************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 5, 2017
Lord's Day 2
"The Knowledge of Sin and Misery"
I told you a couple of months ago what someone wrote in one of our Psalter Hymnals; it was written in the margin of Q & A 5. "This is ridiculous. I do not Hate!" I have no idea who wrote this.
"This is ridiculous. I do not Hate!" Is this your belief?
If you are not a Christian, you will agree with what was written in the margin of our hymn book. If you believe every person is basically good, you will agree. If you do not believe the Bible, you will agree. If you are one of those Christians who think it is possible to be perfect, you also will agree.
There are many teachings, many doctrines, in the Bible. But few of them provoke as much negative response as what we have in front of us today. Why? People are in denial about their true spiritual condition. They don't want to believe they are evil, born in sin. They don't want to believe there is no one righteous, not even one. They don't want to believe there is no one who does good, not even one. They don't want to admit the truth about themselves. They don't want to admit and they don't want to be told they are bad, evil, wicked, not good. That is not what their itching ears want to hear.
We continue our study of sound doctrine this morning (2 Tim 4:3). Sound doctrine, if you remember, is true doctrine, correct doctrine, doctrine based upon the Word of God. I want to remind you, this sound doctrine is organized and summed up for us in the Catechism.
Last week we looked at Lord's Day 1 which tells us about our only comfort in life and in death. We learned we need comfort because of sin and evil, because of guilt and corruption and death. We learned our comfort is that we belong to Jesus.
Now, in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort, in order to consciously possess and appreciate this comfort, the Christian must know three things (Q & A 2):
-first, how great my sin and misery are
-second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery
-third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance
Today, in Lord's Day 2, we look at the first thing the Christian must know to live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus: Christians must know the greatness of their sin and misery.
I How Do You Know Your Misery
A "How do you come to know your misery?" Everyone knows there is misery in the world -- so much misery. The world is full of grief, pain, suffering, agony, sorrow, hunger, disability, disease, and tears. The world is full of spiritual decay and wickedness. There is crime, drunkenness, injustice, murder, immorality, hatred, enmity, drug abuse, racism, elder abuse, child sexual abuse, broken families, and so on. Everyday we see this on the internet, newspaper, and TV. If you believe this life and this world and this body is all there is, then you hesitate to bring children into this sad, broken, misery-filled world. But this is not the case with the church. The church brings forth children for the kingdom.
B "How do you come to know your misery?" If misery is so obvious, why does sound doctrine bother to ask this question? Look at it this way. When you are sick, you go and see the doctor. Before she is able to help you she needs to know what the disease is, where it is located, what is its cause, where it comes from, and how it can be cured. The same thing is true for the spiritual sickness of misery. Before we can get help we need to know what the disease is, where it is located, what is its cause, where it comes from, and how it can be cured. This is what the Catechism has in mind in Lord's Day 2.
C "How do you come to know your misery?" "The law of God tells me." Not the internet. Not the newspaper. Not the TV. Not Facebook. Not the doctor or lab technician. Not a psychiatrist. Not my feelings. I know my misery from the law of God.
It needs to be understood that the Bible -- and the Catechism based upon the Bible -- uses a different definition of misery than does the world. The world thinks of misery as being miserable: sick with cold or flu or cancer, death, violence, crime, poverty, hunger, homelessness, broken family, war, climate change, racism, homophobia. The Bible goes deeper, much deeper. It goes to the underlying reason, to the root, to the cause of all this surface stuff. In the Bible, misery means being an alien, an exile. Man's misery is that he is an alien, an exile.
D "How do you come to know your misery?" "The law of God tells me." What is the law of God? It is important we understand the place and function of God's law. The law is not merely a set of rules that God imposes upon us. God's law is not a mechanical, outward, external code. Rather, the law of God is the environment in which we live; it is the sphere of life in which we exist. Think about a fish. The environment, the sphere of life, for a fish is water. That is where it is meant to live. Take the fish out of water and it will be miserable and die. But in the water the fish is alive and well. Think about a certain kind of mushroom. The mushroom flourishes on a dead, rotting log; that is the sphere, the environment, in which it thrives. But put in the middle of your lawn and it will probably die.
Apply the same rule to man. What is the environment, the sphere, in which we are meant to live? The sphere, the environment, in which we are meant to live is the law of God. More specifically, it is the law's demand for love: love for God and love for neighbor. That's the environment in which we are meant to live and thrive. Take us out of that environment -- like a fish out of water, like a mushroom off a rotting log -- and we die.
II What the Law of God Tells Me
A "How do you come to know your misery?" "The law of God tells me." So what does the law of God tell me?
I can look at the outward precepts of the law: do not make idols, do not take God's name in vain, keep the Sabbath holy, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal. I can look at these outward precepts and think I am not bad; in fact, I can think I am basically good because I don't break any of these commandments. I am basically good because I am not a murderer or a rapist or a child molester or a terrorist.
