What Does the Resurrection Have to Do With Ministry?

picture 18I have a friend in Juarez, Mexico who is a native Mexican pastor of a small, poor church in the outskirts of the city.  He and his beautiful family have gone where most would fear to live and have planted a thriving church that loves the Lord and that loves to share the Gospel.  I had the privilege of visiting him often when I lived in Albuquerque, and there was one verse that we would often remind each other of as an encouragement when ministry was hard.  First Corinthians 15:58 declares, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  Even now I can hear him responding, “Amen!  Amen!”

There is a great truth that drives Josue and all of us as we seek to serve the Lord day in and day out.  It is the simple but earth-shaking truth of the Gospel.  One of the first principles of Bible study when you read a verse that says, “therefore…” is to see what the “therefore” is there for.  In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul has just finished an extensive chapter all about the resurrection.  He begins by reminding us “…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)  This includes the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, but also His burial, resurrection, and appearances before His ascension which proved and confirmed that He was truly risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Later the apostle defends the bodily resurrection of believers, based on the fact that Christ has risen.  He points out that if we don’t have the hope of the resurrection, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17), and that there is no real hope in Christ if we only have hope in this life (1 Cor. 15:18-19).  Then Paul brings us back to this glorious, life-changing reality:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Cor. 15:20)!

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are to live our lives in light of eternity (1 Cor. 15:32-34), knowing that we serve a risen King who has all authority in Heaven and on earth.  Because Christ has risen, we have the sure hope of the glory of Heaven (1 Cor. 15:42-49) and the confidence that in Christ even “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  The truth of the Gospel–that in Christ my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to God–and the reality of the resurrection, are all the motivation we need to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord!  What does the resurrection have to do with ministry?  Everything.

Jesus Lives!

It is amazing how our hope is tied into the fact of Christ’s resurrection.  As Christ Himself taught, “…I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26)  He could actually call Himself THE resurrection before He had died or been raised.

He had just been discussing resurrection with Martha, because her brother Lazarus had died, and she had pointed to the Old Testament hope of resurrection.  He lovingly pointed out that there is no resurrection outside of the Son of God, Himself.  Then He proved it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  Martha got it right when he asked her if she believed this: “She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)  Have you made this confession (see my earlier post, “What is the Gospel?”)?  If you have, then you can be abounding in hope because of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

This Resurrection Sunday may you rejoice in Christ and in our hope that is in Christ, because He is risen!  I have recently been moved by the words of a song called “Jesus Lives” from Risen, a Sovereign Grace Music CD that is completely about the Resurrection.

Here is the music, but if you don’t listen then check out the words below:

I no longer fear the grave

Christ has come

Took the sting of death away

Through His saving blood

Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak

Till my final breath, to this hope I’ll cling

Jesus lives and so shall I

I’ll be raised from the dust with Christ on high

Jesus lives no more to die

And when He returns, with Him I’ll rise

Jesus lives

In this fallen world I cry

For the day

When Your glory splits the sky

And you come to reign

All creation waits for that promised hour

When the saints of God are revealed in power

Not death nor any power of hell can separate me from

The love, the love of my Savior

(Words by George Romanacce and Bob Kauflin, Copyright 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship)

How Do I Live Out Radical Discipleship with a Wife and 3 Kids?

radical pictureOur Pastor has been preaching on Mark 8:34-38 over the last two Sundays, and it sounds so radical to our comfortable American Christian ears.  I have had plenty of time to think through what the implications of Jesus’ words are for my life, and to realize that Jesus’ “radical” call to discipleship may not be so radical after all, but rather simply counter-cultural.  So, how do I live out radical discipleship with a wife and 3 kids?

Listen to what Christ calls us all to:  “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Christ bids me come and die.  This is not new.  “I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  It won’t always be flashy.  It might be putting my 19 month old daughter to bed and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her.  It might be talking with my 5 year old about Jesus and why He died for us as we read a Bible bed time story.  It might be letting my 5 month old boy know that He is a blessing and loved by changing his diaper with joy.  It might be putting on a towel and pulling out a basin and serving my wife when I get home from a long day at work instead of serving myself, however that looks at any point in our marriage.  This is impossible in my flesh, but easy in the Spirit.

I may not be a foreign missionary.  I may not be a martyr.  I may or may not ever be put in jail for preaching the Gospel.  I may even own a home someday.  But I can still be a radical disciple for Jesus Christ.  If my life is poured out for Christ, if my family knows that I love God, love them, and love our neighbors and the nations more than I love myself, that is radical discipleship.  I do this so imperfectly, but  I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus, draw me nearer to the cross.  Help me to pour out myself and my family in losing our lives for Your sake and the Gospel’s.

Do You Care About Propitiation?

picture 16If you are a software programmer, then you have quickly and eagerly learned words like “gigabytes” and “linux.”  If you are a cook, then you will want to understand words like “al dente” and “broil.”  If you are a Christian, you should care about words like “propitiation.”

Propitiation is the word that God chose to communicate “appeasement” or “satisfaction” of God’s holy wrath against sin because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  Listen to these life-giving descriptions of propitiation:  “He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:2)  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Jesus Himself is the sacrifice that satisfies God’s righteous wrath against our sins.  Jesus Himself took our punishment for sin on the cross, where the great exchange happened:  Jesus took our sins, and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  If you are in Christ, you no longer have to fear the wrath of God, because Jesus already bore it.  Jesus is your propitiation (notice the present tense in 1 John 2:2).

This idea of turning somebody favorably towards God because of a worthy sacrifice is beautifully illustrated in the Old Testament.  A form of the word “propitiation” was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to talk about the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  God’s presence, the Shekinah Glory, was above the Mercy Seat, and underneath the Mercy Seat–inside the Ark–was God’s Law.  The sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement went between God and His broken law.  It appeased or satisfied God’s righteous wrath against sin and a sinful people.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the fulfillment of this picture, the final atoning sacrifice for our sins.

So, do you care about propitiation?  You should, because you and I need it.  We need “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 575).  When you sin today, ask Christ to forgive your sin (1 John 1:9), and then praise Him that He is the atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s wrath against your sin.

[image credit: www.zazzle.com]

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

God Crushed His Son for Our Good & His Glory

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in the kitchen when we heard a terrifying sound: a huge crash coming from our son’s room and then screams of fear and pain.  I ran into his room to see the most frightening scene I have witnessed in my life yet: my 4 year old son was crushed under his dresser that had completely fallen on top of him.  He had pulled all of the drawers out as he was putting something away and it toppled onto him.  All I remember in the seconds between seeing what happened and lifting it off of him was his body crushed, and his head sticking out from underneath the top of the dresser with a look of terror and “help” in his eyes as he screamed.  We are so thankful that he was fine. The Doctor said he just needed to take it easy for a few days, and as I write this he is happily playing energetically as he normally does.

Maybe because our pastor is preaching through Isaiah 53, the next day I thought of the verse speaking of Christ that says, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him…” (Is. 53:10). It is no wonder that Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b). When Christ was bearing sin on the cross and taking the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin, it is not just as if God saw His Son crushed “under the dresser” (sin) and turned away, but rather that it was actually His will for Him to be crushed. This is why some “Christian theologians” have so mistakingly called substitutionary atonement “divine child abuse.” They have a completely unbiblical view of the fact that Christ was both man and God and came into the world for this plan of salvation that had been in the works since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). In His humanity Christ cried out as He was crushed by sin and His very Father’s wrath as He bore our sins: “But He was wounded for our trangressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…” (Is. 53:5). In His deity, Christ was resolute: “…And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27b-28a).

When we think of Christ’s sin-bearing from the perspective of God pouring out His wrath on His beloved Son, it can be shocking and seem “scandalous.” But when we think of it from the perspective of Christ bearing our sin, we praise the One who did this for our good and His glory. Thank you Lord for this truth: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

Thursday Night of “Passion Week”

It is Thursday night of “Passion Week.”  We all know that Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday, but what happened on Thursday night?  He washed His disciples’ feet.  He taught His disciples in the Upper Room.  He transformed the Passover meal into “The Lord’s Supper” commemorating His death.  He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane until He sweat drops of blood.  He was betrayed with a kiss.  He was arrested.  And He knocked a large detachment of Roman soldiers to the ground with His word.

