Why Melchizedek Matters
Hebrews chapter 7, I want you to know that this is an odd chapter. I want to walk away if you just read through Hebrews chapter 7, a lot of it, you’ll get to the end of it and be like, “I don’t know why that’s there, but I guess it’s important.” And you’ll move on, and at the very least I want to show you why this chapter’s necessary and what it communicates. But let me just start with this, a broad picture of what’s happening in this book for us, especially as it relates to this chapter, maybe most especially as it relates to this chapter.
This chapter and really the whole book represents, I think one of our core values as a church, which is becoming all things to all people as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He wants to meet people where they are and help them take the next step in Christ and pursuing them with their lives. He meets people where they’re at, loves them where they’re at, and shares the truth with them.
In Romans chapter 10, Paul opens up that chapter this way. He says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer for Israel,” being a Jew himself says, “he desires for their salvation though they have a zeal for God, it’s not according to knowledge.” What he recognized as he ministered to his own people, he saw a sweet people there, passionate about what they believe, but lacking in understanding and how God communicates his broader picture and what he wants to accomplish. So his prayer was to see people with a zeal for God, to come to know him and enjoy him.
Here at ABC, we say our desire. We don’t want to prove we’re right or wrong. We’re not here to bash people over the head. We want to help you find the Lord and take that next step in your journey with him. In Hebrews chapter 7 is that thought carried into the theme of a really particular idea. My kids will just say, “It’s just plain weird, Dad.” It’s this idea of this character named Melchizedek, which when you read it in the Book of Hebrews, we talk about it in chapter 5, 6, and 7. When you read about Melchizedek in the Old Testament, he only makes it in one chapter of the Bible, just for a few verses and then he’s mentioned one other time in Psalm chapter 110.
It’s very odd that we spend three chapters of the New Testament about a figure in the Old Testament that got 10 verses altogether. But what he’s doing, he’s correlating the significance of these events and how it relates in our lives. What the writer of Hebrews is fighting against in years of tradition. In fact, 1400 years of tradition is being communicated in this book to help us understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. You ever notice as people, we tend to get in ruts of tradition and we can’t really ever explain maybe why we started this tradition to begin with? We had good intentions in the beginning, but you kind of lose sight of what the overall picture is.
The same is true with the Old Testament, when you study the Old Testament. A lot of people as they’ve studied that see the structure of the Old Testament as an end in itself, the law of the temple, the Sabbath. We’ve talked about it together throughout this series. Those things are not an end in themselves, but rather pointing to a greater purpose, they’re a shadow of greater things to come. Jesus fulfills all of that. So the author of Hebrews is helping us to see this and he’s working against really 1400 years of tradition where the people have now begun to serve the tradition, failing to see the main theme or point that God was driving to.
Just for fun this week, I just looked up things that we traditionally do as people and really have no understanding as to why it exists and why in the world we did it. My favorite, I was reading about the railroad system in America. If you don’t know this about the railroads, the railroad tracks are four feet, eight and a half inches apart. Odd number to come up with, right? But the trains that are on these tracks across America, four feet, eight and a half inches apart, why? Well, it’s because the people that built the tracks came from Britain to America and when they came from Britain to America, they were accustomed to building wagons with axles that were four feet, eight and a half inches apart. So the same tools that they built the axles on the back of wagons were the same tools they used to make for the axles for the train tracks. They already had the tools, so that’s what they used.
Why did they pick that length in Britain for the wagons? Well, it’s because the Roman soldiers built the roads and when they built the roads, the ruts that they established on their own wagons were four feet, eight and a half inches. Well, why did the Romans pick four feet, eight and a half inches for their size of the wagons they built? It’s because when the Romans first built chariots, they measured the rear ends of two war horses and determined you need about four feet, eight and a half inches to get those rear ends in front of the chariots. Literally, when you ride on the train, it’s because of two rear ends. Why do we do that? No one ever stopped to think, maybe we should do it differently. But every time you ride a train now, you can think of the rear end of horses.
