Extract 1 of
Life in Christ
by John Stott, to be re-published by Langham Publishing in 2019.*
Anybody who attends an Anglican church service for the first time may be struck by the fact that so many of the prayers end with the words “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This phrase introduces us to the concept of mediation (1 Tim 2:5). It declares that God the Father’s actions towards human beings have been taken not directly but indirectly through Jesus his Son; and that in consequence we must approach him through Jesus. To some this may seem puzzling because “it makes God seem so remote”, but it has been a fundamental conviction of Christians in every generation that we can know and approach God only through Jesus.
Despite appearances to the contrary, “through Jesus Christ” means access to God, not barriers to access.The phrase reveals that Jesus is the only bridge over an otherwise unbridgeable chasm—the gulf between God and human beings caused by our ignorance and by our sin.We not only lack the mental equipment to conceive God, we also lack the moral integrity to approach him. By ourselves, in our human finitude and self-centred rebellion, we can neither know God nor reach him. We need revelation and redemption, both of which are mediated by Jesus.
The opening verses of Hebrews (Heb. 1:1-4) bring together these two major spheres of mediation, teaching us that God has both spoken to our ignorance and dealt with our sins through Jesus.
God’s Revelation through Jesus Christ
The writer of Hebrews draws a contrast between the Old and New Testaments. In both
. However,“in these last days,” that is, in the final period of history introduced by Jesus’ coming, God has spoken to us “by his Son” who, it is implied, introduces the grand finale of the drama, bringing God’s self-disclosure to completion.
The completeness of this revelation of God is emphasized by the greatness of the person through whom it was made. In Hebrews 1:2–3he is given the highest imaginable descriptive titles in relation first to the universe (he is its creator, sustainer and “heir”) and then to God himself (he is “his Son” and “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.
It is this glorious and unique person who became “flesh and blood” like us and tasted death for us (Heb. 2:9-18). He who was really God became really and truly human. Because he became human, we can understand him. Because he was also God, however, what we see displayed so powerfully in all the Gospels is nothing less than a disclosure of the being and purpose of God.
When we encounter the beauty and powerof Jesus in the Gospels, we find ourselves saying: “This is the God we believe in!” We recognize the truth of Jesus’ own words: “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
God’s Redemption through Jesus Christ
Jesus came not only to teach but also to save, because the major human problem is not our ignorance but our sin and guilt. And the redemption God has achieved, like the revelation he has given, is “through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the mediator of both.
So in the opening verses of Hebrews, the writer also describes Jesus as the one who “provided purification for sins” (Heb 1:3). Later in the epistle,he speaks of him as a “great high priest,” greater than Aaron, who by laying down his life for us and shedding his own blood has offered the perfect sacrifice for sin, thus taking away “the sins of many” (see Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:23, 28; 10:4).
The writer is celebrating a finished forgiveness of sins made possible by a finished sacrifice for sins. This finality is symbolized by the fact that Jesus is now seated. In contrast to the Old Testament priests who remained standing to carry on their work, Jesus, having “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins …
at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:11-14; also 1:3).
As a result of Jesus’ unique priesthood and perfect sacrifice, we may now constantly draw near to God. In Old Testament days, only the priests might draw near. But the distinction between priest and people has now been abolished. Through Jesus, all may now draw near: pastors and people, rulers and commoners, without any discrimination whatever. So the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to avail ourselves of thisprivileged access to God and approach him “with the full assurance that faith brings” (Heb. 10:19–22).
Yet, this “full assurance” is just what many Christians seem to lack. They are timid in their approach to God, declaring that they are unworthy. Of course they are! None of us has any worthiness which qualifies us to draw near. But what about the worthiness of Jesus and of his perfect sacrifice for sin?
You see, then, that a true doctrine of Jesus’ mediation is the ground of assurance. Only when we come to God through Jesus who died for us can we come with boldness instead of timidity. Notice too that the concept of Jesus as mediator, far from keeping us remote from God, is the very means by which we may approach him.
Paul emphasizes the same truth in Romans 5:1-11 when he repeats the preposition “through” in relation to Jesus no less than five times. Reconciliation, access, peace and joy – these are all blessings which become ours only “through” Jesus. No wonder our prayers are offered to God “through” him, for there is no other “way to the Father” except through his Son (John 14:6).
God’s revelation and redemption through Jesus are both complete. Thus, Christ was offered for our sins “once for all” (Heb. 7:27; see also Rom. 6:10; 1 Pet. 3:18), and the faith has been delivered to us “once for all” (Jude 3). Please do not misunderstand these affirmations. They do not mean that either our understanding of God or our relationship to God is perfect, but rather that what God has done to make these possible, namely his revelation and redemption through Jesus, are perfect. We have much more to learn, but God has no more to reveal than he has revealed in Jesus Christ. We have much more to receive, but God has no more to give than he has given in Jesus Christ.
This is why evangelicals emphasize the Bible and the cross, and the finality of both. It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary. It is because we love Jesus Christ and are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ, God’s revelation is complete; to add any words or works of our own to his finished word and work is derogatory to Christ. It is a question of Christ’s honour, and it is all implied in the first preposition we have considered. For whatever we know of God we know
J esus Christ, and whatever we have received from God we have received
Jesus Christ. So praise be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
*Please note that the process of summarizing this passage from John Stott's book, executed by Dr. Peter Walker, necessitated a few minor changes to his exact wording. This was done with the publisher's permission.