************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 8, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 17
"The Recovery of Fallen Man"
Elf on a Shelf. That was the Christmas gag gift we ended up with from Sunday Evening Fellowship. Elf on a Shelf. A few weeks later we had the grandkids for a week and when they went to bed I hid Elf on a Shelf. Whoever found it first in the morning got a quarter. The rules state at least part of Elf on a Shelf is to be in plain view. What fun we had. I hid it on top of the cupboards with its legs hanging over the edge, 12 feet up hanging on to the blade of the ceiling fall, in the Christmas tree, around a lamp, sitting in grandma's china cabinet, hanging from the light switch. Elf on a Shelf goes into hiding and you need to find him.
After man's fall into sin, God had to find something too. The article and Scripture reading in front of us tells us about a mankind who goes into hiding and must be found. It tells us about a God who seeks His children and returns them to the fold. As soon as man went into hiding, the Lord God took steps to find man. Because God is perfect and almighty, the steps He took and the plans He made guaranteed the results.
There are three points this evening: first, the God who finds; second, the sinner who is found; third, the means by which God finds.
I The God Who Finds
A Article 17 begins by speaking warmly and affectionately about "our good God." He is good because He is gracious. When the world speaks of a gracious person, it means a person who is well-mannered, kind, and polite. Someone who makes any guest feel at home. Someone who knows how to handle the socially awkward. This is not what the Bible means by gracious. Because our Lord is so much more than this. Grace means our Lord entered into the world and offered His life for people hopelessly entangled in sin.
B Our good God is a gracious God. This means what He does to me and for me is not in response to anything I do. Nor is it something I deserve or earn. Furthermore, although I need to be saved, this does not mean I deserve to be saved. Because God is good, because God is gracious, He set out to find and comfort man. Because God is good, because God is gracious, He continually opens His heart to man. He goes out of His way to seek and to save those who have sinned against Him.
We first see our good and gracious God with Adam and Eve in the Garden. They fall into sin. They go into hiding. And what does God do? He seeks them out like my grandkids seek out Elf on a Shelf.
(Gen 3:8-9) ... the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day ... called to the man, "Where are you?"A seeking and saving God. That's what we see.
Our good God, out of grace, seeks out sinners who deserve nothing but judgment and punishment. These people don't want to be saved. They don't want grace. They are outraged at grace because grace means they are guilty and helpless and lost and can't do anything to save themselves. Because grace means they deserve nothing but judgment and punishment. God's grace strips us of all pretensions and makes us fully responsible and fully accountable.
C Do you believe God is a seeking and a saving God? Do you believe God is gracious? Don't answer too quickly. I say that because there are Christians who look at themselves, who see faith that is imperfect and obedience that is flawed, and think God will be gracious to others but doubt whether He will have mercy on them. Yes, our faith is imperfect and our obedience is flawed; but to conclude from this we cannot be saved is to deny grace. We must learn not to focus upon ourselves but upon our good and gracious God. Do not doubt God is gracious to you. For to doubt is to question God's gracious character.
Do you believe God is a seeking and a saving God? Do you believe God is gracious? Don't answer too quickly. I say that because there also are Christians who look at themselves, who look at their prayer life, their Bible reading, their worship attendance, their giving. They trust their faith and the activities of their faith. We must learn not to focus upon ourselves but upon our good and gracious God. Do not believe in your faith but believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to God in Christ.
D We need to see a direct connection between Article 17 and those that precede it. Article 14 tells us about the creation and fall of man. Article 15 describes the original sin we are born with as a pollution or corruption of our nature, as an inherited depravity, as a root which produces every sort of sin, as a spring that boils forth contaminated water. Article 16 tells us that in election God opens the doors of grace to lost sinners. These are the foundational truths upon which rests the Gospel of the seeking and saving God.
But now some questions. How can the infinite God enter into time? How can the God who knows all things and sees all things, the God whose plan includes all things, be a seeking God? Does God need to seek? Doesn't this imply ignorance on His part? Doesn't this imply there are things out of His control?
Do not get lost, congregation, in all sorts of questions and discussions; rather, look at what God does and how He presents Himself in His Word. See how He comes to us in Christ Jesus seeking our salvation. See how He is the father looking for his lost son to return.
The kinds of questions I mentioned arise out of a pagan worldview, a view that finds its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. But this is not the Bible's way of looking at things. The Bible presents a God who actively seeks and saves. The Bible presents a God who speaks to us of sin and grace, who unfolds the story of sin and redemption within the context of time and space, and who enters our world through His Son in order to save. Our God is gracious and merciful. He is not the unmoved, uncompassionate God of the Greeks; He is not the nameless and formless power of the Hindus; He is not Allah, the God of fate worshiped by the Muslims. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always full of grace, a seeking and saving God.
