Derek Thomas: Knowing Our Only Mediator


Thank you, thank you Chris. It’s a wonderful privilege, and an honor to
be back once again at the Ligonier conference. And, I have a brief to address the issue of
what the Reformation had to say about the work of the mediator, about the work of Christ. And I have a text, 2 Corinthians 5, and I’m
going to pick it up at verse 11, though our concentration will be towards the end of this
chapter. But if you have your Bibles turn with me if
you would to 2 Corinthians 5, and beginning to read at verse 11. This is the Word of God. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord,
we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope
it is known also to your conscious. We are not commending ourselves to you again
but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast
about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for
God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because
we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died
for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their
sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according
to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according
to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a
new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has
come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled
us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was
reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting
to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ,
God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled
to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew
no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Now, if we were to ask ourselves the question,
what did the Reformation contribute to the work of the mediator, we would need, in the
first place to perhaps distinguish between Christ’s person and Christ’s work. And in terms of the person of Christ, who
He is in terms of His two natures, a divine nature, and a human nature, in the language
of the creeds ‘hypostatic union.’ The Reformation contributed very little. Indeed part of what the Reformation did was
to endorse and to underline what the Nicene and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of
325 and 381, had already said with regard to the person of Christ. That Christ, in His person, is two natures,
that He has a divine nature, and that He has a human nature. And a human nature that is truly a human nature,
a nature that is just like ours apart from sin with a human mind, and human affections,
and a human soul, and a human body. And that this human nature of Christ is in
communion with the divine nature of Christ by means of the second person of the Trinity. That the communion between these two natures
is personal, and the language of the Reformation and the post-Reformation was in many respects
an endorsement of that. For a thousand years and more the two natures/one
person Christ had been proclaimed, and the Reformation was eager to endorse the fact
that they were following in the path of the early church. Indeed from one respect it was the charge
and the allegation that Rome had made towards the Protestant, emerging Protestant church
that it was schismatic. Calvin, for example, in his forward to the
institutes responded to that by saying very clearly that it was Rome who had departed
from the early church, and that the Reformation Church was in many respects going back to
the foundational truths of the early church. Well, in terms of the person of Christ there
really was no real distinction between the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic medieval
church, and the emerging Protestant church of the sixteenth century. It is in, well, it is in the work of Christ. What did Christ set out to achieve by means
of His life, and death, and resurrection, and ascension? It is in this area that a significant and
important departure took place between the medieval Catholic Church and the Reformation
church. Now, if we think for a minute as to the work
of Christ, and think of it in terms of how does the New Testament answer the question
as to the work of Christ, and the New Testament does that in a multifaceted way. It does so for example in one instance using
the language of the courtroom, and that we as human beings are sinful and guilty, and
that we need the grace of God in order to be in a right standing and in a right relationship
with God, the language of justification. Or the New Testament uses the language that
is associated with the temple, that we are by nature unfit and unclean to come into the
presence of God. And that was symbolized in the Old Testament
by the ritual of a veil that separated parts of the temple, and separated what was regarded
as the presence of God from the people. And furthermore there were priests that separated
people from the presence of God. And, the language of the temple suggests that
God has cleansed us and washed us by the blood of Christ, and that we have a great High Priest
in Jesus Christ who ushers us into the presence of God, so that believing in Jesus the veil
has been rent asunder. And that we are all priests, the priesthood
of all believers. We’re all priests by faith alone in Jesus
Christ alone. Or we could go to other parts of the New Testament
that take up the picture, of the marketplace, where in New Testament times, men and women
