For quite awhile, Brackenhurst Baptist Church has been studying the book of Hebrews as we gather on the Lord’s Day. Until recently, the messages have for the most part been pretty easy to follow (I think!). But recently we have entered territory that requires more diligence of effort to appreciate what has been revealed. I am speaking about the introduction of an enigmatic figure by the name of Melchizedek.
This man is introduced in chapter 5 as the writer begins to expound the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ above that of the Aaronic priesthood. In 5:6 he quotes Psalm 110:4 and applies this to Jesus: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The writer is keen to reveal, for the first time in recorded history, the comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus. That is, he is keen to reveal how Jesus fulfils the type of being the universal High Priest of His people forever (6:20)!
In 5:10 the author again makes this comparison with the words “called by God as High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek.” But he then immediately puts on the didactic brakes with the words “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (v. 11). The phrase “dull of hearing” is translated in 6:12 as “become sluggish.” It carries the idea of being slow to learn or difficulty in discerning the subject matter.
The writer is saying, “As much as I would like to tell you how this man is a picture of the person and work of our Saviour, I don’t think that you are ready to hear it. You don’t have the aptitude to grasp and to appreciate this profound truth.”
Having recently begun expounding chapter 7, I can relate to the author’s conclusion that these things are “hard to explain.” It is not entirely easy to connect the Christological dots of Genesis 14:18–20 with Psalm 110. Nevertheless, the effort at interpretation is not terribly difficult either. The argument, in fact, is logically consistent and fairly straightforward so that, in the end, the comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus, and how this relates to the Aaronic priesthood, is not all that difficult to discern and digest. I am therefore not persuaded that his words “hard to explain” refer to the difficulty of the subject matter. Rather, the real problem was one of appetite.
As the contents of the epistle reveal, these Hebrew Christians had seemingly lost their appreciation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. They had taken their eyes off of Him and the result was that their ears were being effected! They were tempted to return to the rituals of the old covenant rather than “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [their] faith” (12:2).
As they grew cold in their devotion to Jesus they became “dull” in their appetite to learn about Him. They were losing their appreciation for Him and hence were losing their appetite to think doctrinally and deeply about Him. Let me state it plainly: This “dullness of hearing” had nothing to do with a lack of intellectual equipment. Rather it had everything to do with their lack of appreciation of Him as God’s all-sufficient Saviour. Their lack of appreciation of Jesus was hindering their appetite to learn more about Him. We could say that their lack of spiritual appetite was revealed by their lack of spiritual aptitude. Their powers of spiritual perception as applied to doctrine concerning the person and work of Jesus were growing dull because they had grown dull in their devotion to Him.
Their hearts had grown cold and their minds had grown lazy. What they needed was a pastoral wakeup call to the seriousness of their condition. This the author did in chapter 6. And now that they are “awake,” he begins to satisfy their spiritual appetite by an exposition of the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of Jesus—with special reference to Melchizedek. This truth is no longer “hard to explain,” because he now assumes that they have both the appetite and the aptitude to appreciate it. It is now that he can reveal the glorious truths of Melchizedek as he writes chapter 7.
We can learn from this that if we will grow in our devotion to Christ then we must keep our eyes on Him, our hearts adoring Him and our ears open to hearing about Him. And doctrine is key to this.
C. S. Lewis wrote,
For my own part. I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and pencil in their hand.
Well, minus the pipe part, I would recommend the suggestion!
I for one have found that my affection and my appreciation for Jesus Christ have grown as I have worked through some of this “tough” bit of theology concerning Melchizedek. With a “pencil in my hand,” I have come away from my studies with a greater sense of adoration of Christ and a greater assurance of my salvation in Him. But I have had to work at it.
Sadly there are many who sit in churches who simply want the preachers and teachers to “move” them with stirring stories and superficial exhortations. They are not willing to be diligent in doctrine and the result is that they remain cold in their devotion. So what is a solution?
We need to pay heed to exhortation that reminds us, over and over, that Jesus Christ is the God-appointed all sufficient Saviour. As we grow in our appreciation of Him then we will grow in our appetite to dig deeply to learn more about Him. And as we diligently apply ourselves to Christ-exalting doctrine, we will experience a corresponding growth in our devotion to Him.
To put it succinctly, our aptitude to grasp Christ-exalting teaching is directly related to our appreciation of Him. And this has everything to do with a healthy appetite for Him. The table has been set, let us now come to taste and see that He is good!