We are in the book of Hebrews and we’re about halfway through now. And we do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews, there are a lot of people who have guessed, but we don’t know who wrote it, but whoever wrote it says three times prior to Hebrews chapter 7 – what we’re about to read from – that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. And a lot of New Testament scholars think that Hebrews was probably originally a sermon that was made into a letter. And if this was a sermon, then for a little while now the preacher has been going on about just dropping these one liners that Jesus Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. And the listeners had to have been saying something like, “I hope that he’s going to explain that at some point, because I have no idea what that means.” And that’s what chapter 7 really does. He’s said it three times, and now we get to chapter 7 and he’s going to explain it. But one New Testament scholar says that Melchizedek is the most complex subject in all of Biblical studies. And now that I’ve given a one minute introduction, we have twenty-nine minutes left to get through it all!
We looked at Melchizedek actually in August of 2019 together and of course it takes more than once. It takes so much time to work through what is meant in the Bible by this relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus. And there are five chapters where Melchizedek appears in the Bible – Genesis 14, Psalm 110, Hebrews 5, 6, and 7. And it’s not secret at all that Hebrews 7, the passage we’re in tonight, connects Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 to Jesus; connects Melchizedek to Jesus Christ. And that connection, there’s something different, there’s something different in that connection than the relationships we see in the rest of Hebrews. And from the very beginning of Hebrews we’ve got relationships like angels are ministering spirits, but Jesus ministers as the Son of God. And then the next chapter, Moses was a great servant, but Jesus is the heir of God’s household, not just a servant. Or just after – this will be next week – Levites are God’s priests, but Jesus is the indestructible High Priest. Totally different; so much better and greater. But when you come to Melchizedek, the relationship is not contrasted. It’s not a contrast. Verse 3 says that Melchizedek is a resemblance or copy, literally in Greek, of the Son of God. Jesus Christ is in the order of Melchizedek and Melchizedek is a copy of the Son of God in some sense. And so it’s different from every other Old Testament relationship and office that Jesus gets compared to in the book of Hebrews.
And so let’s pray, and then we’ll read it and try to flesh it out. Let’s pray.
Lord, we come tonight knowing that this is a tough subject. And so we ask, Holy Spirit, as You do, to do the work You love to do through opening up our eyes to hear Your holy Word. And we ask for that in Jesus’ name, amen.
So the bulletin has Hebrews 7:1-10. We’re going to read Hebrews 7:1-11 tonight. So this is God’s holy Word:
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?”
So Hebrews 7 leads us to notice three things. First, the meeting; the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek. And then the blessing. And then the always Priest-King.
So first, the meeting. And you see it right there in verse 1 – “Melchizedek, the priest, the king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham” – he came out and met him – when Abraham was “returning from the slaughter of the kings.” So right there at the very beginning when this meeting happens, Hebrews 7:1 gives us the context, points us back to the context of where and when all this took place. And that points us to Genesis 14 where this original story happened. And in Genesis 14, it’s a series of military campaigns, and this is the moment where Abraham moves from being a local figure, a clan leader, to an international military hero in Genesis 14.
And the situation was this. There were four Babylonian kings and these four Babylonian kings had come together to create an empire where they were ruling over five vassal slave kings in the Dead Sea region. And the Dead Sea kings rose up and started a revolution and they wanted to get out from under the oppression of this early Babylonian empire. And so Babylon rose up and gathered their military and went down to suppress the revolution. And so they went down to places like Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed the city. And when that happened, when the Babylonian king went down and crushed the Dead Sea region, who was living in Sodom and Gomorrah? It was Lot, Abraham’s nephew. And so Lot gets captured as a slave in the midst of this revolution. And Abraham – it says very specifically in Genesis 14 – took 318 men, exactly, and he went out and he defeated the Babylonian kings and took back his nephew and freed the Dead Sea vassal kings.
