The bread and wine (part 2)

Part 2 – The “hard teaching” of John chapter 6

In Part 1, we dived back in Scripture to look for a precedent to the bread and wine to help explain what Jesus was getting at when he gave bread and wine to his disciples in Luke 22. And tucked away in Genesis 14 was an intriguing possibility, when the priest king Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” for Abram after Abram’s exhausting campaign to rescue his nephew from the clutches of the tyrant king Kedorlaomer.

So we looked into who Melchizedek was and what he brought out bread and wine to Abram for, and out of that emerged a picture of Jesus’ ministry and what he gave bread and wine to his disciples for.

In Part 2, we now jump forward in Scripture to see if it confirms that picture and develops it. And what better spot to land than John chapter 6, where Jesus drops a real bombshell in John 6:54 when he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” and he mentions it three more times too, in verses 53, 55 and 56. It’s not surprising, then, that Christians have zoomed in on these verses, and especially because of their obvious connection to Jesus’ body and blood pictured by the bread and wine in Luke 22, but do these verses connect in any way to the bread and wine in Genesis 14? Or put the other way round, does Genesis 14 give us a great introduction to John 6?

Well, to make any sense of what Jesus meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood we’ve got to head back into the Old Testament again, because Jesus was talking to Jews in John 6 using terms from scriptures they were familiar with to get his point across. So, what scriptures would likely pop into a Jewish mind when Jesus mentions drinking his blood?

An obvious verse would be Leviticus 17:14, which states: “the life of every creature is its blood. That’s why you must NOT eat the blood of any creature…. anyone who eats it must be cut off.” The last thing a Jew would want to do, then, is eat – or drink – blood. But in John 6 Jesus seems to be saying the absolute opposite by encouraging them to drink his blood. No wonder “many of his disciples said (in verse 60): ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”

But why was it hard to accept? Jesus was obviously getting an extremely important point across, so why would he use terms that were difficult to understand? On the other hand, did he phrase it that way to startle those Jews into diving back into their scriptures for an explanation, out of which would emerge a better picture of him? Well, we face the same challenge today with these verses, so let’s see what happens when we seek an explanation too.

The first clear point that bounces out of “the life of every creature is its blood” in Leviticus 17:14 is the direct connection between blood and life. Our life as humans is in our blood, and without blood we are dead. By God’s design, then, blood is the PROVIDER of physical life, and there’s nothing like a body lying in a pool of deep red blood slowly oozing from a wound that vividly gets that point across. So moviemakers make sure there’s ample blood in the scene when the villain is finally killed, because we want blood to prove he’s dead.

So, blood is the provider of life, but did God have anything else in mind for blood? Yes he did, because in verse 10 he says, “I will set my face against that person (Israelite or foreigner, verse 12) who eats blood.”

Now that could send a shiver through someone who’s been wolfing down blood sausage since the day he was born, but, fortunately, as we’ll see, it’s the picture these verses give of Christ that we now focus on as Christians. But it still begs the question, “Why was eating blood such a serious offence to God?” Why would God disown a person, want nothing more to do with him, “cut him off from his people” (verse 10), and leave him out in the cold as far as any further contact or relationship – just for eating blood?

God’s answer in Leviticus 17:11 is that he meant the lifeblood of a creature to be “given to you (Israelites) to make atonement for yourselves,” because “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

The next thing we learn from Scripture about blood, then, is that God designed it to be a PRESERVER of life too. The Israelites had better not treat blood as mere food, therefore, because as food it would only preserve their lives for a few hours at most, but blood for atonement, on the other hand, would save and preserve “one’s life.” Bring in the subject of atonement and blood became a life preserver. And how it became a life preserver is explained in Leviticus 16:30, when once a year an actual “day of atonement” was set aside for Israel “to cleanse you (so that) before the Lord you will be clean from all your sins.”

By God’s design again, the blood of a bull and a goat (27) on the “day of atonement” cleansed the Israelites from all the sins they’d accumulated over the past year. Whatever mess the Israelites had made of their lives was forgiven, meaning they could happily enter their new year – that began on Rosh Hashanah a few days earlier – with a guilt-free conscience and a clean slate. To quote a present-day Jewish website: “Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the year….for on this day God will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before him.”

So Jews today still deeply value the Day of Atonement, because it explains how God enables physical life to continue in humans who sin. For the Israelites it meant they would not die out as individuals or as a people, even though they were still sinners. Blood, then, was the great preserver of life for them. But it also taught them what it took to make that possible. It took blood. And since blood was the life of a creature, then the shocking realization for any sinning Israelite was the cost involved in their physical lives being able to continue. It cost life. A living creature had to lose its life for their sake. To “save a life requires a life” was well understood by the Israelites.

And God made the animal’s death dramatic too. The throat was slit and bright red blood spurted out of the gaping wound into a bowl, which the High Priest carried very carefully into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle (27). How precious that blood was, therefore, because without that blood their sins would not be forgiven and they would not survive as God’s people.

So blood had given them physical life in the first place, but now blood became a second great gift from God, the gift of CONTINUING physical life through forgiveness. So “life was in the blood” at that level too, as a preserver of life.

For an Israelite to deliberately eat an animal’s blood, then, would be using what God gave as the provider and preserver of human life for his own purpose instead, much like people today use their God-given lives for anything but what God gave humans life for.

And that deeply offended God, because it totally ignored that life at every level for those Israelites was a gift from him. Without his gifts of life they didn’t have a life. And that was as basic as the blood flowing through their bodies to provide them with life, and the blood of animals on the Day of Atonement to preserve their lives through forgiveness of their sins.

So the Jews in John 6 were well aware that without those two gifts of blood from God they had no life. But Jesus then gave them a real shock in John 6:53 when he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you….drink his blood you have no life in you.”

It was now their turn to be offended, and confused, because for centuries the Jews believed they DID ‘have a life’. It was all right there in Leviticus 16:34, that “Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites” meaning all their sins were forgiven by the sacrifice of animal blood, and their lives were secure. But here was Jesus saying their lives weren’t secure – and in fact they had “NO LIFE” at all – unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood.

You mean all those sacrifices and cleansings on the Day of Atonement every year going back centuries, and all those gallons of lifeblood pouring out of the sacrificial animals’ throats year after year didn’t mean a thing?

Well, face the facts. All those blood sacrifices on the Day of Atonement forgave their sins which gave them a lease on life for another year, yes, but only for a year, and then the whole messy business of cleansing by animal blood had to be done all over again on the Day of Atonement next year. In reality it all seemed rather pointless, because the moment they began sinning again they were stuck with having to repeat the gory process of atonement by animal sacrifice next year. And there was no escape from it while sin existed.

It kept them ticking over year to year physically, yes, but at what cost and for what purpose, other than extending their physical lives for another year, and only until they died too? Maybe they had a point in wanting to “eat” blood, therefore, because what “life” was blood giving them instead?

They did have a point too, because Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So all those blood sacrifices never actually got rid of sin. The blood of animals forgave sin, yes, but it didn’t eradicate sin or stop it. So the Israelites were stuck in this never-ending cycle of the Day of Atonement to cleanse them of their sins. But for what, pray tell, when sin would just dirty them up again?

It begs the question: “Why on earth would God set up an entire system of blood and sacrifices if it had no purpose to it beyond just preserving their physical lives until they died?”

You could ask a similar question, of course, as to why God allows billions of people all over the world to live for no other purpose than surviving until they die. All that struggle making enough money to have a home and family, pay for your children’s education, go on exotic holidays and buy impressive Christmas gifts, and for what, pray tell, when it all turns into nothingness at death?

A funeral clearly tells us that life is only temporary. We tread water until we can’t tread it any longer and we slip below the waves and die – and there’s nothing we can do about it either. Uncle George is in that casket as dead as a doornail, no matter how good or noble he was, or how loving and kind, or how generous and community spirited he was, or how wise and sophisticated he became, or how brave and courageous he was in war, or how charming and funny he was, or that he kept himself fit enough to live until he was one hundred and twenty three. It still all came to nothing when he died.

