm 110

In the book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah leave their homeland in present-day Iraq to follow God to wherever He will lead them. Their nephew, Lot, accompanies them, eventually getting into all sorts of trouble. At one point, Lot and his family are taken captive in the midst of a military campaign waged between two groups of kings who formed alliances between cities (Genesis 14). Abraham follows after his family members, eventually successfully delivering them and many others. On his return, Abraham encounters Melchizedek, king of Salem, who pronounces a priestly blessing over Abraham and his descendants.

The episode is interesting, but seems like a side alley in the journey of Scripture, until it reappears in Psalm 110. There, the messiah is described both as a conquering king and an eternal priest, bringing together both political and religious duties before people and God. King David seemed to serve in this way, leading the people to military victory while also restoring worship with the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem.

Melchizedek never appears again until the book of Hebrews, which mentions him nine times, each time describing this unique king and priest as a precursor of Jesus. In Hebrews 5, the description of Jesus as king from Psalm 2 is immediately connected with a description of Jesus as priest from Psalm 110. Jesus is simultaneously the once-for-all sacrifice that restores us to God through the Cross and the one-of-a-kind priest who offers that sacrifice in a way that endures forever. The entire book of Hebrews is an exploration of Jesus as the eternal priest before God on behalf of all humanity. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

As we journey through Advent, we readily remember how Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem many years ago, heralded by angels as “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). May we also remember that good news of joy arises because this infant Messiah would one day stand before God unlike anyone else, and both offer and become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And now, “Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). He is our Eternal Priest.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT:

  1. As Romans 8:34 points out, Jesus stands before God interceding for us. What does that mean for you and your life today?
  2. The sacrifice Jesus offered as “the perfect high priest” was Himself. How does this change your perspective on Advent and what kind of response does that invoke from you in your celebrations this year?

FAMILY TALK WEEK 3

Intended for Families with Young Children

“The LORD has made a promise. He will not change his mind.
He has said, ‘You are a priest forever,
Just like Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4, NIrV)

“First, the name Melchizedek means “king of what is right.” Also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Melchizedek has no father or mother. He has no family line. His days have no beginning. His life has no end. He remains a priest forever. In this way, he is like the Son of God. . . He [Jesus] isn’t like the other high priests. They need to offer sacrifices day after day. First they bring offerings for their own sins. Then they do it for the sins of the people. But Jesus gave one sacrifice for the sins of the people. He gave it once and for all time. He did it by offering himself.” (Hebrews 7:2-3, 27 NIrV)

God is 100% super-holy. People are not.

So, back in the Old Testament, God made a way for people to come near to Him, even though they had sinned. God appointed “priests”—men who would offer people’s sacrifices on the altar, so that their sins would be forgiven. Priests represented the people before God.

In the Savior Song from Psalm 110, God is saying that Jesus is like a priest. Not like most Old Testament priests, but like one called Melchizedek (Mel-KIZ-uh-dek).

Most priests were born into the tribe of Levi.

Melchizedek was not from Levi. He lived before God’s people were divided into tribes.

Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi. He was from Judah.

Most priests were born into a family and died.

Melchizedek doesn’t have any family, or birthday, or time of death recorded in the scripture.

Jesus lives forever.

Most priests had to offer sacrifices over and over.

Jesus offered one sacrifice—HIMSELF—to pay for everyone’s sin, for all time!

This is why we don’t offer animal sacrifices at church. Jesus Himself is our priest, representing us before His holy Father, and Jesus Himself is our once-for-all-time sacrifice. He is our priest, sitting at the Father’s right hand, always praying for us (Romans 8:34).

[This is part of the Eastbrook Church 2019 Advent devotional, “Songs of the Savior.”]

A Prayer for the Third Sunday in Advent

Advent candles

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at thy first coming
didst send thy messenger
to prepare thy way before thee;
Grant that the ministers and stewards
of thy mysteries may likewise
so prepare and make ready thy way,
by turning the hearts of the disobedient
to the wisdom of the just,
that at thy second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight,
who livest and reignest
with the Father and the Holy Spirit
ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Source: The Book of Common Prayer (1928)

The Weekend Wanderer: 14 December 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

01Warren-jumbo“Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit?: Face Into the Darkness” – Advent is one of the most necessary seasons of the church calendar. It helps us from the pervasive consumerism and triviality in our culture related to Christmas. Advent gives us space to reflect, to prepare, to call out to God, and, as I’ve written elsewhere, to recover the wonder of Christmas. Here is Tish Harrison Warren writing in The New York Times about her own journey with Advent: “To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime.”

