Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
REVEALS TO SINNERS THE WAY OF SALVATION
|12. Q.||Since, according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?|
|A.||God demands that His justice be satisfied.1
Therefore we must make full payment, either by ourselves or through
1 Ex 20:5; 23:7; Rom 2:1-11. 2 Is 53:11; Rom 8:3, 4.
|13. Q.||Can we by ourselves make this payment?|
|A.||Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily
increase our debt.1
1 Ps 130:3; Mt 6:12; Rom 2:4, 5.
|14. Q.||Can any mere creature pay for us?|
|A.||No. In the first place, God will not punish
another creature for the sin which man has committed.1
Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal
wrath against sin and deliver others from it.2
1 Ezek 18:4, 20; Heb 2:14-18. 2 Ps 130:3; Nahum 1:6.
|15. Q.||What kind of mediator and deliverer must we
One who is a true1 and righteous2 man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.3
1 1 Cor 15:21; Heb 2:17. 2 Is 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26. 3 Is 7:14; 9:6; Jer 23:6; Jn 1:1; Rom 8:3, 4.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 77:5; & Hymn 30:5
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We could live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus Christ only Ėwe said in Lordís Day 1- if we knew how great our sins and misery are. With Lordís Dayís 2 to 4 we repeated after God that in fact our sins and misery were impossibly great. God, we confessed in Lordís Day 2, demands perfect obedience to His holy law, demands love for God and neighbor alike, but all we can do by nature is hateÖ. The cause of our inability to love, though, lies not with God and the way He made us; the fault lies rather with ourselves because we turned our backs on God in Paradise Ė we said in Lordís Day 3. And Godís response to our fall and brokenness, we added in Lordís Day 4, is severe judgment; God is simply not going to leave our transgressions unpunished.
Itís not a nice picture. Judgment, "everlasting punishment of body and soul": no, thatís not a nice picture. But this is what God has revealed in His Word, and so weíve repeated this awful reality after God. Weíre sure that the Lord has not told us this so that weíd develop a complexÖ.
As it is, brothers and sisters, the Lord has told us about our sins and misery in order that we might appreciate the deliverance Heís prepared. For this is the good news of Scripture: God has told us more in the Bible than that our sins and misery are so great. Heís told us also that there is a way to escape the just judgment of God. That, now, is what we set out to confess in the second section of the Catechism, Lordís Dayís 5-31. With Lordís Day 5 we begin repeating after God what He has told us in His Word about the way of salvation.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
GOD REVEALS TO SINNERS THE WAY OF SALVATION.
The destination of salvation road
Every road leads to somewhere. Albany Hwy will bring you to Albany, the Great Eastern to Sydney. Roads have destinations. The way of salvation has a destination too. To explain to you what that destination is, though, we need to look at the beginning of this road. Whatís the beginning?
Weíd said in Lordís Day 4 that we are deserving of the just judgment of God both now and eternally. When all is said and done, this just judgment of God is hell. We want, of course, to escape this judgment, this hell. There, now, is the topic of this first point. Is it enough that we escape this hell, find a way out from under the judgment of God? Is the destination of salvation road simply that we get out of hell?
In answer to that question we need to consider what hell is. I learn from Scripture that hell is a place of indescribable anguish, of eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth. Elsewhere this place of Godís judgment is described as a bottomless pit. Language like this places in our minds the thought that hell is simply a place. Then automatically we think in terms of escape as getting out of this awful place. We imagine a prison, a sort of concentration camp, and escape means to get out, somehow to get over those walls to the freedom outside.
Now, itís true that hell is a place. But it is a place characterized by more than pain and suffering; it is a place characterized by the absence of Godís favor. That is why Jesusí three hours of darkness on the cross can be described as a descent into hell (Lordís Day 16); in those three hours of darkness Jesus was rejected by God, fell totally outside of the favor of God Ė and that is hell. Escape from hell, then, is not simply that we somehow get out of a place of torment into an area where we donít experience Godís judgment anymore. Escape from hell means that we get out of this sphere of being rejected by God. And when it comes to notions of rejection or acceptance, thereís no neutral territory, no halfway position somewhere between rejection or acceptance; one is either rejected by God or accepted by God.
Consider Paradise for a moment. Adam and Eve lived within the walls of the Garden, and there did their daily work. In the cool of the day the Lord God came to visit them, to talk with them (Gen 3:8). Thatís to say that Adam and Eve were in Godís favor, and so God came to them and they could speak with God. When they fell into sin, the Lord God sent them out of the garden. Yet we understand well that the Lordís point was not simply that Adam and Eve should no longer enjoy the abundance of fruit available in the garden; no, by exiling them from the garden the Lord was sending them out of His presence. The wilderness outside the garden with its thorns and thistles was symbolic of hell, of being sent out of Godís presence, cast into the realm where they taste His judgment. Outside the garden was not a neutral area somewhere between the favor of God they used to have in the garden and the full judgment of God theyíd one day experience in hell. No, in the garden theyíd tasted the favor of God, tasted Godís acceptance; outside the garden they tasted the disfavor of God, tasted Godís rejection of them.