And what that means is that this moment, so far in the Abraham story, was Abraham’s climax point. It was his zenith. It was his peak. He had moved from being – the text only focused on Abraham and his family, very narrowly, and all of a sudden the next chapter, chapter 14, he becomes an international figure where he goes and defeats, he defeats the four kings of Babylon all at once with 318 men! Why does the text tell us it’s 318 men? Because nobody should be able to take 318 men and defeat four Babylonian kings in the greatest empire of the world at that time. But Abraham does it! And then right after that in Genesis 14, we have the meeting. And the reason that the meeting takes place between Melchizedek and Abraham is because Abraham goes to meet the Dead Sea kings that he had rescued in a place called the Valley of Shaveh. The Valley of Shaveh is translated as “the king’s valley.” He goes to meet the kings that he saved in the king’s valley after he defeated the Babylonian kings.
And you see what that’s saying. It’s saying that Abraham, Abraham is no mere clan leader. Abraham just took 318 men and defeated the Babylonian empire and now he’s going to tell the Dead Sea vassal kings that they are free because of him. He is a king. He has become the king. He is the pinnacle figure of the ancient near eastern world in this moment. He has become the king. But then the meeting happens, and the meeting is that Melchizedek steps into the king’s valley with these kings. And Abraham, who has just defeated Babylon, rescued the Dead Sea territory, saved his nephew with 318 men, the king, he is totally eclipsed. He is overshadowed. He becomes second. He fades into the background by this man Melchizedek at this meeting.
And what Hebrews 7:1-2 note is what Genesis 14 triggers. And that’s that this is a complete anomaly in the text of the book of Genesis. Genesis is a very highly stylized and organized text and Melchizedek really just makes no sense when he appears into it. Let me flesh that out. Hebrews 7 is commenting on the strangeness of this appearance of Melchizedek, all based on ancient Near Eastern résumés. You know, if you want to go out in the market we live in today and get a job, you need to have marketable skills. You’ve got to have – whether it’s a degree or something you’ve learned, a vocation – that makes sense because you’ve got the marketable skills to do it. And it was similar in the ancient Near Eastern world. In the ancient Near Eastern world, your résumé was all about your bloodline and how much land you owned. Who you came from and how much land and sheep and cattle did you possess. That was your résumé. That was how people understood and got a grip of who you were and what you could do. And Genesis is organized into ten genealogies. You can divide the whole book into a set of ten. Everybody in Genesis that gets talked about has a genealogy except one person, and that’s Melchizedek. He shows up in the midst of a section full of genealogies. And Hebrews 7 says that there was no genealogy when he entered into the text. He’s an anomaly. It’s strange. It doesn’t make sense!
And so if you ask, “What is Melchizedek’s résumé?” If you ask, “Who is he?” Hebrews 7:3 comes in and says, “Well, we can only make an argument from silence.” The argument from silence. It’s like when the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog barking in the night. How did Sherlock Holmes figure out the mystery? Well, because there was one night when the dog was not barking. It was an argument from silence. He knew because of the silence that he could find the truth. And Hebrews 7 comes back to Genesis 14 and says, “I’m just going to tell you what’s not there.” It’s a complete argument from silence. And what’s not there? Hebrews 7:3 – he has no family, no mother, no father, no burial place, no beginning, no end, no origin, no death record. Nothing! The genealogy is what’s not there. So John Calvin, when he preached on this text, he says, “This Melchizedek, whoever he was, is presented before us without any origins as if he had dropped from the clouds and his name is buried without any mention of death.” The question of the ancient Near Eastern résumé is the same exact question of the Mississippi résumé when you first meet people. Right? “Who are your people? Where have you come from?” And it’s not there. We’re told he has no beginning and no end. No mother and no father. No burial. It’s not mentioned.
