The Gift of an IntercessorPastor Lutzer | February 21, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus physically left Earth, but He didn’t abandon us. He hears our prayers and serves as our Intercessor before the Father.
He can do this because of what He accomplished as the sinless, perfect sacrifice for our sin. He understands our requests because He was personally tested like we are. Jesus Christ is still our Savior, caring for each one of His sheep.
Well, if you know anything about me you do know that I love to engage people in religious topics, hoping for an opportunity to talk about Christ. And when I do this I never have an argument. Once it came close – maybe twice – but I never have an argument (There’s no use doing that.), always being respectful. The Bible says we should respect those with different opinions, and if we don’t respect them why should we listen to them or they listen to us?
One day I was in a cab with a Muslim driver and I just asked a random question. It was somewhat random. I said, “Muhammad has been dead now for several centuries. What do you think he is doing? What is his occupation? What is he up to?” The driver thought for a moment and said, “Nobody knows, and nobody can find out.” So I pointed out that it is really different than Jesus because we know that Jesus didn’t stop being the shepherd of His sheep when He went to heaven. In fact, He continues it today. Jesus didn’t stop being a redeemer when He died on the cross, was raised, and went to heaven. He continues His redemption work.
We don’t know everything that Jesus does for sure, but we do have some insights as to what Jesus is doing today. The Bible speaks about Him as being our advocate, that is, one who defends us. It speaks about Him being our intercessor, and our mediator. We know that Jesus is doing that.
This is actually the sixth in a series of messages titled The Inheritance of the Redeemed – Blessings That Belong to All Those Who Put Their Faith in Christ. And today’s blessing – we are going to sail to the heavenlies. And when it’s over I believe that your life is going to be changed. The contexts in which we are going to look at Scripture are the contexts really of persecution. Christians found the pressure to live for Christ so strong that they were tempted to give up the faith, just like we sometimes find that pressure today, though we have no idea what all the saints in the past have endured. In fact, it’s written to those who are going through periods of doubt. Is Jesus really all that He claimed to be? Can we hang in when life gets difficult?
I hope that at the end of this message you’ll realize that you can hang in when life gets difficult. I hope you also realize that if you are planning to sin (and some of you may be planning to sin this coming week) that you recognize that that is such an indictment regarding the Savior, whom we are going to expound upon, that sin is never a good idea. I hope we learn all that and more.
We’re going to use two passages of Scripture and we have to use both. Both of them are in the book of Hebrews. And I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Hebrews chapter 4 and also chapter 7. It’s the last verses in chapter 4 of Hebrews, and the last verses of chapter 7. In my Bible there’s only a page between. I’m going to take time to actually read these verses. I’m picking it up in chapter 4, verse 14: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Now chapter 7! Just turn the page to verse 23: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 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. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
The reason I am using both passages of Scripture today is both of them have to do with the advocacy of Jesus, Jesus as intercessor. And today I may be using the word advocate and intercessor interchangeably because they essentially mean the same thing.
Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to give you four characteristics of Jesus as our intercessor, and then we’ll talk about the implications – the life changing implications – and we’re going to be using both passages in the process. I hope that our intention here is very clear.
The first characteristic of Jesus as our intercessor is that He is sinless. You’ll notice that we read it there in chapter 7: “We have a high priest who is holy, innocent, undefiled, unstained.” And in chapter 4 it says He was tempted like we are, but without sin. The sinlessness of Jesus!
Now we must understand that Jesus had a fully human body, mind and soul – totally, completely one-hundred percent human. You know, that explains why sometimes he made statements that are mysterious to us, for example, that he didn’t know when he was going to return to earth. He said, “Nobody knows that. The angels don’t. The Son of Man doesn’t. Just the Father knows. And you read that and you say, “Well, didn’t Jesus have omniscience?” As God He did, and sometimes he displayed that omniscience, but oftentimes He was thinking of Himself and operating in the incarnation, not depending upon His divine attributes. And that explains also why He even made the statement once, “My Father is greater than I.” Well, not in essence! We know that, but greater in the particular incarnation that Jesus was experiencing. But He was totally sinless.
