Thursday, September 10, 2020

Special 2020 City Notes | Gentle & Lowly: What Our Sin Evokes in Him Who Intercedes & Advocates for Us to the Uttermost

The Bible says that when God looks at His people's sinfulness, His transcendent holiness—His God-ness, His very divinity, that about God which makes Him not us—is what makes Him unable to come down on His people in wrath (see Hosea 11:7-9). We tend to think that because He is God and not us, the fact that He is holy renders it all the more certain that He will visit wrath on His sinful people. Once more, we are corrected; we are brought out from under our natural ways of creating God in our own image, and we allow God Himself to tell us who He is. + Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly 

In the previous post, "Gentle & Lowly Good News: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers," I shared an introduction to how Dane Ortlund captures the gentle and lowly heart of Christ in Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers anchored in 3 key Scripture texts:

I am gentle and lowly in heart. + Jesus (Matthew 11:29) 
(Jesus) can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward (Hebrews 5:2). 
Whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. + Jesus (John 6:37)

These verses, this book, and the additional excerpts below in this post are for us, anyone who is part of ...

... the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes. ... Those of us who find ourselves thinking: "How could I mess up that bad again?" It is for that increasing suspicion that God's patience with us is wearing thin. For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed Him. Who have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if—as for us—He harbors mild resentment. Who wonder if we shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired. ... Who have been swept off our feet by perplexing pain and are wondering how we can keep living under such numbing darkness.

If that feels like you, or that intrigues you to learn more about such a Christ who dives deeper into our selfishness, apathy, greed, hatred, violence and sin in order to rescue us, I invite you to keep reading the adapted excerpts below from Chapter 7: What Our Sins Evoke, Chapter 8: To the Uttermost, and Chapter 9: An Advocate

Chapter 7: What Our Sins Evoke: Hosea 11:8-9 " ... My compassion grows warm and tender. ... I will not come in wrath.

There is nothing uncontrolled or disproportionate in God. The reason we feel as if divine wrath (i.e. His good, true, and faithful response to evil with justice) can easily be overstated is that we do not feel the true weight of sin. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, reflecting on this, said:

You will never make yourself feel that you are a sinner, because there is a mechanism in you as a result of sin that will always be defending you against every accusation. We are all on very good terms with ourselves, and we can always put up a good case for ourselves. Even if we try to make ourselves feel that we are sinners, we will never do it. There is only one way to know that we are sinners, and that is to have some dim, glimmering conception of God.

In other words, we don't feel the weight of our sin because of: our sin. If we saw with deeper clarity just how insidious and pervasive and revolting sin is—and, as Lloyd-Jones suggests above, we can see this only as we see the beauty and holiness of God—we would know that human evil calls for an intensity of justice and judgment of divine proportion. ... And just as we can hardly fathom the divine justice and faithful response awaiting those out of Christ, it is equally true that we can hardly fathom the divine tenderness already resting now on those in Christ. We might feel a little bashful or uncomfortable or even guilty in emphasizing God's tenderness as intensively as His wrath. But the Bible feels no such discomfort. Consider Romans 5:20: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by His abounding grace.

When we sin, the very heart of Christ is drawn out to us. This may cause us to cringe. If Christ is perfectly holy, must He not necessarily withdraw from sin? Here we enter in to one of the profoundest mysterious of who God in Christ is. Not only are holiness and sinfulness mutually exclusive, but Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could—just as the purer a man's heart, the more horrified he is at the thought of his neighbors being robbed or abused. Conversely, the more corrupt one's heart, the less one is affected by the evils all around. Carry the analogy a little further. Just as the purer a heart, the more horrified at evil, so also the purer a heart, the more it is naturally drawn out to help and relieve and protect and comfort, whereas a corrupt heart sits still, indifferent. So with Christ. His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting that any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws His heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort.

In the key text on divine holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8), that holiness (6:3) flows naturally and immediately into forgiveness and mercy (6:7). Thomas Goodwin explains as he brings to a close his book The Heart of Christ ...

Christ takes part with you, and is so far from being provoked against you, as all His anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, His pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a part of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the area, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. ... 

If you are part of Christ's own body, your sins evoke His deepest heart, His compassion and pity. He "takes part with you"—that is, He's on your side. He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin (because it erodes, infects, abuses, deceives, isolates, violates, destroys, murders). But He loves you. We understand this, says Goodwin, when we consider the hatred a father has against a terrible disease afflicting his child—the father hates the disease while loving the child. Indeed, at some level the presence of the disease draws out his heart to his child all the more. 

This is not to ignore the disciplinary side of Christ's care for His people. The Bible clearly teaches that our sins draw forth the discipline of Christ (e.g., Hebrews 12:1-11). He would not truly love us if that were not true. But even this is a reflection of His great heart for us. When a body part has been injured, it requires the pain and labor of physical therapy. But that physical therapy is not punitive; it is intended to bring healing. It is out of care for that limb that the physical therapy is assigned. ...

It is not our loveliness that wins His love. It our unloveliness (e.g., Hosea 11:7-9). Our hearts gasp to catch up with this. It is not how the world around us works. It is not how our own hearts work. But we bow in humble submission, letting God set the terms by which He will love us.

Chapter 8: To the Uttermost: Hebrews 7:25: Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Justification is tied to what Christ did in the past. Intercession is what He is doing in the present. Think of it this way. Christ's heart is a steady reality flowing through time ... And the present manifestation of His heart for His people is His constant interceding on their behalf ... Intercession applies what the atonement accomplished. Christ's present heavenly intercession on our behalf is a reflection of the fullness and victory and completeness of His earthly work. In the past, Jesus did what He now talks about; in the present, Jesus talks about what He then did. This is why the New Testament weds justification and intercession, such as in Romans 8:33-34:

"Who then shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right of God, who indeed is interceding for us."

