Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"CHRISTíS SATISFACTION FOR SIN LEADS TO THE END OF DEATH."
56. Q. What do you believe concerning
the forgiveness of sins?
A. I believe that God, because of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature, against which I have to struggle all my life, but He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never come into condemnation.
 Ps. 103:3, 4, 10, 12; Mic. 7:18, 19; II Cor. 5:18-21; I John 1:7; 2:2.  Rom. 7:21-25.  John 3:17, 18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1, 2.
57. Q. What comfort does the resurrection of the body offer you?
A. Not only shall my soul after this life immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head, but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul and made like Christ's glorious body.
 Luke 16:22; 23:43; Phil. 1:21-23.  Job 19:25, 26; I Cor. 15:20, 42-46, 54; Phil. 3:21; I John 3:2.
58. Q. What comfort do you receive from the article about the life everlasting?
A. Since I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy,  I shall after this life possess perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived-- a blessedness in which to praise God forever.
 John 17:3; Rom. 14:17; II Cor. 5:2, 3.  John 17:24; I Cor. 2:9.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:15-24
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 130:2,3,4 (Psalm 31:12)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
The ascended Christ has given gifts to His church. In the course of the year now passing, we have tasted so many of these giftsÖ.
On this last Sunday of the year, I want draw out for you the wealth of three of these gifts, the last three mentioned in the Apostleís Creed: the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. These three are connected with a common thread. That common thread is the word of God in Gen 2: "in the day that you eat of [the tree], you shall surely die" (vs 17). That is: sin leads to death. Q & A 56 discusses sin, specifically the forgiveness of sins through Jesusí blood. Q & A 57 discusses death, specifically Christís victory over death so that the Christian is also assured of the resurrection of the body. And Q & A 58 again discusses death, specifically the total destruction of death leading to the life everlasting. Itís that thread I want to lay before you today, so that, as we pass from one year into the next, we may encourage each other in the riches of Godís salvation. So too, as you profess the faith today, Teresa, you may be encouraged in that perspective of Paul: "to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
CHRISTíS SATISFACTION FOR SIN LEADS TO THE END OF DEATH.
1. The forgiveness of sins.
The life that God gave to Adam and Eve in the beginning was a life of bliss. Paradise: here was communion with God, an abundance to eat and drink, never a tear, no pain, no sickness, only happiness and pleasure. In the words of Q & A 58: here was perfect blessedness such as no eye today has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man able to conceive. In Paradise, Adam and Eve could praise God in all they did day by day.
But, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience, Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so sinned. The result Ėaccording to Godís righteous ordinance- was that death entered the world. Straightaway Adam died spiritually; he became what Eph 2 calls "dead in sin." Physical death entered his body also, and the process of decay that then began led to his death 930 years later (Gen 5:5).
The spiritual death Adam died on the day he sinned meant the end of the perfect blessedness of Paradise. The sweet communion heíd enjoyed with God ended the moment he sinned; when God in the cool of the day came to visit Adam and Eve, they "trembling fled from Him" (Belgic Confession, Art 17). The abundance theyíd had to eat and drink also came to an end, for the Lord God exiled them out of the Garden into a wilderness of thorns and thistles where Adam and Eve and their descendants would have to eek an existence out of obstinate land through sweat and toil. The freedom from pain and sickness ceased also; Eve would bring forth and raise her children in pain, and sickness would characterise their lives until they would dieÖ. In a word: because of the fall into sin the blessedness of Paradise was replaced by the curse of life-as-we-know-it. What we consider Ďnormal existenceí Ėpain, death, strife, tension, loneliness, sadness, tears, etc- what we consider Ďnormal existence, God reveals as the penalty we brought on ourselves through our fall into sin. Itís the reality of Eph 2: people have become "dead in trespasses and sins" and so we "conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of our flesh and mind." That form of conduct made us "children of wrath"; on such behaviour had to come the judgment of God Most High, and that judgment means more misery and more strife and more curse.