Why do we do the things that we do? That’s what the author is getting at in this story. He’s referring in this case to religious idea, the religious thinking, and how we treat it as an end in itself. In fact, if you’ve been with us over the last couple chapters, he started to develop this theme in chapter 5. He said at the end of chapter 5 in verse 12. He starts to tell us, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God and you have come to need milk and the solid food.” Remember we talked about, God want you to not just nourish on milk, but you need to eating the meat. So he starts to share with us where we’ve lost our way and what God desires for us to understand.
When he starts in chapter 6, he says, “Therefore, leaving the elementary teachings about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and a faith toward God.” What he’s saying to them in chapter 6, verse 1 is you’re in the religious framework and now you’re starting to be taught about Jesus and then you forget about significance of Jesus and you’re just going back to this religious framework. You’re forgetting that Jesus is the culmination of all these things. Stop going back to the elementary things. These things are just shadows. Law, temple, Sabbath, these are just small pictures of the greater thing that God wants to do in your life in Christ.
The centrality of the Gospel becomes significant to us. In fact, he says in verse 6, “And then having fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame.” We talked about the scariness of the verse last week when we said people think that this means you can lose your salvation or if you were a believer in Jesus and you walked away, oh no, you’re heading to hell on a hand basket. That’s not what this verse is saying. This verse is saying people that have looked at the significance of Christ and instead of pursuing Jesus, have gone back to religion. It’s impossible to renew them to repentance because they’re recrucifying Christ over and over again.
They’re failing to see the significance of what Jesus accomplished on the cross when Jesus said, “It is finished, paid in full.” When Jesus came to this earth and Jesus died, Jesus paid everything for you that you may know him. By going back to religious works, what you’re saying to Jesus is, “This wasn’t good enough. I’ve gotta add to it.” The Bible even goes on and says in Galatians 5:4 that, “You have been severed from Christ if you’re pursuing righteousness in the law.” You’re undermining the very significance of what Jesus has accomplished for you to know him and to enjoy him.
What he’s saying in Hebrews chapter 5 and 6 is, look at this guys, God is calling you to maturity in him. God is pressing you forward in Christ, wanting you to know him and to enjoy him and to dive into the meat of what the Gospel does for you. And in chapter 6, he wants us to examine our heart to see if we’re really in Jesus. Now as we launch into chapter 7, which is where we’re going to start, he then gets into the meat, once again, of showing us the significance of Jesus in everything. Chapters 7 to 10, I told you this last week, these are my favorite chapters in all of Hebrews. It starts in such an odd character in Melchizedek, but he’s building from Melchizedek to understanding the purpose of the law in the Old Testament to the purpose of the temple in chapter 9.
If you want to know how or what you’re supposed to obey, if any at all in the law, I’m going to tell you, next week, if you want to know anything about temples and whether or not you should be in a temple or how that looks, I will tell you. Two weeks from now, we’re going to talk about that in chapter 9. But he starts all of this on the backdrop of this weird figure, Melchizedek. And in chapter 7, verses 1 to 3, he just lays the foundation of who is Melchizedek for us. If I told you, if you wanted to read about him in the Old Testament, the only chapter you can really read about him is Genesis chapter 14. If you read in Genesis chapter 14, what you’ll discover is Abraham is in the land of Canaan and his nephew is with him. His nephew separated from Abraham into this land of Sodom.
While his nephew is living in this land, four kings from the east come and attack five kings in the south. One of those kings is the king of Sodom. When these nine kings meet together on the battlefield, the five kings, one of which Lot is a part of, they lose. The four kings confiscate, capture people as slaves, and take them away. Abraham finds out and Abraham’s got about 318 soldiers that are connected to him. Abraham goes against four kings with 318 people. And if that’s not enough, it tells us that he divides them in two and he pursues these kings and he conquers them, gets back his nephew, and he comes back to the place of Sodom. On his way, on the way back south, he meets this individual known as Melchizedek.