Now we ask about the destination of the road of salvation. Is the destination simply that we escape the judgment of God? It cannot be, congregation, for there is no neutral territory between being accepted by God or rejected by Him, no neutral territory between Godís favor and Godís disfavor. Getting out of the place called hell with its divine judgments doesnít help you a dot if you do not at the same time reconcile yourself to God Ė for without reconciliation with God you stay outside of His favor, and thatís to say that you stay under His judgment, His disfavor Ė hell!
What, then, is the destination of salvation road? What we need is not just to escape Godís punishment (hell), but also to be received into Godís favor. Letís have here no narrow or shallow understanding of the salvation we need! Unless we are restored to Godís favor, unless we are reconciled to God, we remain under His curse and judgments.
That is why, in Q 12 of our Lordís Day, we do not ask simply for how we can escape Godís punishment. Instead, we deepen the matter straightaway by asking how we can be received into Godís favor again. Those two Ėescaping Godís punishment and being received into Godís favor- are two sides of one coin, are inseparable. Let no tell you, beloved, that all you need is escape from hell; what you need is more, much more than that. What you need is to reconciliation with God Ė the same God against whom we rebelled in Paradise and continue to rebel day by day. That Ėreconciliation with the God who drove us out of Paradise- that is the destination of the salvation road we seek.
That brings us to our second point:
The name of this salvation road
The names of some roads are determined by the destination of the road. Albany Hwy received its name from the fact that the road ends up in Albany. Thatís also why in the points of this sermon I refer to Ďsalvation roadí; the road of which weíre speaking today leads to salvation, reconciliation with God. But roads can receive names also according to the things you see on that road, things that characterize that road. A name as "Coastal Hwy" tells you nothing about where the road leads, but tells you much about what you see along the road.
What, now, characterizes salvation road? What would be a fitting name for the road so that we get a taste of what this road is like?
We read together a section of Is 1. The chapter describes the sins of Jerusalem, and Godís response to those sins. That is, He will punish by a just judgment. Vs 24:
"Ö I will rid Myself of My adversaries,
And take vengeance on My enemies.
I will turn My hand against you" (vss 24f).
The details come out later on; God will send the people of Jerusalem into exile. At the same time, though, the Lord speaks about the goal of the exile. Says the Lord:
"I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city" (vs 26).
Here too the details come out later on in Isaiahís prophecy; God will restore His people, will even dwell among His own again Ė reconciliation, redemption. We understand: here is a foreshadowing of the same material with which weíre dealing in our Catechism.
Well, now, in this context the Lordís words in vs 27 are intriguing. For the Lord says there that "Zion will be redeemed by justice." How amazing! God speaks of redemption, and we equate redemption with mercy. We say: if there is a road to salvation, if there is a road that leads to reconciliation with God, that road should certainly be characterized by mercy; it should be called "Mercy Road". But see: Isaiah does not say that redemption shall come for Zion through mercy; he is moved by Godís Spirit to say instead that redemption shall come with justice. That is: justice is the means, the instrument by which redemption shall come to Zion.
This text from Isaiah is not unique. I read in the book of Exodus that God "will not justify the wicked" (23:7). In fact, that is the second commandment:
"For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Ex 20:5).
Itís what we read from Rom 2: every sinner shall face the wrath of God. Vs 3:
"Ödo you think this, O man, Ö that you will escape the judgment of God?"
And vs 5:
"But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of GodÖ."
You want to be reconciled to God? Yes, there is a road that leads from the judgment of God we deserve to reconciliation with God. And the name of the road is Justice! Justice: that, congregation of the Lord, is what characterizes that road back to God Ė justice. Thatís what the Lord says in the Bible Heís given us, and thatís why we say it after God in Lordís Day 5, A 12: "God demands that His justice be satisfied." If you want to escape the just judgment of God and be again received into Godís favor, the only possible way is to satisfy that justice. Thatís how Zion can be redeemed, and thatís how you can be redeemed; "with justice".
And how can we satisfy that justice? We repeated it after God in Lordís Day 2; God demands obedience, and thatís to say that God demands total and absolute love for Him. But we canít love Him as He demands; instead, we are "inclined by nature to hate God and [the] neighbor." In His instructions to Israel about the sacrifices required in the tabernacle, the Lord made clear to His people that their sins required satisfaction; when they sinned they had to make good, had to present an offering to the Lord. The same holds true for us, and thatís why we confess in A 12 that we must make full payment, in some way.
