************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 2, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 26
"Intercession" comes from a word which literally means "to go between two people." An intercessor is a person who goes between two people who may have a difference or an argument. Imagine two children having a fight about a toy (this, of course, is very hard to imagine!) and Mom steps in between. She tells the children to share or to stop being grabby. Mom is acting as an intercessor. Or, you want a big favor from your uncle but you are too scared to ask. So you get your cousin to ask for you. Your cousin is acting as an intercessor.
Article 26 of the Belgic Confession is all about intercession. You might think, big deal. Actually it is. I didn't copy all of Article 26 into our worship packet but it is easily the second longest article in the Confession. The intercession of Jesus is not a minor thing, such as stopping a fight over a toy or seeking a favor from an uncle. Instead, you are asking for the favor of our heavenly Father.
There are three points I want to raise as we look at the intercession of Christ. First, the Roman Catholic setting. Second, that Christ's intercession is unique. Third, that Christ's intercession gives confidence.
I The Roman Catholic Setting
A Our first point is the Roman Catholic setting. At the time the Confession was written, the Reformation was still in its infant stages. The people had just been freed from the yoke of Roman Catholicism, with its system of saints and prayers to those saints. They had to be taught they had no need for saints and the Virgin Mary to act as a go-between. Instead, Jesus is the Intercessor.
I remember asking my Catechism class to identify some of the saints. I asked them, "If you are Irish, who do you pray to?" Most realized I was talking of Saint Patrick. If you are sick -- you pray to Saint Luke. If you are a fisherman -- you pray to Saint Peter. If you have a stomach disorder -- Saint Timothy. Bankers and accountants pray to Saint Matthew. Carpenters pray to Saint Joseph. Pray to Saint Valentine if you have relationship problems. I looked over the list of Catholic saints -- there are more than 10,000 of them. Unbelievable.
B Where did this come from? Here we get into the nitty-gritty of the Roman Catholic faith. Roman Catholic theology believes there are two sources of spiritual authority for regulating life and faith: the Bible and tradition. If something they do or believe is not mentioned in the Bible, it is declared acceptable by the tradition of the church.
Prayer to saints is one of the beliefs supported not by the Bible but by tradition. This practice is an application of the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints: namely, that all who belong to the church -- whether they be in heaven, earth, or purgatory -- are joined to Christ and thus to each other. They say saints who have lived exemplary lives, and who have been recognized as such by the church, can obtain the grace and blessing of Christ for others. They even say saints have a wealth of good works to their credit which can be applied to other believers; the wealth of one member supplements the poverty of another. Do you know what they need to hear? They need to hear the message of the Bible that even the holiest have but a small beginning of the obedience required by God.
Why pray to saints instead of to Jesus? Because Jesus is too awesome, too holy, too scary. The saints, on the other hand, are like us. They understand us. They know what we are going through. This makes them better intercessors and mediators than Jesus.
II Christ's Intercession is Unique
A According to the Bible, the intercession of Christ is unique, one of a kind. As Paul states to Timothy, there is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Says the Confession:
We believe that we have no access to GodThere is one Mediator. Not multiple mediators and multiple intercessors as the church of Rome has.
except through the one and only
Mediator and Intercessor:
Jesus Christ the Righteous.
This is the error so strongly opposed by the Belgic Confession in Article 26. Rome is wrong, so wrong, in looking for any Mediator other than the Lord Jesus Christ. You want a Mediator with prestige and power? You need a Mediator with prestige and power? Who can possibly have more than Jesus who is seated "at the right hand of the Father," and has all power "in heaven and on earth"? You want a Mediator who loves us? Who can possibly love us more than Him who died for us? You want an Intercessor who understands you? Doesn't the Bible say Jesus is fully man and understands our struggles?
B In prayer we enter into the presence of God. None of us are worthy to be there. But we are able to be there because of Christ. It is in Christ alone that we can go to God and it is in Christ alone that God welcomes sinners. The error of Rome lies not in over-emphasizing our unworthiness, but in under-emphasizing the worth of Christ. Rome says our unworthiness is so great that we must first go to the saints before we can go to Christ. This belittles and dishonors the work of Christ.
Prayer to the saints also dishonors the saints, for this practices something any true saint of God would oppose with all their might. Says the Confession:
So then, sheer unbelief has led to the practice
of dishonoring the saints,
instead of honoring them.
