Jimmy McGovern’s new drama Broken
Tells the story of a RC Priest played brilliantly by Sean Bean. Father Michael Kerrigan works tirelessly to help the people of his deprived impoverished parish in Liverpool. There’s a lot of need, and in many ways he is a good priest - he’s practical, down to earth, loving - but he can’t be a perfect Priest because He can’t always be there. When, exhausted, he fails to pick up an answerphone message it results in a death and in his anguish.
It raises all kinds of questions. The kinds of questions that are here in our passage:
Who helps you when you cannot help yourself?
Is there anyone that we can be sure will always be there to help?
Do we even recognize that we need help?
This NT letter Hebrews was written primarily to urban jews who had become Christians. And the Jews knew they needed help cos God has made it abundantly clear to them by giving them, as a nation, priests.
When God formed a relationship with Israel after the exodus from Egypt. He taught them, On your own you’re going to be in trouble with me, trouble you can’t sort out on your own so i’m going to give you priests to do the thing that you can’t do. to sort you out with me. so you can live with me and know me.
And God gave them v long and elaborate instructions about the priests
what they should wear
what sacrifices and rituals they should perform so that the people could live with God
and instructions about who could be a priest? Only men from the tribe of Levi
This taught an essential lesson. On your own you’re in trouble with God. You need help. You need a priest. Now I wonder if we find this hard to hear? We live in aculture that’s very individualistic. That’s suspicious of authority. The only authority is my own self. Therefore the idea that I need help from another.. well we don’t like that. I know myself best. Others will let me down. Priests aren’t perfect!
But if you feel that way.. I’d ask you to bear with me and hear me out. See what you think by the end.
Now as i say the Jewish Christian Readers of this letter, they were v aware they needed help, they had been taught that they need a Priest. But that’s almost a problem for the writer of Hebrews because he’s been encouraging his readers to go to Jesus for help. But the readers of the letter know they need a priest and that priests come only from the tribe of Levi and Jesus was not a Levite, v14 he descended from the tribe of Judah! He’s not a priest! So how can he give them the help that God says they need?
What our writer was effectively asking them to do is to leave the levitical priesthood, the God ordained, divinely licensed way of help to know God and go instead to this illegal, non-priest - Jesus! and ask him for help!
Well to answer this massive problem that was in their minds. Our writer says let me remind you about Melchizedek. And we say, Who?
Melchizedek appears in the Old Testament, right at the beginning of the bible, in the book of Genesis chapter 14. What we read about Melchizedek there our author summarises in v1-2 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.”
So Melchizedek was a King who was also a Priest. King of Salem - that might have been ancient Jerusalem. Salem or Shalom means peace. King of righteousness and Peace -quite a name! And he’s also Priest of God Most High. And Abraham returning victorious from a battle recognises Melchizedek’s priestly status by giving him a 10th of the plunder.
Look at the kind of priest that Melchizedek was?
Firstly, remarkably we’re told that he is an eternal priest! v3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
People of authority, Kings would always be spoken of in their family line, located in their genealogy. But this King he just seemed to appear out of nowhere. and then disappear - you don’t find out how he died, where he died, who his parents or children are. He has no roots. he appears to have no beginning or end. He is therefore like the Son of God.
Now who is he? There’s great debate here! Was Melchizedek one of those instances when God himself appears in the OT - a theophany. Well look at his name! or was he a human King whose mysterious appearing and disappearing in History and Scripture gives the impression of there being something eternal about him. It doesn’t really matter which. The important thing for the writer is this idea of an eternal priest. Imagine a priest who is always there. We’ll come back to that
Second thing about Melchizedek is that he’s a great priest. A greater priest than all the Levites
v4 “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! ” Our writer goes onto say that people had to pay the Levites a 10th of their income. That’s how the priests were supported. This Melchizedek wasn’t a levite and yet Abraham paid him a 10th. So he must have been very great. In fact our writer muses in v9 that it could be said, that Levi who collects the 10th paid the 10th through Abraham because when Melchizedek met Abraham Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. It’s a bit of a crazy argument but it makes sense. See in Genesis 14 Levi, from whom all the Levites come hasn’t been born yet. He will be Abraham’s great great grandson. So you could say that Levi and all the Levites that come from him are ‘still in’ Abraham - a twinkle in his great great grandfathers eye. And so when Abraham pays Melchizedek a 10th it is as though Levi and all the Levites who deserve the 10th instead pay the 10th to Melchizedek! That’s how great he is. Much greater than the Levitical priests.
he’s eternal and he’s very great
and so what? you can imagine Jewish Christian readers saying, ok so this Melchizedek is a great priest … and? but God through Moss has told us the Levites are now the Priests. they are the way to receive help so you can know God.…
However God had said something else a little later about Melchizedek. He had said Psalm 110 - quoted there in verse 17 and verse 20
We need to have a quick look at that Psalm so please can you turn it up..
It begins v1 “The LORD said to my Lord sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet….”
