Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator
Posted on 01/31/2004 10:17:48 AM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Distinctive Features
The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator
(Sermon Number Four)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
This sermon series is concerned presently with the distinctive features of covenant theology. This particular sermon will complete my presentation of what I believe are the distinguishing marks of the system of Biblical interpretation known as covenant theology. Previously, we covered the first distinctive feature of covenant theology, which is the Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator, and, the second feature, which is the Absolute Dependence of the Creature.
In my examination of the doctrine of the Creator's sovereignty, I emphasized that this Biblical teaching means that God possesses ultimate power and is free of external influences so that His will is unrestricted. While God is dependent upon no one, all creation is directly dependent upon Him. I also emphasized that this doctrine of God's sovereignty has several significant implications. For example: if God is sovereign, then the world in which we live can be rightly studied and understood only in relation to its Creator. In regard to the Absolute Dependence of the Creature, I stressed that man had a beginning and is, therefore, dependent upon God for his existence. Man will be related to God as creature to Creator forever. I noted that man is unique in all of God's creation and only man is made in God's image and only man has been given the privilege and responsibility of subduing and ruling over God's creation. I also stated that the harmony which existed between the Creator and man was destroyed when Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. This rebellion left man in a miserable and helpless state. Man's utter dependence upon the Creator took on a new dimension when he fell from his innocence.
When we consider the truth of the Creator's sovereignty, along with its implications, and the truth of man's dependence upon God, along with its implications, what is our conclusion? Where does this information leave us? On the one hand, we have an all-powerful Creator who disposes of His creation as He wills. On the other hand, we have man, created in the image of God and assigned the task of ruling over God's creation. But, then there is the factor of man's fall. When Adam disobeyed God, the Creator-creature relationship was disrupted; every part of creation was affected and thrown out of place by man's transgression.
At the end of my last sermon, I introduced the only conclusion available; this is, in fact, the conclusion Scripture presents when it teaches us about the division which exists between God the Creator and man the fallen creature. The conclusion is that there is a need for a Mediator, someone to bring about man's reconciliation to his Creator so that man could be and do what God originally intended. Without such a Mediator, the breach between God, the Creator, and man, the fallen creature, could not be repaired. The sovereign Creator is also holy; He is righteous in His person and ways. The fallen creature, by contrast, is unholy; he is unrighteous in his person and ways. What was to become of him? What hope had he but that the sovereign Creator would do something to restore him? This is, of course, exactly what happened. This study of the distinctive features of covenant theology, therefore, must conclude with point number three: The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator.
3. The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator
The necessity of a Mediator between God and fallen man appeared immediately following Adam's transgression in Eden. Adam's act of disobedience violated the Creator-creature relationship that had, up to that time, allowed for a harmonious and, from Adam's perspective, beneficial association between God and man. I plan to cover the incident of man's fall in a later sermon in this series. For now, I'll quickly outline what happened.
Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden by their Creator. They were given an assignment to exercise dominion over the earth. God provided for all their needs. As a symbol of the Creator-creature relationship, God commanded Adam not to eat from a particular tree; and He solemnly warned him: ...From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. " (Gen. 2:16, 17)
As we know, Adam did not obey the voice of God and did eat from the forbidden tree. Shortly thereafter, God addressed each party in this transgression: the serpent, the woman and the man (Gen. 3:13 ff.). In His remarks to the serpent, God said: ...Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. " (Gen. 3:14, 15) This latter statement, v. 15, is known as the protevangelicum, or the first declaration of the gospel.
God promises a struggle between the seed of Satan and the seed of the woman that will result in the eventual destruction of Satan. This struggle is what history is about; history is the unfolding of God's decree that a Mediator should come, destroy Satan and his works and rescue the elect. The One alluded to by God is, of course, Jesus Christ, the offspring of Eve. The New Testament clearly portrays the complete victory of Christ over Satan. John says: ...The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) Even the demons, according to Mark 1:24, knew that Jesus had come to destroy them and their works. Hebrews 2:14 declares that Jesus rendered Satan powerless.
Such Scriptural examples could be multiplied many times over. I will mention only one other, however, and that is Rom. 16:20 where Paul, using the terminology of Gen. 3:15, says: And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet... This indicates that Christ is, indeed, the One suggested by Gen. 3:15; further, it shows that the people of God share in the glorious triumph of Christ. They do this as they live and preach the gospel of restoration, that message to the whole world that God has kept the promise made in the hearing of Adam, Eve and the serpent.
Christ's work on the cross was the destruction of Satan and his kingdom; at the same time, it was the conquest of the people of God, a conquest that even now is being witnessed as the kingdom of Christ expands to encompass the kingdoms of this world. From the very beginning of time, therefore, we see the necessity of a Mediator; and, from the beginning of time, we have the sure promise of God that such a Mediator would come and restore fallen man so that he might again live in harmony with his Creator. From Genesis through Revelation, we have recorded the fulfillment of God's promise.
There is a passage which sets the necessity and work of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, against the background of man's fall in Eden. This passage is, perhaps, one of the clearest explanations of the necessity of a Mediator. I am referring to Rom. 5:12 ff.
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned -- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prior to Rom. 5: 12 ff., Paul has established that all men, Jew and Gentile, are sinners. He has written about the depraved state of fallen man. Most recently, the apostle has been speaking about the doctrine of justification by faith. After making the statement that we are justified by faith and have, therefore, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul explains that believers are saved from the wrath of God through Him. It is at this point that Paul explains the relationship between Adam and Christ. By contrasting the legacies of the two, he shows the necessity of a Mediator.
The apostle says that sin entered this world through one man, Adam, and with sin came death (Rom. 5:12). This is, you will recall, just what God warned: ...from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. (Gen. 2:17) Adam did not heed God's command and that was sin; and that sin disrupted the relationship between the Creator and man and that disruption meant certain death, death as Scripture describes it, which is more than the simple physical cessation of life. Death according to the Bible is that plus alienation from God. This is what Adam experienced immediately upon his act of disobedience.
Because Adam was the father of the human race and because he was, by God's appointment, the representative for all his posterity, the consequences of Adam's actions affected the whole human race. From the time of the fall, every human being has been conceived in sin; that is, every human being has inherited a corruption of the soul from his father Adam. This is what Paul means when he says: ...so death spread to all men, because all sinned... Adam was our head and his actions were ours because God appointed him as the head of our race.
And so, the apostle continues, even before God gave His law and revealed the nature of sin, the consequence of Adam's sin, which is death, reigned. (cf. vv. 13, 14) Death began stalking the human race from the moment Adam determined that he would taste of that forbidden fruit. The presence of death in this world signals that something is not right, something has disrupted God's orderly creation. The death which gripped Adam and his descendants was not physical death only, as I stated; it also was spiritual death. It was the death of communion with the Creator, the death of fellowship with Him, the death of man's ability to stand in God's presence. God banished man from Eden to symbolize the destruction which had taken place. Man was devastated by Adam's transgression and left in a state of condemnation from which he could not escape. The wonderful relationship between the sovereign Creator and the dependent creature was ruined and man had no remedy for his dilemma.
Yes, by the transgression of one the many died; and yes, because one sinned, judgment came resulting in the condemnation of all; and yes, Paul says, death reigned over all because of the transgression of one. This is what happened to man, the creature made in God's image. He was as good as eternally dead. He found himself standing outside the Garden, forbidden to enter and resume fellowship with God. Stained by sin, man could not approach his holy Creator. There was no hope for fallen man save the appearance of a Mediator, One who could remake what had been destroyed. Therefore, the apostle writes: the gift is not like the transgression. By the grace of God, a gift has come to man, the gift of salvation through faith, and this gift by grace abounds to many. (v. 15)
Everything that Paul says in this passage underscores the necessity of a Mediator. Man had no hope, no way of returning to Eden. The whole human race was plunged into a state of sin and misery, a state in which man was helpless. Something had to be done for man, not by man. That something is what God promised in Gen. 3:15; that something is the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Christ, the Mediator, came and brought life for Adam's death; He brought justification for Adam's condemnation (v. 16). Adam's transgression meant the condemnation of all men, but the one act of righteousness by Jesus Christ resulted in justification of life to all men (vv. 17, 18). The one man's disobedience made us all sinners, liable to the wrath of a holy God; but another Man's obedience resulted in the many being made righteous (v. 19). Sin reigned in death, Paul concludes, but grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 20).
So, the apostle goes back and forth, from Adam to Christ, from sinner to Savior, from the one who brought condemnation on us all to the One who brings justification for us all. Adam left us in need, in need of that which we could not supply, which was a means of being reconciled to our offended Maker. Without the Mediator, Jesus Christ, you would have to remove much of what Paul says in this passage. You would be left with his thorough, sad and frightening indictment of fallen man, but you would not have his encouraging, reviving and life-giving words about God's gift of salvation.
