READ : 1 Timothy 2:5-7
For 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, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 rsv
We savored last week the desire of God’s heart that everyone be saved. In pursuing that wish, God wants all to be prayed for by believers and each to come to a knowledge of the truth. God is appealing to His own people, in other words, to share the desire of His heart: to pray for others and give them the gospel.
Today we explore further why that universal spread of the good news and that prayer for all peoples are so signally appropriate. My theme is “One Way.” The message is what we might call, “basic Christianity.” Listen. I’m reading from 1 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 5-6.
“For 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, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.”
Notice the apostle’s first thought here. There is one God. That may seem commonplace to us today but it was a startling thought in the religious milieu of Paul’s time. In the Graeco-Roman world there were “gods many” and “lords many.” A host of rival deities were being proposed for allegiance among Paul’s contemporaries. The apostle proclaims into that chaos one of the great themes of the Old Testament revelation, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, The Lord, is one” (Deut. 6:4). The patriarchs, the prophets, the sages of the old covenant testified that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one Lord over all. All the gods of the nations are idols. It is the Lord who made the heavens. He alone is worthy of praise.
Now this was affirmed by Paul, remember, after the cheering news that God wants everyone to be saved. Since He alone is God, such an assurance brings immense comfort. We don’t need an agreement among a council of many gods, a kind of majority vote on the subject. There’s no divided opinion on this question, no non-cooperating minority. This desire to save human beings is at the heart of the only God who exists.
A number of errors are ruled out by the great affirmation: “There is one God.” First, consider the teaching that God is everything and everything is God. We call that pantheism. For the biblical writers in the Old Testament and the New, there can be no identification between the Creator and the creation. Further, God is not dependent on the works of His hands. He existed before this created universe came into being. He called it into existence by His mighty word. Everything created depends upon Him for continued being. Though He is intimately involved in the life of His creation, He reigns in majesty over it. God is the holy Lord with whom all people have to reckon. He is the only king to whom prayers and supplications can be offered. His character and His revealed Word are the only assurances that He will answer prayer.
Since He is the only God, He deals graciously and directly with all kinds and classes of people, beyond all our human distinctions. In God’s great heart of compassion, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free. Every single human being is infinitely precious to the one true God. That is the grand message of the Bible.
Three great religious traditions confess the truth of this one God. To the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim, God is one. These are faiths we call “monotheistic.” Worshipers acknowledge one sovereign God.
Now Paul makes a second affirmation. This one is distinctively Christian, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
You know what a mediator is: one who stands in the middle, a kind of go-between, as we say. We usually think of mediation when there is some disturbance in a relationship between two parties. Labor and management, for example, cannot arrive at a contract. The terms offered by management are rejected. The demands made by labor are unacceptable to company officials. The gulf seems wide, a crippling strike imminent. In times like that, a mediator is often appointed. He or she is known, recognized, by both parties in the conflict and can in some sense represent each. The effort of the mediator is to bring the two sides together to talk, to negotiate in the hope of a settlement.
I watched on the evening news the other night a program on conflict resolution in the public schools. Whenever a playground fight is about to break out, the antagonists are brought before two of their fellow students to talk the problem through. Each of the helping students wears a T-shirt emblazoned MEDIATOR.
Perhaps there is the threat of war, such as we experience now in the Persian Gulf crisis. Iraq and the United Nations have taken firm, opposite positions on the future of what was called Kuwait. Neither side seems willing to budge from the stance already assumed. The world longs for a mediator, someone identified with both sides in the dispute, someone able to bring about creative change in the political standoff, someone who can bring us back from the brink of a terrible war.
The teaching of the Bible is that God and humankind are at odds. Made in God’s image, created for fellowship with Him, we humans have gone our own way, rebelling against God’s authority and spurning His fellowship. We are rebels against our rightful Lord. We have broken His commands and grieved His heart. He longs over us with a great love but our sins have separated us from Him. He, the holy One, is of too pure eyes to look upon our evil. We are unfit now to live in His presence. Thus a great gulf of separation has opened between God and His human creatures.
But, comes the thrilling gospel announcement, between this one creator God and this one rebellious humankind stands one Mediator, one in the middle, one who brings both together. The Mediator is Jesus of Nazareth, the One we call Christ.
