23–29 December 2018.
From the perspective of organized religion, Jesus and Paul – the two greatest people in the New Testament – are both controversial figures.
Paul was the greatest theologian of the early church, the one who shaped the beliefs and doctrines of all Christianity and put the church on the right path to truly understanding God. It’s no accident that writings by Paul or about Paul make up the majority of the New Testament. But despite Paul’s wisdom and influence, his whole life long he suffered being constantly rejected by church people and even other disciples who constantly told Paul that he wasn’t a “real” or “official” pastor, apostle, or leader of the church.
Jesus faced this same problem. Early Christians worshipped Jesus as the Son of God and understood him to be the true high priest for the whole world, the one who serves and represents us in heaven and who connects us with God the Father. But people who knew about the traditions of organized Jewish religion attacked this idea and refused to accept Jesus as our priest. After all, they argued, Jesus didn’t meet any of the criteria to be a priest, he was never ordained into the priesthood, and he wasn’t even a Levite – the only Jewish tribe allowed to be priests. In the eyes of organized religion, Jesus didn’t count as a priest and could never be accepted as one.
This is the argument that the whole Letter to the Hebrews fights against. It’s true: Jesus was never officially accepted or recognized as a priest by Israel’s religious authorities. But that doesn’t mean Christ isn’t the greatest priest we have. Hebrews 3 argues that Christ doesn’t need recognition by religious authorities. He is God the Son, our true Mediator, called by God the Father and receiving his qualifications from the Father. Christ doesn’t need self-important religious officials to accept him, ordain him, or make him a priest. As v. 9 says, Jesus is already our perfect high priest and the source of our eternal salvation.
Pushing back against the temple and its standard understanding of ordained priesthood, in verses 6 and 10 the writer tells us that Jesus is indeed a priest, but in the order of Melchizedek. Before there was a temple, before there was Israel, before there was Moses or Aaron, before there was an organized religious community at all, Genesis 14 tells us about Melchizedek, a king and “priest of God Most High”, who blessed Abram and shared with him the holy elements of bread and wine. This early “communion service” that Melchizedek shares with Abram shows that real priests also exist outside the boundaries of the religious system. For the writer of Hebrews, even though the religious authorities never accepted or ordained Jesus as a priest, Jesus is still a priestly king like Melchizedek – and the greatest priest the world has.
Sadly, in the same way, we human beings still try so often to put our own limits on Christ’s work. We write out our own ideas and regulations describing the way we think Christ should act, and then think we can use those regulations to control or limit his love. But the good news is that Christ always breaks past the boundaries and limits we set for him, and he refuses to let our ideas or our church structures limit his loving work. That’s also the great news of Christmas. In the baby Jesus born at Christmas we see that God will let nothing hold him back from breaking into this world to be with us, to love us, to care for us, and to save us. God’s love pushes aside every obstacle, breaks every human regulation, and reaches out to changes our lives. That’s wonderful news!
In this Christmas season, may the unstoppable love of God bless you and your family, and fill your lives with his peace and joy!
Pastor Stephen Lakkis