************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 25 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on January 3, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 25
Text vs 16-17
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself the question why we don't put people to death for disrespecting their father? Or for that matter, why don't we stone people when they have violent livestock. You know, why not? And children, have you ever thought of the fact that why can't your parents sell you into servitude? Have you ever pondered these truths as to why none of these things are done in the Christian community nowadays? Do these things seem absurd to you? Does it sound like I've gone off my rocker? Well maybe some of the fathers don't think so after they've heard the first one. I'm sure their ears perked right up. But these things may sound bizarre and out of left field but they're in the book of Exodus. These are things straight out of Exodus. Exodus 21 and 22. That if you strike your father or even dishonor your father you can be stoned. If you have an oxen that continually attacks people that oxen can be stoned to death and you yourself can be stoned. And that parents are able to sell their children into servitude.
What are we to make of some of these things? After all, Exodus 21 and 22 come right after Exodus 20, now that's obvious enough but the reason I say that is maybe I could ask some of the children what we find in Exodus 20. It's the ten commandments. And of course we follow the ten commandments. We acknowledge the ten commandments as true and binding. We read them very often in church. So if we think of Exodus chapter 20 as something that is good and right for us to follow why can we so easily overlook and discount what we find in the next two chapters?
Well hopefully as we look at what we find here in the book of Colossians and what we find here in Belgic Confession ‘Article 25 we'll see, we'll see what the difference is between Exodus 20 and Exodus chapters 21 and 22. Because people of God we don't just want to just ignore those two chapters. And we wouldn't just say as Christians that we just ignore those two chapters. But rather beloved I would say we properly understand those two chapters. Because the type of law that we find presented to us in those two chapters of Exodus are different than the law that we find presented to us in Exodus chapter 20. And that's what we find here in Belgic Confession Article 25.
We're told how to view the law as it appears to us in the Old Testament. And we view it in two distinct ways. We view it first as a law that is fulfilled in Christ. And that's what we would say about Exodus 21 and 22. It falls into that category of the law that is fulfilled in Christ. And then secondly we see the law that is continuing in us. And that's where we would put the category of the ten commandments. That it is still ongoing that it is still binding for us in our situation today.
So first we need to think about this issue of the law as it is fulfilled. What that means, the law as it is fulfilled in Christ. Belgic Confession Article 25 says we believe that we believe that the symbols and ceremonies of the law have ended with the coming of Christ and that all foreshadowings have come to an end so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians.
This speaks to the idea of those things in the Old Testament that are connected with symbols and ceremonies of the people of old. Those things that are connected to that which was pointing forward to Christ. And we're given two distinct and helpful categories here. This idea of symbols and this idea of ceremonies. Now this first idea of symbols is something that we see all over the Old Testament. You know just to think of a few examples, you know of the ark, of the temple, of altars, of the figures, of priests. Each of these symbols had to do with the ordinances, of the commands, of various things of law that the Lord had given to His people. And the ark was the place where God met with His people, the place where God dwelt. The temple was ultimately the place where the ark would be, come to rest. The ark that was made in Exodus 25 would come to rest in 1 Kings 8. The priests we find throughout the Old Testament, active in the temple, active in the community of Israel, interceding for the people, serving as the go-between, between God and the nation. The altar a symbol of the place where sacrifice was presented, a place where God was appeased, where the sins of the people were atoned for. Each one of these were symbols of the Old Testament.
And each one of these were things that in essence could have continued. But understood properly they were clearly things that were all pointing forward to Christ. For when we think of the ark and the temple as places of God's dwelling what better place is there of God's dwelling than Jesus Christ who came? We read in Colossians that God was pleased to have all His fulness dwell in Him speaking of Christ. And as far as the temple, the altar and the priest, these symbols throughout the book of Hebrews we see how richly this imagery is all fulfilled how these symbols have all found their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews chapter 9 we're told that Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are already here. He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man made, that is to say not a part of creation. He entered the most holy place once for all by His own blood. These images, these symbols were realized in their entirety by Jesus Christ.
So therefore we're told in the Belgic Confession, we're told here that these things there is no need for them any longer.
And so too then it is with the same ceremonies that surround them, the symbols of the law and the ceremonies of the law are completed , they're fulfilled. The ceremonies point us to the actual act of sacrifice, and the festivals of the Old Testament. And this is really the issue at hand that we find in the book of Colossians, that we find Paul addressing to the church there. The Judaizers who were bringing all this stuff into the church. These are the words that we find him addressing in Colossians 2:16, where he says ‘therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day. He's reminding them of these laws, these festivals, these food laws, these ceremonies, these sacrifices that accompanied all this.