Now where does he live? We are told in verse 2 where he lives. And it says that he comes from a place called Salem. Verse 1 and verse 2 both tell us that. He comes from a place called Salem. Now if you do a study of the ancient Near East around this time period, it’s true that there were multiple places called Salem. But, what the author of Hebrews does is interprets what this is. And what the author of Hebrews does is call this place the city of peace. And the reason for that is because in Hebrew, originally there were no vowels. You would have just read a text and it would have said, “This is the man that comes from SLM” – Salem. And those are the same exact three consonants that we see in the Hebrew word, “shalom” – SLM. This is the man who comes from the city of shalom – true peace, abiding peace, all the way down from top to bottom. And we know from later studies, from what develops in the Old Testament, that the king’s valley is just a kilometer or two from the hills or Moriah. And the hills of Moriah are the place where the city of Jebus will one day sit. And the city called Jebus will eventually be called the City of David, the City of Jerusalem. This man is from the City of Jerusalem. That’s where he’s from.
But even more than that, what is he? And verse 2 tells us. It’s built into the translation of his name. He is king of the city of shalom. And his name, Melchizedek, literally translates to “my king of righteousness.” And so let’s just take some stock here. We have a name whose name is righteousness, who is the king of the city of shalom, true peace, who has no beginning and no end of days, no genealogy, no mother, no father recorded. And there have been all sorts of proposals throughout history of the identity of this figure, this anomaly in the midst of the book of Genesis. In intertestamental literature, Jewish, rabbinic literature from the time between the Old Testament and New Testament, approximately 300-400 years, oftentimes Melchizedek is thought to be Michael or another one of the archangels of God. But Hebrews 7, Hebrews 7 comes in and everybody who has ever thought about this has only been groping for furniture in a dark room. And Hebrews 7 cracks the door open – not all the way on this side of eternity – but cracks the door open and lets some light in and says at least this, verse 3, that this man is the resemblance of the Son of God. He is a type. He is a shadow. He is a pre-figurement of the coming. He is the forerunner of the One, of Jesus Christ. It connects him directly to Jesus.
Is he a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God? Is he what we call a Christophony? An appearance of the Son of God in the Old Testament? And the only thing I can say is, “Maybe.” I don’t know. Hebrews cracks the door open and says that Melchizedek lives on. But we can’t exactly know what the author means by that. He doesn’t seem to tell us. We don’t know exactly who he is except that he is a resemblance, a copy, a shadow, a pre-figurement of the one day coming Son of God.
Now what does this mean? Well, what this means is, Abraham, when he encounters Melchizedek in Genesis 14, he knew that he had encountered something truly great. He knew that in this man there was something that he was to look for in the future. Abraham knew it. He didn’t understand it. And what Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 teaches us first is that Melchizedek, the order of Melchizedek is forever, eternal. And that means that there is a king, the king of shalom, who stands today outside of all bloodlines, outside of all genealogies, without beginning of days or end of days, above all earthly rulers, above all kingship and presidency and government in this whole world, there is a king who is like that, who is that, and his name is Jesus Christ. And He is the eternal King. He is in the order of Melchizedek, an order all its own – there’s nothing like it; there’s never been anything like it and never will be except for Him, except for His kingship. In other words, Jesus Christ – what this is telling us – it’s not as if Jesus Christ is like a king; it’s not as if we look out at monarchs of history and governments of history and say, “When I read about Jesus in the New Testament, I see similarities between earthly governments and what Jesus is as a King.” No, it’s the total reverse. Jesus Christ is the eternal King and all kingship that has ever existed only exists because of Him, because He is the paradigm. Kingship exists because there is a King. And when God created the world and He instilled governments and monarchs and all sorts of magistrates, they are a mere dim reflection of the reality of His eternal government, of His kingship. He is the paradigm of all kingship. He is the eternal King.