Hereís a link, brothers and sisters, that we need to keep in mind. In the year past weíve seen so much misery, brokenness Ė be it in our personal lives or in the reports of the newspapers. The Lord would have us know that had we still lived in Paradise, had the fall into sin not happened, none of this misery would have come on our path either. The troubles weíve experienced this past year Ėand yes, thatís life as we are accustomed to it- are a direct consequence of the fall into sin.
But precisely there, brothers and sisters, lies the gospel, and itís that gospel that teaches us how to look at the year the year thatís gone by, and how to look at the year thatís ahead. For ĖChristmas!- the Lord God so loved this world Ėfallen, to be sure!- that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but receive eternal life (Jn 3:16). The Lord has poured the judgment we deserve onto His only Son, so that we might be freed of the judgment that was to fall on us! As the church puts it so richly in the Form for the Celebration of the Lordís Supper: "He bore for us the wrath of God, under which we should have perished eternallyÖ. He was bound that He might free us from our sinsÖ. He was innocently condemned to death that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of GodÖ." Itís the gospel weíve heard so often in the year past: Christ "took our curse upon Himself that He might fill us with His blessing."
This, congregation, is the glorious gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Christís work on the cross ĖGod proclaimed it already in Paradise directly after the fall into sin, and He spelled it out for the people of Israel through the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and He had it announced repeatedly through the prophets of old- Christís work on the cross is the reason why Godís people of old and Godís people of today may know their sins forgiven!
Ps 103: "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities" (vs 10). Instead, "as far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us" (vs 12).
Ps 130: the Lord does not mark transgression, does not deal with us according to what we deserve.
Old Testament Scripture has a number of illustrations that point up this glorious gospel of mercy.
The law of Moses spoke time and again was Ďwashingí, and we realize well that dirt washed off your hands is gone, removed, and you canít get it back.
Hezekiah put the gospel of forgiveness of sins in these words: "You have cast all my sins behind Your back" (Is 38:17). The picture is of one eating an apple, and discarding the apple core over your shoulder. Gone, forgotten, of no effect any more as you keep on walking the road of life.
Micah says, "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sin" (7:19). Whatís dropped into the sea is retrievable with todayís modern technology, but for the people of old whatever fell off a ship was utterly and totally gone, irretrievable, of no effect any more.
The Holy Spirit moved Isaiah to speak of forgiveness like this: "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins" (Is 43:25). Blots out: the picture is of an entry of sin made into a record book, and then of the entry being blotted out by a big spill of ink; no auditor can read the entry any more, and therefore no auditor can make an issue of the transgression once recorded there. Thatís why the Spirit adds that God "will not remember your sins" any more. "Remember": in the Bible the term does not mean that God develops a memory blank, but means instead that God comes into action. Think of Noah in the flood; Gen 8:1 says that after he floated on the waters for 150 days "God remembered Noah." The point is surely not that the Lord had clean forgotten Noah for those 150 days; the point was instead that now the Lord did something about the flood waters, He sent a wind to dry the water off the earth. So here: the entry of our sins is blotted out of Godís record book and so God does not remember them, that is, God does not respond to them, does not deal with us according to our transgressions.
That is why in Q & A 56 we say concerning the forgiveness of sins that "God because of Christís satisfaction will no more remember my sins." The point is that God has removed those sins from us as far as east from west extends, has washed them away as dirt from your hands, has tossed those sins over His shoulder, has cast them into the sea, has blotted them out, and thatís to say, for all practical intents and purposes, that these sins just do not exist any more, have no impact on Godís thoughts towards us! In the words of Lordís Day 23: God treats us as if we never had nor committed any sin! See there, congregation, the glorious gospel of forgiveness!! Undeserved, not earned, yet freely given. This is grace!