The beloved Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, remembered that night: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Judas, along with the religious leaders, had organized a detachment of soldiers to come and arrest Jesus in the garden.  The word translated “band” of soldiers in the ESV is a “cohort” of Roman soldiers that would normally number 600 men.  However, depending on the circumstances it could be up to 1,000 or as little as 200.  Given that there were extra Roman soldiers on duty for the Passover Feast, as well as the fact that the other Gospels indicate that there were others besides the soldiers in the crowd who carried clubs, it is no exaggeration to say that there was a minimum of 300 men there that night if not the full 1,000 given Jesus’ popularity just a few days before on “Palm Sunday.”  This would be at least 15 times more armed men than are in the picture at the top of this post.

Jesus decimated them by simply answering “I am” to their question.  These trained killers fell to the ground at the word of our Savior!

It is mind-boggling how some commentators will try to explain away this profound moment before Jesus was arrested.  It is another display of His authority before He would let them arrest Him, and we are reminded once again that He is the incarnate God before He humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.  Before His greatest humility, He once again displayed His power.  Yet some will say things such as that they fell down because they expected to find a meek peasant and instead were met in the dim light by a majestic person.  Ludicrous.  Others say that those in the front were startled when Jesus appeared out of the shadows, which in turn knocked down those behind them like dominoes.  Nonsense.  Roman soldiers were highly trained and had taken over much of the world.  They battled against the most powerful armies on earth and often won.  They did not easily spook and fall down like children when somebody emerged from a dark garden that was now lit up with their torches.  But, they did fall down when Jesus said “I am.”  As John MacArthur explains, “All Jesus had to do was speak His name–the name of God–and His enemies were rendered helpless.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 12-21, p. 308)

It is no wonder Peter was emboldened to cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest!  Christ quickly reminded Peter right in front of the soldiers that if He wanted to, He could ask the Father to send 72,000 angels that He could then command (Matt. 26:53).  What was a detachment of Roman soldiers compared to His power?     

This was a foretaste of Christ as sovereign LORD even though the cross was looming on the horizon.  The same Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John later saw Christ exalted and described Him: “…from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.‘” (John 18:16-18)

Just as He laid His hand on John to show His grace, how He loves you and me!  That He would place Himself into the hands of these soldiers to obey the will of the Father, to be crushed on the cross as He paid the awful and incomprehensible price of sin when He could have stopped it all in an instant, with a word, needs to move us!

Even when they fell down at His word, the soldiers in the garden that night didn’t recognize Him as God.  But it may have contributed to God’s work in some of their hearts as later some soldiers would believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior even at the foot of the cross the next day.  As you celebrate Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday, remember that our King was not a victim of an evil plan (although it was evil, Acts 2:23), but rather the triumphant Victor of the Plan that had been made before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23).  Thank You Jesus for Your power, and thank You for Your grace!

What is the Gospel?

image

There is way too much confusion about the Gospel.  If we as Christians are basing our entire lives on the truth of the Gospel, should it not be crystal clear in our minds?  I am embarrassed to tell you one of my moments of un-clarity regarding the Gospel:  the Pastor that I worked with in New Mexico asked me one day how I would share the Gospel with somebody that I was sitting next to in an airplane if the plane was going to crash.  I had been in full-time ministry for over 3 years at that point and let me tell you, I was hoping that imaginary airplane was flying high at cruising altitude when the engines failed!  I was able to share it biblically faithfully as I had many times when the Lord gave me opportunities, but not concisely.

How about you?  When you have only a few minutes but a clear opportunity or even someone asking you to share the Gospel, do you know where to start and finish?  What are the non-negotiables that they need to know in order to truly be saved?  Are you teaching the Gospel to your children constantly?  Do you thank God regularly for what He has done for you in Christ because it is often on your mind?  We need the Gospel to be emblazoned upon our hearts and ready on our lips!

