Tuesday, 20 September 2016 10:38

No Escape But From God Above

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No escape but from God above!” That, dear friends, is the theme for today’s message. No doubt, just with life in general, you also know about feeling cornered sometimes, and feeling very anxious seeing yourself blocked in from every side. I mention this as introduction for considering the hopeless, dead-end corner we ourselves have brought ourselves into, spiritually speaking, with our sin and misery as fallen sinners by nature. 

Continuing with our doctrinal series in regards to basic Christian teaching as that is explained and driven home to mind and heart also in the Bible-based Heidelberg Catechism, we are still studying about our misery in connection with our sins and sinfulness as fallen humanity. The godly Bible-faithful authors of the Catechism in their instruction about our sins and sinfulness want us truly to realize with mind and heart how serious is our fall into sin. Indeed, how cornered and trapped we really are, hopelessly and helplessly so, because of our own doing under the inescapable condemnation of God. What a mess we have brought ourselves into rebelling from God and running from Him. Our condition and situation, left on our own, before God and eternity, with each of us now, as we are conceived and born into this world, is desperate, without no escape. Without divine intervention, you and I are trapped between a rock and a hard place, in a deep hole and no one in all this world can get us out.

Again, the aim with this message is not just that you hear it now and agree intellectually with it even. Rather, more than that, the aim is that you heartily feel the pain and shame of this all, and cry out to God for deliverance. Something like, yes, the psalmist of Psalm 61:2 in his calling out to God saying, “when my heart is overwhelmed [that is, fainthearted with no hope and remedy humanly speaking]: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

So here let us just review to what point the Reformation fathers have brought us so far in the so-called misery section and confession of faith in the Heidelberg Catechism. Remember the Catechism begins with the glorious wonderful opening Q&A: What is your only comfort in life and death? The Christian answers, testifying: My only comfort in life and death is that I with body and soul am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  The next question then asks how many things are necessary for you to know and enjoy this comfort and so to live and die happily? To that important question we are taught in line with the whole book of Romans and countless texts and examples in the Bible, three things.  Three spiritual realities are necessary. First, I need to realize and confess how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; and the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

We are still in the misery section of the Catechism, that first part about confessing how great my sins and miseries are. Lord’s Day 2 in its three questions brings out how we come to know our sins and miseries, namely, through the Law of God as given in the Ten Commandments and the summary of that Law as Jesus gives in the gospels. All of us stand condemned before God’s righteous standard and holy mirror of His laws. Without exception we all fall far short of loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we fail constantly with not loving our neighbor as ourselves as God justly requires.  Last week, with the Bible-based teaching of Lord’s Day 3, we learned our fall into sin and misery as guilty depraved children of Adam and Eve, our first parents, is not God’s fault in any way, but our own fault in every way. We learned also the result of the fall into sin for Adam and Eve themselves, and for us as their offspring, is very bad and desperately hopeless. There is just no way out from our cursed fallen dilemma, no possible human escape, except one be found that would be something totally supernatural and completely undeserved too. So Q&A 8 last week taught us rightly, Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Answer: Indeed, we are, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

That being said now, and driven home, you might think the authors would begin the deliverance section of the Catechism and tell about Jesus Christ come to the rescue and the Spirit of God working regeneration in the lives of sinners by means of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But no, not so quickly.  Our reformation fathers want us to know and believe and experience with holy conviction and sorrow and repentance of heart still more, or deeper yet, how great our sins and miseries are.  And truly the clearer we get this and the more often this is driven home to our minds and hearts, the better all round for true and healthy, holy, thankful Christianity, indeed.

So what is the further teaching then in Lord’s Day 4? This lesson now deals with possible escape questions that sinful mankind likes to ask to minimize somehow our awful dilemma in sin, and even to put the blame off ourselves still, if possible.  Three questions are asked here then, all of which, when answered Biblically and not according to fallen human reasoning, just slam the door of escape on us from our side and every side, apart from divine intervention.  It is amazing how the three questions given in Lord’s Day 4 are so commonly asked and given in our times today, 450 years after the Catechism was written.

What are these three relevant questions, you ask? One: Isn’t God unfair demanding perfection when He knows we just can’t perform accordingly? Two: But can’t God simply overlook our sins and let it go? Three: But isn’t God also most merciful?  Will you face these three questions and answers with me now to learn for a first time maybe, or afresh, our theme for today about finding no escape but from God above!

The first question, how can it be fair of God to demand a perfect righteousness of us when He knows we can’t accomplish that, is not uncommon, is it? Don’t many people, if they consider the question at all, just conclude that of course God is fair and He won’t demand what we can’t perform? So people, who knows how many around us, maybe you as well, deceive themselves, thinking and believing God can accept just our best efforts.  As long as you and I live a decent life and try to be good and do good so that at least our good deeds outweigh our wrongs in life from our perspective, therefore it should be okay and we can be sure God loves us and when we die we will go to heaven. 

But listen now to the teaching of God’s word as summarized also in the Catechism, making clear such sinful reasoning and assumption and presumption is all so devastatingly false and seriously wrong! Such reasoning denies again what the Bible teaches us about the creation of mankind in the beginning with Adam and Eve. When God made Adam and Eve, our first parents, He made them perfect and in His image, without a flaw and fully able not to fall.  He created them to live in absolute perfect love to Him and our neighbor, in total line with all the details of all the Ten Commandments and His will in every respect.   It is not like, for example as one said, God demanding us to be able to fly on our own to the moon, and God then getting angry with us for not being able to jump more than a foot off the ground. That would surely be unfair of God to be upset and punish us for not jumping or flying on our own to the moon, because well, God never created us to be able to do this.  But we were created fully able to live in perfect sinless obedience and love before God and our neighbor.

So to the question as fully put by the authors of the Catechism, Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law that which he cannot perform?, the faithful and truthful answer given is: Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful [you can say, reckless] disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Okay, people say in response: But while that was true specifically for Adam and Eve, why am I and all people since them blamed always for their sin and plagued now with their fall into sin?  This is a good question. But the Biblical answer won’t get us off the hook. The Bible teaches us God created Adam as representative for the whole human race, and as Paul teaches in Romans 5:12 in particular, in Adam’s fall we sinned all. As in any sport’s team that represents a country or city, when the team loses we say ‘we lost’ or when they win, ‘we won’. So by God’s good and righteous design, all humanity is intimately linked with our first parents, Adam and Eve, and when they rebelled and fell into sin, we also fell and suffer the consequences of our guilt and corruption and punishment along with them. Therefore we speak of our original sin in Adam, and our actual sins in thought, word, and deed, every day proving we came into this world now in the likeness of Adam’s fallen image, as Scripture teaches and states also in Genesis 5:3.

People may and do protest and complain about this too, asserting, But we never had any say with Adam being our representative and head for the whole human race. But then what is being forgotten again is that the almighty and all-wise God could have made no better representative than He did for us with the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  If anyone of us, you or I, would think and believe that we surely would have been a better representative of the human race and would not have failed the probationary test as Adam and Eve miserably and inexcusably did, how mistaken we are! Then we are talking foolishly and without any realistic basis considering our own sins and sinfulness by nature every day, even when we know so much better. 

No, this is the solemn reality as one put it well: In Adam we all had our chance at an obedience that was within our grasp. But since Adam disobeyed, and the rest of humanity with him, [therefore] Adam and his offspring face spiritual and physical death. In I Corinthians 15:22 Paul states thus, “…in Adam all die”.  If you and I should protest against this arrangement by divine wisdom and justice and dispute having One representing all, and refuse to accept this matter, then not only do we foolishly pretend ourselves to be wiser and better than God. We actually cut ourselves off also from the one door to the only gospel hope. But more on that later.

To the question then, Is it fair of God to deal with us as He does? the answer is YES! The LORD does no injustice whatsoever in His righteous perfect demands of each of us before Him and His holy inflexible laws and will for us.  Do you accept and acknowledge this teaching as Bible-based and basic Christian doctrine?  When you and I do, won’t that mean then realizing more keenly what reasons to humble ourselves before God and to confess with repentance and sorrow of heart how great our sins and miseries are of ourselves, and how hopeless is our condition and situation on our own?  God is perfectly just to condemn us forever for our sins and sinfulness, and left to ourselves, the LORD has every right to leave us under His just wrath in everlasting punishment in hell forever for our sins and sinfulness.  Do you accept and confess this for yourself before God and your neighbor? Isn’t this genuinely and always a real part of the true Christian’s testimony and witness when it is well with us?