were sold as slaves. And the New Testament and the Bible as whole
using the language of redemption as the payment price to set us free from our bondage and
our captivity. Or as here in 2 Corinthians 5, the language
of reconciliation that we are by nature alienated, alienated — well, alienated from creation,
and alienated from other men and women, and alienated specifically from God Himself. A concept and an idea that is introduced into
the Bible in Genesis chapter 3, when as a result of the fall of man in the garden of
Eden you see that alienation between Adam and Eve, and Adam and the ground, and Adam
and God, hiding himself from the presence of God. It’s a concept that is perhaps more than other
concepts in the New Testament that is readily accessible and understood in the culture of
the twenty first century. Everyone knows a little bit about alienation. Alienation in relationships, and friendships,
and between folk that we work with, and between our masters and employers, and alienation
from society, and alienation from culture, and so on. It’s a concept that all of us to some extent,
even those who are unfamiliar with other concepts in the New Testament, and in the Bible as
a whole with regard to the redemptive work of Christ. They are certainly familiar enough with the
concept and idea of reconciliation. I was fascinated to learn that Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, the future wife of Robert Browning, the poet, in the middle of the nineteenth
century, she had suffered from an accident, a childhood accident, that had left her a
semi-invalid. And when she fell in love with Robert Browning
her parents disapproved of this relationship, and disapproved of the marriage that eventually
took place. And, the Browning’s moved to Europe, and away
from her parents. But she wrote, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
wrote a letter to her father every week for the next 10 years, and after — none of which
were replied to. And 10 years later a box arrives in the mail
with all of these letters in the box unopened. They are, of course, letters that are a part
of the fascination of English literature today, but it is an example of an act of a non-reconciliatory
act in the nineteenth century. Well, let’s look at this passage together,
if I may, and use this passage as the means by which we can address some of the issues
that arise of great moment and importance at the time of the Reformation. Let me address it in terms of four particular
things, and first of all, the problem that is entailed here. And what we have here is the problem of alienation. Alienation from God, man is alienated to God,
but actually in this passage God is also alienated from man. You notice in verse 15, He died for all, that
those who live might no longer live for themselves, and that’s a part of the human problem, the
human predicament, that we tend to live for ourselves. It was Martin Luther who said that the problem
of the natural man is that he is in — well, in Latin ‘incurvatus in se,’ curved in upon
himself. He is concerned with his — with himself,
and with his own needs, and own aspirations, and is therefore alienated from others. There’s a kind of basic fundamental narcissism
about the natural man. If you think of the first question of the
Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” And that answer to that question is fundamentally
outward looking, and in terms of a relationship with God, but man’s fundamental problem is
that he’s curved in upon himself who needs to be reconciled to God. Look at verse 10, for example, when Paul says,
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” He’s actually addressing Christians here. “We must all appear before the judgment seat
of Christ so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body whether
good or evil.” And that accountability that is incumbent
upon us, and that ultimate accountability before the throne of God raises the problem
here of basic alienation. Now, we need to ask ourselves the question,
who is alienated to who, is it man that is alienated to God, or as I think the passage
here suggests, that the basic problem we might say is not simply a human problem. The basic problem is the problem of God’s
character, and God’s nature, and God’s holiness. So that’s very much the emphasis that we find
here that in Christ, verse 19, “God was reconciling the world to himself,” as though the fundamental
problem in this relationship lies essentially in the character of God, the holiness of God,
that cannot look upon sin, and cannot have fellowship with one who is regarded as a sinner. So note therefore in this passage the divine
initiative that verse 18, “All this is from God.” That in the work of mediation, in the reconciliation
of sinners to God, God Himself must take the initiative, in terms of its accomplishment. It does not enlist nor is it dependent upon
the activity of men and women. All this is from God. It’s that problem, the problem of man’s alienation
from God that was of course at the heart of the narrative of Martin Luther that led up
to the nailing of the 95 theses to the wall of the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, the
problem. Well, secondly, the means of reconciliation,
and you see here God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God was in Christ — I don’t think this is
essentially and particularly a reference to the incarnation. It’s more inclusive than that. God was in Christ in the whole of Christ’s
