In way of introduction… I have a love affair for what most critics view as terrible comedies. For example, my favorite movie of all time is an old Tom Hanks classic called, “The Burbs.” Additionally, John Cusack’s “Better Off Dead” and Weird Al’s “UHF” are among my favorites.
And while superhero flicks have recently become all the rage, it’s my humble opinion none compare to the epic 1999 disaster “Mystery Men.” Yes, the movie was a box-office flop loosing about 35 million dollars, but this tale about a group of lesser superheros who save the day with what can only be described as unimpressive powers is simply awesome.
I bring this up really for no other reason than to avoid plagiarism concerning the title of this mornings message for at the end of Genesis 14 we run into what can only be described as the “Mystery Man.” Aside from this we’re also going to talk about the importance of having a heart for the lost, as well as the underlying motivator behind our giving.
In order to set the stage, two Sundays ago we read about the first recorded war in Scripture. Five kings rebel against the rule of Chedorlaomer and his four nation coalition causing those in power to swoop into the region, put down the rebellion, and plunder the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Among the spoils we find Abram’s nephew Lot was also taken captive…
Genesis 14:13-16, “Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram. Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.”
While it’s easy to conclude Abram was moved to act out of love for “his brother Lot” you can’t help but notice there were other “people” he liberated as well. These people, like Lot, had been residents of Sodom and Gomorrah - which meant they were in all likelihood some very bad hombres. Back in Genesis 13:13, when Lot and Abram separated, Moses tells us “the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.”
What I find interesting is that before this war broke out and directly after God reiterated His promise that “all the land had been given to him and his descendants forever” Abram was exhorted to “arise and walk in the land through its length and its width” (Genesis 13:17).
There is no doubt, as Abram worked his way through the land, he witnessed the wickedness of the Canaanites, including those who lived in these notoriously pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And yet, upon seeing a tragedy befall these “sinners,” what does Abram do?
Does he stand idly by reasoning their awful plight was the result of divine judgment? Does Abram delight in their misfortunes seeing this situation as their just and due reward? No! If this had been his perspective he would have only saved Lot! Instead, Abram not only goes to rescue his brother, but he demonstrates kindness to everyone who’d been taken captive.
When we first looked at this text, we noted how this story presents a clear example as to how we’re to act when we catch word of a brother taken captive by sin. That said, I do believe there is another point to be made about how we’re to also view and relate to those who aren’t presently related to us (who aren’t part of the family of God).
It’s interesting to consider, but would Abram still have acted to save these people even if Lot had not been taken captive with them? I’m convinced he would have for two reasons:
He felt a responsibility… Since God had given him all the land, you can imagine Abram felt a natural responsibility to intervene and care for everyone who lived in his neighborhood. Sure the Canaanites were a wicked people (and there would come a day when God would judge them accordingly), but they were living on his block - seemingly entrusted to his care.
To demonstrate Grace! You can imagine Abram’s compassion was ultimately fostered by an appropriate perspective of himself in relation to those who lived throughout Canaan. Don’t forget Abram had been one of them… He had been a pagan idolater before God intervened and showed him grace! And because he’d done nothing to deserve this favor there was no way he could view himself as being fundamentally better than the Canaanite.
It’s sad, but so often adopting this “pilgrim” and “sojourner” mindset can cause the Christian to grow apathetic concerning the plight of the world around them. In our desire to remain pure and undefiled we can so easily fall prey to an “us” and “them” mentality. It’s as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” It’s sad, but he’s right in so many ways.
The problem with this perspective is that in adopting such a mindset (“us” and “them”) we quickly loose sight of an important reality… Yes! Christians are pilgrims simply passing through this life with heaven as our final destination; and yet, there is a reason God has specifically set up this journey to first carry us through this wicked world! Note: God’s purpose is not to snicker, judge, and pridefully sneer at those sinners heading to hell!
Sure, Abram’s heart was set on heaven, but his eternal focus didn’t cause him to become ambivalent as it pertained to the lost world around him. Until his walk with God took him home, Abram was living in a land filled with people God had given him to be responsible for and demonstrate grace to! The same reality is true for you and I.
While we might be pilgrims, it’s crucial we never forget the journey takes us through this fallen world for the purposes of shining the “Light of the World” into the darkness. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Whether it be your co-workers, neighbors, fellow soccer or PTA parents, your classmates, or for that matter your friends and family members, God has not placed these people in your land for you to condemn, look down upon, separate from, or judge! He’s placed them in your land so that you can demonstrate the same grace that transformed your life!
May we be a people so heavenly minded we take our time here on this earth seriously. Again in Matthew 28:18-20 we read that “Jesus came and spoke to His disciples, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore (this journey of faith who's destination is heaven) and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
Not to get to the cart before the horse, but I want to skip ahead a few verses and read to the end of the chapter so we can see what Abram does after he rescues these people…
Genesis 14:21-24, “Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich’ -- except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.’”