We all have this wonderful gift of life, then, but it isn’t permanent – which makes no sense at all, right? Why have life if it just fizzles out to nothing? But it certainly adds weight to what Jesus said in John 6:54, that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” and in verse 57, “the one who feeds on me will live,” and he means live ‘forever’ (in verse 58), because Jesus is talking about life being permanent, not temporary, and isn’t that exactly what we humans would love more than anything else, to have a life that never ends?

But here is Jesus offering exactly that, a permanent, never-ending life. There’s a problem, though; it’s the condition attached. Permanent life is ours, yes – BUT – only if we “drink his blood,” and that’s the difficult bit, isn’t it? But it shouldn’t be difficult when Scripture has already told us “blood is life,” so drinking Jesus’ blood simply means drinking his life. And drinking HIS life makes sense because what his life has to offer is eternal, permanent and never-ending. By God’s design, then, drinking Jesus’ blood means drinking in the permanent life that Jesus provides, because only he can provide it.

If all this sounds a bit strange, it’s not surprising, because it also sounded strange to the Jews who first heard it. And they already knew that “blood was life” too, but so far it had only meant life on the physical level. They knew that blood was the provider of physical life, yes – and they knew that blood had also preserved their physical lives as Israelites for another year on the Day of Atonement – but never had blood offered them life eternal and permanent, and never in the blood of a man.

They had to wrap their minds round Jesus and his blood now being the provider and preserver of life, and not just physical life either. He meant eternal life. And to them this was totally new, but Jesus told it to these Jews first because God had already prepared the ground beautifully for them through all those blood sacrifices. The Jews knew through those sacrifices that blood was the provider and preserver of life, so all they had to do was transfer that understanding to Jesus, that through the sacrifice of his blood he now became the provider and preserver of their lives eternally. It was a simple jump.

And the encouraging part to that was, it meant that all those blood sacrifices hadn’t been a waste after all, because they all made sense of what Jesus’ blood would do. And the same goes for all those billions of people who spend their lives chasing dreams that end in nothing. None of that is wasted either. The endless cycle of human lifetimes all fizzling out in death primes us Gentiles perfectly for accepting the “hard teaching” of John 6, that “unless we drink Jesus’ blood we have no life in us.” We understand the “no life in us” bit, because all those graveyards we drive by and funerals we attend prove there is no lasting life in anything physical. It all dies out into nothing eventually.

So God prepared the ground for both Jews and Gentiles alike to make it easy for us to see that life on the physical level doesn’t last. He also made it easy for us to see how a life that DOES last requires blood sacrifice. For the Jews that understanding came through the sacrifice of animal blood to save and preserve their lives. And for us Gentiles it has come through blood sacrifice too. Every year on Remembrance Day we honour those who died in war, because, we say, if they hadn’t given their lives in sacrifice for us we wouldn’t have the life of freedom we have today. So God has had both Jews and Gentiles learn the need for blood sacrifice to save and preserve life.

But again, the encouraging part to this is, it means that all the horrible mess and sacrifice in war hasn’t been wasted either, because it’s primed us perfectly from our own experience that blood must be sacrificed to save and preserve life, which makes it just a small jump for us too, to see how Jesus’ blood becomes the provider and preserver of eternal life.

Nothing, therefore, in this life is wasted, including all those lives lost in war, because it all fills in the picture of why Jesus’ blood had to be sacrificed as the cost to be paid to give us a life of freedom from death and evil. Now we can see how his blood was necessary to open up life eternal to us.

But how does Jesus’ life open up eternal life to us? Well, Jesus clued us in on that too, in his use of the term the Son of Man in John 6:53. It meant he was both man and God. And that’s important to know, because if Jesus was only a man, then his blood sacrifice could only save us physically. His life would accomplish no more than a man dying in war or dying to save a person from a burning car. It would only save another person’s physical life. But Jesus called himself the Son of Man when saying we need to drink his blood, because in his blood flowed the life of God too, so when his life was sacrificed it meant he could save and preserve our lives eternally.

