This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers might lead into their presentation of it with a story of how they needed an intercessor. A number of years ago I traveled to sit with members of our church during their family member’s major surgery.
Using an inaccurate map, I became lost in a maze of one-way streets. After searching for signs for the street on which the hospital is located, I finally found the right street. So without looking carefully enough for oncoming traffic, I tried to make a left-hand turn onto that street. However, I turned right into an oncoming car.
When the policeman arrived, he interviewed a witness, the other driver and me. Each claimed that I was, in fact, guilty. I did make a left-hand turn into an oncoming car whose driver clearly had the right of way. I paid the appropriate fine and lost a few points on my driver’s license.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened, however, if a prosecuting attorney had wanted to make an example out of me. What if she’d decided to charge me with reckless driving? What if the attorney persuaded the state to try me for my carelessness?
If I were brought to trial, I might have had to plead guilty to vehicular recklessness. Then while awaiting the judge’s sentence, I would have dreaded time in jail and away from my family and friends. Yet because I was guilty, I would also know that I would have to be punished.
What would happen, then, if during the sentencing hearing, someone stood up and volunteered to take my punishment? What if the judge agreed to punish that other person instead of me? She might send my substitute to jail.
As far-fetched as the scenario sounds, the Bible says that Jesus Christ did something remarkably similar for his adopted brothers and sisters. Romans 8 says he accepted our punishment and earned our salvation by dying and rising from the dead on our behalf.
However, we also profess that the ascended Christ continues to work for his friends. After all, now, as John 1 and 2 celebrates, he “speaks to the Father in our defense” (2). Reformed Christians profess that Christ is now the “Intercessor … whom the Father has appointed between himself and us.”
Our Intercessor’s earthly name, “Jesus,” anchors him firmly in history as a real person. However, his name also reminds of the reason for his earthly work. After all, an angel told Joseph to name his preborn son “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus Christ the Righteous was both fully human and fully divine. He was “righteous” because he was fully God. However, his friends also confess that he’s righteous because while he lived on earth, he lived fully righteously. Since Jesus Christ resisted every temptation to disobey to his Father in heaven, 1 John 2 insists that he earned the right to speak “to the Father in our defense” (2).
John begins his first letter by assuring God’s dearly beloved children that we have fellowship with both God the Father and our adopted Christian brothers and sisters. However, the apostle also notes that we sometimes break that fellowship by sinning. So even God’s dearly beloved children naturally endanger our right to approach God because we sin against him.
Where, then, can Christians turn with and in our sins against both God and our neighbors? Who loves this Lesson’s proclaimers and hearers more than the One who gave his life for us? Who has as much power as Jesus Christ who is seated at the right hand of God the Father and has all power in heaven and on earth? And, perhaps even more compellingly, to whom will God more readily listen than to God’s own “dearly beloved Son?”
When God’s adopted sons and daughters sin, we can turn to Jesus Christ the Righteous who “speaks to the Father in our defense.” To help our hearers better understand this work, 1 John 1 & 2’s proclaimers might point out that older Bible translations use the word “advocate” to describe it.
People know what it means to have a human advocate. The father of a friend was the president of the church council of a rural Iowa Christian Reformed church. When our friend learned that her parents’ church was looking for a pastor, she recommended us to him. Renee was our advocate; she put in a good word for us.
However, people don’t just need any advocate. Guilty people like both this Lesson’s proclaimers and hearers need an advocate who will also have influence at just the right time with just the right people. Renee recommended us to her parents who love her just when their church was looking for a new pastor.
Sadly, however, people all too often look to such human advocates first. Yet those who pin our hopes on people are often disappointed. However, by doing that, God’s dearly beloved children also in some ways belittle God.
Christians confess that our best Advocate is Jesus Christ. He, after all, has all the influence, both in heaven, with his Father, as well as on earth. Jesus Christ is also his friends’ best Advocate because he is so well-qualified.
