Ascension Sunday May 16, 2021
213, 212, 220, 215
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ Christ Is Ascended on High! Hallelujah! +
And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
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.
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 the 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.” (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus who has ascended into heaven and lives forever to intercede for us, Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
It is always good to have an ally. In everything that we undertake it is most helpful to know that we are not alone, that there is someone else who will support us and help us.
Even those who are exceptionally strong and courageous appreciate the support of allies. For example, the apostle Paul in his epistles often makes mention of those who helped him in his work, of those who stood by him even when he was in prison. He thanks God for them. And sometimes he mentions those who had deserted him, those who in a pinch proved not to be allies. These were painful losses that he felt keenly.
In our Savior Jesus Christ we have an ally who will never fail us or leave us. He is ever faithful to His parting promise to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus will be with us throughout our life, in good times and in difficult times. And He will still be with us in the hour of our death to support us and carry us safely to eternal life.
The Ascension of our Lord, the event that we are remembering today, assures us of these things. Forty days after His resurrection, our Lord ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. With His position of power and glory He is able to be a faithful ally to His church on earth and to each of us His disciples.
Our text might seem like an unlikely one for teaching about Christ’s Ascension. It tells of an event in the life of Abraham. But in this narrative a character appears who is a picture—an Old Testament type—of the victorious ascended Christ. The picture is one that assures us of Christ as our Ever-Faithful Ally.
The character that appears here in this incident from the life of Abraham and Lot is worthy of careful study. This man named Melchizedek is spoken of elsewhere in Scripture and always as a type or picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hear his name in Psalm 110 (today’s Old Testament lesson), a psalm that is clearly a prophecy of Christ, for the New Testament says that it is. In the book of Hebrews, we find a whole section on Melchizedek as a picture of the priestly office of Christ (today’s epistle lesson).
Here in Genesis, we meet Melchizedek in the only incident from his life that is recorded in the Bible. He comes out to meet Abraham as he was returning from the battle in which he and his servants had defeated the four kings. We will come back later to the occasion of this meeting. But first, we want to look at who this Melchizedek was.
His name is significant: it means “king of righteousness.” Our text also identifies him as king of Salem. Salem, the short version of the name Jerusalem, which was not far from the place where this history occurred. “Salem” means “peace.” So Melchizedek literally is “the king of peace.” From his name and title we gather that this was a godly man, one who knew and served the true God. His name and title both fit with what is said of Christ in other Old Testament prophecies. In Jeremiah (23:6) Christ is called by the name “The Lord Our Righteousness,” the Savior who has brought us righteousness by taking away our sins. In Isaiah (9:6) He is called the “Prince of Peace,” the one who has made peace between us and God by His sacrifice offered for us. Christ is also King, the Son of David who is the Son of God and Lord of all.
Besides being identified as a king, Melchizedek is here called “the priest of God Most High.” This is the very first place in the Bible where we find the word “priest,” that office which is so significant in the Old Testament. The office of priest was necessary in the world after the fall into sin. The members of the fallen human race were no longer worthy to approach God directly for worship and prayer. They needed someone to act in their behalf, to serve as a go-between, a mediator. This was the priest’s work.
The Old Testament priests, Aaron and his descendants, were never truly able to fulfill the role of priest; they weren’t able to close the gap between man and God. They were not able to bring about reconciliation between man and God. Their office and their work pointed to Christ who would truly step into the gap between man and God and bring about reconciliation by offering Himself on the cross, thereby doing away with our sin and guilt.
But Melchizedek pictures something more about Christ as our priest. The book of Hebrews reveals that he is a picture of the eternal priesthood of Christ. Melchizedek is intended to portray the ascended and reigning Christ. He has risen from the dead and lives forever. Christ’s priesthood is never-ending, so He is able to intercede until the end of time for those who believe in Him. Melchizedek is a depiction of the priest who is the eternal Son of God incarnate. Here in Genesis, Melchizedek comes out of nowhere, so to speak; he appears suddenly. He appears surprisingly, a righteous king and priest of the true God right in the middle of Canaan, a land that was mostly given over to the service of idols. He blesses Abraham, and then he disappears from the scene just as suddenly as he came. We know nothing of his origins or his ancestors. We can see how he represents Christ who had no human father but was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and who, after completing his work on earth, returned to heaven.
The Holy Spirit has given us such a representation of our Savior as we have here so that we may see in Christ our ever-faithful ally. He acts as our priest before God the Father. It is because of Him that God does not punish us or cast us away when we sin, which we do every day and in countless ways. We live in a state of grace; we have full forgiveness at all times. And it is because of Jesus that God hears and answers our prayers. He is forever our ally pleading our cause before the throne of God.
The way in which Melchizedek served Abraham here also says something about how Christ our Savior serves us in our daily lives.
This whole episode here in Genesis is quite wonderful and miraculous. Lot had moved his family and his flocks and herds in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah because the land was better there. And then, even though he knew that those cities were known for their wickedness and godlessness, he took up residence there. When the cities were attacked and looted, Lot and his family were taken captive and all their possessions stolen. When Abraham heard about it, he took swift action to go and rescue his nephew. He raised an army from among his own servants—here we get an idea of what a rich man Abraham was, how vast his resources and assets were. We are most amazed at Abraham’s faith here. His personal army of 318 must have been small compared to that of the four kings. And though the servants were armed, they were probably not soldiers trained for battle. Abraham showed some wisdom and skill as a commander: he divided his forces and staged a surprise night-time attack. Yet it was clearly the Lord who gave them victory. They overcame the enemy forces and sent them into retreat. Abraham and his men rescued Lot and his family and retrieved all their property. They also freed the women of Sodom and others who had been taken captive.
As Abraham was coming back from the battle, Melchizedek met him to bring bread and wine for him and his men. These simple refreshments must have been most welcome and encouraging to them, especially coming from this priest and king who was clearly a person of great honor and dignity. We see that in the fact that Abraham gave him a tenth of everything that they had taken in their victory over the kings.
Melchizedek’s act of kindness to Abraham and his men is surely also an illustration of Christ. And the refreshments that he brought for Abraham, bread and wine, especially make us think of Christ who gives us bread and wine in His holy supper, and with these earthly elements His own body and blood that He gave and shed for us for the remission of sins.
The picture of the ascended and ever living and reigning Christ that we have here is very encouraging and strengthening to us. For we, like Abraham, face many challenges. We are called to take on burdens that seem way too heavy for us. We are called upon to do things that we don’t feel well prepared for. We are called to perform tasks for which we feel we haven’t the strength. Every day we have to endure attacks from the devil. Who is it that enables us, supports us, and gives us strength for these things? It is Christ our Friend and Brother. In His Word and in the Sacrament, He gives us strength for each day, and for as many days as we will need it. As we return from one conflict or challenge, He refreshes us for the next one. Jesus is our ever-faithful ally. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.