At great expense to his own person Abram rescues these people and what does he want in return? Absolutely nothing! What a demonstration of grace! Abram goes above and beyond to make sure everyone knew his kindness hadn’t been motivated by gain, fame, or even influence. Abram wants it known to all those in Sodom that he reached out to rescue them because that’s what God had called him to do… “I have raised my hand to the LORD!”
Please understand… When you seek to demonstrate grace to your fellow man it’s important you actually demonstrate grace… That your actions truly reflect Jesus - that your kindness comes without preconditions - that it’s literally no-strings-attached!
I know that seems like such an obvious point that it doesn’t need to be mentioned, but sadly this isn’t the case. Demonstrating real grace is really difficult. You see, unlike Abram, I have found that we attach subtle strings to our kindness even without realizing it… That we end up ministering to people as long as they meet some undefined set of benchmarks.
Seriously, think back to people you’re no longer reaching out to - people you’ve moved on from… Why did you reach that point where you gave up? If you’re honest the reason is that your service probably had a set of nonverbal conditions that person was no longer meeting.
Let me give you one example of many to illustrate what I’m saying… Has the Lord ever had your path cross with someone where you immediately thought, “They’re 316 people and they don’t even know it yet?” If you’ve ever had that experience what typically follows? Since pushing church right from the beginning feels a bit contrived and premature, you set your focus on practically ministering to their family with the goal of building a relationship. To do this you have them over for dinner. You invite their family to the park. You create a framework so that when you finally do invite them to church it’s not awkward.
Well… Let me ask… What typically happens if they choose not to come to church? While it might not be immediate, because there was this condition, you’ll no longer invest the same amount of time, energy, and effort into the relationship as you had before.
What’s terrible about this development is that it proves your friendship with that person was simply a means to an end. The motivator of your personal investment was to get that person to church as opposed to demonstrating to them the love and grace of Jesus.
I’m so glad this was not the way Christ approached His ministry to me… You see if you’re seeking to represent Jesus to the world around you it’s critical your love be unconditional and in many instances longsuffering so that it’s a love unwavering and reflective of Jesus!
Well… Following Abram’s victory, in addition to the King of Sodom coming out to greet him, we also read of another King doing the same - the mysterious Melchizedek.
Genesis 14:17-20, “And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.”
The way this text sets the scene is interesting… It would appear this “King of Sodom” comes out to greet Abram in the “Valley of Shaveh” only for this mysterious “Melchizedek” character to crash the party. Now before we address Abram’s interactions with Melchizedek, let’s begin by discussing the identity of this Mystery Man.
First, the name “Melchizedek” means “King of Righteousness.” Aside from that, we also know he was the “King of Salem” or literally the “King of Peace.” Note: Most Biblical scholars believe this city of “Salem” was actually an early settlement that would later become known as Jerusalem… “Jer-u-salem” meaning the “City of Peace.” I believe it was instead heaven.
In addition to this the text also tells us Melchizedek was the “priest of God Most High.” And if there was any doubt as to what “God” Melchizedek was a priest unto, in the discussion with the King of Sodom that follows, Abram further defines the “God Most High” as being “the LORD… the Possessor of heaven and earth.” It’s evident the very same God who appeared and called Abram was the God Melchizedek was a priest for. Which - is - fascinating…
While a king was a man appointed by God to be His authority over men, it was the job of the priest to represent men before the throne of God. As such one man possessing both roles was completely forbidden by the time we get to the Law of Moses. Note: The story of King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 perfectly illustrates how seriously God took this!
The fact Melchizedek is presented as the only Biblical character who was allowed to be both priest and king simultaneously adds to the mystery surrounding his identity. And if that fact we’re enough, the mystery only deepens when, following this story, Melchizedek seemingly walks off the pages of Scripture only to again resurface in one verse in Psalms 110 before an astounding three chapters are dedicated to him in the Book of Hebrews.
According to Psalms 110:4 we’re informed that the priesthood of the coming Messiah would not be of the order of Aaron and the Levites, but instead would be according to the “order of Melchizedek.” We know as a result of Hebrews 5, 6, and 7 that while Jesus had a claim to the throne because He descended through the kingly tribe of Judah, His unique role of also being our “High Priest” was only made possible because of this priesthood of Melchizedek.
It would appear the original priesthood of Melchizedek and the significance of his order being the first mention in Scripture made his line superior to the Levitical order enabling Jesus to legitimately serve as both our High Priest as well as King.
With this in mind, it’s not a surprise our text also indicates Melchizedek was a man of incredible importance and notoriety - something affirmed by the actions of Abram. Not only do we read Melchizedek came out specifically to “bless Abram” (in ancient cultures the greater always blessed the lesser), but Abram seems to recognize this hierarchy by not only receiving the blessing but then “tithing” a portion of the spoils back to Melchizedek.
What makes this exchange captivating, while as the same time also serving to further complicate the identity of Melchizedek, is that in Hebrews 6:13 we’re told, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.” The implication is that there has never been a man greater than Abraham?
