He is not a mere mortal like me, that I might answer him,
That we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to mediate between us,
Someone to lay his hand on us both,
Someone to remove God’s rod from me,
So that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
But as it now stands with me, I cannot.
Do You See What I See?
Poor Job. The man has no context. He has absolutely no clue that he is being presented by God himself as a cosmic object lesson to the very devil of hell (Job 1:8, 2:3). He is unable to see the Cosmic perspective through his suffering. All Job knows is that his animals are gone. That his possessions are stolen. That his servants are murdered. And that his children are killed when a house collapses on them all.
And that his friends are really bad counselors.
And yet for all the spiritual “help” his friends try to offer, Job is a much better theologian than any of them. In chapter 9, Job deftly (and accurately) identifies the impossible conundrum he’s in. Though he feels he’s done nothing to deserve the calamity that had befallen him, he lacks the means to broadcast his complaint. Job desires an audience with the Lord, but how can a mere mortal confront the Infinite One? Job is just a man after all, and he’s dealing with the Almighty God.
The Ultimate Problem
Now while Job’s situation is admittedly unique, each of us ought to relate to the basic problem he faced: God, whether I desire him or not, is impossibly distant and un-relatable to me. God is creator; I am a creature. God is infinite and eternal; I am limited by time and space. God is holy (or thrice holy to be more accurate); I am depraved. What hope could I ever have of speaking to God, much less raising any kind of objection to him?
The idea of going to court with God (Job 9:32) is of course preposterous. How can you bring a lawsuit against a judge, when that judge himself is the one presiding over the trial? Since God and Job are not equals, a fair hearing is impossible. Job can’t go it alone, and he knows it.
He needs a mediator.
Someone to Lay His Hand on Us Both
This one little phrase from Job, “If only there were someone to mediate between us; to lay his hand on us both” echoes throughout the Old Testament story. Regardless of where we place Job chronologically in redemptive history, he wasn’t the first person to have this problem, nor would he be the last. Going all the way back to Adam, and moving forward – what else is the Old Testament, other than one long story of failures to reconcile God and mankind?
Many attempts are made, to be sure. But whether it’s the judges, the priests, the prophets, or even Moses himself, all proposed arbiters between Creator and creation come up woefully short. For who could ever truly have one hand on man, and one hand on God simultaneously?
Job’s lament clearly reveals the dreadful truth; that successful reconciliation between man and God would require the mediator to be both God and man… at the same time.
Hail the Incarnate Deity
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
But there’s good news, and we celebrate it each December! Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn, Hark! the herald angels sing is ubiquitous in its reach. Not only is it precious to God’s church, but even today, it still resonates with the unchurched larger western culture (due in no small part, I surmise, to its appearance in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a Pentatonix Christmas album).
There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)! Fully God, and fully man, Jesus stands unprecedented as the singular person in all creation (and beyond) to lay his hand both on God and man. God-with-us alone; the man-Christ perfectly represents God to mankind, and mankind to God.
And Jesus is not merely God, pretending to be man, ala Clark Kent. No, Jesus is “pleased as man with men to dwell”; dwelling with humanity, as human! Never ceasing to fully be a member of the Godhead. Never ceasing to be fully Deity. But entering the human race as fully human. Not 50%, God and 50% man, but 100% both at the same time. (Or if the math is problematic for you, infinitely both at the same time; for infinity plus infinity is just… infinity).
God and Sinners Reconciled
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
And reconciliation is Jesus’ mission as the God-man-Mediator. It is tempting in 2017 to suppose that our greatest need is actually human-to-human reconciliation. “Forget reconciliation to God”, someone might say, “for we can’t even seem to get along with each other!” We have become experts at division, daily finding new ways to offend and become offended.
Oh, we need reconciliation amongst ourselves to be sure. And clearly, our reconciliation to God has vast implications as to how we relate one to another. But this is not Jesus’ primary vocation, and chasing after inter-human peace divorced from the core foundation of peace with God is futile at best.
When we call Christ the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), or consider Christ keeping us in perfect peace (Isa. 26:3), or being the Lord of Peace who brings us peace (2 Thess. 3:16), we ought always to think first and foremost of Jesus’ provision of peace between us and God.
And we should be reverent as we do, for “God and sinners reconciled” could ultimately be achieved only by Jesus making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20).
Peace at a Price
“Wounded for our transgressions”, “crushed for our iniquities”, etc. These quotations from Isaiah 53:5 feel much more appropriate around Good Friday than they do Christmas. But the third little phrase of that theologically dense verse is highly relevant here: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”
Yes, Jesus comes to reconcile God and mankind. Yes, only Jesus is able to stand in the gap with his hands both on God and on humanity at the same time. But let us never forget that the means through which he achieved that peace was terribly costly. For all the wonderful trappings surrounding the manger, the magi, and the shepherds, we have to remember when we with angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”, we celebrate a baby born with a death sentence.
Interestingly enough, even Job’s plea that the rod of God’s judgment be removed from him (Job 9:34) finds its perfect fulfillment in Isaiah 53, as we see the Servant-King Jesus, the only truly innocent sufferer, bear the judgement of God in the place of the sinners he came to save.
Glory to the Newborn King
This article doesn’t even come close to beginning to explore the beauty of the Gospel as it unfolds in Hark! the herald. But I do hope that as we inevitably sing it during this Advent season, we will be drawn to the mystery long-hidden for ages, that was finally revealed that special night of Jesus’ birth. I hope we’ll do our best to step outside of our context and imagine Job’s surprise and rejoicing to find out that God did provide an arbiter between himself and his creation. May the joy of the Lord, hope, and peace fill our hearts as we celebrate.