Now I’ve told this story many times. It’s probably the last time you will hear it, but it’s necessary, especially for students who are here. You remember that at The Parliament of World Religions how I’ve told you how I went down in the Palmer House where there were about a hundred different religions with their various propaganda and information. And I went on a search for a sinless Savior. I went to the Buddhists. No, Buddha didn’t claim sinlessness but enlightenment. Bahá'u'lláh! I already knew as I went to the table regarding Islam that in the Quran, Muhammad indicated that he also had sinned and needed forgiveness.
Here I am! I’m looking for a sinless Savior, and I explained that to the people, and they had very blank looks on their faces. When I said, “I’m a sinner and I’m looking for a sinless Savior, because another sinner can’t save me. I need somebody who is above the battle.” I mean in Florida there was a toddler who fell into a swimming pool. The grandmother, in desperation, hopped in after the toddler. Both of them drowned because neither of them could swim, and that’s the way the religions of the world are.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but other religions say this: “Look, I’m a sinner but I’m telling you how to live. Let’s join hands and go to the bottom of the lake together, enjoying it to the extent that we can.” We are sinners and we need somebody to save us who is sinless. Jesus meets that qualification. And I also believe that that’s why He was virgin born – to protect His sinlessness.
Alright, first of all, Jesus is sinless. Secondly, He is sympathetic. We read it there in chapter 4 when it says, “We do not have a high priest (This is verse 15 I think.) who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He can sympathize with us. Tempted in all points!
Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that Jesus experienced every single temptation that human beings ever would experience. That’s not possible. For example, he’d have never experienced a temptation that perhaps a woman has (because Jesus wasn’t a woman) or a married man. And so what it means is that Jesus experienced the essence of temptation for all of us. And what was the essence of temptation? We see in the book of Matthew that the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove upon Jesus, and the Father says, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and immediately after that the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And He is tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, just like we are. But His temptation always… Remember this about the devil. His great desire is to separate you from fellowship with the Father. He doesn’t care what sin it is. What he wants to do is to make you question God’s goodness. He did this in the Garden of Eden. You know, “Would a good God restrict you so that you can’t eat of the fruit of the tree of the garden? Of course not! A good God wouldn’t do that. A good God wouldn’t restrict you the way He does morally and in other ways.” And so what you want to do is to argue against the goodness of God and drive a wedge between you and God. That’s why Satan is a splitter. He wants to split you from God. Jesus experienced that. But because He was pure, He experienced that in a way that you and I will never have to experience it with a tremendous amount of pressure. None of us, for example, have ever been in such agony that we have sweat drops of blood. But Luke says Jesus did that. So He experienced the great trials and the great pressures.
You say, “Could He have sinned?” No, I don’t believe that Jesus could have sinned for the obvious reason that His deity and his humanity were united in such a way that He could not have sinned as man without also tainting the divine nature. They were brought together in a way by which He couldn’t sin. But yet, He experienced the temptations powerfully, and that’s why He can sympathize with us. That’s what the Scripture says. Jesus feels your pain.
You know, if you had two pianos together, and you hit Middle C on one piano, and there’s another piano in the room, the other piano will pick up that kind of resonance, that kind of sympathetic resonance. Jesus picks up on your pain, and He can say, “I know what the temptation is. I know what the trials are. I have been through all that and I understand in a very special way what you are enduring.”
So the cries on the earth have sympathy – resonance if you please – in heaven. That’s why when the Apostle Paul, you remember, was accosted on the way to Damascus, Jesus came to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? You persecute my church; you are hurting Me.” And throughout the world today where there is persecution of Christians, Jesus is entering into their pain, into their loss, into their loneliness because He knows what it’s like experientially to go through pain and loss and difficulty.
So Jesus here is saying to us as we think about Him… We’ve covered two characteristics. First of all, He is sinless. And secondly He is sympathetic. By the way, these four characteristics all begin with the letter “S.” Normally they don’t in my sermons, but today they do. It just happens that it fell out that way. You know the sermon came down from heaven already made. (chuckles) Wouldn’t that be easy if it did?
He’s sinless. He’s sympathetic. He’s sacrificial. Now notice what the text says in Hebrews 7:23. We’re again back in chapter 7. It says that, “The former priests were many in number because they were prevented by death.” Death has a way of ending your career.
