Heidelberg 36: Our Holy Mediator

When two people, social equals, are at odds with one another, the best thing to do is for one to approach the other to seek resolution and restoration. When, however, they do not have equal status, restoration becomes more complicated. When we change the equation to an all-holy, righteous God and a sinful human creature, the complication is infinitely intensified because God’s righteous anger against sin is infinite and eternal and we, collectively, are the guilty party. Our sin in Adam and our own actual sins deserve nothing less than eternal condemnation. God made us “in righteousness and true holiness” (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 6) so that we could obey his law. We had the natural ability to obey God. We confess, in Belgic Confession Art. 14, that we were created “capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God.” Mysteriously, tragically, and fatally we chose to disobey God, to make a false covenant (Caspar Olevianus) with Satan rather than to obey God, to keep covenant with him by obeying “the commandment of life” (Belgic Confession Art. 14). Had Adam obeyed he would have passed the probation (test) and entered into eternal fellowship with our God (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 6).

Because Adam sinned, we are all born dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1–4). By nature we are “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), idolaters (Gal 4:8), at war with God, given to all manner of wickedness (Gal 5:19–21). God is justly angry with us. It is only because of God’s mercy and grace that we do not experience the full effects of the fall constantly and immediately.

Christians, those who believe and profess the Christian faith, who are trusting in, resting on, and leaning upon Christ and his finished work for sinners, have a Mediator, a substitute, a go-between of the most extraordinary sort. If we have trouble at work we might ask a friend to go talk to our boss on our behalf but in this case, God the Son, who is true God of true God, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit (and yet personally distinct from both), took on our nature, a true human nature, and has become our Mediator. We did not go to God to seek a mediator. He took it upon himself. That’s free favor toward judgment-deserving sinners.

Jesus Christ is true God and true man and he took his true humanity from Virgin, by the miraculous operation (work) of the Holy Spirit. Thus, in question and answer 36 we confess:

36. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?

That He is our Mediator, and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, wherein I was conceived.

Christians rejoice in the holy conception and birth of Christ. We believe and accept the miracle on the evidence of Holy Scripture.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

God the Spirit is the Spirit of Holiness. He is pure. By his work the human nature that the Son took upon himself, in Mary’s womb, was utterly holy. It far exceeded all the Levitical requirements for holiness because it was no type (illustration) or foreshadowing of the Holy One of Israel to come. Jesus Christ is the Holy One of Israel (Isa 41:14). He is our Redeemer.

He did not come merely because we were human. Scotus was wrong. Our problem has never been mere finitude. God the Son would not have become incarnate even if we would not have fallen. No, he came for humans who are made in his image, who voluntarily became sinners and morally corrupt before God’s law and subject to his wrath. This is why we confess that all that Jesus did, he did not for himself but for us (pro nobis). He did not have to qualify himself. He was born qualified. This is why Hebrews 2:16–17 remind us that:

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He came not as an angel to help angels. He came with a true human nature to help fallen humans, who were unable and unwilling to help themselves. This is why he had to be made like us in every respect. This is why the early church, beginning in the apostolic period, had to contend so vigorously for both of Christ’s true natures: divine and human (1 John 4:2). The Jews could not believe that God would take on flesh and the Greeks could not believe that God would be a true man (1 Cor 1:23). Jesus confounded both groups and every one else.

An earthly mediator is important but “there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).  His holiness, purity, and righteousness was and is for me and for my sins and for you and yours, if you believe. He is our substitute, our representative, our holy Mediator. We need no other, not Mary the theotokos (θεοτοκος), nor the saints. Christ alone is utterly innocent and positively holy and righteous. He alone (not the blessed Virgin and not the saints) is our substitute. Only his righteousness imputed to us justifies and saves.

Here are all the posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.