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YOU CANNOT HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – AND SURVIVE
You can’t be friends with God. You cannot have a relationship with God – and survive. You can’t be close to God.
For the LORD God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deut. 4:24. who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. 1 Tim 6:16
Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 3 Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. 4 His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. Psalm 97:2-5
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Ex. 20:18-19
You can’t be close to God. You can’t be at peace with God.
“you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Exod 33:20, because [his] eyes are too pure to look on evil; [he] cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Hab 1:13 We, on the other hand were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col 1:21 we were by nature deserving of wrath. Eph 2:3
The prophet Isaiah sums up what it’s like to come face-to-face with God:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
We, by ourselves, cannot get close to God. We can’t have a peaceful relationship with him. God is just too pure and holy and immortal and powerful and just and righteous and strong and mighty for us to come near to him.
Now that’s going to sound weird to many people who hear it. That’s going to sound strange when many religious conversations start with “I like to think of God as…”. Unsurprisingly, the God that people like to think about is invariably pretty tame and small.
But you only need to look at the world around us to realise that God is so much bigger and grander and inaccessible than we are. You’ve got the power of the surf crashing against the cliffs along the South coast. If you’ve ever been dumped by a wave at the beach you know how powerful they are. There’s the thought of a raging bushfire, with flames taller than our church. Hurricanes and tornadoes that leave destruction in their path. There’s the sheer distances involved in outer space, where it takes light millions of years to travel.
It’s observations like these that lead the majority of the world’s people to believe in God, or if not God, then some force or powers behind what we can see. If nature is so fearsome, then the God behind it is a force to be reckoned with. Across the world, there’s a fear of the spiritual realm.
If you’re going to believe in a supernatural God, you better believe that he is stronger, more powerful, more pure, perfect and holy than you can imagine, and you better believe that you cannot, by yourself, on your own terms, have a relationship with him.
No, you need a mediator, a go-between. You need someone to speak to God for you. You need someone to bridge the gap, to make up for your weakness, to wash you clean and purify you. You need someone to make a way for you to relate to God. You need someone to make an offering to turn aside God’s anger at the way you live. In short, like nearly every religion and culture has worked out, to relate to the infinite God, you need a priest.
The need for a priest would have been ingrained in the minds of the first Christians. The first Christians all came from the Jewish faith, which had a thorough system of priests and offerings and sacrifice, all emphasising the difficulty of approaching God. The need for a priest would have been deeply rooted in their hearts as they thought about how to relate to God.
What I want to do this week is take you through what I think might have been their thought process as they thought about Jesus and what he came to do. I know it’s a deviation from our series in Genesis, but it’ll allow us to take a closer look at a mysterious figure we met last week in Genesis chapter 14.
Lord, may these words that I speak and the thoughts that we think, be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, you are our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen Psalm 19:14
THE MESSIAH AND PSALM 110
As we move on, I want you to imagine on of the first followers of Jesus. They’re Jewish, they believe the Hebrew Scriptures are God’s word. They’ve listened to Jesus preach, seen him die, seen him back to life, and seen him go back to heaven. And now, one Sunday morning, they’re studying the Scriptures and thinking through who Jesus is. We’re going to try to get in their head.
The first Christians came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah
The starting point for the first Christians was that they believed Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ. They understood that Jesus was the promised saviour they were waiting for. They came to this conclusion based, firstly, on Jesus’ own explicit teaching. When Jesus asked who the disciples thought he was, they said he was the Messiah, and Jesus says “You’re right!” (Mark 9:27-30). Later, when the Jewish leaders ask him straight out if he is the Messiah, he responds, Yes, I am (Mark 14:62). And he backed up his claim by dying and coming back to life, just as he’d promised.
Because Jesus is the Messiah, he fulfills the OT Scriptures that promise a Messiah, e.g. Psalm 110
And because Jesus is the Messiah, that means he fulfills the OT Scriptures that promise a Messiah. One of the favourite Scriptures of the first Christians was Psalm 110, a song written by King David. So lets imagine our Christian picking up his Psalms scroll and, I suppose, scrolling, to Psalm 110. And as he reads, he notices that there are two big declarations that God makes to the Messiah, in verse 1 and verse 4.
If you’ve got Psalm 110 there, have a look at verse 1:
Psa. 110:1 The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
2 The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
The Psalm’s promising that the Messiah would sit in the place of honour, next to God, he’ll sit on the throne of the universe, and God will make him victorious over his enemies.
