What is it that the Swiss are known for? Among other things, Switzerland is known for being neutral in twentieth Century world wars. They are known for their international banking industry. Perhaps the Swiss are known for a delicious cheese that is perfect on a ham sandwich or with a glass of wine. Or maybe they are known for making tiny pocket knives with 75 little tools. Maybe you didn't know that my favorite theologian, John Calvin, spent the better part of his pastoring life in the city of Geneva, Switzerland.
But the Swiss are also known for clocks. As it turns out, the dispersed population in the mountainous country of Switzerland meant clockmaking was a bit of a cottage industry of various skilled craftsmen, and the Swiss became very good at it. For many years, clockmaking was an elite trade. This is primarily because the craftsmanship required to make clocks that actually kept accurate time was very precise. So there developed in Switzerland a rather elite industry of making watches and clocks using a very precise technology of gears and resistors to ensure the most accurate products.
Then came along Max Hetzel. Max Hetzel was a Swiss Engineer who worked for a watchmaking company in Neuchatel Switzerland. In 1954, Hetzel discovered quartz technology. This enabled Hetzel to develop an entirely new internal mechanism for timekeeping. Hetzel replaced the old system of intricate gears and resistors with a single miniature tuning fork that resonated an exact frequency of 360hz. By 1960, Hetzel honed this device to power the gears of a wristwatch that kept accurate time within a margin of 12 seconds per year. The watch was easier to make, required less battery power, and was infinitely more accurate than any timekeeping device ever invented (except maybe the sundial). Max Hetzel discovered something that would forever change clockmaking. And it could never go back. Watchmakers had to confront a new way to go forward. They had to adjust to a new paradigm.
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ” 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
a paradigm shift means adjusting and embracing some changes to patterns and routines
There is something within people that seems to gravitate towards doing life the same way we've always done it. We work better in established routines and patterns, even if those patterns end up frustrating us, we still keep doing it. Why does it always seem to rain right after I wash the car? Yet I keep on with a pattern of washing my car. Why does it always seem to snow right after I shovel the driveway? Yet I keep on with a pattern of shoveling snow. Why does someone always spill right after the kitchen is cleaned? Yet there is still a pattern to clean the kitchen. We keep doing these patterns over and over again even though we know it is all rather futile because it just won’t last. But what happens when a complete paradigm shift comes along that allows us to get out of one these over-and-over-again routines? If I move to Arizona, I will never have to shovel snow off the driveway again. If I take public transportation, I will never have to wash a car again. A paradigm shift presents a solution, but a paradigm shift also means adjusting and embracing some changes to the patterns and routines established in our lives.
early Jewish Christians already had a very carefully set way of doing things in their religious life
Remember, the author of Hebrews addresses this letter to Jewish people who are living right during the time of the early church. He is writing to a group of people who already had a very carefully set way of doing things in their religious life. These were people who may have been having trouble grasping the paradigm shift that Jesus has brought into our world. Sure, Jesus offers a better way, but that means letting go of some religious patterns that are pretty deeply entrenched. Shifting paradigms is not easy.
I imagine this was tough for the Jewish readers of this letter of Hebrews to grasp. It means doing away with so much religious pattern that had been so foundational to their identity with God for their entire lives. That is not an easy thing to let go of.
vs 25 — the old regulation was weak and useless
Day after day, week after week, year after year the Old Testament priests would make atonements before God on behalf of all the people. It kind of stings when the author of Hebrews says in verse 18 that the old regulation was weak and useless, that the law made nothing perfect. It stings to be told that this routines which gave those people so much of their identity with God are now diminished.
Jesus comes on the basis of a promise from God that cannot be broken
And in comes Jesus. The Levite priests of the Old Testament were born into that priestly role. It was an expected obligation by birth. But Jesus, like Melchizedek, comes without any obligation to make atonement for others. Jesus comes on another basis. He comes on the basis of a promise; a promise from God, and a promise that cannot and will never be broken. It is God's covenant oath.
