1 Timothy 2:3-7 “…God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.”
There is scarcely another passage of Scripture which gives the mandate for Christian evangelism and mission as these words of the apostle Paul. We are told that it is God’s desire for all men to be saved. The provision he has made for their salvation is found in the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus. God’s declares that this message is truth, and he appoints men specifically to herald and teach this testimony to the whole world.
There is no congregation I am aware of that takes these verses as seriously as they merit. There were times in the history of the church in our principality when the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus utterly dominated the thinking, praying and actions of the church. I am thinking about the Celtic Church fifteen hundred years ago. They first took the gospel all across Wales, and the names of towns and villages beginning with the word ‘Llan’ were founded as Christian communities where such preachers as Dewi (Llanddewi), Padarn (Llanbadarn), Teilo (Llandeilo), Tudno (Llandudno), Illtud (Llanilltud), Mihangel (Llanfihangel) and many more, evangelised, taught the Bible, discipled and built places of worship. Wales was effectively Christianised by these men, and from the principality others sailed to Ireland, Brittany and mainland Europe, and north to Scotland. Wales has never recaptured this passion for mission which the Celtic Church displayed. The verses we have read are the rationale and inspiration for such devoted evangelism.
The implication of the words that God wants all men “to be saved” is clear, it is that God judges mankind to be lost. There is the familiar indictment that the Word of God brings against us: “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It is one of the statements in the Bible that seems to be verifiable from our own experience. Our nation today is very affluent, there is schooling until the age of 16, with a generous welfare system so that compared to our grandparents’ generation there is little or no poverty, and yet there has never been so much crime, breakdown of marriages, illegitimacy, abortions, or so many in prison. People are lost. Also consider the widespread and growing use of illegal drugs, let alone the legal ones of nicotine and alcohol, which many depend upon to get through each day. A radio journalist named Wendy Robbins has just presented two Monday night programmes on the subject of drinking in Britain today. The programmes were entitled ‘Booze.’ She takes her listeners to a pub in Luton where a man tells her that he has just downed 20 Buds, six Fosters and ten Archers. “What do you like about drinking?” she asked. Addled though he may have been, he knew the answer to that one, and he gave it to her straight. “It gets you drunk.” People are lost.
Or think of the despair evident in so much popular culture. The films, songs, humour, art are overwhelmingly bleak. This spring a prospective student visited a certain art college, and she noticed an exhibition of the work of the current students. They were uniformly dark and grim paintings. She could not face three years there if that was the world and life view she would be taking away, and so she applied to our university. I think she may be here tonight. People are lost.
Three years ago there was a concert in the Wigmore Hall, London, of the Borodin String Quartet, the greatest quartet in the world. They climaxed their evening by playing the final quartet of Shostakovich. This was written at the height of the years of Stalin’s maniacal campaign against his own population, at which time a total of 12 million people were sent to jail or labour camps, of whom at least one million were executed and two million more perished of hunger, cold and disease. The music reflects that terrible period, and indeed this hideous century for the people of Russia. The music is relentlessly dark and despairing, and the mood was intensified in the concert by the way the Quartet chose to play it. There were four flickering candelabra to light their music stands; all the house lights were turned off. When the forbidding piece ended the musicians blew out the candle-flames leaving the audience in darkness, the Wigmore Hall illuminated only by the Exit lights above the doors. The Borodin Quartet had requested there be no applause. The dark silence was intensely oppressive, getting into your pores, weighing down everyone. An atmosphere of utter hopelessness prevailed. The cowering audience could not walk out of the Hall into the London night at that moment. The Borodin String Quartet finally returned to the stage and played another lighter piece to lift the spirits of the hearers so that they could face their journeys home. People are lost.
