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Sermon on Lord's Day 11 of the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev C Bouwman held on Sunday afternoon, 4 August 2002.
Text:
Lordís Day 11

29. Q. Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Saviour?
A. Because He saves us from all our sins,[1] and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.[2]
[1] Matt. 1:21; Heb. 7:25. [2] Is. 43:11; John 15:4, 5; Acts 4:11, 12; I Tim. 2:5.

30. Q. Do those believe in the only Saviour Jesus who seek their salvation and well-being from saints, in themselves, or anywhere else?
A. No. Though they boast of Him in words, they in fact deny the only Saviour Jesus.[1] For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or those who by true faith accept this Saviour must find in Him all that is necessary for their salvation.[2]
[1] I Cor. 1:12, 13; Gal. 5:4. [2] Col. 1:19, 20; 2:10; I John 1:7.  

Scripture Reading:
Psalm 54
Genesis 3:15-24
Matthew 1:18-25

Singing:  (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 86:1
Psalm 40:4
Psalm 27:5,6
Psalm 54:1,2,3
Hymn 55:1,2

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Apostlesí Creed we confessed together some moments ago divides into three parts. With Lordís Day 9 and 10 the church makes confession of what Scripture teaches concerning the first section, of "God the Father and our Creation". Weíve spent some weeks on those Lordís Days, and learned how very much comfort and encouragement God gives us in the nuts and bolts of life. For the Creator of heaven and earth is our Father; "leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand." That we can be children of such a God makes us completely safe no matter what may come on our path. Here is material that pertains very much to the here and now of our daily lives; no confession is closer to the kitchen sink than this.

We move on today to the second section of the Apostlesí Creed, of "God the Son and our Redemption." This section will largely take our thoughts back to events in Palestine some 2000 years ago. Christís birth, ministry, crucifixion, death, resurrection may strike us as far removed from the dirt and dust of real life. As it is, though, congregation, with the material of this second section of the Apostlesí Creed (and that covers Lordís Days 11-19 of the Catechism) weíre making confession of the reason why God in heaven is our Father today Ė and therefore provides all we need today for body and soul. You see, what we confessed in Lordís Days 9 and 10 about God being our Father is so very rich and real-in-daily-terms, but those Lordís Days didnít explain how come God is our Father, and we His children. Thatís what we have to flesh out now; God is our Father, we are His children, for Jesusí sake. To flesh that out, to explain Jesusí role in God becoming our Father: thatís the purpose of the coming Lordís Days. As we flesh that out with Lordís Day 11 this afternoon, we learn that Jesusí saving work profits us not just in the life to come, but touches us directly at the kitchen sink.

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

GOD IS OUR FATHER BECAUSE JESUS IS OUR SAVIOUR.
 

  1. This reality determines what we do with all our problems.
  2. This reality is rooted in Godís gift of His Son.
  3. This reality drives us daily back to God.

1. This reality determines what we do with all our problems.

David was a man of like nature to ours. But at a given moment in his life, he found himself in a bind. Samuel had anointed him to be king over Israel, and so the current king chased him up and down the countryside to kill him. David finally found some refuge in a forest in the Wilderness of Ziph, a few days of peace and quiet. But word came to him that the locals had betrayed him to SaulÖ. Again, then, David was not safe, again heíd have to flee for his life (I Sam 23).

What, now, does David do? According to the title above our Psalm, Davidís reaction to news of this betrayal was that he prayed, prayed the words of Ps 54. Thatís striking. We find ourselves in a spot of trouble, hear some bad news, and the natural thing to do is cast about for ways to solve the problem. Neighbourhood bullies are on our tail, and our automatic response is to look for a way to shake them. A client does us the dirty, and our natural reaction is to look for ways to save the deal. Davidís reaction was not like that. He did not call a counsel of war; his response to the news was instead a prayer. Thatís the title: "a contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, ĎIs David not hiding among us?í"

This response on Davidís part, brothers and sisters, follows directly from the confession that Godís hand reaches into, yes, controls every area of life. To say it with the words of Lordís Day 10: "Leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years," etc, "come not by chance but by His fatherly hand." So: this betrayal by the Ziphites came also from the Lord God. In that light, that David first went to God with his problem was distinctly the correct thing to do. Vs 3: "strangers have risen up against me, And oppressors have sought after my life." Thatís the Ziphites, and SaulÖ.

