Monday, June 14, 2010

Trail Blazing, Witnessing, and Melchizedek.

“This is going to be an absolute pain to crawl up again tomorrow.” Matthew said grimly.
We had awoken early that morning from our dark and quiet shelter far up somewhere on the mountain face, to see that the storm had passed and the day had turned out to be a very nice one. As we all awoke, I journeyed down a little bit to the spring to fill my water supply and take a few pictures. The others joined me soon after, and as soon as we had cleaned up, refilled our supplies, and otherwise gotten awake enough to hit the trail, we did so. This time it would be a five mile trek across several mountain peaks to another lower area on the Appalachian Trail, and from there, an easy hike back to our car. Made a good little adventure trail, no doubt.

I will not forget the beautiful and wild territory we crossed that day. From climbing a couple scaly and steep rock faces to easy walking across open plains high above the valley floor, we all made good time over the Virginia Mountains. Once or twice, we would be stopped by other hikers and campers and ask for directions. Once or twice we stopped and asked others or even ourselves about the directions, and it was also decided that under no circumstances could Matthew hold the map. At about the fourth wrong turn Sam took over the job.
At any rate, about mid-afternoon we made it up and over the peak of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state of Virginia. After that, it was nothing but a slow, rocky descent into the valley below, where our campsite would be that night. As we descended down into the forested area, leaving the open, windblown peaks behind us, it grew a good deal quieter and the fellow hikers and campers thinned out.

The woods were peaceful and gentle, glinting green and gold in the hazy sunlight and warmth. The echoes of the sounds of wildlife were here and there, though we never saw so much as a bird. Though the incline downward was not overly rough, it was slightly steep, and long enough so that we could be glad we weren’t going UP it.
Tomorrow would be a different story, however. Since we had to leave by early tomorrow morning, we would be getting up even earlier and going one or two ways back to…well, the general direction of our car. We could backtrack, or we could take a risk and hike along the road and half-circle around. I personally cringed at the thought of dragging myself all the way back up that mountainside, but kept my thoughts to myself.
When we reached the bottom, after a little bit of searching and some working around large camps of boy scouts in the meadows, we arrived at our campsite. As placed on the map, we had traveled several miles to reach it, and the sun was still high in the sky when we arrived at the little wooden shelter beside a large brook, down at the bottom, right off the beaten path. Low trees overhung the little bunker and fire ring, with a rough table set out in front for use. It looked like quite a comfortable little spot, with the brook flowing past right beside. A pile of firewood stood against the wall, close enough at hand to the fire area itself.
The shelter, however, was faced away from the path, so that we had to go around to get in or see our little home for about ten hours. I believe I was talking to Sam at the time about fixing his car when we all heard voices from inside the shelter. My ears pricked up.
“…I’m serious, we need something besides pasta already! This is like the what? Fourth time in a row we’ve had it for supper?”
We all three turned the corner, to see the inside of the little shelter, which was basically just three walls, a floor, and a roof, all supported a little off the ground in case the brook flooded. Inside there was already two others, we were not the first people to get there.
We all five of us looked up and studied each other for a moment before Matthew spoke. I looked at the two persons with a raised eyebrow. Did this mean we would have to go find our own spot and hope it didn’t rain?
They looked about our age, college students if not even younger, one tall and lanky, and the other shorter and heavier. Both of them had brown hair and eyes, though they couldn’t possibly be related. Both looked honestly like exact opposites, like a sports and workout champion being friends with a total and complete book and computer game geek. An interesting pair of traveling companions.
“Hey, you guys staying here for the night?” Matthew put on his courtesy smile and asked politely. It was the unspoken rule of the trail that it was first come, first serve…but if there was still room left for a sleeping bag, no one should object. We all stood expectantly.
“Yeah, we’re probably going to be hanging here for the night.” The one who looked like the smaller, heavy sports champ said, standing up to greet us. They already had a cook stove out and between them were heating something up in it.
“That’s what we’re thinking too. The next shelter is what? Eight miles down?”
“Yep, just about. That’s where we came from this morning.” The other grinned. “Staying the night here? There’s plenty of room, hang up your bags.” He paused a moment and extended a hand.
“I’m Josh, and this is Henry behind me.” He gestured to the one still hunched over the cook stove, who stood up when his name was mentioned.
We shook hands with the Henry and Josh pair, and threw out our gear, setting up camp. It didn’t take long for us to learn something of our two new friends.
Both of them came from a New England State college, where they had spent two years already, and were out to spend their summer hiking as much of the AT trail as they could. Already we guessed that they were much more experienced than us. They told us some of the trails further up ahead in case we decided to head that way. They were pretty good guys overall.
As I unrolled my bag and got out my things for eating, listening to their conversation, I guessed them not to be saved believers in Christ. They were friendly enough and nice enough, but their conversation contained several words I won’t repeat, and some references I won’t either. I smiled at the jokes, but inwardly thought.
It would make an excellent opportunity to witness, would it not?
After cooking our food and talking around the campfire as the light of day died, Matthew went off to read that good book of his again, while me and Sam played frisbee. At dark we all went to bed, early.
As we were getting ready for it, Matthew stopped me before we entered the shelter. Inside the voices of Josh, Henry, and Sam were talking and half-asleep already.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday.” He commented.
“I know.” I nodded. His point? Would we hold some kind of devotion in the morning?
That did seem to be his plan. “Yeah…since we won’t be at church I think we’ll have a devotion in the morning. And ask if Josh and Henry want in too. Perhaps…perhaps we can plant a seed.”
I caught his meaning. That definitely worked. “Alright.” I agreed entirely. Already we had made it pretty clear to them what we believed, at least, in our behavior and words, but they either missed it or chose to ignore it. Perhaps in the morning we could make it even more clear.