What could be plainer than that, without a Mediator, fallen man would have perished eternally? What could be plainer than that, without Jesus Christ, death would still be reigning and man would still be subject to that horrible master? What could be plainer than that, without our Savior, the human race would yet be in the unbearable darkness of condemnation? What could be more terrifying than the thought of Eden's gate being barred and there being no mention of a Mediator from the mouth of God? If we had no Mediator to rescue us, no Mediator to stand between us and God and reconcile us to the Creator, what words could be more painful than these: through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men...?
If I were to summarize this passage, I would do so by saying this: Adam, as the head of the human race, sinned against God and brought condemnation upon us all. God, in His great mercy, sent His own Son as the Head of a new humanity to reclaim and restore what was lost in Adam. If this is true, there are several implications to be faced. First, no one comes into this world untouched by Adam's transgression; every human being bears the guilt of our father's sin in the Garden of Eden; this guilt is known as original sin and from this original sin comes every sin we, ourselves, commit in this life. This is why David said, In sin my mother conceived me. (Psa. 51:5) He doesn't mean that the act of procreation is sinful; he means that, as he came into being, he was from the first moment a sinner alienated from God. It is the nature of human beings, since the fall, to be born in this state of condemnation. And this is why Paul says, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23). No one is exempt from Paul's words in Rom. 5. Death has come to us all and has, therefore, rendered us incapable of pleasing God. No one comes into this world free of sin and this is why Jesus said, You must be born again. (John 3:7) We must start over, so to speak, if we are to escape our condemnation; Jesus compared it to being reborn in a different condition.
The second implication of what Paul teaches in Rom. 5 is that there is nothing that man can do to restore himself before God; this makes a Mediator absolutely necessary. This is why Paul says, There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. (Rom. 3:10, 11) We cannot do what we are required to do; so Someone must do it for us. And this is why, in another place, Paul writes, You were dead in your trespasses and sins... (Eph. 2:1). If we are dead, we cannot act, so Someone must act for us. And our inability to restore ourselves is why Jesus said, No man can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him. (John 6:44) Apart from the supernatural enabling of God, no sinner will ever desire or accomplish his reunion with God. We have to have a Mediator.
The third implication of Paul's teaching is that there is one and only one Mediator promised, identified and accepted by God; that Mediator is His own Son, Jesus Christ. And so, the Bible says, There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 2:5) And John writes, Christ Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) God has appointed only one Mediator for the whole human race. Only One fills this office and accomplishes what must be accomplished.
The fourth implication is this: if a son of Adam is to become a son of God, he must come through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. This is the message we find repeated in the Bible. Consequently, Paul says that we are justified as a gift of God's grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24); and, later in the same epistle, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) Because of what God has done for us in His Son, John wrote: See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. (1 John 3:1) Our salvation was an impossible goal for us. Jesus came to stand in the breach for us and reconcile us to God.
Covenant theology maintains these implications throughout the system. Consequently, whether we discuss evangelism, raising children, worshiping God, fulfilling our vocation or some other subject, the absolute necessity of a Mediator, with all of its ramifications, is always in the background. This great Biblical truth about our need of a Mediator is constantly influencing the conclusions we reach in all these areas and is constantly influencing the manner in which we seek to do our duty before the Lord in all these areas. The important issues I've just mentioned are not considered by themselves, but only in relation to what the Bible tells us about the human condition and God's provision of salvation. This is why covenant theology is recognized as a logical, well-ordered system of Biblical interpretation; it maintains the connections between the many doctrines of the Bible and the important questions we all face in life.
To use the examples I've just cited, the Bible's teaching about the necessity of a Mediator bears upon the question of how we raise our children. In covenant theology, our views about the family incorporate the human being's need of a Savior. The same thing can be said about evangelism or the worship of God. Covenant theology says that you cannot talk about evangelism properly unless you recognize man's unquestionable need of a Mediator. Covenant theology says that you cannot talk about the worship of God unless you recognize man's requirement of a Mediator. This is the beauty of covenant theology; it provides consistency and stability to every aspect of our Christian experience.
In the application, I want to offer a brief remark or two about Gen. 3:15. That verse records God's confrontation with the serpent and reveals what the entire course of human history is going to involve. The verse says: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. (The word translated enmity, by the way, simply means hatred; it comes from a word which means to be hostile, to treat like an enemy.) As we read this verse, recorded so early in human history, we cannot help but see that God's promise of a struggle between two parties is a description of the entire span of history.
