************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 12-15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 8, 2010
Q & A 12-15
1 Timothy 2:1-7
"Our Search for a Mediator"
"The Catechism goes on and on about our sin and misery. Question after question. Answer after answer. All harping on our sin and misery." The young man who said this wanted to raise the point that the Catechism emphasizes sin over salvation.
Do you agree with the young man's assertion? Is the Catechism all doom and gloom without a ray of sunshine? Does the Catechism emphasize sin over salvation?
The young man was me – 31 years ago. And I was wrong, completely wrong. How many Q & As deal with Misery? Nine of them. How many Q & As deal with Deliverance? Seventy-four of them. Sheer numbers alone tell us that the Catechism puts more emphasis on Deliverance than Misery.
When we think about it, we realize more emphasis should be placed on salvation. After all, it is much easier to get into trouble than to get out of trouble. In one second you can be horribly injured in a car accident – and it may take you months or years to get healed. It takes only the fraction of a second to pull a trigger, but you could spend the rest of your life in prison. It takes only a brief moment to fall into sin, but it takes much longer to conquer sin.
Remember what we looked at last time? Last time we looked at man's attempt to escape punishment for sin. We concluded there is no escape but there is rescue. Today, we look at man's attempt to find that rescue. Man's search, we discover, is desperate – he leaves no stone unturned.
Lots of people lose their keys. They spend all sorts of time looking. They check through the entire car, in the couch or arm chair, on the night-stand. They know the keys must be somewhere, but cannot find them. Then they start checking crazy places like under the bed, the kitchen cupboards, the dishwasher, the closets, the attic, and behind furniture.In the same way, we discover that man looks everywhere for rescue.
I We Need to Pay Off Our Debt
A Let's start off by looking at our need for rescue. Listen to what is asked by Q 12:
According to God's righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God's favor?The answer uses language that is not popular today because the Gospel is presented in terms of God's justice. Most modern preachers and most modern audiences like to hear the Gospel in terms of love or in terms of man's felt needs. The Catechism does not begin with what man feels or needs but, rather, with what God requires: "the claims of his justice must be paid in full." We are rescued when we find a way to pay in full the claims of God's justice.
B I want you to note that the Catechism uses the language of business and finance in Lord's Day 5. It tells us we have a debt we owe God. To become right with God that debt must be paid in full. Full satisfaction must be made.
One of the foundations of modern finance is credit. We buy, for instance, homes, cars, farms, dairies, businesses, and equipment on credit. We give a down-payment now and promise to pay the rest on a monthly installment plan. God, however, is not a lending institution. We cannot get away with only a down-payment. We can not get away with a partial payment and a promise to pay the rest later. Our debt must be paid in full.
Another foundation of modern finance is bankruptcy. If your debts exceed your assets you can file for bankruptcy and thus avoid paying all your debts in full. But with God this also is not an option. Man is not allowed to declare bankruptcy. Man cannot say he is unable to pay the debt – for the claims of God's justice must be paid in full.
Man has a debt with God. He cannot give only a down-payment. He cannot declare bankruptcy. What is man to do? He can search for someone to pay his debt. So begins man's desperate search for rescue.
II We Cannot Pay This Debt Ourselves
A The first place man looks is in the mirror. He looks at himself. "Can we pay this debt ourselves?" "Certainly not," says the answer. "Actually, we increase our guilt every day."
Do you see how hopeless and helpless is the situation of sinful man?
I have an overdraft credit line with my bank. If I write checks or make online payments for more than what I have in my account, my credit line automatically kicks in.According to Scripture, man has a monumental overdraft with God. We are to picture an overdraft bigger than our national debt. We have to picture an overdraft so big that not even the interest can be paid. We have to picture an overdraft that gets bigger every single day. Remember Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35)? A servant owed his master ten thousand talents (that is, millions of dollars). There was no possible way to pay this debt. We are like that servant. Truly, man's situation is hopeless and helpless.
B How do we increase our guilt every day? Every day God says to us, "Love Me. Love Me above all." Every day we say back, "I will not. I cannot not." Every day God says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Every day we say back, "I cannot. I will not." Every day that we do not perfectly love God and neighbor, we increase our guilt.
C In spite of this, man still searches within himself for a way to pay his debt to God. He is morally and spiritually bankrupt. He has overdrawn the account. Yet, he wonders if he can somehow pay his debt.
Isn't this the sin of the Pharisees? Didn't they think they could pay off God by sacrifices, by worship, by keeping the letter of the Law?
Martin Luther thought this. He thought that penance would pay the debt of his sin. Penance is the notion that sinners can pay for their sins by saying a certain number of prayers, fasting, taking part in a crusade, treating religious objects with reverence, going on a pilgrimage, and so on. So what did Luther do? Luther tried to pay his debt of sin by praying for six hours non-stop, living in an unheated monastery cell, and fasting for three days at a time. Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome and climbed on his knees the stairway Jesus supposedly climbed to Pilate's throne; Luther kissed each of the 28 steps and on each step he said an "Our Father."
