I have often teased that I would like to preach a sermon on, “The Implications of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” just to see how many eyes glazed over. Indeed, that seems to be exactly what happened when the Hebrew writer came to the middle of his letter and complained that his audience had become so dull that it was difficult to explain the importance of Jesus as a high priest like Melchizedek.
Have you ever wondered why God made “high priests?” Why wasn’t the story, “Jesus died for your sins…” and that’s it! He died for your sins. Instead, very early in scripture, high priests are introduced into God’s story. The primary message of Hebrews is based on the importance of Jesus being a high priest, but not just any high priest, a high priest like Melchizedek (8:1; 10:19-21).
Why a High Priest? Exodus 32-34
Less than two months after Israel saw the great plagues and experienced God’s deliverance, they made a golden calf and participated in lewdness before their idol. In Exodus 32:7-14, there appears to be a puzzling narrative. The Lord said to Moses, “Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” The surprising part is that when Moses pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the people, “he relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” Certainly the Lord knew the arguments Moses would make on the peoples’ behalf, so why bother to tell Moses of his intentions?
It is evident that the Lord was inviting Moses to become an intercessor. The Lord demonstrated this by listening to Moses and immediately relenting from his purpose. The message was clear: the holy God cannot and will not dwell in the midst of a rebellious people without destroying them. Their only hope was an intercessor.
Later, in Exodus 33, Moses became a more aggressive intercessor when the Lord informed him that he would not go in the midst of the people lest he destroy them. This time, Moses understood the need to know the Lord to become an effective intercessor. Moses said, “Show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight…If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” When the Lord passed before Moses and showed him his glory, he said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”
With this revelation, Moses more clearly understood God and immediately replied, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Amazingly, the Lord not only forgave, but renewed his covenant with the people and went with them to Canaan.
Consider the contrast between God’s words before and after Moses’ intercession. His prior words were, “You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you” (33:5). But afterwards God said, “Behold I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation…” (34:10). God renewed the covenant, the tabernacle was built, the glory of the Lord filled the tent, and God again dwelt in their midst.
Jesus, a High Priest Like Melchizedek
When Isaiah spoke of the sins of Israel that would result in their destruction, he revealed the Lord’s dismay that there was no one to intercede:
“The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and was appalled that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation and his righteousness upheld him” (Isaiah 59:15-16)
It was evident that even Moses could not truly intercede since he too was a sinner. Thus God was appalled that there was no one who could save the people from his judicial wrath. Instead of allowing that to happen, the Lord used his own arm and his own righteousness to bring salvation.
Therefore, when the Hebrew writer spent ten chapters on the importance of God’s own arm bringing salvation through the high priesthood of his Son, we feel the writer’s frustration over the “dullness” of his audience. They were suffering, discouraged, and on the brink of giving up. They needed endurance based on God’s promises that were anchored in a permanent high priest who was “in the presence of God on their behalf…saving to the uttermost since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 10:24; 7:24-25). Instead, they were mired in basic, first principle rules and had not moved on to the solid food that would mature them.
We are in the same condition as Israel with their golden calf. We also followed our idols and were dead in our sins. If not for an intercessor, God would rightly consume us. Even as Christians, we have no hope without an intercessor. The point of emphasizing Jesus as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek is that he doesn’t die and pass on his priesthood to the next in line. He “ever lives.” He has brought his own blood into the presence of God, into the true Most Holy Place, and he is there forever saving utterly, completely, and at every moment, by interceding for us.
Christian, do you know where your high priest is right now? He is interceding for you. We are flawed with sin and deserve to be consumed. But our high priest continues forever to make intercession for us. Run with endurance!