Friday, December 21, 2007

O Magnum Mysterium, Part 2

Come, Let Us Adore Him

In The Nick of Time

Read Part 1.

by Kevin T. Bauder @

A mediator attempts to bring about reconciliation between two parties. In order to perform this task, mediators must possess one crucial qualification. They must have sympathies for both parties. A mediator whose sympathies are entirely on one side is not a mediator, but an accomplice and conspirator.

A priest is a kind of mediator. Priests represent humans before God, seeking to reconcile the wayward who have violated God’s justice. The writer to the Hebrews teaches that compassion for sinning people is one of the qualifications of a priest, particularly a high priest (Heb. 5:2-3). In order to gain this compassion, the Levitical high priest had to be one who “wore weakness.” Indeed, before he could offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people, he first had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins.

Although such a priest would have obvious sympathy for sinful people, he would lack adequate sympathy for God’s holiness. Because the priest was a sinner himself, he could offer no sacrifice that would truly propitiate God and expiate sin. His inadequacy did not consist in the fact that he experienced weakness. The failure was that, in his weakness, the priest himself had sinned. Therefore, he could represent only one side in the dispute. The efficacy of his sacrifice was necessarily limited.

The writer to the Hebrews affirms that Jesus Christ has become the final mediator who represents humans before God. He is our great High Priest. His work was to reconcile humans to God, propitiate God’s justice, expiate sins, and redeem sinners through the blood of His cross. There He offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice for sins.

The sacrifice of Jesus is wholly efficacious for all believers because He was both like and unlike earthly priests. He was unlike them in that He was the eternal Second Person of the Godhead. Of course He sympathized and identified with God. He was God! He understood the importance of justice, and He determined from eternity past that justice had to be fulfilled. He had no propensity merely to excuse or to overlook sins.

Furthermore, because of His divine nature, He did not and could not commit sins. The sacrifice that He offered was the only sacrifice ever offered that was utterly pure in itself, offered by a priest who was utterly pure in Himself. Because His sacrifice was backed by the infinite purity of His deity, it was the only sacrifice that could truly remove the infinite guilt of human sin and satisfy the infinite justice of a holy God. If Jesus were not truly God, then He could not be our savior.

On the other hand, Jesus was also like human priests in that He shared their nature and even their weakness. He did not take the nature of angels, but He entered the world as a true human being. The genuine humanness of Jesus is essential to His work as mediator. He could not represent us before God if He did not sympathize with us. For this reason, He necessarily had to be made like us in every way (apart from sin) in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest. Therefore, He made the choice to “wear weakness” (see Heb. 5:2-3) like the Old Testament priests. What does this mean?

It means that, to His deity, the Second Person added a complete human nature. It also means that during the time of His humiliation He “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7, NASB) by receiving the form of a slave and coming to be in the likeness of humans. In His weakness, He experienced temptation and grief, manifested human piety, and learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:7-8).

In order to save us, Jesus had to be one of us. He had to experience the full force of human limitation, frailty, and weakness. He had to be tested, and He had to face testing with the same resources that are available to any human.

We fail to appreciate the utter humanity of Jesus Christ. True, during His humiliation Jesus never ceased to be God and never surrendered any divine attribute. The limitation that He accepted, however, was that He would not use His own divine power unless directed to do so by the Father. His faithfulness, therefore, was the faithfulness of a man, His labor was the labor of a man, and His weakness was the weakness of a man.

What about Jesus’ miracles? They were the deeds of the human Messiah, upon whom rested the Spirit of God without measure (John 3:34). This Spirit that gave power to Jesus was the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2). This immeasurable, seven-fold Spirit of God (Rev. 5:6) imparted such knowledge and ability as Jesus needed in order to perform His Messianic wonders. With rare exceptions, these wonders were not the direct manifestation of His own deity, but rather the demonstration of His complete dependence upon His Father through the Spirit.

The Lord Jesus was utterly human, fragile and weak, completely dependent upon His God and Father. In other words, He was exactly what any one of us should have been. Of all humans, Jesus Christ alone has lived a life of genuine, human righteousness, a life of perfect obedience. This active, human obedience constitutes the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us when we believe.

Jesus no longer experiences humiliation. Since His resurrection and ascension, He has been exalted above the heavens. Our Brother now governs the universe. He once again receives the adoration of seraphim and cherubim. To the glory of His eternal deity, however, has been added the excellence of a perfect humanity. We worship Him as God, and we also revere Him as the Anointed One.

Though He is now exalted, Jesus has never forgotten what it means to be weak. He never will forget. Precisely because He walked this earth as a fragile human being, experienced testing, passed through suffering, and learned obedience, He is now qualified to be our merciful and faithful High Priest. He is the one mediator between God and humans. He is able to help us when we are tempted. He is able to save us to the uttermost. And for our part, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, knowing that we shall obtain mercy and find help in time of need.

Jesus Christ loves to embrace sinners. He delights to forgive. Before the demands of divine justice, He pleads the merit of His own blood and righteousness. He is our God, our Brother, and our Savior.

O come, let us adore Him: Christ the Lord!

Lord Jesus Christ, All Praise to Thee

Latin, XI cent., tr. Charles Kinchin (1711 - 1742)

Lord Jesus Christ, all praise to Thee,
That Thou wast pleased a man to be;
Our low estate Thou didst not scorn;
And angels sang to see Thee born.

The heavenly Father’s only Son,
He left His rightful glorious throne;
The Lord through Whom the worlds were made
Is in the humble manger laid.

The brightness of the Light divine
Doth now into our darkness shine;
It breaks upon sin’s gloomy night
And makes us children of the light.

The Father’s Son, for ever blest,
Becomes in His own world a Guest,
To lead us from this vale of strife
Into the everlasting life.

For us these wonders has He wrought
In love beyond our human thought.
Let Christians all now join to sing
Praise to our newborn Saviour King.

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN).

Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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