THEMES: Fifth Sunday in Lent: A Forward-Looking Faith; The Priest Like Melchizedek; Hope for the Troubled Soul

A Forward-Looking Faith

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Real faith looks forward. While the people of God are told to remember what he has done for them in the past, no real progress can be made by staring into the rearview mirror.

Jeremiah tells his contemporaries “a time is coming.” He helped them look forward to a time in the future when their condition would improve.

Jeremiah promised a new covenant. The new covenant would face the people forward and help them live life as it came toward them.

In the book Unfinished Business, Halford Luccock told a story of the little town of Flagstaff, Maine. The town was to be flooded as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built.

I. Forward-Looking Faith Is Based on the Nearness of God

Jeremiah’s description is arresting. God would set aside the old covenant.

In its place God would give his people a new covenant. Its foundation would not be on written laws and regulations.

The Lord would put his spirit directly into the hearts of people. It would be based on his nearness.

How do we think about that new covenant?
A baby bird was heard to ask its mother, “Mother, what is air?” To this she made no reply, but spread her wings and flew. A baby fish asked its mother, “Mother, what is water?” She made no reply, but swished her tail and swam. A baby ant asked its mother, “Mother, what is dirt?” She made no reply, but stretched her legs and dug the burrow a little deeper. A child in a nursery asked her mother, “Mother, what is love?” She made no reply, but picked up the child and hugged her.

Like water to a fish; like air to a bird; like dirt to an ant; like love to a child—such is the presence of God to those who love him.

II. Forward-Looking Faith Comes Naturally

The covenant described by Jeremiah was natural and internal. People were not forced to learn of God. Instead, they knew God naturally. This does not mean that disciplined study of religious matters is useless. It simply means that God wants to be known by people everywhere. God has given knowledge of himself to everyone, as we can see from Romans 1:20.

This comes about as we give ourselves to God through Christ. Knowing God this way establishes us and strengthens us. In times of trouble we will already have a relationship with God that we can count on.

Aesop told this old story. A wild boar was busily whetting his tusks against a tree in the forest when a fox came by. “Why are you wasting your time in this manner?” asked the fox. “Neither a hunter nor a hound is in sight, and no danger is at hand.” “True enough,” replied the boar, “but when the danger does arise, I shall have something else to do than to sharpen my weapons.”

III. Forward-Looking Faith Results in Forgiveness

Jeremiah 31:34 is a most comforting passage: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (NIV). Gaining God’s forgiveness is not a matter of following minute rules or loathsome regulations. It is knowing and trusting God. That trust can help us walk through incredible times.

Christ calls us to a faith that looks forward. Which way are you facing?

The Priest Like Melchizedek
Hebrews 5:5-10

The fifth chapter of Hebrews compares the human high priest of the Jews with Jesus Christ, the high priest of the Christians.

The early verses of the chapter point out that the office of high priest calls for one with the following two qualifications:

he must be from among men; and he must be by divine appointment. Verses 5-8 show us how Jesus meets these qualifications.

I. Melchizedek Modeled Priesthood

The story of Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the most high God, is a fascinating story. He is a shadowy figure, appearing suddenly without any parentage mentioned. He appears once and is gone. His bringing forth wine and bread is seen as symbolic.

Chapter 7 of Hebrews states his case most poetically: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (v. 3).

Melchizedek was the first priest of Almighty God, and his priesthood was the model for that of Christ “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (For more references, see Gen. 14:17-20; Ps. 110:4 ; Heb. 5, 6, and 7.)

II. Jesus Is a Priest After the Order of Melchizedek

Our sermon passage is bracketed by the tantalizing phrase describing Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. In what way is Jesus like this priest?

It is true that Aaron was also a priest by divine appointment, so what was the distinctiveness of this early priest?

The ancient commentary presents Melchizedek as a one-of-a-kind priest; that is why the enigmatic reference of his lack of a father or mother. His was a divine appointment in a time and in a place when men scarcely knew what to make of the God he served. There was no priest before him; there was no priest of his line after him; he was a one-of-a-kind priest.

In like manner was Jesus a priest; no priest like him before or after, while Aaron founded a line of priests stretching centuries.

There is another aspect of similarity between Melchizedek and Jesus: the nature of their priesthood. The priesthood of Aaron was for the offering of animal sacrifice, the fulfilling of the legal system of atonement.

