Tag Archives: Priest

Messiah’s Soundtrack

The BlacklistThe Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies     
a footstool for your feet.”
Psalm 110:1 (NIV)

Now that Wendy and I have had a few nights free to sit on the couch together and enjoy some entertainment, we’ve been wading into the backlog of our DVR queue to enjoy a few of the new shows from this fall. This past week we’ve been making our way through The Blacklist, which we’re finding to be a unique and well written show. The other night we were watching one particular episode in which I thought that the music choices they made to play beneath the action were brilliant. At the beginning of the show, the anti-hero, played by James Spader, is seen being led in shackles by FBI agents. In the background we hear The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Later in the episode as the plot is revealed in a flurry of action we hear the unmistakable rhythm of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man (“Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?”).

Music makes such a huge difference in the telling of a story in television and film. It’s amazing how some songs become iconic and take on layers of meaning that were originally never intended in the writing.

In the catalog of David’s song lyrics (a.k.a. The Psalms), Psalm 110 stands out as one of the most unique and important that David penned. In the nearly 1000 years between it’s writing and the public ministry of Jesus, the lyrics had already be considered “Messianic” (e.g. about the coming messiah) by Jewish scholars. In particular, there are two verses of this song that are of particular importance.

The first verse (see above) was actually quoted by Jesus in an argument with the religious leaders who were trying to trap and kill him:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:41-46 (NIV)

In writing “The Lord said to my Lord” Jesus teaches that David was writing about two persons of the trinity: “The Lord (God, the Father) said to my Lord (God, the Son [Jesus])” having been inspired by the third person of the trinity (God, the Holy Spirit) to write the prophetic lyric. Jesus’ point was that David did not call the Messiah his progeny, his son, or his child. The messiah was “Lord” and authority above his own earthly throne.

The other important and prophetic lyric comes in the fourth verse:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

In the Old Testament there is a clear distinction between the offices of priest and king. God established in the law of Moses that only descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi could be priests. After the monarchy is established (which we just read about this past month or so in the book of 1 Samuel), God establishes that the messiah will come from the royal line of David. David was from the tribe of Judah. And so, we have a conundrum. The messiah cannot be purely from both the tribe of David and the tribe of Levi.

David provides the answer to the conundrum by writing in reference to a shadowy, footnote of a figure from the book of Genesis:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High…. Genesis 14:18 (NIV)

Long before the law of Moses was given, establishing the rules of who could become a priest in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, there lived in Salem (an ancient form of “Jeru-Salem”) a king named Melchizedek who was also a priest of God Most High. Little is known of Melchizedek, but he blessed Abraham, the father and patriarch of Israel. The order of the priesthood from Melchizedek is far older and more mysterious. But David points to Melchizedek as the model of the messianic King-Priest combination, and in doing so also establishes his authority as God’s king on earth with limited, but very real priestly responsibilities.

Forgive me this foray into a little arcane lesson of prophecy and theology. As I mentioned in the outset of this post, soundtracks add layers of meaning to a movie or television program. The Psalms are the soundtrack of God’s story. The more you study them, the richer they become in depth and meaning. And, the more they compliment  your understanding of everything else you read in God’s Message.

The Mystery of Melchizedek

Melchizedek
Melchizedek (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 14

And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Genesis 14:18 (NLT)

Time to put on your Geek glasses this morning and connect some dots. Melchizedek appears in today’s chapter. Mel is an interesting figure on the landscape of God’s story. Let me share a few reasons:

In today’s chapter, Melchizedek is called “priest of God Most high” but he lived and is identified as “priest” many centuries before the priestly system of the Old Testament was established in the Law of Moses. At this point of history, there is no mention of an organized and systematic worship of God. We’re not sure who Melchizedek really was or where he came from.

In the lyrics of Psalm 100, David refers to God as “High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” It presumes a divine and priestly position separate, older, and greater than the priestly system established in the Law of Moses.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, a great conflict rose up among the Jewish followers of Jesus and their Jewish leaders. Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah argued that He couldn’t possibly be because the Messiah would be God’s “High Priest” but priests in the law of Moses could only be from the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. It’s an interesting argument anyway because prophecy clearly pointed out the that Messiah would also be King in the line of King David of the tribe of Judah, so how one person could be King from the line of Judah and Priest from the line of Levi at the same time is a head scratcher.

In the book of Hebrews (see chapter 7), this argument about Jesus having to have come from the tribe of Levi is addressed. The author points out that Jesus is, indeed, God’s High Priest, but not from the earthly system established by Moses through the tribe of Levi, but through the older and more eternal order of Melchizedek just as David established in his song.

