The First Commandment
Chapter 6 – Our Great High Priest
The First Commandment teaches that we are to worship God alone. There is no room in our theology, in our worship, or in our lives for a plurality of gods. The God of the Bible is the only God, His truth is the only truth, and His word is the only revelation of that truth. The implications of this command for worship are significant. Worship is a moment aside from everyday life – a moment in which the presence of this One True God is clearly evident. God reveals Himself in worship, we meet with Him, and we remember that there is no other like Him. Biblical worship reconfirms our monotheistic convictions.
The 1689 Confession of Faith, following the wording of the Westminster Confession, addresses this in the chapter on worship as follows: “Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creatures; and since the fall, not without a mediator, nor in the mediation of any other but Christ alone.” The first part of that seems obvious. We worship the Triune God, not His creatures, even if some of His creatures seem like really, really good people to us. This is just another point (and there are so many) at which Catholicism departs from lawful Christianity.
But why does the Confession address the mediation of Christ at this point? It is as if the writers of the Confession equated the issue of worshiping One God with that of worshiping through One Mediator. Is the sole mediatorship of Christ a First Commandment issue, as the Confession suggests? In fact, it simply quotes I Timothy 2:5, in which we learn that we may only approach God through God’s Son.
Paul was giving the final answer to the age old need, once expressed so longingly by Job, for someone who can stand between God and man and mediate between them. Scripture teaches that our sin has decisively severed us from any contact with God. If we are to approach Him, to worship Him as we must, we need someone to serve as a mediator. We need a go-between who can take our sins out of the picture and make it possible for us to interact with the Holy God.
Priests served that function in the Old Testament, but they did so imperfectly. They, too, were sinners, so they could not mediate on behalf of Israel until they first addressed the problem of their own sin. (Hebrews 7:27) Today, though, a Great High Priest has come, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only perfect Mediator between God and man, and through whose mediation alone we may worship.
What is so remarkable about Paul’s answer is the person of the mediator. Our mediator is not merely another man like us, nor is He an angel out of heaven. Rather He is the Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ – God the Son. Paul refers to Him in the context of mediatorship as “the man Christ Jesus,” emphasizing His sympathetic position as one of us. But this verse, which begins with a classic reaffirmation of monotheism, is actually the conclusion of a remarkable series Trinitarian references beginning in chapter 1.
The first two verses of this letter are sufficient to explode any sub-Christian view of Jesus. Paul is “an apostle of Christ Jesus,” meaning literally that he was “sent by Jesus,” but this is “according to the command of God…” Who sent him? Jesus, or God? Furthermore, God is here called “our Savior,” a designation usually reserved for Jesus. He goes on to say, “…and Christ Jesus,” but it is one command, coming at once from God and from Jesus. Then, in the second verse, he wishes Timothy “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace may only be gifts from God, yet here they come from the Father and Jesus, who is further designated with a divine title, “our Lord.” Paul subsequently writes that “our Lord” Jesus came from heaven to save us, becoming our Savior, the title previously ascribed to God.
One of Paul’s points was to demonstrate and insist upon the deity of Jesus Christ. He viewed God as Triune and the Son as coequally God with the Father. Yet this same Son is “the man Christ Jesus.” He is the One, in Job’s words, “who might lay his hand on us both.” By His incarnation Jesus made perfect mediation possible, and by His atoning death and interceding prayer He has made it a reality.
The implications for the Christian worshiper are mind-boggling. Not only do we worship the One True God, but we do so through the mediation of the One True God! We worship God through God! How critical it is, then, that we not attempt to approach God through any other mediation than that which He has established. To do so is to deny His sovereignty and His unity. If we approach God through any other mediator, we are putting someone else in His own place. We are guilty of the worst form of idolatry!
The remarkable truth of the gospel is that God Himself came to us in the Person of the Son and mediates on our behalf. This constitutes a central tenet of worship: God manifests Himself in worship through the Son. We see and hear God through the person, the work, and the words of God the Son. We address God in the name of God the Son. His perfect mediation assures us that our worship is received.
It is for this reason that Christian worship, though characterized by reverence and thoroughly permeated with a sense of awe, is at the same time warmly personal. We worship the One True God, who is like a blazing fire, whose presence cannot be touched, and whose name strikes men down as though dead. But He is not so far off as once He seemed. He is not merely the dreadful, terrible judge known to most monotheists (particularly in Islam). He is near to us in worship, for He has revealed Himself through the mediation of the Son.
If we have been embraced by the mercy of the Son, then we know God as He is. We approach the throne of God, but we are not consumed. We approach through Christ, the One Mediator, so we approach with boldness and with joy.