************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 25, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 17
Fred Armisen portrays President Obama on Saturday Night Live. A couple of weeks ago, Armisen went down a list of campaign promises: Close Guantanamo Bay, Out of Iraq, Improve Afghanistan, Health Care Reform, Global Warming, Immigration Reform, Gays in the Military, Limits on Executive Powers, Torture Prosecutions. He checked "not done" after each one. Said Armisen, in the character of Obama, "When you look at my record it's very clear what I've done so far and that is nothing. Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it." Whether you agree or disagree with the point, the skit was very funny.
I want to talk about promises today. Last time, in Article 16, we looked at salvation planned as we looked at God's eternal decree of election. Today, in Belgic Confession Article 17, we want to look at salvation promised. And, in Articles 18-21, we will look at salvation accomplished.
Promises. Promises. Promises broken. Promises kept. At least, that is our experience in this life and on this earth when it comes to people promises. However, that is NOT our experience when it comes to the promises of God. God keeps His promises. God never breaks His promises. God's promises can be relied upon. Unlike many of our promises, God's promises are not an afterthought. They are not ill-conceived. God's promises are the outworking of His eternal decree. What God eternally planned, He works out in His promise to save through Jesus Christ.
I Man Flees but God Seeks
A Do you remember what God commanded man in the Garden of Eden? God said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen 2:17).
We have a name for this command. We call it the "covenant of works." Or, as Article 14 puts it, the "commandment of life." The partners in this covenant are God and man. The condition of the covenant is obedience. The promise of the covenant is life. The penalty of the covenant is death. The sign of the covenant is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What happened with the "covenant of works"? God kept it – promises kept. Man broke it – promises broken. Man broke it when he listened to the devil rather than to God. Man broke it when he ate from the forbidden fruit. Now, according to the "covenant of works," man should have immediately suffered death – "for when you eat of it you will surely die." At the moment she took the first bite, woman should have fallen to the ground in death. At the place he ate the forbidden fruit, the first man should have collapsed and died.
B But that did not happen. God, in mercy, out of wisdom and goodness, did something else first. The Belgic Confession says that when our good God saw Adam's sinful state, He came with the announcement of the Gospel for the first time. Instead of judging Adam according to the "covenant of works," God established the "covenant of grace." What God planned out from all eternity – to elect, redeem, and sanctify a people for His own glory – God worked out through the "covenant of grace."
"The covenant of grace." The partners in this covenant are God and man. The condition of this covenant is faith. The promise of this covenant is eternal life. The penalty of this covenant is eternal death. The sign of this covenant is circumcision.
C We see two things when Adam and Eve broke the "covenant of works." First, according to the Confession, man's sin made him flee from God with fear and trembling. This we see in the instinctive reaction of our first parents. In simple language the Bible recalls what happened after man ate the forbidden fruit:
(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.Did you catch that? They "hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden."
Why did Adam and Eve flee from God? Because they were scared. A couple of weeks ago I came across a bear on a bike ride. When it saw me, it ran straight into the trees in order to hide. Deer and wild pig do the same thing. And, in Genesis 3, we see Adam and Eve doing this too. Like the wild animals, they were scared. They were scared because they knew God was hunting for them. They knew God was hunting for them because they had sinned against the Lord.
Adam and Eve rightly feared this God. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve knew only love for God. Now they also knew fear for the holy God – fear of His anger and righteous judgment, fear of death. So they went into hiding. No longer was man in a state of joy and peace.
Here is the human problem: man wants joy and peace but because he is apart from God he cannot experience it. Instead, he is filled with fear and trembling because he knows he must someday appear before God's judgment throne.
D What is the second thing that happened when Adam and Eve broke the "covenant of works"? According to the Confession, our good God "set out to find him." God came looking for man. So what do we see? We see that man flees but God looks. Covenant breaking. Covenant keeping. Remember what should have happened in the Garden? Adam and Eve should have died. Instead, what happened according to Genesis? The Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9). Instead of coming in judgment, God searched man out in order to reveal His grace and His glory.
Do you see the picture of God that is being presented in the Garden of Eden already? Do you see the picture of God that is being presented by the Belgic Confession of Faith? God is a seeking and a saving God.
Jesus states this so beautifully: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Lk 19:10)." What a beautiful picture we have here of God. Just as a shepherd seeks and saves any sheep that are lost so God seeks and saves in and through His Son a lost-in-sin mankind. Ours, congregation, is a seeking and saving God. He is the Shepherd; we are the sheep. Dumb sheep. Lost sheep. Helpless sheep. Sheep who need the Shepherd.
Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus? Here is a perfect example of our seeking and saving God at work. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was in the tree. He knew his name. He deliberately went right to that tree, stopped under it, and said, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19:5b). Notice that word "must." It shows us that Jesus has to work out God's plan of salvation for Zacchaeus. He was sent to earth for one purpose – to seek and save lost sinners like Zacchaeus. Jesus' work is urgent. His mission must be accomplished. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). And, you need to realize, that God – in Christ – seeks you and me too.
Now, we need to understand this seeking of God rightly. God does not seek just any old sinner. God is seeking the ones mentioned in Article 16. He is seeking the ones whose salvation is planned from eternity to eternity. He is seeking the elect, the ones who have been chosen to receive His grace rather than His judgment.
II The First Gospel
A As already mentioned, when man broke the "covenant of works," God came looking for man in order to announce the "covenant of grace." Man broke his promise. God announces a new set of promises. The Confession says God comforted man "promising to give him his Son, 'born of a woman,' and to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed." This language comes from our Scripture reading:
(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.
We have a name for this text. We call it the "first gospel." We call it the "mother promise." I want you to notice that only after He announced this promise did God announce the results of disobedience to the "covenant of works." In other words, God first announced life before He announced death. Isn't that marvelous and kind and gracious and loving of Him?
This is called the "mother promise" of the Gospel because every other promise given by God is foreshadowed by this promise. God promises here to send His Son "born of a woman." He will be bruised by Satan – this happens when He is crucified. But three days later He will arise from the grave – and crush the head of Satan.
B Promises broken. Promises kept. That is what we see throughout the rest of the history of redemption. Covenant breaking on man's part. Covenant keeping on God's part. Man keeps fleeing. God keeps seeking. Watch as this unfolds:
-Cain killed his brother Abel. This could have destroyed the Messiah's blood-line. Promises broken. But God preserved the seed of the woman when He raised Seth in Abel's place. Promises kept.
-The descendants of Seth married the daughters of men. This could have stopped the promised blood-line. Promises broken. But God raised and protected righteous Noah and his family. Promises kept.
-Two times, Abraham claimed Sarah as his sister rather than his wife. Two times, Sarah was taken by a heathen king. Think of what this would do to the promised blood-line. Promises broken. But God intervened to protect Sarah. Promises kept.
-Abraham had a child, Ishmael, by his wife's handmaid; Ishmael was not the child of promise but Abraham tried to put him in this place anyway. Promises broken. God told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away and opened Sarah's womb. Promises kept.
-Remember Egypt? The people of Israel were oppressed and afflicted – the goal was to work them to death as slave labor. The midwives were commanded to kill the Hebrew boys at birth. But God preserved and raised up Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. Promises kept.
-Remember Israel at Mount Sinai? She worshiped a golden calf rather than the one only true God. Promises broken. God had the image destroyed and forgave the people their sin. Promises kept.
-Remember Israel's grumbling about the food and water of the wilderness? They wanted to return to Egypt. Promises broken. God gave them manna and quail and water from a rock. Promises kept.
-Remember Israel's disobedience during the days of the judges. Promises broken. God kept raising for them a redeemer to save them and defeat the enemy. Promises kept.
-King Saul hated David and tried more than once to kill him. Would the scepter depart from Judah? Promises broken. But God protected David. Promises kept.
-Israel and Judah forsook the Lord and were sent into Exile. Promises broken. God remembered His people. He saved them from scheming Haman. He returned them to the Promised Land. Promises kept.
-Who can forget wicked King Herod and all the slaughtered baby boys of Bethlehem? Promises broken. But baby Jesus was kept safe from Satan's attack. Promises kept.
-Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth. The people responded by trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. Promises broken. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Promises kept.
-Judas betrayed the Lord. Peter denied the Lord. The rest of the apostles forsook the Lord. Promises broken. But God raised Him from the dead. Promises kept.
Man flees. God seeks. Man breaks the "covenant of works." God preserves the "covenant of grace." That is what we keep seeing throughout the history of salvation.
We can look at all of this another way as well. We see there truly is enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan. Again and again, Satan tries to snuff out the seed of the woman. Again and again, Satan tries to prevent the Messiah's work. Again and again, Satan is stopped by God. Because God always keeps His promises. Because our good God seeks for His own even when they flee from Him with fear and trembling
Man flees because he has broken the "covenant of works." God seeks and announces the "covenant of grace." God promises His Son, born of a woman.
Do you know what Christ does in this "covenant of grace?" Christ fulfills the requirements of the "covenant of works." Christ manages an obedience we are unable to meet. And, this obedience is imputed to us, transferred to us. Christ covers us. So, God sees us through the blood of Christ – our sins have been paid for. And, God sees us through the obedience of Christ – it is as if we have been perfectly obedient.
All this is promised by God in His redemption plan. And God, of course, always keeps His promises.
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