Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 54-55. Here is a brief review.
WLC 54 How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?
A. Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father, with all fulness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth, and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth ministers and people with gifts and graces, and maketh intercession for them.
After Christ had made purification of sins, and upon His ascension into heaven, the Scriptures speak of how Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). This sitting at the right hand of God is used to describe several aspects of the uniqueness of Christ Person and work.
First, it speaks to His completed work of redemption. Unlike the priests of the old covenant whose continual work could never take away sins, Jesus offered up Himself as one sacrifice for sins for all time (Hebrews 10:11-14; 12:1-2).
Second, sitting at God’s right hand also speaks to Jesus’ power, authority, and rule over all creation (1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 1:1-4, 13-14).
Third, as our perfect Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), Christ Jesus presently sits at God’s right hand where He intercedes for us (Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 8:1-2). Because He is the Son of God who became man and was tempted in all things as we are, yet with sin, His representation and intercession before the throne of God in heaven gives us confidence to draw near to God and receive mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The next question of the WLC summarizes for us what the Scriptures teach about Christ’s present intercessory work.
WLC 55 How doth Christ make intercession?
A. Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.
Appearing on our behalf in our human nature before God the Father in heaven, Jesus Christ the righteous is our perfect Advocate, the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). Thus, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
On the night before His crucifixion, following the last supper, Jesus prayed for Himself and for His people. This prayer in John 17 is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer and it provides wonderful insight into Jesus’ intercessory work. His intercession gives eternal life to all those whom the Father has given to Him (John 17:1-2, 9). According to His intercession, God’s people are also sanctified – set apart from the world – even as Jesus sanctified Himself (John 17:17-19). And, Jesus intercedes on behalf of His people in order to grant them eternal fellowship with Him together with God the Father (John 17:24).
What’s more, because of Christ’s intercessory work at the right hand of God the Father, and our union with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-7), our spiritual sacrifices and good works are made acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:1-5). We are able to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, as our spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1-2).
Unfortunately, some have taken the teaching of Scripture regarding how the righteous deeds of faithless unbelievers are like a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6) out of its context and teach that even the good works of sincere believers are unacceptable to God. But, as we have already seen, this is not so. The fact that Jesus’ intercession at the right hand of God makes our good works acceptable to God is an important teaching of Scripture that many don’t understand, yet it is of the utmost importance as it gives us confidence in our service to the Lord.
To be sure, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). However, those whom God has saved through the gift of faith and are thereby justified in His sight, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10). God promises, through Jesus Christ His Son, “to equip us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Consider the example of Abel and His sacrifice: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). Notice that it was “by faith” that Abel offered a better sacrifice than his brother because “he was righteous.” Abel’s sacrifice was found to be pleasing to God precisely because Abel was first accepted by God. It wasn’t the offering alone which was pleasing, but the one who was offering it in faith was accepted and thus, so was the offering: “…the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5).
The application and usefulness of this doctrine – how Christ’s intercession for us at the right hand of the Father makes our good works done in faith acceptable to God – is that it gives us confidence to serve and worship our Father in heaven with sincere hearts. Because we are adopted children of God, He is pleased to receive the good works and spiritual sacrifices of those whom He loves in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).
Here is how John Calvin makes this application in his commentary on Hebrews 11:4:
“…no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, – God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God. This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.”
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch