A Generous FaithErwin W. Lutzer | September 25, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
Lot has found himself in trouble, but Abraham is on his way to rescue him. On the return trip after the rescue, Abraham encounters two kings: the king of Sodom and the king of Salem.
Abraham refuses to take anything from the king of Sodom, but he gives a tenth of all that was his to the king of Salem, Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High.
So how loyal do you think you would be to somebody who made a decision to make you poorer to enrich himself? Maybe I could put the question a little differently. To what extent would you be willing to take a risk for someone whom you know would never take a risk for you? That was the decision that Abraham faced.
The story of the 14th chapter of Genesis can be summarized in this way, and take your Bibles and turn to Genesis 14. We are going to be doing some digging in the Scriptures today as we look at this passage. The bottom line is there were five kings along the Jordan valley all the way to Sodom and Gomorrah, next to the Dead Sea. These five kings were in subjection to four kings who lived in the northwest.
The five kings decided to revolt. So the four kings came down to the Jordan valley in the area of Sodom and they said, “We’re going to fight against you.” And they plundered cities such as Sodom. Now mind you the king of Sodom somehow escaped. He probably went into some of the hills. But the city was plundered along with the other cities in that coalition, and people were taken captive as well as goods.
So we open the story here in chapter 14 of Genesis, verse 13. “Then one who had escaped came and told Abraham the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre,” and then it goes on to say the specific area in which he was living and who owned the trees. But Abraham was there and lo and behold, somebody comes and tells him that Lot his nephew, who was living in Sodom, was taken captive.
This is the first time in the entire Bible that the word “Hebrew” occurs, “Abraham the Hebrew.” We are not sure of the derivation of the word, but it may refer to someone who has “crossed over,” maybe somebody who crossed over the river. But it shows you the extent to which Abraham had become a big man with lots of livestock and lots of people under his direction.
So Lot has been taken captive and Abraham begins to wonder, “What do I do with this nephew of mine who chose the best pasture land?” Abraham made a decision, and the decision was to help Lot. And that decision would lead to another even bigger decision. And the reason that it is important that we listen to God’s Word today is because we are going to be talking about the kinds of decisions we can make that have eternal consequences. If you are facing a decision this week listen especially carefully.
So Abraham decides to get 318 of his men together and, “He pursues them,” it says in verse 14, “as far as Dan.” One hundred miles! Can you imagine the supply lines and all of the things that they needed for 318 men? And then he catches up and he surprises them by a sneak attack at night. He divides his forces and overcomes these kings that have just been rejoicing in their own victory and their own strength. And so he overtakes them and he rescues Lot. And then he continues to pursue them for another 100 miles, all the way to Damascus. And then he returns.
He and Lot I’m sure had some very interesting conversations on the way back. I can imagine Abraham saying, “Lot, is it really wise for you to live in Sodom? I know that you took the best pasture land and that was okay with me. But Sodom is a dangerous place to raise a family.” If they had that discussion it is not recorded. And if they did have it, it didn’t do any good.
But Abraham is coming back now, and if you can visualize the land of Israel he’s coming from the north and he is going to go to the south, and he is bringing back people and the goods that had been plundered. And he ends up right next to where Jerusalem is today. In fact, when it talks about the Valley of Shaveh, that is the King’s Valley in verse 17, it most probably is referring to what we call today the Kidron valley. If you have been to Israel, you know that on one side is the Mount of Olives with the Garden of Gethsemane and on the other side is the great city of Jerusalem. And it is there that he encounters two kings. And that’s the essence of our message today.
We pick it up in verse 17: “After his return from the defeat of Kedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek King of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High.” He brings out bread and wine to refresh Abraham after his victory. And he blessed him and said, “‘Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.”
Who in this world is Melchizedek? Well, that name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” “Melech” in Hebrew meaning “king,” “sedek” is righteousness, king of righteousness. King of Salem, Salem “shalom,” “sedek,” peace, king of peace. This took place in Jerusalem, very ancient Jerusalem, “Ir shalom” in Hebrew, city of peace. Apparently this Melchizedek was king of a small area there in the city of Jerusalem or where Jerusalem is today, so he was a king.
But notice that he wasn’t just a king. He was also a priest. He was the priest of the Most High God. Think about it. Abraham receives a revelation from God to go into the land. Abraham is a friend of God, Abraham loves God, and God talks to Abraham directly. And here Abraham meets someone who is superior to him, spiritually speaking.
Abraham has in himself the entire hope of the world, the hope of redemption because of the blessing to Abraham’s seed. Jesus Christ is wrapped up in that blessing. And here Abraham, with all of the hope of the world wrapped up in himself, meets someone who is nearer to God and superior to himself.