Remember, throughout the Old Testament all these sacrifices that were performed, the bulls, goats, sheep of birds that were taking place all the time. And all the festivals. Sometimes we forget how many different festivals there were. There was the feast of weeks or harvest it was known as when you sowed the seed, you had a feast a festival to the Lord. And then there was one when you had the in gathering, that was known as the feast of booze, the feast of tabernacles, you know at the end of the season was the feast of trumpets, a memorial, convocation, leading to the day of atonement, yet another celebration. And of course the most well known Passover that led into the feast of unleavened bread. All of these various feasts, all of these various festivals that went throughout the calendar, these were very hard things for the church to shake off . They didn't want to get rid of them. And so Paul is writing, he's writing to remind them that all of these feasts, all of these festivals, all of this sacrifice, all of the laws surrounding them were to point to God's providence and were a point to God's deliverance. He was saying that has come in Jesus Christ. All of these things were pointing forward and have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. There is no more need for these sacrifices.
Again, you turn to Hebrews and find that crystal clear. In Hebrews 10 we're told that sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me, in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. He goes on he does away with the first in order to establish the second and by that will he have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all. There is no need for any further sacrifice, there is no need for any further atonement. Christ has come once for all. And so too it is with all these other festivals that they were trying to celebrate. All these other holy days. There was no need for them because, as Paul puts it in verse 17 the reality is found in Christ.
Now we may ask what's wrong with the festival, what's wrong with the special service? Now we have many special services, so what's wrong with the fact that they still wanted these festivals? Well remember what accompanied all these different festivals that I just listed off. It wasn't a special service, it wasn't something where you picked out an appropriate text that went along with the theme and maybe a couple songs that addressed this special day. There was a lengthy list of laws that went along with each of these special festivals. What must be eaten, the time it must be celebrated, how long it must last, what must be presented as an offering. All these laws were attached to these festivals. And again, the point Paul is making is that these are all shadows, these are all shadows that the people are clinging to, that had been fulfilled.
Children, it's like if you had a birthday coming up and you really wanted a bicycle and so you draw a picture of a bicycle and you say to your mom and dad this is what I'd like for my birthday. And you know you're really good, you do all your homework, you clean up your room and you do everything else asked of you and you go above and beyond and you hope and hope and really think that maybe you're going to get this bicycle and you look at this picture of this bicycle every day. You know it's not the greatest picture, you can draw ok, but maybe you're not the greatest artist, but you look at the picture of your bicycle and you hope that one day that this bicycle will be yours. And then you wake up on your birthday and you go downstairs and there's a bicycle sitting there, this brand new shiny red bicycle. And you say well you know I'm just going to stick with my picture, that's what the church was doing.
Christ had come, the picture was realized, the truth that everything was pointing to had come and yet the church was longing for a picture. And still that tendency is happening in the church today. Still this tendency towards longing for what we had is still happening. And so to that Paul says these are a shadow of the things that were to come. The reality however is found in Christ.
And I would encourage you beloved to write those words on your heart, to know verse 17 of Colossians 2 because it is so vital, when somebody asks you about what the Old Testament is and how it relates to the New testament because so few Christians know how to give any answer for that and they end up stumbling into one of two horrible errors.
And the first and most common is they just ignore it, we just pretend the Old Testament doesn't exist. We just pretend Exodus 21 and 22 and the book of Numbers and the book of Leviticus aren't there. And when somebody challenges us on them and when somebody asks us what about all this crazy stuff from the Old Testament, say oh I don't know, you try to move past it and try to ignore it and if someone presses you on it you say well it was different when Christ came. And so you know a little bit you have a shred of the truth but you don't understand really why. And this verse gives us that clear reason why because they were a shadow of the things to come. They were a shadow and the reality is found in Christ. So when you look back on those feasts, when you look back on the kingdom of Israel and the kings and the warfare and the destruction and some of those things that seem unpleasant and hard to explain they were a shadow pointing forward to the Christ and the righteousness and the judgement of God. Knowing this verse is the key to explaining the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament.
And if you don't know it your only options are either to ignore the relationship or otherwise to completely mess it up, to misapply it and that's another thing that you find in the church. That is a very scary thing, when people just mutate the Old Testament wherever they want it into the new. Where they have no understanding of what Christ has done and what He hasn't done, what has been fulfilled and what is still going on, what things are of old and what things are ongoing.
That's where you get all this nuttiness of the Judaizers that were attacking the Colossian church still coming into the church today. Sometimes I think we believe that these heresies that Paul was dealing with really aren't that prevalent in our church today, but in the dispensational church this stuff still comes up all the time. One example I'll give you of what I mean by that in Numbers chapter 19 it talks about you needing to bring a scarlet heifer, a red heifer as an offering of purity, as a pure offer, as a offering of purity, to purify the people. And there's some guy out there who took that to mean well, ok, the logical connection is we need to get a red heifer for sacrifice in Israel so the temple can be rebuilt again and then Christ will come again, cause that's the logical connection. And so he has gone about the noble task of breeding red heifers in Oneil, Nebraska and is sending them off to Israel in the hopes that they will be sacrificed in Israel that the temple will be rebuilt and then Christ can come again. And this kind of stuff is all over the place, this confusion about the Old Testament being fulfilled in Christ. These ceremonies, these symbols, being done, being completed, being fulfilled.
