I love what I do now – but I do miss my old career as a news reporter from time to time. The best part of that job was that I could just pick up the phone and call members of congress and other government leaders, police investigators, CEOs of corporations, medical professionals, and country music stars – many of whom were on a first-name basis with me.
Not everybody can do that. And I can’t do that anymore. Someone is running interference for them, and I no longer have a golden ticket to get access. Sometimes using the title “Reverend” gets them to call me back, but it’s not the same.
Before the Reformation, God seemed to be just as inaccessible to ordinary people. They depended on their priest to speak on their behalf. But the Letter to the Hebrew Christians teaches us that Jesus is all the priest we need, and anything that kept us from direct access to God has been taken away.
[READ Hebrews 4:14-5:10]
Who the heck is Melchizedek?
Abram had rescued his nephew Lot and all the goods and people taken by the armies of the kings of Elam, Goiim, Shinar, and Ellasar. On his way home, Melchizedek came out to meet him. He was the King of Salem (that is, Jerusalem) and a priest of God. Melchizedek gave Abram bread and wine and blessed him. Abram responded by giving Melchizedek a tenth of everything he was bringing back from the battle – some 500 years before God commanded His people to tithe.
You probably picked up the obvious connections between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ: Melchizedek’s name means “King of Righteousness”, and he was the King of Salem – Shalom – Peace. Jesus is both “our Righteousness” and the “Prince of Peace”. Melchizedek gave gifts of bread and wine and blessings for Abram. Jesus gives bread and wine as signs of His broken body and shed blood to us –the spiritual descendants of Abram. And Jesus gives blessings that we cannot even fathom, as Melchizedek offered Abram a blessing that he could not understand – since God had not yet made His Covenant with Abram.
But there is another connection. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in Scripture. We know nothing about his parents or how he became a priest of the one true God. We hear nothing more about him after his encounter with Abram – in fact, we hear nothing about any other priests for God’s people until Aaron – the brother of Moses – at least 500 years later. Melchizedek had no successor. He was a unique priest.
And so is Jesus Christ. He has no successors, because His sacrifice was the once-and-for-all sacrifice. That is why most Protestant clergy are referred to as ministers or pastors – not priests – because Jesus was the last priest needed.
Some Bible scholars believe that Melchizedek was a “theophany” – an appearance by God in the physical world. Or in this case, an appearance of Christ almost two-thousand years before Jesus was born.
Or he may have been just a human priest with a lot of similarities to Jesus. The two of them act like bookends – unique priests – with a whole line of run-of-the-mill Aaronic priests sandwiched in between.
Just to be clear – Jesus is not a priest like all the ones descended from Aaron. For one thing – Jesus came from the line of family Judah, not Levi. That is enough to set Him apart. But His role is different, too. Not only was He the priest who offered the sacrifice – but He was also THE sacrifice.
So salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. No other savior – no other way of salvation. No way around Him – Jesus is the only way. He said that about Himself in John 14: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no one comes to the Father except by way of me.”
In His high priestly role, Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant – the one sealed in His blood – the everlasting covenant. This makes Him radically different from the earlier priests who were mediators of the old covenant – which never fully took care of sin.
And Paul wrote to Timothy that:
there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men …
Jesus is the only mediator we need – the only person who stands between us and God. He is perfectly suited for the job – because He is both fully God and fully human, so He has a foot on both sides of the divide. If it seems as though the Grand Canyon stands between God and us – Jesus bridges it. Jesus alone.
So when God looks at us – God sees the righteousness of Jesus. And when we are afraid that God wants to annihilate us because of our sin – we do not see the wrath of God, but the face of our loving and holy Savior.
That makes Jesus the perfect High Priest – so we do not need priests to go into the Most Holy Place to sprinkle animal blood on the Atonement Cover and plead for God to forgive us. We have Jesus who shed His own blood to atone for our sin – and He simply says to His Father, “This is one of mine.”
The Law God gave to Moses outlined elaborate rituals for priests –especially the High Priest – to offer daily sacrifices for the sins of God’s people. The rules were even stricter for sacrifices on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. This was the one day of the year when the High Priest went into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant.
If the High Priest was not ceremonially or spiritually clean – God would strike him dead. That is why the High Priest had little bells sewn onto the bottom of his garments – and a rope tied to his ankle. If another priest outside the heavy curtain to the Holy of Holies no longer heard the bells, he could use the rope to pull the High Priest’s body out.
Jesus has replaced that curtain to the Holy of Holies with His own body. Now we don’t need a priest to offer sacrifice for us and declare us to be forgiven. We can go directly to God through Jesus. Nothing separates us anymore.
As we sing in the old Gospel hymn, “To God be the Glory” – “O come to the Father through Jesus the Son …”
So we can pray to the Father anytime we want – and He will hear us, for Jesus’ sake. Often we literally pray “in Jesus’ Name” – but we don’t have to use that formal. If we have been united with Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith, then whatever we say to God goes through Jesus. Directly.
The governors of Ohio and West Virginia decided to pay a visit to each other’s offices. Jim Justice went to Columbus first to drop in on John Kasich. He noticed a gold phone under a glass lid. He asked what it was and Governor Kasich told him, “It’s for talking to God – but it can be used only in a real emergency, because the long distance charges are prohibitively expensive.”
A short while later, John Kasich went to Charleston to check out Jim Justice’s office. He couldn’t find a gold phone. “Don’t you have a way to get ahold of God?” Governor Kasich asked. Governor Justice replied, “Sure, but I use one of the regular office phones. It’s a local call from here.”
Regardless of where we are – who we are – what our station in life – how deep and how dark our reservoir of sin – God is accessible to us. It’s always a local call.
It could be a prayer whispered or breathed. A cry of pain or sorrow. A thought. A regret. It’s no more complicated than that – because of Jesus, our Great High Priest, who is our access to God.
So what’s keeping you from talking to God?