Superman, Jesus and Melchizedek

There are claims that the early box-office success of the new Superman movie has been driven, in part, by the support of America’s mega-churches who have been encouraging their people to watch the film.

Apparently a PR firm has been employed working the Christian market with screenings for pastors, free clips for churches and even draft sermons that work on the idea that there are themes in the movie that can be interpreted from a Christian perspective: a supernatural hero who lives a modest life “until extraordinary times called for an extraordinary response.”

Christopher Nolan, the producer, says that Superman is “very God-like in a lot of ways…”

I don’t know how many preachers (at least in the US) have already preached their Superman sermon; or how many are set to do so this weekend (I’m planning to preach from the the story of the gospel reaching Philippi in Acts 16). Nor do I know exactly how those who do so will go about it.

By the way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with finding cultural points of connection in preaching. Didn’t Jesus use everyday stories to illustrate his mission? Didn’t Paul use the (faulty) theology of the Athenians as well as toss in some references to their poets? (And isn’t the Javert/Valjean story in Les Miserables a great illustration of the contrast between law and grace?)

Nonetheless I have a question. What about Melchizedek?

If you are not sure who he is (and the name is not – as far as I know – a pseudonym for Superman), take a look at Genesis 14 for his story. He’s something of a mystery in that he appears from nowhere and disappears back into the mists. In between, he blesses Abraham and collects a tithe from him.

We know that he was King of (Jeru)Salem and that the translation of his name is ‘King of Righteousness’. We don’t know who his parents were and we have no idea how long he reigned, or even how long his life was.

Not much to go on.

Yet, later in the Old Testament, in Psalm 110 (the Psalm that is quoted more than any other by the New Testament writers), he occurs again: this time in a promise that some Messianic figure will be ‘a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’

We have to wait until the New Testament letter to the Hebrews to discover what all this is about. There the writer is keen to explain to his (unless you think Priscilla wrote the letter) readers the significance of that reference in Psalm 110 which he connects clearly to Jesus. Which gives us Hebrews 7.

The writer wants to elevate the priesthood of Melchizedek (and therefore of Jesus) above the Levitical priesthood. It’s part of the letter’s argument that Jesus is the true and better way.

As well as picking up on the significance of Melchizedek’s name and title (King of Righteousness, King of Peace), he picks up on Melchizedek’s lack of genealogy and the fact that (in the Genesis record) his life does not come to an end. If he doesn’t die, his priesthood keeps on forever.

And that is what the Hebrews need to know about Jesus. Because his priesthood is patterned on Melchizedek, it is a perpetual priesthood. He continues in the power of an indestructible life. Which means that he is able to provide complete salvation to all who come to God through him, ‘since he always lives to make intercession for them.’

Here then is the challenge – at least for preachers: is your congregation more likely to be familiar with the story of Superman than the story of Melchizedek? If so, are you happy to settle for that?

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