Notice that when Melchizedek goes to meet Abram he brings bread and wine, a interesting parallel to Jesus’ last supper when He established bread and wine as a metaphor of His eternal sacrifice.

One of the cool things about an ongoing journey through God’s Message is the way the layers of time, teaching, and tradition fit together in the larger story that God is telling. I’ve always said that those who avoid reading and learning about the story of the Old Testament are missing the opportunity to mine the depths of meaning that exist in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 3

Hoshea was the last king of the Israelite King...
Hoshea was the last king of the Israelite Kingdom of Israel and son of Elah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. Hosea 3:4-5 (NLT)

Hosea was a prophet and his book is part of the Hebrew books of prophecy. It is impossible to read them and not think about their message in the context of history, time, and events. This morning, these two verses caught my eye for their prophetic nature.

Israel will go a long time without a king or prince… Indeed, Hoshea was the last king of Israel and he finished his reign in 712 B.C. Even if we count Zedekiah who was the last king of the southern nation of Judah, we only make it to 586 B.C. So, we’re now at roughly 2500 years Israel has been without a king.

without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols!…  When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans just 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, all of the Hebrews’ extensive genealogical records were destroyed along with the temple. Because God’s law specifically requires that the priestly and sacrificial systems be carried out by sons of Aaron and Levi, the sacking of Rome made it impossible for these systems to continue. It’s been nearly 2000 years.

But afterward the people will return…. Israel’s statehood in 1948 has resulted in millions returning to their native land.

and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king…. What’s interesting about this is that the destruction of the genealogical records in 70 A.D.  make it nearly impossible to determine who is a direct descendant of King David. Yet Jesus’ family tree exists. The line through both his mother and his earthly father is recorded in the gospels and traced back to David.

In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. Today, I feel like I’m living out this prophecy as I ponder in wonder. I’m amazed at God’s story, His plan, and His prophets. I’m grateful to be living in such amazing times and witnessing so much from  a man walking on the moon to the ability of holding more information than all the ancient libraries combined in the palm of my hand. At the same time, I’m reminded that it is all part of a larger plan and story that God is telling through human history. It was foretold through the ancient prophets, has been working itself out and is yet coming to be.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 16

Cover of "Harry Potter and the Philosophe...
Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

Aaron grabbed the censer, as directed by Moses, and ran into the midst of the congregation. The plague had already begun. He put burning incense into the censer and atoned for the people. He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague. Numbers 16:47-48 (MSG)

The last Harry Potter movie comes out this weekend. Wendy and I are excited to see it and the last few days, while I’ve been on the road, I’ve been listening to the first Harry Potter book over again. It’s amazing to me as I listen again just how much of the story is foreshadowed in the early chapters, and how many key characters are subtly revealed. It’s part of what makes the series of stories so great. The fairly short and simple first installment is actually a brilliant foreshadowing of the much larger, complex story. I also happen to believe that all great stories are a shadow of the Great Story.

I admit, I don’t always get why God did things the way they happened in the ancient stories. I do know, however, that the circumstances and stories were the very early chapters of a much larger, epic story about the relationship between God and humankind. Like the early chapters of any great story, these ancient stories foreshadow and become a living word picture of God’s plan to redeem humanity. In today’s chapter, sin has brought about a plague on the people. Aaron, the high priest, runs to make atonement for the people. He “stood between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.” There is no better word picture of the role of a priest than this. A priest stands in-between and makes atonement.

A priest is a mediator, and in that moment Aaron foreshadows the much larger plan of God: that He would send His one and only Son, Jesus, to become the mediator, the priest, and the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the totality of sin of all humanity once, and for all.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man, Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

“Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] 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.” Hebrews 7:27 (NIV)

Jesus, as He hung on the cross, became the fulfillment of the word picture Aaron provided over a thousand years before: Jesus hung between the living and the dead and stopped sin’s plague.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 8

Source: Flickr

God spoke to Moses: “Take the Levites from the midst of the People of Israel and purify them for doing God’s work.” Numbers 8:5 (MSG)

For me, one of the fascinating things about walking through these ancient texts is perceiving the ways that our culture and thinking are still rooted in the systems and concepts which were established thousands of years ago.

In today’s chapter, the tribe of Levi was singled out among all of the tribes of Israel for carrying out the work of the temple. In other words, “God’s work” was reserved for a special few. In any human system, I have to believe this is going to set into motion certain patterns of thought, creating classes within the culture. The special few who are given the religious tasks are going to think themselves special, even to the point of being better than the others. They will have a hard time not feeling that they are closer to God than those who don’t get this special task. Those who are not part of these special few begin to feel the opposite. They feel left out and dishonored. “God’s work” is not for them, so they dismiss the things of God as something above them. Jealousy, envy and hatred can even set in against those who seem to be “special.”

