To Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.
You know what a mediator is, right? We all know what a mediator is. Especially here in Sonoma County, the headquarters of mediated settlements. Walk down the corridors of our halls of justice sometimes and you will see little clutches of people, gathered in twos and threes and more, trying to figure a way to come to an agreement without having the court impose a judgment. The theory is that it allows people to work things out themselves and in so doing save the court time and money.
And so there is a new class of individual in service to the court system and those people are the mediators. They are the ones between, so to speak, the ones who find the slimmest sliver of common ground and try and get both parties to stand on it. They also try and find what baggage each side can jettison in order to safely stand on the sliver of agreement, what demands must be negotiated away.
It is a noble and difficult task. Sometimes the two parties are so intractably divided that the court must impose justice from without but sometimes the system works as designed and an agreement is reached. A lot of the credit goes to the mediators, who are the ones who find the path that was otherwise un-findable, that didn’t occur to the parties in the first place.
So when we call Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, we conjure up an image of us on the one side of the table, God on the other side, and in the middle, to one side to be sure, is Jesus, helping us find common ground, helping us to see what it is that we might jettison in order to come to an agreement, seeing if Gods demands so the we can come to an agreement..
So what are the demands? What is it that God asks of us to be allowed to walk those golden streets and to bask in the light that is the Lord?
And what do we have to offer when we come?
That’s where it breaks down for me. That’s where our contemporary definition of mediator is too flawed to be useful. You see, for there to be a mediator, there has to be two sides. For there to be a mediator, there have to be two lists of demands or desires and two lists of negotiables, things we’d be willing to let go of in service to the agreement.
And that’s a problem. That’s a problem because while there are innumerable lists of things that we are to do and be in order to be fit for heaven, we have a hard time living up to them on a day to day basis. We have a hard time doing the things that will make us pure and holy.
Because that is what God demands. Heaven, given that we are talking about heaven here, is a place of surpassing and complete purity. There are no negotiations available on that one score because as soon as you begin negotiating with purity, absolute holiness, in that very instant holiness is reduced, purity is gone because they either are or are not, there is no sort-of.
If we were negotiating a settlement with God, there would be no give on God’s side because that is what is necessary for heaven to be heaven, for the blessing of the time after our mortal bodies pass away.
So that’s hardly a negotiation, is it?
Even worse is what happens when we think of what it is that we bring with us when we come to such a negotiation. What proofs do we bring? What evidence is there for us to be permitted to sit at the foot of Christ for eternity?
We’re Lutherans after all. Confessional Lutherans who admit, weekly to be sure but hopefully daily that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We confess that our most beautiful garments are but rags before the glory of God and so it is beginning to sound a lot less like a mediated settlement between two parties, at least as we understand the word Mediator.
It all falls apart when we realize that there are not two sides in this negotiation. There is God and there, well there is only God. God who creates, God who nurtures, God who promises, God who saves, God who judges and God who forgives. On the other side from God is that which is not God. On the other side is the creation. On the other side is everything that sprung into being in the beginning and so on the other side of the negotiation is intimately known to God, as a child is known to their parents, like the back of God’s hand.
On one side the truth; on the other side the need.
On one side the glory, on the other side the fear.
On one side the power of creation, on the other, merely the power to defy God and the knowledge that we have done so.
We know that we are not right with God, we have all of those laws, all of the whole body of God’s instruction manual for this life of ours and we know very well that we cannot fulfill them in our bodies. We want to be virtuous but now that we are not, that too is a gift from God.
We are given the gift of seeing ourselves as flawed, knowing that we are in need of God’s forgiveness and sometimes that burden can grow so great that we groan under the weight of our sins, under the burden of the truth, that we have fallen and we can’t get up.
It is an itchy, uncomfortable truth. If one more were added, one more law, one more regulation, we might break beneath the burden because after all the law is absolute, if even an animal were to touch the mountain, it shall be stoned to death reads Hebrews.
And so Mediator must mean something else. I simply cannot be a negotiation between God and us. That falls apart pretty quickly when you look at it too close.
It falls apart because there are not two sides. Jesus is not halfway down the pike between god and Man. Jesus is not some kind of middle ground, partly human and partly God, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll (kids ask you parents).
There is nothing to be said that will alleviate the guilt, temper the judgment. It is absolute after all and the letter of the law must be fulfilled and so we are doomed.
Jesus can do little but pass judgment, hand down the sentence our hearts know all too well already. We are guilty, simply put. We see and we want, we take and we kill and we lie. In a thousand little ways every day we fall short of the demands of God and there is no middle ground, no sliver of agreement to which we can cling.
But mediator means something else as well. In the Hebrew world a covenant was made by cutting an animal in half, spreading the two parts on the ground and by having both parties pass between the pieces. Indeed, the word in Hebrew is not make a covenant, it is cut a covenant and the word for covenant rhymes with the word to cut.
The symbolism is pretty straightforward. You walk between the halves of the carcass as if to say, “may this happen also to me, should I break this covenant.”
In this scenario the Mediator, the one in the middle of the agreement is not the one wielding the sword which cuts the beast in half, some sort of facilitator. Nor is the Mediator some sort of local official, one brought in to make sure that both parties understand what is going on between them, and to enforce some kind of civic imprimatur upon the whole of the proceedings.
In the scenario of the Hebrew covenant, the Mediator is not a man at all. The mediator is the beast sacrificed.
And our new covenant is just so. Jesus is not helping us out, or pointing the way, facilitating our salvation: Jesus is the way across the vast chasm of our sin to a future of holiness. His mortal flesh given over to be not simply the messenger, but the message itself.
Only in Christ can this take place because only in Christ are the two sides of the covenant co-equal because He alone is capable of living according to the old covenant, He alone is as holy in His body as he is in spirit and so in His very flesh he makes the bargain.
Out with the old, in with the new. In His death the covenant is cut between humanity and God according to the promise. Our humanity could never hope to approach the throne in such a way but when Jesus does, it all seems perfectly normal and good. We are given the benefits of his divinity while His humanity takes away all of our sin, putting our old self to death and raising us up anew.
Not a negotiator, not a deal or a bargain or a swap that just anyone could make. The exchange here is entirely one sided. For we bring nothing to the tale but our sin and Jesus takes it in exchange and offers us nothing more than Himself, all of Himself, not some kind of script or some kind of plan for living according to the Law, we already have that.
He gives us new life, different from the one we leave behind. The new life no longer needs the sting of the law to make us do what is right because the new covenant is written upon our hearts. No more are there people on the inside and people on the outside. No more do we need to march to Mount Sinai in order to behold the face of God. No more is there one day alone set aside for things holy.
All days are for things holy. All days are for the things of God.
We are no longer bound by the law; we are freed by the Gospel. We are reborn to be the healers of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
For Christ has stepped into the breach and cut a new covenant, becoming the way for us to regain what was lost to sin and find a new path to walk so that he himself might be in the world with us, the glorious inheritance for all the world.