Don’t you get that tingling feeling?
When I was in my twenties I used to go to a Christian retreat centre in the Yorkshire Dales every school holiday to help with jobs around the site or take part in youthwork. On one occasion when we arrived, we were invited to join the end of a week-long series of Bible studies on Hebrews and ‘The Order of Melchizedek’. The lady leading the Bible study was incredibly passionate about what she was teaching and mentioned several times, ‘Don’t you get that tingling feeling?’ I would just smile and carry on listening. Clearly, I had missed something. At the end of the study, a friend at the centre, who we often called ‘Chippy’ grinned at me and asked, ‘Well, did you get that tingling feeling?’ Once again I smiled, my eyes glazed over, I nodded yes, but my mouth was much more honest and admitted, ‘No, not really.’ Since that time, I have wondered about what was so great about Jesus being a ‘High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek’ and when this passage came up in the Lectionary, I thought I would find out more about it.
I searched the Old Testament but there is not much mentioned about him. In Genesis 14 we learn that Melchizedek was the king of Salem and was the priest of God Most High (Genesis 14 v 18). He also blessed Abram (Abraham) after Abram had rescued his Nephew, Lot and in doing so, served as a mediator between Abram and God. Melchizedek is mentioned again in Psalm 110 when the Psalmist declares that the Messiah will be ‘a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek,’ (Psalm 110 v 4). His priesthood order will have an eternal value. It was also a priesthood which was separate from the Levitical line of priests which had, throughout the Old Testament, compromised its faith with the Lord.
For many religions, including Judaism and some Christian denominations, the priest acts as an intermediary between God and people. Priests will offer sacrifices to God or gods on behalf of the people to ask for God’s favour or for forgiveness. In Old Testament times, the priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the central part of the temple once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer a sacrifice to God on behalf of the people of Israel. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and he had to perform purification rites before entering himself. It was a dangerous duty entering the Holy of Holies because if the priest was not purified properly he could die in the presence of God. For this reason, bells were attached to him so that if the bells stopped ringing the priests outside would know and pull him out (presuming he had died) by a chord attached to his foot. The high priest would perform this dangerous duty to meet with God and sacrifice a lamb for the sins of the people. He was Israel’s representative before God.
But in the New Testament we have one Great High Priest, Jesus, and he is our priest for ever just as Psalm 110 says. Jesus is a unique high priest because he is both fully God and fully human. As Jesus is fully God, it is God himself who makes the sacrifice on the cross and provides salvation to his people. But he also became one of us himself. Chapter 4 verse 15 states that Jesus is able to sympathise with our weaknesses and temptations but remained without sin. Jesus is fully human and in that way he was able to represent us in the sacrifice he made on the cross. Jesus took the punishment for my sins and for your sins on the cross so that you and I can come into the Father’s presence without fear and without bells or ropes attached. Jesus is our intermediary who brings us into God’s presence. In fact, he goes further and sends his Holy Spirit to dwell in us to guide and help us. All this may or may not make us feel tingly but certainly feel moved and I want to thank Jesus for what he has done for us.
It is comforting to know that Jesus is our high priest who knows what it is like to be you and me (Chapter 4 verse 15). He knows what it is like to go through your heartache, your distress, your temptations and every individual circumstance which you have endured. He even knows what it’s like to carry your sin because he carried it when he put it to death on the cross. But Jesus was tempted in every way, not just in some ways, but was without sin. It is worth mentioning that verses 8 and 9 of Chapter 5 do not suggest that Jesus was sinful or imperfect and then learned obedience. Instead, it refers to Jesus having a much harder calling than he had experienced before. Through his obedience, he became the perfect representative of humanity when he died on the cross. Jesus really understands us and he makes us acceptable to God. Therefore we can approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we can receive mercy and grace to help us in our times of need (Chapter 4 verse 16)
Jesus did everything to bridge the gap between God and humanity. We do not need any other priest or mediator to be a go-between for us. And that includes any religious leaders or personalities or even friends and family members. We all have our own relationships with God and our own direct access to God through the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice and we don’t need to make any sacrifices or try bargaining with God to win his favour. We may choose to sacrifice things in our lives which get in the way of our relationship with God or help us to develop our trust in him. But the offering Christ made for us on the cross has been the one sacrifice which brings us into God’s presence and we are told to hold firm to it and not drift away.
Did I find any tingling feeling while learning about Jesus being the Great High Priest in the order of Mechizedek? If I am honest not quite yet. But when I think about Jesus representing you and me personally when he gave himself as the sacrifice for us on the cross, I am filled with a sense of wonder, respect and gratitude. As the eternal Great High Priest, he does more than any high priest can do, he brings us into the very presence of God. And as we grow in our relationships with God, feelings will happen when they happen but we can always thank God for his love and saving grace.