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TEXT: Galatians 4:4-5
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #9: Christ the Mediator
Today, with God's favor, we will move along in our afternoon study of our Confession of Faith. I call it 'ours' because we adopted it as a church almost thirty years ago, but, in fact Reformed Baptists have subscribed to it for more than 350 years. It's called the Midland Confession of Faith, and was first published in 1655.
Last time, we studied Articles 5 and 6 on the doctrine and defense of Election. To 'elect' means to choose, and, according to our Confession, it is (1) God who chose us for salvation, (2) He made the choice before He created the world, that (3) His choice includes all the means to secure it's completion, and that (4) it is based on God's eternal counsel and own pleasure, and (5) not anything good in us actual or foreseen. This is the doctrine of Election, and I believe it is what the Bible teaches about it. Not everything. But the most important things.
Election is not salvation; we are chosen in eternity, but we are saved in time. To save us, God has to give us the gifts of repentance and faith, and when we exercise them, we are saved, and not before we do.
But as important as our repentance and faith are, they're of no value in and of themselves. In other words, repentance and faith are not our Savior; Jesus is our Savior, and all they do is take what He provides in the Gospel. The centerpiece of our salvation, therefore, is not (as some Calvinists say) Election, or as (as most other Christians say) Repentance and Faith, but what the Bible says, and that is, Christ.
This is what Article 7 is about, our Savior. It says--
We believe that Jesus Christ was, in the fullness of time, manifested in the flesh, being born of a woman, being perfectly righteous, gave Himself for the elect, to redeem them to God by His blood.
Almost every word of the article is packed with meaning and deserves a sermon (or more) of its own, but I'll try to get it all in a few minutes, trusting you already know most of all of what I'm going to say.
The first key words are Jesus Christ. 'Jesus' is a human name and was as common on First Century Israel as it is Latin America today. It means 'Yahweh Saves'. It corresponds to the Hebrew name, Joshua, and this is no accident.
Two important men bore that name in the Old Testament, and both, in their own way, point us to Christ.
The better known Joshua was the man who took over Moses when he died, and led the conquest of Canaan. In naming His Son, Jesus, God was insinuating that He--the New Joshua--would defeat all of our enemies and lead us to our inheritance.
The second Joshua is less well known than the former, but he too was important in Israel's history. He was the High Priest of Israel after the exile; he restored true worship in the world. Jesus of Nazareth would do the same thing, only on a deeper level and much wider scale.
How did Jesus get His name? It wasn't Mary or Joseph who made the call, but an angel acting on the orders of God. Though He could have been named anything, from John to Rumplestilskin, Jesus was the most appropriate name because, as Matthew 1:21 says--
He shall save His People from their sins.
There is very interesting because, if Israel believed anything at all, it believed that God was the only Savior; He used men like Moses or Samson or David, but it was God Himself who did the saving. Matthew 1:21 doesn't deny this, of course, but when you expect it to describe what God would do in or through Jesus, it says that Jesus will do.
Suggesting that Jesus is more than a Servant of God; that somehow or other He is God Himself. Which He is.
The second key word is Christ which is a title and not a surname. It means the anointed, one chosen by God to do a special work. Prophets were anointed, priests were anointed and kings were anointed in Israel, but only One Israelite was given a triple anointing. Only Jesus is fully qualified and called to be the Christ.
THE FULLNESS OF TIME
The next important phrase is in the fullness of time. As the Son of God, Jesus is eternal, as old, you might say as God the Father and Spirit. But Jesus was not born in eternity; He was born in time. What time? Historians say somewhere between 7 and 3 BC. Luke tells us what year He was born, but because we don't know exactly what year that was, we have to leave it somewhat open.
Our Confession, however, doesn't weigh in on all this. Quoting Galatians 4:4, it says He was born in the fullness of time. What does this mean?
In their Christmas sermons, pastors often say, 'When the time was right'. Had Jesus been born at another time, the Gospel story would have been very different, maybe impossible. That's true.
But it's not what the Bible means by the fullness of time. This is a technical term meaning, 'at the end of the world', or, as we might say, 'at the end of the old world' or 'at the end of the Jewish era'.
In other words, with the coming of Christ, the world is made new; history starts all over again. What scholars call the eschaton or eternal age dawns. In its fullness, the Eternal Age will be without sin or death, but with the coming of Christ, the Neww Age has begun. Some men are now freed from the penalty and stain of sin, and when the Kingdom comes in full, the power and presence of sin will also be eliminated, along with its the death, decay, and misery.
MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH
When the old age had run its course, Jesus came into the world--but He didn't come as an alien of some kind, a being that looked like a man who beamed in and beamed out you might say.