And that’s exactly what David recognized in Psalm 110 that we sang a little earlier. David looked up into heaven in prayer in Psalm 110, and verse 17 – we didn’t read that far in Hebrews 7 – but verse 17 takes us to Psalm 110 in quotes. Psalm 110, David says, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” What happened? David looked up in to the heavens and he says, “I saw the LORD sitting next to my Lord.” David, in his day, King David, the pinnacle of Israel’s kingship, would have been called “Lord” by his subjects. And so you’ve got the lord of Israel, lowercase “l,” looking up into heaven seeing the LORD, all capitals, Yahweh, the God of Israel saying, “But I also see another Lord.” And the word he uses for that is a word related to kingship. I see another Lord next to Yahweh. Who is that? And the only thing he knows to say is, “He is one after the order of Melchizedek.” He is the King seated in the heavenly court. I see one. David was the greatest king Israel had, but he is totally eclipsed in Psalm 110. And Abraham was the first great king of the land of Canaan, the land of Israel, and he is completely eclipsed in Genesis 14. There is a king who stands above all and behind all. And the world was made through Him and for Him and we exist for Him.
Yohannes Bavinck was a missiologist, a theologian and a missiologist, who taught at the Free University of Amsterdam in the middle 20th century. And he traveled all the time and wrote a lot of books about world religions. He particularly was interested in eastern Asian religions and all the different religions that popped up in East Asia. And from his studies he came and noticed what he called “the enduring realities,” he calls them in one book. In another book he calls them “the magnetic points of the human consciousness.” “The enduring realities” and “the magnetic points of the human consciousness.” And what he means by that is he looks and sees from the ground up, from his experience in every single culture, every single religion, every single group of fables and legends around all the other religions, that there are consistent expressions of human desires, of what people want most of all, that remain steady throughout every culture, every religion, every set of legends and fables and sagas. And one of the ones he notes in one of his books is the desire for a good king. The human heart, he says, longs for a good king. And you know why? Because Christianity makes sense of everything. Christianity makes sense of everything. Christianity says that there is an eternal King and that every single one of us was made for Him. Every single culture, therefore, must write about Him because literature and poetry and song and even false religion is an idolatrous expression of the true desires of the human heart. It’s what we want – a true, just King who can really bring shalom into the world.
And Yohannes noticed it all over the place. It’s why we have the trope in western literature of the return of the lost king. Our two great kingship legends that frame western – this is probably overstated – but frame all of our consciousness in western literature. Or that story of King Arthur in the Middle Ages and the great modern legend, the Lord of the Rings. Right? And both of those are about the same thing. They are about a king, a seat, a monarch that is empty. And if only the true king, the good king, the just king would return, the land could have peace. And the reason for that – Christianity tells us why; every religion, every culture expresses itself in that way – because there is a King. There is an eternal King that every single one of us longs to return to this world and bring the city of shalom, the true Jerusalem, down from heaven to earth. We were made for this. There is a true King and we were made for Him.
Now secondly and much more briefly. The second thing – not only the meeting but also the blessing. We see that also in verse 1 and all throughout the passage. Immediately the blessing comes about because we’re told Melchizedek is not only a king; he’s also a priest. In Genesis 14 he’s called the priest of El Elyon. The priest of the Most High God. And what Hebrews 7 continues to note over and over again is that this king is priesting towards Abraham. He’s acting like a priest to him. And it notes two ways that he does that. He blesses him, he pronounces a benediction, but he also receives a tithe.
But there’s a third way too in Genesis 14, and that is that he offers Abraham a feast. And this is a big deal. This is a big deal in the Old Testament and it’s a big deal in Hebrews 7. And the reason for that is that there is not supposed to be a person according to the Old Testament law, according to the way God structured the monarchy in Israel and its relationship to the temple, there is not supposed to be one person that is both priest and king at the same time. Saul tried it in 1 Samuel 13 and God rejected Saul for the king trying to act like the priest and offer a sacrifice. And the reason for that is because kings in the ancient Near East did try to do the work of a priest. In pagan societies in the ancient world, kings talked about themselves as the sole mediators between the gods and human beings. You had to go to the king if you wanted to get to the gods. And God came and He disrupted all of that. He said there’s not going to be a priest and a king. And a king and a priest, they’re not going to share the same office.