The main responsibility for this century’s disasters has been not so much in the problems as in man’s solutions. Men have been hypnotised by the achievements of scientific materialism and the rhetoric of progressivist politics. All of us have to face the basic realities of death, disease, the demands of daily living, inequality, unrequited love, and personal inadequacy but our generation has been taught to think of them as if they were the legacy of the political and intellectual stagnation of the past, and that somehow mankind in the new Millenium is going to lift all such burdens. As Anthony O’Hear points out in his book, “After Progress: Finding the Old Way Forward” (Bloomsbury, 1999), “one of the great illusions of progressivist thought is that there is a solution to every problem that faces us, that we can discover that solution by reason, and that the solution consists in doing something either politically or individually.” Man has come to believe that sooner or later he will become the absolute master of his own destiny. Men see themselves purely in terms of their own genes. They think of happiness solely in terms of their own psychological satisfaction, and so inevitably, for creatures made in the image of God and for God, their lives have become degraded.
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ we judge the despair of modern art and music, and we regard the statistics of crime, breakdown of marriage, abortions and drug dependence of our age as verifying the Biblical assessment of man. The Scripture says that people without God are people without hope. The seat of this hopelessness is the heart of man. Sin reigns there, and men let it be their master. Sin has ruined us. Sin is a deadly coldness and indifference towards God. It is out of this attitude that all the measles’ spots emerge of drug abuse, family breakdown, melancholy, political and personal violence which mark our own civilisation. These things are manifestations of the judgment of the living God upon the world. For this there is no human solution whatsoever. Suggested solutions themselves become the latest Black Death.
In these verses alone, just read in your hearing, is there an announcement of good news. They speak of the attitude of the living God to mankind. As the messenger at Bethlehem said 2,000 years ago at the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ they are good tidings of great joy to all people. They tell us that this despised ignored God has not given up on us, that he loves us in an extravagant way, and desires our salvation.
1. God Wants All Men To Be Saved. (v.4)
Do you see how he defines what salvation is? It is to come to a knowledge of the truth. Unsaved men are ignorant men who believe error. Unsaved scientists are ignorant scientists who believe error. Unsaved preachers are ignorant preachers who believe error. Unsaved politicians are ignorant politicians who believe error. Unsaved old ladies are ignorant old ladies who believe error. Unsaved children are ignorant children who believe error. They all need to know the truth in order to be saved.
Then we are told that God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth. In all your evangelism you never have to overcome the reluctance of an indifferent Lord. People of all kinds will be reluctant to listen to you, but God will never be slow to help and bless you. You can count on this, that God wants the people you are speaking to and praying for to be saved. Never doubt it for a moment. It’s the devil who will make you think, “Perhaps God doesn’t want their salvation.”
Who, then, are these men God wants to be saved? We must certainly say that it means all kinds of men, all classes and conditions, some lie in the gutter through chemical abuse, others are in special wings of high security prisons kept away from other prisoners for their own safety sake because their crimes are abhorrent even to hardened criminals. Some are the wealthiest men in the world. Others are street children whose homes are sewers. Others are people who have the highest IQ. Some are disadvantaged intellectually – mute, incontinent, deaf, blind, and in a virtually vegetative state. Those too are the kinds of men and women God wants to be saved. All states and types of mankind.
But there is another way in which we can look at this question, who are these men God wants to be saved. The early church had to say to the Jews that now the Lord wanted Gentiles from the four corners of the earth to come to a knowledge of the truth. In other words, no longer is God saying to one ethnic group who lived on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, “You only have I loved of all the nations of the earth.” From now on the truth is going out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth, and the motivation for this geographical and ethnic expansion of the gospel is God’s desire that all men everywhere be saved.
There is yet another way to answer the question as to who are these men God wants to be saved. We must conclude that it is every single person on the planet. If they are my closest friends, God wants them to be saved. If they are in my family, God wants them to be saved. If they are people I work or study with, God wants them to be saved. If they are a picture in the paper or a figure on the television news God wants them to be saved. If they are figures who hurry past me in crowded city streets, of whom I have the slightest momentary impression, I know this about them, that God wants them to be saved. If they are mere population statistics informing me, for example, that now there are more than a thousand million people who live in India then I know immediately that God wants every one of them to be saved. If the population of the world at the close of the 20th century is more than 6,000 million people then God wants all 6,000 million people to be saved. These words of the apostle Paul are as crassly literal in their meaning as that.
