Sisters and brothers in Christ,
grace and peace to
you in the name of God the Father , Son (X)
and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hebrews 7 we are told that Jesus is our intercessor. It also says he
intercedes for us always – or semper
interpellandum as the old Latin Bible has it. And so we are to
praise him for his goodness toward us – for his intercessions on our
behalf! Semper interpellandum.
Our praise then, today, on this holy Sabbath, must be marked by
thanksgiving to God for our intercessor Jesus Christ.
At a Loss
But immediately we are drawn up short. Quickly we
realize that we don’t even know what an intercessor is. We’re at a
loss. That word rarely if ever crosses our lips these days. Therefore we
do not know how to praise our intercessor in a meaningful way today.
do not know even though in the liturgy we pray that God would “unite
our prayers with the ceaseless petitions of our great high priest” [Lutheran
Book of Worship (
the Holy Scriptures aren’t in the dark. They clearly define Jesus’
intercessions for us. His intercessions are his words on our behalf
before God the Father Almighty. In those words he defends us before God.
He takes up our case. He is our advocate (1 John 2:2) and mediator ( 1
Timothy 2:5) before God.
is no small gift! For Jesus the intercessor sees to it that we are
treated with mercy when we only deserve punishment, as Luther’s Small
Catechism (1529) rightly says [The
Book of Concord, ed. T. Tappert (1580; Fortress, 1959) p. 347]. And
so we pray in his name – knowing that whatever we ask the Father in
Jesus’ name or, for his sake, will be granted to us (John 15:16;
praying in Jesus’ name is what “authorizes” our prayers to God the
Father [see my “Praying in Jesus’ Name,” The
Bride of Christ 22 (March 1998) 3-7]. Otherwise we will not be
heard. Otherwise we will receive no blessings at all.
But against this Biblical testimony we protest.
Shamefully we say no. We don’t like it, we say. In our sin we think we
don’t need an intercessor – once we finally know what it is (see
Revelation 3:17)! In fact to have one would even seem to be deplorable.
so we live up to our Biblical reputation for being a “rebellious house
– a stiff-necked people” (Ezekiel 3:7-9; Acts 7:51). And against
this charge we counter that our reasons for rebelling are good – quite
good in fact. They’re neither frivolous, silly nor stupid. And so, on
the basis of them, we will not sing the faithful words (LBW, Hymn 321):
Christ our intercessor be
through his blood and merit,
from his book that we are free
all who life inherit.
we have at least three good reasons for so refusing. First we say we
don’t need an intercessor because God is love. And that means he
doesn’t need any coaxing to love us because that’s what he already
wants to do – because he is love after all!
we say that if God the Father needed an intercessor it couldn’t be
Jesus because he and the Father are one (John 10:30) and for him to
defend us against the Father would be schizophrenic – God arguing with
himself, as it were. Finally if Jesus is the intercessor then all
unbelievers are without access to God and that is preposterous for they,
too, need and want his blessings.
Self Reliance is the Culprit
Now why are we like that? Why are these reasons so
convincing to us? Why do we oppose what the Holy Scriptures so clearly
proclaim about Jesus’ intercessions? Shouldn’t those intercessions
on our behalf be our joy instead?
have an answer for this in Jesus’ parable against trusting in
ourselves (Luke 18:9). It’s the familiar one about the two men praying
in the temple. The one man is proud of his achievements and brags of
them before God. The other man is ashamed of his sins and simply begs
for mercy. Jesus praises the humble man, but the proud one he condemns
because he trusted in himself instead of in the mercy of God.
indeed Luther rightly preached on this parable that those who trust in
themselves and practice self-reliance “find so much” in themselves
that they suppose “God is bound to respect and honor” them [Sermons
of Martin Luther, ed. N. Lenker (1909; Baker, 1988) 4:354-355]. But
this, of course, is only a false dream.
Now that same pride and self-reliance is what causes
us to balk at the intercessions of Christ. That’s the explanation
so we say, first of all, that God’s love eliminates the need for
Jesus’ intercessions because he’ll love us without them. We can rely
on our lovability to get God to love us. But our lovability is usurped
by our sinfulness and so it cannot save us.
it’s but a false hope. Our self-reliance keeps us from seeing the
haunting Biblical truth that God’s love doesn’t automatically extend
to sinners. The fact that God is love (1 John 4:7) does not imply that
God loves sinners, which indeed he eventually does do, just not
automatically (Luke 7:34). The reason this implication is blocked is
because there is a yawning and deep crevasse between God’s inherent
love and his love for sinners (Isaiah 59:2).
it is so that “God is love, but not love to sinners” [Søren
Kierkegaard’s Journals & Papers, in 7 vols., eds. Howard V.
