Sometimes I feel like a toddler. Not because I am sitting at my desk in an oodie with snacks and a water bottle (although I am). But because when I read the Bible, part of my brain nods sagely. “Yeees” my brain thinks, “I have heard this, I know this. This is so wise and true….” But there is another part of my brain that screws up its face and says, “Say what what again? I don’t get it.”
This happened the other day in Hebrews. “We have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven” (Hebrews 4:14). Amazing. Beautiful. Wait, go back a step. So why do we need Jesus to be a high priest again?
Well, he intercedes for us with the heavenly father because he is also the son and fully God. Yes, I know that, but why do we need it? Because, as a fully human he was tempted in every way and so can represent us. Yes, I know, but why do we need that?
Matthew 27:51 describes how, at Jesus’ death on the cross, “at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Jesus’ death represented the moment when all the barriers between the people and God were removed and we no longer needed an earthly intercessor standing between us.
But why do we need a heavenly one? Why can’t we just approach God by ourselves?
You see my toddler-ism. But why? Why? Yes, but why?
Let’s go back to the beginning. In the garden of Eden, God walked with Adam and Eve. “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). There was genuinely nothing between humans and God. Then, after the Fall, judgement has always included exclusion from God’s presence – banished from the garden (Gen. 3:23), driven from the land and presence (Gen. 4:10-14) and death (Joshua 7, Romans 6:23). In real terms, banishment from God’s presence and death are the same punishment ultimately. But this is why God’s plan for salvation is so amazing – because we are outside of God’s presence and dead in our sins, but there was always a plan to bring us into his presence.
Except, the plan has to move in stages.
We saw how it started in Eden, and in the end, things will be as in they were before sin entered the world. We will walk with God in heaven.
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.” Revelation 21:1-3
So humans began walking with him. And we will end walking with him. The difference with the middle bit is sin. This is the “now but not yet” we hear so much about. While there is still sin in the world, we cannot be in the direct presence of God without a shield like we could before sin, and like we will in the new heaven and earth.
There is a trajectory:
- Perfect harmony in Eden. Direct contact with God
- Sin enters the world. Banishment from Eden, separated from God
- Old Testament: God is with his people, but the people are still separated from God spiritually. God provides a system of priests and sacrifices to provide a way to be in his presence
- New Testament: God is with his people directly in Jesus and the repeated sacrifices and priestly barriers are removed. However, sin is still in the world and the new heaven is still not here so we cannot yet be fully in God’s presence. However, the way to the father is Jesus so we can be with him in confidence
- New heaven and new earth: All things brought to fruition and we can again be with God fully as in Eden.
What this means is that we are in a point in history where we still can’t be hanging out with God Eden-like. We still need to stand in judgement because of our sinfulness. The key though is in the same section of Hebrews that I started with.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:13-14.
We are not there at the end yet. We still have to give an account. There is a courtroom. “Satan” in the Hebrew of the Old Testament means “accuser” and in the Greek of the New Testament means “adversary”. In this court we need someone to stand for us and defend us. That is Jesus. We need him to defend us. Except he doesn’t just defend us, he takes the punishment as well.
What Hebrews is saying is that God sees all and we have to give an account of ourselves to him. We cannot represent ourselves because we are human and fallen and sinful. The only way to win our court case is to have Jesus intercede for us. So we need him. We need him desperately.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There is a scene in the first Avengers movie when Loki tries to face down the Hulk by telling him he is a god. The Hulk picks up Loki by the ankles and throws him around before muttering “Puny god”. That’s how I fell sometimes in prayer. In all my frailty and weakness and stupidity and whining – puny human. What a pathetic attempt. Is that what God thinks? I don’t think so but that’s how I feel.
But Jesus was fully human, so he gets every wrinkle of my inadequacy and so as I speak puny pathetic words, he can bring them to the father for me with compassion and grace because he has felt it all before. He gets it. He gets me.
Yes. I need Jesus as my intercessor. We all need Jesus as our intercessor. Until the day when we are walking in the cool of the day in heaven with him, we need Jesus to stand for us in the court of judgement, and to represent us puny humans to a God who is so wholly perfect and so completely holy.
This might make God sound distant and cold. Not for a moment – remember it is this very God who gave his only son to be the intercessor we need. He does not want us to be distant. He wants us near to him. He wants us with him. Always.
And this is immeasurable grace upon grace.