life from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, from the moment
of His birth in a stable in Bethlehem. From the time of His growth as an infant and
a teenager, and into adolescence, and into a fully grown human being to His death upon
the cross, His burial in the grave, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the right
hand of God, God was in Christ in the whole of Christ’s life. But in particular, in verses 14 and 15, in
His death, in His death on behalf of sinners God was in Christ bringing about this reconciliation. Now, if we were to ask ourselves, how? We’re thinking of the means of reconciliation,
and if we think of how God brings about that reconciliation, I want us to sort of focus
and come in close to verse 21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew
no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “God was in Christ” verse 21, “For our sake
he” that is, God, God the Father, “made him” that is, Christ, “to be sin who knew no sin.” Now, sometimes commentators might suggest
that the word for sin in the first clause is different from the word from — the meaning
of the word in the second part of this sentence. In the second part of the sentence it says,
“who knew no sin.” So the first part of the sentence, I think,
needs to mean the same thing. Not that Jesus was made a sin offering, a
sacrifice, that’s true, but that’s not the truth that’s being taught here. The truth that’s being taught here is that
just as He did not have any sin He was made sin, He was reckoned a sinner who knew no
sin. And this especially at the cross. This is not saying something — identifying
Jesus with the incarnation. There are views today, neo-orthodoxy, and
Karl Barth, to name a couple of issues in the twentieth century, that suggest that what
is being said here is that Jesus identifies with humanity, and He identifies with humanity
at the time of His incarnation, He becomes a human being. And therefore identifies in that sense with
all of humanity. And that then leads to a kind of, well, a
kind of universalism that because Jesus identifies with all of humanity, therefore all of humanity
in some form or another is saved. That’s not what it’s — that’s not what’s
being said here. Verse 21, “For our sake he made him to be
sin who knew no sin.” Well, let’s take the second half of the sentence,
“who knew no sin.” Jesus was sinless. He had no original sin. He had no Adamic sin. No Adamic sin was imputed or reckoned to Jesus,
but neither, neither did He have actual sin, no sin in thought, no sin in words, no sin
indeed. He never broke God’s law, He never fell short
of the glory of God. He was absolutely perfect, it’s difficult
for us even imagine and contemplate what that means. That Jesus is without sin. “Which of you convinces me of sin?” He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate
from sinners. But God made Him sin, who knew no sin. He reckoned Him a sinner who had never committed
any sin, and therefore wasn’t a sinner. Think of those words on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He’s quoting from the 22 Psalm. And I think he’s doing more than just, well,
remembering and recalling a favorite psalm that perhaps He had memorized as a child,
and recited to Himself as an adult, and that therefore came back to Him as — in this — in
His moment of pain and dereliction upon the cross. No, he’s asking a question, “My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?” Why? Because from one point of view why would God
forsake His Son? And what the Reformation underlined was that
at this moment on the cross, sin, the sins of God’s people were reckoned to the account
of Christ. God reckoned Him to be a sinner. God made Him sin for us, so that in the language
of Martin Luther, at that moment upon the cross He was the greatest sinner the world
had ever seen. So that the Father in His holiness and purity,
in the integrity of His being cannot look upon His Son. Cannot favor Him with His grace and comfort. You notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “My Father,
my Father,” but, “My God, my God.” As though the consciousness of His native
son-ship, His relationship to His heavenly Father that He had known throughout the course
of His life. That communion that He had had with His heavenly
Father, as though that communion had now been altogether obliterated, and all that He is
conscious of is the wrath of His Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is as though He is in the place of the
wicked damned. In the Old Testament when you sinned you brought
an animal to the temple. A living, breathing animal, and you presented
that animal as a sacrifice. Your hands would of been placed upon the head
of that animal, and sins would of been confessed, and that animal would of been slain, it’s
throat would have been cut, and blood would of been poured out. It’s horrible to think about it, perhaps. You have that ritual in the Old Testament
of two goats. And, one is killed, and the other is taken
away, as far away as you could ever imagine so that that goat can never return, and it
was a picture of sins forgiven and never to be brought up ever again. And that the consequences of those sins had
been removed and taken away. You know, one of the most important, and difficult,
and profound questions that you could ever ask is: Why did Jesus die? Why did He die? Death is the wages of sin. So if Jesus is without sin, he’s sinless,