Melchizedek becomes an individual that it tells us in this chapter, chapter 7 of Hebrews, and it tells us in Genesis chapter 14 in the same spot. Listen to this, “Melchizedek, the king of Salem, priest of the Most High God.” So if there’s any need for understanding his identity or his position, it says, he is, look at this, “The king of Salem and he’s priest of the most high God.” So how does God view Melchizedek? He is the representative of people to this most high God and he met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him.
“To whom also Abraham, apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils was, first of all, translation of his name,” talking about Melchizedek, “the king of righteousness, then also the king of Salem, which is the king of peace.” So verse 1 shows the position of Melchizedek. Verse 2 for us, shows his identity in being the king of righteousness and the king of peace. In Old Testament days, it’s not so much like this in our culture, but especially in the Old Testament, name had a lot to do with identify. We think about the name for Jesus. Jesus isn’t just … His mom’s not like, “Ah, you know what? We should just call you Jesus because I like the sound of that name.” No, his name literally means salvation. It’s a representation of his identity.
With Melchizedek, it’s the same thing. He is the representation of righteousness and because he’s the representation of righteousness, he also is the king of peace. Saying in our own lives, the Bible reader, it’s those two words frequently in scripture, righteousness and peace. If you want true peace, you can only have it by righteousness. If you want peace with God, you need to be righteous before the Lord because God is a warrior king come against sin, which is opposed to his kingdom. Us being sinners can’t have peace with a God who is righteous. We ourselves, in order to find peace with God, need righteousness. That righteousness for us is found in Jesus.
Now, this figure of Melchizedek is going to be compared to him, but you see position of Melchizedek. He is both king and priest. You see identity of Melchizedek. He is righteousness and peace. Then in verse 3, you see the qualifications of Melchizedek. It says, “He is without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” What it’s saying to us as individuals, when it comes to the priesthood or the identity of Melchizedek, it is an impossibility for any human being to hold this position because all of you got a mama and all of you have an end. God knows the number of your days. But what made Melchizedek unique is this eternal picture of who he was. Now that the author’s going to tie this together with Jesus, what makes Jesus able to meet the qualifications of being a priest under Melchizedek is that Jesus himself is eternal.
This mentioning of Melchizedek is to say to us, one, it’s an impossibility for any human being to ever say that they qualify under the identity of what it means to be a priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. But Jesus himself meets this qualification. Then it goes on from here and it begins to share with us this picture of what Melchizedek represented with Abraham because it wants to develop this identity for us, in verses 4 and on. I’m going to read just a chunk. We’ve talked about Melchizedek in chapter 5, so I’m going to, not to get too bogged down in details, I’m going to chunk this chapter out so that you can see the bigger theme of what’s talked about in this passage.
Verses 4 to 10 goes like this, “Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.” We need to really examine just what makes Melchizedek so significant. That’s what it says in verse 4. “And those indeed of the sons of Levi who received the priest’s office have commandment in the law to collect a tenth from the people, that is from their brethren, although they are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them, collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.” He’s saying Melchizedek blesses Abraham, who had the promises of God.
“But without any dispute, the lesser is blessed by the greater.” It’s saying Melchizedek is greater and the lesser, Abraham, is being blessed by the greater. “in this case, moral men receive tithes but in the case one receives them of whom it is witness that he lives on. And so to speak through Abraham, even Levi who received tithes, paid tithes for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” So what’s this saying? You consider for a minute the story in Genesis 14. Abraham goes and conquers, Abraham comes back. Moses is writing this story of Genesis. Moses is writing this story to the people of Israel who were just slaves in Egypt. He’s wanting them to understand their identity in the book of Genesis. He wants them to see what God is calling them to in the book of Genesis. He’s writing about the father of the Hebrew people so they can see their beginnings.
How did we get to where we are as slaves in the exodus in Egypt? He’s writing his story and he talks about Abraham, the hero of the faith. This is father Abraham of many sons. You swing your left arm and your right arm and your left foot and you turn around and nod your head and sit down. This is Abraham. If you don’t know that song, forgive me. This is the father of it all who God says through him, all nations would be blessed. You see him go into battle like a warrior. He comes back successful, victorious. That should be the end of the story. But then it just says this weird thought of some guy’s name that most of us couldn’t spell if we tried to pay each other $100 to get it right, Melchizedek. What is that?