Then you see what we do? In our minds we turn to the great passages of the Bible that speak of those people whom God the Father has given to God the Son, for whom the Lord Christ prayed in his high priestly prayer, asking that each one of that number would see the glory the Son shared with the Father before the world began. “I am not praying for the world,” said he, “but for those you have given me” (John 17:9). Then we might begin to doubt the universal love of God. We think of the Bible’s great emphasis on the people God has chosen out of the world, “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'” (Roms. 9:11&12). The apostle imagines the protester crying out that that means God is unfair. Paul says, “shall we say is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Roms.9:14-16). Did not the Lord Jesus himself say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). We can remember that truth and we can begin to doubt the universal love of God.
If this great theme of a sovereignly bestowed salvation – depending upon the distinguishing grace and electing mercy of God – which is set upon a great company of men, but not upon all men, is indeed true – and we are persuaded that this is plainly taught in the Bible and so must be true – then what of the words of our text, that God wants all men to be saved? Can the verses mean, for example, that God desires and wishes but does not actually will the salvation of all men? No. There is no difference at all in the Bible between God desiring something and willing it. Semantics cannot get some men off the hook they have made for themselves. Could the words mean that God wants all men to be preserved physically and not rescued spiritually? No. The language here is of a salvation bought by a ransom paid, and throughout the Pastoral epistles salvation is from sin to glory, not one of providential preservations.
If I should say that the phrase means that God wants all kinds of men to be saved then it seems to me that all the offence and problem of this verse has gone, and what Paul is saying is rather bland and innocuous. For example, I am confronted with an utter blackguard, and I could pass him by on the other side of the road, but I stop and say to myself that this is the very type of man God wants to be saved. A sinner like this very person! That will certainly motivate me to squeeze some affection out of my stony heart towards him. But by itself that truth is ‘worthy’ and ‘non-extreme’ and little more. Then the devil says to me that this particular blackguard is merely in that class of sinners God wants saved, but perhaps not this man himself, yes, probably not this man, but another like him. If am dissuaded from believing that God truly desires this very man to be saved how will I ever motivate myself to want his salvation? In other words, if I am uncertain God wants him saved will I travail in birth until Christ is formed in him? However, when I am persuaded that it is this very man, not others like him, but this blackguard before me, in his hatred of my message and my Saviour, that yet God desires to be saved, will this not motivate me a thousand times more? Can the church ever afford to lose that conviction? Will it not be an axe to the root of mission if we do not have that persuasion? ‘All’ here must mean every man without exception. These verses are simply one part of the full Biblical picture of God’s cosmic and ethnic loving universalism? Hear the evidence:-
i] God is lovingly generous to his enemies. Consider the word of the Son of God about the Father he knows as no one else: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” (Matt.5:45). It is his love for them that motivates him to bless them. Will we ourselves not give at least warmth and a cup of cold water to the reprobate if God so deals with them? “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt.5:48). But does God not give them more than the bread and water of iron rations? Much more! Is it not his love that leads him to give unbelievers such graces as enlightenment, a taste of the heavenly gift, a share in the Holy Spirit, a taste of “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” (Hebs. 6:5&6)? Will we, then, not strive to offer to them such spiritual blessings too – even if we are rejected?
ii] God’s love makes him protest over the behaviour of all men and long that it were improved, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children for ever?” (Deut.5:29). “If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!” (Deut.32:29). “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Is. 48:18). Here the Lord is speaking and he has the most earnest desire that his hearers were of a heart to fear and love him and keep his commandments always – though they never respond to his longings. Will love for sinners not make us protest at the behaviour of every single person and long that they might change their lives and know peace and righteousness?