The atoning work of the Son was something the Father and the Son delightedly agreed to together in eternity past. Christ does not intercede because the Father's heart is tepid toward us but because the Son's heart is so full toward us. 

The Father's own deepest delight is to say yes to the Son's pleading on our behalf. Jesus' posture right now as He is in heaven, His disposition, His deepest desire, is to pour His heart out on our behalf before the Father. The intercession of Christ is His heart connecting our heart to the Father's heart ... "Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25) ... " The phrase "to the uttermost" is one Greek word (panteles). It's a word denoting comprehensiveness, completeness, exhaustive wholeness. What is the point of saying Christ saves "to the uttermost"? We who know our hearts understand. We are to-the-uttermost sinners. We need a to-the-uttermost Savior. Christ doesn't merely help us. He saves us ... even in that one deep, dark part of our lives, even our present lives, that seems so intractable, so ugly, so beyond recovery. "To the uttermost" in Hebrews 7:25 means: God's forgiving, redeeming, restoring touch reaches down into the darkest crevices of our souls, those places where we are most ashamed, most defeated. More than this: those crevices of sin are themselves the places where Christ loves us the most. His heart willingly goes there. His heart is most strongly drawn there. He knows us to the uttermost, and He saves us to the uttermost, because His heart is drawn out to us to the uttermost. We cannot sin our way out of His tender care. He never disengages. He never lets go, wishing us well, hoping we can glide the rest of the way into heaven. He carries us all the way. One way to think of Christ's intercession, then, is simply this: Jesus is praying for you right now. "It is a consoling thought," wrote theologian Louis Berkhof, "that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life." Our prayer life stinks most of the time. But what if you heard Jesus praying aloud for you in the next room? Few things would calm us more deeply.

Chapter 9: An Advocate: 1 John 2:1: If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Intercession is something Christ is always doing, while advocacy is something He does as occasion calls for it. Apparently He intercedes for us given our general sinfulness, but He advocates for us in the case of specific sins. John Bunyan in his The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate explains it like this:

+ Christ, as Priest, goes before, and Christ, as an Advocate, comes after. 
+ Christ, as Priest, continually intercedes: Christ, as Advocate, in case of great transgressions, pleads. 
+ Christ, as Priest, has need to act always, but Christ, as Advocate, sometimes only. 
+ Christ, as Priest, acts in time of peace; but Christ, as Advocate, in times of broils, turmoils, and sharp contentions; wherefore, Christ as Advocate, as I may call Him, a reserve, and His time is then to arise, to stand up and plead, when His own are clothed with some filthy sin that of late they have fallen into. 

Note the personal nature of Christ's advocacy.
It is not a static point of His work. His advocacy rears up when occasion requires it. ... Yes, we fail Christ as His disciples. But His advocacy on our behalf rises higher than our sins. His advocacy speaks louder than our failures. All is taken care of. When you sin, remember your legal standing before God because of the work of Christ; but remember also your advocate before God because of the heart of Christ.

Consider your own life. How do you think about Jesus's attitude toward that dark pocket of your life that only you know? The over-dependence on alcohol. The lost temper, time and again. The shade business about your finances. The inveterate people-pleasing that looks to others like niceness but which you know to be fear of man. The entrenched resentment that bursts out in behind-the-back accusations. The habitual use of pornography. Who is Jesus, in those moments of spiritual blankness? Not: Who is He once you conquer that sin, but who is He in the midst of it? The apostle John says: He stands up and defies all accusers. "Satan had the first word, but Christ the last," wrote Bunyan. "Satan must be speechless after a plea of our Advocate." Jesus is our Paraclete (i.e. Helper, Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Companion), our comforting defender, the one nearer than we know, and His heart is such that He stands and speaks in our defense when we sin, not after we get over it. In that sense His advocacy is itself our conquering of it.

We are indeed called to forsake our sins, and no healthy Christian would suggest otherwise. When we choose to sin, we forsake our true identity as a child of God, we invite misery into our lives, and we displease our heavenly Father. We are called to mature into deeper levels of personal holiness as we walk with the Lord, truer consecration, new vistas of obedience. 

But when we don'twhen we choose to sin—though we forsake our true identity, our Savior does not forsake us. These are the very moments when His heart erupts on our behalf in renewed advocacy in heaven with a resounding defense that silences all accusations, astonishes the angels, and celebrates the Father's embrace of us in spite of all our messiness. Fallen humans are naturally defensive. It flows out of us. Self-exonerating, self-defending. We do not need to teach young children to make excuses when they are caught misbehaving. There is a natural built-in mechanism that immediately kicks into gear to explain why it wasn't really their fault. Our fallen hearts intuitively manufacture reasons that our case is not really that bad. The fall is manifested not only in our sinning but in our response to our sinning. We minimize, we excuse, we explain away. In short, we speak, even if only in our hearts, in our defense ... but what if we never needed to defend ourselves because Another had undertaken to do so? What if that Advocate knew exhaustively just how fallen we are, and yet at the same time was able to make a better defense for us than we ever could? No blame shifting or excuses, the way our self-advocates tend to operate, but perfectly just, pointing to His all-sufficient sacrifice and sufferings on the cross in our place? We would be free. Free of the need to defend ourselves, to bolster our sense of worth through self-contribution, to quietly parade before others our virtues in painful subconscious awareness of our inferiorities and weaknesses. We can leave our case to be made by Christ ...

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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