Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High.
In their forthcoming album, Native, OneRepublic has a song titled “What You Wanted”. The lyrics sing of love in the realm of earthly, human relationships.1 However, their perspective is unlike many other love songs these days which are either self-centered or which have an embittered perspective.2 The type of love that OneRepublic sings of is refreshing in that it is other-centered and sacrificial. As they sing, “I’ll put your poison in my veins/They say the best love is insane, yea/I’ll light your fire till my last day/I’ll let your fields burn around me, around me/If that’s what you wanted”. Although I tend to interpret the phrases which sing of putting poison in one’s veins and allowing fields to burn around oneself as symbolic (at least I rather hope they’re symbolic), compared to secular music that sings of love and devotion, OneRepublic’s lyrics convey in a rather vivid way the lengths to which real love is willing to go as it sacrificially empties itself for the sake of another.
Unfortunately, many religious songs which speak of love for and from God are not much better than the secular music I am critical of. Much of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is mired by a confused and trite understanding of love of God and His love for us. Rather than focusing on the costly love of a Savior who sacrifices Himself on the cross out of a love for us and a desire to be with us, many CCM songs are concerned more with what God does for us then on reciprocating God’s love and being willing to sacrifice for Him and for others. Of course, not all music from CCM suffers from such a distorted view of true love and it’s not always inappropriate to focus on what God can and does do for us. But as Stephen J. Nichols laments
It becomes hard to not see triteness…when so many artists speak so glibly and vaguely of the love of Christ, reducing it to romantic notions and mere personal experience. It also becomes hard not to see how this love…is on par with the way love is handled in the non-Christian songs adolescents also listen to. When adolescents hear Christian songs treat love the same way as the secular songs do, they will more than likely transfer the romantic notions they have of love, derived from…those secular songs, to their love of Christ.3
In light of his comment, is it any wonder then that Christians become embittered and angry toward God when they perceive that God has disappointed them and let them down? Is it any wonder that true discipleship in Christ is failing to be cultivated when we are told that it is all about how we feel (think spiritual highs) and what God does for us? Is there a better way? Is there a way that does not neglect our experiential needs for connection with the divine but which leads to true other-centered, sacrifical love in a world darkened by love turned inward and which loves others only so that it can be loved in return? I believe there is. And I think the answer is quite simple: it is the way of the Cross. It is the way whereby we love because we were first loved.
As I write this post we are only a couple weeks from celebrating holy week and Easter Sunday. One might expect me to focus on the New Testament and on Christ’s death and resurrection. I will make my way there shortly, but first I wish to focus on a passage in the Old Testament and the way it foreshadows events in the New Testament. In Genesis 14:17-20 it is written
After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High. He blessed him and said: Abram is blessed by God Most High,/Creator of heaven and earth,/and give praise to God Most High/who has handed over your enemies to you.
The writer of Hebrews correctly sees this passage as a foreshadowing of Christ and Melchizedek as a type for Christ.4 Indeed, while the writer of Hebrews focuses on Melchizedek’s role as a priest both foreshadowing and being fulfilled in Christ’s role as the Great High Priest, I also see reference to the other two Old Testament roles of king and prophet. In the Old Testament, the role of a priest was as one who intercedes on behalf of the people to God, the role of king was to lead the people, and the role of prophet was to speak God’s Word to the people. In this passage Melchizedek is described as the “king of Salem”, but it is in what he says to Abram (later Abraham) that shows him acting as a prophet. He declares God’s favor to Abram.
But it is not only in the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king that this passage foreshadows what would come. It is in Melchizedek’s bringing of bread and wine to Abram that two other passages from the New Tesatment readily come to my mind, and which are significant. The first event that is foreshadowed is The Last Supper where the disciples ate with Jesus on the night before he was crucified. There Jesus takes two elements, bread and wine, and refers to them as his body and blood.5 He commands his disciples to partake of the elements and to do so often, in remembrance of Him. The point He is making to his disciples is that the bread and the wine are to serve as reminders of what He did on the cross, where His body was broken and His blood was shed.
As important as that passage is, there is a second passage from the New Testament that I believe is foreshadowed by what Melchizedek does. I believe that when Jesus conveyed the parable of the prodigal son, it is likely he had in mind Melchizedek’s action of meeting Abram as he “brought out bread and wine”.6 Those familiar with the parable will remember that after the prodigal son had left home and wasted his inheritance on frivolous pursuits, he returns home where his father runs out to meet him and hosts a banquet for him. It is likely such a feast would have included bread and wine among other foods that would have been eaten.