iii] The incarnate God’s love for recalcitrant Jerusalem makes him weep over it; “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who would kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt.23:37). Would any describe these hearers of Christ as penitent and exercised sinners? We are told of them that they would kill and stone those God sends to them. They are brutal bloodthirsty murderers. These are the ones for whom Christ cries, “O!” in anguish, repeating the city’s name in affection. To them he expresses his longing to have gathered them to safety, but they reject him. Is this not a love as wide as a whole city? Will we too not love Bangkok, and Amsterdam, and Las Vegas, and Paris, and New Orleans, and Soho, and San Francisco with their teeming millions and abundant cruelty and sensuality? Not with a love that would indulge in or sympathise with the wickednesses, but would see its citizens saved from their sin and its consequences.
iv] God’s love makes him invite sinners of the world to come to him. Consider the love which the Saviour is showing when he cries, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt.11:28-30). He is declaring that he would embrace the weary and burdened in the arms of his saving and loving protection. “Come to me!” he beseeches. Will we not manifest the love of God in our own hearts by making that same invitation with the same offer to those who would kill the prophets God sends, and stoning them to death?
v] God’s love gives birth to a moving entreaty to people of the world who are soon to die in wickedness, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ez.33:11). How emphatic God is: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” It admits no qualification or limitation at all. God is speaking to wicked men who will die in their rejection of him. It is absolutely and universally true that God does not delight in or desire the death of a wicked person. It is likewise absolutely and universally true that he delights in the repentance and life of any and every wicked person. For the church never to doubt this the Lord even swears to us that this indeed is so by an oath – “As surely as I live, declares Sovereign LORD.” Will we not be persuaded that there is a universal love of God that wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth?
vi] God’s love makes him extend a universal invitation to all mankind: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Is.45:22). This is an invitation and a command to all people that on earth do dwell to turn to God and be saved. None is exempt from this invitation, not even if they live as remote from God’s blessed saving presence as they can. All who turn to the Lord will be saved, so God himself says in the call of the gospel, and the invitation of the gospel, and the appeal of the gospel, and the command of the gospel. It is his good pleasure that every single person turn and be saved. He is utterly sincere in saying this. This is the free offer of the gospel.
When that anonymous man filled the pulpit at the last minute in the Artillery Street Primitive Methodist Church in Colchester one snowy January day almost exactly one hundred and fifty years ago in the absence of the invited preacher he spotted a teenager in the congregation. He had no knowledge that that boy was elected to eternal life, any more than any person can know another person is elect before they believe, but he did know two things that were true about him because they are true of every person on the planet, that the boy had a soul, and that it was not God’s will that he should perish, but that he come under the sheltering wings of Christ’s grace. He believed that God wanted this boy to be saved, and so he told the boy the way of salvation and urged him to look to the Lord and live. Thank God he did because the boy hearing that message was Charles Haddon Spurgeon through whom many more believed on Christ.
vii] It is God’s love that moves him to imploringly entreat everyone to look to Jesus Christ. Think of the way the apostle Paul, filled with the Spirit of God, addressed men and women, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). He quotes to the Romans Isaiah 65:2 and says to them, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” Only a deep persuasion that God loves his hearers would make a preacher implore them to be reconciled to God accompanied by such tender gestures of entreaty. How familiar were Paul’s tears to the Ephesian elders – as well-known as his doctrines (Acts 20:19 and 31).
It is from this whole picture that we with all the orthodox church have developed this conviction that God wants every single person on this planet to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. In the gospel God speaks to every sinner in particular, as though he were addressing them by their names saying, “I desire you to come to me and find rest. I am willing to give this to you. Warmly and affectionately I am offering life and salvation to you. I will accept no excuses. Do not plead that you do not know whether you are elected to salvation, nor that you cannot come because you are ignorant of whether God the Father gave you to God the Son. Do not plead that you are dead in sin and cannot turn, because whether you can or cannot you must believe. ‘This is the work of God that you believe on him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).” Thus God himself earnestly and lovingly addresses everyone, beseeching his hearers to entrust themselves to him, because he loves them and wants them to be saved.
