************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 16-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 15, 2010
Q & A 16-18
"The Perfect Mediator"
We are in misery. Which means we are alienated and exiled from God and the Garden.
Who is to blame? Can I blame God? No, God created us good and in His own image. Thanks to Adam, our federal head, I am conceived and born in sin, so corrupt that I am totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil unless I am born again by the Spirit of God.
How can I escape the punishment I deserve? I cannot claim God is unfair. I cannot hope that God will overlook my sin. I cannot try to divide God's mercy from His justice. There is no escape from the judgment and wrath of God against my sin. However, there is rescue.
Who provides this rescue? I cannot rescue myself. I cannot find another creature in the heavens or the earth to provide rescue. What I need is a mediator and deliverer.
I need a mediator and deliverer. And, so do you. You know what this means? This means everything else has failed. This means outside help is needed. This means a third-party needs to enter the picture.
We need a mediator and deliverer. You know what else this means? This means the situation is out of control. Think of a looming strike. It is only when labor and management are hopelessly deadlocked that they will accept a mediator. It is the same way with marriage – it must be publicly collapsing before the couple will agree to a mediator. The situation between God and man has degenerated to this level – though only man is the guilty party here – so a mediator is needed. Think, also, of BP's oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil were leaking into the gulf, polluting the waters, despoiling the beaches, killing fish and birds, and poisoning the food chain. Nothing they tried was able to stop the flow. As far as BP is concerned, the situation was out of control. Similarly, our situation is out of control. So, we need a mediator and deliverer.
What kind of mediator and deliverer must we look for? Q & A 15 lays out the qualifications: He must be truly human, truly righteous, and true God. According to Q & A 18, this mediator and deliverer can only be the "Lord Jesus Christ." Let's take a closer look at how Jesus qualifies to be our Mediator and Deliverer.
I Jesus is Truly Human
A The first characteristic of our Mediator and Deliverer is that He must be truly human.
Can there be any doubt that Jesus is truly and fully human? Like every other human child, Jesus was carried in His mother's womb for nine months and came into the world through the birthing process of labor and contractions and pain for His mother. Like every other human child, Jesus cried when He was hungry and thirsty. Like every other human child, Jesus grew and became strong. And, like every other human, Jesus experienced hunger, thirst, anger, love, joy, sorrow, pain, and happiness.
Yes, Jesus is truly human. About that there can be no doubt.
Nevertheless, there are some throughout history who have denied the true and full humanity of Jesus because of some false idea of reverence. I think of the heresy of "Docetism" – which comes from the Greek word meaning "to seem, to appear to be." This view holds that Jesus was not a real man but only appeared to be so. He looked human, He acted human, but He wasn't really human. According to Docetism, Christ left heaven to come to earth; however, it is unbearable to think that He, the almighty God, humiliated Himself so deeply as to actually become a man.
In contrast to this, the Christian religion maintains that the eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature. That "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us ... full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).
When we think about it, we have to admit there were a number of miracles the first Christmas. First, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Second, He was born of a virgin. Third, God became man and became a part of the human lineage. You know, a god-man is not an uncommon feature in mythologies. What is unique here, though, is that God becomes man rather than man becomes God.
God took on human flesh. This affirms, once again, our total inability to rescue ourselves. To be rescued and delivered from sin, it is not a case of us becoming God but of God becoming man. Man cannot save himself. God had to enter human history, He had to become part of human lineage, He had to take on our flesh for man to be saved.
B Now, why does God have to become man? Why does our Mediator and Deliverer have to be truly human? The Catechism says, "God's justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin" (Q & A 16). Or, to put it another way, justice says the guilty are punished, not the innocent.
Remember the verse from Ezekiel that I held before you last week? "The soul who sins is the one who will die" (Ezek 18:20).
When I was a student in college, I owned a little green Volkswagen Bug with a checkered black and white bug-catcher on the front. It was very distinctive. No one else had a car like it.Now imagine that the judge decided to throw me into jail for the jewelry heist. Does that even make sense? Is it fair? Is it just? Of course not! Because the soul who sins is the soul who should be punished.
I sold the car for cash. Three weeks later the Grand Rapids police department contacted me. They wanted to know if I still owned a little green Volkswagen Bug with Ontario license plates. When I asked why, they told me it was the get-away car for the robbery of a jewelry store.
So, why does our Mediator and Deliverer have to be truly human? Our Scripture reading from Hebrews says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity ..." (Heb 2:14). And, verse 17 says, "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way ..." (Heb 2:17). Man sinned, so man must pay for his sin. Therefore, Jesus has to be like us in every way; He had to take on real flesh and blood; He had to be truly and fully human.
Hebrews points out one further benefit of a human Christ – a benefit not mentioned by the Catechism. A fully human Christ is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15-16). Therefore, when we pray, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence.
II Jesus is Truly Righteous
A The second characteristic of our Mediator and Deliverer is that He must be truly righteous. That is, He must be perfect, holy, and sinless.
As a human, Jesus has an advantage over the rest of us humans. Because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He was not born – like the rest of us – with the guilt or the pollution of original sin. Many people want to believe that infants and babies are born sweet, pure, innocent, and holy. That is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that we are all conceived and born in sin. The only exception is Jesus. He is the only One Who was born absolutely and completely sweet, pure, innocent, and holy.
