************ Sermon on 1 John 2:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 2, 2003
1 John 2:1-2
Mother Teresa is just one miracle away from sainthood. No, that's not exaggeration – just part of the fast-track canonization process that Pope John Paul II is pushing through the Vatican. Two Sundays ago crowds flooded St. Peter's Square in Rome to witness the pope's beatification of Mother Teresa, who died in 1997. Since most candidates are not even up for consideration until five years after their death, John Paul II is wasting no time.
But this is not so surprising – if you consider John Paul II's record over the past 25 years. According to the Vatican's official website, the current pope has presided over the canonization of a whopping 476 saints, many of whom are non-European. All other popes in the twentieth century canonized a total of 98 saints. In 1984, for example, John Paul canonized 103 Korean martyrs in Seoul who died under state persecution. Four years later, he recognized 116 Vietnamese martyrs. In 2000, he canonized 120 Chinese martyrs, a move that prompted strong protest from the Chinese government.
John Paul II also canonized Catholics whose stories continue to evoke powerful emotions in the West. Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism to Christianity, died a victim of Nazi Germany in 1942. "She is a witness to God's presence in a world where God is absent," wrote a professor who knew her intimately. The pope agreed and honored this "daughter of Israel" with sainthood in 1998.
But this pope has made some highly controversial decisions too. Critics contend last year's canonization of Mexico's legendary Juan Diego simply panders to the huge bloc of Latin American Catholics wanting their own indigenous saint – and is short on documentary evidence, besides.
[Christian History newsletter; By Steven Gertz | posted 10/24/2003]
What does this have to do with us? And, what does this have to do with the Reformation we are celebrating this evening?
I Roman Catholic Theology
A Behind the theology of sainthood lies a concept we can applaud. That is the idea of heroes of faith. In his speech beatifying Mother Teresa, John Paul II entreated his listeners to model their lives on this woman who took seriously Jesus' command to store up treasures not on earth but in heaven: "In her, we perceive the urgency to put oneself in a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten, the last of the last." One reason the church makes saints, then, is to inspire everyone else to live like them and to follow their example. You look at the Bible and even books of Christian history and you see they are filled with people who are held before us as heroes of faith we are to follow and imitate. In the Bible we are told to imitate heroes of faith like Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Deborah, David, Elijah, and Paul. And, Christian history books hold before our eyes heroes of faith like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, and Billy Graham.
B Behind the theology of sainthood there also lies the question of how sinners can have fellowship with God. The Roman Catholic answer is that sinners have fellowship with God through Mary and the saints. Before we condemn this we must first praise this.
In the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation – and this is what I find to be praiseworthy – 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. Their tendency, I would have to say, is just the opposite of what we see today. Instead of the familiarity with or contempt for God that we see today, medieval Christians felt terror and smallness in God's presence. Even Jesus was too exalted to be approached by ordinary believers.
C 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. Not only that, but the saints were thought to have accumulated extra merits, extra points, because of the good they did. Sinful people here on earth can draw on the extra credits of these saints in order to remove their guilt and punishment.
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 has become so developed that each occupation and ailment now has its own special saint. There are 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 can 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 prayed to by single women looking for a husband. Shoemakers have St. Crispin. St. Anthony is the saint for mule drivers. Thomas More (1477-1535) is the patron saint for politicians. And, Isidore of Seville has been proposed as the patron saint of the Internet.
D Roman Catholics and Protestants both agree that we have to pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. "I will pray for you," or "Please pray for me," are statements to be heard throughout the universal church. It is based upon the example of Christ and the Biblical saints. For instance, John 17 is known as Christ's high-priestly prayer – a long prayer of intercession for Himself, the disciples, and all believers. And, the Apostle Paul can hardly write a letter to one of the churches without mentioning how he is praying for them.
The living praying for the living: no one, I am sure, has any problems with this. The Roman Catholic Church, however, extended this idea. If the saints on earth pray for each other, why suppose that they stop praying when they die? So for Roman Catholics it seemed only logical to assume that the saints continued to pray after they arrived in heaven – and make their merits available to those who remain on earth.
II Christ, Our Only Access and Savior
A We look at our text for this evening and we see two things in response to the Roman Catholic view of saints.