Not only is there a thread of feasting on bread and wine that weaves it’s way through all three passages, I also think that Melchizedek’s blessing on Abram is significant for understanding the parable of the prodigal son and the passage on the Lord’s Supper. Melchizedek, after proclaiming that Abram is blessed and exhorting him to give praise to God, declares that it is God “who has handed over your enemies to you”. It is also in the parable and in what Christ did on the cross that we are told that God has handed over our enemies to us. While God did deliver flesh and blood enemies to Abram, I am not primarily speaking of God delivering into our hands callous ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends, deceptive coworkers, backstabbing friends, or even of exploitative companies or cruel dictators. Rather, God gives us the needed strength to fight the spiritual forces acting behind these all-too human neighbors of ours; the real spiritual enemies of which I speak are sin, death and the devil.
It is what Christ did on the cross, foreshadowed in that upper room the night before, that enables us to fight victoriously over our spiritual enemies. And why? So that we might feast with Him one day. Until then, we are reminded to rely on His spiritually nourishing act on the cross so that, like the prodigal son, we too might overcome the enemies that drive us to display inwardly-driven love and leave the presence of God in pursuit of selfish endeavors.
True love is costly. But the desire to focus on what God does for us is not entirely mistaken. For to live a life of costly love requires one to first partake of what God has already done. Not in a “glib” and “vague” sense of romantic connection to the divine or even of spiritual highs, though true encountering of the divine is likely to frequently lead to that, but in the sense of what God has already done in history, and which action has eternal consquences. For Jesus is the one who, in His death on a cross, displayed the most costly love of all so that we might have victory over our spiritual enemies of sin, death, and the devil and that we might enjoy an eternal feast with Him and with one another. And while the Great Banquet is yet to come, He has not left us without provision as we learn to feast on and find our nourishment in Him. For no matter how disappointed the love of others may leave us, His love will always be more than enough for us to keep on loving both Him and others.
So go…and feast with and on the Great High Priest. And may your hunger for true love that does not disappoint be sated.
1 Some claim that OneRepublic sings of matters pertaining to God and the spiritual life. In the acknowledgments section of the booklet to their album Dreaming Out Loud, each member of the band gives thanks specifically to either “God”, their “Creator”, or “Jesus Christ”. Further, the lead member, Ryan Tedder, did attend high school at Colorado Springs Christian School. So while it may be true that some of their songs do sing of more spiritual matters in a hidden way, I do not think this is the case of all their songs. Rather, I think it more likely that many of their songs, while attending to more worldly concerns, are written from an overall Christian perspective that is implied, but not made explicit. For instance, their song “Secrets” addresses the shallowness of life lived solely for oneself and the challenge of living with courage and authenticity. I think a similar approach is used with “What You Wanted” where they sing of a real love that is costly.
2 An obvious example of the former is Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me”, while Adele’s music seems to fit in the latter category of love that has become disappointed and embittered. I agree that she is a great singer, and love in a fallen world is bound to disappoint, but for those of you who like her music it’s important to be aware of the more subtle, inward focus of love that is not love in a true other-oriented sense but which loves more out of a desire to receive something in return or to have a need fulfilled.
3 Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to The Passion of the Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), pp. 141-142.
4 A “type” in Christian theology is a person, place, or thing that represents or foreshadows either Christ or events in the life of Christ and which Christ is the fulfillment of. In this post, I refer to Melchizedek as prophet, priest, and king. Christ is the fulfillment of all three roles. Whereas King David ruled over the Israelites and fell into sin, committing adultery, Christ is the fulfillment of the perfect king of God’s people, both Jews and Gentiles. Another type, famous in the early church and which accounts for why early Christians painted it on walls, is that of Jonah who spent three days in the belly of the whale, just as Jesus was resurrected from the grave after three days. For more on types and typology see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typology_(theology).
5 I will avoid discussing in detail the thorny issue of the exact nature of the Lord’s Supper. However, do note that Catholics believe the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ in some way not easily discernible. Lutherans believe it becomes the body and blood after partaking of it. Other groups believe that God blesses and communicates His real, spiritual presence through the elements while still others believe it is merely a symbol. I do not wish to defend one of these to the exclusion of the others as I will be taking somewhat of a different emphasis, one which I believe all groups could benefit from.
6 Some may choose to disagree with me on this. After all, Melchizedek’s bringing bread and wine is not the same as the father’s running out to meet his son. However, we know from the New Testament that Jesus was familiar with the Old Testament, apparently so much so that even at an early age he could preach about it. It is reasonable to infer that Jesus knew of this passage and that it informed at least some of the elements of the parable of the prodigal son.