When I recently attended the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church where we are members, I had a list of several kinds of books that I was looking for at the Conference Book Store.  At the top of my list was a book about the Gospel.  I knew that after 4 1/2 years of studying more than I thought possible to be as equipped as I could be for full-time ministry, that I needed to step back and see the big picture.  I also knew that I want to be laser-sharp on what the Gospel is in my ministries now and as I look ahead to full-time ministry.  If I could go back and change only one thing in the almost 6 wonderful years of being a Youth Pastor before seminary, it would be to preach and explain the Gospel more often and more clearly.  Paul the Apostle taught the whole counsel of God, and yet there was a sense in which he could say to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

I found exactly the book that I was looking for in the little book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.  So, what IS the Gospel??  This is the most important question that you will ever ask, as well as the most important question that you will ever answer.  I agree with Gilbert as he shows that Scripture breaks it into 4 basic truths:

1) God.  We are accountable to the God who created us.  He is both Creator, and holy and righteous (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 24:1, Matthew 5:48).

2) Man.  We have sinned against that God and will be judged (Romans 3:10, 6:23; Isaiah 59:2).

3) Christ.  But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  God sent Christ as both fully God and fully man, and as God’s perfect Son He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and then rose from the dead (Colossians 2:9, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

4) Response.  We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus (Isaiah 55:7, Luke 9:23, Romans 10:9, Acts 17:30).

Look at all 4 principles laid out clearly in Romans 3:23-25a, “…for all have sinned and fall short [man] of the glory of God [God], and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus , whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [Christ], to be received by faith [response]…”

It was said in many different ways all throughout God’s Word.  Sometimes it was assumed that part of it was already believed, such as that God was Creator and Judge to a Jewish audience.  But these 4 basic principles are always in the background or in the forefront of a complete Gospel presentation.

As Gilbert points out, another way of looking at these 4 truths is how they answer 4 crucial questions that Paul lays out in Romans 1-4:

“1) Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? [God]

2) What is our problem?  In other words, are we in trouble and why? [Man]

3) What is God’s solution to that problem?  How has he acted to save us from it? [Christ]

4) How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation?  What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? [Response]”

As I look at the precious and glorious answers to those four questions, I am reminded of the simplicity of the Gospel and yet its’ profundity.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is simple enough for a child to understand, and yet complex enough to write a doctoral dissertation on each of these points and still not plumb the depths!

It is also easy to notice that the Gospel is made up of both bad news AND good news.  In our society of “whatever you believe is true, is true for you” philosophy, and generous tolerance of any belief except for Christianity, I am afraid that we are too ready to soften the parts about us being accountable to God the Creator, the depth of our sin, or the fact that our King was crucified on a wooden Roman instrument of torture over two thousand years ago and then actually rose from the dead.  It is especially hard for people who have been taught all of their lives that man is essentially good to understand what they need to be saved from.  It is equally hard in our day to explain to those who have a “Santa Claus” view of God that He is not only a God of unfathomable love but also unfathomable holiness, and their Judge.  Yet that is exactly what people need to hear.  The whole, simple, profound, true, cutting, crushing, revealing, surprising, loving, saving, and gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Let’s take note of Gilbert’s alarm: “Indeed I believe one of the greatest dangers the body of Christ faces today is the temptation to rethink and rearticulate the gospel in a way that makes its’ center something other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners.”

If you teach Sunday School, if you have children, if you preach, if you have neighbors or co-workers or relatives who need to hear the Gospel (we all do), or if you just need to think clearly and deeply about the Gospel (we all do), I encourage you to read this book, and soon!  I know that you will devour it as I did, and that it will result in more praise to Jesus Christ.  As Gilbert explains, “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.  It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ.  The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship.”  I am thankful for this book, because having a precise and lucid understanding of the biblical Gospel “calls us forward to that final day when heaven will be filled with the roaring noise of millions upon millions of forgiven voices hailing him as crucified Savior and risen King.”