After Jesus death and resurrection, there was a major shift in God’s prescribed system. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out and into every person who believes and follows. No longer for a certain people or a select few, the Holy Spirit made no distinction. God gave the word picture of one body in which every believer is made a vital part, gifted in some way to help provide for it’s health and functions. Jesus presented a radical new paradigm.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. Within a short period of time, the followers of Jesus had organized into a system that looked much like what we read about in Numbers. There were special people set apart as priests and leaders to do the religious works of this organization now known as “the church.” Once again this human organizational system created a group of spiritual “haves” and “have nots.” 1500 years later a man named Martin Luther made a 95 item “point-of-order” to correct the mistake, arguing that what God’s Message presented was not a special “priesthood” for the select few but a “priesthood of all believers.” The reformers organized to try to get back to the prescribed organization of Jesus and his followers.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. For over forty years I’ve attended and been involved in a number of church organizations of all shapes, sizes and names. I’ve even led a few. We still like to treat our pastors and priests as “special” people who are spiritually above us. The common person in the pew still tends to think of “God’s work” as something relegated to the chosen few; it is something from which they are at best exempted, at worst unfit to carry out.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded at how easily my human condition, culture, and systems can skew my thoughts and behaviors from those which God intended. Lord, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 22

Bloody hands. David said to Solomon, “I wanted in the worst way to build a sanctuary to honor my God. But God prevented me, saying, ‘You’ve killed too many people, fought too many wars. You are not the one to honor me by building a sanctuary—you’ve been responsible for too much killing, too much bloodshed.” 1 Chronicles 22:7 (MSG)

I’ve got the gift of teaching and preaching. I don’t know why God gave it to me, and I don’t always understand His designs for it in my life, but I’ve got it. I’m not a gifted singer, even though I’m envious of those who are gifted singers. I’d love to open my mouth and have a voice eminate that stops people in their tracks, but that’s not me. I’m a decent singer, and I can belt out a decent tune, but I was never the first choice to sing the solo (or the second or third, for that matter).

Along the journey I’ve had the opportunity to speak and to preach along side some very gifted musicians and worship leaders. I’ve noticed a pattern. Many of them really wanted to be gifted teachers and preachers, but they weren’t. They were gifted singers. I really wanted to be a gifted singer, but I wasn’t.

I recall one weekend I was doing a series of messages. The worship leader, knowing that I secretly wanted to sing, let me try my hand at a solo. It wasn’t embarrassing, but it wasn’t great, either. Everybody knew it. During the worship set, the worship leader went off between songs into a long teaching introduction. There was nothing wrong with what he said, it just didn’t fit. I’ll never forget that evening, After the service I remember saying, “I won’t sing if you don’t preach. You stick with singing. I’ll stick with preaching. It’ll be better for everyone.”

As much as David wanted to build the temple, he wasn’t the right person person. He was a warrior. His job was to make way for the building of the temple, which would be done by his son, who was a man of peace, knowledge and wisdom.

We all have our gifts and our part to play in God’s kingdom. The key is to identify our gift and use it well.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kypkanomin

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 27

Burning the midnight oil. "Now, order the Israelites to bring you pure, clear olive oil for light so that the lamps can be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, the area outside the curtain that veils The Testimony, Aaron and his sons will keep this light burning from evening until morning before God. This is to be a permanent practice down through the generations for Israelites." Exodus 27:20-21 (MSG)

There is a light above our kitchen sink that remains on 24/7/365. The practice of keeping a light burning through the night was not motivated by any kind of spiritual reasoning. With teenage daughters often coming home well after we've gone to bed, it's there to help them not stumble on their way into the house. If we have to get up in the watches of the night for some reason, we have a light to guide us.

As I read God's command for Aaron and the priests to keep the oil lamps burning in the tent of God's dwelling, it struck me that there are parallel reasons with our little kitchen light. You need light for protection and safety. You need light if you're going to be active. What a daily word picture for the people of Israel who, at this point in the story, are still uprooted and wandering through the wilderness. The lamps in the night send a subtle, but powerful message. God does not sleep at night. God is active. God will protect and watch over you in the depths of daily darkness.

Today, I'm thankful for God who is vigilant in watching over me and my family even when I am asleep or distracted by the unimportant things of this world.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and tlindenbaum