Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: December, 2015

THE MEDIATOR

So why did the Son of God have to become man, and live and die here on earth? The answer: so that He could serve as a mediator between God and man.
But why would we need a mediator? Because the human race has become estranged from God and has incurred His wrath. God is absolutely holy and free from sin of any kind. We, on the other hand, are sunk in sin and rebellion, led captive by our self-centered feelings and desires. We routinely do what God has told us not to do, and we fail to do what He has told us to do. This has resulted in a profound state of alienation between God and us.
But remarkably, God did not leave things in this state of affairs. Even though He has every right to be angry with us, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4; NKJV). We are sinners, but we are still God’s creatures made in His image. The solution? “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus . . .” (v. 5).
A mediator is someone who comes between two estranged parties and tries to reconcile them. In particular, if one party has offended the other the mediator goes to the offended party and pleads on behalf of the one who has caused the offense.
In our case Jesus is our mediator. We have offended God; God is angry with us. Jesus became one of us so that He could act as our representative before God the Father.
But granted that Christ is our mediator, our representative; what could He possibly say to the Father? We are patently guilty. But what our text says next is most extraordinary. He “gave Himself a ransom for all . . .” (v. 6). A ransom is a price paid to secure the release of a prisoner or slave. In our case the ransom secures our release from the debt we owe God as a result of our sin. To reconcile us to the Father Christ had to present some sort of offering or sacrifice. But what could possibly be adequate? What could possibly atone for all of our sins?
What Jesus did was nothing less than astonishing: He “gave Himself” – He offered Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins. This perfectly satisfied God’s justice and turned away His wrath. And Christ did this at the cost of His own death on a cross.
What does all of this mean for us personally? We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith . . .” (Rom. 3:24,25). To be “justified,” in this context, means to be declared righteous in the sight of God. And “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Because of what Christ has done on our behalf it is possible to have our sins forgiven, to have peace with God, and to know Him personally as our loving Father and not as our condemning Judge. And this is not because we are naturally good people – far from it – but because Christ came to be our Savior from our sins. To receive that salvation we must personally repent of our sins and put our trust in Christ as our Savior. We are “justified by faith.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the meaning of Christmas!

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THE SON OF MAN

 

If Jesus was God, then why would He have to become man? Why would He have to come into the world, be born of a virgin, and then suffer and die on a cross? At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation. But why did Christ have to become incarnate?

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to discuss this point. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10; NASV). By “author” he means the one who began or originated our salvation. And it is said of the author that God “perfects” Him. Jesus was, of course, morally perfect. But simply as the Son of God He could not have functioned as our Savior. Something more was needed. He needed to become man as well as God, so that He could serve as our representative in making an atonement for sin.

Christ, in effect, had to become “one of us.” “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). There is a sense in which our experience is utterly unlike God’s. We have to cope with all the physical limitations of life on this planet. We experience hunger and thirst, and physical exhaustion; not to mention sickness, disease and injury. There is the emotional pain and suffering we endure in this world of human conflict and turmoil. Then there is the inner temptation to do what we know is morally wrong, with the guilt and shame that brings.   And finally there is the stark reality of death. We live with the fact that we will all eventually die. As full of life and health and vitality as we may be now, eventually we will become cold corpses lying in the ground. And to a great extent that fear of death controls our thinking and behavior now; “. . . who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (v. 15). Our behavior is controlled by our circumstances because we dread the final end, and seek to postpone it by any measure at our disposal. And this sometimes results on ethical compromises on our part. When threatened with extinction we cave in.

But how would the Son of God know any of that? In a theoretical sort of way, of course, He would – as God He is omniscient. But He would never have experienced any of this firsthand. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in thing pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17). Jesus came to fulfill the role of a priest. To “propitiate” means to placate the anger of an offended God.   In Old Testament time the high priest would offer up sacrifices on behalf of the people. In effect the priest was acting as the people’s representative before God. Thus in order to Christ to perform that role, He had to become our representative, and He could only do that if He is in some measure like us. Then He can be “merciful,” i.e. feel pity and compassion for us; and “faithful,” – trustworthy and reliable. And thus Christ had to become man. “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” But in order for that to happen the Son of God had to become man. And that is exactly what happened that day in Bethlehem.

Later on in the epistle the author draws the practical application from all of this: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15,16). The blessed truth is that we have a Savior, a Savior who has made atonement for sin and now makes intercession in heaven for those who are His by faith. Thus, for us who believe, life should not be a hopeless struggle for survival followed by the grave. Because of what Christ has done we can find salvation in Him. And once having found salvation we can go directly before God in prayer and receive a genuinely sympathetic hearing. And it all began in Bethlehem.

THE SON OF GOD

4.2.7

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation

 

If Jesus were merely an ordinary human being His birthday would be no more worth celebrating than those of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. But Jesus was no ordinary human being. He was the Son of God come into the world. There has never been anyone like Him either before or since.

The anonymous Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament was apparently aimed at Christians from Jewish backgrounds who were tempted to give up the Christian faith under social pressure. The author of the epistle argues that that would be a tragic mistake, tantamount to losing one’s salvation. Why? Because of who Jesus is.

In the opening verses the author gives us a description of the unique position that Jesus occupies. He makes several significant statements about who Jesus is and what He did.

The text tells us that God “has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things . . .” (Heb. 1:2: NASV). Jesus is, in some special and unique way, God’s very own Son; and as such, God has made Him “heir of all things.” The universe and all that is in it belongs to God, because He made it. And because Christ is His Son, Christ is His heir, as it were. That, in effect, makes Christ the Lord of the universe, the One to whom everyone owes allegiance.

This does not mean, however, that Christ is somehow separate and distinct from God Himself, for the text goes on to say that Christ is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (v. 3). A “radiance” is inseparably connected to the luminous body from which it emanates, thus underscoring Christ’s connection with the rest of the Godhead. “The exact representation of His nature” is a perfect likeness of the divine essence. In other words, Jesus was a visible manifestation of God’s being and attributes. He was nothing less than God Himself in human form. Jesus was God made flesh.

But our text also says that Christ was the One through whom God made the world (v. 2), and that Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power” (v. 3). Christ was directly involved in the creation of the universe, and He continues to sustain it by His power. Thus all of created reality is, in a very real sense, dependent upon Him for its very existence.

And then the text says that Christ “made purification of sins” (v. 3). The language is borrowed from the temple ritual in the Old Testament, in which sin was viewed as a stain or an impurity which must be cleansed with the blood of a slain animal. As the author of the epistle will go on to show, only Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, can really purify us from sin. If He had been a mere human being, He would have been a sinner like the rest of us, and would have had to atone for His own guilt. But as the sinless Son of God He could come into the world to atone for our sins. Apart from Him we would be lost and helpless.

And in the end He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3), thus occupying a position of preeminence over all of created reality.

This, then, was the extraordinary Person who was born that day in Bethlehem. He was nothing less than God incarnate and the Savior of the world.   His birth was the great turning point in history. Up until that time the world was sunk in heathen darkness – violence and corruption overflowed the earth. Only one tiny nation, the nation of Israel, possessed even a tiny glimpse of the truth.

But with the birth of Christ there dawned a new era. An atonement would be made for sin; the gospel would go forth unto the ends of the earth, and salvation would be offered to all mankind. Millions would ultimately find peace and joy in salvation. And we owe it all to Christ. It was His incarnation that day in Bethlehem that made it all possible.