Generations of Generosity: The Gift of Salvation – Rev. Henry Brinton
Generations of Generosity: The Gift of Salvation
March 25, 2012
Ten days ago, I was enjoying spring break in Florida with my wife and daughter, and I was shocked to witness a terribly upsetting conflict. I turned on the TV, and saw images of young men battling and suffering and being crushed.
Yes, I was watching March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament. And my heart sank when Lehigh upset Duke in the first round.
As a pastor, I know I should resist the devil. But I am such a fan of the Duke Blue Devils.
But basketball was not the only place I witnessed pain and suffering. I also saw ads for the adventure movie Wrath of the Titans, which will be released this Friday, March 30th. The film stars Sam Worthington as Perseus, the son a human woman and a god named Zeus. The ads suggest that the movie is a non-stop battle between human beings and the Greek gods known as the Titans.
Duke sure could have used a few Titans in their lineup this year.
So who is Perseus, and what is this movie about? Perseus is a great warrior who is trying to live a quiet life as a fisherman when a supernatural war breaks out — the fighting is between the gods led by Zeus and the group of gods called the Titans.
As the story begins, humans are turning away from Zeus and his allies, and the power of the Titans is rising. Zeus is trapped in the underworld, and Perseus faces the challenge of rescuing his father, overthrowing the Titans, and saving humankind.
Perseus has a mission to save the world. To rescue people from forces that threaten to destroy them. To give them the gift of salvation.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
If you grew up in Greece in the first century, you would have known the story of Perseus. Being familiar with Perseus would make it easier to understand the story of Jesus. Both have a divine father and a human mother. Both have a powerful father god in heaven. Both have to deal with human beings who turn away from this father god. And both are heroes who suffer as they work to save humankind.
In many ways, the gospel of Jesus Christ seems like the story of Perseus, the same song with a different tune.
But listen carefully, and you’ll discover that there are many differences between Perseus and Jesus. Translators say that the name Perseus probably comes from the Greek verb meaning “to waste, ravage, sack and destroy.” He is a warrior, after all, usually portrayed with a sword in his hand. In this season of presidential primaries, it seems to me that we as Americans are looking for a Perseus.
The name Jesus, on the other hand, comes from the Hebrew word which means “God saves.” When an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph before the birth of Jesus, he says, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is a great high priest who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” — the gift of his own body on the cross (Hebrews 10:12).
Perseus saves with a sword. Jesus saves with a sacrifice.
There is a world of difference between the two.
Let’s dig into today’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews, which I have never preached on in my 11 years at FPC. Never, not once. But I should have, because this short and mysterious passage tells us a lot about the gift of salvation.
Hebrews reminds us that “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:5-6).
Here is mystery number one: Who is Mel-chiz-e-dek? This “priest forever” stuff sounds strange to our modern ears, as foreign as the tales of Zeus and Perseus. It’s true that the story of Melchizedek is told only once in the Bible, in the book of Genesis. There, Abram wins a great military victory, and after returning from battle is greeted by King Melchizedek of Salem, who is not only a king but a “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18).
Melchizedek brings bread and wine to Abram, and says to him, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Then Abram gives Melchizedek one tenth of everything he has gained in battle, a tithe of his goods (vv. 19-20).
As strange as this story sounds, it has some elements that are familiar to us as Christians. Jesus, like Melchizedek, is both a king and a priest … we gather at the table for bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper … we know that we are supposed to give a tenth of our resources in support of God’s work in the world. That’s the challenge for us in our Generations of Generosity stewardship campaign: To follow the example of Abram in giving a percentage of our resources to the work of God.
Giving a tenth of what we have to God is not a purely Christian practice. It goes back many generations earlier, all the way back to the book of Genesis, to Abram’s gift of a tenth to Melchizedek. I’m amazed at how much New Testament theology is packed into these three Old Testament verses! Keep this in mind as you make your pledge to the church next Sunday.
The first-century readers of the letter to the Hebrews knew this story even better than we do, which is why they would be impressed by the description of Jesus as “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6). The Hebrews would have pulled apart the name “Melchizedek” into its component parts: melek, which means king, and sedaka, which means righteousness. In addition, they would have known that to be the king of Salem means to be the king of peace (7:2).
Priest. King. Righteousness. Peace. That’s Melchizedek.
And Jesus as well.
This brings us to mystery number two: What kind of hero is Jesus? A priestly king who brings righteousness and peace is an unexpected kind of hero. In addition, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (5:7).
Perseus is a much more typical kind of hero. He has a sword from Zeus, a cap of invisibility from Hades, winged sandals from Hermes, and a shield from Athena. All that Jesus possesses is prayers, supplications, cries, tears, and reverent submission to the God who is able to save him.
But that’s enough, says Hebrews. Enough for our hero Jesus. And maybe enough for us as well.
What could it mean for us to pray to God and show “reverent submission”? I know that I tend to want to be in complete control of my life, deciding where I’ll work, what I’ll eat, and who I’ll spend time with. As an American, I love my freedom. I don’t want to follow the agenda of someone else. But Jesus was saved from death precisely because he submitted to the agenda of a power above him.
Jesus made some truly unexpected choices in his ministry and mission. Some difficult choices. He was a king like Melchizedek, but he didn’t crave a kingdom in this world. He had divine privileges like Perseus, but didn’t ask for special weapons and earthly victories. Instead, Jesus prayed to God, and was heard because of his reverent submission. In all things, he put God first.
We can do the same. At home, at school, at work, and in the community, we can submit to the agenda of God, and be the family members, students, teachers, bosses, employees, and neighbors that God wants us to be.
What Jesus teaches us is “reverent submission.” Such an attitude is profoundly countercultural in our world today, but it is the key to being heard and helped by Almighty God. Because Jesus showed obedience to God, and even suffered in his service to God, he “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (v. 9).
The life of Jesus had impact: Eternal salvation for all who follow him. His life of generous self-giving provides each of us with the gift of salvation. If we believe in him, we discover that we are saved from sin and death, and rescued from anything that can divide us from God and from each other. The life of Jesus was a heroic life, one that continues to transform our lives today.
Perseus and Jesus may seem similar at first, but there are many differences. One man is a myth; one walked this earth. One was given a sword by his divine father; one was “designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (v. 10). One was a warrior and destroyer; one was a king of peace.
Of the two, only Jesus is a model of righteousness. Only Jesus enters fully into human life, suffers as we do, and teaches us how to offer up prayers and supplications. Only Jesus learns obedience through suffering and becomes the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
In years past, pastors used to talk about “preaching for a decision.” This meant preaching a sermon which concluded with an invitation to make a decision for Christ. Well, here it is:
Is Jesus your Lord and Savior? Or is Perseus?
Jesus calls you to faith and trust and reverent submission, and promises to change your life. Perseus follows the pattern of so many earthly heroes, scoring victories through violence, and then he disappears when the story ends.
Only Jesus can save. Both you and the world.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for the generous gift of Jesus, a priest and a king, a man of righteousness and peace, a Lord and a Savior. We know that we need to be saved from our sins and our shortcomings — from everything in our lives that separates us from you and from each other. Some of us want to decide today to follow your Son Jesus in a life of faith and trust and reverent submission. Accept these decisions, and assure us of your gift of salvation, which rescues us from destruction and assures us of everlasting life with you. All of this we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. “The scriptural world of Hebrews.” Interpretation, July 2003, 243.
Buchanan, John M. “Preaching for a decision.” The Christian Century, October 4, 2011, 3.