************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 9-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 18, 2010
Q & A 9-11
"Can I Escape Judgment?"
What is the number one place on earth from which people try to escape? Not prison – though everyday there are prisoners who plan escape. Not Refugee Camps – though everyday there are refugees who dream of escape. Not even poverty-stricken and storm-devastated Haiti – though most people there probably would rather live elsewhere. The number one place on earth from which people try to escape is North Korea.
The attempted exodus from North Korea began in the mid-1990s as a devastating famine broke out across the country. In the worst hit areas, people were reduced to eating roots, grasses, and tree bark. More than 2.5 million people perished. The heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is impossible to cross alive, so if you want to escape from North Korea, you have to sneak into China, and then slowly and cautiously make your way across the country to freedom in South Korea. But this route presents plenty of obstacles. Defectors have 2,000 miles of China to cross, and if they are discovered by Chinese police, they will be deported in handcuffs and chains back to North Korea, where they will spend 10 years doing hard labor in a prison camp. Conspiring with missionaries or others to reach South Korea is considered treason, with offenders starved, tortured, and sometimes publicly executed.
The Catechism speaks of another escape: man's attempt to escape punishment for sin. Q & A 5-11 catalogs sinful man's various attempts to escape God's punishment:
-Q 5 "Can you live up to all this perfectly?" Sinful man hopes against hope that the answer is "Yes." Yes, you aren't so bad. Yes, you aren't really sinful. Yes, you don't deserve punishment. Yes, you are good in God's sight.
-Q 6 "Did God create people so wicked and perverse?" Do you hear the hope expressed? God is to blame. He made us wrong. He is responsible for our sin.
-Q 7 "Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?" Here, the blame is placed on our first parents. Sinful man tries to separate himself from Adam and Eve, as if he has no connection to them.
-Q 8 "But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?" Here, sinful man tries to minimize sin. It isn't as bad as the Bible says it is. We may not be perfect, but basically we are good.
Do you know what I see in these questions? I see humanity's attempt to escape sin's punishment while continuing in sin. Why? Because sin is fun. We get pleasure from sin. Why else would we do it? So, we love to sin but we are in dread of the punishment. We want the one without the other.
Compare us to Jesus. We sin and love to sin but try to escape the punishment for sin. Jesus did not sin and hates sin but voluntarily bore the punishment for sin. The sinful ones try to escape God's wrath; the Sinless One willing bore God's wrath.
Today, we will look at three more attempts by fallen humanity to escape punishment for sin.
I First Attempt: God is Unjust
A We start with Question 9. Listen carefully to what the Question asks: "But doesn't God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?"
Let's look at God and, then, let's look at man.
Look at what God requires in His law. Jesus gets to the heart of the law when He calls us to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.
Now, look at man. Man's natural tendency is to hate God and neighbor. Man is incapable of perfect love. Man is totally unable to do what God requires.
In this year's Tour de France, Frank Schlek fell and broke his collar-bone. Now, imagine that the team director insisted that he continue the tour and even win it. That is simply impossible! Isn't God being the same way? Isn't God unfair? Isn't God demanding the impossible? Or, as Question 9 puts it, doesn't God do us an injustice?
B When we think about it, this question is an attack on God Himself. We are saying God make a mistake in His requirements. We are saying God isn't perfectly wise. We are saying God isn't holy and perfect and just in all His ways. We are saying God made an error: He demands more of man than He can reasonably expect.
But who is man to talk this way to God? Who is man to even ask if God is unjust? Can man judge God? Can we by our imperfect, sinful, human standards question the requirements of a just, loving, sovereign, and almighty God? Who does man think he is when he passes judgment on God's requirements? Remember how Isaiah puts this?
(Is 45:9) "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker ... Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'"Only God, and not man, has the right to ask whether the requirements of the law are just. Man has absolutely no business asking this question.
C But sinful man demands an answer. Is God unjust when He demands of man something man cannot possibly keep? Listen to the Catechism's answer:
No. God created humans with the ability to keep the law. They, however, tempted by the devil, in reckless disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.Or, as Paul asks in relation to another subject, "What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!" (Rom 9:14).
God created man with the gifts and abilities to keep His law of love. But man lost and squandered these gifts by following Satan. Man had the ability to meet God's requirements and he willfully lost those abilities.
Suppose a contractor gets $280,000 from a client to build a house. And suppose the contractor loses all of that money in the stock market (which is not that difficult to do today) so he no longer is able to build the house. Doesn't the client still have the right to demand a house?Likewise, just because man lost the ability to keep the law, doesn't God still have the right to demand obedience to the law?