He is uniquely qualified to be the Mediator because He alone of all the beings in the universe is both God and man. He is the Son of the Father, sharing God’s glory from all eternity and He is the One who came to share our humanity on the day we call Christmas, taking upon Himself our nature, entering our history. He can represent God to men because He alone can say, “I and my Father are one.” And He alone can deal with God on behalf of men because He is the only human free from the defilement and bondage of sin. In Him there is the hope then of reconciliation. In Him the separating distance can be overcome and God’s wayward children can come home to the Father’s house.
Jesus is the bridge person, the One who stands in the midst, the living link between heaven and earth. He’s like a prophet in that He proclaims God’s nature and will to people. He’s like a priest in that He represents human beings before God. He is God’s representative to man and man’s to God.
Remember the dream that the patriarch Jacob had in a place called Bethel? He saw a ladder between earth and heaven upon which the angels of God were ascending and descending. Jesus was to say a remarkable thing to one of His disciples centuries later. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Jesus was claiming to be that ladder, the living connection between the grace of heaven and the guilt of earth.
Now the apostle Paul explains how that mediation has become effective. Listen again. “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all.” That’s how He became the go-between: not only by coming from His glory to be born as a human baby, not only by living as man a life of perfect obedience to God, but also by giving Himself as a ransom for all.
Here the apostle Paul is echoing the Lord’s own words. Remember how He said to His disciples, “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”? (Mt. 20:28). Jesus gave His life, gave Himself. That self-giving began in the Incarnation when He emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant. It continued throughout His self-spending ministry and finally came to its consummation when He willingly gave Himself up to die for our sins. He the blameless Son bore the judgment which we the guilty ones deserve. He who deserved to live tasted death for us who have brought judgment upon ourselves. He was condemned so that we might be accepted. He suffered for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God, to put away the sin which had blocked our way into His presence.
In our common life together, we sometimes catch glimpses of vicarious suffering, one person bearing misery and pain or shame and punishment on behalf of someone else. Charles Colson tells of how a friend of his seriously endeavored to serve Colson’s prison term for him, to go to jail instead of the convicted felon. We read of brave soldiers who throw themselves on live hand grenades, sacrificing themselves to spare the lives of their buddies. We have met parents who toil their lives away to pay some huge debt incurred by a willful child. Much that is noblest and most beautiful in human experience is touched by such self-giving, such suffering on behalf of another.
And there on Golgotha, on Good Friday, God revealed His heart most fully in the gift of His Son. There the depth of His love was displayed, when in Jesus Christ His Son He took upon Himself the condemnation which our sins had brought upon us. He died for our forfeited lives, in our place. There the suffering Savior became the one Mediator between God and men. This He did for you. This He did for me. That’s how you and I can know that God wants us to be saved, that He has our best interests upon His heart. That’s how you can be sure that you are amazingly loved, in that God gave His Son to bear your sins.
But He will not force this wonderful gift upon you. The greatness of reconciliation between God and humankind is not an automatic thing, abstract. It’s a gift that has to be personally received. You have it when you are willing to say, “Jesus, I trust in You as my Mediator, my Savior. I believe that You are the Son of God come to earth for us. I believe that You have obeyed the Father on my behalf and that you have suffered and died for my sins. I trust in You now, risen from the dead. Forgive me, Lord, cleanse me and bring me into the presence of God.” Friends, when you will admit that you are a sinner, and trust that Jesus is your Savior, then His work of mediation has been accomplished for you. All that has separated you from your heavenly Father is taken out of the way. You are welcomed as His child. You have found the one way.
That, friends, is basic Christianity. There is only one God, the Lord of heaven and earth. There is only one Mediator between God and humankind, and His name is Jesus. He gave Himself as a ransom for all and sends out His messengers to preach the gospel to all. For everyone who will receive that good news with a believing heart, the desire of God’s heart is fulfilled: salvation. You and I, and all who believe, are numbered among His redeemed people. We belong to Him now and forever.
Prayer: Father, may it be so, may all who share the program come to You, the one true God through Jesus the Mediator, trusting completely in what He has done for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.