Why not just say, “Abraham was successful,” and leave it at that? But he doesn’t. He comes back and he shares this weird story about this guy named Melchizedek and he never talks about it again. The whole Bible, it just … the Old Testament never talks about it again until you get to Psalms chapter 110 and verse 4. That’s it. What’s Moses trying to do by painting this picture? Well, I think Moses wants his people to understand that before God called Abraham, God was already working. This wasn’t unique to the Jewish people. God identified the Jewish people so that we could see exactly where the Messiah would come from, but God was already working.
In fact, we could even say about what it stated in Hebrews and as you study the identity of Melchizedek, God is working in a very powerful way because the identity of Melchizedek is so special, but the idea of the priesthood that God establishes with the Israelites never fully satisfies the need for righteousness in our relationship with God. It’s like Moses sort of tells this story because there’s this understanding that one day God’s going to draw us back to it. Moses is not telling this random story just because. When the Bible’s written, God’s not just giving you random details for no reason. God’s intentional about the things he shares with us. There’s a bigger purpose to the identity of Melchizedek and what he represents.
In fact, when you get to Psalm 110, you see that explained in the first four verses because Psalm 110 starts talking about the identity of this individual that is king, ruler over all things, and also a priest forever. In Israel’s day, king and priests never combined. But there’s this one that’s so powerful that all things meet in him. In fact, Psalm 110 is quoted in Hebrews chapter 1, Hebrews chapter 5, Hebrews chapter 7. It’s drawing us the importance of this moment, that this idea of Melchizedek as it says in Psalm 110 verse 4. “This priest will rule over his people as king forever and ever.” That’s different than the priesthood in Israel’s day because the priests in Israel’s day, they died. In fact, when you went to the temple and you offered sacrifice under this priest, there was never one sacrifice that you could make that would ever be enough. Every time you sinned, you would have to go back.
That righteousness and peace you look for in God, nothing under this law and this system with the priesthood ever fully satisfied, because they always had to replace the priest and they always had to continue in sacrifices. When was there ever going to be enough? What he’s showing in this section of scripture, Moses is identifying the need for this idea of a greater priest in your life who can finally satisfy all things because there wasn’t a sufficiency in the Old Testament law. It lacked. He’s showing even in this story, that if the father of the Hebrew people was willing to submit to him, even though he was the first Jewish individual, how great this position must be that Melchizedek holds. He makes the argument in verses 7 to 10 that if Abraham bowed down, then really all of the Jewish people would have bowed down because the lineage of all of the Jewish people are wrapped up in the identity of Abraham.
He starts to elevate the significance of this position. Why? Because he wants us to understand why something exists. Why do you observe the tradition of the Old Testament? Or why is that tradition there? When you understand why something exists, if it becomes significant still then you continue forward in a passion. But if you understand why something exists and it no longer makes sense, you see where it falls short and you look for a solution that points you to a greater cause, a better purpose because after time, sometimes tradition can become irrelevant.
I was reading a story about the czar in Russia in 1903. He noticed in the Kremlin grounds that there was a soldier randomly stationed in such an odd spot. It didn’t make any sense to him. He’s like, “Why is this soldier standing here by himself for no reason?” So he went back in the record books and they started to examine why in the world they made the decision to let this soldier post in this one spot by himself on the Kremlin grounds. They found out in 1776, in the spring, there was a flower that bloomed. It was the first flower to bloom on these Kremlin grounds. Catherine the Great in 1776, in order to preserve and protect this flower, stationed a soldier in that spot. For 125 years, they kept sending a soldier back to that same spot and they had no idea why they were there. Could you imagine that job? “I gotta show up here.” “Why?” “I don’t know. I have no idea, but if I don’t, they’ll beat me up. So here I am.” You just stand there for no reason.