Remember the underlying issue: Can fallen man escape punishment for sin? NO!
II Second Attempt: God Won't Punish Sin
A The next attempt by fallen man to escape punishment for sin is found in Question 10: "Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?"
Do you see the hope of fallen humanity? Maybe God will overlook our sin. Maybe He will ignore our sin. Man hopes that God will be like an over-indulgent parent who acts more like a friend than an authority figure.
I dealt with a father who was told his son was a drunk most weekends. The father refused to believe this. The father was challenged to open the trunk of his son's car. Inside were two beer cases and five whiskey bottles. Do you know what the father said? "He is keeping them for friends."Is this what God is like?
"Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?" Some approach this from another angle. They deny the reality of heaven and hell. Therefore, death is the end. That way sin is not punished.
"Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?" "Certainly not," says the Catechism. Look at our Scripture reading.
(Rom 2:3,8-9) ... do you think you will escape God's judgment? ... (8) for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (9) There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile ...
B Based upon Scripture, Answer 10 makes four points. First, God is terribly angry about sin. He is angry about the sin we are born with. He is angry about the sin we personally commit. It is offensive to Him.
Second, God punishes sin in eternity. God punishes sin in eternity by the fires of hell. Remember the glimpses of that punishment that we saw in the Revelation?
Third, God curses all those who don't keep His law. Remember how Jesus experienced this curse? There were three awful hours of darkness. During those three hours, Jesus was forsaken by the Father. He was cut off. He experienced the torments of hell. This wrung from Jesus the cry, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" To be cursed or forsaken by God is the worst thing that can possibly happen to anyone.
Fourth, God punishes sin now. You may wonder about this because, if we look at the wicked and ungodly, it sure doesn't look like they are being punished now. Instead, it looks like they have God's blessing because they are so rich and prosperous.
Let's go back to Genesis 3 and the account of man's fall into sin. Do you remember what God said to the woman? Something about pain in childbearing. Something about a husband's rule. Do you remember what God said to the man? Something about thorns, thistles, sweat, and the dust of the ground. All of this is how God punishes sin now.
How do we experience God's judgment now? What does Romans 1 say? "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity" (Rom 1:24). "He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:28). "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity" (Rom 1:29). Do you hear what God does? God punishes sin now with more sin. Something about hitting bottom.
How do we experience God's judgment now? Listen to how Paul puts it in Romans 6: "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). We face disease and death, cancer and death, heart-attack and death, old age and death because God cannot let our disobedience and rebellion go unpunished.
Sinful man wants to escape punishment for sin. He desperately looks for any kind of escape. But every escape-hatch is closed.
III Third Attempt: God is Not Merciful
A The next attempt by fallen man to escape punishment for sin is found in Question 11: "But isn't God also merciful?" Doesn't the Bible teach that God is a God of love? How can a loving God punish sinners?
Do you know the Shema – the confession every Jew and Christian makes about God? Do you know the first line of the Nicene Creed? Do you know what Article 1 of the Belgic Confession of Faith says about God?
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (the Shema, Deut 6:4) Do you hear what all three confess about God? God is ONE! God cannot be separated and divided. Therefore, we cannot play God's mercy against God's justice.
We believe in one God (Nicene Creed).
There is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God (Belgic Confession Article 1).
B The fact is, God is both merciful and just. At one and the same time. Imagine a judge who pardons and frees those who commit rape and murder and molest little children. What sort of mercy is that? Isn't it foolish? Citizens would have a right to be outraged. Now, imagine a judge who imprisons a father and throws away the key because he steals a loaf of bread to feed to his hungry children. What sort of justice is that? Again, wouldn't citizens have a right to be outraged?
We cannot play God's justice against His mercy. Somehow, in some way, our one God fully displays both at the same time.
Meaning what? Divine justice demands that sin be punished. Period. No ifs, buts or maybes. No escape.
Remember the theme? Fallen man's attempts to escape God's judgment!
Remember the conclusion? There is no escape! No matter where we look. No matter what we try. No matter how we try to fool ourselves. There is no escape from the judgment of God!
However – and here is the Good News of the Gospel – there may be no escape but there is rescue. From outside of us. From the cross and the grave of Jesus. Jesus fulfills what God demands. And, He endures God's justice so we can enjoy God's mercy.
"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15).
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