That must have been a surprise in a pagan culture. So Abraham evidently, if we interpret the text this way as we must initially at least, Abraham is met by someone who has a closer relationship and more revelation from God than he has. And Abraham takes and he pays him a tenth of all, showing the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham. Mysterious man this Melchizedek.
Now what do we make of it? Many centuries pass and David is beginning to write the Psalms, and he writes in Psalm 110, verse four, he says regarding the coming of Jesus, “He is a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” Not after the order of Aaron, not after the order of Levi, but a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Now in the seventh chapter of Hebrews we find an entire chapter devoted to this argument. I want you to follow it carefully. If you are listening on the radio, this is the time to pull off to the side of the road. Don’t hit a curb, but just pull off a little bit. If you are listening on the internet, it is time to tell the children to be quiet just for the next few moments. And if you are here at The Moody Church, nudge your neighbor and say, “Just listen to this!”
Here’s the entire argument of Hebrews chapter seven, and I am summarizing it for you. The author says that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who is superior to Aaron for this reason. Here is Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, admitting that he is priest of the Most High God. And where were Aaron and Levi when all this was happening? Well of course they were not even born. To use the King James Version of the Bible, “They were in the loins of their father Abraham.”
So the author’s argument is this: when you have the father of Levi and Aaron, when you have the father bowing down, and in effect if not bowing down at least giving allegiance to Melchizedek, clearly Melchizedek has a superior priesthood. In fact, because he does not have any genealogy, it says in the book of Hebrews, we don’t know where in the world he came from. He really is a better picture of Jesus than even Aaron and Levi, because that priesthood has been passed away. It no longer applies now that Jesus has come.
And so we know now that Melchizedek is a king, he is a priest, and he blesses Abraham. And this is what he says: “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Some translations say “creator” rather than “possessor.” It can be translated that way, but probably better to translate it “possessor of heaven and earth.” And he blesses Abraham.
Why this here? Why does Melchizedek come out of nowhere and bestow this blessing upon Abraham? Abraham is about to face a great test. And the test is going to come from another king whose name is Bera, who is king of Sodom where Lot lived.
And so what God wants to do here in this situation is to prepare Abraham and remind him that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. God is not a poor God, He is not a confused Deity, and He is not a weak Deity. He is not a Deity whose hands are tied in terms of blessing, because He is possessor; He is creator of heaven and earth. “Remember that, Abraham, when your test comes, as it is coming right now.”
And before we get to the second king, notice that Abraham paid him a tenth of all, he paid tithes. Some people think that tithing came about as a result of the Mosaic Law. But here, hundreds of years before Moses you have Abraham paying tithes. Jacob tithed; it was a principle that God obviously revealed very early.
Now here at the Moody Church we do not require tithing because the New Testament does not require it. We encourage it, we think it is a good benchmark for people; it is a good way for people to begin the giving process. And did you know that if all of our members and all the people who attended Moody Church were to tithe, we would never need a capital campaign to raise funds? Our missionaries would never lack for money if only we gave a tenth of all.
So here you have the story of Abraham’s generosity in the presence of this mysterious man Melchizedek, king and priest, prefiguring Jesus.
Now we have a second king that enters into the picture. You’ll notice it says in verse 21, “Now the king of Sodom said to Abraham, ‘Give me the persons but take the goods for yourself.’” In other words, “You’ve recovered the spoil, you keep the spoil you recovered, but of course return the persons.” And Lot of course would be among that group that had been taken captive and that Abraham was able to return.
Now think about that for a moment. That was a reasonable deal. Abraham could say, “The spoil that I received from this incursion into the territory of these four kings is legitimate payment for my risk. I took a risk and the spoils therefore should be mine. And obviously the king of Sodom would not get anything if I hadn’t have gone. So yeah, I’ll keep it.”
Notice though what Abraham says. Verse 22, “But Abraham said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted up my hand to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth,’” using the same language of the blessing given to him by Melchizedek, “‘that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, “I have made Abraham rich.”’”
“Some of the young men who are here, what they ate and what they want to take, that’s their business, but as for me,” we would translate it, “I will not take one red cent lest the king of Sodom would say, ‘Yes, well, Abraham is rich. But I just want you to know I contributed to those riches. He has some of our goods. He had it coming to him but we decided to be generous and to give him whatever it is that he captured.’”