None of this gave Luther peace of soul or assurance of forgiveness. The debt of sin continued to hang upon him. Nothing he did, nothing he gave, nothing he tried, gave him the peace he wanted and needed. No matter how hard he looked within himself, he did not find forgiveness for the debt of his sin.
There are people today who think God owes them forgiveness because they go to church, read the Bible, put money in the offering, pay attention to the sermon, and send their children to Christian School. There are people today who think God owes them forgiveness because they do good works: like help a neighbor or donate money to the Red Cross.
Let's go a step further. There are those who think they can buy off God. But what can I offer God? Shall I offer Him my possessions? Shall I offer Him my silver and gold? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgressions. Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings (cf Micah 6:6-7). But what do I have that doesn't already belong to Him? All the silver and gold are His. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. All the riches of the world are His (cf Psalm 50:9-12). So, there really is nothing we can give God to pay our debt.
III Man Cannot Find a Scapegoat
A Remember, man searches for forgiveness, for rescue. He looks within himself. "Can we pay this debt ourselves?" "Certainly not." So where does man's search for forgiveness take him? Maybe another creature – any at all – can pay this debt? So begins man's desperate search for another creature to pay the debt of sin.
Let me make an observation about politics and its dangers. I have noticed over the years that almost every political figure is hailed as a savior. People wept and cried when Obama was elected as President; "Obama, change we can believe in," was the slogan. But didn't people do the same thing when George W. Bush was elected and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter? I have to laugh whenever I hear people put faith and trust in politicians. And I have to cry. Because no politician is ever able to save us. No king or monarch either. How sad and how pathetic that we put our trust in princes and presidents, in mortal men, who cannot save (Ps 146:3).
B Aside from politics and politicians, is there any other creature who can pay this debt for us?
The pagans of Hawaii used to throw virgin girls into volcanoes in order to appease the wrath of their gods. Can we start sacrificing our young girls or boys?
Remember what God commanded Old Testament Israel to do? Two male goats were to be taken from the Israelite community. The high priest cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. The goat whose lot falls to the LORD was to be sacrificed for a sin offering. The goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat was sent into the desert with the sins of the people (cf Lev 16:8-10). Can we, like Israel, use a scapegoat – some creature or animal – whom God will punish for our sins?
Maybe we can turn to angels and demons? Let your imagination run a little bit: maybe there is life on another planet that can be used to pay our debt?
C There are two important Biblical principles that we need to always keep in mind. The first principle comes from Ezekiel 18: the soul who sins is the one who must pay for sin. Or, to use the language of the Catechism, God will not punish another creature for those sins for which a human is guilty. The second principle comes from Psalm 49: no man can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom because the ransom for a life is costly and no payment is ever enough. Or, to use the language of the Catechism, no creature can bear the weight of God's eternal anger against sin and release others from it.
IV Man's Search for a Mediator
A Remember, man searches for forgiveness, for rescue. He looks within himself. "Can we pay this debt ourselves?" "Certainly not." "Can another creature pay this debt?" "No." So where does man's search for forgiveness take him? What we need, what we must search for, is a mediator and deliverer.
A mediator is well-known on the labor scene. When management and labor are at an impasse and a strike is looming, a mediator can help bring the two sides together. A mediator is also used in the area of international relations. For instance, the U.S. has mediated more than once between Israel and her neighbors.
A deliverer is someone who pays the debt for us. For instance, more than one parent has saved their kids from bankruptcy or foreclosure by paying the mortgage or bill for them. In this instance, a deliverer pays the debt of our sin.
B "What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?"
Here are the qualifications: truly human, truly righteous, and true God.
Guess what? We cannot find such a mediator and deliverer. On our own, we can never find such a mediator and deliverer. However, He can be revealed to us. Paul tells us that he was appointed a herald and an apostle to tell others about the Mediator and Deliverer (1 Tim 2:7). Why? Because God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).
C Who is this Mediator and Deliverer? Jumping ahead in the Catechism, Answer 18 says He is "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God." Our Scripture reading tells us, "For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:6). Jesus is the Mediator and Deliverer. In fact, He is the only Mediator and Deliverer. Beside Him there is no deliverer, no mediator. There is no other plan for our salvation. There is no other way to have our debt of sin forgiven. It is Jesus or NOTHING!
So, what does Jesus do as mediator? Paul says, He "gave himself as a ransom" (1 Tim 2:6). He pays off with His own blood the debt of our sin. He frees us from our debt of sin through His cross and grave.
Remember, man searches for rescue from the debt of sin. He looks within himself. "Can we pay this debt ourselves?" "Certainly not." "Can another creature pay this debt?" "No." Eventually, man's search makes him look for a mediator and a deliverer.
By grace, may we all believe that Jesus is the Mediator and Deliverer. By grace, may we all believe that Jesus is the One – the only One – Who can pay the debt of our sin. Once we believe this, we have "come to a knowledge of the truth" and have been "saved" (1 Tim 2:4).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page