But Melchizedek comes in and he starts priesting towards Abraham. And we’re told that he’s also the king. You see it first when Abraham wins the battle. He’s victorious but weary soldier. He’s met by Melchizedek and the first thing Melchizedek does is he takes bread and wine and gives Abraham the meal of celebration, of victory. And the priest sometimes, in some of the sacrifices in the Levitical office later in the Torah, would share the food of the sacrifice at the table with those who had been cleansed by the sacrifice. He’s doing what the later priests will do. And there will be another priest who will take bread and He will take wine and He will offer His people the meal of victory. Not only the feast, but then he blesses. The text in Hebrews 7 notes over and over again he blesses Abraham. He pronounces a benediction. And when you would come to give a sacrifice in the temple, the priest afterwards would raise his hands up just like we do here and he would pronounce a blessing from God upon the one who had offered the sacrifice. He’s priesting.
And then Abraham gives him a tithe, just like any of the people of Israel would have given a tithe to the priest. Like it was commanded later on before the Levites were ever born, before the Torah was ever written, he was already doing this. And you know, Abraham has not been taught this. He instinctively knows, “I want to be blessed by this man. I want to feast with this man. I want to give a tithe to this man.” He wants to eat at Melchizedek’s table and the reason for that is because he knows he is standing before something great. He knows that this man is not just a king, he’s a priest. This is the priest-king.
And you know, priests and kings do not do the same thing. There’s a distinction. What does a king do? A king, in the way God ordained it, a king is the ground of society. A king brings justice to the people, God’s law to the people. The king in the ancient world is the courtroom and the warrior. He brings justice and he protects. That’s the role of the king. But the priest, the priest comes in because the people can’t keep the law of the king. And so the priest comes in and makes good, makes the relationship between the king and the people whole again through offering sacrifice before God. You see, the office of the king is one of justice and protection. The office of the priest is one of mercy and compassion. They are separate offices in the Old Testament, but one pastor puts it like this. “The king is like a strong father. The priest like a compassionate, merciful mother.” And here, we have a priest – we have them coming together! What is Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 saying? It’s asking a question. “Could there be one man who is both priest and king forever? Could there be one? One bringer of justice and mercy? One strong lion and compassionate tender lamb together in one person?” And the point is, Abraham knew that that’s what he needed and that’s what we need – the Priest-King.
The Always Priest-King
And so thirdly and finally, we have here the always Priest-King. I just want to make this point from verse 11 very briefly. If you’ll come down with me to verse 11, the author asks a question and it’s this – “If perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek?” If perfection, he says, could have been attainable through Aaron and the priests and the temple sacrifices and all that, would we have a need for a new priest after the order of Melchizedek? Of course the answer is “No.” And it’s saying that the order of Aaron the priest could not give us perfection.
But the question is, “What does perfection mean here?” And on the one hand, of course, we know at least it’s got to mean that the blood of bulls and goats and earthly sinners who are made priests cannot bring us real moral perfection and righteousness in our heart. It can’t cleanse us. It can’t truly, finally, fully cleanse us of our sins. Of course it at least means moral perfection, but it can’t mean just that because it can’t even primarily mean that. At the end of this chapter in verse 28, it says that Jesus Christ “was made perfect.” It’s the same exact word. It’s the Greek word, “telos,” that we use quite often for a word like – “teleology.” Jesus Christ was made perfect. That cannot mean that Jesus Christ went from immoral to moral throughout His life. It can’t. The word here – the order of Melchizedek makes things perfect cannot be just a mere moral idea. It’s even more than that. And here’s what the word “perfect” means here. It means that the one Priest-King in the order of Melchizedek is the only one who could bring to completion every single thing that God intended to do with this world and His mission. There was only One who could truly bring it unto completion, perfection, telos, the true end, the true goal. There was only one that could bring it about. And it means to finish the job.
