Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/5/2000
Last week we saw in our study of v. 4 that God plans to judge sin and to save those who believe in Christ from that judgment. Vv. 5-6 tells us how God saves believers: only through Jesus Christ, the appointed Mediator.
It is one who brings two parties together, one who can stand in the gap between them, reaching out one hand as it were to one and one to the other. We have recently seen the limitations of the mediators who have tried to reconcile Arabs and Israelis. So intractable is that strife that one would need almost superhuman wisdom to mediate it. Yet the gap between God and Man requires something even greater.
Consider the radical nature of the chasm between them. First, there is a Metaphysical gap, or a gap of Being. It is the difference between the infinite and the finite, the Creator and the creature. However much we add to the finite, it never arrives at the infinite. So if there is a transcendant Source of all that is good, true, and beautiful, how would we ever find it? We are doomed to be separate forever from the Source of all meaning and life without Someone to stand in the gap.
Even greater is the Moral gap. God is infintely pure, righteous, and holy, with no tolerance for evil whatsoever. We are fallen, rebellious, sinful, profoundly corrupt in our very heart of hearts. How could we not be at odds with God, at enmity with the very source of life and all that makes it meaningful? Who could possibly bridge this gap for us?
Human solutions to this problem are not very encouraging. The Modern world simply denies the problem. Secularism says that there is no transcendant Source of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and that Man would not need one if there were. Religion is really the cause of all our problems; if we would stop looking to the chimera of God and seek answers from within ourselves, we would find fulfillment. So Humanist Manifestoes I and II both proclaim that Man must solve his own problems without looking for any divine assistance. Yet without any transcendant Source of the Good, it gets reduced to subjective preference. Denial is no solution.
Religious Liberalism is an even more dishonest form of denial. It believes in a transcendant Source but wants to hold onto secularism at the same time. Man is not really evil; he is good, or at least perfectable by his own efforts. He certainly doesn't need radical intervention in the form of a mythological incarnation and a primitive blood sacrifice! God is merciful, in effect, but not holy. Liberalism ultimately holds out as the answer a God who is less than God.
The Ancients at least took the problem seriously. Let us honor them for that. The Greek solution was to posit an infinite number of mediators in order to bridge this infinite gap. This was called the doctine of Emanations. Slightly below the Divine was the Demiurge, and coming from him an infinite number of other beings until finally we arrive at Man. Neoplatonism reinterpreted the pantheon of Greek and Roman polytheism as symbols for this panoply of beings. But we are no more capable of taking an infinite number of steps than we are of taking one infinite step. The gap between us and God remains unbridged.
Medieval Roman Catholicism "baptized" this pagan solution and transformed it into a whole bureaucracy of mediators: priests, saints, angels, and finally Mary, the ultimate Gatekeeper before the throne of God. We see this neopagan concept in the Roman version of the Confession of sin in the Mass: "I have sinned. In my thoughts and in my words; in the deeds that I have done, in what I have failed to do." So far we could confess with them. But then look what happens. "So I ask you, my brothers and my sisters, saints who have gone before, holy angels, and blessed Mary, sweet mother, pray for me to the Lord our God." We don't actually dare to address God and ask for forgiveness ourselves--we must ask these others to do it for us. They have all become Mediators.
If we are going to critique this confession, let us also see the good in it. God is very exalted, very holy; the great distance to be bridged is recognized; there is a wonderful humility in the sense that we need all the help we can get in order to approach God; the solidarity of the Church is appealed to in a healthy way. These are truths which unfortunately Protestant Evangelicals often do not express so well. But the multiplication of mediators is foreign to both the spirit and the letter of Scripture, and is ultimately only a Christianized version of the neopagan solution. Scripture bridges the great gap not by multiplying mediators in addition to Christ but by exalting the divine sufficiency of the One Mediator. Unfortunately, such is the perversity of human nature that we cannot seem to fix one problem without substituting another one. If we could return to the bold confidence of the biblical approach through the One Mediator without losing these other emphases, we would do well. Unfortunately, historically this has seldom happened for long.
God's solution is radical in its simplicity and its power: it is the Person of Jesus Christ. He bridges the metaphysical gap in his Person, which is both God and Man at the same time through the mystery of the Incarnation. In his very nature he can truly place one hand on us and one on God. He bridges the moral gap through his Sacrifice, which pays the penalty of our sin and makes forgiveness possible without compromise to God's justice. And he keeps these bridges in repair through his Intercession. The conclusion is that, even though the gap is quite as huge as the Catholic liturgy implies, we nevertheless may approach the Throne with boldness and confidence through Christ's mediation, a boldness tempered by a realization of the awe-inspiring privilege that is ours in Him (Heb. 10:129-23). The Saints and Mary all appear indeed, but as peers coming on the same basis we do rather than as mediators. Thus we join our voices in praise with theirs and with theangels, and thus our joy is complete.
There is one God and one Mediator. Only one. No doctine is more firmly resisted by the modern world, which sees the insistence on the uniqueness and exclusivity of Christ's mediation as narrow, intolerant, and bigoted. But biblical teaching on this point is unequivocal. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (Jn. 14:6). There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). And there is one God and One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). If people insist on ridiculing us for intolerance when we insist on this, then we must be content to be ridiculed. For the other answers have been tried and found wanting. This one alone bridges the gap; this one alone puts us in fellowship with the Source of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful. And therefore the most loving and enlightened thing we can do is be narrow and intolerant enough to say so.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams