Saturday, October 1, 2016

Jesus Mediator: New Testament Insights

Jesus mediator in St. Paul and St. John

1.     Jesus is the mediator between God and us. This was expressed by the early Christians and we read this in 1Tm2/5-6: “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all”. Note the two main points in the confession of faith. First, there is one God. Second, there is only one unique mediator.
2.     The mediator is from the side of God. He comes from God—which is a “going down”. This mediator is also from the side of the humans thanks to the Incarnation. Now this mediator, Jesus Christ, gave himself as ransom for all. So we find in this confession of faith a Christology—the “who is Christ”—and a soteriology (salvation theology)—the action of Christ “for all”. In other words the mediator, Jesus Christ, has become our savior. His mediation is our salvation.
3.     In St. Paul this mediation “for all” is also a mediation “through” Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came “for all” and “through” him salvation happened. Creation is understood in the light of mediation. Creation took place “through” Christ. We read this is 1Cor8/6: “…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist”. Notice the use of the two expressions: “for us” and “through him”. Through Jesus there is existence and through him we go to the Father.
4.     The letter to the Colossians has something explicit about this. “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him” (Col1/16). Then we also see mediation in the prologue of John. Jesus is mediator in creation (see Jn1/3 and 1/10) and Jesus becomes mediator of salvation through the incarnation (see Jn1/14).

Mediation in Letter to Hebrews

1.     In the Old Testament we see that Moses was a mediator by the promulgation of the Law. Now, for the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the “new mediator”: “…he is mediator of a new covenant” (Heb9/15; see 12/24). This is a very important covenant made according as promised (see Heb8/6). The mediator makes the new covenant possible. God has taken the initiative to offer the new covenant while we are called to respond. Jesus Christ accomplished both—the initiative to “come down” and the response to “go up”. In other words, Jesus Christ was sent. He was a gift to us. In him we have access to God (see Heb7/25).
2.     The Letter to the Hebrews also mentions the priestly character of the mediation of Jesus. Christ is definitely the “High Priest”. Now, in the ancient times—the Old Testament times—the priesthood was already “mediating” between God and people. The priest communicated with God through rituals and sacrifices. The work of the priest then was a “going up” work; he was sending to God the aroma of sacrifices. Consequently the people will obtain blessings and forgiveness from God. The consequence of making the sacrifices was the “going down” of God to give blessings.
3.     In Jesus Christ something radically different happened. Although it was an ambition for ancient men to be High Priest, it was a matter of humility for Christ. For the ancient High Priest—being a member of society—it was necessary to separate from people through purification rites. When it comes to Christ it is not a matter of separation. Rather it is a matter of “solidarity” with humanity. Jesus then became High Priest of mercy and faith: “…he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb2/17).
4.     The ancient High Priest started with rituals and sacrifices—a “going up”. This was necessary so that the “going down” of God giving blessings can happen. With Jesus it was different. His being High Priest was due to his being Son of the Father. It was not the Son who glorified himself to be High Priest. It was the Father who assigned him as High Priest (see Heb5/5-6). So “from above” he went down and humbled himself and thereby established, for us, a communion with God (see Heb9/24-28).

Mediation as exchange

1.     What is this “exchange”? How is mediation an “exchange”? Let us call it an exchange of wealth and poverty. Jesus was rich. He became poor. By becoming poor he made us rich. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2Cor8/9). He was a weak man put up to the cross. But then he has risen by the power of God. Now, we are weak too. But in Christ we will live also by the power of God: “For indeed he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God” (2Cor13/4).
2.     We can see the exchange between the fullness—the wealth—of Christ and our poverty. Christ “comes down” and humbles himself. In that humility he enters into solidarity with us and he fills us up with the fullness of God: “…the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph3/19). See the beautiful hymn of Ph2/6-11.
3.     Let us look at the core meaning of the exchange. Jesus Christ had the same human conditions. By the solidarity with us Jesus has opened the path that can make us move to God. We are, indeed, sinners and because of our sinfulness we have very horrible experiences. But through Christ we can become just. His crucifixion opens our eyes to our sinfulness.
4.     We see this Biblically. Yes, Christ underwent the same human conditions. He also experienced the curse of life—the hardship of the life of us, humans, sinners. By exchanging his “status” with our conditions, Jesus has offered us the access to the Father, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal3/14).  Jesus has communicated to us his holiness—his seriousness—with his mission to tell us about the love of God—the Kingdom. He really went down and humbled himself to tell us about the love of the Father. Even with the violence of the cross against him, Jesus did not pull out. Consequently, as we see how human sinfulness can kill Jesus who came to tell us about the love of God, we are called to conversion. In the Acts we read that after the speech of Peter telling the crowds about how they killed Jesus who was Lord, the crowds were converted: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’” (Act2/37).

Mediation in Salvation

Let us place this discussion in the light of salvation. The mediation of Jesus Christ had two movements: from above (going down) and from below (going up). Jesus was from God and from us, humans.