So when Jesus says, “drink my blood,” he means “drink up” on what the sacrifice of HIS life and blood made possible, because it’s the stuff of eternity. It’s so much more than animal sacrifices and the sacrifice of human lives in war. Those sacrifices picture his sacrifice, yes, and like his sacrifice they save and preserve human life too, but only for a year on the Day of Atonement, and only to give us freedom in this country of ours until we die. His sacrifice, by contrast, is the “real drink” as he called it in John 6:55, because it opens up eternal life to us.

But how does it open up eternal life to us? If we truly believe that only by his sacrifice and by his life in us can we experience eternal life, how and when does that eternal life kick in for us personally?

The “when” part is explained in verse 54: “Whoever drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” To the Jews the “last day” was the resurrection at some distant time in the future, but Jesus made it clear in John 5:24 that a person has already “crossed over from death to life” – and he means “eternal life” (same verse) – when he “hears my word and believes him who sent me.” Eternal life began, then, when a person believed Jesus was the source of it. All that was required after that was the death of Jesus to seal it. The “last day” for those Jews he was talking to, therefore, became the day he would be raised up on the cross, because in context that’s what he’s talking about here, his death making eternal life possible. It’s on the cross, then, that he will raise them up with him to start experiencing their eternal life right away. For us Gentiles now it’s the moment we hear his word and believe it.

The “how” part is explained in verses 56-57: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of my Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” So Jesus now feeds his life into us just like the Father fed his life into him.

It’s like having a tube down which his life and all its resources pass through to us, and our life needs flow through to him. And it’s a constant process that “remains” – as Jesus calls it in John 6:56 – between him and us. It’s going on all the time, so that there isn’t a moment when we’re not experiencing his life in us, and not a moment when he’s not aware of our need. And that’s the experience Jesus has made possible. We have no idea what “life” as he experiences it is like, but he supplied the tubing down which it can flow.

But how does all this tie in with what Melchizedek did for Abram, and Jesus giving bread and wine to his disciples? Well, in Luke 22 the two things Jesus gave to his disciples to remember him by were bread and wine. He doesn’t give each of them a little wooden cross or a tiny vial of his blood. He gives them something to eat and drink, something to feed on, which ties in exactly with John 6:56-57, that “the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”

To experience eternal life, then, involves the simple act of feeding on Jesus to meet our need, pictured by eating the bread and drinking the wine. And that ties in nicely with Melchizedek giving bread and wine to Abram to meet Abram’s need. The difference is that Melchizedek was providing for Abram’s immediate physical need, whereas Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine to picture him providing for their eternal needs.

So in giving us bread and wine Jesus very much confirms what Melchizedek did for Abram in Genesis 14, but Jesus expands it hugely, because in HIS priestly office of Melchizedek he’s providing for our eternal life needs.

But what eternal life needs do we have? Well, how about being able to do all the things Jesus was able to do in his life – like loving someone who isn’t being very lovely, or being patient with people when we’re irritated, or being kind when all we want is people to get out of our lives and leave us alone?

Well, every time we take the bread and wine it’s a reminder that he is feeding his life through to us all the time. And every time we look to him to feed his life through to us in a difficult circumstance, we are drinking his blood, meaning we’re tapping into what he made possible by his blood, which is HIS life now flowing through us as the provider and preserver of eternal life.

For now we live in a physical laboratory to learn these things, but clearly that’s the way God designed it so that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” is not a hard teaching, but a very easy and wonderful one.

(Part 1, March 6)


The bread and wine (part 1)

Part 1 – Looking into history for a precedent to the bread and wine

This is the first in a series on what Jesus was getting at in Luke 22:19-20, when “he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

So, where does one begin? Well, diving back into history seemed like a good idea, to seek out the roots of why Jesus chose bread and wine. But how far back in Scripture do you go to find those roots?

