Jesus is the mediator between us and God (1 Tim 2:5; cf. Heb 8:6; 12:24). All ancient lands and cultures had temples, because human beings once knew innately that there was a gap, a yawning chasm, between us and the divine. God is great and we are small—God is perfect and we are flawed. Temples were places where an effort was made to bridge that gap. Sacrifices and offerings were made and rituals observed by professional “mediators” (priests) who sought to bring the remote divinity near. All such efforts were understood to be partial and fragmentary. No religion claimed that the gap could be closed.
Aristotle, for example, said that while it might be possible to venerate and appease the gods, actual intimate friendship with a god was impossible. The philosopher reasoned that friendship requires that both parties share much in common as equals. They must be alike. But since God is infinitely greater than human beings, “the possibility of friendship ceases.”
Now, however, we have the ultimate mediator and priest to end all priests (Heb 4:14 –15). He eliminates the gap so that we can know God as friend (cf. Ex 33:11). It is because the Son of God was “made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:17). And because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but . . . has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin,” we are able to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:15–16).
Here, then, is a claim that Aristotle—indeed, all the other philosophers and religious teachers of the world—would find outrageous. How could God be our intimate friend? How could we approach him with complete confidence? It is because God became like us, equally mortal and subject to suffering and death. He did it so we could be forgiven and justified by faith apart from our efforts and merits. That is why we can draw near.
Excerpt from PRAYER by Timothy Keller
Reprinted by arrangement with DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random
House Company. Copyright © 2014 by Timothy Keller