Yet even this is not all. For the Lord knows very well, even better than we, that day by day we continue to sin; try though we might we cannot get our thoughts and our words and our deeds to conform perfectly to His revealed will for us. As Paul put it: we can will what is right, but we cannot do it (Rom 7). Yet even that frustrating reality does not prompt God to recall our sins of the past, nor does it move Him to deal with us according to what we deserve. Such is His mercy in Christ Jesus that He not only no more remembers my sins, but He also makes no issue of my sinful nature against which I have to struggle all my life long. That is to say: day by day, despite our repeated failures Ėand He knows we have failed and will continue to fail- day by day He for Jesusí sake forgives and continues to forgive, does not deal with us according to our sins and continues not to deal with us according to what we deserve. In the words of Paul to the Romans, chap 5:1, after he had described the work of Christ on the cross: "therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "We have peace with God": how glorious the gospel! And again, chap 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." You hear it, beloved? "Peace with God", "no condemnation": thatís the reality that dominates the way the God of heaven and earth views His children! Peace, no condemnation: itís the atmosphere of Paradise as it was before the fall into sin!
This, we need to realise, is the wealth God has promised to each one of us in the covenant of grace He established with us. You know how it goes: itís one thing to confess the riches of the forgiveness of sins, but in the midst of our sins and misery itís another thing to confess this forgiveness in relation to ourselves, to make it personal. But thatís what God has done to all with whom He established His covenant! I refer to the Form for Baptism: "When we are baptised into the Name of the Son, God the Son promised us that He washes us in His blood from all our sinsÖ. Thus we are freed from our sins and accounted righteous before God." God established that covenant of grace with each of us, brothers and sisters, and thatís to say that God promised to forgive our sins, or Ėto say it with the words of the images of the Old Testament- to wash those sins away, to toss them over His shoulder, to cast them into the sea, to blot them out. So: those sins of 2002 Ėand we have all committed so many, whether we recognise them as sin or nor- those sins of 2002 He has promised to forgive, freely, graciously to wash away, to blot out, to cast overboard, to remove as far as east from west extends. Thatís the gospel, beloved, that by Godís grace could be proclaimed to you so many times in the course of the year, the gospel God would have us apply in the face of our concrete transgressions. The promise of the gospel: because of Christís satisfaction God will no more remember my sins nor my sinful nature. This is the gospel with which God would have us end the year!
Then itís true: the covenant contains two parts, a promise and an obligation. The Lord wants us to embrace as true the riches He has promised. I show that I embrace this glorious gospel by being sorry for my sins, hating my sins, fleeing from the sin that remains in me. That is: I need to repent of my sins before I can rightly claim the gift of forgiveness as my own. And, by the grace of the Lord, we can and must acknowledge the work of the Lord in our hearts and lives: He does work sorrow for sin, repentance from sin, and so we may we confident at the end of the year that God will no more remember my sins nor my sinful nature. We may farewell the old year, with all its mistakes and transgressions, with peace in our minds. That is also why we may enter the New Year with optimism. For God does not take our bad baggage of last year along into the New Year! Godís forgiveness means that those sins have been blotted out, washed away, cast overboard, tossed over His shoulder, and so our actions of last year will not provoke Godís displeasure in the New Year! And the fact that we remain sinful and so shall surely transgress in the New Year does not prompt God either to anger; at the beginning of a new year He reminds us - again!- that He remembers neither our sins nor our sinful nature against which weíll need to struggle throughout 2003. Thatís the glorious promise in the covenant: there is abundant grace, free forgiveness of sins!