 

Ethiopia archaeology“Church Unearthed in Ethiopia Rewrites the History of Christianity in Africa” – “In the dusty highlands of northern Ethiopia, a team of archaeologists recently uncovered the oldest known Christian church in sub-Saharan Africa, a find that sheds new light on one of the Old World’s most enigmatic kingdoms—and its surprisingly early conversion to Christianity. An international assemblage of scientists discovered the church 30 miles northeast of Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom, a trading empire that emerged in the first century A.D. and would go on to dominate much of eastern Africa and western Arabia. Through radiocarbon dating artifacts uncovered at the church, the researchers concluded that the structure was built in the fourth century A.D., about the same time when Roman Emperor Constantine I legalized Christiantiy in 313 CE and then converted on his deathbed in 337 CE. The team detailed their findings in a paper published today in Antiquity.

 

a-hidden-life“Vatican Holds Private Screening of Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life'” – I know you’re probably getting ready to see Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker, but let me present a cinematic alternative. One of the most intriguing and moving films I have ever seen is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011). Since that time, I have delved into Malick’s other films, which are a one-of-a-kind experience of stream-of-consciousness and imagistic cinematography, laden with nature and themes of transcendence. Tree of Life engages with themes of nature and grace, which recur in some of his more recent films, although without the same effectiveness, in my opinion. Malick’s most recent film, A Hidden Life, focuses on the centers on the real-life story of Franz Jägerstätter, and debuted on December 13 (although it is very difficult to find a local viewing because of limited release).  Malick’s first film since 2007, it is reputed to be one of his most powerful, engaging deeply with themes of politics and faith. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Vatican requested a private viewing of the film, which the notoriously reclusive Malick actually attended.

 

Gerald_Hughes,_Cleveland_School_Teacher,_Leads_the_Lee_Heights_Community_Church_(Cleveland,_Ohio)_Congregation_in_Song,_1960_(16458543170)“American Salvation: The Place of Christianity in Public Life” – The conversation about faith and the public square, which Malick’s film raises, is one of the most pressing conversations in our contemporary American context. Should the church engage or withdraw from politics? Whould the church subvert or transform culture? What does it mean to engage with these questions at all? Albert J. Raboteau, professor emeritus of religion at Princeton University, and a convert from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy, weaves an interesting tapestry around this discussion, engaging with the American civil rights movement, early Christian political dissent, sacramental theology, and much more.

 

114259“Solar Light of the World: Evangelicals Launch Global Clean Energy Campaign” – “Through a campaign called Project 20.’25, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has set out to get 20 percent of its members to convert fully to clean energy by 2025. This fall, the global network announced its partnership with Smart Roofs Solar Inc. Together they will help universities, health care facilities, and churches looking to adopt clean power, including offering guidance for local suppliers and providing financing options. The renewable energy initiative builds on the WEA’s efforts to promote creation care, said Chris Elisara, director of the WEA Creation Care Task Force.”

 

Madeleine L' Engle“Ready for Silence” – Poetry helps us encounter the familiar in a fresh way through rich use of language that makes what we already know become unfamiliar and new. Madeleine L’Engle, perhaps best known for her novel, A Wrinkle in Time, and related books, offers us a poem, “Ready for Silence,” that helps us re-approach Advent and the Christmas Story.

 

booksBest Books of 2019 – This is the time of the year that “best of 2019” lists of all sorts arise. I haven’t assembled my own list like this yet, but may do something like that in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here are a few lists about the best books or reads from 2019 that you might enjoy: Christianity Today‘s “2020 Book Awards,” John Wilson’s “A Year of Reading: 2019,” Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed Books of the Year 2019” (including a most disappointing book of 2019), Russell Moore’s “My Favorite Books of 2019,” The Englewood Review of Books‘ “Advent Calendar 2019 – Best Books of the Year for Christian Readers!,” “The Gospel Coalition 2019 Book Awards,” The New York Times‘ “Times Critics’ Top Books of 2019,” and LitHub‘s compilation of best of lists in “The Ultimate Best Books of 2019 List,”

 

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (BWV 62), from Bach: Cantatas – Advent (John Eliot Gardiner)

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Real, Eyes-Open Love of God

Fra Angelico - Annunciation

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that’s how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is at work, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved.  There is some truth to that. We see it in good friends, family members, and even ourselves. “Hindsight is 20/20,” and we often ask ourselves after something has gone wrong in a relationship, “Why didn’t I see that?”

