Saturday, March 14, 2020

Easter gifts

This is my second effort at themes for Easter, if you keep Easter. The first dealt with the tearing of the Temple curtain from top to bottom, signifying the new way made by Christ’s work.

New Life

An Augustinian, Reformed confession holds that our Lord Jesus Christ, through his atonement, brought his people new life: regeneration and all the steps of the ordo salutis. Through his death and resurrection,  the Holy Spirit came as the energizer of them, (gifts unto men).

Among these gifts was that of prayer through the mediatorship and  high priesthood of Christ, whereby the people of God cry ‘Abba, Father’. For a moment, contrast this with the fact that we live in a Christianised culture which has left a legacy  of prayer, chiefly routine prayer for the dying, and at death, on public occasions, for Christmas presents, and the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer. Beside, in our culture there are Jewish prayers, Muslim prayers,  and so on.

New Testament Prayer: The Mediator

The letter to the Hebrews is the place which gives us the idea of Christ's mediatorship. His priesthood is introduced in 2.17, based on his deity and his humanity. ‘So that he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make  a propitiation for the sons of the people.... he is able to help.....he is able to those who are being tempted.' (Heb 2.17)  He is keeper of God’s house (3.6).  The idea of Melchizedek’s priesthood enters in chapter 7, and it is developed in Ch. 8., and climaxes with teaching on his uniqueness  9.24;‘Christ has entered, not into places made with hands,  which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now  to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.’ And especially the application at 10.19f. ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…..Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…..Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.’

His Mediatorship is endorsed elsewhere in the New Testament, but rarely. Paul , the Apostle to the Gentiles, hardly touches on it, unless he is thought of as the author of Hebrews, the long-time view which now is discarded.  In Galatians 3. 19-20 he  uses mediator/intermediary once in a rather different connection. In I Tim. 2.5 he states to Timothy, ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.’ There is what is called Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17.           .

In the New Testament there are two conditions that presuppose and govern prayer, Christian prayer. Not conditions that the one praying has to fulfil, but conditions of there being such prayer.  The first is that in the New Testament, men  and women have a mediator, Jesus Christ, who by his death made access to the holy of holies sure. The torn Temple curtain bears witness to this. Christ is revealed as our Great High Priest, whose death and resurrection paid for sin, and purchased righteousness, and which glorified God, and especially that by his resurrection he ever lives to make intercession for his people.

His death, a glorifying

Not only ‘glorified’ but they are instances of the glory of God. In his teachings recorded in the Gospel of John, Christ refers to his forthcoming death as a ‘glorification’. His  death was not what happened to Jesus  but an event in which he takes control. For example he teaches that he is going to his ‘Father’s House’ which contains ‘many mansions/rooms’ (14, 1-3) which he prepares and  will return for his people. That is one theme, glorification, (13.31-2, 14.13,16.14, 17). 4,5. A5.8, 16.14, 17.1,4, 5,22,24)  And the other is the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter sent by his Father (14.26,15.26,7. 16.7) But the emphasis on Christ’s case is not with the glorifying of martyrdom but with that death glorifying the Godhead, and inaugurating glory for the people of God.

Jesus is the Mediator, or intermediary, as the OT priests represented the nation of Israel on the day of atonement annually. It was repeated, therefore, as the author of Hebrews argued, Jesus Christ, the God-man, divine but bearing our nature sinlessly, is alone to having a full or adequate nature for this, and so is alone to be a fitted to be this Mediator. Two locations in the new Testament emphasize this: Gal 3 19-20 , and Heb. 8.6, 9.15, 12.24. There is also a reference  at I Tim 2.5. He mediates two  parties, sinful human beings and God, reconciling the sinful human. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God by faith. So Jesus the Christ can bring many sons to glory, ‘You are all sons of glory, all one in Christ Jesus, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’ (v.29)

Christian Prayer: The Spirit

So Hebrews (mainly) gives us the first condition, with the second  condition, prayerfulness, at the end of Gal. 3 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.’ And as a result of this new arrangement of grace, those for whom Christ died are sons, ‘and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. This also is foretold in John 16. 5-15.

That he is the Father, to whom they have a familiar, intimate, relationship, is similar to the fuller statement in Romans 8.12,  If we are sons, then we address him in prayer; as we pray, pleading the person of Christ our mediator, even though not all prayers need to sign off  with ‘in Jesus name’. To appreciate what happened at the first Easter, see  Rom 8.15, Gal 4.6.

Some Consequences

What becomes clear is that in the new Testament there is a sharp distinction between prayer, already mentioned, and Christian prayer, prayer founded on the one Mediator. ‘There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle…a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.(I Tim.2.5-7)  Here Paul is stressing the international character of Christian prayer.

In my experience, in the present, given these NT strands of teaching, pulpit prayer is weak and disappointing, with little solemnity or feeling. The fact that the uttering of such prayer has been won by Jesus is rarely mentioned, never developed. References to the word and spirit, yes, but the language of his great priesthood is seldom utilized. 

So so the incarnation is God’s gift, another gift is the work and agency of the one Mediator, and a third the gift of prayer,  a gift of the Son and the Spirit. When we survey the New Testament, this requesting and intercessing in Christian prayers,  has as its scope the growth in grace of God’s people, the prosperity of the church’s ministry, its evangelistic and missionary mandate. The same Spirit who is at work in the groanings of the prayers of Christ’s people is to be the one who energises their praying. In the later chapters of John’s Gospel,  Jesus describes himself as the Resurrection and the Life ((11.25), and contrasts ‘loving the glory that comes from man’ and ‘the glory that comes from God’. (12.43). Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world. (18.36) and praying for it must be in accordance with the needs of such a kingdom. So it is in this vein that Jesus teaches, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.’ (14, 13-14)  And the promised coming of the Spirit, the Helper, ‘who will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgement. (16.8)

These are the gifts of Easter, not bunny rabbits, daffodils and eggs. It is not an entrance into spring, but celebration into glory of the people of God.