Christ our Advocate

It is because of Christ our Advocate that God can declare, "Not Guilty." Christ bore our punishment in His own body on the cross, so that we could have the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We are all outraged when a judge is found to be corrupt, when the very ones who are to be upholding justice commit a travesty of justice.  We are also all familiar with the jokes that point fun at corrupt lawyers, lawyers who try to get what they can for both themselves and their client no matter who is truly guilty.  However, can you imagine a situation in which the judge himself cannot possibly do any injustice because of his character?  Can you imagine a situation in which the lawyer is absolutely blameless and yet pays the penalty of his rightly accused client?  Such is the picture of God the Father as Judge and Jesus Christ as Advocate for those who have trusted in Christ for salvation.  The New Testament paints a beautiful picture of God’s unmerited favor in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

First, it is important to note that the Apostle John is writing to Christians in this passage.  He is writing to those who have already been saved as Romans 10:9-10 describes, those who already have claimed the blood of Jesus to forgive their sins and to grant them salvation.  By confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and believing that He not only died in their place (2 Corinthians 5:21) but also rose from the dead, they now have eternal life.  But what is often misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike is that the work of Christ’s salvation does not end at that moment.

Jesus not only rose from the dead but He also ascended into Heaven after His physical, bodily work on earth was done for now.  He is presently seated before God the Father as the believer’s Advocate.  Jesus is often pictured in the New Testament as seated at God’s right hand because the position at the right hand of a King symbolized a position of absolute authority under the King, but He is also pictured as seated because His work in one sense is done (Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus fulfilled the work of the High Priest that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.  Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, that priest would enter into God’s presence after taking the blood of the sacrificed animals and a censer with burning incense.  He would then enter behind the inner veil of theTemple, what was known as the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant was, and where God’s enthroned presence was above theArk.  After entering behind the veil, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat to atone for the people’s sins, because God’s law demanded that a blood sacrifice be made for sin (Hebrews 9:22, see all of Hebrews 9 for the description of this ritual and how Christ fulfilled it).  Jesus Christ, however, as the ultimate High Priest, entered God’s presence in Heaven, which the earthly Temple was a shadow of.  He offered Himself and His blood there to God as the final payment for sin for those who would trust in Him.

God is perfectly holy, without even a hint of sin.  Many people think that because God is also loving and forgiving, that they can come to Him in any way that they want to and He will forgive them.  However, God would be unjust to do so without a proper payment for sin.  This is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for sinners.  Still, although His work regarding the payment of sins was done through His death on the cross, Christ also has an ongoing ministry that is happening today (Hebrews 8:2, 6).

Now He stands before God and is the Advocate for the Christian.  As John MacArthur has explained, “Whenever we sin He says to the Father, ‘Put that on My account.  My sacrifice has already paid for it.’…In His Son we are now blameless in the Father’s sight.”  The reason that a Christian can know that a spotless God will accept him or her back after sinning is not only because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, but also because He now stands as the Advocate.  The New International Version translates the Greek word parakletos that many versions translate as “advocate” by explaining, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.”  Only Jesus could fulfill this role, not only because He lived a perfect life, but because He is both God and man.  

When Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God became flesh.  That means that the second person of the Trinity was joined eternally with sinless humanity.  Because of this, He is not as the priests were in the Old Testament, imperfect advocates or mediators between God and man.  After Jesus’ ascension, He is able to stand before the Father face to face in Heaven and claim each sin of His own children as paid for fully by His blood.  In fact, the original language of 1 John 2:2 points this out: “…And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…” (emphasis mine).  The word with, along with the legal picture painted in this verse and the theology of the New Testament that we have discussed, point out that Jesus Christ’s unique position as the Ascended Son of God gives Him the right to be face to face with the Father on behalf of His followers.  Jesus is qualified to look into the Father’s eyes, as it were, and claim His own.  It is the fact that the Person of Christ is both God and Man that gives Him the character to be able to be the believer’s Advocate.  This aspect of His character is seen at the end of verse 1, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” and in the following verse of 1 John, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins…” (2:2).  On the basis of Christ’s perfect character, He is able to propitiate or appease the wrath of God.

It needs to be pointed out that although Christ is needed as the defense of believers before the holy God, it is not as if God the Father is unwilling to forgive in this whole scenario.  He is the one who planned all of this before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-5, John 3:16, Galatians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 5:19)!  This is how He is able to be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus, pardoning them on the basis of Christ’s past and continuing work (Romans 3:26).