Aside from the fact the Genesis record provides no explanation as to “where Melchizedek came from, how he came to be in Canaan, how he came to be a worshipper and priest of the true God, how Abram came to know about him,” or where he went after this exchange Hebrews 7:3 deepens the mystery by describing Melchizedek as being “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God” so that he “remains a priest continually.” What? So who is he?
While the majority of Biblical Scholars present this Mystery Man as a typological picture of Jesus, I see this position fostering more questions than answers… Most notably, if such a man was living in the land of Canaan already, why was God bent on using Abram?
Personally, with the full profile of Melchizedek in mind, it seems the only logical identity of this Mystery Man is that of Jesus Himself! Melchizedek is more than a picture of Jesus - He is Jesus! In fancy Biblical terms we would call this presentation of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 as being a Christophany or literally a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.
Now before you think I’m crazy, I hope you know, as the second member of the Trinity, Jesus didn’t come to be the moment He was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Consider that in John 1:18 the Apostle wrote, “No one had seen God (speaking of the Father) at any time.” Note: Anytime we have a physical manifestation of the person of God in Scripture (New and Old Testaments alike) it is none other than an appearance of Jesus.
Paul would write in Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
It’s a radicle idea, but I believe it was actually Jesus (God in human flesh) who comes out to greet Abram from “Salem.” Consider then the 3 interesting implications of Melchizedek being Jesus. First, Jesus has always been the King of Righteousness and Peace!
Secondly, the very idea of the priest (this intercessor representing man before God) finds its precedent, not in the Law of Moses, but instead in the person of Jesus - the order of Melchizedek! Because this would then make the Levitical order nothing more than a picture of the priestly role filled by Christ, we can rest assured we need no other man but Christ in order to gain access to the throne of God.
Finally, Abram’s “tithe” to Melchizedek takes on a whole new level of meaning when you see this man of mystery as being Jesus! This word “tithe” literally means a “tenth part.” While Abram kept nothing of the spoils of Sodom for himself giving everything back to Bera, he first gave of his increase to the Lord. Note: The idea of a “tithe” defining ones “first-fruits” was based in this particular act and then later explained in greater detail in the Law.
There is a point I need to make concerning this passage… The emphasis of the text is not the amount of Abram’s gift, but instead the exchange that motivated his gift. Before Abram gives anything to Melchizedek we’re told, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed Abram…”
Don’t miss the obvious, especially if the identity of Melchizedek is Jesus! Abram comes back from this battle only for Jesus to greet him and give him what? “Bread and wine!” Think about it! What is Melchizedek doing? He’s literally leading Abram in communion! In Matthew 26:26-28 we’re told that “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’”
The motivation behind Abram’s gift to Melchizedek was the incredible blessing he had just been given! I can’t help but think Abram considered in that moment that his entire life - his entire journey of faith - God’s call and commission had only been made possible by yet a still future sacrifice God would make by sending “His only begotten Son” to die for his sins.
And such should be the motivator for every aspect of the Christian life - the immense grace represented in what the “bread and wine” has come to represent… His death for my life, His pain for my gain, His indignation for my glorification, His condemnation for my justification, His separation for my reconciliation, His shouldering of my sin on the cross of Calvary so that I might adorn His righteousness forever.
Friend, it is the legalist that grows consumed with the amount one gives for grace demands no recompense nor does it establish a limit as to how one might respond. If you feel compelled to give because you’re trying to get something from God or you feel obligated and guilty if you don’t… If you find yourself consumed with an amount or for that matter a percentage, keep your money because you’ve completely missed the point!
However, if giving is motivated as a response to God’s incredible Gift - a Gift you could never repay - then the amount matters not for what could you ever give that would compare to the “bread and wine?” Note: Melchizedek asked nothing of Abram!
You see the person who really gets it realizes the key to giving isn’t a percentage of your income you decide to give back to God, but rather a percentage of all that He’s given you decide to keep for yourself… God isn’t concerned with the amount one gives. All He cares about is the motivation behind the gift!
In a famous sermon on this topic Charles Spurgeon develops this thought in a way only he could… “It is noteworthy that, with regard to Christian liberty, there are no rules laid down in the Word of God. I remember hearing somebody say, “I should like to know exactly what I ought to give.” Yes, dear friend, no doubt you would; but you are not under a system similar to that by which the Jews were obliged to pay tithes to the priests. If there were any such rule laid down in the gospel, it would destroy the beauty of spontaneous giving, and take away all the bloom from the fruit of your liberality.
There is no law to tell me what I should give my father on his birthday; there is no rule laid down in any law-book to decide what present a husband should make to his wife, nor what token of affection we should bestow upon others whom we love. No; the gift must be a free one, or it has lost all its sweetness.
Yet this absence of law and rule does not mean that you are therefore to give less than the Jews did, but rather that you shall give more… We should give as we love. You know how much Jesus Christ loved by knowing how much he gave. He gave himself for us because he loved us with all the force and energy of his nature... I commend to you that rule, - give as you love, and measure your love by your gift.”
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