But notice, congregation, what more David says in the Psalm. He doesnít complain to God, in the sense of: how could You Ėfor You are meant to be my faithful Father-by-covenant- how could You let this happen to me?! No, he comes instead with a request for God. Vs 1: "save me, O God, by Your Name." He seeks deliverance, seeks salvation in the face of this particular problem.

Now, I should add right away that when we hear the word Ďsalvationí, we think right away of eternal life. And indeed, the term Ďsalvationí does have that aspect to it. But thatís not complete. The concept Ďsalvationí occurs numerous times in the Old Testament, and the vast majority of these references describe deliverance from real enemies and out of real catastrophies. Ps 54 is a case in point; David asks God to Ďsaveí him, David asks God to be his Saviour, to deliver him from Saul and the Ziphites.

Why, now, does David ask God to Ďsaveí him? Why not bank on his own ingenuity, or brainstorm with his advisors? That, congregation, is not simply because God was his Father; it was rather because David worked with the Word of God he had. For: according to the Scripture David could have, what was the underlying cause of Davidís trouble? Think it through, beloved: had David lived before the fall into sin, he would have had none of the difficulties reflected in Ps 54! Before the fall into sin, there was only peace, there was only contentment, love for God and neighbour alike. But with the fall into sin that all changed, and that is the root reason why David experiences the trials of his life. For the harmony with God is gone, is replaced instead with the wrath of God. That is why David in his troubles doesnít just address the troubles-as-the-eye-sees-them, but he reaches down to the root of his troubles, to "the cause of his eternal hunger and misery, with is sin." Sin provokes the wrath of God, and so David-the-sinner has to face up with God.

Itís a point, beloved, so critically important for ourselves also. We read a portion from Gen 3. After the fall into sin, the Lord God spoke to the serpent in the hearing of both the man and the woman, said: "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel" (vs 15). Question. How do you experience that word from God in your daily life? Make no mistake, beloved: you experience that enmity between Satan and Godís people when youíre called a Dutchie, when you are derided because you go to church, when you stick by Christian principles in your work, etc. My point: numerous of the troubles that characterize this life stem directly from the Lordís response in Gen 3:15 to our fall into sin.

The same is true in relation to Godís words in vs 16. Said God to the woman: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children." These words take our thoughts to the hours of childbirth, and rightly so. But the Lordís point in these words is not limited to those hours. The discomfort that comes with pregnancy, the difficulties that come with raising children, even the discomforts of hormone changes at adolescence and in later life are all caught in the Lordís words here. Had Adam and Eve received children before the fall into sin, the anxieties that characterize parenting today would not have characterized that family. My point: all the troubles that come with womanhood and receiving children have their roots in the fall into sin.

The same point is true in relation to the struggles to get bread on the table. "Cursed is the ground for your sake," said God to Adam; "In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for youÖ. In the sweat of your face you shall eat breadÖ." The struggle to survive, to feed and clothe the family, to pay the bills, to keep the equipment going at work, etc, has its roots in the fall into sin. So does death, and the sicknesses that lead to death, and the loss of teeth and the need for a walking stick, etc, etc. All of these difficulties and discomforts are not so many discomforts that stand on their own, as in: "thatís life", but all are direct results of the fall into sin, direct results of the judgment of God on our transgression. Lordís Day 4: God is "terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins" and "will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally."

What, then, brothers and sisters, must a man do in the face of sickness? Simply call the doctor? What must a man do when he canít make the payments on his house, canít feed his family? Look for ways out of the problem Ė and if all else fails turn to God in prayer? What should we do when the equipment breaks down? Simply bring in the mechanic? No, beloved, every problem we encounter in this life has its roots in the fall into sin, has its roots in the judgment of God on sin. It speaks of shallow thinking to address each problem as a separate little problem, and fail to address the underlying problem: sin. And the only way to address the underlying problem is to go to the God whose displeasure we provoked through our sins. That is what David did in his troubles; he understood that the cause of his misery was sin. And people canít get rid of sin, people canít satisfy for sin. Only God can do that, more, thatís what God promised to do in that protevangel of Gen 3:15, when He said that the Seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. That is why David goes to God, and then doesnít tell God what he has done so far to solve his own problem, and then ask God to do the last bit; no, he goes to God with empty hands, tells God what his problem is, and cries out, "Save me, O God."