Look, you see what it’s saying. If you only had a king in the end without a priest, then every single sinner would be justly judged unto absolute death. If you only had a king but no priest for you, then you would be judged unto absolute death. But if you only had a priest and not a king, you could be forgiven, but without a king there could never be any true peace in the land, true shalom. You need an ultimate king and an ultimate priest. The ultimate priest gets you absolute forgiveness. The ultimate king is the only one who can bring in absolute justice and righteousness on the land. And if you have one or the other you don’t get both. He is the only one who could bring it to completion, who could bring perfection, who could do the work of the priest and the work of the king all in Himself.
So we’ll close with this. What do we have in our gospels? John 17, Jesus comes and says, “I have prayed for you.” That’s the High Priestly prayer. That is priesting language. That’s Melchizedekian language. “I have prayed for you,” Jesus says to His people. And then He turns to Peter later and says, “You are going to deny me three times, but I have prayed for you. You can’t get out from under the work of priesting I’m doing for you.” That’s priesting language. But then we know, all of us know that Jesus – if you’ve been in church, you know that Jesus Christ is a priest. He went to the cross. He is the Priest who gave Himself as sacrifice at the cross. But look, in John, right after that, just listen to the language when He’s standing there with Pilate. Pilate says, “Do you want Barabbas? Do you want a robber and a murderer or do you want your King?” And we start to get the picture that he knows. Pilate put a crown upon Jesus’ head. He crowns Him. He put a purple, royal robe upon His back. He beat Him and then displayed His maimed body and says, “Behold, your King!” And the people cry out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify the king? Your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Pilate knew in some way that he was standing in front of the Priest-King. He called Him the King of the Jews. Jesus was lifted up onto the cross which became His simultaneous throne, His display of His kingship, and at the very same time the sacrificial altar. At the cross we see the ultimate meeting place between the work of the priest and the work of the king. A king is all about justice, a priest is all about mercy, and at the cross, the justice of the King was inflicted upon the King. And the victorious mercy of the Priest flowed, as His blood flowed, like wine of mercy to us. He is the Priest-King.
Look, the last thing. You see, this means so much because we’re in an election season. Did you know that? And every election in every season here in our country is so important, of course, and every election in any generation in any nation in all of history, when there were elections, have been important. But if what we’re reading about right here is the truth, if there is an eternal Priest-King who stands above all, who is the bringer of shalom and true justice and true peace and true mercy to the land, then as important as an election is, any election, no matter when and where and who’s involved, is only ever relatively important. Because oh boy, the Gospel is the pronouncement of the final monarch, the final society, the kingdom. He is the bringer of peace and righteousness. He is the only one who can bring an unyielding just order to an eternal society that dwells with God. He is, as the Old Testament puts it, “the desire of the nations and the only one who can heal the land.”
And what that means for us tonight – well, just recap. What does Melchizedek say to us about Jesus? He is the Judge of the earth, the bringer of justice, the destroyer of evil and death, the High Priest of heaven, the sole mediator of forgiveness, the King and Ruler of the eternal community, the final society, the family of God, the telos of all politics, He is better than angels, better than prophets, better and priests, better than every earthly king. He is the eternal Priest-King. You see what that means? We can’t evade Him. You can’t be nonchalant about a list like that. You have to be serious about a list like that. You have to either be for this Man or against this Man because the claim is outrageous, it’s enormous, it’s eternal, it’s so big. We can only be for Him or against Him. And if you are for Him tonight, you cannot compartmentalize Him as part of your life. Where in our lives have we been serving another king and finding salvation in some other priest besides the Priest-King? He cannot be decor for our public reputation. He cannot be a Sunday pick-me-up. He cannot be compartmentalized. He is the monarch of heaven and earth. He is decisive for all domains of our lives.
Let’s pray together.
Father, we ask that You would make Jesus Christ our utmost desire and our hope in the King of the kingdom, the coming of the end of the world when justice and peace and shalom shall truly reign on this earth. Lord, turn our hearts towards the bringer of peace, the healer of the land, the one who forgives us of our sins by His sacrifice. We ask for this heart, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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