Melchizedek — Genesis 14
The letter of Hebrews seems rather obsessed with this guy Melchizedek; someone with whom many of us might be unfamiliar. Who is Melchizedek and how is he so different from the Levite Priests? To find the answer to that we need to go back to Genesis 14. Here is the setting. Abraham settles in the land of Canaan. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is there also. Abraham settles in the hill country of Canaan; Lot is in the valley where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are located. In Genesis 14, there is an alliance of four kings who come together and plunder the territory where Sodom and Gomorrah are located. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, along with all of Lot’s family are captured and taken away as captive slaves. Let me pick up the story from Genesis 14 from there.
11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. 13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. 17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Melchizedek simply shows up in the life of Abraham and gives this one-and-only blessing — just once, and once was enough
That’s it. All we know about Melchizedek is that he shows up to Abraham, shares a small meal, and says a two-sentence blessing. He is the king of Salem, and also a priest of God. Melchizedek is not relation to Abraham; he is not an Israelite. This is hundreds of years before Moses would establish a Jewish priesthood with Aaron and the tribe of Levi. Melchizedek just seems to show up out of nowhere because God appointed him. And there is nothing in the Bible about what happens to Melchizedek the priest after this. There is no story or instruction about how or if his priestly call continued to carry forward or came to a close. He simply shows up in the life of Abraham and gives this one-and-only blessing. Just once. And once was enough. One action from the priest Melchizedek and his role is complete.
vs 25 — Jesus saves completely
Complete. Our passage for today says in verse 25 that Jesus saves completely. The Greek word here refers to time. It means that Jesus provides himself as our priest once and for all with eternal effect. It's a guarantee for life that can never be taken away. That's what the author of Hebrews means when he tells us that Jesus saves completely. It's permanent. That is the connection and reference to Jesus being like Melchizedek. It is not a priestly work of atonement that has to keep going on and on over and over again. The blessing of Jesus is in effect forever, just as the priestly blessing given by Melchizedek to Abraham remained in effect forever. Jesus is a priest forever in the same manner as the order of Melchizedek.
they were okay believing everything about Jesus, but not okay integrating that belief with everyday habits and routines and patterns
Where does this leave us today? It strikes me just how big a deal the book of Hebrews needs to make about this with the Jewish Christian audience. It strikes me as obvious that the Jewish people who turned in faith to the grace of God in Jesus had a much harder time turning their religious paradigm to the grace of God in Jesus. They were okay believing everything about Jesus, but not okay integrating that belief with everyday habits and routines and patterns—they kept falling back to the old paradigm of having to prove and work for their purity and atonement over and over again through the Levite priests. They accepted Jesus, but kept on living in the old paradigm because it was the only world they knew.
we live in a world that operates on a paradigm of continual standards for approval
We live in a world that operates on a paradigm of continual standards for approval. You leave this place and go out into your job or school or social setting, and you have to meet those standards to show that you are an acceptable person. And likewise, out in that world we expect other people to live up to the standards that we may have in order to show us that they are acceptable. And not just once; it is a world in which the paradigm is that you need to keep doing that again and again.
But Jesus brings a different paradigm of standards into our world. This is what Jesus meant when he says in Matthew 11,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That is so very freeing because it is so very complete. It means God loves you so very much and nothing can ever change that or undo that. It is the reason the apostle Paul can say in Romans 8,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Max Hetzel discovered something that would forever change clockmaking. And it could never go back.
And the Swiss watchmaking industry rejected it. Such a radical revolution in the much honored and age-old industry of clockmaking in Switzerland turned out to be more than the traditional craftsmen could handle. It would have meant throwing out everything they had ever known about the best way to make the best clocks. It meant a complete paradigm shift in the clockmaking world. And they just couldn't make that monumental shift in paradigms.
So instead, the Japanese company, Seiko, got ahold of quartz technology and by the end of the 1960s had started mass producing inexpensive highly accurate watches. The Swiss watchmaking industry was never the same after that. Something better came along and landed right in their laps, and they let it pass right by.
Don't let Jesus pass by today. His love is complete. His grace is complete. And his invitation to live a new life which flows from his love and grace can begin right now.