Genesis 14 – Melchizedek the first priest

 

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Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek – by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–1467

‘Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.  He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

And praise be to God Most High,

Who delivered your enemies into your hand”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.’ (Genesis 14:18-20).

We are told Melchizedek was king of Salem and also a priest.  Melchizedek is the first priest to be mentioned in the Bible. He is called priest of El-Elyon, El-Elyon is one of the titles for God that is used by Abram and the patriarchs.  Melchizedek is a priest before the Levitical priesthood was set up. We see Melchizedek bless Abram which is the first blessing since the promises made in 12:1-3 (that Abram would be a great nation and that God will bless those who bless him, ie Melchizedek).  The reason I wanted to focus on Melchizedek here is that he is a very important figure in Hebrews. Hebrews says:

[Jesus] was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:10)

and then goes on (in Heb 7) to use these verses from Genesis to show that Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood because Abram gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20).  

‘Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him’ (Heb 7:9-10).

So the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical one because in essence Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. What is more, Hebrews says,

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior (Heb 7:7).

So because Melchizedek blessed Abram that shows him to be superior to him and therefore his offspring.  This Genesis passage is part of the foundation of why we hold Jesus to be our High Priest even though he was not from the Levitical line and therefore could not be a priest under the law. Jesus is a superior High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Acts 1 – The Acts of the …

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I have often wondered why the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. In my mind it is not the best name for the book, it is not the most accurate name. I think if I were able to change the name I would make it ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’.  The opening verses of Acts are about Jesus ascending into heaven and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” …  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:5,9)

The book of Acts has no one human as its main character we see a lot of Peter in the first half and a lot of Paul in the second half.  There are many others who we hear about in the book of Acts. The one person present throughout is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of the early church as the good news starts to spread.

Many scholars think that Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, intended to write a third book, to make a trilogy but perhaps died before he was able. His first book, Luke’s Gospel, starts in Judea and in the town of Bethlehem. We see Jesus travel and preach in Galilee. Eventually, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem the capital and the heart of Israel.  Jesus dies on the cross and on the third day rises again. The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus in Jerusalem. The book of Acts picks up in the same place, in Jerusalem. And from there the coming of the Holy Spirit the good news spreads around the Mediterranean and ends up in the capital and centre of the known world Rome.  So we have in the Gospel of Luke the coming good news which starts in the countryside and ends in the capital of Israel a small country in the Roman empire and then in the book of Acts we have the good news spread from the capital of Israel across  much of the Roman empire ending up in the capital Rome.  The third book would see the message ripple further from Jerusalem and Rome all the way to ends of the earth. Perhaps that third book wasn’t written because we are living that book. We are spreading the Good news of Jesus to ends of the earth, we are spreading the Good news into every community.

you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)

 

Acts 8 – The Outsider and the Good News

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God tells Philip to travel along a certain road and so Philip sets off and he meets an Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot reading a piece of scripture aloud and Phillip feels that he must go and speak to this stranger, and he asks if he understands what he is reading, the guy says he doesn’t and so Philip explains the gospel message and the stranger understands and believes, he sees some water asks to be baptised, and so Philip baptised him.  We are told that they never see each other again. (Acts 8:26-end)

The Ethiopian eunuch has been in Jerusalem, he was in effect an international diplomat for the royal court of the region we call Ethiopia.  He would have been made a eunuch so that he could advise the Queen in private without any restrictions. We can see that he is a God-fearing man because he is reading the Jewish scriptures, the old testament and had been to Jerusalem to worship God.  The trouble was being a eunuch he was forbidden from taking part in the any Temple rituals (lev 21:20) and was not allowed to convert to Judaism and join the community of Israel

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deut 23:1).

Someone who believed in God and yet was kept right on the fringe and so was worshipping God as an outsider.  We are told the Eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,

       so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.

   Who can describe his generation?

       For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33, Isaiah 53:7-8)

Which we say points to Jesus.  But the really interesting thing is why the Ethiopian eunuch reading this passage.  I suspect it is a passage he has read time and time again one that he would keep coming back to.  And that’s because of what happens after Isaiah talks of this lamb being led to the slaughter. We see what eunuch is looking forward to 3 chapters later in Isaiah 56 where it says:

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,

   who choose what pleases me

   and hold fast to my covenant—

 to them I will give within my temple and its walls

   a memorial and a name

   better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

   that will endure forever. (Isaiah 56:4-5)

Here is a time when the eunuch would not be kept on the outside when outsiders would gain the most prominent position.  This is what the Gospel message is all about, good news for the outsider, good news to those whom society rejects. And so Phillip shows the Ethiopian eunuch that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That through Jesus’ death and resurrection those whom society rejects, those on the outside are brought into the family of God, and in God’s eyes sit right in the centre.

So Ethiopian eunuch immediately wants to be baptised, he has heard the good news, the time Isaiah look forward to has arrived, he is an outsider no longer.

 

John 10 – The Good Shepherd

 

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Fourth-century depiction at the Museum of the Baths of Diocletian, Rome

 

‘I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (v11)

Here Jesus is drawing on an image of God from the Old Testament, from an Old Testament Book called Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was a prophet in Israel about 600 years before the time of Jesus.

It says in Ezekiel:

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. …  I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.I will shepherd the flock with justice.  (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16)

Jesus is identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd building on this Ezekiel passage about God as the shepherd.  Jesus is the fulfilment of this Ezekiel passage, in Jesus’ ministry we see him healing the sick and acting justly.  But Jesus goes further than the Ezekiel passage by saying that the good Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep.

Jesus tells us a hired hand is not willing to do that, faced with danger a hired shepherd will save themselves if a wolf attacks the sheep.  Jesus laid down His life for the sheep because He is the Good Shepherd because He loves us.