He came as a man, as human as you and I. Though His conception was a miracle (since Mary had never been with a man), His birth was the same as ours. He was born of a woman, a particular woman, whose DNA He shared. Jesus didn't look like God; He looked like Mary (but not Joseph who was only His step-father).
In debating the Jehovah's Witnesses and others, we are more accustomed to defending His Divinity than we are His humanity, but we should always remember that He is every bit as much human and He is God. The old creed called Him--
Very God of very God,
Very man of very man.
Our Lord Jesus was like us in most ways, but in one way He was different: He was not a sinner. Hebrews 4:15 says He was--
Tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.
That's something no one else can say. Some people are tempted more than others and some resist temptation better than others, but of only One Man can it be said that He never gave in to temptation--not once-- in deed, word, or thought.
Charles De Gaulle said, No man is hero to his valet. Public men like himself may look heroic to the crowds, but in private they're as prone to pettiness and pride as anyone else. But the people who knew Jesus best, the men He lived with for more three years, never once mentioned a sin or a moral blot on His character. Their own sins? Yes, they mentioned those, sometimes in shameful detail, but not His sins. Because He had none. Peter knew Him well and said of Jesus--
Who did no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth.
To impress your friends is hard enough, but because they're your friends, they might give you the benefit of the doubt. Enemies will never do that. But even His worst enemies couldn't pin anything on Jesus.
Most Romans despised the Jews and Jews executed for treason were beneath their contempt. But the man who crucified Him said--
Truly this was a righteous man.
Our Lord's Jewish enemies hated Him far more than the Romans did. But when asked to name a sin He committed, they had no answer at all.
The Gospel writers are at pains to justify Him, and put His acquittals into their stories as often as they can. Pilate finds no fault with Him; the Sanhedren cannot produce witnesses whose testimonies agree; Herod can't find anything on Him; even the thief on the cross, a man who knew the criminal mind well, had to say--
This man has done nothing wrong.
Sins have a way of making themselves known to other people, especially people who know us well or people who are looking for something to fault us for. But it is theoretically possible--I suppose--to hide your sins so well that no one ever spots them but God.
But did God spot any secret, perhaps even unknown sins in Jesus? He didn't, twice saying in public--
This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Jesus was righteous, not comparatively as the saints are, but perfectly. He was not tainted with original sin, never committed an actual sin, or left a duty undone or half done. He was and is impeccable--
Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
GAVE HIMSELF FOR THE ELECT
The One who had no personal sins, gave Himself for the elect, that is, He went to the cross for our salvation, taking the punishment that we deserve so that we might have the favor of God than only He deserves. Jesus did not die as a martyr or a victim or an accident or a criminal. He died as a Substitute, as Peter said--
The just for the unjust.
This brings us to a bitterly disputed point, and that is the extent of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? The usual answer based on, it seems to me, a devout but superficial reading of the Bible, is that He died for all without exception. That He made an atonement for the whole world and we 'access' that atonement through faith.
The Confession denies this, and I think justly so. It says He died for the elect, and I think we will see this the moment we remember what the Atonement is. Following the Bible, the Confession says the death of Christ redeemed us to God. To 'redeem' means 'to buy back', perhaps a son taken captive in war, or more generally, it means to rescue.
As much as I wish His death did redeem everyone, I cannot square that with the Bible. The Bible says that God wants all men to be saved, but it doesn't say all men will be saved. Not in this life or in the life to come. Some men will not repent of their sins or believe the Gospel, and if they don't, they must perish. That is to say, they will not be bought back for God or rescued.
But if the death of Christ actually does this for us, one of two things must follow. Either:
Does the Bible teach either of these things? Can I truthfully tell a redeemed person that he may be lost? Can I tell a lost person that he is saved whether he repents and believes or not? I cannot.
Therefore, it seems clear to me that, since the death of Christ actually redeems, and only the elect are redeemed, Christ died only for the elect.
BY HIS BLOOD
Finally, the Confession reminds us of how Christ redeemed us, and that is by His blood. There is nothing magic or Divine about the blood of Jesus: it was as human as yours or mine. Had He given us a blood transfusion, we wouldn't become gods or saints. In this sense, there is no power in the blood.
What blood is is a shorthand way of saying, 'His death'. It was the death of Christ in our place that redeems us.
A couple of quick words and we're done. Let us always keep Jesus in the center of our theology and church life. When He is pushed to the side, even in favor of the Father or the Holy Spirit, terrible things will happen. Most of all, we will lose our assurance and our Gospel will lose its power.
Let us keep Jesus in the heart of our personal devotion. Other things clamor for that place, from knowledge to experience to doctrine, activities, and more, but when they get it, we become dry thinkers or Christian zombies, always in motion, but dead. Jesus is Lord; let's keep it that way! Amen.
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