Besides man’s guilt because of sin, there is the great deceiver and enemy of our souls that must be dealt with.  Satan is known as the accuser of the brethren, and in Job (i.e. chapters 1 and 2) we can see that one of his activities is to go before God and accuse us.  Perhaps he says something like, “What about your follower Tim Counts?  He can’t even keep from sinning with his mouth for more than a day, even though he has promised you again and again to do better when he sometimes ‘repents.’”  The picture of 1 John 2:2 that has also been drawn out from Hebrews and Romans is that Jesus would then look at the Father and show His wounds in His hands and side and declare, “Tim Counts is one of mine.  My blood covers his sins.  He has access to your Throne.  His unrighteousness is covered by my righteousness.”  God the Father looks at Satan and exclaims, you have no accusation that can stick against Tim.  He is forgiven!

For the Christian who is struggling with coming to God for forgiveness of that same sin again, Jesus Christ stands as the Advocate before the Father, giving us unfettered access to God!  The loving God who is also the Judge of the World has appointed the perfect Advocate.  There is no one, not even Satan, who can bring an accusation too great against those who have truly run to Jesus for refuge, because Jesus still intercedes for us (Romans 8:35).  For the unbeliever who wonders if he or she can ever have a relationship with God who seems so far away, Jesus Christ offers forgiveness as the only one qualified to be able to truly offer it and exclaims triumphantly, “Come to me!”  I have spoken to unbelievers who think that I somehow think of myself as better than them because I believe in the exclusivity of Christ to forgive sins.  Rather, I am humbled that God would see fit to provide Christ who even intercedes for me today when I sin, all by His free gift of salvation!  He is my sure hope of a relationship with God, and their only hope.  One of my favorite worship songs beautifully states the theme of Christ’s Advocacy that gives me free access to the Throne of Grace.  It is a favorite because it points to the greatness of a God who is transcendent and yet forgiving because of Christ’s death and current ministry as my Advocate.

Before the throne of God above,

I have a strong, a perfect plea,

A great High Priest whose name is “Love,”

Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,

My name is written on His heart;

I know that while in Heaven He stands,

No tongue can bid me thence depart…

 

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,

My sinful soul is counted free;

For God, the Just, is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.

Christ Our Only Hope

"Nothing in my hands I bring, Only to Thy Cross I cling." -Adapted from "Rock of Ages," words by Augustus Toplady

Where would we be if it were not for Christ?  Certainly not in a right standing with God!  How amazing it is that we can call the perfectly holy, all-powerful, sovereign, and transcendent God “Abba,” Father, because of what our Advocate (see next post!) Jesus Christ has done.  His advocacy on our behalf (if you are in Christ) means that the ultimate question in all of life has been answered.  To know that all is right between you and God means that there can be no event in your life that happens out of His sovereign and loving care (Romans 8:28), and that nothing can separate you from your identity in Christ nor from the love of Christ (Romans 8:31-39).  Christ truly is our only hope…I don’t know how people who don’t know Christ as Savior cope with living in a world that is so scarred with sin and the effects of sin. Surely that is God’s grace in itself, that they continue on and may repent (2 Peter 3:9).  How thankful I am that we have the cross to always look to, to be reminded of God’s grace!  It is because of Christ that I dare come into the presence of God the Father (Hebrews 6:19-20).

If you read this post, please don’t move on without asking yourself if Christ is your Advocate.  Have you confessed Him as Lord and Savior, believing that you are in need of forgiveness of sins (Romans 3:23) and that ONLY by placing your faith in God’s Son Jesus you can be saved?  Have you asked Him to save you from the penalty of death for your sins (Romans 6:23) and believed that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave on the 3rd day?  All other religions and worldviews, which rely on one’s own accomplishments ultimately for salvation, bring glory to self, not Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But believing that Christ is your only hope for salvation brings glory to Him as the God-Man, the Son of God, and also brings glory to God as we rejoice in His provision of salvation and a right relationship with Him.  May Christ become greater, and may I become less!  I hope that your prayer is the same.