Hear Spurgeon himself preaching on the text, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev.22:17) It was the famous revival year, 1859, and Spurgeon was speaking at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens on October 16th. He says in the course of this sermon, “How wide is this invitation! There are some ministers who are afraid to invite sinners, then why are they ministers? They are afraid to perform the most important part of the sacred office. There was a time I must confess when I somewhat faltered when about to give a free invitation. My doctrinal sentiments did at that time somewhat hamper me. I boldly confess that I am unchanged as to the doctrines I have preached; I preach Calvinism as high, as stern, and as sound as ever; but I do feel, and always did feel a longing to invite sinners to Christ. And I do feel also, that not only is such a course consistent with the soundest doctrines, but that the other course is after all the unsound one, and has no title whatever to plead Scripture on its behalf.
“There has grown up in many churches an idea that none are to be called to Christ but what they call sensible sinners. I sometimes rebut that by remarking, that I call stupid sinners to Christ as well as sensible sinners, and that stupid sinners make by far the greatest proportion of the ungodly. But I glory in the confession that I preach Christ even to insensible sinners – that I would say even to the dry bones of the valley, as Ezekiel did, ‘Ye dry bones live!’ doing it as an act of faith; not faith in the power of those that hear to obey the command, but faith in the power of God who gives the command to give strength also to those addressed, that they may be constrained to obey it. But now listen to my text; for here, at least, there is no limitation. But sensible or insensible, all that the text saith is, ‘Whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely.’ The one question I have to ask this morning is, art thou willing?”
So I am saying that this verse in the New Testament is teaching that God sincerely wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and that the fountain head of this desire is his love for all men. I do not believe that such love is the same as that electing love of his own people which caused him to give the whole church to his Son before the foundation of the world and effectually redeem them. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephs.5:25-27). That is a divine affection, “nought but his loved ones know.” There are thus two kinds of divine love.
I also believe that there are in God two divine wills, one secret and one revealed. There is this attitude of God to all men – a yearning longing for their salvation. That is revealed in all the Scriptures I have mentioned. This is not at odds with nor can it be identified with God’s effectual glorifying love for his people – his grace in election. But God’s will for all men to be saved is still to be acknowledged as his love. It is genuine love because it takes no pleasure in their destruction, and it is a consistent love because it sends to them beseeching preachers and gives them such ravishing tastes of eternal things, and it is a painful love because it is often rejected, and it is an indiscriminate love because it never passes on the other side of the road any man as judged too mean to save, and it is a costly love because its price is more than men shall ever be able to repay. Is not this a mega-love indeed!
Someone protests that this is simply Arminianism. No. I do not believe that the Bible teaches as that system of thought teaches that man has the ability to repent and believe without the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that Christ made atonement for every man and that God intends to save each one if men will let him, as Arminianism does. I do not believe that God loves all men equally and alike. There is a saving love for the elect, and a genuine general love for all men.
So let me say that I do believe that the Scripture teaches that God does delight, desire and approve of things which, for other reasons, he has not determined to carry into effect.
2. The Great Foundations of This Love. (vv.5&6).
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” There is the huge base of this pyramid, within it are all of mankind stretching out through our world and down through history, but at the peak of the pyramid just one being, Almighty God. That is Paul’s view here: one God over all men. The picture is not three or four pyramids, an Islamic one, another which is Hindu, and another which is Buddhist, and so on. The picture is not further complicated by a collection of scores of other smaller pyramids scattered around the four major ones. The picture is certainly not six thousand million tiny pyramids – each person a god. It is one God alone who is the head of one pyramid within whose base all the world of mankind are to be found.
The good news is not that the god of the Arabs wants Arabs to be saved, and the god of Africans wants Africans to be saved, while the white god wants whites to be saved. The good news is not that there is a god who helps the farmer, while another god helps the soldier, while another helps the mother in childbirth, while another god helps the traveller. The good news is not that there is a pantheon of gods who form allegiances and at some times and locations one god is more powerful than another. The good news is not that many gods are doing battle for the allegiance of human beings. The good news does not invited us to become consumers of gods with ‘experts’ to advise us: “What exactly did you have in mind sir? … I see, well, have you thought about this god…or maybe that god will better suit you.” It is one God alone over all the earth. Remember the simple catechism question?