But the kind of love we all deeply desire is not a blind love, but a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love. John 3:16 is such a revered passage of Scripture because it describes God’s love not as blind but as real love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, of blindness even to itself, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life and love. Even though the world could be condemned because of evil, sin, and injustice, God chooses a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. This is not because God is blind to the realities of the world, but because God desires a different way with the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-47, 50)

That little word ‘mercy’ (Greek: ἔλεος) is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s real, eyes-open love for humanity and all creation.

As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

An Angel at the Altar

Blake - Zecharias and the Angel.jpeg
William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, pen and black ink, tempera, and glue size on canvas; 1799-1800.

an angel at the altar
heaven’s glory shatters earth’s sanctity
a voice indescribable yet understandable
a promise of hope unimaginable
confusion for old Zechariah
“our age – my wife – a baby – God – now?”
his call and God’s response
no utterance or voice now
his silence itself a testimony
that speaks of the ineffable
what has happened
what is happening
the first flutter of life within Elizabeth
gestates a voice of hope for humanity

 


 

I wrote these words after reading and reflecting on Luke 1:5-25 as part of my Advent readings. Zechariah has always struck me as a figure we all could relate to from Scripture. He encounters and angel of the Lord in the Temple, the place of all places that it seems like such a thing should happen. Yet Zechariah is so overwhelmed and confused by the message the angel brings that he doubts it could be possible. Struck dumb until the birth of the child, his silence becomes a message, even as the baby that his wife, Elizabeth, carries in her womb will be “a voice of one crying out,” directing attention to the Messiah. There is so much in here about speaking and silence, hearing and responding, as part of God’s work in relationship to humanity.

Seeing Jesus in Psalm 22

Rembrandt - The Three Crosses

In my message this past weekend, “The Suffering Messiah,” I mentioned how Psalm 22 is one of the most, if not the most, quoted and alluded to psalms in the New Testament. This is both  Psalm 22 is brought into close connection with Jesus’ work upon the Cross, particularly His exclamation of the first words of the psalm, quoted in both Mark and Matthew:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). (Matthew 27:46)

When Jesus’ quotes that first phrase of the psalm from the Cross, He is telling His hearers something about His mission not just from that first verse, but in connection with the entire content of Psalm 22. As Bible scholar James Luther Mays says, “Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying the entire passage.”[1] Jesus is helping us see that Psalm 22 is a description of His life mission and ministry work.

When we look at Psalm 22 Christologically, we see echoes again and again of Jesus’ life mission and the gospel.

At the Cross, Jesus faced humanity’s distance from God, something we have already heard in Jesus’ cry of dereliction, quoting Psalm 22:1, as recorded in both Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46.

At the Cross, Jesus faced opponents, both human & demonic. [2] When Psalm 22:7 says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads,” Matthew writes of Jesus on the Cross, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads” (Matt 27:39; cf. Mark 15:29).

When Psalm 22:15 says, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” John writes of Jesus on the cross, “so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28).

When Psalm 22:18 tells us, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment,” Luke writes, “And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34; cf. Mark 15:24; Matt 27:35; John 19:23-24).

It is not just the crucifixion that is referenced in Psalm 22, but also the resurrection, where God delivered Jesus from death and won praise from the nations.

When Psalm 22:24 says, “[God] has not hidden his face from the afflicted one but has listened to his cry for help,” the writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus’ resurrection in this way, “[Jesus] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).

When Psalm 22:27 speaks of the Messiah winning praise from the nations, “all the nations…will turn to the Lord,” Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

And when Psalm 22:31 concludes with “He [God] has done it!”, Jesus speaks at the end of His ordeal upon the Cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

When we read Psalm 22 with the eyes of Advent, we find a psalm that spoke of the Israelite king being delivered now gains deeper meaning for us about Jesus as the Messiah.

Now, we can praise God for His deliverance of Jesus, the true Messiah, from death. Because of God’s faithful deliverance of Jesus, we know He will also be faithful to us, His people.

 


[1] James Luther Mays, Psalms (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 105.

[2] See other parallels: Ps 22:6 and Matt 27:29; Ps 22:16 and Mark 15:25; John 20:25.