But if thatís the case, brothers and sisters, a wonderful consequence follows. Itís our second point:
2. The Resurrection of the Body.
Weíd learned from Gen 2 that God placed a link between sin and death; "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Here, then, is the wonderful consequence: if sin is forgiven, if sin is removed as far as east from west extends, if sin is cast overboard, then thereís no place any more for the consequences of sin! Then communion with God is restored again Ė as Paul had said: there is peace with God, no condemnation. That in turn means that death is no longer an enemy, no longer Godís penalty on our sins. Yes, we still have to die, but Ėas we could confess with Lordís Day 16- death is no longer "a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life." Loved ones have died in the year past, and we shall surely face more of death in the year to come. But, says the Lord concerning those who die in the Lord, death is now a door through which God brings us from one room into another, from life on this earth (where we continue to taste so many bitter fruits of our fall into sin) into the next room, life with God, Paradise! The Holy Spirit moved David to say long ago that after his death he would see Godís face in righteousness and glory (Ps 17:15). Jesus told the repentant criminal on the cross that "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Lu 23:43). In the words of A 57: "my soul after this life [shall] immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head." Death: then is answered the prayer Jesus prayed before He went to the cross, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me" (Jn 17:24). That is why Paul could be so emphatic: to die is far better, for to die is to be with Christ (Phil 1:23). See there the gospel: sin is taken away, and so the bitter wage of sin is emptied of its sting also; death is now gain for the child of God! So we do not lament the passing of those who have died in the Lord, and we do not fear death ourselves either; the gospel of the forgiveness of sins means we have such peace with God that we shall live with Him always!
But itís not just my soul that benefits from Christís payment for my sins and the forgiveness God grants. Itís true: what we see of death is an empty body, and that body is buried, decomposes. Itís the promise of Gen 3: dust you are and to dust you shall return. But, beloved of the Lord, exactly because of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins must this bitter effect of our fall also be undone! And thatís the promise of the Lord. The Christ who died to pay for our sins will return on the clouds of heaven with a cry of command, "and the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thes 4:16). For the very Christ who died for sin arose from the dead, and thatís to say that He broke the link God established in the beginning between sin and death. Eph 4: "God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ö), and raised us up togetherÖ" (vs 4f). Sin is paid for, and therefore our death cannot endure; as the soul upon death immediately benefits from Christís payment (and so is taken up to Paradise), so "this my flesh" shall in due time be "raised by the power of Christ Ö and [be] made like Christís glorious body." 1 Cor 15: "The sting of death is sin" (vs 56), sin is forgiven, and therefore "death is swallowed up in victory" (vs 54). It is a matter of time, beloved, and the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible. Will it happen in 2003? We do not know. But we certainly look forward to that wonderful fruit of Christís victory, that wonderful consequence of the forgiveness of sins!
That brings us to our last point:
3. The Life Everlasting.
For the resurrected body, the Lord reveals, will be reunited with the soul that upon death had been taken to Paradise. When body and soul are reunited, the body will be changed, glorified, "made like Christís glorious body." That is: here finally all the bitter consequences of our fall into sin will be removed completely. On that glorious day of Christís return this earth will be cleansed of all sin and all the works of sin, and this earth renewed into a new Paradise. The New Jerusalem will come down from heaven, says Rev 21, and then the dwelling of God will be with men Ė and thatís the communion of Paradise restored. Today we have it already in principle, but tomorrow, when Christ comes back, weíll have that communion in all its glory, for weíll see God face to face (1 Jn 3:2). Not only that; "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4) Ė Paradise restored, all those bitter effects of the fall into sin taken away! Itís "perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived Ė a blessedness in which to praise God forever." In truth, what a glorious future awaits the children of God!
Do you see, brothers and sisters, the link between forgiveness of sins and life eternal, the golden thread between those last three articles of the Apostlesí Creed? As sin leads to death, so the forgiveness of sins leads to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting! Thatís the glorious gospel God in His grace had proclaimed to you throughout the year of our Lord 2002. Thatís the glorious gospel that God sets before us as we farewell the one year and welcome the next. For this is the gospel that gives perspective and hope! All our sins forgiven, and therefore their bitter fruits also emptied of their power. Perchance in the New Year we will die, perchance in the New Year Christ will return. Either way we look forward to Paradise restored, receiving the fullness of the forgiveness of our sins and so life in its perfection with God our Savior. Amen.