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King of Justice and Shalom

In Hebrews 7, the writer talks about a priest named Melchizedek. Pastor Phil has already taught us about who Melchizedek was (find his teaching here), so I won’t expand on that here. It is enough to know that Melchizedek was revered as a great priest even though he did not come from the priestly order—the tribe of Levi. Essentially, Melchizedek didn’t have the right credentials, but his life proved him to be the “king of justice” and “king of peace.”

Melchizedek was sort of seen as an anomaly—something out of place in the history of priests. All the great priests of the past were Levites except for Melchizedek. He was a one-off, a one-hit wonder, an aberration in the history books. That is, until Jesus showed up.

Like Melchizedek, Jesus didn’t have the right credentials. Sure, his genealogy could be traced back to David, but Jesus wasn’t what was expected in a Messiah. First off, he was from the wrong part of town. He was a Galilean and, as everyone knew at that time, nothing good comes from Galilee. Second, there were serious questions about who this man’s father was. Then there were the people Jesus hung out with—lepers, tax-collectors, sinners, and women! Oh, and don’t forget the way he talked. He spoke as if he were God—forgiving sinners on the spot, condemning temple leaders, proclaiming sick people clean. Blasphemy!

There was a reason Jesus was killed—lots of reasons actually. He offended the wrong people, challenged the wrong powers, stepped on the wrong toes.

But there is also a reason we are reading about this trouble-making Galilean today. There is a reason the author of Hebrews compares him to the great Melchizedek. Jesus, says the writer of Hebrews, is “another priest like Melchizedek … 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” (Heb. 7:15-16). Like Melchizedek’s, Jesus’s life speaks for itself. With the wrong credentials in hand and with enemies all around, Jesus shook the world while remaining, himself, unshakeable.

Jesus is like a priest, not like the ones who condemned him to the cross, but like Melchizedek. While Melchizedek was formerly just an outlier of the past, the author of Hebrews draws a line straight from Melchizedek to Jesus. Together, they represent a new priesthood. And, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (Heb. 7:12).

Jesus ushers in this changed law, a new order of things, a new type of kingdom. Like Melchizedek, Jesus builds his kingdom on justice and shalom. In a way, though, every kingdom of the world promises these same things—justice and peace. Every empire uses its power and authority to bring justice to its enemies and keep the peace within its borders. Empires would like us to believe that their “law and order” are the same things as Jesus’s “justice and peace.” They are not.

Here in the U.S., we depict Lady Justice with a blindfold over her eyes, a balance scale in one hand, and a sword in her other. We imagine that justice is blind, dealing out the proper judgment and punishment regardless of who stands before her.

That is not Jesus’s type of justice. Jesus’s justice is far from blind. Rather, Jesus removes the blindfold to see exactly who is standing before him. He sees the person’s pain, the wounds inflicted upon them, or the wounds they have inflicted upon others. He turns that blindfold into a bandage, wraps it around the wounds of the suffering, and says, “I too have known injustice. Take courage, for I am making all things new.” And to the inflictor of the pain, Jesus meets them not with a sword in hand, but with holes in his hands. To them he says, “Your sins are forgiven. Take my hand and I will show you a new way.”

Jesus’s justice is less like a judge who delivers a verdict and more like a mother who gives extra care to her weakest child. To the one who is suffering most, she gives more attention. She mends their wounds, rocks them through the night, and feeds them until they are well. Like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to save the one, Jesus’s justice is about lifting the ones who have fallen so that all can stand together.

Jesus’s peace is also different from the peace offered by empires. In the Empire—be it Egyptian, Roman, British, or American—peace means the continuation of power without external threats. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace), for instance, was a period of stability for the Roman Empire. It was stable, though, not because Rome was particularly friendly and peaceable with its neighbors, but because it was so powerful that it swallowed up its neighbors and scared off the rest.

Jesus’s peace is less like a city guarded and patrolled by an army of soldiers, and more like a garden where there is enough food for everybody. Empire maintains peace by way of force; Jesus maintains peace by way of provision. In Jesus’s kingdom, the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people are met, and relationships are made right. Shalom is the kind of peace that is found when no one is in debt to anyone else; when no needs are neglected; when nothing is hoarded or hidden; when no one is exploited or excluded by another; when everyone and everything exists in harmony.

When Jesus’s kingdom clashed with Empire, the Empire’s army of soldiers strung Jesus up on a cross outside the city walls. In the end though, it was the garden that won out. From a tomb in the garden, shalom trickled out into the world following the footprints of a resurrected king.

Today when we declare that Jesus is Lord, we affirm that he is the king of justice and shalom. As followers of Jesus, we seek to embody his kind of justice and his kind of peace even as the empire around us does not. We believe that the garden will continue to win out. May we step into the new law that Melchizedek began and Jesus has completed, practicing a justice that is not blind and becoming a garden of shalom where all needs are met and all relationships are made right.

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