It’s not what you know it’s who you know.  And we know the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.  Who loves us so much that He was willing to lay down His life for us.  So what can we do? Well in this chapter Jesus also talks about the sheep hearing His voice.  

his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (v4)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (v16)

Our job then is to get better at hearing the voice of Jesus.  Hearing what Jesus is saying to us in our lives. Relationships work best when you work on them.  Keep listening out for the voice of Jesus in the Bible, through prayer, in church and with friends.  

1Samuel 1 – First words

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A lecturer once told me that within Hebrew story writing the first words of a character are meant to give a clue about that person and how they will turn out.  It is meant to give an insight into their personality or something about them.  Upon asking another lecturer if this was the case they were quite dismissive!   I thought we would explore this a little in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel by looking at the first words of a few characters:

The first is Hannah’s husband:

‘Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping?  Why don’t you eat?  Why are you downhearted?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1Samuel 1:8).

First of all his first words are introduced by him being called ‘Her husband’ which in itself tells us something about his character not be very important in the story.  He certainly doesn’t come across very well, he doesn’t understand his wife’s pain and what the situation means to her.

Hannah:

‘And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1Samuel 1:11).

We see Hannah’s first words are very serious, she makes a vow to God, and pleads with God to give her a son who she will give back to the Lord.  Serious heartfelt words, but like Elkanah she is not really a major character after the first few chapters so this doesn’t tell us too much.

Eli:

‘and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk?  Put away your wine.”’ (1Samuel 1:12).

This one might be a little more revealing.  Eli misreads the situation and thinks Hannah is drunk.  What is interesting here is that his first words are to condemn the innocent Hannah whereas in fact as we find out he is unable to keep his own sons bad behaviour in check.

Samuel:

 ‘The the Lord called Samuel.  Samuel answered, “Here I am.” (1Samuel 3:4).

This certainly fits with Samuel’s character.  Samuel’s first words show him to be ready and listening, a servant of the Lord.

So can we conclude that there is something in the first words of a character?  Hmm for me the idea needs more exploring but I certainly think it merits looking into a bit more.  I will try to come back to this in another blog later on.  The useful point is that if the first words are meant to be revealing (something we can check with the main characters throughout the story) then we might learn something more about the minor characters who only appear briefly and speak very little because the writer might be telling us more then we might initially think.

 

1John 1 – A Tangible Relationship

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We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life (1John 1:1)

In John’s opening line of his first letter, he immediately grounds everything he is about to say in the human senses.  There is not a complex philosophical argument, but rather John talks of his encounter with the Word made flesh.  What he has heard, seen and touched.  We can sometimes get too caught up in ever-increasing complexity as we look at the vast numbers of books written on God, the Bible, and theology.   We can lose the tangible relationship we have with Jesus and end up turning our faith into nothing but dry knowledge.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible, especially when I was at university studying theology comes from Proverbs:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Proverbs 12:12)

This can certainly be true, if knowledge is our only goal then our faith will become dry and will not be life-giving.  The Christian life is not about knowledge only but rather is about relationship.  Relationship with the Risen Jesus.  We must remember that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Not something abstract and aloof, but real and physical and tangible.

The poet Edwin Muir in their Poem ‘The Incarnate One’ says:

The Word made flesh here is made word again

And Karl Bath said

The Word became flesh – and then through theologians became word again

This should act as a warning to us, that we must be careful not to retreat from the flesh and turn our faith into nothing more than a series of abstract language games.   

And so John says in the opening chapter of his letter:

We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. (1John 1:3)

So never forget that fellowship with one another and with Jesus is what it is all about.  Encounter Jesus the word made flesh and don’t let Him become word again.  

Colossians 1 – What did Jesus look like?

question-mark-2123969_960_720‘Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’

When we think of Jesus does an image appear in our minds?  If we look at art that depicts Jesus we see that He is presented in many different ways depending on where you are in the world.  If you are in Belgium Jesus looks like a Belgian, if you are in America, Jesus looks like an American, if you are in Ethiopia he looks like an Ethiopian.

This could be seen as a strength, It becomes easier to relate to Jesus if we imagine him like ourselves, it becomes easier to do mission to other places and present Jesus in different ways.

But what did Jesus actually look like?  Have you noticed that in the Gospels it doesn’t give a physical description of what Jesus looks like, in fact in the New Testament, there isn’t really a physical description of anyone, Jesus, Peter, Paul Pontius Pilate.  At the time people were less interested in recording that information.

We can make some educated guesses about Jesus’ physical appearance.  From skeletons dug up dating back to the time of Jesus, we can see that men would be about 5ft 4-6in.  Jesus would have course have had middle eastern features. He would have had a short beard. A lot of art show Jesus with long hair, but almost certainly He would have had fairly short hair.  The reason being is that there was a Jewish group called the Nazarites, who would take a vow not to cut there hair or beard and not drink any wine, and we see from the Gospels several different times that Jesus drank wine and so, therefore, would have cut his hair so as not look like the Nazirites.

But we know more about what Jesus wore then his physical appearance.  For example in Mark:

“Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes (stolai), and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”

We can be pretty sure since Jesus makes a point of criticising the scribes in long robes that Jesus didn’t wear a long robe.  Long robes were a status symbol of the rich and powerful. Jesus would have worn tunic down to the knees like most normal people of the time.

Now I find this very interesting, for some it’s exciting to look at because they want to get to a more authentic Jesus for others its a bit more difficult because we have grown up seeing certain depictions of Jesus in art and in our churches, and we might have a particular image in our minds as we pray and read the bible.