Melchizedek’s priesthood was a ministry of encouragement and the offering of the bread and wine, symbols of the sacrifice of Christ, the perfect, complete, and final atonement for sin. Now the system of animal sacrifice presided over by Aaron ceased, but the ministry of the bread and wine, the sacrifice of Christ, shall never cease.

Thus, while Aaron and Melchizedek were both priests appointed by the Lord, the priesthood of Melchizedek is lasting, while that of Aaron is not.

One further aspect of the priesthood of Melchizedek worthy of comment is this: Melchizedek combined both the kingly and the priestly functions; he was king of Salem, king of peace, as well as the priest of the Most High.

III. Jesus Is Our Eternal High Priest

In verses 7 and 8, the humanity of Jesus is emphasized. The priest was a representative of the people; he was among the people and one of them. Indeed, when he offered sacrifice, he first offered sacrifice for his own sins. Such was his identification with humanity. The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15 NKJV). The full experience of humanity, including temptation, was tasted by Jesus.

In these verses we are told that Jesus offered up prayers and supplications (pleas for help in calamity and prayers for definite requests). An old Jewish saying on ascending levels of prayer tells us that there is, first, the level of silent prayer, then crying out in prayer with raised voice, and finally prayer with tears, against which no door can be barred. We see Jesus at all these levels of prayer as we reflect on the all-night vigils and the experience in Gethsemane.

In a phrase hard to understand, this passage also tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the things that he suffered. Jesus, in his humanity, gradually learned the full extent of the Father’s will, and put his will in subjection to that will, as we are told in Gethsemane.

So Jesus is the great High Priest forever. High Priest by divine appointment, with a higher and more noble ministry of bread and wine, spilt blood and mangled body, than Aaron ever dreamed. Jesus is the High Priest who, in his link with humanity, gains the victory over death for all, and is able to sympathize with us all. He understands our struggles and trials, because he has been there. (Earl C. Davis)

Hope for the Troubled Soul
John 12:20-33

Jesus concludes his public ministry and announces that his hour has come.

Even Gentiles seek this rabbi, perplexing his followers. Jesus explanation is to announce his death as a part of God’s greater plan.

What could be gained by dying?

Jesus answer: the conquering of evil and the salvation of the world! Even now, in retrospect, the significance of what Christ did, and what Christ does, staggers our understanding.

I. The World Is Slow to Recognize the Need for God

This text precedes the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ.

The world is ready to nail Jesus to a tree. Both the religious leaders and Jesus followers will conclude that his ministry ends at the cross.

They will think him finished, but God is not finished.

By Christ’s death God’s power is revealed.

The world of Christ’s day needed Jesus as does the world today.

The irony of the crucifixion is that a world that quickly judges and condemns discovers its own salvation is at risk.
The One who seemed powerless was the one power on whom the world depended.

The world is slow to recognize its need for God.

II. The World Is Slow to Recognize the Power of God

Evil has met its match in the power of the Christ. John’s Gospel emphasizes that “the ruler of this world will be driven out” (v. 31). Christ’s power comes in his obedience unto death.

As is true with one seed that falls to the ground and brings forth abundant life, Christ’s death yields abundant living for those who follow the Way.

What a contradiction is the power of God!

God’s Spirit brings life to the womb of an unassuming virgin.

God’s Son is revealed in the humility of a lowly manger.

Christ’s power over death is revealed through the agony of the crucifixion.

The Resurrection is announced to the least likely group of witnesses, female followers who were not apostles.

At the Ascension, Jesus announces the gospel mission to the world in the presence of an enormous crowd: eleven disciples.

God, in power and wisdom, chooses those whom the world would ignore. Through the least likely of persons, the sacred mystery of God’s love is revealed.

III. There Is Hope for the Troubled of Soul

Jesus was willing to take up his cross. He did not succumb to self-satisfaction, personal desire, or his own long-range goals.

Wanting to avoid suffering is human nature.

Christ has shown that suffering can be redemptive. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (v. 27).

The glory of God is revealed through the life yielded to God’s purpose. This truth is so significant and yet so elusive.

There is blessing and joy in stepping out in faith through generous giving and gracious living.

There is hope for those who despair.

There is hope for those who are faithful and yet see no fruit of their labour.

There is hope for those who truly want to be freed from addiction.

There is hope for those who follow the way of Christ without visible reward.

This is the hope that we proclaim in Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again!

Amen!