By the way if you ever meet somebody who is complaining about old age, encourage them by reminding them that old age does come to an end. Yeah, it comes to an end. They were prevented from living forever because of death, and so there had to be many priests. So one of the contrasts is between many priests and this high priest who lives forever, as the text says. And it’s not just that. It’s many sacrifices. They offered many sacrifices, and Jesus… You have to read these verses for yourself, but in verse 27 of this passage, it says that He offered Himself once for all because His was the final sacrifice and the only sacrifice that really took away sins, and all the other sacrifices pointed toward it. So Jesus is the sacrificing intercessor, the third characteristic.
And the other is this: All the other priests stood. There were no chairs at the altar, and so they worked in three shifts of eight hours apiece because if you were to sit down, that would imply that your work was done. But God wanted to say in the Old Testament, “Your work is never done because there’s this river of sin that needs to be taken care of continually, and so it is what it is.” And Jesus sat down.
I’ve mentioned this before, but again you should keep these things in your mind so that you can witness to people and answer some of their objections. You don’t have to answer all of them. But if somebody says to you, “Well, you know this idea of demanding a sacrifice, other gods demanded that too and you can go on the Internet and you can see it,” the answer that you need to give to people is simply this. There is no other religion in which God becomes the sacrifice. This is so critical that Jesus not only was the priest, He was the priest that offered sacrifices. “Jesus,” the text tells us here, at the end of verse 27, “once for all offered Himself.” He becomes the sacrifice. You know, sheep often lay down their lives for the shepherd. This is the one instance in which the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He is the sacrifice, and that sacrifice is the blood of Christ which takes away the sin of the world.
So we have Jesus sinless. We have Him sympathetic. We have Him sacrificial. And now, it’s very critical, He is seated at the right hand of God. Why is that important? Listen, if you had a dispute with the President of the United States, you know, you could say, “Well, Mr. President, we have this dispute. I am bringing my own mediator to help us negotiate this.” I think the President would say, “No, no, that’s not acceptable. If we’re going to have a mediator here (and sometimes it’s good), I’m going to supply the mediator.” So not any old mediator is going to do. It is God who is going to supply that mediator, and that mediator has a right to be the mediator because after His work was done, He was taken to heaven, and He is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
Now it’s very interesting that in the Old Testament when a priest was going to offer the final sacrifice, or when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies, as he did one day a year, he had to basically go through three entrances. The first entrance got him into the court of the people, the general court. And then there was an entrance into what we call the Holy Place. And then there was the curtain and he had to go behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies where the mercy seat was. And what the Bible says is that this Ark of the Covenant and this whole tabernacle is actually a copy of the tabernacle in heaven. That’s what it says in the ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews.
So you see, what Jesus did is when He ascended on high, He went through, first of all, the atmospheric heavens (the birds of the heaven), and then He went through the stellar heavens where all the stars are. And then He went into the third heaven, which is really the essence of where God dwells. Now God is everywhere, but there’s a sense in which God is localized to one place, and it’s that upper heaven that Jesus went to.
But furthermore, the Scripture says in Hebrews 9 that He passed through the heavens. Well I’m reading it here: “For Christ has entered not to the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things that are in heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” You see, Jesus went there to appear before God. Some people actually believe that He took His own physical blood to heaven because it goes on in context talking about how things have to be purified by blood. I don’t believe that Jesus took physical blood into heaven. When it says that He ascended into heaven, not by the blood of bulls and goats but by His own blood, I think it means on the basis of His own blood. But He goes there and He is seated at the right hand of God, the Father.
Now it’s very interesting that about ten times in the New Testament Jesus is spoken of as seated at the right hand of God, where God dwells in the third heaven. And there’s only once, however, where it says that He was standing, and all of you know exactly where it is. It’s in the book of Acts where Stephen is being stoned, and the Bible says that the heavens opened and Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It was as if Jesus was saying, “Stephen, those rocks really hurt. I know that you are going to be in pain. Dying is no fun. You’re going to have a very rough ride, but you’re going to have a very safe landing because when you get here I’m waiting for you.” (applause)
And while we’re talking about Jesus entering into the holy place and into heaven itself in the very Holy of Holies which exists in heaven, let me remind you that it’s a beautiful, beautiful metaphor, you know. I’m drawing this now from the last part of the sixth chapter of Hebrews. You can read it on your own but don’t turn to it now. I’m going to tell you what it says. It says that Jesus has entered into heaven (He passed through the heavens.) as our forerunner, having entered into heaven for us.