That was something the saints never did
nor asked for,
but which in keeping with their duty,
as appears from their writings,
they consistently refused.
C Yet, let me ask, when I look at myself shouldn't I be afraid to go to Christ? Often we read in the Bible that meeting angels frightened mere men. How much more frightening it must be to meet with God? Did not many of the greatest saints say with Peter, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Lk 5:8). Shouldn't I be like Isaiah? In a vision Isaiah saw the Lord, holy and Almighty, high and exalted, seated on a throne. Do you remember his cry?
(Isa 6:5) "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."Shouldn't I have the same cry? Shouldn't I, a sinner, be scared to be in the presence of Jesus, holy and Almighty, high and exalted? Don't I need someone between me and Jesus?
Isn't this the same question the previous articles of the Confession dealt with? Should we ever be unsure that Christ will receive us? No! No! No. A thousand times no! Says the Confession:
We should not plead here
that we are unworthy--
for it is not a question of offering our prayers
on the basis of our own dignity
but only on the basis of the excellence
and dignity of Jesus Christ,
whose righteousness is ours by faith.
Scripture invites us to go to Christ with our sin. Scripture invites us to go to Christ with our unworthiness. Do not fear that Christ will cast you away. Listen to the words of the Confession:
But this Mediator,This is amazing, wonderful, magnificent language! Indeed, it is the language of Scripture. Neither our worthiness nor our unworthiness comes into the picture. Our worthiness is no ground to go to Christ and our unworthiness is no reason to stay away from Christ. We can offer our prayers to God only on account of the worthy excellence of Jesus Christ whose righteousness becomes ours by faith.
whom the Father has appointed
between himself and us,
ought not terrify us by his greatness,
so that we have to look for another one,
according to our fancy.
For neither in heaven
nor among the creatures on earth
is there anyone who loves us
more than Jesus Christ does.
Suppose we had to find another intercessor.
Who would love us more
than he who gave his life for us,
even though "we were his enemies"?
From eternity, Christ was appointed by God to be our Mediator. To do this, He took on human flesh, and gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. On the basis of that sacrifice, Jesus has now entered into the tabernacle on high and continually pleads our cause before His Father.
D Our Intercessor and Mediator loves us. "For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more that Jesus Christ does."
Do you hear this, people of God? Do you hear this? Are you not sure that you are one of the people of God? This message of love applies to you. No one loves you more than Jesus who laid down His life for you. These words need to be repeated over and over again. What a thought! What a wonderful thought. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves sinners.
So Christ is the Mediator, the Intercessor, the High Priest who loved us so much that He entered into death for us. He is the sympathetic High priest, like us in every way, except for sin. He understands our fears and is able to help and comfort us when we are tempted. Our High Priest in heaven has the highest glory, the highest honor, the highest power and is therefore able to provide for every need. There is no other who can do this. His intercession is unique.
III Christ's Intercession Gives Confidence
A Our third point is that Christ's intercession gives confidence.
We have confidence to go into the presence of God. We don't have to be scared like Isaiah or Peter. Because through Christ's death the way to the Father has been opened. Remember the temple veil? The way to God was closed by the veil. Only the High Priest could enter, and only once per year. When Christ died, however, the veil was torn by the finger of God Himself from top to bottom. Telling us what? That in Christ the way is open for us to go into the presence of God.
B We have confidence that our prayers, although imperfect, are always heard by God. Christ intercedes for us and purifies our prayers. If we ask for something which we should not have, He asks the Father not to grant that request. If there is anything lacking in our prayers, He completes our request in order that we may receive everything necessary for our salvation and His glory.
C We also have confidence that prayer is answered. The Father always listens to His Son; He doesn't have to be convinced, He doesn't have to be won over. The Father listens to the Son because the Son obeyed Him and earned righteousness for us. Remember what Jesus said? "The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (Jn 15:16). To pray in Jesus' name means we base our request on His finished work. We can never receive anything in and of ourselves. It is only through and because of Christ that prayer is answered.
Notice that this article starts the same way as almost every other: "We believe ..." Believe. This means we pray in faith. We pray believing Jesus is our access to God. We pray believing Jesus is the one and only Mediator and Intercessor.
So let me ask: Do you believe?
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