************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 10, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 26
"Christ, Our Intercessor"
I've noticed something over the years. That just about everyone is willing to let me offer a prayer for them – even unbelievers and nominal Christians. In fact, I can vaguely remember only one person who declined my offer. This surprises me because I would have expected more resistance. Pretty well everyone lets me pray with them. I began to wonder why. I've come up with an answer that makes me very uncomfortable. Namely, there is an idea out there – maybe in here too – that ministers' prayers are more likely to be answered, that pastors know the magical formula for getting an answer from God, that Robert's prayers and Adrian's prayers are better than the prayers of any layperson. This makes me shudder.
Let me remind you of where we are in the Belgic Confession of Faith. We have already looked at the Doctrine of God (Articles 1-13), the Doctrine of Man (Articles 14-15), and the Doctrine of Christ (Articles 16-19). We finish, today, our study of the Doctrine of Salvation (Articles 20-26) by looking at the intercession of Christ.
I The Only Mediator, Intercessor, and Access
A Article 26 opens by summarizing everything the Confession has already said about the glorious work of our Lord:
We believe that we have no access to God
except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor:
Jesus Christ the Righteous.
He therefore was made man,
uniting together the divine and human natures,
so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty.
Otherwise we would have no access.
Don't forget, this is from the Belgic Confession of Faith. This is our Confession to the world. So right at the outset we are saying, again, to the world the fundamental truths of Scripture concerning Jesus and salvation.
In these opening words, we see three names or titles for Christ. First, He is called our "Mediator." A mediator is someone who goes between two parties, seeking to bring them together. As we have already seen throughout the Confession, we have offended God by our sin (Articles 14-15). We are therefore separated from God. Scripture shows us that in order for sinners to come before God, some sort of mediation has to take place. We see this, for example, in Moses, who mediated for the children of God after their sin of creating the golden calf (Ex 32). We also see this in the priests who mediated on behalf of Israel by sacrifice and intercession (Lev 1-9). Mediation, in our culture, means negotiation – for instance, between a union and management. In the Bible, however, mediation is not negotiation; rather, it is intervention. It is a dramatic intervention on our behalf by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In the fullness of time, God the Father sent His only Son to be the true Mediator (Gal 4:4). Or, better yet, the only Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
B Second, Jesus is also called our "Intercessor." The Greek word (parakletos) is a legal term for one who pleads the cause of another. The idea of an intercessor is alien to most of the people in our culture. We believe, today, that anyone can go right to the top; that it is our inalienable right to talk to those in authority. People today don't want or even need an intercessor who acts or pleads for them.
I happen to save paperwork. I had an argument with a life insurance company. So, I called the number on the original paperwork. Much to my surprise – and his – it was now the direct phone line to the President's desk. "How did you get this number?" he asked. After he calmed down, I was able to straighten out my problem.In the same way, I have no problems with shooting off an email to the White House or talking to our representative in Congress.
When it comes to God this mindset is wrong. We can go straight to the top, to God, but only through Jesus. Jesus is our Intercessor before God. He represents our cause before God. Only through Him can we come to God.
The concept of intercessor finds its roots in the Old Testament where not only the priest but any leader can intercede for the people. More than once, for instance, Moses interceded for Israel before God. Coming down the mountain, God told Moses to stand aside so He could destroy the stubborn and rebellious people for making and worshiping the golden calf. Moses interceded with God on the people's behalf (Ex 32:9-14). When God announced His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, it was Abraham who interceded for the righteous few in those cities (Gen 18). And, both Samuel and David interceded for Israel in times of trouble and calamity.
While we live here on earth we have an Intercessor in heaven – One Who pleads our cause before the Father. Jesus asks God to forgive us when we sin, to be patient with us when we waver, to answer our petitions when we pray, to preserve us in the faith when we face trial and temptation, to comfort us when we sorrow. When we need grace and mercy, when we are in trouble or in need, we have an Intercessor in heaven Who presents our case to the Father.
C Third, Jesus is our "access to God," our "access to the divine Majesty."
(Rom 5:2) through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
(Eph 2:18) For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
I just love that word "access." When you purchase a secluded piece of property one of the most important elements to consider is access routes. You have to arrange with the surrounding property owners an access route to the piece of land.
I told you before, that when Ruth and I lived in Grand Rapids we had a house right behind ours. Our driveway was their access route. We soon noticed that most cars using the driveway were backing in; the driver would stay behind the wheel and a passenger would run into the house and come out with a paper bag. Our driveway was an access route for a drug dealer.
When it comes to God our "access" is not by way of a driveway or a road but by way of a person. Our Access, our right-of-way, to God is Jesus Christ. Says the Confession:
We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor: Jesus Christ the Righteous.
Remember this: Jesus alone is our Mediator, Intercessor, and Access.
II Roman Catholic Fears
A You might wonder about the second paragraph under Article 26. Why is there talk of being terrified by the greatness of Jesus Christ – our Mediator, our Intercessor, our Access?
