Sunday, October 29, 2006

Solus Christus: One Mediator Between God and Man

Before the Reformation, Christians properly understood that, because of sin, direct access to God was impossible for man. They understood that no one could enjoy a right relationship with God without first going through Christ. The problem, however, was in the widespread belief that even Christ could not be approached directly. Vast multitudes of additional intermediaries had been imagined, through whom it was necessary to go if one desired communion with God. The worshipper might begin with a priest. If that were not enough, he might have to pray to the proper departed saint. If his relationship with that saint was somewhat strained, he might have first to find another departed saint more sympathetic to his plight. From there, perhaps, he could find some path, some chain of intermediaries by which, if he were fortunate, he might eventually gain access to Christ, and then to God.

As the Protestant Reformation dawned, however, God began graciously to open the eyes of his people to many biblical truths that had nearly been forgotten. One of these was the teaching that there was only one person qualified to serve as mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ. Upon this rediscovery, the Reformers began to teach that, even though unmediated access to the Father was not possible, man could approach Christ directly and through him alone enjoy a reconciled relationship with God. This truth later came to be summarized by the Latin phrase, Solus Christus, or “Christ Alone.” This is the doctrine that, other than Christ, no other mediator between God and man is possible, and that in addition to him, none other is necessary.

Conflicts arise in every human relationship. Sometimes these conflicts grow so acute that these relationships are fractured, even to the point where direct reconciliation is no longer possible. A mediator, then, is one who steps in between two parties at this critical point in an effort to help restore peace between them. Effective mediators must possess unique qualifications. They must understand the interests of the person who sends them. They must have access to and a favorable relationship with the offended party. They must be able to help the opposing parties facilitate a solution to the conflict responsible for the damaged relationship.

The scriptures are clear that all men have sinned, and that sin has effectively destroyed man’s relationship with God. The enmity between God and man is infinitely more severe than any conflict arising from mere human relations. Man in his natural state hates God, and God stores up eternal wrath against man. Without a mediator, without someone to bridge the gap, their relationship is doomed; and man will certainly fare the worse for it. Who could possibly mediate such animosity? He must be one who deeply comprehends the nature of man, one who has full favorable access to God himself, and most importantly, one who can effectively facilitate a solution to the seemingly insurmountable problem of sin.

Consider, then, the qualifications of Christ for this ministry of mediation between God and man. Because he has partaken of our nature and experienced our sufferings and temptations, he fully understands our needs and weaknesses; because he is the obedient beloved Son of God in whom the Father is well pleased, he enjoys unfettered access to the very throne of God; and because he is the spotless Lamb of God, who has shed his perfect blood, he has done more than facilitate- indeed, he has become the solution to the problem of sin. Through him, therefore, we can be completely restored to peace with God. How could another ever do the same? Without the mediation of Christ, man has no hope. If we would be reconciled to God, it is in him alone that we must place our trust. In addition to him, we need no other.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Basis for This Command

So why is the tone of our evangelism so different from that of the apostles? Why do we not deliver the gospel with the same authority as they did? Why do we give the impression that faith and repentance are a mere option when they proclaimed them as a universal duty of all mankind?

I’d like to suggest that the differences in the two approaches to evangelism could be the result of a difference in emphasis upon the authority, power and sovereignty of Christ. The apostles seem to have placed a great deal of importance upon the exalted station to which Christ had been raised. I believe that it was this heightened view of the dominion of Christ that led the them to preach with such authority. I believe, in addition, that it is the modern church’s tendency to deemphasize that dominion that leads to the frequent lack of strength in her evangelistic efforts.

Look again at Peter’s first sermon. Upon what did he base his command for the people to repent and be baptized? Jesus had been raised up; he had been exalted by the right hand of God. All the house of Israel was to know assuredly, that God had made him both Lord and Christ. It was because of this exaltation that the people were required to repent.

Consider again the sermon on Mars Hill. Upon what did Paul ground his announcement of God’s command that all men everywhere repent? “…inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he raised him from the dead.” This universal obligation to repent was based upon the authority that Christ had been given to judge the world.