Abraham says, “I don’t want to hear one word along that line, because if the king of Sodom were to speak that way I would be robbing God of His glory. Is not the God that I serve the possessor of heaven and earth? Didn’t He bring everything into existence?” Does it not say in the Old Testament, and Abraham wouldn’t have known this but we do, “That all the gold is mine, the silver is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills is mine,” says the Lord. Even that which people grab for themselves belongs to God, the possessor of heaven and earth.
And Abraham says, “I want to make a clear distinction here. I will receive God’s blessing but I am refusing the manipulation and the deals of the world so that God gets all the glory.”
I woke up this morning quite early, quarter to five actually, and before I got out of bed I was praying saying, “Lord, you know I would really like to find an illustration to illustrate this.” None came to mind; I searched around but couldn’t find it.
And then God did something very special. I have a friend of mine who is a prayer partner who prays for me all the time, who will receive in heaven the reward of any good thing that I have ever done. I was getting ready for the baptism and he was helping me get into my garb that I need for baptism.
He told me that he was just on a weekend journey that was very, very profitable from the standpoint of his business. He wanted to do something that would violate a principle he had always held to in terms of relationships with unbelievers. He is volunteering all this and he doesn’t have a clue what this sermon is about. Now of course we have to do business with all kinds of people in the world, most assuredly. But it had to do with a partnership.
And he decided to go along this way at first thinking, “You know, it will work and the potential here is awesome,” until he was rebuked in his spirit. And last night he took a walk and decided that the answer was “no.” And God confirmed it by having this man back out of the deal by leaving a voicemail message on his phone.
Do you see the temptation that we get into when we want to have opportunity and when we want to make a deal? Nothing wrong with deals, but when you are in partnerships with those who do not know the Savior they might say, “It is because of me that you today have been blessed.” I know that this is complicated, and there may be some exceptions and some unanswered questions. But the main thing I want to leave with you today is this: don’t ever make a decision that will rob God of His glory. It’s better to be blessed by God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth than to manipulate a deal with the kings of Sodom.
Three very important lessons grow out of this. First of all, the lesson is we always face a choice between two kings. It’s either King Jesus or it’s ourselves and the world. All of our choices boil down to that.
One more time I am going to look at this man Melchizedek. Who was he anyway? He comes out of nowhere, no genealogy, superior to Abraham, king, and priest of the Most High God. Who was he anyway? Many Bible scholars feel, and I’ve come to this conclusion—though I cannot prove it absolutely—that Melchizedek was Jesus. In the Old Testament, what you find is from time to time God revealed Himself. Jesus became flesh or sometimes He became an angel for a very specific reason. And then after His work was done He would disappear. And then later on of course He came in Bethlehem to permanently accept humanity so that He could be our brother and our Savior.
This is called by theologians pre-incarnate manifestation, that is, prior to Bethlehem when God became flesh, manifestation of God. And here Abraham doesn’t know it. He doesn’t understand the Trinity like we do, but I believe he is in the presence of Deity. And isn’t it interesting that Melchizedek gave him bread and wine, which later of course would be symbolic of the blood and body of Jesus. He is in the presence of Christ!
Yesterday I called my mother on the phone as I always do on Saturday. Some of you know that she is 97. When I call her, the last question she always asks is, “What are you preaching on tomorrow?” Now my mother only had about a third grade education at best, but she taught herself to read, and she reads well in German and English. She spends most of her time now reading the Bible and singing hymns.
And I didn’t know whether she would remember Melchizedek or not. I said, “It’s about Abraham meeting Melchizedek.” And my mother, who has not read a single commentary in her life I’m sure, said, “Well, wasn’t Melchizedek really Jesus?” I thought, “Mom… way to go mom! I think you are right. I think Melchizedek was Jesus.”
And that’s where we stand today, always a choice between two kings: King Jesus or all of the options of this world. You young people, you stand today between two kings. Tomorrow when you go to school it’s going to be either King Jesus or other kings that are going to be thrown in your direction, and the temptations of the world are going to be there and you have to choose. You business men, you have to always choose between King Jesus and some other king of Sodom who offers you some deal for the purpose of opportunity. And there you stand making your choice. Almost every choice is King Jesus or someone else.
Many of you know the story of George Beverly Shay. He has been for many years the singer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Some of us have had the privilege of meeting him. He has sung to millions and millions of people. And you know about that story that he loves to tell because it is his personal testimony, of how he had been offered a job because of his wonderful baritone voice. He’d been offered a job by a radio company back in the 30s, and all that they dangled in front of him was fame and fortune if he were to sign up with them.
And his mother put a poem on the piano so that when he sat down he would see the poem. And do you know what the poem was? He wrote the music to the song that we often sing.