However, if I look at the law as the sphere of love in which I live and breathe, then I find something else. Then I find what Paul speaks of in our Scripture reading:
(Rom 3:10-12) "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."Do you know what this means? This means I am not a lover but a hater. I do not love God above all. I do not love my neighbor as myself. As the Catechism puts it, "I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor." Don't forget, we are talking about sound doctrine, true doctrine, doctrine based upon the Word of God.
This is true for everyone, says Paul. This is true for Gentiles. This is true for Jews (Rom 3:9). This is true for Americans and Russians and Chinese and North Koreans. This is true for Christians and Muslims and Hindus and atheists too. This is true for young and old. This is true for male and female. Sound doctrine says what Paul says: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).
This is true for everyone. Not just for the worst of sinners. It isn't true just for murderers or rapists or child molesters or terrorists or those who persecute the church. It is true for you and me. "I have a natural tendency to hate God and neighbor."
B Earlier I said misery means we are aliens and exiles. Now we know why. We are in misery because we are alienated and exiled from God. We are in misery because instead of being lovers we are haters. We are in misery because our natural tendency is to do the opposite of what the law demands.
Now, don't make light of this. Don't cover this up. Don't deny this. Don't say, "I have a natural tendency to hate, but I do not actually hate."
It is popular in some circles to compare the gospel to a life-preserver. Someone is drowning and we are told we need to throw to them the gospel of salvation. All they need do to be saved is to grab hold of the flotation device. But that is not the Bible's image at all. We aren't drowning, we are dead.
(Eph 2:1) As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,Someone who is dead cannot grab hold of a life-preserver. Someone who is dead remains at the bottom of the sea or pool. That is your natural condition. That is my natural condition. We are dead in our trespasses and sins.
Sound doctrine tells us, my brothers and sisters, that there is something fundamentally flawed with us and in us. We are dead. We aren't lovers but haters. I turn away from God. I hide from God like Adam hid from God in the Garden of Eden. I seek to get away from God. I am in misery.
Sound doctrine is humiliating. Sound doctrine is humbling. I am in the image of God, meant to reflect Him. Of all creatures, I alone have a soul. Yet my life is all out of wack. I am made to fellowship with God yet I hate Him.
C Don't forget, misery is something you must know to live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus. This is something you must know not just in your head but also in your heart.
I emphasize head knowledge and heart knowledge because even the Devil knows he is an enemy of God. He knows he hates God but he doesn't know this is his misery.
Is your sin your misery? Is your hatred your misery? Do you realize you are alienated and exiled from God? Do you admit you are dead in your trespasses and sins? Do you see you are headed straight for destruction?
III The Solution
A So what is the solution to man's problem? What is the solution to misery?
The world has all sorts of solutions. It says the cause of our misery is social conditions, so we need to improve society. Or, the cause is a lack of training, so we need more education. The cause is alcohol or drugs, so we need some kind of prohibition. The cause is capitalism, so the solution is socialism. The cause is a lack of money, so we need to throw more money at it. The cause is climate change, so we need to stop burning fossil fuels. The cause is religious zealotry, so we need to get rid of extremists. The cause is racism, so we need to learn to accept each other. The cause is guns and violence, so we need to take away the right to bear arms.
B The Christian knows the cause is not something outside of him or herself. The Christian knows it makes no difference how you change things. You can change social conditions, training, capitalism, a lack of money, climate change, religious zealotry, racism, and the right to bear arms but that does not touch the root of my misery. You can have prohibition. You can remove sorrow and suffering and grief. You can make the world as good a place as possible. But none of this will help.
Sound doctrine tells us the problem is the heart. So, it is the heart that must be dealt with. My misery is in me. My misery is in my heart. I am miserable in my heart. My heart is crooked. So, it is my heart that must be dealt with. That's why no reformation of society, no education, no prohibition, no spending increase will help. The only thing that will remove your misery is something that deals with your heart. What I need is a heart operation. Because the heart is so completely corrupt, what I need is nothing less than a heart transplant. As Jesus put it,
(Mt 15:19) For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
At the end of this month we have a Mission Emphasis Sunday. Part of the message we need to bring to our friends and neighbors and family is that they need to know their misery. They need to know something is seriously wrong with their heart. In fact, the most loving thing you can do for another person is call them to repent and believe.
C So what is the solution to misery? What is the solution to a crooked heart? In the Old Testament the Lord said through the prophet Ezekiel:
(Ezek 36:26) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.In the New Testament the Lord Jesus said:
(Mt 11:28) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Jesus is the answer to a corrupt heart. Jesus is the answer to my misery.
Do you know your misery? Do you know what really is wrong in this sad, sad world?
There are churches and Christians that get stuck on this. All they can talk about is sin. All they can talk about is the corrupt heart. All they can talk about is their alienation and exile from God.
But we need to know more than our sin. To live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus we also must know how we are set free from our sin and misery. And, we must know how to thank God for such deliverance.
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