And the thing is: God answers Davidís plea. The Lord God showed David the way he had to go to escape his enemy; yes, according to I Sam 23 the Lord God caused the Philistines to attack the land of Israel so that Saul had to leave off pursuing David. But: why did God answer? Why did He deliver David? At bottom it was because his sins were taken away in the Saviour God would send into the world. Thatís our second point:

2. This reality is rooted in Godís gift of His Son.

At the time of His choosing, the Lord God sent the second Person of the Holy Trinity to earth to be born as a man. Before His birth, Joseph was told what name to give to the baby. "Jesus," the angel said, "you shall call His name Jesus" (Mt 1:21). The word ĎJesusí is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew name ĎJoshuaí, and means "the Lord saves". Thatís why we say in Lordís Day 11 that ĎJesusí means ĎSaviourí.

The name captures the task God gave to this infant. He sent His Son to earth with the mandate to "save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Just how He accomplished that task will be the topic of coming Lordís Days. For now it is sufficient to notice that Jesusí work touched the lives of Godís people in the midst of their daily concerns. Jesus came to take away sin, came, that is, to take away the cause of peopleís hunger and misery. So, once Jesus began His public ministry, He touched peopleís lives precisely in those areas listed in Gen 3. The fall into sin had meant that man had to toil to earn a crust, to feed the family. The disciples laboured all night, and caught nothing. At a word Jesus had their nets full to the point of breaking. The fall into sin had meant that life would be characterized by aches and pains; sickness would prefigure death. Jesus healed so many sick, so many blind, so many deaf, even raised so many dead. You see, Jesus reached into the lives of the people of Judea precisely where they were, and showed them what the effect of His lifeís task was; by taking away sin He was taking away the cause of their miseries. Thereís a direct link between His work on the cross and the health of their homes.

On the cross of Calvary He atoned for sin, satisfied the justice of God. The apostle Paul records the consequence of Jesusí work in Rom 5. He says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs 1). Notice those words: "we have peace with God." Thatís exactly the relation we had with God in Paradise before the fall into sin! Before sin entered the world there was peace with God, no anger from God, no displeasure from God Ė and therefore no pain, no sorrow, no tribulation. The apostle repeats the notion a couple of chapters later: "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (8:1). No condemnation, no judgment; only favour, peace with God! And notice the timing: "there is there now no condemnation." The reference is to today! See there, beloved, the result of Jesusí work; He came to save His people for their sins, and the result is that today Ėand for us that August 4, 2002- today there is no condemnation from God for His people. For the sin that causes misery has been taken away! And because that sin is taken away, because Jesus has obtained peace for us with God, is God again our Father, a Father who uses His almighty power to direct "leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things" in such a way that all things benefit His children. You see: Jesusí work as Saviour provides the foundation for the glorious material confessed in Lordís Days 9 and 10.

But Jesusí work as Saviour goes beyond establishing the foundation for God being again our Father and we His children. He came to take away the cause of our miseries and troubles, which is sin, and to spell that out to the people of His day He healed so many of them from their illnesses. That is, He spelled out to them that He came to take away the cause of their misery Ėhow?- by taking away from them the effects of the fall into sin. Indeed, He didnít take away every effect, nor did He take these effects away permanently. But He showed by His healings what the purpose of His work was, and its consequences: by atoning for sin He in principle took away the results of sin.

Then itís true: today we still see the results of our fall so vividly. The rage of the devil, the pain of childbearing, toil in our daily work: itís all still there. But, brothers and sisters, by faith we realize that the curse of God is out of these tribulations! For the child of God whose sins are forgiven in Jesusí blood these pains and tribulations are not judgments; the child of God knows that God is His Father who "turns to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow." So the anguish is out of the trials of life!

