Sermon for 16 Pentecost, Year C
Based on I Tim. 2:5-6a
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Today we live in what many theologians call a pluralistic world. By a pluralistic world, theologians are referring to the wide diversity of religious freedom in our culture. People, under the laws and constitutions of nations are free to believe and practice almost any religion that they choose. Now freedom of religion, in a sense, is a good thing—after all it allows us to believe and practice our faith. That is something those who have lived under persecution, torture and tyranny do not take for granted!
However, there is also a very serious price to be paid for freedom of religion and pluralism. For example, many people are led astray by all kinds of strange, fly-by-night cults and bogus groups, gurus, pretender messiahs, and so on—all of whom use the laws of a nation to exist under the guise of religion, when, in reality, they are not truly religious. They are, or have the potential of being, very destructive to people because of their brainwashing techniques; along with the ways in which they misrepresent true religion so that people become confused about authentic religion, and even come to hate it. Taken to its extreme form, religious freedom and pluralism can distort and pervert Christianity to the extent that it’s no longer recognized as Christianity. Moreover, it may also turn Christianity into a multiple-choice religion; whereby people choose whatever they like in Christianity and discard whatever they don’t like.
During the time our second lesson was written, Christianity was still a relatively new faith. It was also a minority group in a pluralistic empire. Christianity, in a situation of persecution, and in danger of being distorted and persecuted by other religious groups; found it necessary to formulate creedal-confessional statements concerning the truth of the Christian faith. A portion of our second lesson today consists of a creedal-confessional statement of faith—in particular verses 5 and 6a where we read: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, the human being, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
First of all, we note the words “one God.” This was a very important and powerful teaching of Jews and Christians, which made them unique in the Greco-Roman world. The Gentile world was filled with the worship of many gods. These gods were often in competition with each other and people were terrified of them. Even many images of these gods were ugly, brutal and oppressive. When the Gentile world first encountered the Christian faith, many people were attracted to it because of its message that there is only one God who is A LOVING GOD. This gave many people a new-found freedom, which they never experienced before. God was no longer to be dreaded and avoided; God was to be trusted and loved; since as the one, true, loving God, people could confide in God and live under God’s care.
A second creedal-confessional statement in these verses places emphasis on Christ Jesus as the one mediator between God and humankind. Today, in our culture, when we think of a mediator, the picture that often comes to us is someone who negotiates, usually with governments and unions. In this model of mediator, the person is often regarded as an “objective” or “neutral” person—or in some cases, countries, like, for example, Sweden and Switzerland. That is to say, the mediator is neither a member of the respective government or union involved in the dispute. The mediator is to be trusted by both sides. Their job is to bring both sides of a dispute to the negotiating table; in order that they can “hammer out” some kind of agreement, which is fair or just to both sides.
When we as Christians confess Christ as the one mediator; we are saying that he—and only he—is the perfect “go-between” God and us. He is the most trustworthy mediator of all because he is both human being and God. He is God’s authentic representative to humankind and he is humankind’s representative to God. Over against other religions like, for example, Gnosticism, which believed that there were many mediators; Christianity confesses that there is only one mediator, Christ Jesus. Only he could break down the wall, which separated us from God. Only he could settle the dispute and negotiate a once-for-all agreement between God and us by his perfect life, his suffering and death on a cross, and his resurrection. Because of his office as the one mediator, we now have access to God. We do not pray to angels, or to saints, or to Mary because there is no need to do so; to do so implies that Jesus is somehow inadequate as our only Mediator; and scripture does not instruct or command us to do so—Jesus is God and is accessible to us. He, as the one and only mediator is the one we pray to—that is why we often end our prayers in his name. A stop sign does not represent a curve and a curve sign does not represent a stop sign. Each of these signs has a special function and representation. The same is true of Christ Jesus as the one mediator. No other being—whether angelic, human or otherwise—is able to function and represent us as the one and only mediator.
Because there is one God and one mediator the human race can become truly united. If there are many gods and many mediators competing for their loyalty and their love, religion becomes something which divides people instead of uniting them. We are all brothers and sisters of one another only because there is one God and one mediator, Jesus Christ.1
The creedal-confessional statement of our text goes on to tell us why Jesus is the one and only mediator: namely, because he “gave himself as a ransom for all.” That word ransom is used in connection with slavery. For a slave to be free a price had to be paid. We were hopelessly in slavery to sin before Christ came into the world. Because God is holy and hates sin, we were doomed. We could not escape or get out of our sinful slavery. It cost God the life and death of Jesus to bring us back to God and out of our sinful slavery.
There was a man who lost a son in the war. He had lived a most careless and even a godless life; but his son’s death brought him face to face with God as never before. He became a changed man. One day he was standing before the local war memorial, looking at his son’s name upon it. And very gently he said: “I guess he had to go down to lift me up.” That is what Jesus did; it cost his life and death to tell us of the love of God and to bring us home to God.2
May we faithfully continue to confess God as one, and Christ as the only true Mediator who became the ransom for us all; that we might live in true religious freedom; to gladly worship our God by loving and serving our fellow humanity.