Our Christian has a think, and it’s easy to see how verse 1 is clearly fulfilled by Jesus’s resurrection and his ascension, his return to heaven. When he was on trial before the Jewish leaders, Jesus says to them:
“You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62
Psalm 110 verse 1 is clearly fulfilled.
But then our Christian reads a bit further, in verse 4:
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
If this Psalm is about the Messiah, then Jesus has to fulfill this verse, too. So what does it tell us about the Messiah?
Well, first, that he’ll be a priest. Now that’s an immediate problem. The only priests allowed in the law of Moses were people who were from the tribe of Levi, who could trace their ancestry back to Aaron, the first high priest. And that’s a problem, because the Messiah came from Judah, a different tribe altogether. How could he be a priest?
Second, he’ll be a priest forever. Well, our Christian knows that Jesus rose from the dead, so this bit isn’t too troublesome, but there’s still the whole thing about being a priest.
So, third, he’ll be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. In the order of who now? Our Christian leans back and tries to think of all the characters from the Sabbath school stories he learnt as a kid. He couldn’t think of any Melchizedeks there. So he picks up his scroll of Chronicles – he knows there’s a bunch of names there.
Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mehalalel…skip over a few bits… Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah… no Melchizedek so far. This isn’t helping…so he gets up and goes makes a cup of tea, and goes to ask one of the other disciples who used to be one of the teachers of the law. He tells him to look up Genesis 14.
THE MESSIAH AND GENESIS 14
Psalm 110 pushes us to the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14
So our early Christian goes back to his study and gets out his Torah scroll and opens it to Genesis, the first book. And he reads in chapter 14 how Abraham fought off an alliance of four kings who had captured his nephew Lot.
Then he reads in verse 17:
Gen. 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Our Christian sits back, has a sip of tea, and has a think. Well, if you look at his name, his name in Hebrew seems to mean King of Righteousness – Melchi-Zedek. And it says here that he was the king of Salem. Well, that means he was the king of Jerusalem, but Salem comes from the same root word as Shalom, peace. So Melchizedek was the King of Righteousness and the King of Peace.
That certainly fit with the picture of the Messiah he knew from the Bible. There was that verse from Isaiah, chapter 9:
Is. 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Gen 14 says that Melchizedek was priest of God Most High, the creator of everything. And Abraham recognises that Melchizedek is serving the same God that he’s worshipping. Maybe God had made a special connection, a special revelation to Melchizedek to make him a priest.
But it’s a bit weird that there’s no mention of his family. Nearly all the important characters in Genesis have a genealogy, or at least a record of their father and mother. But Melchizedek just appears out of nowhere, we aren’t told about his family, so he’s got no connection to Levi or Aaron. And the story seems to leave him there at Salem, still doing his priestly thing.
Our Christian has another look at what happens in the story. And in the story, it looks very much like Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, he’s the more honoured one, he’s got the highest status. To start with, he’s the one that blesses Abraham. It’s always the way that the more important person blesses the less important one.
Think for a moment about the Queen’s birthday honours – who’s the one handing out the knighthoods and goodies? It’s the Queen, the more important one.
And on top of that, Abraham gives Melchizedek 10% of all the plunder, he gives Melchizedek a tithe. Now, back in the day, paying tithes was a way to recognise the other person’s superiority. It was a sign of subjection and submission to that person.
So this story means that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and all his descendants, including Levi and the priests that would come from him. That’s food for thought. Melchizedek is superior to Abraham. Time for another cup of tea. And that’s where we’ll leave him.
Ps 110 and Gen 14 combine to give us a picture of the Messiah
As our Christian thinker has followed Psalm 110 back to Genesis 14, He’s learnt that God will make the Messiah to be a priest-king in the same vein as Melchizedek. This priest-king would be distinct from the Levitical priests. This priest-king would be superior to the priests of the old covenant.
Psalm 110 shows his superiority too. The Messiah will be a priest forever. He’ll become a priest, not by his ancestry, but by special appointment, by an oath from God:
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever.”
THE MESSIAH AND HEBREWS 7
Now, I want you to notice, that’s basically the train of thought that we get in Hebrews 7.