The idea of this Melchizedek is to help us to understand, one, the picture of priests and law and really, we’re getting to temple in these next couple chapters. But to really start on the basis of seeing what we need in our lives. In verse 11, he goes on and starts saying this and diagnosing it for us. “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood, for on the basis of it’s the people receive the law.” It’s showing we got the law through this, from the priesthood. This is important, “But if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there for another priest to rise according to the order of Melchizedek?” Why would Moses even bring this up?
“And not be designated according to the order of Aaron.” Well, he goes on from here and starts to explain it then in verses 12 to 25. He starts off with the identity of Jesus because if you were to represent this, say, to the Jewish nation, the Hebrew people, and the idea of priesthood, this is a very offensive thought because the priesthood was very special in the identity of who they are. This is 1400 years of tradition being written by the time Hebrews is written. What do you mean the priesthood has been replaced? How in the world could Jesus become that? Jesus wasn’t even a Levite, man. When you have a priest from the Old Testament becoming our priest, he has to be a Levite.
So he starts to answer that question. “For when the priesthood is changed of necessity, there takes place a change of law also.” So he’s saying, “Yes, there is a change in the priesthood, but it’s also because the law has been completely eradicated really.” He starts to get into this idea of law and priesthood and where it fits together. We’ll elaborate on it a little bit more next week. But then he goes on and says this, “For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe for which no one has officiated at the altar.” Jesus, yes, does in fact belong to a tribe that has never officiated at the altar. It’s the Levites who go there.
“For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning the priests.” That’s you’re right, Jesus isn’t a Levite. He goes on. “This is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek who has become such on the basis of a law of physical requirement but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of him, you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” So they’re saying, “Yes, Jesus doesn’t fall under the idea of being a priest under the Old Testament law because the Old Testament law has been fulfilled in Jesus.” Jesus isn’t obligated to have to live under the obligations or isn’t obligated under this law anymore because he’s fulfilled it all. Now we’re under what the Bible calls the new covenant.
The old covenant fulfilled in Jesus now puts us under the new covenant and Jesus no longer needing to live out the Levitical priesthood is able to go back to the Melchizedek priesthood, which is the priesthood that has endured forever. It’s meeting them where they are and communicating to them what they need. Then it begins to show us now that it’s shared the significance of Jesus in this position. It starts to show us where the old system falls short in verse 18. Look what it says. It says, “For on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness. For the law made nothing perfect. And on the other hand, there’s bringing in of a better hope through which we draw near to God.”
What it’s saying to us about the law, the law can’t save you. The law can’t rescue you. We’ll talk about some of the details of the verses in scripture next week. But I can tell you, here’s what the law does. The law will either show you how desperate you are for Jesus, which it’s intended to. Or it will make you incredibly arrogant. If you read Matthew chapter 23, you see Jesus talking to the Pharisees. It’s called the Woe chapter of the Bible. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and he delivers seven or eight woes in this chapter, depending on how you break it down. But he’s saying to the Pharisees, “Woe are you. Woe are you.” And he delivers to them why. He says, “On the outside, you look completely clean, but on the inside, it’s dead.” You need to let God cleanse the inside before you have any concern about the outside.
They looked at this law system and they thought before God they could bring their righteousness and it made them very arrogant in their behavior. That’s why Jesus continued to preach against the Pharisees because until they see their need for God, they’re never going to bow their knee and cry out to God for salvation. The law tends to do one of two things, it puts you in a place of desperation knowing you need rescued because you can’t live up to those standards. Or it makes you completely delusional and arrogant and thinking that you’re something special in being able to bring your righteousness before God, which you simply pose the question, What is it you’re going to give to God that he can’t do for himself?
