************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 26, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 25
"The Fulfillment of the Law"
I want to start with a poem written by a deceased member, Virginia Senior. The title is "The Shackles are Gone."
The shackles are gone,Virginia wrote this after she and her family were finally able to escape from the Seventh Day Adventists. The Seventh Day Adventists are an Old Testament based church adhering to the ceremonial laws and symbols of the Old Testament. Virginia correctly identifies those ceremonial laws and symbols as shackles. But in Christ the shackles are gone.
They’ve all dropped away–
The shackles of sin and despair
Of trying to manage day after day
Without putting my life in Christ’s care.
I was trying to be a perfectionist here,
When His Grace was sufficient for me.
I didn’t understand what my Lord really did
When He died there on Calvary’s tree.
He lived a life of perfection and love
And in Him my redemption would come.
His blood washed away all the sins of my life
By belief in the most Holy One.
I glory in Him and what He has done
And praise Him all through the day.
I sing out in joy, remembering how
He has shepherded me into His way.
I The Purpose of the Ceremonial Law
A Article 25 asserts that the ceremonial laws and symbols are no longer valid and their use has been abolished. In order to understand the Confession we need to distinguish between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.
Moral law especially includes the Ten Commandments. It also includes penalties for failure to obey the ordinances. Moral law is based on God's holy character. As such its ordinances are holy, just, and unchanging. They apply to all generations and all people everywhere.
Civil laws were specifically given for the culture and place of the Israelites. This includes everything from how to deal with a murderer, to restitution for a man gored by an ox, to the responsibility of a man to dig a pit to rescue his neighbor’s trapped donkey.
Ceremonial law includes instructions on regaining right standing with God (e.g., sacrifices and other ceremonies regarding "uncleanness"), remembrances of God’s work in Israel (e.g., feasts and festivals), specific regulations meant to distinguish Israelites from their pagan neighbors (e.g., dietary and clothing restrictions), and signs that point to the coming Messiah (e.g., the Sabbath, circumcision, Passover, and the redemption of the firstborn).
B The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament mostly involved anything to do with the public worship of God.
As you know, the temple was the focal point of Israel's worship. The first temple was built by Solomon, and it stood for about five hundred years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. This had to happen because the people of Israel had forsaken the Lord their God. After seventy years of captivity, a remnant of the people returned and the temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The rebuilt temple was much smaller and simpler; it lacked the glory and splendor of the original. Much later, this second temple was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great, a project that took forty years. This magnificent temple, which was there during the time of Jesus, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. At that time the Lord's prediction of Mark 13:2 came to fulfillment: "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." Today, all that is left of this temple is a section known as the "Wailing Wall."
II The Explanation of the Ceremonial Law
A God used the temple as a large picture to show His people something of the coming work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the Old Testament sacrifices and everything that went with them -- how the animals were slaughtered, the special vessels and utensils, the incense -- pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. But when He came and did the work, the pictures were no longer necessary because now we know exactly how and why He suffered and died. The temple building is no longer needed, for Jesus is our temple. This does not mean that the original pictures are nonsense or useless. From them we continue to see and learn of the work of Christ. In line with this, Article 25 explains that the ceremonial laws no longer apply. Yet, their teaching is still valid.
B A question needs to be answered: Why is this article placed in the middle of the Confession's discussion of the great work of Christ? We just dealt with justification and sanctification and next we look at Christ's intercession. Why is this discussion of ceremonial laws placed here in the middle? What is the issue?
Roman Catholics, some Lutherans, Anglicans, and the Eastern Orthodox have highly liturgical elements in their worship service; in comparison, Reformed services are very plain. If you attend a Roman Catholic service, for instance, you will see priests in fancy garments, bishops with special hats and staffs, the smoke of incense. You will hear chanting and special singing. Why do they do all this? They are not just grabbing it out of thin air; they are reaching back to the Old Testament, from which they have developed much of their elaborate rituals. For the Reformers this was a matter of great concern. The Roman Catholic worship service is, at heart, the same as the temple service complete with sacrifices.