To qualify as Mediator and Deliverer, Jesus must not only be born righteous but He must remain righteous. In an imperfect world filled with sin and sinners and temptations, Jesus must keep the righteousness with which He was born. Let's not make the mistake of saying this was no problem for Jesus. What does Hebrews say?
(Heb 2:18) "He was tempted."To be obedient and to remain obedient was no easy matter for Jesus. He had to resist sin, evil, and Satan. He had to say NO to temptation. It was a struggle. It demanded effort and prayer and a conscious striving to remain in God's will.
(Heb 4:15) "We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are."
(Heb 5:8) "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered."
Jesus' struggle was just like ours. Unlike us, however, Jesus never once yielded to temptation. Unlike us, Jesus never once crossed the line from merely thinking about something to making that something a sin.
Jesus' struggle was just like ours. Yet, what does Scripture call Him? The "Righteous One" (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 Jn 2:1). As Hebrews puts it, He was "tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin" (Heb 4:14).
Who is the holiest person you know or know about? A grandparent, a parent, a widow, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Gandhi? Let me mention a few names from church history:
Origen lived around the year A.D. 200. He pursued a pious life that most of us would not even consider. He lived without all luxuries and settled for the minimum-needed amounts of food and clothing. To avoid sexual sins and desires, he emasculated himself in the same way as we emasculate bulls and pigs.Surely you would say that all of these people are holy. However, in this life, in this body, in this flesh only One has lived up to the obedience, holiness, and righteousness required by God. Only One lived and died a sinless life. Only One was perfect in every way. That One is NOT Billy Graham, or Mother Theresa, or Gandhi, or Origen, or St. Francis of Assisi. That One is Jesus and Jesus alone!
St Francis of Assisi lived around A.D. 1200. He took up a life of apostolic poverty and practiced brotherly love and repentance. The last four years of his life were spent in solitude and prayer.
B Now, why does our Mediator and Deliverer have to be truly righteous? The Catechism says, "a sinner could never pay for others" (Q & A 16). Hear these words from Hebrews:
(Heb 7:26-27) Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (27) Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Remember what we said last time? Sinful man is bankrupt – so bankrupt that he cannot pay off his debt of sin. If Jesus was a sinner, if He wasn't righteous, He also would be bankrupt – unable to pay off His own debt of sin, let alone that of others. A sinful mediator and deliverer would have such a monumental overdraft with God that no payment for sin could possibly be made.
But – and here is the Good News of the Gospel – our Mediator and Deliverer is not sinful. He is sinless. He is perfect and holy. He has no debt of His own so He is more than able to pay off our debt of sin.
III Jesus is True God
A The third characteristic of our Mediator and Deliverer is that He must be true God.
Can there be any doubt that Jesus is God? Look at His miracles: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised" (Lk 7:22). Look at the declaration of God, two times: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17; 17:5). Look at His resurrection, His ascension, His seat at God's right hand, and His promised return. Look at the first chapter of Hebrews in which the author quotes seven Old Testament passages to show that Christ is superior to the angels. And, consider passages like this:
(Heb 1:3) The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.No, there can be no doubt at all that the Bible teaches the full divinity of Jesus.
(Col 1:15-19) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (16) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (17) He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (18) And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (19) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him ...
(Jn 1:1-4) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning. (3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (4) In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
It should not surprise us that there are those who deny the full divinity of Christ just like there are those who deny the full humanity of Christ. Once again, out of a mistaken sense of reverence. They think that the one only God is so holy and almighty that no man can be equated with Him, for that is blasphemy. The Jews are in this camp. Modern day liberals deny the divinity of Jesus. So do the Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups.
B Now, why must our Mediator and Deliverer be more powerful than all creatures; that is, why must He also be true God? Answer 17 puts it this way: "So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear the weight of God's anger in his humanity ..." What it comes down to is this: only God is powerful enough and almighty enough to bear the wrath and anger of God against sin.
We can take this two different ways. First, this says something about the weakness of man. Man is not strong enough to bear God's anger against sin. Second, and more important, this tells us how terrible God's wrath and anger against sin is. God is so angry with sin that no mere man can bear His wrath against sin.
Like me, I am sure you have met people whose very eyes seem to spit fire and venom when they are angry. When they become angry you feel a thunder cloud in the room. But God's anger is far more fierce than that. It is an anger so fierce, a wrath so horrible, that man cannot possibly survive it. Jesus, however, being almighty God, is able to shoulder and bear this wrath.
You may say, "Hold it, pastor. I know others have been crucified just like Jesus was." That is true. We can point to the two men who were crucified with the Lord. We can point to the Roman slave, Spartacus, who rebelled against Roman rule – he, and six thousand of his followers, were crucified by the Romans. Yet, the crucifixion of Christ was different, much different. When Christ hung upon the cross He was cursed, abandoned, and forsaken by God. When Christ hung on the cross, hanging there with Him were the sins of the entire human race. The eternal Son of God not only took on human flesh but He also took on human sin. And, don't forget, Christ was sinless and perfect and deserved none of this – unlike you and me.
For a mere man this wrath of God is impossible to bear. For Christ, it is possible because He is almighty God.
Remember what we sinful humans are looking for? A way to escape sin's punishment. There is no escape but there is rescue – by One Who is truly man, truly righteous, and true God. In Jesus, and Jesus alone, we are set completely free and made forever right with God.
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