no original sin, no actual sin. Why does He die? Why isn’t He just taken up in a chariot of
fire into the presence of God? Why does He die, and why does He die in this
way? By crucifixion, by an act of blood shedding,
and violence, why? And there are only two answers. And one answer is that there is no justice
in the world, and that God is just like all the Pantheon of Greek Gods, and there is no
justice. There is no justice even if you live a perfect
righteous life, and there are people who think that they live a social, perfect life, and
that they’re OK with God, but my friends, you can live an absolutely perfect life like
Jesus did and still die a violent death. Why? And the answer of the Reformation was, that
this was an act of substitution and satisfaction — of substitution and satisfaction. Of satisfaction. A word, well, a word that goes back to Anselm
of Canterbury in the twelfth century, who wrote a book (a fascinating book) ‘Cur Deus
Homo,’ Why the God man? Or, why did God become man? Why did God become man? Why did the second person of the Trinity become
incarnate and die on the cross of Calvary, why? And the answer of the Reformation was: substitution
and satisfaction. He satisfied, well, in the language of the
8th chapter of the Westminster Confession, He satisfied divine justice. That, in order for God to be just and the
justifier of him who believes in Jesus. In order to reconcile us into a relationship
with God, God’s justice has to be satisfied, and satisfied to the full. Sin has to be punished, sin has to be reckoned
with. God cannot simply just forgive sin, He needs
to do it in a way that is in accord with the standards of His own being, and character,
and justice. The gospel, you know, the gospel is not — well
look at verse 19. “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the
world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” And, sometimes we think that’s the gospel,
right there, just that. That the gospel is God doesn’t reckon our
sins to us. That’s not the gospel. It’s good news that God doesn’t reckon our
sins against us, but the gospel is that God does not reckon our trespasses against us
because He reckoned our trespasses against Christ. He bore our sin, and He bore the consequences
of our sin as an act of substitution satisfying the demands of divine justice, and substituting
for us. Look at verse 14 and the preposition: “For
the love of God controls us because we have concluded this that one has died for all.” For — ‘huper,’ a preposition, a preposition
of substitution, in the place of, instead of. You know, it was Luther who said that the
gospel consists of prepositions. He loved me and gave Himself for me. For me, in my room, in my stead, in my place. Now, in our own time, of course, the doctrine
of substitution has been criticized as an act of cosmic child abuse. The violence of the cross is indicative of
a God who is abusive of His own Son, and all of the ramifications of that imagery. But you understand here, as the Reformers
insisted upon, that when the New Testament uses the language of substitution it is imperative
that we understand that that act of substitution was undertaken by Jesus willingly. He wasn’t an unwilling victim. Indeed on the very cross itself He underlined
that no one can take His life from Him, He lays it down of Himself. And so, in the final words of Jesus on the
cross, “It is finished,” He gave up the ghost, it was a willing act of Jesus Christ. Now, what this underlines for us, in terms
of what did the Reformation teach us about the work of the mediator, and what the Reformation
taught was ‘solus Christus,’ by Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, according
to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone, but by Christ alone, and not through the mediation
of priests, and the ritual of smells and bells, but by faith in Christ alone, in Christ alone. In Christ alone. But then there’s another thing here in this
passage I think we should allude to, and it’s the consequence. You notice “For our sake he made him to be
sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our sins reckoned to Christ, the satisfaction
necessary to appease and fulfill the justice of God provided by Him, so that we might be
reckoned the righteousness of God. Not just that our sins have been forgiven,
but that reckoned to our account is the perfect obedience, and satisfaction, and righteousness
of Christ. So, that in Christ we are reckoned law keepers,
and covenant keepers. This story is far too embarrassing to give
it to you in its full detail, but I was once told that I was to go to a clothing store,
a very fine clothing store, an upmarket clothing store. A clothing store frankly that I wouldn’t have
entered under normal circumstances because all the items in the window had no price tag,
and that always makes me sort of nervous. And as soon as you go in there are half a
dozen folk ready to serve you, and in this instance, I had done something, and this person
wanted to give me a gift. And I had said no several times, and then
eventually yielded, and it was the gift of a suit, but not just a suit, but a handmade
suit. It took, it probably took four months for
this suit to be made, and it was such a good suit that I’ve only ever warn it once. And it’s in a bag, and it’s covered, and it’s
far too good to use. But that’s the language here. We give Christ, God the Father reckons our
