Jesus Our Intercessor

When we want information, most of us turn to Google or perhaps another search engine. How did we live before the Internet? Does anyone even have a set of encyclopedias anymore? If you do, it was out of date before it was printed. I often do searches before writing or speaking but it certainly is buyer beware out there in information – or should I say misinformation – land. 

Case in point – if you want to know more about why and how Jesus is our intercessor, you will find articles and sermons that will lead you to believe this kind of conversation is taking place between God the Father and Jesus: 

Father: Look at her, she did it again. She knows better. Guess it’s time to lower the boom. 

Jesus: Aww dad, you know she’s trying. Please don’t forget she received forgiveness when I went to the cross, so don’t hold it against her. And I’m helping her, I really am. Give her another chance. 

Father: OK, you’re right. I’ll hold off for now. But get her in line, and the sooner the better!

The typical explanation is that while we were forgiven at the cross, we still need Jesus to stand up for us as we continue to sin and to remind God not to get angry. He intercedes, or pleads our case, just like a lawyer going before a not-too-happy judge. But is this really what it means when we say Jesus is interceding for us? 

Mixed in with the above scenario, I found this on gotquestions.org: “Advocates offer support, strength, and counsel and intercede for us when necessary. The Bible says that Jesus is an Advocate for those who’ve put their trust in Him: ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). In other verses, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our Advocate (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The English word advocate has been translated from the Greek word parakletos, which means ‘helper, adviser, or counselor.’” 

This makes much more sense in light of who God is and the finished work of the cross. The advocate we have in Jesus is not trying to talk the Father out of punishing us every time we sin, but is there to help us, give us advice and counsel us in the way of his kingdom of love. God knows we’ll sin again and again – that’s who we are – but he only wants what’s best for us and is there to help us finish the race Paul talked about, with the strength, courage and grace we have in Christ. 

Perhaps this is how the conversation goes: 

Father: Look at my beloved daughter. She’s doing so well, but she’s having trouble with that issue again. 

Jesus: Holy Spirit and I are with her every step of the way, encouraging and strengthening her. 

Father: Keep it up. You know how much I love her.

Jesus: Me too, Abba, me too.

Forgiveness and Confession

I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned (nothing wrong with that) as I like a lot of the old traditional hymns. They usually have lyrics with good theology and deep meaning, as well as interesting back stories. It’s also amusing that some of them use the music from drinking songs since many people singing them would already know the tunes.

I have no objection to contemporary worship songs until the theology veers off course (or phrases are repeated until they become mantras), as in the one we sang at church the other day. I was unfamiliar with it and don’t know the name, but one of the lines asked God to forgive us (the congregation or church, not sure which) for losing sight of the awesomeness of God (I think). I was distracted by the plea for forgiveness.

Before you get excited, let me explain why this bothered me, or rather, let Steve McVey, Trinitarian theologian, author and speaker, explain: “To confess my sin doesn’t mean I’m asking for forgiveness. Somebody’s going to mention 1 John 1:9, that’s what always pops out. That’s not to say I won’t confess, I won’t admit. ‘Confess’ means to agree, to say the same. I’m going to acknowledge it when I’ve sinned, but I don’t do it to get forgiveness, I do it because I’ve already gotten forgiveness. There’s a big difference between the two.

“1 John 1:9, if I can give an amplified explanation or paraphrase, might read like this: Since it’s the nature of the believer to constantly admit it when we’ve sinned, so is it the nature of God to constantly relate to us from a posture of forgiveness, keeping us cleansed of all unrighteousness. My part is that I admit it. What else am I going to do, lie? He knows. His part is to keep me in that state of constant forgiveness because of the work of the cross. What else is he going to do? It’s finished” (From an interview in Trinitarian Conversations Volume 2: Interviews with More Theologians (You’re Included), published by Grace Communion International).

As I like to say (and say often) on this blog, the words we use when talking about God are important. By using certain words and phrases, we can easily misrepresent him and who he is. Understanding that we don’t have to always beg and plead for forgiveness acknowledges the finished work of the cross and helps us live in the reality of his goodness.