First, we are told that "we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense." God is not listening to a choir of different voices speaking on our behalf. He is listening to one. And, there is only one speaking to Him on our behalf. That one is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One – not Mary, not Mother Teresa, not St. Crispin, not Joseph. The only One in heaven Who prays for us is Christ. We find this teaching of Christ's intercession also taught in other places throughout the Bible:
(Rom 8:34) Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
(Heb 7:25) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
How do we come to God in prayer and how do we approach Him in worship? The Bible's answer is "through Christ." Christ is our only access to the Father. Christ is our only Intercessor before the Father. We don't come to God through Mary or Mother Teresa or St. Anthony; we come to God only in and through Christ.
We need and were created for fellowship with God. We are supposed to be a people who commune with God in prayer and worship. This life of communion and fellowship and prayer and worship is possible only in and through and because of Christ.
The message of 1 John 2 is that us poor, sinful, trembling creatures can come to God. Yes, we have to approach Him with reverence and awe; yet, in Christ, He is approachable and, in Christ, we can have communion with Him and can worship Him and can talk to Him in prayer.
"We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense ..." Notice that word "defense." This is how our pew Bible translates the Greek word "paraclete." It means "one called alongside to help." It means a person who intercedes on behalf of someone else.
Maybe you have seen the advertisement about the woman who calls the President and asks him to straighten out health care in our country. He listens to her and says he will look after it.Our text tells us that when it comes to God, Jesus is our Intercessor. He represents our cause before God. Only through Him can we come to God.
The point of the advertisement is that this sort of thing just does not happen; you need an organization like the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) to intercede for you.
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.
The Roman Catholic Church declares someone to be a saint because they died for the faith as a martyr, or lived an extra holy life, or were zealous in their defense of the faith. This is too narrow and too broad. It is too narrow in that the Bible considers every single true Christian believer to be a saint (Acts 9:13, 32; 26:10; Rom 1:7; 8:27; 15:25-26; 15:31; Rom 16:2, 15; 1Cor 6:1-2; 14:33 etc.). In front of me this evening are the saints. It is too broad in that there really is only One Who is completely righteous and holy and sinless – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the martyr Who died for us. He is the One Who zealously defended the faith. In other words, Jesus Christ is the only "saint" in heaven Who intercedes for us.
That's the first point made by our text on this Reformation Sunday: Jesus – not Mary or Mother Teresa – is the only saint in heaven Who prays for us. And, for this truth the fathers and mothers of the Reformation were willing to lay down their life.
B The second thing we have to say is that Jesus "is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." He is the way, the only way, of salvation. We cannot draw on the works of Mary, Joseph, Mother Teresa, or St. Anthony. In Christ we have all that we need in order to be saved. No one and no thing can add to His finished work.
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." The word that is used here means an offering made by man in order to turn away the wrath of an angry God and pay for our sin. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice. He has paid for our sins with His own precious blood. He has turned away God's wrath with His precious blood. This is something only Christ does – not Mary or Teresa or the saints. Salvation is from and by and through Christ and Christ alone.
Topic: SaviorAnd so it is with Jesus. His nail-pierced hands remind us that He has rescued us from sin and its deadly consequences. Whose hands bear the scars? Not Mary's. Not Mother Teresa's. Not Thomas More. Not Isidore of Seville.
Subtopic: Christ our
Leslie B. Flynn told a story that illustrates a great truth. An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, perished in the flames. The boy's cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drain pipe and came back down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck. Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town's wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. But as they talked, the lad's eyes remained focused on the floor. Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw his arms around the man's neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those marred hands had settled the issue.
Think, for a moment, of what Jesus says about Himself in the Gospels:
(Jn 10:9) I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. Jesus claims to be the only Savior. He doesn't say, "I am a gate." He doesn't say, "I am one of many gates." He doesn't say, "I am one way and one path of many ways and many paths to the Father." He says, "I am the gate." "I am the way." "No one comes to the Father except through me."
(Jn 14:6) Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
That's the second point made by our text on this Reformation Sunday – Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our Savior from sin and the wrath of God that rests on that sin. And, for this truth too the fathers and mothers of the Reformation were willing to lay down their life.
The gap between the holy, almighty Creator of heaven and earth and us frail, mortal, sinful creatures is so great that no human, no saint, can bridge this gap. But this gap is bridged by Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. On this Reformation Sunday I need to tell you He is our only Intercessor and Savior.
So, with the true church of all ages we say, "Praise God for Jesus Christ."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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