Which we did.
The next morning, I’m not sure who was the first one up, but I remember having to kick Sam out of his bed when all five of us started moving around, getting ready to pack up and head out right away. Breakfast was fast that morning. When I returned from the brook, refilling my half of the water bottles, Josh and Henry were talking in low voices about their planned route for that day, while Sam packed and Matthew read through his Bible. I knew then what he was up to.
“Here, Sam!” I tossed him a couple of bottles. “Stow those away, you’ll wish you had ‘em later.”
“Yep.” He commented, catching them and stuffing them into his bag. I stuffed my own away and returned to sit at the table where Matthew was already. I beckoned Sam over too after he was done cramming things into his pack.
“Alright guys, listen up!” Matthew said aloud, when we both were seated, though Sam still had little idea what we were doing, I believe. “Time for a little devotion.”
I sat where I could keep my eye on the other two from where I was. If they heard us (which I’m sure they did), they made no response or even slowed in their work. Going about their own good business without a care in the world for what we were doing. I shrugged.
Matthew, after getting no response, settled down to the table and opened his Bible to a particular book. “I was actually thinking guys, about a passage in Hebrews this morning, which is a great book in itself. Need to study it more.”
I listened. Unfortunately Hebrews is one of the New Testament books I’m not too familiar with. I knew all about Romans, chapter to chapter, and Galatians I had studied over so many times I was basic theology for me. Titus, Timothy, James, Luke, and Philippians I had a good deal of experience in. And even Revelation, to an extent. But Hebrews I did not know. Something I seriously need to fix.
“Anyway, I was looking at a couple of places in there, chapters 7 and 8.” Sam hadn’t brought his Bible, so I shared mine with him as we followed Matthew. “There it talks mostly about how Christ, as our new high priest, doesn’t come from the traditional Israel priesthood but comes as a high priest from the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was a priest long before Moses and Israel the nation, long before the Law, and so his priesthood supersedes that of Israel’s through the promises from long before. Just as Christ and the Gospel supersedes the Law, Christ’s priesthood supersedes Israel’s priesthood.”
My brow furrowed. “Melchizedek. I’ve heard a lot of that name but I know little about it. Who was he?”
“He was a priest long before Moses, back in Abraham’s time.” Matthew looked up from his reading. “A priest for Abraham. The idea behind him is that Christ comes from him and not from the Levitical line of priests in Israel, in terms of priestly authority.”
“Ah.” I nodded. Matthew went on to read.
“‘If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. 17 For he testifieth, Thou a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. 18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope; by the which we draw nigh unto God. 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath: 21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant.’” -Hebrews 7:11-22
“And here, in chapter 8,
‘Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this one also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God, ‘See’, He says, ‘That you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’”
“But now, He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” -Hebrews 8:1-6
We paused. If Josh and Henry had heard and understood, they didn’t show it. They continued packing. Matthew went on.
“The main idea in these passages is just that Christ, who is above the order of the Levitical priesthood of Moses, serves as a high priest for us, in that He ‘mediates’ for us to God by His sacrifice on the Cross. The priesthood of Moses does us no good, and in fact, makes nothing perfect and brings about nothing of good, because it is a mere ‘shadow’ of the priesthood of Christ, which is like the book said, ‘based on better promises.’ In other words, Christ’s priesthood and the covenant we now stand under is the covenant of Abraham, NOT Moses. We aren’t subject to the Mosiac covenant because for one, we aren’t Jews, and for two, because we are of Abraham’s covenant which is greater and fulfilled in Christ. For ‘he believed God, and it was accounted to Him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3)
I thought over this for a few minutes, pondering it. Trying to plant a seed in the minds of Josh and Henry left my mind for a moment. “ the fact is then, not that the Mosaic covenant under the Law was nullified, but rather, a greater covenant, one under the priesthood of Melchizedek and not Aaron, supersedes it?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” Matthew nodded. “That’s all I had to say.” He laughed. “Shall we pray?”

We left shortly afterward, nodding our thanks to the two who had let us use the shelter and shouldered our packs. I will say I was glad I didn’t have to crawl all the way back up the mountainside on the way back. In fact, you could say we cheated. We took a different route back towards the car that would force us to hike along the road for several miles, until we ran into a boy scout troupe leader, who was heading in that direction…in a truck. We gladly took his offer for a ride and made it back in record time.
As we left, pulling out of the park and with Nicole C. Mullens on the radio, we all generally congratulated ourselves on our incredible survival skills.
“ ‘Are you serious?’ were the first words out of his mouth, honestly!” We all laughed. The boy scout troupe leader had nearly told us to get lost when we asked for a ride, until he discovered that we were NOT boy scouts trying to cheat on a hike.
“Wonder how far those other two dudes have got.” I asked aloud, as we headed out the park gates.
“No clue man.” Sam commented.
Matthew was silent for a moment. “Let’s all pray for them quickly. And pray we planted a seed.”
I nodded. “Yes, let’s do that.”
I still remember to pray for them once in a while today, hoping that in fact we did plant a seed of truth in their lives. May God bless them wherever they are. Perhaps we did some good to two unknown travelers that day.

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