What is worship? And why do we worship? Is it because we will lose our place in the community unless we come to church? Or is worship something else? What is involved in worship? And why does worship seem so boring so much of the time? What is wrong? I suggest that what is wrong is that we do not have a proper understanding of what worship is. As a result of not having a proper understanding of what worship is, we do not value it as highly as we should. So how can we regain a proper view of worship? Well, Melchizedek can help us here. Let’s study Melchizedek, and learn what worship is.
Abram has just returned from recapturing Lot. In the process, he rescued Bera, king of Sodom, along with all those possessions. Since the four kings were routed, it was obvious that they would not have had time to pick up their spoils and flee with them. So they had to leave the spoils on the ground, allowing Abram to simply pick them up off the ground.
When Abram comes back, he is met by two kings: Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem. These two kings could not be more unlike each other. The king of Sodom is only interested in the politics of the situation, whereas the king of Salem is interested in worship. The king of Sodom says to Abram, “Give me the people, and take the spoil for yourself.” The king of Salem says to Abram, “Blessed be Abram and blessed be God.” The king of Sodom is interested in being one of Abram’s physical benefactors, whereas the king of Sodom is interested in the relationship of Abram to God. We can easily see which is more important.
So let’s look a little closer at Melchizedek. The name means “king of righteousness.” And the city Salem means “peace.” It is important to realize here that most scholars say that Salem is an early title of Jerusalem itself. So Melchizedek is king of Jerusalem. The name Jerusalem itself means “city of peace.” So we see in Melchizedek that righteousness and peace meet each other. This is true of Christ as well, especially as Jesus is our priest and king. Just as Melchizedek was priest of the most high God and king of Salem, so also Jesus is our priest and king. Furthermore, Melchizedek is also a a prophet, since he pronounces a blessing on Abram. So also is Christ our prophet, as Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
There are other similarities between Melchizedek and Christ as well. Notice that Melchizedek just appears on the scene. We haven’t seen him before, and we don’t see him again. In a book full of genealogies, the genealogy of Melchizedek is not mentioned. In the book of Hebrews, Paul makes a great deal out of these things. From the fact that there is no genealogy listed, Paul comes to the conclusion that Melchizedek is portrayed as an eternal priest. Paul contrasts this eternal priest Melchizedek with the mortal priests that come from the Levites. In verse 23, for instance, Paul must have been smiling when he wrote this verse: those poor priests just kept getting themselves disqualified from the office of priesthood by dying in office! But Melchizedek doesn’t ever end his priesthood. That is why Paul quotes Psalm 110:4: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” If a person is a priest forever, that means that the priest would have to live forever. That points us to the resurrection. In verse 8, Paul mentions the fact that “He lives.” That is referring to Jesus.
When Christ went to the cross, the righteousness of God poured out on sin was laid on Christ. And that righteousness poured out on Christ was done so that we might have peace with God. Our sin produces strife between God and man. So God decided to end that strife by sacrificing His own Son on the cross. That was for us. So Melchizedek shows us Christ. And in showing us Christ, who is our prophet, priest and king, Moses also shows us who we are to be: a kingdom of priests. From the beginning Adam was supposed to separate the good from the evil, just like a priest separates the holy from the unholy. Christ did that to perfection. He separates the sheep from the goats. And so are we now to separate good from evil and so be priests. The Reformation has always emphasized the priesthood of all believers. We do not need any Mediator but Jesus Christ. We do not need to pray to the saints, or to Mary. Jesus has opened the way for us to worship directly in God’s very presence. Jesus has consecrated us all as priests. That is why Paul says in Hebrews 13:15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” and again in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your logical act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Do you see that we are priests, and that everything we do is to be a priestly sacrifice? This is not in order to earn God’s favor, but because we already have God’s favor. It is an act of worship. Can you see how all-encompassing worship is in the Christian life? Everything is to be done to the honor and glory of God alone. We are to offer up ourselves in service to God, for that is the only logical thing to do, as Paul says. So the train of thought that begins in Melchizedek’s priesthood ends in our priesthood. That is why we looked so long at this priesthood. We are priests now after the order of Melchizedek, having been made priests by Jesus Christ, and His high-priestly activity.
So what does all this mean for us? Why is it important that we are priests? Well, it means that our job is to worship God. We have seen that everything that we do is a priestly sacrifice. It means that we must be people of prayer. A priest is a mediator between God and man. That is exactly what prayer is. So do you pray for other people, or do you just pray for yourself? When you pray for other people, do you pray earnestly, knowing that God uses prayers as His instruments? Do you realize that your prayers are a sacrifice to God, that it is like incense on the altar? Indeed, John in the book of Revelation explicitly calls the prayers of the saints “incense.” They go up to God, and He smells them, as it were, and is pleased to use them. This means that we are especially to be in prayer for those who do not know Jesus. We are to be mediators for them. God exercises grace on those especially for whom we have been praying. This is a marvelous and usually underestimated ministry.
Do you really believe in the power of prayer? Surely you would not want to be cut off from communicating with your spouse or children. Then why would you want to be cut off from speaking with God? Is it because you are uncomfortable in prayer? Maybe you feel that it is merely a performance when you pray. Instead, you should think about the fact that you are talking directly to God. You are in His throne room, and are kneeling at His feet. All too often, we think (especially when we pray in front of other people) that we are to perform for the benefit of others. This is not a good thing. We are to pray fervently directly to God. He is our most important audience when we pray.
Another aspect of the fact that we are priests is that we must take care of our bodies. This does not always come to our minds when we think of worship. However, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Do we do things that are harmful to it? Is that activity going to hamper my worship of the one true God? These are questions that we should ask of everything that we do with our bodies. Again, as Paul says, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Some activities that may not be sins in and of themselves can get in the way of our worship. We should ask the question: does my smoking or drinking prevent me from worshipping God properly? What about over-work? That is hard on the body as well. We are to be good stewards of our bodies. We should most certainly not engage in illegal sexual behavior either. If we are part of God’s church, then we are married to Christ, being part of the bride of Christ. So Christ does not want us to be united to a prostitute.
Let’s take a look at another interesting aspect of our text. Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth part of the spoils. What does this mean? It means that Melchizedek is a more important person than Abram. Paul again says in Hebrews that the more important person always is the person to bless the less important person. And Melchizedek blesses Abram. Furthermore, Abram gives a tenth part of the spoils. This is a tithe. Jesus Christ is our first-fruits, just as Abram gave the first-fruits of the spoil to Melchizedek. Jesus is the first part of the harvest of righteousness that occurs in the resurrection from the dead. So also we have assurance of the resurrection from this passage.
But also, it means that we are to give tithes to Jesus, who is the Melchizedekian high-priest. We should give joyfully, for God loves a cheerful giver. We should not cheat God, because God has promised that the more we give to Him, the more He will bless us. God will not let us, His children, have any lack. God always provides. Now, I have been corrected with regard to giving a tenth part of the gross income. That simply does not work for farmers. But do you consider giving a tenth part of your net income? If you want a good yardstick on how much to give, a tenth is a good place to start. Malachi promises that if we bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, God will pour out so much blessing that we will not have room enough for it.
How do we see tithes? Do we see them as an act of worship, like everything else in the service? Or is this merely a break, a “seventh-inning stretch?” I would encourage us to see it as an act of worship. We have said that everything we do in life should be worship. That is what we were created to do.
Let me say just one word about missions in this context. John Piper once said that missions exists because worship doesn’t. That is a profound thought. The mission of the church is to spread God’s kingdom and thus to produce by God’s grace more worshippers of God. Instead of being idolaters, we invite them to become worshippers of the one true God.