But yet, what you see, he loves you even still. The idea of Melchizedek is a theme captured for us to demonstrate God that is pursuing you to bring you righteousness and peace. It’s saying to us the law in this passage, the law will make nothing perfect. What the law does is it demonstrates your need for Jesus. If you want a couple verses to look up this week, I’d tell you Galatians chapter 2 at the end of the chapter, the last six verses, chapter 16 to verse 21. Galatians chapter 5, the first six verses of chapter 5 or Romans chapter 7, the first 7 verses of Romans chapter 7. Just read through those verses and you’ll see the significance of the law.
In talking about the law, I want you do know being free from the law doesn’t mean you get to live like hell. Being free from the law that condemns us now, rather means that we’re free to live for the Lord. Because the law was never to show us how we’re living for God and demonstrating our own righteousness, the law was intended to show us our need for Jesus so that we surrender to him and find our freedom in him because of what he’s done for us. Finally, because of what he’s done, we can experience that relationship. Not only does it show the need for Melchizedek because of the lack in the law, but then it goes on and says this, “So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” This word covenant’s also the word testament. That’s why we refer to the Bible, New Testament, Old Testament or new covenant, old covenant.
He’s saying, “So much more also Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests on the one hand, existed in greater numbers,” talking about the Levitical priests because they were prevented by death from continuing. “But Jesus on the other hand, because he continues forever, holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he’s able to save forever those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Notice these dogmatic statements. By the way, I think in our language today, it’s not really a good idea to ever use nevers and forevers when you’re in a conversation with someone else about something they’ve done. When it comes to God, he’s the only one that’s ever absolute.
If you ever get in an argument with someone and you start off with, You never do this or you always do that? You’re already in a fight. Look out. That is not a good idea. Those should be considered curse words. Don’t talk like that with each other. But when it comes to God, this is a place of such absolute security, that this is the place your soul should find rest. You think about this picture. The author’s writing about the priest and he’s saying, Think about the priesthood. You go to this priest to represent you before God and it’s never enough. You have to always come back. He dies and they have to appoint new people and it goes on and on and on. It’s never enough. You walk out of the temple. You sin. You gotta come right back with another sacrifice. It takes you five minutes once you leave that place before your kids drive you nuts and you say something you probably shouldn’t and you gotta go back. Or at least you think something you shouldn’t.
Slow carriage in front of you. “Don’t they know how to drive that horse, four foot, eight inch axle? You need to get a smaller …” But he’s saying this perpetually over and over and over. The soul never finds peace. It’s always looking for that righteousness. Then, in steps Jesus, the savior of your soul, the righteous and peaceful king forever, forever. Jesus pursuing us. It goes on just these last couple verses. “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens who does not need daily like those high priests to offer up sacrifices first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this he did once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath which came after the law, appoints a son made perfect forever.” What’s it saying?
The Levitical priesthood was just a shadow. It was just a shadow of the greater one who is to come, not so you can run to man and trust in them, because they’re weak. They fall short. If you think about the other side of that high priest, they’re unholy. They’re not innocent. They’re defiled. They’re sinful. They’re imperfect. But Jesus is able to fulfill that position for you because he is perfect, showing the sufficiency of our Lord. The stories unfolded for us and the idea of Melchizedek, such an odd story. But Moses isn’t telling this all the way back in Genesis 14 just to give a random detail for no reason. He’s saying this all the way back in Genesis 14 because clear back in the first book of the Bible, he’s seeing this grand story that God is unfolding for all of us in peace and righteousness through him.
It’s this greater theme. The Hebrew people, they understood it. They knew it all the way back in Genesis 14. Otherwise they wouldn’t have written again about Melchizedek in Psalm chapter 110. But they understand and saying this in Genesis 14, they understood throughout their history all the way into Psalm 110 that this is what this Melchizedek will do for them, this greater priest who is to come. Somewhere along the way, they got so fixated on the Levitical system that they got stuck in the tradition and they failed to see the greater picture for which Jesus would fulfill. Beautiful story. It’s the theme of what I think our church represents, to meet people where they are, to discover the significance of who Christ is in their own life and the power that he brings forever, once and for all, as it said in the previous verses, permanently.