But that gospel, brothers and sisters, has a very direct consequence, and thatís our third point:

3. This reality drives us daily to God with all our troubles.

For: what are we going to do now in the face of trouble? We have a headache; shall we find a solution without God? Or shall we turn to God only when panadol doesnít help? Weíve got tension in our marriage; shall we turn to the marriage counsellor for help Ė and to God only when our backs are really up against the wall?

Here, congregation, is the material of Question & Answer 30. "Do those who seek their salvation or well-being in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else, also believe in the only Saviour Jesus?" Remember: with the word Ďsalvationí in this question our thoughts should not go directly to eternal life, to how we fare when we reach the judgment seat of God. The reference in the Catechism is first of all to the here-and-now, and thatís shown up by the Catechismís use of the word Ďwell-beingí as a parallel term to the word Ďsalvationí. Indeed, it cannot be different; if God will be favourable to us on the last day, He will be favourable to us now already. Jesusí work was to take away sins, and the result, says Paul, is that "we have peace with God", "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Thatís the question: do those who seek their sense of well-being for this life in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else also believe in the only Saviour Jesus?

The answer, beloved, is a loud No! The people of five hundred years ago who in a concrete sickness cried out to St Andrew or to St Bartholomew or to St Anne for deliverance and healing were in fact denying Jesus Ė even though they could speak about Jesus at length. We today donít cry out to a saint for healing in our sicknesses, but that doesnít mean that thereís no lesson here for us. For in principle there is no difference between crying out to a saint for help or crying out to a doctor for help.

Let me try to be very clear. The saint will never help, because the saint is dead and so will neither intervene with things on earth nor intercede with God for the sick earthling. A doctor, on the other hand, can indeed prescribe this treatment or do this or that to bring about a healing. In that sense, it makes a big difference who you turn to.

But my point lies at a deeper level. My sickness has its roots in the fall into sin. If I ignore that fact, and simply go to the doctor, Iíve not taken seriously the cause of my illness, have not taken seriously either that Jesus came into this world to take away that cause Ė and so to give me peace with God. That sickness, now, has not come upon me by chance, but my Father-for-Jesusí-sake has permitted this sickness to come upon me for my good. So, in the face of illness, I need first of all to go to the God I offended in Paradise, need to acknowledge my unworthiness and sinfulness before Him, and plead for His grace upon me for Jesusí sake. As long as His judgment and wrath remain, I can go to a thousand doctors, but I havenít addressed the root problem. That is why I need to go to God with my problem first, embrace again the gospel of Jesusí saving work, seek His blessing and His answers to my medical problem, and then possibly go to the doctor.

The same is true in the face of any other trouble in life. The equipment breaks down, and my natural reaction is to phone up the repairman. Fine, but life has a deeper dimension, I may not forget the connection to Gen 3 and therefore the need for a Saviour. To seek my wellbeing in that repairman instead of the Lord Jesus does not do justice to the depths of Jesusí saving work. So I lay the problem before my God first, and then possibly call up the repairman.

I may feel lousy about myself, and think I need a boost to feel better. In todayís climate, the temptation is there to seek a solution to that low feeling in drink, or in drugs, even drugs picked up from the chemist. But those lousy feelings we have about ourselves would not have been there had we been living before Gen 3! The cause of the down feeling is sin, and weíve got to take that reality seriously and therefore work with what God did in giving a Saviour to deliver us from our sins Ė consequences included. So we turn in prayer to our Father in Jesus Christ, work with His gospel Ė and see whether He wants us to make use of a drink or of drugs.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came to take away the cause of the troubles we encounter day by day. The effects of His work do not pass us by; already we have peace with God, no condemnation from Him, no wrath in the midst of lifeís brokenness. That gospel already takes away an enormous amount of worry and stress from the life of Godís children. And soon, when Jesus comes again on the clouds of heaven, every tear will be gone at last, pain will be no more, troubles banned forever from this earth. Then we will experience in full what we taste today in part: Jesus is a complete Saviour, we find in Him all that is necessary for our salvation Ė today and forever. Amen.