There’s a clue in Genesis 14, in a story not long after Noah’s Flood, when empires are building and wars between competing groups of kings are raging. Genesis 14 lists their names too, many of which are written on monuments we can see today. There was Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, all of whom had joined forces against a second group of kings, Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Zoar. And the reason for this great clash of kings was the bully boy king Kedorlaomer who for 12 years had kept the second group of kings under his thumb, and eventually they’d had enough of him and rebelled.

Kedorlaomer was a force to be reckoned with, however, because he’d already smashed the Rephaites, Zuzites, Emites, Horites, Amalekites and the Amorites (verses 5-8). He was a tough old bird and well on the way to building himself a sizable empire, so the second group of kings thought they’d better put a stop to this brute before his quest for power and glory sucked them all in.

So they took the fight to him in the Valley of Siddim at the south end of the Dead Sea. They couldn’t have chosen a worse place, however, because Kedorlaomer soon had them on the run and drove them back into an area full of sulfur tar pits, into which many of them fell. Kedorlaomer then ransacked Sodom and Gomorrah, took all their valuables and food, and their people too, among whom was a man vital to what happened next.

The man’s name was Lot, the nephew of God’s chosen man Abram, and when Abram got wind of what bully boy Kedorlaomer had done to his nephew, and how he’d stolen everything Lot owned in the city of Sodom, he got thoroughly steamed up.

Now Abram was not the kind of chap you’d want to get steamed up, because he’d returned from Egypt a wealthy and powerful man. He’d made his money in livestock and invested much of it in silver and gold (Genesis 13:2), and with his wealth and influence he’d built up a mini-empire of his own. He had powerful allies among the Amorites (14:13), but purely from the men born in his own household Abram could muster up an army of over 300 trained soldiers (14) – all in fighting trim and ready for battle at a moment’s notice.

Abram was like a typical baron in Medieval England. He owned a huge estate, his own private army, and the money to defend himself against a stroppy neighbour. So when a member of his family was dragged off by that lout Kedorlaomer, Abram put out the call to arms and stormed out of the castle and went after Kedorlaomer, chasing him all the way up north to Damascus, about 250 kilometres or 160 miles away. Abram was no wilting wallflower. He was ready for a fight with the biggest bully in the land – and a bully who hadn’t lost a fight yet too.

When he found Kedorlaomer’s camp, Abram waited until nighttime, and then launched his attack. And with less than 400 men he sent Kedorlaomer’s much larger coalition army packing. Abram pursued them even further north until he’d rescued his nephew, and got all Lot’s family, servants and possessions back, and all the other prisoners taken from Sodom and their possessions too.

And if you’re wondering how all this ties in with the bread and wine, the mystery will soon be over, because it’s on the way back to his hometown of Hebron that Abram is met by the very thankful king of Sodom. We’re now down to Genesis 14:17.

But in verse 18 there is another king who comes out to meet Abram as well, the Canaanite king of Salem, the shortened name of Jerusalem. All three men, the kings of Sodom and Jerusalem and Abram then meet together in “the King’s Valley” (17), the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem. The name of the king of Jerusalem is Melchizedek – from the words malki and sedeq, meaning “king of righteousness.”

Abram, meanwhile, is exhausted. He’d marched his men 160 miles north at top speed, fought the largest army and the most powerful king in the entire country, and chased him even further north to get back everything the king had stolen. Abram then arranges for the long journey home, including women, children, animals and cartloads of goods, and marches them all, including his exhausted army, back south for another 200 miles or so. And now in his dog-tired state he’s in a meeting with two kings.

And in response to all this, what does the king of Salem do? It’s mentioned in Genesis 14:18. He “brought out bread and wine.” He doesn’t pester Abram with questions, or want to hear the whole story of what happened. Instead, he has Abram sit down, and he serves him bread and wine.

It’s the first mention in Scripture of bread and wine being served, and the reason for it being Abram’s immediate need. He is completely done in, so the king of Salem has Abram sit down and put his feet up, and he brings Abram bread and wine to get his strength back. And nothing more would need to be said of this incident, other than Melchizedek obviously being a good man.

