Sermon 8


Praise the Intercessor

Hebrews 7:25

November 19, 2006


Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father , Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In 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.

We 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 ( Augsburg , 1978) pp. 70, 90, 112]. Even with that clear reference to Jesus’ intercessions, we still are in the dark.

But 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.

This 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; 16:23).

Indeed, 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.


Our Sinful Protest

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.

And 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):


May Christ our intercessor be

And, through his blood and merit,

Read from his book that we are free

With all who life inherit.


And 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!

Secondly 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?

We 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.

So 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.


Misunderstanding God’s Love

Now that same pride and self-reliance is what causes us to balk at the intercessions of Christ. That’s the explanation Jesus gives.

And 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.

So 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).

Indeed 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.

This 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.

His 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 2:70)!


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.

But 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).

Because 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 9:14).

Years 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; Westminster , 1947) p. 519]. Indeed now we see clearly that “the changing of the mind of God is the great subject, the epic argument, of the Christian Bible” [Jack Miles, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God (Knopf, 2001) p. 244]!

But 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].

Again 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.

And 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).


Mistreating Nonbelievers

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.

Anyone 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 beforehand.

The 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).

So 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 Yourself

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.

So 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.

There 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.

But 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.

Now 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 quotations.]


Jesus’ Intercession

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)

And 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.”

“You 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 love.”

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).

“And 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)!


Praise the Intercessor

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.

But 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.”

Know 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 (Hebrews 5:8-10).

Those 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.

So 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)!


The Lord’s Supper

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.

So 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, p. 411).

Let 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.


Commandments About God

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.

And 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.


Commandments 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.

And 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 both.

And 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).

So 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)