The key Q as the psal m begins is who is this second Lord? The First Lord is THE LORD, God. So the LORD God says to my Lord - now who’s that? If this psalm was written by a servant in the court it could refer to the King - The Lord God says to my Lord, the King. But if you look just above verse 1 we see that this psalm can’t have been written about the King cos it was written BY THE KING! A psalm of King David.
So who is the second Lord? Great King David’s Lord - who’s that?
Well this verse and many others like it led both Jews and Christians to see the OT as Messianic. Promising a Messiah, a King to come. A King so great that great King David calls him My Lord. And the rest of psalm 110 is God describing what this King will be like. How he’s going to rule but then in v4 How he is going to be a Priest. And not a Levitical priest! he, the messiah isgoing to be a priest in a different order, of a different type, a Melchizedek type of Priest.
Now let’s go back to Hebrews 7
in vv11-19 our writer is reflecting on Psalm 110 and what this must say about the levitical priesthood v11 “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
When he talks about attaining perfection - in Hebrews perfection means having a perfected (as in completed) relationship with God. So look, he uses the word again in v19 for the law made nothing perfect, and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. That is what perfection is - being able to draw near to God. Having a secure place before him.
And the levitical priesthood couldn’t offer that. It couldn’t attain perfection. if it could, why would God have promised another priest?
Now a jew may argue back. Ok the promise of psalm 110 might reflect badly on the levitical priesthood but … how do you know that Jesus is that Priest in the order of Melchizedek?
well, our writer answers, to fulfil psalm 110 you’ve got to be like Melchizedek
v15: what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.
If someone comes along who’s got an indestructible life. If they live forever like Melchizedek appeared to then clearly they are Psalm 110s promised Priest in the order of Melchizedek. And that of course is precisely what happened in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus had an indestructible life. Death couldn’t hold him. He was raised to a new order of life so he will live forever. God’s promise comes true. here is God’s messiah. His King. In his death and resurrection - fulfiling the promise of a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
And that means - it’s curtains for the levitical priesthood v18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
That phrase in v18 ‘set aside’ means ‘to be made obsolete’
On October 15th this year something significant will happen. If you go into a shop and try and buy something with one of these (old pound coin) it won’t be accepted. For a limited time you’ll be able to deposit old £1 coins into your bank account. But after that these become worthless. obsolete.
And that’s what’s happened to the levites. They are now redundant. In actual fact they never really worked in the first place to draw you near to God but they are now obsolete, replaced by a new order of priest - Jesus.
So having started with the Jew saying - well Jesus is not a legal priest, he can’t give us the help we need. the Levites they are the God ordained, divinely instituted priests. Well… Melchizedek, Psalm 110, Jesus’ resurrection … it turns out that actually it’s the levitical priesthood that’s become redundant and is now illegitmate. Whereas Jesus, on the other hand, is the divinely promised priest. The sort of priest God intended all along.
So what then? What does Jesus being our priest mean for us in practice?
Well remember oyr questions:
Who helps you when you cannot help yourself?
Do we even realise we need help?
Who is it that we can be sure will always be there to help?
Father Michael in Jimmy McGovern’s Broken he tells us in a conversation with a woman who is considering killing herself why he labours so hard to try and help others. He himself has done terrible things and everyday he is seeking to atone. To appease God, to get back at one with God. And of course he can’t do it. You can’t do it yourself. You can never do enough. You can’t be other peoples’ priest and you can’t be your own priest.
But there is a priest who can help us. Jesus 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. (No) He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
It’s Jesus that we need. he alone atones.. by his blood
And once he is our priest. He is always our priest. We can be sure he will always be there to help.
Remember that the striking thing about Melchizedek was his apparent eternality. v3 No beginning, no end. he remains a Priest forever. And that idea gets repeated again and again in the passage which we know is really all about Jesus.
v3 ne has no beginning nor end
v8 he never dies he lives
v16 the power of an indestructible life
v23 Jesus lives forever, a permanent priesthood,
end of v25, he always lives
end of v28 perfect forever
See, our writer doesn’t want to just tell us that Jesus is a priest. He wants to tell us that Jesus is a priest forever, for eternity.
And we find out why that’s so important, as we end, in v25 Therefore - this is the conclusion - he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Because he’s eternal Jesus can always intercede so that he can save completely.
That word ‘completely’ could be translated, see the footnote, ‘forever.’ Jesus is able to save us in every way and for all time. Completely.
He secures our place with God.
And He sustains our living for God.
He is one of us. he understands us. he knows the temptations and struggles we face. And here we see that he turns that knowledge into prayer, he interceded for us, he prays for our struggles and temptations and that we would keep going as xians.
Did you know that Your standing before God, your living for God, your Christian life is sustained
daily because of all the prayers Jesus says for you?
That’s why he’s able to save you completely cos he will never stop praying for you. Not today, Not tomorrow, Not next week, or year or in a thousand years. Not when you’re strong or when you fail. He is your priest forever.
So draw near to him. This great section in the book of Hebrews on Jesus as our High Priest which runs from chapter 5 to chapter 10 is book ended with two great encouragements to draw near to Jesus.
v16 since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Chapter 10v2121 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…”
Let’s approach. Let’s draw near. God loves you