And maybe we don't need to worry about any stuff to that extent invading our church but it can in other ways, where we come to revere the land of Israel, where we still call it the holy land and view trips over there as some sort of holy pilgrimage. Now going to Israel could be a very neat thing from a historical standpoint but I think very many people in our church today can give it somewhat of a holy experience. To see these things takes on some sort of majestic quality. We need to remember that that is done, there is nothing more holy about Jerusalem than Visalia. Christ has fulfilled, Christ has done away, Christ has accomplished the shadows of the Old Testament and all of this can be so easily forgotten. All this can be so easily distorted because the relationship between the New and the Old Testament is lost.
So then with Christ coming, with the ceremonial law fulfilled, with the shadows accomplished what do we have left? Is there anything to take away from the law? Is there any value in the law? What are we left with is the question then.
Well as I said we're left with some things, we're left with Exodus 20, but why, why do we pick and choose, well there are things in the New Testament that are confirmed as ongoing and that's what the Belgic Confession goes on to say, there is a law that is continuing and that's the second point I want to leave you with this evening.
We as Christians say that the law is still beneficial because we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and the prophets first to confirm us in the Gospel and second to regulate our lives with full integrity.
Now when we examine the law of God as it is ongoing in our day and age we usually see as Christians three uses for it. And we find two of them here in the Belgic Confession. The first is for the idea of acknowledging our sin and misery, usually the second use of the law we think of as the upholding of civil goodness, you know, upholding justice. And the third use of the law is what we call, you know, our guide for grateful living. And its that first and third use that the confession is concerned with and that we always talk about in our Christian walk. Cause as I said that second use is for all mankind, that civil use of the law. But this first and third use is this continuing use of the law, the use that confirms us in the gospel and that use that regulates our life with integrity.
And I hope that sounds familiar to you because it's something that we do every Sunday. I hope that rings a bell because every Lord's Day, every Sunday morning we use the law for those 2 purposes. I hope, I hope you know what I'm talking about. Every Lord's Day Pastor Dieleman or I stands up here and we say the law to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with integrity. Now maybe we don't say it just like that that's what it is when we read the summary of the law and the guide for grateful living.
That's what the confession is talking about here cause those are the two uses of the law, the first and the third use of the law. The first to convict us of our sin and misery. That is what confirms us in the gospel. Cause what that means is it is the use of the law that drives us to the gospel. Cause when we use the law and it convicts us of our sin and misery it always is driving us to the gospel. And secondly it regulates the way we live our life.
And I want to emphasize that point that that's why we do it every Sunday morning. It's not some old habit, or some piece of tradition that we're just not willing to shake, that we really should get over and replace with something new and more fun. Because if we are doing something just out of tradition then it's something that is just ceremony or symbolism that we need to throw away because it has no point. But we believe what we do in worship is for a purpose, it's for a distinct purpose. And every Lord's Day when we read the law, when we read that promise of forgiveness, and when we read the law again it is to assure us of our need for salvation and to show us that the law is also to be used a guide for grateful living. It confirms to us the gospel.
That's why we always have that first part. Every week beloved we need to examine ourselves. Every week we need to be reminded of our sin. Every week we need to gather together and acknowledge who we are, a sinful people in need of a great Savior and that's why we hear that law and that's why we dwell on what it means and that's why often we pray together, confessing our sin and that's why we can receive that promise of forgiveness. Without that understanding of the law there's nothing to be forgiven for. That law confirms the gospel in us.
Secondly it regulates our life. It is our guide for grateful living, that's the same terminology that the Confession uses and that we use each Sunday morning. And it's also the way remember that our Heidelberg Catechism is arranged. The same idea of law, gospel and law. The law driving us to the gospel and the law of grateful living. And it's part 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism that goes through those ten commandments, through Exodus 20, through that part of the Old Testament that is confirmed in the New Testament as continuing, as ongoing. And so that's why this section of the Belgic Confession also comes on the heels of what we just talked about sanctification.
Cause this part of the confession isn't just about what is ended, it's about what is continuing, our Christian walk. So as we consider this this evening beloved we remember what Christ has done, that He has come and that He has ended these shadows, all these ceremonies and symbols and laws that were pointing to Him. But we also remember the law that continues, the moral law that reminds us of our sin and that shows us our godly walk. So while we may not build altars, while we may not sacrifice goats or stone oxen and their owners we continue to live a godly life out of gratitude for our Savior and what He has done for us. AMEN.
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