St Andrew’s Croydon
26th October 2003
Year B Week 30
Melchizedek – A Bible Detective StoryTwo of the great lay theologians of the Twentieth Century were also two of our greatest detective story writers. Dorothy L. Sayers whose hero was Lord Peter Wimsey, and G.K. Chesterton who wrote about Father Brown.
They’re not the only Christian detective-story writers either. Ann Atkins, P.D. James and Susan Howatch spring immediately to mind.
So what is it, one wonders, that makes this curious alliance of interests?
The answer, I believe, is that both disciplines, the detective and the theologian centre around the process of looking for clues and following them up.
Detectives are into the business of looking out for the clues which the thief or murderer or blackmailer has left behind. He then tries to pull all these together until he has a picture in his mind of the way the crime was committed and the sort of person who would be likely to have done it. Finally he questions witnesses that is people who were there at the time the crime was committed or who can tell him something about the suspect – what sort of person is he or she, where was he at the time the crime was committed.
Now theology – the study of God – is in some ways a remarkably similar process. The theologian gathers together all the clues that he can muster, fits them together as best he can, and forms some idea in his mind about the sort of Person he is dealing with, namely God. He then goes on from there to ask witnesses who claim to have encountered God in some way and at some time or another in their lives and asks them to tell him all they know about God.
There is, of course, one great difference between the detective and the theologian. The thief does his best to hide all the clues which might lead to his detection, and such clues as the detective finds are the ones which he has left behind accidentally. By contrast, the theologian is looking for clues which God has deliberately planted with the precise intention that they should lead the enquiring Christian directly to him. That is the process called revelation and it is a fact that we should know nothing useful about God were it not for the fact that he has revealed himself to us – "at different times and in various ways" as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us in Chapter One Verse One.
Now if we read a little further in the Epistle we shall come across a whole section dedicated to a person called Melchizedek. And it is about Melchizedek that I want us to do some detective-work this morning.
Who was he? Well the Book of Genesis tells us that Abraham, who was the first person recorded as having faith in the One God in whom we believe, and therefore became "the Father of all that believe"; this same Abraham went to the rescue of a number of his neighbouring kings who had been taken captive, along with his nephew, Lot, by some local warmongers. There was a great battle in which Abraham was victorious, and Lot and the kings were set free from their captors.
Then, suddenly, we are told that another king, called Melchizedek King of Salem came out to meet Abraham, returning from the battle with the kings. Genesis tells us nothing about the man himself, where he was born or who his parents are, but it does tell us a number of very interesting things about him which give us a number of clues about his true significance. This is what Genesis tells us:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine> He was priest of God Most High, and he pronounced this blessing on Abram:
Blessed be Abram by God Most High
Creator of heaven and earth
And blessed be God Most High
Who has delivered your enemies into your power
Abram gave him a tenth of all he possessed.
Well, there are a great many clues in that single passage aren't there?
He brought forth bread and wine. That should make us prick up our ears immediately.
He was priest of God most High
His name Melchizedek means literally King of Righteousness
He was King of Salem which literally means King of Peace
Abram paid him a tithe (a tenth) to Melchizedek. This tenth was traditionally was the proportion of their wealth which God's people were (and still are) expected to give to their Creator and Saviour as his due. Abraham, who had been the rescuer, might have been expected to receive a reward from those whom he had saved.
Melchizedek blessed Abraham, even though Abraham was the victorious Chief of God's People and might therefore have been expected to give, rather than receive, the Blessing.
It shouldn't surprise us then that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, whose whole theme is the fact that everything written in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, should "major" as they say, on these clues surrounding Melchizedek. In Jesus we have our new and great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, the author tells us. He even goes further to point out that Genesis, which makes a special point of telling its readers the ages of the people it is describing, who their ancestors were, and how old when they died, should be entirely silent on all three of these matters in the case of Melchizedek and comes to the conclusion that he had therefore pre-figured Jesus Christ in this respect as well. For as Psalm 110 says of the victorious Messiah:
The Lord swore and will not repent: you are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek.
The writer to Hebrews insists therefore that these clues all point towards the fact that the coming of Jesus Christ to be our saviour was pre-figured in the person of Melchizedek. In other words God has planted clues in the Old Testament which are designed to reveal what he was proposing to fulfil in the New.
It's small wonder, then, that those people who study their Bibles carefully, and especially with the help of a good commentary, and carefully follow up our Lord's commandment to "do this" with Bread and Wine should be the very people who find that their faith in God, and in his Son Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, is strengthened by doing what he tells us to. In searching the Scriptures they are actively searching for the clues which God has provided us, like good detectives, and find themselves unearthing his treasures one after another throughout their lives. The clues never cease till we stop looking for them.
By contrast, those who never open the Bible from one year's end to another, and even those who hear it read in Church Sunday by Sunday but never think about its meaning, are likely to miss the whole point about what God is saying to them. Unlike the good Christian detective, who actively looks for and follows up every single clue, and so is able to solve the Mysteries of God and discover the Treasures which he has planted for us to discover, those who fail to look for the clues shouldn't be too surprised if their search for God leads to their finding precisely nothing!
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