Nov 19, 2023

The way, the truth, and the life

Jesus Christ as a mediator

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. — John 5:19

As I sat quietly one evening, meditating on the words of John 5:19, a thought struck me: "If Jesus does the will of God, and we follow Jesus, aren't we just following God? Why do we need Jesus?"

Of course, as a Christian, I do not question Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. And of course, we as Christians know and live by the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins. This is a basic, simple truth. My question is more Socratic than dissenting, an exploration to deepen my understanding rather than to challenge my faith. And I am no theologian, and we are mere mortals. But I cannot but fascinate myself with the profound mysteries of God.

The crux of my naive Socratic question is this: If Jesus follows God's commandments and we follow Jesus' commandments, aren't we just following God's commandments? Why do we need Jesus? It's a simple question with a simple answer, but I wanted to take a step back to explore the theological and practical implications of this question.

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” — John 5:30

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” — John 7:16

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me… For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. — John 12:44-45, 49

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. — John 14:10

And if that's true and we are following God's commandments, then why do we need to first follow Jesus' commandments? It's a naive application here of the transitive rule: if A → B and B → C, then A → C.

This is essentially what I think Muslims and Jews try to do: to approach God, A → C without B. I would ask my fellow Muslim or Jewish brother or sister this, “How do you approach God without Jesus?” To me, the answer is clear: you can't. In fact, in the Old Testament, no one could enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where Ark of the Covenant and God's presence resided, except for the High Priest and only once a year. The tension between God's holiness and our sinful nature gap isn't just vast; it's infinite, the gulf between human imperfection and divine purity.

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Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? — Hebrews 7:11

In Hebrews 7, the author describes that the priestly order of Melchizedek, the king of Salem, was superior to that of Levi, since Levi, through Abraham, gave tithings to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blesses Abraham (”It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” — Hebrews 7:7). And Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17).

Here, Jesus Christ serves as the essential mediator, bridging this otherwise insurmountable divide. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is a well-known doctrine. At His crucifixion, Jesus figuratively and literally tears the veil that divides the Holy of Holies, opening the door for man to approach God.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. — 1 Timothy 2:5

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. — John 10:7

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. — John 14:6

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” — John 6:65

Now back to answer my original question of “why B in A → B → C?” We need Jesus Christ because He is a bridge, a mediator that lets us cross the infinite divide between our sinful nature and God's holiness. A → C is not possible. It cannot be done.

So theologically, it's clear that we cannot approach God without Jesus. But practically speaking, what does this mean? Here is one contentious but relevant topic: the Israel-Hamas war. It is, needless to say, a tragedy in many ways, and ironically, it involves both the Muslims and the Jews. Discussions about this war is contentious precisely because it cannot be resolved with earthly logic. One side says Israel is terrible; the other says Hamas is terrible. In a broken world, there are no good solutions…except for Jesus Christ. Here is an alternative solution proposed by Elon Musk (ignoring, for argument's sake, the other controversies surrounding Musk):

Musk says that Hamas wanted to provoke aggressive military response from Israel by committing atrocious acts on the Israelites and to leverage that response to rally Muslims worldwide. Then he suggests that the only way to combat Hamas's actions is to commit most conspicuous, unequivocal acts of kindness on Hamas possible. Besides the conspicuous part, the solution is right in line (at least, it seems to me) with the teachings of Jesus Christ:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. — Luke 6:27-31

Such an act is easier said than done. And given hardly anyone even says this, it's even harder to do. And it's so hard precisely because we live in a sinful, broken world. Consider the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. A king forgives a servant who owes him 10,000 talents (which by some estimates would be over $3 billion today), and the servant goes off to a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii (which is less than $6,000) and throws him in jail. The king becomes furious at his servant and throws him in jail.

Now if the king hadn't forgiven his servant, then perhaps the servant would be justified in jailing his fellow servant. This is the world we live in today. That is the Israel-Hamas war. That is every conflict that plagues us, from inter-personal relationships to geopolitics. But the king did forgive his servant. That is God forgiving man through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

When we are forgiven, we can forgive others. If we are not forgiven, we have no reason to forgive. The famous lives of the missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot exemplify this peace through forgiveness. Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries were killed the Huaorani people of Ecuador, those whom he tried to evangelize. His wife then went to continue the missions and evangelized the Huaorani people. Other dramatic examples include the families of homicide victims forgiving the perpetrators, but the same applies to less dramatic situations in our lives.

This is only possible because Jesus forgave us first. These examples are just shadows of the greatest act of forgiveness: Jesus Christ dying for us when He was without sin but betrayed by his own people and his own disciples. If we are forgiven from our debt of $3 billion, who are we to not forgive our neighbors who owe us $6,000?

Now that I have explored somewhat of my theological and practical meditations on Jesus Christ as a door for man to God, I would now like to briefly explore Jesus Christ as a mediator but in the other direction: from God to the world. Again, these are my thoughts from reading the gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. — John 1:1-3

There is a two-fold nature of Jesus's mediation. He doesn't merely guide us towards the Father; He also brings the divine into our world. John writes “All things were made through him” (”him” here being Jesus). In this sense, Jesus serves as a unique conduit for divine-human interaction.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. — John 1:10

Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity states that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. It struck me that this dual nature is pivotal for His role as a mediator. Just as a Korean-English interpreter must be proficient in both languages, Jesus, being both divine and human, mediates effectively between the two realms.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. — Genesis 1:3

As a bit of a wild tangent, let's consider simulation theory, which basically states that we live in a simulation. I actually think that parts of simulation theory are strangely not incompatible with Christian theology. For example, God uses the Word or logos to create the world, as a programmer would use a programming language to create a program. (God is also outside of this world, just as a programmer is not in his or her program.) In John 1:3, John writes that the world was made through Christ, and we know that God made the world through the Word. We also know that Christ is the embodiment of the Word. So in this analogy, Jesus Christ is a like divine compiler by taking the Word and manifesting the Word in the world, just as a compiler takes a program and creates machine language that is executed by the hardware. I thought this was an interesting modern metaphor to contemplate on Jesus Christ's divine mediation.

You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. — John 15:14-17

So with this two-way mediation in mind, consider this: on one hand, Jesus Christ mediates humanity's approach to God; on the other, He manifests the divine on earth. Jesus, by doing the will of the Father, offers a tangible, accessible model of divine intent. That is the A → B → C. Following Jesus then is about aligning with the very essence of God's will. By doing so, we can become co-workers with Jesus Christ, by whom all things were made and by whom we are reborn, and doing God's will, just as Jesus Christ did and is doing to this day.