He, after all, became one of us. Christ felt the tug of our temptations. He lost friends, popularity and even life itself. No one, then, is in a better position to understand his adopted sibling’s struggles to be faithful than Jesus Christ the Righteous.
What’s more, unlike the freed butler who forgot Joseph, Jesus Christ doesn’t forget those whom he left behind. Christians confess that he constantly remembers us and speaks to the Father in our defense.
So when for the thousandth time we stumble, are unfaithful and anger God, we can imagine Jesus Christ stepping before the Father. He says, “Father, don’t be angry with Jamar or Maria, with Vladimir or Aisha. You forgave their sins when you became angry with me.”
So when Christians remember how Christ ascended to the heavenly realm, we don’t assume he went in order to somehow add to the work of salvation that he’d already finished here on earth. He went there, instead, to reap the benefits of his saving sacrifice. The risen Christ now stands before the Father to somehow announce, “Here I am, and the children you gave me.”
Such advocacy is certainly highly mysterious. After all, God the Father and God the Son are two members of the One, triune God. So we don’t know just how Jesus Christ the Righteous pleads our cause before the Father. Christians simply confess that in some way beyond our understanding, Christ’s advocacy overcomes the dark testimony of Satan who is our adversary and accuser.
According to Zechariah 3, Satan stood at Joshua’s right side to “accuse him.” God, however, we read there, scolded Satan. In light of the New Testament, we might even say that the risen and ascended Christ now scolds and overrules Satan.
Perhaps, however, Christ doesn’t even have to say anything to the Father. After all, his very presence in the heavenly realm is a form of our defense before his Father. It’s a constant reminder to Christians’ adopted heavenly Father that Christ has fulfilled everything needed for our salvation.
Since God’s dearly beloved people, despite John’s warnings, still sin, even God’s adopted sons and daughters still need mercy, grace and help. That’s why we never approach God casually or too familiarly.
Yet for Jesus’ sake God gives Jesus’ friends a measure of boldness in our approach to God. Hebrews 4:16 invites us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Of course, such an invitation may seem irrelevant today. After all, at least some modern people may need less, not more, boldness in their approach to God. However, there’s still both a valuable warning and a reminder here. After all, Hebrews warns Jesus’ friends not to trust any creature to do for us what only Christ can do.
So Christians don’t let anything distract us from Christ. We don’t gradually become more fascinated with someone or something else. After all, no formal worship or man-made creed can plead our cause before the Father.
Among the things that divide Roman Catholic Christians from Protestant Christians is whether those who rest in God’s immediate eternal presence can intercede on behalf of Jesus’ friends here on earth. The best and shortest answer is that we don’t know. Yet Christians do know that since Christ and his Spirit intercede for us, the most reliable and direct route to the Father is through the risen and ascended Jesus Christ.
Christians always pray “in Jesus’ name” and “for Jesus’ sake” and “through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” After all, the One who prayed for Peter, for children and for all his disciples somehow still intercedes for his Father for his adopted brothers and sisters.
Someone has compared Christ’s presence as our defense before our Father to the trial of the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus. He so angered the Athenian population that its tribunal was ready to condemn him.
However, Aeschylus’ brother had lost an arm in the Battle of Salamis. When he defended his brother in court, he didn’t make a dramatic verbal plea. Aeschylus’ brother simply let his robe fall, revealing the stump of the arm that he had lost in battle. There he stood until the angry Athenians relented and allowed his brother to go free.
Christians may suspect that the gap between heaven and earth is so great that God can’t speak our language, understand our pain or sympathize with our weakness. That’s why we look to the scarred Jesus Christ the Righteous.
After all, in him we don’t have to deal with a God who is far removed from us. In Christ the same God who made the heavens and earth by the power of God’s Word has pitched God’s tent among us. The Lord has become a servant. A wounded member of the Holy Trinity has been, and, in some senses, remains one of us.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 11, 2021
I John 1:1-2:2 Commentary