Article 26 - Christ's Intercession
We believe that we have no access to God except through the only Mediator and Advocate Jesus Christ the righteous. For this purpose He became man, uniting together the divine and human nature, that we men might not be barred from but have access to the divine majesty. This Mediator, however, whom the Father has ordained between Himself and us, should not frighten us by His greatness, so that we look for another according to our fancy. There is no creature in heaven or on earth who loves us more than Jesus Christ. Though He was in the form of God, He emptied Himself, taking the form of man and of a servant for us (Philippians 2:6,7), and was made like His brethren in every respect (Hebrews 2:17). If, therefore, we had to look for another intercessor, could we find one who loves us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His enemies (Romans 5:8,10)? If we had to look for one who has authority and power, who has more than He who is seated at the right hand of the Father and who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)? Moreover, who will be heard more readily than God's own well-beloved Son?
Therefore it was pure lack of trust which introduced the custom of dishonouring the saints rather than honouring them, doing what they themselves never did nor required. On the contrary, they constantly rejected such honour according to their duty, as appears from their writings. Here one ought not to bring in our unworthiness, for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own worthiness, but only on the basis of the excellence and worthiness of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.
Therefore with good reason, to take away from us this foolish fear or rather distrust, the author of Hebrews says to us that Jesus Christ was made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17,18). Further, to encourage us more to go to Him, he says: Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The same letter says: Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, etc. (Hebrews 10:19,22). Also, Christ holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24,25). What more is needed? Christ Himself says: I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me (John 14:6). Why should we look for another advocate? It has pleased God to give us His Son as our Advocate. Let us then not leave Him for another, or even look for another, without ever finding one. For when God gave Him to us, He knew very well that we were sinners.
In conclusion, according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly Father through Christ our only Mediator, as we are taught in the Lord's prayer. We rest assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in His Name (John 16:23).
Through the training they had received from the Roman Catholic Church in their childhood, deBres and his countrymen had been taught to view the ascended Christ as a fearsome person. Sinners dare not approach God in prayer through Him. Between themselves and Christ, sinners needed another intercessor, one more understanding of human needs and weaknesses, and at the same time able to exert an influence upon Jesus Christ. This person was His mother Mary. Mary was seen as the ‘Mediatrix’ (the word is the feminine form of the word Mediator) to whom one ought to pray, requesting her to intercede with her Son and urge Him to go to the Father on the sinner’s behalf. Mary in turn could be approached via the saints. From this ‘prayer ladder’ it is evident that, according to Roman Catholic theology, a great distance remains between God and the justified, sanctified sinner.
Over against this teaching dominant in his day, deBres sought to instruct his congregation on what Scripture said about sinners approaching God.
CHRIST RESTORED MAN’S RELATION WITH GOD
When God created the human race in the beginning, He established a close and warm relationship between mankind and Himself. In Genesis 3:8 we read how close the relation was: “And (Adam and Eve) heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” How was it possible for Adam and Eve to conclude from the sound they heard that God was approaching them? It was with them as it is with us; we recognize a particular hum as evidence of an approaching car because we’ve heard it so often. Familiarity produces recognition. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of God’s approach because they had heard it frequently. The relation between God and man in Paradise was one of open and frequent contact.
But this close relationship did not last. With the Fall into sin, man broke his communion with God. God in turn sent man out of His presence, out of the garden, and into a world of thorns and thistles, into a world of communion with Satan (Genesis 3:23; see Figure 14-2). Such was the distance between God and man that Scripture can describe fallen man as dead in sin and alienated from God (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18). Yet it pleased the Lord God to send Christ to earth in order to pay for sin. Christ bore for me the judgment I deserved. Through His gracious work all God’s elect were taken from Satan’s side and brought back to God’s side: justification through the blood of Christ. God declared innocent and righteous those whom He had chosen to eternal life, so that they could once again live in His presence (see Figure 22-1). The justified sinner, once returned to God’s side, was made alive, changed, renewed, recreated: sanctified through the Spirit of Christ (see Figure 24-2).
What now is the relation like between the restored sinner and holy God? Now that the sinner is returned to God’s side and declared righteous before Him, now that he is made alive again so that he can image God once more, can he speak with God as He did in Paradise? Or is he still banished from the presence of God as Adam was after the fall? In Article 26, deBres insists that the redeemed sinner has free access again into the presence of holy God. DeBres confidently repeats after God what God has revealed in Scripture: Jesus Christ has so fully restored the relation between the justified sinner and the Creator that I can once again have communion with God. Christ’s work on Calvary means that Paradise is essentially restored!