As the centuries come and go, there is one monumental confrontation taking place; it is a confrontation between good and evil or, to be more precise, between Christ and anti-christ. This spiritual war rages on and is manifested in various smaller and less extensive local skirmisheslike a country's struggle to survive moral chaos or your personal battle with temptation. My point is, history, whether measured by centuries, decades, years, months or days, cannot be separated from the promise and purpose of God stated so plainly in Gen. 3:15.
Several things can happen to us when we lose sight of this truth. For example, confusion about the nature and direction of history is bound to exist if we forget the teaching of Gen. 3:15. Or, we might find ourselves unable to comprehend purpose for our own lives if we ignore Gen. 3:15. This verse explains what is going on in the world today; without it and all that it implies, which is the subject of the rest of the Bible, we are left without explanations, without hope. Without Gen. 3:15, we find ourselves moving swiftly into relativism. If history has no meaning, if history is nothing but a series of random episodes that bear no logical or purposeful relation to one another, then nothing has meaning. Man's only purpose then becomes his own satisfaction.
As a system of studying the Bible, covenant theology sees the truth of Gen. 3:15. The gospel of God's grace is governing all of history. Each day, year, decade, century and millennium is part of what God predicted. If this is true, then, of course, there are several useful conclusions. For example, Gen. 3:15 assures us that history does have purpose; it does make sense and it will have a point of termination. This verse also clearly distinguishes between the godly and the ungodly; there is no such thing as spiritual neutrality. In a sense, history is the sorting out process whereby the elect of God are identified and prepared for heaven while the non-elect are likewise identified and confirmed in their wickedness.
This verse gives hope. God leaves no doubt regarding the outcome of this struggle between Christ and anti-christ. Satan surely will be defeatedSatan surely has been defeated; there can be no other conclusion to history because God has spoken. Moreover, Gen. 3:15 prevents aimlessness in life. Why are you here? You are here to take part in the great spiritual war indicated by God. You are here to take your place in the ranks of Christ's army; you are here to take up the weapon of His gospel and destroy every lofty thing raised up against Him (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). This is our purpose as individuals, as families and as a congregation.
And, of course, Gen. 3:15 establishes the necessity of a Mediator, as I stated already. The promise made by God in this verse depends upon the enmity that would stand between the godly and the ungodly. How necessary is Christ the Mediator, therefore? History depends upon His existence; history is the record of His triumph over the crafty serpent who misled our first parents. Christ is not an addition to history or even a dominant figure in history; Christ is history. History is the account of the Mediator's work. History has three segments: the period before the Incarnation, during which the Mediator was anticipated and His work predicted; the period of the Incarnation, during which the essential work of Christ-the atonement-was accomplished, and the foundation was laid for a world-wide, visible organization that would broadcast news of that atonement to all people; and the period after the Incarnation, during which Christ is reigning and putting all His enemies under His feet in preparation for that great day when His kingdom will be handed over to God the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24 ff.).
You have to wonder how many Christians think this way. It's obvious that unbelievers don't think this wayjust look at the many opinions they offer regarding the nature and purpose of history. But, sadly, many of us have been deceived into thinking that there is regular history and then there is Church history, as though the latter takes place within the bounds of the former. This is an unbiblical notion. History is a unified whole, it is, as I've stated, the record of God's fulfillment of the promise made in Gen. 3:15. If more believers would start ordering their lives according the sure promise of Gen. 3:15, we would see extraordinary changes in the moral climate of our land and in the influence of the Church. As it stands now, however, the Church, by and large, is offering no challenge to the pagan concept of history and, therefore, is conceding the battle to the enemy. Unless this changes, it will remain for a future generation of Christians to take up the promise of Gen. 3:15 and correct the world's misunderstanding.
Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)
The Lord's Supper is testimony to us that God kept the promise made in Gen. 3:15. This sacrament portrays the once-for-all triumph of our Savior over Satan. It speaks to us of our release from the bondage of sin and of our part in all the blessings of redemption. This sacrament says that Jesus Christ, as the Second Adam, remained faithful in His covenant testing and, therefore, won for all of His people, forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.
The elements that we are about to receive represent the body and blood of the Savior. Their consumption symbolizes our dependence upon Christ for life and perseverance. As we partake of these elements together, our unity as a body, as a body with one Head, is emphasized. As you receive these elements, give thanks to God for the fulfillment of that promise He made so long ago in the Garden. Give thanks for the certainty that His promise brings to life. And examine your life to see whether you are participating as you should in the manifestation of this promise by presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, fit for God's use.