“I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold, I’d rather be His than have riches untold, I’d rather be His than houses or land, I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand. Than to be the king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.” We all stand in the presence of Jesus making our choice, and that is the first lesson.
Second, our choice is determined by our hearts. Your choice will be determined by your heart. Case in point: Lot. Here’s Lot who chose the best pasture land and he pitches his tent toward Sodom. Now he’s living in Sodom, he’s carried off and then he is brought back by his Uncle Abraham. You’d think he would say to himself, “You know, this is a real bad deal living in Sodom,” and it is going to get worse by the way if you know how the story ended. “So what I am going to do is I am going to move out of Sodom and begin to follow the Lord. I’m going to begin to have an altar in my life just like my Uncle Abraham.”
Is that what Lot does? No. Lot’s heart was in Sodom, so his body had to follow, because your body will go where your heart wants to go. It’s basically a matter of what you love. That’s why the Bible says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world passes away and all of its lusts, but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
And then notice this, “If you love the world the love of the Father is not in you.” It’s always a choice as to what you love that will determine your decisions, no question about it. Now I don’t mean that simply if you love God you are always going to be kept from sin. There is a need sometimes for rules.
You remember that story in Homer’s Odyssey where Ulysses knows that he is going to be tempted by the siren songs as the boat goes along. And he knows that many captains have actually turned away and have hit the rocks because they could not overcome the temptation. And he asks that all of his sailors have wax put in their ears. And then he himself is tied to the mast and he told his men, “No matter how much I struggle, no matter what happens, no matter what I tell you, no matter what promises I make, do not unbind me until we are past the siren songs.”
Yes, there is the need for rules and accountability and binding ourselves to the mast. But at the end of the day it is what is in our hearts that will determine what our decision is. Abraham loves God; he turns to the possessor of heaven and earth and says “no” to the king of Sodom. Lot loves Sodom; he turns away from God and says “yes” to Sodom which means burning, not knowing that all that he has and all that he accomplishes will someday soon be burned up.
Final lesson, and that is that our hearts need to be changed by God. You see, we can’t wake up in the morning and say to ourselves, “You know what I am going to do today? I’ve just made a choice. Today I am going to love God, love righteousness and hate iniquity. That’s my choice today.” You can’t change your heart by saying that. In the immortal words of Woody Allen, “The heart wants what it wants.” You can’t change your heart. Can a leopard change its spots, the Bible says? No, a leopard cannot change its spots. Can you clean your heart, can you change your heart, can you use steel wool and scrub it and make it clean? No, you can’t do that.
But God says, “A new heart I give you.” And with that new heart come new loves. And we may find ourselves in sin but we hate what we are doing because fundamentally we do love God. And the first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And when we love God like that, sin loses its attractiveness. We no longer love it because we love God. But God births that in us.
You can’t change people. You can’t even change them by putting pressure on them. About 15 years ago a young man wandered into my office that I had known from a previous church. He was really far from God. He was doing his own thing and saying “No” to his parents. I knew his parents, and I put a lot of pressure on him. I said, “You ought to get on your knees right here and repent.” Well, when I told him that he was a little sheepish but thought, “Well if Pastor Lutzer thinks I should do it, you know, I want to get out of here so I guess I will.” So I got down on my knees with him and he “repented” and never changed a bit.
There is a form of saying sorry and even a form of repentance that does not bring about the change of heart that Jesus called “a new birth” which gives you new loves. This past week in a certain context that I will not take time to tell you about, I put my hand on a young man. I had never met him before but I simply said to him, “Have you accepted Christ as your Savior?” And he said, “Oh yeah, I do it every day.”
You’ve met that kind, haven’t you? They do it every day. If you do it every day you don’t understand what you are doing. You may confess your sins every day, but once you’ve made that transfer of trust to Christ and you become God’s children you begin to live for Him every day. But, you don’t receive Him every day. But the real issue is this: you accept Christ every day? Great idea! Has God given you a new heart with new loves, so that now you love righteousness? The contrast couldn’t be clearer here between Abraham and Lot. Both did what they loved to do, Abraham serving the possessor of heaven and earth, Lot serving Sodom. They were where their hearts wanted to be.
Let’s pray. “Father our hearts are so deceitful. They are so filled with our self-love and self-absorption and ego. Show us that today Father that we might genuinely be led to a point of saying, ‘God, I can’t change my heart.’ The words of the song that we sang last week, ‘Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.’” If God’s talked to you today would you talk to Him? Say, “God, give me a new heart. Do in me what I cannot do myself. I embrace Christ to change my heart.” Would you tell Him that? “Father, give us the faith of Abraham and take from us Lord the heart of Lot. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.”