“Are there more Gods than one?
“There is but One Only, the living and true God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.5).
A little boy was asked, “How many Gods are there?” He replied, “One.” “How do you know that?” “Because,” said the boy, “there is only room for one, for he fills heaven and earth.” Now that is a very profound answer. Because when we say that God is one we are not talking in terms of arithmetic and numbers. We are saying he is unique as the only One. He stands apart by himself, you can’t subtract from him, or add to him, or add him to anything else, spiritual or material. There is none like unto our God who fills all in all. He’s the only one.
We do not deny that there are elements of truth in all religions. There is not a human being from whom I can learn important things. But the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is alone God. There is no one else to pray to, and no one else who can help us. Although God has revealed himself more fully in the New Testament than in the Old, the God of both is identical. In the earlier Testament the Shema began with the declaration, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut.6:4). One God to deal with. One Lord to love. One being the source of all creation. The same God the author of our providence. The Psalmist says, “Thou art God alone” (Ps.86:10). Rivals to the Lord have no legitimacy: they are no good because they are ‘no-gods.’
An eight year-old boy from northern India was converted to Christ and became the subject of teasing. “Show us your God!” they said to him. “I cannot,” he said, “but I can show you yours.” He picked up a big pebble, and he daubed a human face on it, eyes, nose and mouth, and then, very gravely he laid it on the ground in front of them, and he pushed it with his foot to them. “That’s the sort of god you worship,” he told them. That is what I mean by a ‘no-god.’
Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth to whom the concept of there being only one God would once have been amazing, because they had been raised in a culture of polytheism with temples and idols on every street corner. He says to them, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (I Cor. 8:4-6). That is the message we take to the world. The problem of the one and the many is overcome through Jesus Christ. Many people, languages, civilisations and values, but one Lord. So one family of his people; one brotherhood; one faith; one hope; one God. One exclusive faith leads to one inclusive mission, that is, the one living and true God of the Bible who wants everyone to be saved.
The other foundation is that there is “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” To gain an audience with the Prime Minister you would need someone to explain your case and arrange it. The same is true to get access to the Queen. Similarly you cannot knock on the doors of the White House for a chat with the President of the USA. Some kind of mediators are needed for you to stand face to face in the presence of the world’s great. Now multiply by the infinite holiness of Almighty God.
O how shall I whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the Ineffable appear
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?
Think of an ice cube being placed in a consuming furnace, or a living organism set down at the core of a nuclear reaction. How can sinners be at ease when confronted with the wrath of a sin-hating God? “Through a mediator,” says the Bible, “and by him we can dwell in the eternal burnings.” Earthly blessings and heaven’s delight with God may be ours through Christ alone. “No man cometh unto the Father but by me,” said the Lord Jesus (John 14:6). This is a total contradiction of the position of liberal theologian, John Hick, who says in “The Myth of Christian Uniqueness” (1987), “Jews are being saved within and through the Jewish stream of religious life, Muslims within and through the Islamic stream, Hindus within and through the Hindu stream” “No. I am the way,” contradicted Christ as he stands over every other stream. He is the one mediator.
John Stott says, “A mediator is an intermediary, the person in the middle, who effects a reconciliation between two rival parties.” The word Paul chooses was used to describe the advisor in legal disputes or in negotiating business deals. A biography has just appeared of Lord Goodman who died in 1995, and who was this century’s supreme fixer. He loved finding solutions to problems. He knew the law and used it. As a negotiator he was infinitely patient and friendly. All parties believed he understood their case. His manner helped to keep the temperature down. He was conscientious, but not a cold fish. As royal marriages broke up he was the man they appealed to.