God, Please Forgive Me

Sometimes we read or hear about our need to pray for God’s forgiveness. I just read that yesterday! It was in the context of how we need to confront our sins (as if we can do this on our own), and when we do, the Lord promises to forgive them, forget them and cleanse us. While there’s nothing wrong with being sorry for our sins and even asking for God’s forgiveness, do we need to be concerned he will withhold it? Depending on how it’s phrased, statements like this could leave one wondering if that’s the case. Is being forgiven dependent on how soon, how loudly, how heartfelt our prayers? And can we, as some believe, perform acts of penance to lessen the punishment or improve our chances of being forgiven?

When Jesus asked God to “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34, MSG), he was including more than those who screamed for his crucifixion and nailed him to the cross. He was asking forgiveness for all of us – everyone who has ever lived. When the Father answered that prayer, we were all included in his immeasurable grace, all covered by his blood of reconciliation.

Those who have accepted God’s love and forgiveness and are disciples of Jesus, learning and growing in grace, have no worries about whether God will be forgiving. We live under the sheltering wings of his forgiveness and grace. Those who have not accepted it need simply turn to him and away from their old, earthly selves and then revel in the love he poured out at the cross. No doubt about it!

How to forgive

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, and we are told to forgive in the same way. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s only real if it’s from our hearts.

Dallas Willard, in his book, Life Without Lack, said we make three errors when it comes to forgiveness. First, we tend to believe it requires reconciliation; second, we think we have to forget what happened; and third, we think we have to stop hurting. None of these are necessary.

We forgive by making the choice not to punish or seek revenge, which means we let people off the hook. It lets us off our own hook, too and frees us—from anger and bitterness—and allows us to love them the way God wants us to.

If we wait for reconciliation (which often never comes), tell ourselves we have to forget what happened (can’t do that) and wait to stop hurting (the pain might lessen, but will never go away), forgiveness will never happen, at least not in this life. Forgiveness is God’s way of life and his way to life (N.T. Wright) but doesn’t happen in our hearts without God’s help and much prayer. It is possible, even when it feels like it’s not, if we can avoid these mistakes and trust God to make it work.

God loves us more

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

Father & Mother with Newborn

When my son was little, I often gave him one hundred kisses on his forehead. Sometimes as I counted them out, he’d start squirming, so I held him tight until I finished. At other times, we’d play the “I love you more” game, going back and forth until usually I won by telling him and later, my daughter, I loved them the most. Most parents love their children so much they would do anything for them. We would rather be sick than watch them suffer. We would take the proverbial bullet for them rather than watch them die.

Some believe God the Father of all humankind only loves his children after they declare, in acts of contrition and repentance, they love him too. But that’s not how it works with human parents and it’s not how it works with God. We love our children before they’re ever conceived and God loved every man, woman and child before the foundation of the world. He doesn’t wait for someone to say the “sinner’s prayer” or stop sinning or even understand what sin is. He loved us first, best and most.

When you believe God can’t love you until you repent, your theology (what you believe about God) says he can’t love us as much as we love our children. If my child said he or she hated me (which happens, especially with teenagers) or ran away, never wanting to see me again, I wouldn’t stop loving him or her. I wouldn’t turn off the porch light. I would never stop hoping for reconciliation and would do everything in my power to bring them back.

God did just that. He loved the world so much he became a human being and took the bullet for us. He has already forgiven all. Just as loving parents never give up on their children, God never gives up on any of his children. His love is stronger than we can imagine and he proved his determination to reconcile with us by going to the cross. He loves us more!

God already forgave

“Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven'” (Matthew 9:2, NLT).

Sorry on Survival / Australia DayAn old movie called Love Story made this line somewhat famous: “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” After many years of marriage and two children, I believe that’s not true. Husbands and wives need to say they’re sorry when they hurt each other. It’s good for kids to apologize to their parents and siblings. Saying you’re sorry makes relationships work a lot better.

God likes hearing us say it too, but it’s not necessary to continually beg and plead for forgiveness. The paralytic in this verse didn’t even ask for it and Jesus forgave him, simply because of the faith of his friends. Before we ever asked for it, Jesus forgave us from the cross. It’s just not true that Jesus withholds his forgiveness—the first time we come to him or the thousandth time—unless or until we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes or perform bloody acts of contrition. As his beloved children, saying we’re sorry is more for our benefit than his. His love means we’re forgiven; our love back to him means saying we’re sorry (again) and thank you (again).