With this in mind, let me ask: Are you aware that God seeks you? God is looking for you, asking you to love and serve Him. Will you say NO to God? Do you dare say NO to God after all the good and gracious things He has done for you? Do you realize that He is so worthy of your love and service? Will you respond to Him?
II The Sinner Who is Found
A This bring us to our second point: the sinner who is found by our seeking and saving God.
God has to seek out man for there is no way man could or would seek out God. Article 17 says "man had plunged himself ... into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable." Notice, this describes sin as a purposeful fall, a fall caused by throwing oneself down as opposed to an accidental fall. Go back to Article 14: "[Man] subjected himself willingly to sin and consequently to death and the curse." The fall was not accidental on the part of man. Man plunged himself.
Article 17 also speaks of physical and spiritual death and misery. Go back to Article 15: "Original sin ... is a corruption of all nature ... an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin ... a contaminated spring." Man is not wrestling with animal-like origins. That can't be the case because man was created good and in God's image. Man was created good, just, and holy. Man was able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God. Man threw himself into sin and thus into death.
Faith recognizes, faith believes, that the origin of man's sin lies in man's rebellion. Faith recognizes this and does not blame the environment, or upbringing, or racism, or poverty, or poor schooling, or a need for more government funding. Faith recognizes this and does not blame DNA, saying "I was made this way."
B All of this is evident from our Scripture reading. Adam and Eve listened to Satan. They had a choice. They could have said, "Away from me." They could have blocked out his voice. But they didn't. They were enticed and wanted to be like God. So they fell. And they plunged not just themselves but all of mankind and all of creation into sin and misery.
And then what happened? Our Scripture reading from Genesis puts it this way:
(Gen 3:7-8) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (8) Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.They hid from God. They hide like Elf on the Shelf. Is this not the universal picture of man without God? Instead of peace, man trembles with fear because he knows he must deal with God, because he knows there is no way to escape God. Realize, congregation, realize God is the great and terrible adversary of man without Christ. Realizing this, natural man reacts in various ways: he denies the existence of God, he minimizes his guilt, he makes all kind of excuses, or he declares everyone is saved. This kind of thinking started already in the Garden of Eden and the list has been growing ever since.
Natural man has one goal: to escape God. Ironically, according to Romans 1, this is what God gives to all those who don't repent and believe. God will give freedom from Himself, He will cast man adrift without God, and that will be the end of society as we have known it for generations. We see this taking place today in our post-Christian society. Standards of acceptable behavior have radically changed, all in a matter of 25-30 years. There are no moral absolutes. There are no lines that cannot be crossed. In our public schools, children are taught various definitions of marriage and are given amoral sex education. Families are falling apart, single parent homes abound, and society appears to be unraveling. This is the result because man wants to be without God, because man flees from God. Man has left God and His Word. What a frightening picture of man without God!
Ultimately, this is also what God gives to man in the fires of hell. There, man is without the good and gracious presence of God. And, all that he experiences is God as Judge.
Do you hear what the Bible is teaching? Man is lost. Man goes into hiding. Man needs God. And, it is only by the seeking and saving grace of God that he can be saved.
III The Means by which God Finds
A This bring us to our third point: the means by which our seeking and saving God finds the sinner who hides.
As soon as man rebelled, God came to Adam and Eve. He sought them out. He is a good and gracious God who seeks and saves the lost.
Not only did God come to man, but He came with a promise, the promise of His Son. Here we have the means God uses to seek and save fallen, trembling, miserable creatures. God came to Adam in Genesis 3 with what we call the Mother Promise:
(Gen 3:15) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.Every promise recorded in Scripture is nothing more than the development of this promise. The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the promises to Israel, the promises of the prophets, all find their fulfilment in Christ Jesus.
B We, too, dear people, have the same promises. These promises of God are sure. They are sealed to us in baptism, for in baptism God promises us grace and deliverance. All these promises are "Yes" and "Amen" in Christ (cf 2 Cor 1:20). Jesus is the means by which sinners are found and saved. He is the Good Shepherd who goes out to seek His lost sheep. He is the Good Shepherd who for the sake of the lost sheep went to the cross and lay down His life.
It was there, at the cross, that the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent met head on. And there the battle was forever decided. Although the seed of the serpent stood and cheered at the cross, it did not realize its seeming victory was also its defeat. And at the cross, the seed of the woman stood in utter dismay, not realizing the bruised heel of the Savior was the way to crush the serpent's head.
This, dear people, is the doctrine of the recovery of fallen man. This is how man lost in sin, fleeing from God, hiding from God like Elf on the Shelf, is found and saved. Isn't it beautiful? Has this truth come alive for you? Are you one of the lost sinners who has been found and saved?
The Gospel of our most gracious God is a well-meant offer of grace. So I invite you: when Jesus comes looking, be found by Him. Don't continue to hide. Be found by Him. Then your heart will soar with praise for this most gracious God. To Him alone be all the glory, thanksgiving, honor, and praise now and forever!
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