Hebrews was written by an anonymous first-generation Christian, and he was writing to Christians who were facing tough times. His audience was familiar with the Old Testament, and seems like they were tempted to turn to or turn back to the Jewish religion, with its very visibly, very tangible, observable system of sacrifices and priests and rituals. Sometimes it was hard to keep believing in an invisible messiah ruling from heaven.
So the author writes to drive home the point that Jesus is better. Jesus is better than the prophets and the angels and Moses, because Jesus is God’s Son. And Chapter 7 keeps the argument going. It’s part of a big section making the point that Jesus is better because he is the perfect high priest that we need.
Listen again to verses 1-10. It’s got the same elements we’ve been talking about. Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus, he’s a pattern for the Messiah to come.
1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling (or made like) the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
Melchizedek, like Jesus, embodies righteousness and peace. He’s separate from the Levitical priests, because we have no record of his family connections. Even the fact that we’re not told about his birth or his death makes him appear to be like Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the true priest forever.
4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham.
Abraham pays a tithe to Melchizedek. The Levites could collect a tenth from their fellow tribes because the Law said they could. Abraham gives a tenth to Melchizedek because he recognises a pure natural superiority. And Melchizedek:
blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die (that is, mortal); but in the other case, by him who is declared (or testified or recorded) to be living (because his death isn’t mentioned). 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
The big point here is that Melchizedek was a better priest than the Levitical priests, his priesthood was superior to theirs, and that means that Jesus is a better priest too.
There’s a lot more to the author’s argument for Jesus as the perfect high priest, but look where he lands in verses 23-28:
Heb. 7:23 Now there have been many of those (Levitical) priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Heb. 7:26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
Can you see how important Melchizedek is? He gives us a glimpse of what Christ will be like. He helps us understand how great of a priest Jesus is – an eternal priest by special appointment of God, righteous, making peace, who will always be there for us, who sacrificed himself for our sins.
I think the figure of Melchizedek leaves us with two things not to do and one thing to do.
First, what we mustn’t do is try access God through anyone except Jesus.
That means that it is not the right thing to do to pray to Mary or to saints to get your prayers heard by God. It is not a biblical practice to do that. 1 Tim 2:5 says:
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,
Were any of the saints crucified for you? Can Mary purify you from sin? No. Jesus is the only one who can do these things. Jesus is the one who brings our prayers and requests to God. To pray through anyone else is to dishonour him.
Secondly, we mustn’t think too highly of church workers. One quote I read sums it up well:
“If the Old Testament priests were not really priests, except typically (that is, as a type or pattern of the real deal), much less are ministers of the gospel.” A. A. Hodge
In some traditions, people like me and Tim would be called priests and treated like we have some extra-special connection to God. We don’t. We have the same access to God as you do, through Jesus. So don’t think of us as super special. Tim suggested saying, don’t overfeed us!
Finally, the one thing to do.
What we must do is draw near to God. What we CAN do is draw near to God. Listen to Hebrews 10:21-23:
Heb. 10: 21 since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Because Jesus is our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance and confidence. By ourselves, we cannot have a relationship with God. We cannot be friends with God. But with Jesus as our priest, we can.
Jesus speaks to God for us. He bridges the gap between weak and feeble human beings and the almighty all powerful God. Jesus washes us clean and purifies us from our sin. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven, and we can come close to God.
And so let’s pray. Don’t stay away from God by not praying.
A confession in a book of prayers really struck me:
“My sin is not so much this or that particular evil, but my continual separation, disunion, distance from thee, and having a loose spirit towards thee.”
Often I don’t find it easy to pray, but reading about the way Jesus my priest brings me close to God, that really makes me want to stick close with God. I don’t want to be continually separated or at a distance from God. I want to draw near to him, and so I want to pray.
With Jesus as my priest, why wouldn’t I want to pray? why wouldn’t I confess my sins? Why wouldn’t I cry out to him, even when I can’t find the right words? I’ve got someone in heaven who understands me!
I want to encourage you to pray. Pray each day. Don’t stop praying. Write down your prayer. Write your concerns. Keep them in a journal or a diary. We’re an Anglican church, and we have a great history of thoughtful, biblical prayers. Why not find one of our prayer books and make the prayers your own? And when you’ve finished, find an old hymn book, and pray through some of these magnificent great songs of praise. Use the psalms as a guide for your praying.
Draw near to God, because through Jesus, you can have a relationship with Jesus. Through Jesus you can be friends with God, you can be close to him.