sin to Christ so that by faith in Christ His obedience and righteousness is reckoned to
our account like a robe. Like a finely constructed suit to wear. I sometimes think, the first time I wore this
suit, my wife said, “Come here.” She said, “Let me feel this suit.” And, you know, she felt the fabric and so
on, and I sometimes wonder if that’s what the Father does with us, saying come close
to me now. And then He looks at this imputed robe, this
imputed suit that we wear, this garment that we wear, the garment of the righteousness
of Christ. And it’s almost as though in my head I think
the Father says something like, “I recognize that suit.” It’s my Son’s suit. So come closer and let me, let me put my arms
around you, and embrace you, and be reconciled to you. You notice — perhaps one more thing, and
briefly — the extent of this reconciliation, and you notice in verse 19, “the world,” “that
is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” And what does the word ‘world’ mean there? And I take the word ‘world’ in verse 19 to
be epexegetical to explain verse 18. And in verse 18, “All this is from God who
through Christ reconciled us to himself.” Who is ‘the world’ that Paul is thinking about
in verse 19, and he’s thinking about all those whom Christ reconciled. And there is, well, there is an affinity,
and there is a line of connection between the world — not every single human being
that ever was and ever shall be, because that would lead to universalism, and the Bible
doesn’t teach universalism. Hell isn’t empty. So, the world in verse 19 has to mean something
like Jews and Gentiles. The world, not so much, well, not so much
the world without distinction, but the world without exception. No class, no race is exempt from this, but
everyone for whom Jesus died He reconciles to the Father. You know, that’s the basis of our assurance
isn’t it? I mean, if Jesus died for everybody and I
trust in Him, how — and there isn’t universalism — how can I know that the work of Christ
is actually effective? But what Paul is saying here is that if you
trust in Jesus, if you put your trust in Jesus Christ, you can be absolutely sure and certain
that sin has been dealt with, the justice of God has been satisfied. Jesus has substituted on behalf of sinners. The robe of righteousness and obedience is
reckoned to your account, so that nothing stands in the way between you and God, and
you are reconciled to Him. He got the cross so that we did not have to. It’s in part what Luther meant when he nailed
the 95 thesis to the Castle Church door, and in one of the thesis he talks about the theology
of glory and the theology of the cross. And we — I haven’t time to go into all of
the details of it, but the theology of glory was essentially a theology that elevated man,
and elevated the achievements of man. And the theology of the cross was for Jesus,
that Jesus bore the cross so that we do not have to because we cannot, and what a message
that is. A message that the redemptive work that is
necessary to redeem us, the reconciliatory act that is necessary to reconcile us to God
has been achieved, and it has been achieved by Christ on the cross on our behalf. So be ambassadors of this message. And that was Paul’s application here to the
Corinthians, and it’s what the Reformation — it’s what Reformation theology does for
us, isn’t it? Because it is such a certain truth, it is
such a positive truth that Jesus actually saves, that He doesn’t just die to make salvation
possible, but He actually saves. God in Christ was reconciling the world to
Himself. The world of believers made up of Jews and
Gentiles, made up of people like you and me. So, preach that message. Evangelize that message. Go into all the world and make that message
known that whoever believes in Jesus Christ and rests in Him alone, there is reconciliation. What a wonderful truth that is. Father we thank You. We thank You, we cannot even begin to fathom
the cost as You made Your own Son to be sin for us who knew no sin. That moment when You could not even look upon
Him and embrace Him, but You shunned Him, You gave us peace, but You gave Him hell. You forsook and abandoned Him, and all because
of our sin, all because of our transgression, in order to reconcile us to You, in order
to reconcile You to us. Father we thank You, thank You that we know
You, that we can have this immediate access into Your presence, that we come as priests
into Your temple presence this evening, by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, and apart
from the works of the law. And we thank You, thank You for the bond and
the affection, and the relationship that now are we sons of God, and it does not yet appear
what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him for we shall
see Him even as He is. We pray that these truths, marvelous and wonderful
as they are would warm our hearts and inflame our spirits. That we might tell this good news to others,
to the lost and perishing. That there is forgiveness in Christ, that
You, Lord, may be feared. Now, bless us, we pray, and all of this we
ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

2 Comments

  1. Been Redeemed

    April 22, 2017 at 5:12 am

    Always see the Lord 'High' and lifted up…when Pastor Thomas preaches…!

  2. sunshineyears

    August 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Watching from South Africa . God bless

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