Hong & Edna H. Hong (Princeton, 1967-1978) §1329]. This Biblical
distinction between the disposition of love and its many applications is
utterly foundational. If it is lost, then the integrity of God’s love
is lost as well. His love is reduced to a mere mechanism.
warning, however, doesn’t stop us! We still insist that God has to
love us. His love cannot stay bottled up! But that does not follow. Just
as surely as I can love roses without loving everything else in the
garden, so God’s love can also be discriminating.
love for us only breaks out after Jesus dies for us. Up until then,
God’s love is directed elsewhere. He loves the flowers and stars,
mountains and streams, seed time and harvest. Even in the devastating
and wrathful Flood, God, Luther points out, shows mercy on the fish, of
all things, who “from the rising water” had their domain graciously
enlarged (Luther’s Works
Assuming Divine Schizophrenia
Trust in our own reasoning, then, will also trip us
up when we suppose that Jesus’ prayers to the Father make no sense –
rendering God schizophrenic if you will.
God can “recoil” within himself (Hosea 11:8)! He can face off
opposing points of view within himself. There is life and movement
within God. As Luther said, we must learn to distinguish between “God
and God” within God (LW 12:321).
of this internal distinction in God, Jesus can overcome the wrath of God
for us by his death (Romans 5:9). Jesus can reconcile God so that his
burning anger (Ezekiel 5:13; Revelation 6:16) no longer assaults us if
we but believe in him. All this is possible. It’s not incoherent as
our faulty reasoning alleges. It rather is based on the revelation that
Jesus sacrificed his life to God the Father (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews
later Luther’s Biblical insight was expanded to say that “God
reconciles Himself in Christ to man. Here we stand in the presence of
the central mystery of the Christian revelation: the dual nature of
God” [Emil Brunner, The Mediator (1932;
very smart Lutherans have denied this internal movement in God -
and their followers are many. They say it’s wrong to suppose
that God is “reconciled to us” [see Robert W. Jenson, Systematic
Theology, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1997-1999) 1:186 and also 192].
and again, however, the Lutheran Confessions say the exact opposite,
declaring that God is
“reconciled to us” in Christ Jesus (BC, pp. 119, 121, 137, 140, 142,
147, 152, 153, 165, 166, 216, 253, 127, 260)! Indeed, justification is
about seeing to it that God’s wrath is “stilled” (BC, p. 138). And
that, by any measurement, is a change in God.
Luther himself also insisted that Jesus’ death “moved” God to
mercy (LW 51:277; SML 3:199, 361). “For Christ,” he wrote, “has
made the truly priestly sacrifice for us, which has the power of
reconciling God and of removing our sin from us.” This he did on the
cross which was “the altar on which Christ… presented the living and
holy sacrifice of His body and blood to the Father.” And that is why
he ascended to heaven so he could “preserve us forever in God’s
grace” (LW 13:319-321).
And it’s our wild self-reliance again that makes us
think that this view damns the whole world to hell. We think that
because nonbelievers don’t have Jesus as their intercessor then they
can’t ever have him as their intercessor. But that’s not true.
can turn from their vain practices and beliefs and follow the living God
(Acts 14:15). For God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). All are invited
to believe in Christ Jesus the intercessor. No one is excluded
fact that Christianity condemns all other religions and all humanistic
and atheistic positions does not mean that their adherents are excluded.
While there’s life there’s hope. Upon hearing of Jesus, anyone –
quite anyone – who confesses his name and believes in him heartily,
will be saved (Romans 10:9).
our protest against the intercessions of Jesus is pervasive and vast.
Because of this, no doubt, it’s rarely heard today from the lips of
Christians that Jesus is our intercessor. This travesty we must do
everything we can to overcome.
Don’t Rely on
For indeed this is not as it should be. It’s a vain
hope to rely on ourselves and disregard the intercessions of Christ.
That’s a dead end. Self-reliance is based on illusions. In truth it
only leads to condemnation, shame and hopelessness.
trust in Jesus instead. Rely on his intercessions for you and receive
God’s blessings. Know that you cannot be reconciled to God if he
hasn’t first been reconciled to you.
is however little record in Holy Scriptures on Jesus’ intercessions
for us. We are not privy to those divine conversations between the
Father and the Son.
we can piece together what they might sound like from what we know from
elsewhere in the Scriptures. We know for sure that in them Jesus begs
the Father to love sinners “even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
That verse is then our sure guide.
before the intercessions begin, Jesus is there seated at the right hand
of God the Father in heaven, just as the Creed states and our liturgy
celebrates (LBW, pp. 59, 80, 101). Right there, next to God, Jesus
speaks out on our behalf when God considers how sinful we are.
[Note that in the following section the quotation marks are only a
literary device and that the Bible references are not always exact
So, when God looks upon the likes of us who do not
love him as we should, he thunders, “I’ve had it. I’ve had it!
I’m going to get them (Romans 1:24). My wrathful fury is burning hot
against them (Romans 2:5). They’re going to suffer for what they have
done. I’m going to punish them at long last” (Luke 16:25)
in the heat of the moment, Jesus speaks out on our behalf.
He says, “Father in heaven, have mercy on them for
my sake (Luke 23:34). Do not look on them with your wrath and with your
fury. But instead look on them with love. Look at the wounds in my hands
and my feet and my side. Your punishment against them – which is
rightly deserved – has been instead inflicted on me.”
remember on the cross how I suffered it. There I offered up my life on
the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:26). I was
wounded in their place – you punished me for them. And by my wounds
they are healed (1 Peter 2:24; Acts 8:32-35; Matthew 8:17). So have
mercy on them. Bless them. Shower on them your kindness, goodness and
then God says to his dear Son Jesus Christ, “My beloved Son, in whom I
am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). It shall be as you have said (John 5:22;
8:29, 55). My beloved Son, you were obedient even unto death on the
cross (Philippians 2:8). And your glory, your righteousness, your
purity, your goodness you have graciously shared with them (1
Corinthians 1:30) – with those who have been baptized in your name and
who have entrusted their lives to you” (Mark 16:16).
so it shall be as you have said – I will have mercy on these sinners.
For indeed, ‘if my Son wills… to save, then there shall be
salvation’” (SML 2:344)!
Now hear this word and rejoice. Praise the
intercessor Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid to pray to God. Do it in
Jesus’ name. Do not flee like those who were killed in the Flood –
like those under the wrath of God. No, do not fear for you can pray to
God in the name of Jesus and be blessed.
you may still cower and cry out, “I do not know that the Lord will
hear my prayer for I do not love him as I should – with all my heart,
mind, soul and strength.”
this day that even though you are called to love God with all your have,
you do not have to depend on that. You do not have to stand on that
unlikely achievement. Know instead that you can place all your
confidence in your intercessor Christ Jesus. For he has all the fullness
of God dwelling in him (Colossians 1:19). Jesus has achieved what you
cannot do. He’s measured up to the great standard of perfection
glorious standards we have not measured up to. But Jesus has. He’s
measured up to them. He has all the fullness of God dwelling in him and
so he could measure up. We can’t do that because we can’t love God
with all we have. But Jesus can.
let his fullness fill you up. Let his obedience become your faith and
obedience! Count on him. Then you will be able to praise Jesus as your
intercessor. Hold on to what is pure and perfect, certain and true. For
God placed his seal on Jesus (John 6:27)!
So come to the Lord’s Supper today. Bow down before
the altar of God and eat of the bread and drink from the cup. Come for
there is more than bread and wine here. The intercessor Jesus Christ is
also here. He is in, with and under the bread and the wine – truly
present there for you.
eat and drink that your sins may be forgiven. Eat and drink that your
faith may grow in strength. Eat and drink that Christ may abide in you
so that you may abide in him (John 6:56). Eat and drink that his
fullness may fill you. Do not lightly regard this mystery – this
sacrament. For in it is the miracle of Christ’s presence among us. In
it is power for faith and good works.
The Ten Commandments
And so be sure to do good works in his name as well.
Know that faith in Jesus without any good works is a dead faith (James
2:26). Know also that the best good works are those done in accordance
with the Ten Commandments, which are “the true fountain from which all
good works must spring” (BC, p. 407). So be “careful to do all the
commandments of the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 6:2)! And know that
these commandments are “the greatest treasure God has given us” (BC,
them therefore be your moral compass. Guide your days by them. Jesus
divides them into two groups (Matthew 22:36-40). The first three are
about God and the rest are about the neighbor.
The first commandment is about trusting God most. We
are to commit our lives to his care and keeping. No one else is worthy
of our trust. Nothing, not even health, popularity or money. And the
second is about honoring God’s name. So don’t use it to curse.
don’t use it to punctuate sentences. God is too important for such a
trivial use to be made of his name. Use it only in worship, prayer and
instruction in the faith. Finally God is to be worshipped most
decisively on his special day – the first day of the week, the
Christian sabbath. Keep that day for this purpose, dwelling on God’s
word and sacraments most of all.
About the Neighbor
And then there is the neighbor for whom the second
batch of laws are given. And the neighbor, surprisingly, is first found
at home. So first honor your parents for all they’ve done for you –
whether you like them or not. They fed you and sheltered you and maybe
even comforted you and taught you how to pray in Jesus’ name. God is
merciful. He doesn’t expect us to like our parents – a key
relationship that for many is often quite difficult. But even so, we
must still respect and honor them all the same.
then protect the intimate privacy of your life with your husband or
wife. The marriage bed must not be shared. Don’t commit adultery. Keep
your vows. God demands it for he knows how weak we are. Abuse and
divorce are always there lurking right around the corner. Resist them
then don’t resort to violence – by hurting your neighbor to seek
revenge or some other superficial goal. Only in self-defense are you
authorized to inflict harm. And don’t take their things. And don’t
even look longingly at them. And finally don’t lie to take advantage
of them. But be a straight-shooter – on the up and up in all your
dealings with your neighbor. In short treat others as you would like to
be treated (Matthew 7:12)!
And Depend on God to the End
Now call on God to help you with these laws for by
yourself you will either forget them or distort them. Remember that you
can’t do anything without him (John 15:5). So call on God for wisdom
and strength to keep these laws the right way. With his help he promises
us that they aren’t “burdensome” (1 John 5:3). With his help
he’ll make the load “light” (Matthew 11:30).
pray to God for help in living the righteous life – and do so in the
name of Jesus, our intercessor, whom we have learned to praise this day
– and even forevermore. Amen.
(based on the sermon as
delivered with some changes)