He is able to save completely
Some parts of the Bible are more difficult to understand than others. Parts of the Book of Revelation for example, maybe some of Paul’s thought in the book of Romans and this bit of Hebrews dealing with Melchizedek. The clue is to think of the writer addressing Jews who had become Christians. The context is Judaism. It is not Greek or Roman thought and certainly not contemporary European philosophy or ideas. Melchizedek appears in Genesis 14 and in Psalm 110. His name means King of righteousness, King of peace. Salem means peace. Jerusalem is ‘City of peace’. Far from it you might say looking at its history and its present strife ridden disposition. In Genesis 14 Abraham meets Melchizedek who appears rather like those angelic visitors in the Bible who inspired the phrase ‘entertaining angels unaware’. Devout Christians have that in mind when they meet a person in unusual circumstances, that this may be the Lord Himself in disguise. Jesus taught so himself. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘ For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Melchizedek blessed Abraham. He had a priestly role in his society though he did not belong to the People of God as such. He recognised the presence and power of Abraham’s God and acknowledged him. The Jewish priesthood began with the priesthood of Aaron, Moses’ older brother. Aaron was the very first High Priest of Judaism. Psalm 110 links Melchizedek with the future Messiah. Why? Because Aaron’s priesthood was central to Judaism whereas Melchizedek’s priesthood was outside Judaism, a one off, representing the spiritual and eternal priesthood of Jesus. And that is what the writer of Hebrews wants to stress – that Jesus’ priesthood is separate from the priestly cult of Judaism. This is what the text ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’ means. If you were Jewish this would make a lot of sense. We just have to try to see the point and move on.
The whole sacrificial system of Judaism has been set aside since Jesus. It didn’t work anyway. The prophets had spoken out against it. The Book of Isaiah begins with the admonition. "What are the multitude of your sacrifices to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. We are familiar with David’s Psalm of repentance – Psalm 51. ‘You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’.
The prophetic tradition and the synagogue communities in the time of Jesus were set against the Temple cult with its sacrifices of animals. They were like Protestants against Catholics at the time of the Reformation. Today the Free Church in Scotland thinks of the Church of Rome and the Church of Scotland as greater and lesser Babylon. The Christian Brethren consider the established churches of Scotland and England to be in error as well of course as the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus has set the entire history of Jewish sacrificial worship and cult at nought. By his own self-sacrifice he rendered the whole thing obsolete. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. He is able to save completely.
Do you wonder if you are really saved? I sometimes say to God ‘I hope I can get a cheap seat in heaven’. When I think about disappointment and failure in my ministry I sometimes wonder if indeed I am saved. Here is a wonderful reassurance. He is able to save completely. Salvation in Jesus Christ is not partial. It is not a percentage game. It is not a shaky foundation. It is not uncertain sound. 'For I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.' Certainty of faith is not easily come by. We never want to be like some Christians who are obnoxiously assured of their salvation and yet who lack empathy with others. Paul was always telling new Christians not to get carried away with themselves and be gracious towards others especially non-Christians. It is true that in the Church of Scotland there have been many people who have not be pleasant people to know. They have also been successful in becoming prominent. The leaders of some of the great mega churches of America are fulsome egotists, largely domineering and some have become very rich. It was said of a former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow Scanlon that he was a most unfriendly and obtuse man. Father McNulty I have been told could be very unpleasant - even to his own people. But we never really know others and who they are before God. And that is what matters for complete salvation.
The writer of Hebrews points out that all the priests of Judaism died normally and naturally at the end of their earthly lives. Jesus, however lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Our faith constitutes a living relationship which will never die. Our Saviour is alive eternally. Not only so but he lives to intercede for us. Jesus Christ is still doing good. Jesus in heaven is still pastorally supporting and helping his people. It is a wonderful thought. Jesus is the mediator, the Prince of Peace, the dynamic direct connection for us with our Maker. In John’s Gospel one of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to be our advocate – our defence lawyer. The accuser is Satan. He makes the case against us, all that we have got wrong in life, our unworthiness for the company of God. Maybe your conscience is your accuser. Maybe sometimes it burns within you like acid. But Jesus is the balm, the antidote, the pacifier, the healer. He takes your side and presents your side of the argument. The little book of Jude ends with some of the loveliest words in the New Testament. 'To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy'.. Do you think the Lord will do that for you? That is the Good news of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 7 of Hebrews comes to a conclusion with the clarion cry of the Reformation. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. This was a departure from the Roman Catholic teaching that the Mass is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ and that the priest stands in the place of Christ at each Mass. The Protestant ministry is a teaching role, a serving role, a pastoral role. Our celebration of Holy Communion is a memorial to and a remembrance of Jesus dying and a collective witness of and to his resurrection. We do this together as one with another. Atheists point critically to the crudity of God’s need for sacrifice at all. What kind of God needs the sacrifice of anyone, his own son as Christians claim, they say. To that we answer it is God himself who makes the sacrifice on our behalf in the person of His Son Jesus. There is a need for atonement, for redemption, for recompense, for restitution caused by human sin and wrong doing. Christianity offers a higher standard to judge human conduct by. But it is our Maker who makes up the difference between our lives and living and what even we know we might have and could have been.
The headline in Wednesday’s Scotsman newspaper was HUMANIST WEDDINGS KNOCK KIRK OFF MARRIAGE TOP SPOT In 2015 humanist celebrants carried out 4290 wedding services, The Church of Scotland carried out 4052. The Humanist Society of Scotland’s chief executive Gordon MacRae is quoted saying ‘The move towards humanist celebrations shows more and more people in Scotland are opting for a rational and empathetic approach to life’. By ‘rational’ he means not believing in an unseen God, not believing in Jesus Christ and any need for redemption and salvation because there is no life after death and not acknowledging any particular code of conduct in personal values. By ‘empathetic’ he means that humanist celebrations of marriage are tailor made to the precise wishes of the couple in which they and not God are the centre of the proceedings. Humanist weddings can take place anywhere the couple wish. They are not confined to a Church. They can have any music they want, not just hymns and appropriate worship music for Church. The couple can say what they want to each other in the vows they make. They do not have to conform to the pattern of Christian expectation.
How do we answer this? The article notes at the end that there were also 1438 Roman Catholic weddings in Scotland in 2015 making 5490. If we add some more for the other Christian Churches in Scotland, there were many more Christian weddings in Scotland than humanist weddings. But the trend indicates a turning away for God, from Christ, from Christianity and from the Churches. In place has not become the wonderful idyllic God free society that humanists preach. There are greater numbers of mental health issues among young people, more numerous deaths from drugs and alcohol, more family breakdowns, more loneliness in later years. There is much crudeness in society measured by the appalling and aggressive language that we encounter in any public place. There are terrible unimaginable crimes being committee in our midst. There are more tortured souls, lost and alienated from even themselves than ever in our land. We have made gods of one another and politicians more so than most. The SNP are showing worrying tendencies towards despotism and totalitarianism. They do not promote or even commend Christianity. They do not point the people of Scotland to the healing spaces of spiritual Christianity.
But Christianity has always sprung back against the odds. There is every chance of revival in the future. It may not even be that far away. There may be return to the churches. But we will need the extraordinary power of Christ’s resurrection for that to happen. Meanwhile let us rejoice in these fine words from Hebrews.
He is able to save completely.