But it’s the next sentence in verse 18 that hints at there being something more going on here, because this thoughtful king meeting the exhausted Abram’s need to get his strength back through bread and wine is also “priest of God Most High.” And the way it’s phrased like that – as just “priest,” and not “a priest” – suggests he’s the only priest of God Most High. And he’s the only king to hold that title too, because none of the other kings mentioned in Genesis 14 do.

So in this one man we’ve got both titles of king and priest. He’s also the king of Jerusalem, meaning “city of peace,” a title it got long before any Israelite arrived, so was it Melchizedek who gave Jerusalem that title, because peace was his focus, rather than war like the other kings? And then we have his name too, meaning “king of righteousness.” So here we have a king of righteousness and king of Peace City handing out bread and wine in his office of priest of God Most High to bring some life back into a man who’s dead on his feet.

It’s an interesting setting for the first mention of bread and wine in Scripture, but does it help us in our quest to find out what Jesus meant when he handed out bread and wine to his disciples too? Well, the story hasn’t finished yet, because In Genesis 14:19 the priest of God Most High is about to pronounce a blessing on Abram as well.

So it’s not just bread and wine Melchizedek gives to Abram to enable him to recover; it’s a blessing too. But both are for the same purpose, to meet Abram’s need, as we’ll see, because Abram at this point in time isn’t just exhausted he’s also scared.

And we know that from the first verse in the next chapter when God in a vision tells Abram, “Don’t be afraid.” But why would Abram be afraid? Well, for a start, he’s just taken on the biggest bully and the only king with an undefeated record of smashing anyone who dares oppose him – and Abram has just humiliated him by catching him napping at night and sent the king and his army packing with less than 400 men. Well, is Mr. Bully Boy Kedorlaomer going to take that lying down? Not likely. He’ll be stomping down south again at any minute, fuelled with such rage and revenge that he won’t stop until every member of Abram and his clan are strung from the highest tree. You don’t mess with psychopaths.

Can you blame Abram for thinking, “Oh boy, what have I done?” Does he start to question himself and worry that maybe this campaign of his was a really stupid decision based purely on runaway emotions, and now he’s put his whole family in danger, perhaps with fatal consequences? What must God think of him now?

But Melchizedek is sensitive to that too, because in his blessing in Genesis 14:19-20 he says, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be (or ‘praise be to’) God Most High who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Imagine being Abram hearing that. You’re worrying about old Bully Boy turning up thirsting for revenge – and you’re probably thinking you deserve what he dishes out too, because of your rash actions – but to greet you on your return is none other than the priest of the one great God who confers on you a blessing that’s totally in tune with what you’re worrying about. Melchizedek looks you in the eye and says, “The Creator of everything is on your side, Abram, because it was he who gave you the resounding victory over your enemy. So, calm down and let him take care of things,” which God himself backs up a few verses later in Genesis 15:1, when he says, “Don’t be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.”

So here we’ve got God’s own priest zeroing in on Abram to meet Abram’s needs exactly. The timing is exquisite, and the bread and wine and the blessing are perfectly tailored to easing Abram’s exhaustion and worries.

But the story doesn’t end here either, because in Genesis 14:21, “The king of Sodom says to Abram, ‘Give me the people, but keep the goods for yourself.’”

Well, that was tempting, because charging after Kedorlaomer had cost Abram a great deal. He’d had to feed his army for a week while marching up north, then spend another week up there fighting, chasing and gathering prisoners and carts for transportation back home, and another two weeks trekking home with a huge crowd of women and children and animals in tow. Add all that to the usual losses suffered in battle, and a huge chunk had been knocked out of Abram’s savings.

So that was another worry for him. But along comes the king of Sodom offering a quick and easy solution: “Whatever goodies Kedorlaomer took from my city, Abram, you can have them. Just let me have my people back.”