You know what the imagery is. In olden times when a boat was coming into shore and there were so many rocks that were along the shoreline, a forerunner would hop in the water, swim to shore, and then by means of a rope and a very ancient winch, would draw that boat into the harbor. He was the forerunner. “I’m ahead of you and I’m making sure that you get where I have gone.” Jesus never expects us to go to a place where He hasn’t gone. He died and he says, “I’m the forerunner, and I’m preparing a place for you, and so forth,” because He’s the one, you see. And meanwhile our boats creek. The wind blows. We think to ourselves that we can’t endure this. But the forerunner runs ahead of us and says, “I know you can make it because I made it, and I’m here for you as your forerunner.” Jesus, having accomplished it all in heaven, sits down. “My work is done. It’s all finished. I still have a responsibility. I intercede for you. But the work is done.”
Now, do you remember the four characteristics here of the intercessor? Do you remember them? I do, I think. Let’s review them. First of all, He is sinless. Secondly, He is sympathetic. Third, He is a sacrifice. And fourth, He is seated. Now what difference should that make to us? And why is it that God intends that we leave this place differently than we came? That’s the issue before us.
Just two very quick applications that I want to make! The first is simply that we have access to Jesus Christ. Now, once again, we’re in chapter 4. I’m sorry that I’m making you go back and forth, but that’s the way it is. You’ll notice that it says in verse 15 and following: “We have this high priest who is able to sympathize in our weakness.” Verse 16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When we come with confidence to the throne (not of a God who revels in naked power, though He has power, and not to a God who is indifferent), if we could visualize the throne we’d have to see a flag flying that says, “Mercy and grace.” Why mercy? That’s where the mercy seat is, where Jesus has entered into that mercy seat.
You say, “Well you know, if Jesus is this great high priest, if He intercedes for us, and picks up our cause, why doesn’t He deliver us from all of our trials? Why doesn’t He heal everybody? Why doesn’t do all of this?”
It’s been my experience that almost never (though sometimes) does God deliver us from trials. The mercy and the grace is to get us through those trials, continuing to trust God – just like we sang Through it all, through it all. And God is there for us, not by delivering us from our many trials, but saying, “You can be faithful in the midst of those trials because I will grant you grace. And when you sin you have mercy,” because we come now to the mercy seat. This isn’t just an experience of some high priest in the Old Testament who went in one day a year. When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple was, of course, rent from top to bottom, proving that God did it. And He now says, “Come! Come to the Holy of Holies.” And you come and you’ll receive mercy, and you’ll receive grace to help in time of need.
Have you come recently or do you just kind of throw up the prayers to God, not knowing whether or not He’s going to hear them? The text says that we come with confidence, and we have this confidence because we are sure that we are heard because of our intercessor, and we’re coming in His name and for the glory of God. Your cry to God is heard. We come with confidence because of Jesus Christ. It is worth it all.
So first of all, we have access. Secondly, we have an advocate – as I say, advocate/intercessor. Now your Bibles are open to chapter 7. Have you enjoyed going back and forth, or are you on your phone a little bit confused? You’ll notice it says, as we talk about this, in verse 24: “But He holds his priesthood permanently because He continues forever.” Yes, Jesus died, but He was raised again, and He permanently, by the way, is going to be a man in heaven forever. We’ll see the nail prints. “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.” That word uttermost can be translated, “He saves completely or He saves eternally.” Either way, it’s completely true. He is really able to be an effective Savior because He died and He makes intercession. And I’m speaking to people today that if you were honest about your background and what you’ve done, you know that you’ve done some pretty terrible things. God, through Christ, is able to save you completely and eternally. And the depth of your sin is not a barrier to His grace and His ability to save. He can save the vilest of sinners if they believe on Him. So let that invitation be to you no matter where you are, and accept Christ as your redeemer.