When we think of Christ we tend to associate Him with the cross of Calvary and no more. And indeed, Calvary is the climax of salvation history (justification, forgiveness of sins). However, we must take care not to stop at Calvary. Jesus Christ, after He had finished His work on the cross, went on to do more work. After He completed His work on Calvary to pay for sin, He ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50,51) in order to mediate between holy God and the people He redeemed.
SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE OF CHRIST’S INTERCESSION
That Jesus bridges the gap between holy God and His sinful people is clear from several passages of Scripture.
“It is Christ who died (Good Friday), and furthermore is also risen (Easter Sunday), who is even at the right hand of God (Ascension), who also makes intercession for us.”
After His death, resurrection and ascension, Christ has not gone into retirement, but He continued His work, pleading with God for us in heaven. Note the use of the present tense: He “makes intercession for us.” His work in heaven for our benefit is ongoing.
The apostle describes the work Christ is doing in heaven today. Christ, “because He continues for ever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them.” Note that here again the present tense is used with reference to Christ’s work: He ever lives to make intercession. Christ’s resurrection, or the pouring out of His Spirit, did not mark an end to His work. Today the ascended Christ is busy in heaven, interceding before the Father on my behalf.
1 John 2:1
“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.”
‘We have,’ Scripture says here; it is a continuing reality. Today my Savior is in heaven acting as an advocate, a lawyer, presenting my case to the Father.
CHRIST IS MY ADVOCATE
Such Scripture passages prompted deBres to confess, “We believe that we have no access to God except through the only Mediator and Advocate Jesus Christ the righteous. For this purpose He became man, uniting together the divine and human nature, that we men might not be barred from but have access to the divine majesty.” Our barring from God’s presence on account of our fall into sin in Paradise is undone! No, we do not come directly to God as we did in Paradise before the fall; our depravity requires the work of the Mediator. Even so, sinners may approach the same God with whom Adam and Eve communed before the fall, and this God hears for Jesus’ sake. It makes for an exciting and encouraging thought: my Savior is today still active for my sake, and the result is that I can speak openly with holy God! How marvelous is His grace!
Here is the encouragement of the apostle to the Hebrews: “Therefore, brethren,” he says, “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:19-22). Here the ‘Holiest’ is a reference to the Holy of Holies of the Old Testament, the place where God dwelt among His people. The Hebrew readers of this letter understood the term to refer to the dwelling of God in heaven. The force of the apostle’s words, then, is clear: the Hebrew Christians are encouraged to enter boldly into the presence of holy God Himself! There is for their benefit an eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ who sacrificed Himself on the cross for sinners, who pleads with God on sinners’ behalf. Small wonder the apostle can tell his readers to “draw near” to God with “boldness”! In truth, “who will be heard more readily than God’s own well-beloved Son?”
CHRIST’S INTERCESSION HAS RESULTS
Scripture is emphatic that God always listens to the pleas of the Son. Indeed, it could not be different, given that the Father and the Son are one!
Because He knew that Satan would attack Peter, Jesus made a point of interceding the Father on Peter’s behalf. “Simon, Simon,” Jesus said to Peter. “Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But, I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” In the grip of Satan, Peter certainly went through a deep valley, to the point of denying the Lord three times (Luke 22:54-60). Yet God, in answer to Peter’s prayer, did not give Peter over completely to the devil. Christ had prayed for Peter, interceded for him that his faith would not fail, and the result is that when Peter heard the rooster crow and saw Jesus looking at him, he recognized his sin, broke down, and wept. “Then Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
Just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father: “Holy Father,” He said, “keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” These words form Jesus’ intercession to the Father on behalf of His disciples, requesting God’s preserving grace over those disciples.
The prayer was so necessary. Jesus knew that at His arrest the disciples would scatter (Matthew 26:56) and one would even publicly deny Him (Matthew 26:69-74). Yet on Easter Sunday, all the disciples (except for Thomas who would join them a week later) were together again (John 20:19,24). That is because the Father, in response to Jesus’ prayer, kept the disciples in Jesus’ name. The Father answered this petition from the Son!
In the same prayer Jesus prayed a little later, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You...”
In this part of His prayer, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would come to faith through the preaching of the disciples. Did the Lord God answer?
After the outpouring of Christ’s Spirit on Pentecost we read: “Then those who gladly received (Peter’s) word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.... Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:42-45). Similarly, in Acts 4:4 we read of a further five thousand who believed in the Word preached by the apostles, and in verse 32 we read, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” Here is another example that Jesus’ prayer of intercession on behalf of the saints was effective; God answers the petitions of His Son.
PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE
If, now, the Father heard Jesus’ petitions on behalf of His people before He went to the cross, how much more shall the Father hear Jesus’ petitions on our behalf after His Son has been exalted to God’s right hand!? More, if the Son laid down His life for me on the cross, will He now in heaven turn a deaf ear to my cries, and not implore the Father on my behalf? Surely, neither my Father nor my Savior is like that!
Rather, the Intercessor I have in heaven hears my pleas and speaks to the Father on my behalf. Paul is emphatic: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). Similarly, Jesus’ promise is sure: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you” (John 16:23). Therefore I have every reason to pray boldly. I have been reconciled to God; hence I am allowed to speak to God freely. More, because I’m allowed to speak freely to God, I also (in gratitude) must speak freely and boldly to God. Christ intercedes in heaven on my behalf, and so I’m permitted to tell the Lord what is on my mind. Even my sins may not hinder me from speaking openly to God, for (as deBres put it) “when God gave Him to us, He knew very well that we were sinners.”
More, I may be assured that the Intercessor I have in heaven understands exactly what is going on in my life. He is not far removed, distant, or remote from this life. He has been on earth Himself! “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Have I been tempted in any way? Then I may tell it to my Father, for Christ Himself was tempted in the same way. Have I fallen? Then I may tell my Father that too, for Christ knows and understands my weaknesses in the face of the barbs of Satan’s temptations. In the presence of the Father to whom I pray, Christ tells the Father of the weakness of the human flesh, reminds the Father of His saving work on the cross and His renewing work by the Spirit. And the Father always hears the Son (cf John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23).
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: WALKING AND TALKING WITH GOD
Such wealth results in an obvious consequence. Given that the way is open again to speak freely with God, it follows that the life of the Christian can only be a life with God at all times, in all places. As I walk or work, I may talk to my God through prayer, and God talks to me through His Word.
This means that prayer should characterize each of my days. God does not place a limit on the number of times I may speak to Him in one day. It will not do to limit prayer to the start and close of a day, and at the beginning and conclusion of every meal; such restrictions inhibit communication with God. Rather, I may speak to Him in any moment, even when I cannot accompany prayer with folded hands, closed eyes, bent knees, or a bowed head (though there is much to be said for such posture if the situation allows it). With my hands on the steering wheel or in the suds, with my eyes on the computer screen or on the shelves of the grocery store, I may ask the Lord for strength to do the task He gives, may ask for wisdom to meet a challenge I don’t know how to face, may explain my frustration with the children and ask for patience. I may pour out my heart whether I’m at home, in the office, on the work site, in the garden or on the road. I may express my thankfulness to God at any time of the day, be it for a beautiful rainbow, for sunshine, for a good time with the children, for having received strength, wisdom, or endurance as was required. I may tell God of the loneliness I feel or the rejection I experience, no matter what time of day or night. There is nothing in the life of His child that does not interest the Father. All things are in His control, including the red traffic light when I’m running late or the empty fuel tank when there’s no gas station in sight, and I may lay these concrete needs before Him in plain language. Nothing in my life is too trivial for Him, for I live every moment in His presence and all things come from His hands. My prayers don’t need to be composed of fancy words and phrases. I am allowed to be open to the Lord with words of daily life, for that is what it means to truly walk and talk with God.
How rich the Gospel of grace in the grind of my life today! DeBres put it well: “In conclusion, according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly Father through Christ our only Mediator, as we are taught in the Lord’s prayer. We rest assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in His Name.”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Just what, though, are we taught in the Lord’s prayer? We read in Luke 11:1 that the twelve disciples were once listening in on Jesus’ conversations with His Father in heaven. When He finished His prayer, one of the twelve asked Jesus the question on the minds of them all: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] also taught his disciples.”
Jesus obliged the disciples and taught them to pray. The first aspect of His instruction related to God’s identity. The disciples were to call God ‘Father’ – because God is not a heavy-fisted tyrant, nor a disinterested stranger. Realizing that the one you speak to is a Father (instead of a tyrant) makes speaking to Him so much easier! That’s the more so given what the Scripture says about the meaning of the term ‘Father’ (see, for example, Deuteronomy 32:4-14, especially verse 6; Hosea 11:1-11).
As to what the disciples should pray, Jesus reminded them that all of life is to be God-centered, and so the disciples’ prayers were to be God-centered too; they should pray first of all that God’s name be hallowed. With this petition they were to ask that God give them grace to live each moment of each day to the glory of God Most High.