But ringing in Abram’s ears is the blessing he’d just been given by Melchizedek, that God had – and obviously would in future – provide everything that Abram needed, no matter what life threw at him. That’s what a “blessing” meant. It meant God would take care of all his needs, so have absolute confidence in God and trust him.

Immediately after the priest’s blessing, though, the king of Sodom approaches Abram with a human solution to his financial problems. So Abram is tested right off the bat. Will he take the offer or trust God to take care of his expenses? Well, In verse 22, Abram tells the king, “I have raised my hand (sworn) to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”

So even if this campaign had been a terrible mistake, and Abram had stupidly blown his budget because of it, he wasn’t going to resort to human means to solve it, like lottery tickets, or a risky investment, or a handout from someone who might then get to thinking he was Abram’s saviour. It must have been tempting to accept the offer, though, just like it was in one church area I was in when a rich man starting attending church and was very generous with his money. Members flocked to him for help and he helped them, so people looked to him as their provider, and he became their saviour. And that’s what Abram wanted to avoid – for the king’s sake – that the king would not get to thinking he was Abram’s saviour, rather than God. So Abram refused any money or goods from the king for himself.

It was Melchizedek’s blessing that had given Abram the confidence to trust God with his needs, and not resort to quick and easy human solutions. But how does all this help us understand Jesus and the bread and wine in Luke 22?

Well, what we’ve got at the end of Genesis 14 is a revived Abram trusting God to meet his needs. And was that important? Oh yes, because the future of the entire world revolved around Abram. There was no more important man on the face of the planet than Abram, because through him “all peoples of the earth would be blessed,” God said.

So how did God help Abram with his worries and needs? It was through the ministry of Melchizedek, and what that man did for Abram and said to him. So who on earth was this chap? Well, according to Genesis 14 Melchizedek was a typical king of that time and ruler of a city. He was special in that he was a priest as well, and that he believed in the same God Abram believed in, but what really sets him apart in Scripture is that he was there just when Abram needed him, and he provided exactly what Abram needed.

Is it any surprise, then, that a direct parallel is made between Jesus and Melchizedek in Psalm 110? In verse 1 we have “the Lord saying to my Lord. ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet,’” which is clearly referring to Jesus, who is then described in verse 4, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” It’s clear, then, that whoever and whatever Melchizedek was, his place in Scripture was to be a type of – and a forerunner of – Jesus’ ministry.

We now have a clear picture of Jesus’ ministry, therefore, in the ministry of Melchizedek. And where do we have a clear picture of Melchizedek’s ministry? It’s in what he does for Abram in Genesis 14.

But why would Jesus’ ministry need to be like Melchizedek’s ministry? Because the same need would exist. Abram, for instance, has just been faced with the daunting proposition in chapter 12:3 that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” but it’s clear here in Genesis 14, only two chapters later, that he is totally unprepared for such a job. He flies off the handle when Lot is kidnapped, charges off with his own private army to take on the biggest bully in the region without even considering the cost in life or money, and nor is there any mention that he consulted God before he left either. The man is a loose cannon.

Now jump ahead to when Jesus arrives. The same daunting proposition of all peoples on earth being blessed still exists, and who is given the job this time? It’s given to Jesus’ disciples, who, take note, wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy those who opposed them (Luke 9:54), and they were jolly happy when Jesus told them to trade in their coats for swords later on too. In other words, they were just like Abram. They reacted emotionally, flew off the handle, charged into things without thinking – like Peter lopping the ear off the high priest’s servant – and again, like Abram, they preferred violence to trusting in God.

But it’s on the shoulders of these disciples, as it was on the shoulders of Abram, that the future of the world depends. In fact, the blessing of all nations was about to begin in earnest from that point on, with the gospel going to the whole world, but it’s going to be done through a group of twelve disciples who are just as unprepared for the job as Abram was.

So what does God do? He provides another Melchizedek in the person of Jesus, who, just like the original Melchizedek in Genesis 14 is also a king and priest, and a king of peace and righteousness too. It is this new Melchizedek, therefore, from the priestly order of Melchizedek predicted by David in Psalm 110, who will now do for the disciples what the original Melchizedek did for Abram. So let’s go back, then, to what Melchizedek did for Abram in Genesis 14.