In the Roman Catholic Church at the time the Confession was written, people had an overwhelming sense of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God. But it was not a balanced approach because they were scared to death of God. The Roman Catholic Church made God so holy and so awesome and so angry that men were terrified of Him. Even Jesus Christ was so unapproachable a figure that His very name filled men's hearts with fear. The pious Christians of the Middle Ages dreaded God, and felt terror and smallness in God's presence. Their tendency, I would have to say, is just the opposite of what we see today. Because, today, people are overly familiar with God.
B Man needs fellowship with God. But God and Christ are seen as unapproachable. The Roman Catholic solution to this problem is to approach God through Mary and the saints. After all, they are completely human like us, are more than able to sympathize with us, and are a buffer between us and the unapproachable wrath and holiness of God. You pray to saints who, in turn, bring your petitions to God.
We are not completely sure when prayer to the saints started. But sometime after the apostles died the early church began to look for the help of those who had died in the Lord. First, it was especially martyrs who were mentioned as possible intercessors. Later, virgins, hermits, and all the heroes of the faith were believed to have intercessory power. By the time of the Reformation not even the official church knew the names of all the saints believed to have intercessory power.
Prayer to saints became so developed that each occupation and ailment had its own special saint. There were saints for holy days, city saints, national saints, and even occupation saints. Thus, the Irish pray to St. Patrick. Carpenters pray to St. Joseph, hunters could approach St. Hubert the Hunter, and physicians can ask St. Luke to intercede for them. Those who suffer from toothaches can plea with St. Appolonia for relief, for she had all her teeth extracted rather than deny Christ. St. Nicholas is looked to by single women looking for a husband. Shoemakers have St. Crispin. St. Anthony is the saint for mule drivers.
C The Confession tells us that prayer to saints arises out of "sheer unbelief." Unbelief that in Jesus we "have a high priest Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb 4:15). Unbelief that in Jesus we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:16). Unbelief that Jesus is our only Mediator, Intercessor, Access.
Furthermore, according to the Confession, prayer to saints dishonors rather than honors the saints. Because prayers to saints was something the saints never did nor asked for but, on the contrary, was something they consistently refused.
Finally, according to the Confession, prayer to saints arose because people lacked confidence or assurance in prayer. They believed they were "unworthy." Of course they are unworthy. However, we never pray on the basis of our own worthiness. Rather, we dare to approach God on the basis of the worthiness of Christ.
D Article 26 of the Belgic Confession of Faith was written for the pious, scared, trembling, hesitant Christians of the 16th century. It was written to tell them not to be scared of Christ. It was written to tell them they could come to God through Christ. It was written to tell them that Christ is the only and the best possible Mediator, Intercessor, Access. It was written to tell them that they have only to look to Christ in times of trouble and distress.
What do we need other than Christ? Christ himself declares: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to my Father but by me." Why should we seek another intercessor? Since it has pleased God to give us his Son as our Intercessor, let us not leave Him for another – or rather seek, without ever finding.
III Three Questions
A Did you notice the three questions in the third paragraph? Here we find one of the most tender and comforting sections of all of the Reformed Catechisms and Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The first question: "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"?" Not even the saints did for us what Christ did – "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11; cf Jn 10:15,17; 13:37,38; 15:13; 1 Jn 3:16). What is more astonishing is that He did this "while we were enemies" (Rom 5:10). Think about this. Who loves us more than He Who said, "Come to me ... and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28)? Who loves us more than the One Who calls us friends and said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13)? Who loves us more than the One Whose love "surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:19)? Who or what in all of Creation, whether friend or foe, angel or demon, pastor or Pope, "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:39)?
B The second question: "And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated "at the right hand of the Father," and who has all power "in heaven and on earth"?" There can be no mediator more majestic than the One Who has all authority in heaven and earth (Mt 28:18). He is the One Who is seated at the right-hand of God (Mk 16:19; lk 22:69: Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55,56; Rom 8:34; 2 Cor 6:7; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 1 Pet 3:22).
C The third question: "And who will be heard more readily than God's own dearly beloved Son?" When it comes down to it, which intercessor would God listen to more than His only begotten Son?
Jesus Christ is our Mediator, Intercessor, and Access to God. Practically speaking, what does this mean? It means we pray in Jesus' name and for Jesus' sake. It means we can have the assurance that whatever we ask of the Father in His name we shall obtain. Our Lord pleads for us; therefore, we can plead with Him. Now, do you see why I shudder at the notion that Robert and I have more access than you? Do you see why I cringe at the thought that my prayers are better than your prayers?
As I mentioned this morning, in the camp of Israel only the high priest could enter the courtyard of the tabernacle, walk up to its veil, enter the Holy Place, and then enter the Holy of Holies; and, he could do this only on the Day of Atonement. Because of Christ, every sinner may now enter the courtyard of the tabernacle, walk up to its veil, enter the Holy Place, and then enter the Holy of Holies. And, he or she may do so at any time. Because, in Christ, the veil has been removed and the mercy seat now sits in full view of all the people.
Do we live in wonder of this? And, better yet, do we approach our God and Father through Christ – our only Mediator, Intercessor, and Access? Do we pray to God for mercy and grace in our time of need and do we do so in and through and for the sake of Christ?
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