The Reformers objected to this, pointing out that the early church kept worship simple. The early church emphasized the preaching of the Word, fellowship, celebration of the sacraments, prayer, and gathering gifts (cf Acts 2:42-47). But over time more and more ceremonies came into the worship service. Some believe this may have been to compete with the elaborate ceremonies of pagan worship. Whatever the reason, the church slowly changed her practice. It was now the priest, through the sacraments, who dispensed grace. Free prayers were replaced by priest-read prayers. The Bible was taken from the lay people. Preaching lost its central place in worship. To defend these errors, Rome reached back to the ceremonies and symbols of the Old Testament with their emphasis on the priesthood, altars, and sacrifices.
C In response to this the Anabaptists -- from whom the Mennonites and Amish descend -- say the Old Testament is entirely finished. So the Anabaptists really have nothing to do with the Old Testament, its ceremonies, and its symbols. The Old Testament, they say, is there only for historical interest, but has nothing to say today as far as doctrine and practice is concerned.
Some Lutherans as well as Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox have a different view. They remain the closest to Rome in that they keep many of the old ceremonies. So today there are altars and priestly vestments in their churches.
Seventh Day Adventists -- going back to my introduction -- believe all the ceremonies and symbols of the Old Testament remain in force today: the Sabbath, dietary laws, and so on.
The Reformed, with the Belgic Confession of Faith, say that
the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end ... Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.This is in keeping with our Bible reading:
(Mt 5:17) Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
III The Fulfilment of the Ceremonial Law
A The law of God is holy, righteous, and good. The law has not been ended. What has ended are the ceremonies and symbols of the law. The temporary Old Testament symbols include things such as the breastplate of the high priest, the ark, the candlestick. The ceremonies that ended were the solemn actions performed in the temple, such as circumcision, sacrifices, and cleansings.
B What was the function of these ceremonies and symbols? They were designed by God to teach Israel about sin and the need for a Mediator. The fact that a new mother could not enter the temple until she was purified signified the existence of original sin. The daily washings signified the need for daily repentance. These ceremonies and symbols taught Israel that they deserved punishment for both original and actual sin. They taught Israel they deserved damnation.
Through the pictures of the sacrifices, Israel was taught that they could find forgiveness with God only through the shedding of blood. Here was a picture of Christ and the love of Christ.
Furthermore, the Old Testament laws were like a hedge around the people of Israel, separating them from the rest of the nations. For example, dietary laws kept them from sharing a table with idol worshipers. Marriage laws kept the sons and daughters of Abraham from marrying heathens. There were laws separating the Jews from the Gentiles in the temple to prevent the Gentile from carrying his idols into the heart of Israel's worship.
C Now, all this is fulfilled in Christ. As said by our Bible reading, Christ did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. Literally, to make the law full, as in filling a jar or container to the top. Says the Confession, "the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ."
Quoting a word from the book of Hebrews, the Confession says "shadows" or "foreshadowing." Shadows are always attached to something physical. You cannot have a shadow if there is nothing to cause a shadow. The ceremonies and symbols were but shadows of the perfect obedience, perfect sacrifice, and perfect death of Christ. In Christ they were fulfilled. In Christ they were cancelled:
(Col 2:14) having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.What was nailed to the cross was not just a list of our sins, but it was also those temporary ceremonies and symbols -- they had to go. Christ is the reality, they are but the shadow.
The ceremonies and symbols of the Old Testament have served their purpose. If we still insist on using them, we are being childish. If I still need my fingers to count to ten, there is something wrong. I am denying everything I have learned since kindergarten. This is the basic error of Rome and of the Seventh Day Adventists. Instead of sticking with the reality, they have gone back to the shadows.
Let me end by asking if the law and prophets, the ceremonies and symbols, have any meaning anymore? Of course they do. It is a pleasure and a delight for the church of God when Christ is preached as the fulfilment of the law. It is a pleasure and a delight when the Day of Atonement points us to Good Friday. It is a pleasure and a delight when the furnishings of the temple point us to Jesus as the bread of life and the light of the world. It is a pleasure and a delight when the priestly ephod points us to Jesus who speaks to the Father in our defense. It is a pleasure and a delight to realize God is forever faithful to His promises. Yet, we don't want to live according to Old Testament ways. Because in Christ the Lord has fulfilled the law. In Christ, the shackles are gone.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page