Now, what does it mean to us to have an intercessor? I’m going to tell you the story of a pastor. Of course, it’s a true story. He told it in a meeting and I asked him for a copy of his notes at this point. I’m going to be reading and paraphrasing his experience. Listen carefully. I’m not giving you his name, but he says,
Several months ago I made a trip to Dallas, and while I was there I attended the opening day for a trial of a friend of mine. He’d been a friend for 12 years. His pastor led him to faith in Christ, but there was a side to his life he could not walk away from, and it caught up with him.
I was sitting in a court room when an attorney came over to me and asked whether I would be a character witness for him, and I said, “Yes, I would do whatever I could.”
Well, there was a turn in the case, and tapes were exposed and they exposed a part of his life that no one knew about. And now they called because they were desperate for me to be a character witness. All of his other friends had stepped away, but I’d given my word. I was struggling. I got mad, and fussed for two days at my wife. I was torn about keeping my word, and on the other hand, looking like an idiot, speaking for the guy’s character when it was all on tape and he was a questionable character.
I was on the phone the night before at 11 in the evening with their lawyers, that is the man and his wife, and they insisted that I come. So I got up and I was at the airport by 5 o’clock in the morning to fly to Dallas.
I got to Dallas airport or the Dallas courthouse and rode up the elevator and went through the censors into the court room when the guy behind the counter said, “The trial is over. It’s been rested. It’s finished.”
He said, “I was fit to be tied. Here I’d come all this way to keep my word and embarrass myself, and now the whole trip was for nothing. Now I’d lost a day or more. I met with the couple, trying to hide how upset I was, and left for the airport to catch the next flight back home. I was furious.”
Now I’m going to warn you that this ends with the pastor weeping in an aisle seat on American Airlines. I’m warning you because when I heard him tell the story, I know I couldn’t hold back the tears. And it’s okay, you know, to cry once in a while. So maybe I will. Maybe you will. I don’t know. But let’s continue the story.
I was furious, but sitting in that aisle seat in coach on American Airlines at 34,000 feet, God spoke to me.
And this is what God said to him.
“You know, you’re pretty mad, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, and I have a right to be.”
“I just want you to know that (God is speaking.) one day you are going to be standing in a much bigger courtroom, and I am going to be your judge, and I’ve got tapes on you. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a pack of DVDs and they are all in HD. Everything you have ever done, everything that you have ever said publicly or privately – I’ve got it all. When you stand before Me would you want somebody to speak up on your behalf? Would you want somebody to plead your case in my presence?”
The pastor said, “By now I was in a puddle of goo in that airline seat. I couldn’t even respond to God. I was so ashamed of myself.”
And God continued to say, “And look at how good I am to you. I allowed you to go to Dallas to keep your word, and then kept you from getting on a stand and embarrassing yourself, and now look at how mad you are.”
Let me ask you when you are standing before God and the tapes are rolling, would you want Jesus there to defend you? I sure do. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again and is even now on the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us.”
I’m glad that when I die that I’m going to have a character witness who is going to say, “It’s all true but because of my death and because of the blood that I shed, he is acquitted. Don’t you want an intercessor like that? (applause)
Dearly beloved, these things I write unto you that you sin not. But if you sin, you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.”
Charles Wesley wrote:
Five bleeding wounds He bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
They strongly speak for me.
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away
The Presence of His Son.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
He tells me I am born of God.
To God I’m reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child,
I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh.
And Father, Abba, Father, cry.
It’s all because of Jesus, our advocate, for sinners who receive Him. Have you received Him? Somebody here in the front said yes. A couple of others! Have you received Him? You can clap if you have. (applause)
I’m glad that when I stand before God I have an advocate with the Father who is going to plead my case.
Father, we pray that You might save those who need to be saved. Show them their sin. Show them, Father, why they need an advocate. Show them why they need a Savior. Show them why Jesus is the only one qualified to be that advocate, because He is sinless, He is sympathetic, He is sacrificial, and He is seated there on our behalf. We ask, Lord, work in people’s hearts.
And if you have never received Christ as Savior you could do that even now. If God has talked to you, you say, “Yes, I want Christ as my Savior, as my advocate, because I know He’s got the tapes.” We thank You, Father, that Jesus is such a friend.