All Scripture is inspired by God. All is to be given as God’s message to mankind. This is the work of the preacher. Yet there are some passages that are hard to preach. Some parts of the Holy Bible are hard to preach because the message is hard. Others are hard to preach because the meaning is hard to discern. And some are hard to preach because one word or thought can grab the spotlight, potentially distracting the intended listeners’ minds from the larger message to be delievered. Such pasages, passages that contain enigmatic themes or which introduce immediate questions, should not be ignored. Yet they must be treated with the respect they deserve.
The passage from Hebrews 5:1-10 is one that, upon reading, will “grab the ears,” and, likely, the minds, of your hearers. And what will they really hear when you read the entire pericope from Hebrews 5:1-10? There is no question about what stands out: “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The preacher may accept this and answer it head-on, or ignore it and preach as if the person in the pew has a more than passing acquaintance with this King of Salem. Alternatively, and wisely, the preacher could pause, recognize the question, and integrate the meaning of this mysterious figure, in this case, into the sermon. Let us, in our study here, suppose we do the latter. Let’s preach a sermon on the character of Christ according to Melchizedek: “As he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’ ” (6).
You must identify the central issue if not the “fallen condition focus” in the text. Arresting the hearer with an introductory question, quotation, or story will bring the young single mom, or the aging post-retired couple, or a university student, deeper into the text and prepare them for understanding why this passage is of critical importance to them. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to do what we cannot, we nevertheless offer the “work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17). What is the issue? Is it not that there are temporal means of salvation, but we are in need of a once-for-all-forever-kind-of salvation? And that what we need we find in Christ who is, indeed, that once-and-for-all-forever-kind-of Savior? We offer, then, an introduction that seeks to work from arresting the attention to “walking” down the introductory pathway to the exegetical sentence and, finally, to the expository idea (i.e., ““Big idea,” “proposition,” or sermon theme).
Some things are really good at being temporary. Mrs. Cook, my third grade teacher, was excellent as a substitute teacher. She offered a great background in educational training, impressive university credentials, and even has a most interesting classroom demeanor (she was mean). She kept order in the class. By the overwhelming power of her indomitable presence Mrs. Cook commanded respect. And she got it! Yet, for all of our experience, credentials, and matronly pedagogical prowess, Mrs. Cook did not last. She kept order. She assigned homework. She would sometime even grade papers. She certainly “kept the peace” (and I had a sore seat-of-knowledge where she had applied the board of education to prove it). Yet she would always be known as the substitute teacher. And as such she could never, really, acquire a lasting and trusting relationship with us. Some things are really good at being temporary. But we prefer, nay, we demand, that which is permanent. We need not just temporary bandages, but permanent healing. We need not just a symbol—a substitute teacher, if you will—to provide symbolic cover for our guilt, we need a permanent fix from a permanent teacher.
We long for a full healing of guilt and a forgiveness that is once and for all. For guilt is like a diabolical hound from hell that pursues a man throughout all of his days. What will fell this maniacal beast? Oh that guilt would be slain before it ravages the tender soul! And is not the unhallowed hound fed in its wild rage by the very chase? Guilt is fueled by the sinister feelings of remorse. If cannot be stopped by temporary measures; only by robbing guilt of its source.
The Christians who received the epistle from the author of Hebrews had known of the really good work of priests and high priests. These clerics carried the sins of the people into the holy of holies according to God’s design. They had a very good purpose. They even had to offer sacrifices for their own sins. Yet the author to the Hebrews reminds them that the temporary had to give way to something—to someone—permanent. Thus, we are introduced to the truth of Jesus as high priest. And the text says that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. “Who is that guy?” Well, hold that thought. It is an important question that unlocks not only this passage, but, also, points to the glorious truth of this passage for your life and mine.
We must, then, craft our proposition or our expository idea. Using the exegetical movement here we might, logically, introduce that as, “Jesus Christ has become our once-and-for-all-time Savior who is uniquely credentialed to give us the forgiveness we do desire.” I might use an interrogatory statement like this, “How is this so?” and answer, “It is so as we consider Jesus as Melchizedek.”
- Consider Melchizedek’s meaning disclosed in Jesus. Melchizedek is introduced to us in the (Genesis 14:18-21) Old Testament narrative about Abraham offering a tithe of all he had to this King of Salem (Jeru-Salem) following the King’s blessing. The author of the Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4 and says that Jesus is the one that the Psalmist spoke of and, moreover, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messianic type from the ancient days of faith. Explaining this, illustrating it, leads to applying it by extoling Jesus as the one we worship, out of gratitude, for the blessing of eternal life He has granted. All other earthly ways to God always find an inevitable end, but life in Christ goes on forever.
- Consider Melchizedek’s mystery unveiled in Jesus. But do we really know that much about this king, Melchizedek? No. But there are mysteries revealed:
- He had authority to grant heaven’s blessings.
- He had no beginning and no end.
- He was worthy of worship.
The sermon concludes as we recap our solution to the temporal ways to God with the eternal nature of Christ, the One who is “after the order of Melchizedek.” We illustrate with what life looks like when the permanent comes and we call our people to abandon the temporal for the eternal forgiveness found in Jesus our Lord.
 As in Bryan Chapell, Christ-centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994).