And what had been the basis for Christ commissioning the apostles in the first place? “All authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore…” The apostles were sent out to make all nations into disciples. They were instructed to baptize all nations and to teach all nations to obey the words that Jesus had spoken. The force that moved them, the strength that upheld them was the authority that Christ had been given, an authority that encompassed all of heaven and all of earth.

It seems to me that if we are to recover the fervor, the energy, and the authority of apostles’ evangelism, we must first recover their emphasis upon the sovereignty, power, and authority of Christ. We must continually remind ourselves that this, our Messiah, is more than king and lord of Christians, more than king and lord of the church. He is the King of Kings. He is the Lord of Lords. Perhaps if we understand this as we should, we will be more encouraged to preach as the apostles did and to press upon the unbelieving world its absolute obligation to submit to Christ's lordship and rule.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Gospel Imperative

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following a number of discussions about evangelism, lordship-salvation and the power of preaching. The following observations arise out of sort of a hodge-podge of related thoughts.

I don’t quite know how else to say it: as modern evangelicals, our gospel preaching just seems weak. I feel this when I hear the gospel presented by other Christians; I feel it especially when I present it myself. It’s been hard to put my finger on the problem. After all, the scriptures assure us that the gospel message itself is powerful. It is the power for salvation for all who believe.

A watered-down gospel will certainly be weaker, and the church has certainly struggled with that problem over the years. But often, even those gospel presentations that include important biblical content still seem to lack something. I been thinking about it; and it seems that there’s an important aspect of apostolic evangelism that is frequently missing in our own. Its absence might explain why our preaching often feels so anemic by comparison.

The apostles’ preaching and that of Christ himself were loaded with imperatives. Matthew and Mark, in fact, sum up Jesus’ preaching in a single command. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:14). Christ sent out the apostles with the same kind of message, telling them to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey all things he had commanded him (Matt 28:19-20). We see that they did so. Peter concluded the first post-resurrection gospel message with this imperative, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins.” He took a similar tone in his second sermon, “Repent ye, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).

The apostle Paul used the same kind of language in his evangelism. He commanded the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house (Acts 16:31). He spoke even more forcefully to the Athenians, “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth all men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30). It was this perspective that lead Paul to describe his ministry as an “apostleship unto obedience of faith among all nations” (Rom. 1:5). To Paul, the gospel was more than a mere message to be believed; it was a command to be obeyed, and that by all men.

Here’s what I’m observing: when the apostles preached the gospel, their message was simple, Christ has died, he has risen, and he has ascended; you must repent. When they proclaimed repentance and faith in Christ, they weren’t suggesting them to non-believers as an available option; they were declaring them as an unavoidable obligation. They weren’t asking, they weren’t pleading, they weren’t inviting. They were indiscriminately declaring, ordering, commanding, "All men everywhere must now all repent."

We simply don’t evangelize like this.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Conclusion: The Throne of David and the Resurrection of Christ

It seemed best to finish this series of posts by presenting, with minimal commentary, a few passages of scripture. I would only ask that you pay special attention to the connections made by the apostles between the promises of the Davidic covenant and the resurrection of Christ. I trust that God will bless the reading of His word as He sees fit.

Psalm 2:1-9

Why do the nations rage, And the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against Jehovah, and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their bonds asunder, And let us cast away their cords from us.” He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: The Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, And vex them in his sore displeasure, “Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, “Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost part of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Acts 4:25

O Lord, thou that didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the holy Spirit, by the mouth of our Father David they servant didst say, “Why do the Gentiles rage, And the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed.” For of a truth in this city against thy holy servant Jesus whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever they hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass. And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness; while thou stretchest forth thy hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through thy holy Servant Jesus.

Isaiah 55:3-5

I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not; and a nation that knew thee not shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

Acts 13:32-34

And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the Second Psalm, "Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten thee." And as concerning that he raised him from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he hath spoken on this wise, "I will give thee the holy and sure blessings of David."

Psalm 132:10-11

For thy servant David’s sake Turn not away the face of thine anointed. Jehovah hath sworn unto David in truth; he will not turn from it, "Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne."

Psalm 110:1-2

Jehovah said unto my Lord, "Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies they footstool." Jehovah will send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion: "Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies."

Acts 2:29-36

Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we are all witnesses. Being therefore highly exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this which ye see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.