When I think about this, I’m going to tie this here at the end. But when I think about all of this. I’ve used this series to go back into church history and usually talk about figures, but today I want to just close with this. This painting is one of the more earlier paintings we have of Jesus on record. It’s in the third and fourth century. They date it as early as when the church is still being persecuted. Persecution lasted until the beginning of the fourth century. So this painting would have likely been painted or possibly I should say, been painted during the persecution of the early church.
You think about when Christianity began in the beginning. Began in the beginning. That’s what you do in the beginning. When Christianity began, it began really as a popular movement among slaves, among women, among children, because for the first time in their life, they see the value of who they are and the God who make them in their image. I see Christianity really just grow like wildfire. In that society, the majority of people, they’re illiterate. So how do you teach the stories that are important to show the significance of Christ? You draw pictures. If I just maybe added some color to what this painting is about, I just think in this day, the church is being persecuted and you think you want your kids to understand why you’re enduring this hardship and you want to share these stories, but the most of society around is illiterate. So you start to paint these paintings.
This is in the Roman catacombs. It’s under the ground. They would take their kids to the church underground and they would walk these halls. They would see these paintings. Through these paintings, it would start to tell the story of Jesus. These early paintings of Jesus that we have, there aren’t a lot of them in these first couple of centuries. When you see the stories that they’re painting, you start to think, okay, what stories make a difference in the lives of the early church? What mattered to them? The story they choose to paint is of the hemorrhaging woman that’s talked about in three of the four Gospels. This story, for me, is incredible because when this story starts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the chapters are up there. Jesus is on his way to raise a young girl that just died from the dead.
As he’s on this journey, the crowd presses around him. One of the people that come up to Jesus and touch him is a woman that’s been hemorrhaging for over a decade. The significance about understanding what would have happened in this culture when this woman comes up and touches him, is this woman by Old Testament law would have been considered unclean. For over a decade, every day of her life, she’s considered unclean. When she walks the streets, what she is supposed to do according to Levitical law, is to walk through the streets around people and continually shout, “Unclean. Unclean.” Because people are not allowed to get near her. If someone touches her, they risk becoming unholy.
This woman would have walked life for over a decade, lonely and broken. If she went out in public, if she chose to do that at all, walking the streets just shouting out unclean is that no one would get near her and defile themselves. And yet, she sees Jesus, the crowd pushing around. Welling up inside of her is just the possibility of what could happen if she could just get near him. This woman risks everything to run into that crowd and just touch his garment. If she’s caught in what she’s doing, she could be stoned because she is going to a holy man and touching him, risking defiling Jesus.
Again, the gospel isn’t just sharing this random for you because Jesus is on his way to heal this woman that’s dead, or this young girl that’s dead. This woman runs up to Jesus and she touches his garment and Jesus feels her presence. Jesus turns around to this woman and he loves on her, this interruption in his life. He loves on her. Here’s the importance of the story. Because under Levitical law, if the holy man had been touched, he would no longer have the power to continue to do the work of the ministry until he performed certain ritualistic cleansing. He couldn’t have gone and raised this dead girl, this power would have been eliminated.
But yet, not only does Jesus heal this hemorrhaging woman as her priest and king, he then leaves that moment and goes on to this dead girl and brings her back to life. Why is that story so important for us? It’s showing you the limitless power of Christ. Nothing defiles him. Religious law tends to do two things. It either makes us arrogant or it shows us the despair and need that we have in Christ. The story of this woman really ties back to the identity of Jesus’ priest and king saying to all of us, Jesus is limitless in his power. In the midst of her risking everything, Christ was love.
Saying to us this morning and thinking about Hebrews chapter 5, 6, 7, what do you hold onto? What prevents you in your life from just coming to Christ and saying, “You know what, Jesus? I’m sick of me. I’ve lived for myself. I’ve had enough of that. I found over and over as I’ve dipped into those wells, they do not satisfy. God, I give up on me today and I’m risking everything, pushing into this crowd and just grabbing a hold of you. Are you enough?” The end of Hebrews says this to us. Forever, permanently, Jesus is more than enough for you.