But can we? Could Israel? O yes, Israel had to bring countless sacrifices to the temple. But those sacrifices did not themselves pay for Israelís sins. They served simply to defer the judgment of God on their sins, served to draw Godís attention to Another who would die instead of the sinner. For the sinner in Israel could not satisfy Godís justice any more than you and I can. And Scripture is clear on that point. The very fact that the Lord instructs us to ask God time and again to forgive our sins makes plain that we keep on sinning Ė and therefore earn more condemnation. The apostle repeats it in Rom 2; with every sin we commit we treasure up for ourselves wrath from God (vs 5). Pay our debt with God? Satisfy His justice? "Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt." Such is our depravity
Shall I then seek a kookaburra to pay my debt with God? Or ask Michael the archangel to satisfy Godís justice for me? The word of the Lord is clear: "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezek 18:4). It was human nature that sinned, and therefore itís human nature that must pay for sin; God is too just to accept the labors of a kangaroo to pay for my sin.
"With what shall I come before the Lord,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6f.).
None of it, beloved, none of it will help. If, as Nahum says, the mountains quake and rocks are thrown asunder in the face of Godís wrath, then a calf a year old, or a thousand rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or even my firstborn will perish under the weight of Godís wrath. Itís these data of Scripture that prompt us to echo Godís Word in Question & Answer 14 like this: "God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of Godís eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it." Not a kookaburra or a kangaroo, not a million gold bars or Michael the archangel will satisfy for us the just judgment of God.
Where that leaves us? We seek a road that leads out away from the judgment of God, leads us to full reconciliation with God. The Lord tells us that there is a salvation road, and its name is Justice. Weíre delighted to learn of that road, for it means there is a possibility that we actually can escape Godís judgment and be received again into His favor. But lo, now that weíve had a good look at this road we find that we canít travel it! The volcanoes on that road are too daunting for us; itís not passable!
How disappointing. Weíre excited to find there is a road, for we want escape, reconciliation. But what a letdown! It would be better if there wasnít a road at allÖ. At least we wouldnít get our hopes upÖ. This, beloved, signifies the end of all efforts to obtain salvation ourselves. What we confess in Lordís Day 5 is that no creature of God is able to travel salvation road; the justice of God makes it impassable for any creature. So there is no room in our minds for the thought that we via our works can travel that road, can work our way into Godís favor. There is no room either for the thought that we can ride into Godís favor on the coattails of our parents, or an office-bearer, or the church Ė for these parents or office-bearers or even the church cannot travel that road themselves. Here is room only for humility, for brokenness, for a contrite spirit. As the prophet Micah has said:
"He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).
We come to our last point:
How we can travel salvation road
The Lord, brothers and sisters, did not tell us about salvation road just so that we might get our hopes up Ė only to have them dashed. Thatís not what your God is like.
True, we canít travel Justice Road; for us itís impassible. But that doesnít mean that God canít travel it! The gospel is that there is a road; thatís the element of Deliverance we confess in Lordís Day 5. There is a road, and God has not told us that fact for nothing. Heís told us that "Zion will be redeemed by justice" because itís through justice that He intends to redeem Zion.
And see: the Lord Jesus Christ says to His disciples that He is "the way"! (Jn 14:6). The apostle to the Hebrews adds that Jesus by His blood has consecrated for us "a new and living way" to enter the presence of God (Heb 10:19f). We canít travel Justice Road, we canít on own strength escape the just judgment of God and find His favor again. But the God who is at the other end of the road has traveled that road, has come to us with the gospel of His only Son, and through the work of that Son of God has opened up the way of salvation for us. By His death on the cross He satisfied the justice of God, and so reconciled sinners to God so that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ: He remains the only way to travel the road of salvation. Jesus Christ: He satisfied the justice of God Ėitís what the Lord impressed upon us today at His table- and so we are redeemed with justice.
This is the gospel God has prepared for you, beloved. You want to escape Godís justice, and we understand that to mean that we need to be received again into His favor. For us that task is "hopeless and in vain; our guilt was eíer increasing." But holy God, in boundless mercy, has come to us in His only begotten Son, and has shown us that He is the Way to the Father. That we could eat the bread and drink the cup at the Lordís table today have pointed up that Yes, weíre reconciled to God; the Lord Himself has made us travel the length of Justice Road in Christ. So we have life with God, life forevermore!
Take that gospel with you, my brothers and sisters, into the cares of this coming week! Amen.