From Above (going down)

1.     Because he is Son of the Father, he has accomplished the gift of God to us. Jesus, we say, is God with us. The retrospect to the prophets have made the early Christians see in Jesus the Immanuel. Jesus is Son of God who came so that we can have abundant life (see Jn10/10). This offering was rejected by sin. So the offering took a turn towards an offering of salvation. The gift had to be a gift of winning against sin.
2.     Indeed God so loved us that he sent his Son (see Jn3/16). Life in the fullness was given to us. Jesus came and live with us…dwelt among us. This “going down” to us in the Incarnation included the reality of death. The “going down” was a love “to the max”.

3.     We can, in fact, discern salvation here. First, the “going down from above” is about Christ revealing to us who is the Father. The mission of Jesus was to announce the love of God in the Kingdom. God is a God of love, not of revenge. God is a God who wants our fulfillment—our joy and happiness.· Second, the “going down from above” is about Christ redeeming us. (Remember the go’el that we spoke about in your first year). To redeem is to pull us out of what holds us—pull us out of sin. We have been captivated by the slavery of sin and Jesus pulled us out. Today many theologians like to use the word “liberation”. Thanks to this redemption-liberation of Jesus we know what it means to enter into communion with the Father. In this communion we have become adoptive children of God with Jesus as the “eldest brother”. Third, the “going down from above” is about Christ “justifying” us. This word has been a source of many debates and misunderstanding. Usually it would lead us to think that the Father was looking for his justice. The Father wanted compensation from the hurt we (symbolized by Adam) have done him. But actually, justification means the act of God saying we are ok. We are ok in his eyes. We are “justified” in his eyes.

From Below (Going up)

1.     First, Jesus came in solidarity with us. This accomplishes our return to the Father. We welcome the gift of God—we welcome the Incarnation and solidarity of Jesus with us. So in turn we give ourselves as gifts to God. We are “married” to God; we say “yes” to God’s love.
2.     In principle this was happening with the first couple—Adam and Eve. In the garden there was a mutual self giving—a communion. God and human were giving themselves to each other. There was a communion, a “fraternity”. But then somewhere along the way a break was done. There was a refusal to stay in communion with God. Consequently it also meant the refusal to be who we really are—who we have been created by God. Of course we know that this story symbolizes our human condition. We are, in fact, really in communion with God. But we have rejected this.
3.     Christ, the New Adam, did not follow the same path of rejecting God. Whereas Adam disobeyed, Jesus Christ obeyed. How did Jesus do this? He offered himself as “sacrifice”. What was this sacrifice? It was the sacrifice of his solidarity with us. We experience the pain of being separated with God. Our human condition is marked by toil, anguish, struggles. Well, Jesus came to be one of us. He dwelt among us. He too underwent the same human conditions.
4.     The sacrifice of Jesus passed by the cross. On the cross he confronted sin. Jesus won! He was victorious over the claims of injustice, darkness, hatred—in short, sin. Jesus so loved the Father that he was willing to die for that love. We repeat: Jesus did not back out from his mission to tell us of God’s love even in front of the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus, his solidarity with us, went as far as his willingness to die on the cross. He faced death so as to show us the beauty of God’s love. (Note that it is a grave mistake to say that God put him on the cross.) The Father replied to this gesture of Jesus by rising him from death.
5.     We see how the human Jesus is able to say yes to God. We too can say yes and we know that there is always the rising again. It is possible. We can turn to God and offer ourselves to God. Just like Jesus we too confront sin. We enter into solidarity with those who are really experiencing the excruciating effects of sin and we are willing to struggle with them against the forces that enslave them. This is our sacrifice. (Note that we do not look for suffering. We look for love and justice and we want this fulfilled in our lives even if it means having a hard, suffering time.)
6.     In the New Testament we see words like “expiation” and “atonement”. These words have been so misunderstood that later on, in the history of the Church, other notions were added like “substitution”, “vicarious substitution”, “satisfaction”, etc. But now we see that the more appropriate word is really “solidarity”. Jesus was not a “substitute”. He entered in solidarity with us. His solidarity called us to conversion. It is a conversion of turning to God and living in solidarity with one another. This is salvation.
7.     Second, the going up “from below” form of salvation is about reconciliation. Of course God has always been wanting us to return to him. God has always wanted us to be with him in the garden. We really belong to the garden. The parable of the prodigal son teaches us a beautiful image of the Father.  With the solidarity of Jesus we can reciprocate with the Father. This is our act of “going up from below”. We accept God, we accept his love. We reconcile. This is so liberating. Consequently even our relationship with each other is really a matter of reconciliation. We live reconciled.

A unity

     Both the “from above” and the “from below” movements form a unity. Maybe we need to chop them into two as a default of our language. But both movements form a solid unity of salvation. Both have been accomplished by Jesus Christ. His life, his words, his actions all revealed God (“from above”) and have allowed us to return to God (“from below”). This mediation of Christ has accomplished the definite covenant between us—humanity—and God.

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