************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 20 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 31, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 20
Luke 23:32-45
"The Justice and Mercy of God in Christ"

"We believe." "We believe." "We believe." This keeps being the refrain we read in the articles of the Belgic Confession of Faith. This is our confession from God. This is our confession to the world.

"We believe that God ..." We need to be ever so careful about what comes next. We must be careful, extremely careful. Why? Because God is so great, so incomparably great, so totally different from us, that we really cannot understand Him. We believe. But what can we say about this infinite God who has no boundaries or limits to His being? We believe. But the truth is we know so little about Him. So we run the danger of drawing wrong conclusions and having incorrect views of God.

Can we say anything about God then? Yes, as long as we realize that what we say, what we believe, comes from what God has revealed of Himself in His Word. Even then we must walk carefully for our thoughts fall short of God's thoughts.

Today, we look at God's perfect justice and mercy in Christ. We will consider three points: God's perfection, God's justice, and God's mercy.

I God's Perfection
A Article 20 begins with the wondrous confession, "We believe that God ... is perfectly merciful and also very just ..." God is perfectly merciful and just. It is important that we say this about God. God's essence, God's being, is that He is perfectly merciful and just. There are those who say it is Jesus who makes God merciful and just. Under this monstrous view, Christ is presented as the merciful one who restrains His angry Father. In this view, before Christ offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice, God had no mercy at all. We believe God is merciful and just in and of Himself. What a royal riddle! He is not fifty percent just and fifty percent merciful; no, at one and the same time, He is perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

B I need to mention two wrong views of God's mercy and justice. The first view, the view of liberals, emphasizes God's love. According to this view, God does not hate sin; God does not hate anything. He is good-natured, overlooks sin, and gives us what we want. What a wrong idea of God!

Another false idea of God is the exact opposite. Some are so eager to teach God's justice and wrath that they lose sight of His love and mercy. Their God is a God of vengeance who can't wait to destroy sinners. This view emphasizes fearful sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Both views are wrong, wrong, wrong. The Bible tells us God takes sin very seriously; indeed, He will destroy all those who continue in sin and don't repent and believe. But the Bible also speaks of a God who is full of mercy and love, so much so that He sent His one and only Son to die for sinners.

C Though God is merciful and just in and of Himself, we don't experience this apart from Christ. We must note that God sent Jesus because He is just. And, we must note that God sent Jesus because He is merciful. Apart from Christ, the justice and mercy of God does not reach us. It is Christ who experiences the justice of God in our place. It is Christ who displays the mercy of God. In Christ, God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

D This has practical implications. When we pray for God's justice we tend to think of others, not ourselves. When we pray for God's mercy we tend to think of ourselves, not others. We cannot separate God's mercy and justice this way. We need to know, we need to recognize, that when the Lord acts in mercy, He also acts justly. If God only once would do something that is merciful but not just, all the devils in hell would gleefully condemn God. Thanks be to God that His mercy is always just and that the devils will never find anything that disagrees with this. So God does not simply ignore our guilt or cover up our sins. No, in Christ's blood they are blotted out and in His obedience our guilt is thrown away.

Furthermore, we need to honor God as He has revealed Himself: as perfectly merciful and just. We may not stress one at the expense of the other. We should not speak of the Lord's love without also keeping in mind His justice; nor should we mention His grace without also thinking of our sin. It makes no sense to speak of salvation without also stating what we are saved from. To speak of God's love without the judgment of the cross of Christ dishonors God and Christ.

II God's Justice
A What does it mean that God is perfectly just? Another word we can use is righteous. God as just means that He is right, perfectly right, in all that He does. God as just also means that God does not a letter of His Word fall by the wayside. Think of what God said in the Garden of Eden:
(Gen 2:17) ... you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.
God did not forget or ignore this Word of His -- not one single letter. If He had, the devil would have had reason to rejoice that God's Word is not dependable and God Himself is not faithful. Glory be to God that this is not what happened. Rather, man's sin was punished, death and decay were experienced, and the justice of God was honored. What's more, in His infinite wisdom God prepared a way of escape for man, but not at the expense of His Word.
[God] sent his Son to assume the nature
in which the disobedience has been committed,
in order to bear in it the punishment of sin
by his most bitter passion and death.

B Our confession that God is just is in conflict with modern theology. Modern theology sees sin as a carryover from our evolutionary past; it believes that as we develop and evolve we will lose more and more of our barbaric behavior. It claims that with Jesus as our great example, we can follow in His footsteps and slowly free ourselves from our past. Do you see the result? Modern theology doesn't believe or accept the concept of sin, right and wrong, ethical and unethical; also falling by the wayside, of course, is judgment and punishment.

C We believe something different. We believe there is rebellion, disobedience, guilt, and punishment. The thief on the cross knew that firsthand. "We are punished justly," he said, "for we are getting what our deeds deserve" (Lk 23:41). We believe that because human nature sinned, it is human nature that must be punished; therefore, as we see in our Bible reading, Jesus had to die on the cross. We confess, in the face of all modern theology, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

What we believe finds its roots in the Old Testament. In the Passover lamb we see a picture of Christ. The lamb was killed in the place of Israel. The lamb had to be perfect, without blemish. Israel had to learn that nothing but a perfect sacrifice is acceptable to God because a sinner cannot pay for himself or for another. That's why Jesus was conceived by the Spirit -- so He was not conceived and born in sin. He remained perfectly righteous and though He was tempted as we are, He never once fell in thought, word, or deed. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God. As the thief said, "But this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk 23:41). Yet, Jesus experienced death.

We know why, don't we? He was slain in the sinner's place. He was given our guilt, our sin, our shame. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6). So, pronounced to be a sinner He had to die. He who was sinless was condemned to death. There He was as one accused, accursed, guilty, condemned. How bitter was His passion and death. We believe Christ suffered unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul when the Father stood against Him, forsaking Him.

"So God made known His justice toward His Son, who was charged with our sin."

D I want you to notice something. We are saved not in the first place by mercy, but by justice. Did you catch that? We are saved not in the first place by mercy, but by justice. Why is this so? How can this be? Because God is true to His Word. Because sin brings punishment and death. And, God visited this upon the Son. He paid the price. He bore the penalty. Praise God, I say, praise God for His perfect justice.

If you are outside of Christ you will experience God's perfect justice. God's justice demands punishment. Remember the words of the thief: "We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve" (Lk 23:41). Either Christ is punished in your place or you are punished. It is one or the other. So let me ask, have you embraced Him who died for you? Do you believe in Him who experienced the justice of God?

III God's Mercy
A We don't see only justice at Golgotha. We also see mercy, patience, long-suffering. God's mercy is perfect and something to celebrate.

Consider God's mercy in the light of Good Friday. God's perfect Son was suffering and dying. Wasn't that mercy? Out of mercy, God sent His Son to die. "Father, forgive them." What perfect love.

B Consider, also, what didn't happen on Good Friday. Would it not have been just if lightning bolts sizzled down from heaven to strike the people taunting Jesus? Is it not mercy that kept God from destroying them right then and there? How this mercy sparkles and shimmers because at Pentecost some of those who tormented Jesus came to conversion.

C The mercy of God is shown clearly in the salvation of the one criminal crucified with Christ. He knew he deserved the justice of God; he knew he was punished justly (Lk 23:41). He also recognized the perfect innocence of Christ. He was saved as a brand plucked from the fire. Undoubtedly, you have watched someone build a fire. First, the kindling wood is lit. Then a log begins to smoulder. Little flames lick at its sides and it can burst into flame at any moment. But imagine just before this happens, the person starting the fire yanks the log out, dousing the flames that danced along the log's sides. This is a picture of the thief. He was about to be plunged into the fires of hell, but the Lord snatched him away and he ended up in heaven with Jesus. It is very well possible this thief was the first man to enter heaven after Jesus' work on the cross was finished. Is this not an amazing demonstration of God's mercy and goodness?

D Our Bible reading gives us another sign of God's mercy: the curtain of the temple was torn in two. This is the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was God's dwelling place on earth. The curtain symbolizes the barrier of sin between God and man. The curtain says sinful man cannot be admitted into the presence of God. But on Good Friday, at the moment Christ died, the finger of God tore the curtain from top to bottom. Do you know what God was saying? By means of the torn curtain God was saying admittance to all believe in Christ. The torn curtain speaks of God's mercy.

We believe. We believe God is perfectly merciful and also very just. If you have made confession of faith, you publicly stated this is what you believe. But did you know what you were confessing?

We believe the justice and mercy of God -- the perfect justice and mercy of God. For on this our salvation rests!
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