The Lord Jesus Christ is man’s unique mediator with God because of his person, and because of the work he did. As a person he is the man Christ Jesus. He was in the beginning, and was with God and was God, and yet he became flesh and lived in our midst, adding to his divinity our flesh and bones. He was born from a human mother, by a perfectly natural birth, though in a cow shed. As a man he learned of the human darkness – from the inside, as it were.
Years ago a reporter by the name of John Howard Griffin wrote a book about his experiences in the southern USA. He was a white man who knew the wickedness of racism only by reading about it or by seeing the signs that said things like “Whites Only” or “Coloured Waiting Room.” Service stations had three toilets, for men, women and coloureds. He was aware of this but he did not fully understand it because he did not know how a victim of racism feels. So he arranged for his hair and skin to be dyed black. He learned to talk and act the way a black man was expected to talk and act in those days. He then set out on his journey across the South.
Cornelius Plantinga tells what happened, “The results were predictable – and yet Griffin felt them for the first time. Stupid young toughs called him ‘nigger.’ The word hit him like a hammer. People pushed him around. Police and others looked at him suspiciously as if being black made it somehow likely that he was a wanted man. One white man with whom Griffin hitched told him dirty stories; he seemed to think blacks were especially fond of them. As a black man Griffin began to understand what it is to be humiliated, or else to have people look right through you – as if you were a windowpane instead of a person. Some things cannot be understood till we experience them” (“A Sure Thing,” p.131).
This unique Mediator, of whom our text speaks, had had a glorious blessed life with the Father and the Spirit. Now he has added to that divinity an experience of human nature. The man Christ Jesus took upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh. He knows what it is like to struggle in a fallen world where men live and die without hope. He has been where the drunkenness and the swearing and the abuse is. He has experienced cynicism and hatred. Men spat in his face and hit him on the head repeatedly. He got beaten up. His family often did not understand him, and his friends betrayed and left him. He learned what it was like to be taunted, shoved aside, sent from one petty corrupt official to another. They murdered him in a particularly cruel manner.
In the light of eternity a few days have passed since then. We live in this same world, and nothing materially has changed since the time the Mediator walked its country lanes and city streets. We are lost men and he came to the world of the lost. He tasted the bitterness of our low condition. Adam’s race was plunged in sin, and the last Adam came not to a paradise but into the wilderness of this world. He came as bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. He showed us what a proper man is like. He loved God wholeheartedly and his neighbour as himself. While keeping his integrity he learned what our pain is like, and became eternally touched by the feeling of our own weaknesses. As a bird is able to show other birds where food is without scaring them away so the human Son of God can safely lead us to our heavenly Father. He is the one Mediator between God and man, divine and yet our loving older brother too. Paul has told us first of his person, but then he tells us of the work he did.
“The man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (v.6). Again the implication of these words is clear, earlier in the verse it was that we were lost men who needed to be saved, and here that we are prisoners who need our liberty, and that that liberty can only be given by a ransom being paid. There is an awesome sentence of the apostle in his letter to the Galatians, “the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Gals. 3:22). Men may boast of their liberty but it is a liberty within chains, and they can only do what their master sin tells them. “Do not go to church! Do not read the Bible! Do not pray! Do not think of your soul! Do not consider death! Dismiss the Lord Jesus Christ from your mind! Never ask what must I do to be saved!” All men obey sin, their master. To purchase their freedom a ransom must be paid. What a price that must be, if it is for a company of people more than any man can number, as multitudinous as the grains of sand on the seashore.