The disciples, Jesus continued, should pray from their daily context, from the setting of war and the antithesis that characterizes this life (see Genesis 3:15); they should pray that God’s kingdom be made to come since in this fallen world there are many who live in rebellion against God’s kingship and refuse to submit to His authority. This is a request that the disciples (and all who pray) should acknowledge God’s kingship in Christ over all of life. This request follows the first petition, for God’s name receives the glory that is His due specifically through people acknowledging God’s kingship in daily life.
Yet how is God’s kingship in daily life acknowledged? One highlights Christ’s kingship by obeying God’s will. So the third petition follows from the second; the disciples should ask for the gift of obedience, should ask for grace to deny their own will in order to do God’s will, and so make that kingdom come – so that in turn God’s name be hallowed. Those first three petitions, then, are all of one piece. It is through people doing God’s will that His kingdom is made to come, and so God’s name receives the glory.
Jesus taught His disciples to follow these first three God-centered petitions with three more petitions. Contrary to what we might expect, though, the second cluster of three petitions does not revolve around people. Rather, Jesus taught the disciples to pray for daily bread with God’s glory in mind. That is: it is through our obeying God’s commands (third petition) that God’s kingdom is made to come (second petition) and His name hallowed (first petition). But if a sinner is to obey God’s commands he needs strength from God, needs food, needs sleep, needs faithfulness, love, humility, clothes, work, contentment, etc. In the fourth petition Jesus would have the disciples pray for “daily bread” in order that they might be able to obey God’s commands, so that in turn God’s kingdom come and He be glorified. This fourth petition is as God-centered as the first three.
The fifth petition about forgiveness of sins dovetails again with the fourth and the ones before. For we daily misuse the bodily needs God gives in answer to the fourth petition. Though God gives us adequate in terms of food and money, clothes and work, freedom and time to study His Word (so that in turn we might be equipped to do His will, make His kingdom come, glorify His name), we for our part repeatedly misuse His many good gifts. Through that misuse we chalk up a debt with God, a debt that blocks us from receiving more of the gifts we need to do His will, make His kingdom come, glorify His name. So Jesus taught His people to pray that the Lord God please forgive the debt we daily accumulate through our sins. God in mercy for Jesus’ sake does forgive our debt with Him, so that in turn the way is open again for Him to provide us with the needs required to do His will and make His kingdom come – to the greater glory of God’s most wonderful Name.
The sixth petition, too, dovetails with the previous five. Where there is forgiveness, the Lord God again supplies daily bread – for the greater glory of God’s most wonderful Name. That’s a reality Satan loathes. So He sets before us temptations geared to make us misuse again God’s gifts, so that in turn we accumulate a debt with God…, and God does not receive the glory that is His due. So Jesus instructs His disciples to ask God to please prevent that they come into a situation of temptation, and to deliver them from the evil one.
Just how God-centered prayer (and all of life) is to be is pointed up again in the doxology Jesus adds to the prayer He taught His disciples. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory;” life is all about God.
After His instruction concerning what to pray, Jesus added this promise: “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Luke 11:9). Jesus’ point was not that the disciples should ask for anything they desired, and then expect to receive it; Jesus’ point was that the disciples should ask for anything in agreement with the thrust of the Lord’s Prayer and they will receive it. James underlines the Lord’s instruction on the point when he writes, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3). A chapter later James states emphatically, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). He mentions an example from the Old Testament. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17,18). Elijah’s prayer for drought was pitched to God’s glory; God should withhold daily bread from a sinful nation (according to His promise in Deuteronomy 28:23), so that Israel might learn to do God’s will, and so acknowledge His kingship and give glory to Him. According to promise, the Lord heard and answered.
Driven by a desire to see God glorified, we may pray with equal fervor for the things God has promised to give. Christ will bring our petitions before the Father, and He will certainly hear.
Points for Discussion:
- Why did the Roman Catholics place Mary between Christ and man? Why is this wrong?
- How is it possible for a Christian to speak to God?
- Christ is our Advocate. What does this mean? Why is an Advocate still necessary?
- What is the result of Christ’s work as Advocate?
- What advantage follows from the fact that this Advocate is true man?
- “Every moment of my life I live in the presence of my God.” Is this thought scary to you? Should it be?
- What sorts of things should we speak about in our prayers? From what perspective should these things receive a mention in our prayers? Should that perspective differ in prayer from the perspective we have for life as such?
- Explain the structure of the Lord’s Prayer.
- Read through the first three of the Form Prayers in the Book of Praise. What attitude prevails in them? Are you comfortable with this attitude? Is it fitting for us today??