But what about this next question the Catechism asks, namely: But can’t God simply overlook our sins and let it go?  I mean if God is God, and all things are possible with Him, people ask then: Why doesn’t He just look past people’s sins and let it go unpunished even? Here, however, we are dealing with the perfect and holy unchanging character of God.  To think and say that God should be able to look past our sins, and to leave it unpunished even, is to suggest, Can’t God not be God? For God to discount or deny any of His attributes is like denying God in His essence, something just not possible!  And think of it. Do you really want a God who would not be just and fair and untrue to His word and will?  Too often the idol gods of man’s own making are no different than our sinful selves. Do you want God to act unfaithfully and inconsistently and superficially in any way?  No, for what makes God so great and glorious and unique and supreme above all is that He never changes. The LORD is always true to all His word. He is and remains always perfectly faithful to all His attributes, and holy and righteous character. 

People who want God to overlook their sin would be so upset and appalled if God would overlook the sins of their neighbor, especially if someone else’s sinful behavior and breaking of God’s law negatively impacted themselves. Again as another put this: God’s justice demands that sin and rebellion and idolatry not go unpunished. We often struggle to embrace God’s right to execute justice, but when the referee blows a call against our team, we’ll stand up and yell at the television. When our insurance company refuses to pay what the policy says they should, we’ll get downright indignant. We all have a [God-given] sense of justice. But somehow we don’t think God can be concerned for justice [or needs to be] when He is wronged [by ourselves].

You hear then, don’t you, the Christian commonsense reasoning and basic Bible-based logic that counters the false notion God can just overlook sin. No, it is simply the truth what the Heidelberg Catechism teaches in Q&A 10 when in answer to the question, Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished? Answer: By no means; but [God] is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in His just judgment temporally and eternally, as He has declared [in Deut. 27:26 and Galatians 3], Cursed is every one that continues not in all things, which are written in the book of the law to do them.

In the Bible we see, time and again, God coming in just judgment and punishment upon all the wicked and unbelieving. There is no promise of any blessing for anyone and all who turn from God and live and die in ongoing rebellion to Him and His word. The wages of sin is death, spiritual death, physical death, and then eternal death, meaning everlasting judgment in hell in body and soul forever under the wrath of God.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth in endless agony in soul and body, God’s word forewarns many times, and Jesus Himself said so over and over again. There can be and is not any sparing for anyone from the exact justice of God always being exercised and ultimately fulfilled in the last and final judgment day.  Truly as one said: God is perfectly just when He refuses to excuse us.

So far we have dealt with the rebuttals that it isn’t fair for God to demand perfection from us and can’t God overlook some wrong-doings from us and look the other way. No, His justice must be satisfied or He wouldn’t be the one and only good and great God as is the LORD!  This means then how can we ever find escape from our sin and misery and all the terrible consequences thereof, including the divine punishment for all our sins to be suffered in body and soul in eternal hell?  Is there just no escape possible for us?

Maybe you say: “I think I have it. I know. What about this? Isn’t God also merciful? Yes, doesn’t the Bible even say that many times, that the Lord is plenteous in mercy and full of bountiful tender mercies even?  So maybe here I can find my way out of my predicament?  In God’s mercy, can’t and won’t He just be kind after all, and simply not hold my sins against me for His mercies’ sake?”  Oh, but do you see what this thinking is doing? It is putting God’s mercy over against God’s justice and holiness. But God will never act in mercy in a way that discounts His infinite justice and righteous demands. God can’t be merciful to you and me and ignore His justice and His righteous standards. How important to hear this too now, for don’t you hear people say sometimes: God won’t cast me or anyone in hell because after all, He is a loving and merciful God.  But you and I can’t set God’s characteristics at odds with each other! All the LORD’s attributes coexist and function always in absolute perfect beautiful harmony. This is what distinguishes God and exalts God as the one true God, most wonderfully and gloriously so too!

In our fallen world, even in our court systems and rulings, we can give too many sad examples where instead of administering justice as required, judges show mercy wrongly, giving light sentences for serious crimes and doing a grievous injustice to society. Sometimes too in human courts, judges have wrongly called for severe justice in cases where, admittedly, some mercy could well have been shown. But God Triune never errs in His justice nor in His mercy. We can and may safely say the LORD’s justice is never at the expense of His mercy, nor is His mercy ever with any discounting of His justice.  Therefore to the thought as expressed in Q&A 11, Is not then God also merciful?  the Bible-based answer then given is: God is indeed, merciful, but also just; therefore His justice requires that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

Where does this all leave us then, when taken to heart? It leaves us stuck, doesn’t it, doomed in our sins and sinfulness, on our own without outside help. There is just no way out. We are cornered, hedged in, left with no escape from God’s righteous and eternal judgment for sin on our own. Have you learned this spiritual reality in regards to yourself?  As strange as it may sound, this is what every true Christian comes to acknowledge and confess, and it is a key part of living and dying happily. Why? Because it is this painful awareness and humble acceptance of our sin and misery on our own that leads once, and again and again, to the cry something like the psalmist in Psalm 61:2, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Notice how against the dark and black background of our sin and misery of ourselves brings out and shines forth that beautiful diamond gem of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. You can’t and won’t know the sparkling joyful worth of the gospel without realizing the shocking dismal hopelessness of our sin and misery left to yourself.  

And the great and glorious good news of the gospel is that according to God’s promise from the day Adam and Eve fell and brought down themselves and the whole human race with them, the LORD would in the fullness of time send His own beloved Son as the second Adam. True conversion, by God’s grace, means being cut off from our first parent, Adam, and all he miserably represents and instead now to be in-grafted by the Spirit into the second Adam, Christ Jesus, and all He wonderfully represents for all belonging to Him.  Paul proclaims thus in I Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Paul means all who belong to Christ in true faith shall be delivered and saved.

For the good news of the gospel is that in and with Christ Jesus as Mediator for us and God-given Saviour of sinners in all His finished work of salvation on sinner’s behalf, we may see all God’s attributes perfectly displayed in beautiful complete harmony.  On the cross God’s justice was fully met as Jesus, in the sinner’s place, bore all the wrath of God against sin to the full and infinite measure, equivalent to everlasting hell itself.  Jesus bore that all, as the Just for the unjust, even as He offered up to God, a perfect sinless life on behalf of all His people. Jesus the Saviour gave Himself up to do this all even as God the Father showed this was the only way of escape for underserving, hell-deserving sinners like you and me.  With God’s justice fully satisfied in Christ’s Person and work as Saviour, what may be fully displayed and endlessly shown to us is abundant mercy and tender mercy and mercy that endures forever!

That is why belonging to Him, Christ Jesus, in true faith is the only comfort in life and death and there is no consolation like trusting and following Him. The Catechism in the next section about deliverance will expand on this so much more! No one has to be left cornered and hedged in, hopelessly so, without escape from all our sin and misery now and forevermore. In and through Christ and Him crucified, and faith in Him, not you either need be left hopelessly trapped and cornered and hedged in with no escape!  But apart from Jesus as your escape, without Him, there is no hope or help and without question then, regardless what people say and convince themselves, you are doomed.  God calls to all in His word as in Psalm 62:8 “Trust in him at all times, ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.

Oh, that all would hear and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one and only Saviour of sinners! Indeed, and with this I close, as one put it in happy praises to God:

O love! beyond conception great, That formed the vast, stupendous plan!

Where all divine perfections meet—To reconcile rebellious man!

Yes, mercy reigns, and justice too; In Christ harmoniously they meet;

He paid to justice all her due, and now He fills the mercy seat.

 

Such are the wonders of our God—and such the amazing depths of grace;

To save from wrath’s vindictive rod, The chosen sons of Adam’s race.

With grateful songs, then let our souls, Surround our gracious Father’s throne;

And all between the distant poles—His truth and mercy ever own

 

 

For there is no help, but from God above! In Jesus’ Name. Amen.       

Hans Overduin, RadioPastor

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