The price paid is the man Christ Jesus. Not his sufferings, not his actions, not his soul, not his body but himself, the God-man. The one Paul is writing of here, the Man-Ransom-Mediator, he and no other one pays every penny of our ransom price. He purchases liberty for those dominated by sin. The superabundance of his life and death obedience buys our freedom. Absolutely voluntarily he humbled himself. He deliberately gave himself to the sacrifice of the cross, to pour out his life unto death. This was the great exchange price on behalf of sin, in the place of sinners, on the ground of which total and eternal freedom is announced by God as his great gift – “eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This ransom is “for all men” says the apostle (v.6). He is speaking here of those to whom the offer can be made. He is not here talking of the purpose of the atonement. We know that that that was a definite and accomplished redemption of a company of people more than any man can number. But to whom can this ransom be offered? To every single person in the world. I can go to anyone and say to them, “I have good news for you. I have a ransom for your sin. I have a Saviour for you. I have a Shepherd who will watch over you and take you to the eternal pastures around the throne of God and the rivers of the waters of life. This is all for you – a Redeemer, a Teacher, a King, a Husband, a Friend. You may know him now as your God and Lord. He is for you and for all men to receive, and as many as receive him he will give the right to be called the sons of God.
3] This is God’s Testimony to the World. (v.7)
“The testimony given in its proper time” says Paul. What a wonderful enigmatic saying! It must refer to the set time, or the fullness of time, when the long promised Messiah finally appeared. Only by the design of God could he come. Everything God does is done at the right time. God has a timetable. He operates according to a schedule which, in part, he announced beforehand by his prophets. The years and the locations of Christ’s birth and death were prophesied, as well as many other events in his life and ministry. Well, if God works according to a prearranged schedule who are you to think that you have no need of one? Is there not a plan evident in the evangelism of the apostle Paul? There is a strategy to his missionary journeys, and a targeting of key towns as he moves to Asia Minor and then to Greece and Rome.
That evangelism of the world is done by those God has appointed for the purpose. The message and the means were divinely given and the appointment is of men. E.M.Bounds begins his booklet, “Power through Prayer” with the memorable opening lines: “We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organisations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the Gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organisation. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John.'”
God appoints men who are heralds, that is men who know that they have been sent into the world by the King of kings to proclaim his good news and decrees to all citizens. They will neither add nor detract from the message that God has given them. They are not the inventors of the message. They have not received it from man or through man but from King Jesus. Let the herald be faithful to the one who has appointed him.
God appoints apostles. An apostle is a messenger. There were the twelve whom we can call Apostles with a capital A. They were the group of men who were with Jesus from his baptism and were eyewitnesses of his majesty. They had a special authority from God and were given the Holy Spirit in a unique way to assist their teaching so that the legacy of the gospels and epistles which they wrote became the great foundation of the church through time and nation and in every generation. When we obey them our preaching is apostolic and may bring down unusual blessings. There is no possibility of blessing without that commitment. Then there are apostles with a small ‘a’, that is, men the church sends out to church plant and evangelise as its missionaries. The are sent men who take the great apostolic message.
God also appoints teachers of the truth faith, and we can apply that category to we pastors who settle in local churches and build up in the faith the Christians God adds to us. “Go, therefore, and teach all nations,” said Christ. It is not that in our sermons men are first induced by other means than teaching. We do not soften up a congregation by music. We do not speak breathily through microphones asking people to pray, and then, when their heads are bowed waiting for prayer, sweet talk them into become disciples by appealing to their wills to make a decision. We do not finally teach them after we have got a decision without teaching. We make them disciples by teaching them. Warm persuasive teaching is of course the best.
All of us who are appointed by God keep going faithfully teaching the Word through those years of little growth because God has sent us. “I was commanded,” said a missionary going back to the field for the umpteenth time. William C. Burns and Robert Morrison were the fathers of missionary work in China. After twenty-eight years of zealous teaching and pastoring, Morrison numbered just ten people as his hire. What keeps us going? It is the conviction that what we are telling people is the truth. As Paul says here, “I am telling the truth, I am not lying.” He was a teacher of the true faith, and this kept him abounding in the work of the Lord.
Let’s keep the true faith. Let’s study it, and know it well so that we are not defeated by ignorance. Let the faith make us pour out our hearts in prayer, persist in studying the Scriptures, attentive in gatherings of Christian fellowship, and rich in good deeds. That is the way to be teachers of the true faith.
24th October 1999 Geoff Thomas