The first thing he does is give the exhausted, scared, and muddle-headed Abram bread and wine. The king of Sodom, meanwhile, didn’t think to do that, even though Abram had just knocked himself out recovering everything the king had lost. The king’s first concern was getting his people back; it wasn’t the exhausted Abram. But Abram was Melchizedek’s first concern, just as the first concern of Jesus in Luke 22 was his disciples, because in giving them bread and wine he said, “this is my body and blood which I give and pour out FOR YOU.”

Jesus’ primary concern in the bread and wine was his disciples, to prepare them for his death, because he knew they’d feel lost and utterly shattered. So he reassures them that what he’s about to do is for them. Jesus is also looking into the future knowing his disciples will have their share of big bully Kedorlaomers and exhausting battles too. They too will face endless temptations to trust in human solutions and human emotions, rather than trust in God. And they too will doubt themselves when things they think God wanted them to do leave them exhausted and discouraged. All the things that happened to Abram, in other words, will happen to them too.

Which is why Jesus told his disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him. It would focus their minds on him, because he would now be for them what Melchizedek was for Abram. So when life for them became exhausting and worrying, just like it was for Abram, Jesus himself would be the bread and wine to meet their need.

But notice too, that Jesus also “gave thanks” to God in Luke 22 when giving his disciples the bread and wine. Well, so did Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20 when he blessed Abram, saying, “Praise be to God Most High” – but look what it was praise and thanks to God for. It was for delivering Abram’s enemies into his hand. And how practical is that for us today as Jesus’ disciples too?

It’s practical because we face the same enemies today as Abram and Jesus’ twelve disciples faced. We live in a culture full of Kedorlaomers trying to bully us Christians into going along with their political agendas, so many of which are in total opposition to God and his ways. And the constant pressure and stupidity of our cultures’ nonsense exhausts us, just like the bullies of Abram’s day exhausted him. So we too will be tempted to charge in all guns blazing like Abram, and resort to typical human anger and emotion, rather than trust in God.

But that just makes us into loose cannons like Abram. We’re no good to God or to the job he’s given us of blessing all peoples with his ways instead. So what does God do for us? He has us remember Jesus in the bread and wine, that Jesus now does for us exactly what his predecessor did for Abram in Genesis 14.

And that’s important, because like Abram, we too need to be immune to the world’s fears and temptations, and not be overwhelmed by our own personal worries and problems either. But how in this world are we going to do that, when we’ve got a whole ton of Kedorlaomers to deal with too, like the scary world of climate change and financial collapse, and the rapid destruction of everything we Christians believe in? And how on earth, with our health and circumstances, can we stay positive and not get discouraged? And how can we not doubt our usefulness to God when it seems like we’re accomplishing absolutely nothing?

But Melchizedek also blessed Abram, and look what that blessing did for him. Abram’s confidence soared, enabling him to resist the king of Sodom’s human solution to his financial problem, and instead of worrying about money Abram gave Melchizedek “a tenth of everything.” A blessing was meant to produce confidence and trust in God, and it certainly did that for Abram.

It’s not surprising, then, that in Luke 22 Jesus “gave thanks” – a blessing – with both the bread and the wine too, because the one thing his disciples needed more than anything else was trust and confidence in him, that he would now deliver all their enemies into their hands, just as God had for Abram. And it certainly did that for them too, because Jesus’ disciples weren’t intimated by anybody, and their trust in God never wavered.

And that same blessing is there for all Jesus’ disciples, because our need is exactly the same. We too, just like Abram and the twelve disciples, need our sagging spirits revived, our fears calmed, our confidence restored, our trust strengthened, and our resistance to temptation and human solutions to our problems built up and bolstered.

And, fortunately, we have a precedent for Jesus doing all those things for us. It’s back there in Genesis 14, when the original Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” for Abram and gave a blessing.

(Part 2, March 10)