************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 22, 2010
Q & A 19
"The Gospel Tells Me So"
"How do you come to know your misery?" Remember the answer: "The law of God tells me" (Q & A 3). Today, almost the same question is asked about deliverance: "How do you come to know this?" That is, "How do you come to know your deliverance?"
Think, for a moment, about the children's song, "Jesus Loves Me." How do you know Jesus loves you? The song tells us, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so ..." Tonight's answer is almost the same as the children's song. "How do you come to know your deliverance?" "For the gospel tells me so."
I The Gospel
What is the gospel? We use the word "gospel" so often you would think every Christian knows exactly what it is. So, what is the gospel? The Greek word for gospel literally means "good news, glad tidings, good word" and other variants.
So, what is the good news? It is the good news about Jesus; it is the good news, says Paul, "regarding his Son" (Rom 1:1) that is, God's Son.
The gospel, then, is the good news about Jesus. What good news? Here, our answer often falls short. We are way too quick to say something like, "The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins." Or, "The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins on the cross."
What is wrong with saying this is the good news? It is wrong because it is so incomplete. It is wrong because it leaves out most of the story. Did you notice what Paul specifies as the good news about Jesus? He mentions "who as to his human nature was a descendant of David" (Rom 1:3). And, Paul also mentions "who ... was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4). How many here mention these two things when talking about the good news of the gospel? Or, notice what Paul mentions in chapter 4:
(Rom 4:25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.Do you always mention the resurrection in the same breath as the crucifixion? We are so eager to simplify the gospel and dumb-down the gospel that we skip a good part of the gospel.
So, what is the good news of the gospel? The gospel is the message that Jesus is the promised Christ (the Messiah) Who ushers in the Kingdom of God. He does this by taking on human flesh, suffering an atoning death on the cross, rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, sitting at God's right hand, sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as "helper" (paraclete), and coming again to judge the living and dead. This is the gospel. In other words, the gospel is what we find summarized in the Apostles' Creed.
II The Gospel is of God
A What was Paul's job, his calling? Listen to how he starts his letter to Rome:
(Rom 1:1-2) Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- (2) the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures ...Paul was called to be an apostle of Jesus and the gospel.
So, was this the gospel of Paul? Was this good news Paul's creation?
Did you notice to whom the gospel belongs? Paul calls it the "gospel of God" (Rom 1:1), the "power of God" (Rom 1:16), and a "righteousness from God" (Rom 1:17). The gospel belongs to God. The gospel comes from God. God is the origin and the author of the gospel from eternity. As the Catechism puts it, it is a "holy gospel."
B If you think about it, the gospel can only come from God. It certainly cannot come from the hearts of man. Because man is in misery, hating God and neighbor, wicked, perverse, corrupt, poisoned, conceived and born in sin, totally depraved, unable to do any good, inclined toward all evil, and spiritually and morally bankrupt. Fallen sinners are totally unable to come up with a gospel that sets us completely free from sin and makes us right with God.
It is God Who brings the Gospel. He brings it to a wicked, desperate mankind lost in sin. It is from God and for man.
III The Gospel and Promise
A Paul reminds us that the Gospel was "promised beforehand" by God (Rom 1:2). The Catechism says, "God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise." God promised the gospel already in the beginning. We must never forget there is the closest possible relationship between promise and gospel. This promise, according to the Catechism, is fulfilled in Christ.
This reminds me of a book on my bookshelf. The title is "Promise and Deliverance." Which is what the promise of the gospel is all about: it is God's promise to deliver us through Christ.
B Hebrews 11 lists for us some of the heroes of faith. People like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance (Heb 11:13). They had the promise of the gospel without the fulfilment of the gospel. They, so to speak, had to be satisfied with seeing the promise through a dirty window, from afar.
Even from a distance the promise of the gospel was so glorious that they were willing to give up their all rather than turn their backs on it. Because of the promise, by faith, they did all sorts of things: Abraham offered up Isaac, Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, Israel passed through the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho fell down, the mouths of lions were shut, the fury of the flames were quenched, the edge of the sword was escaped, they became powerful in battle, they routed foreign armies, women received back their dead raised to life, others were tortured and refused to be released, some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (cf Heb 11).
For the Old Testament saints the promise of the gospel was glorious. Even with a distant and unclear view the promise filled them with a fantastic faith and endurance.
C The promise of the gospel is especially for us today. Do you remember what Peter said on Pentecost? "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far offfor all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39). Or, consider what Peter wrote in his first letter:
(1 Pet 1:10-12) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.What the Old Testament saints looked for and prayed for is a present day reality for us. How blessed is our condition and our time.
IV The Gospel is Revealed Throughout History
A How many people here take a peak at the back of a book to see how it turns out? I don't do that but lots of people do. In a certain sense, it is fair to say they read the book backwards. They read the ending first and then go back to the beginning.
The Catechism tells us to read the Bible backwards. It tells us to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. Which makes me think of another book in my office, "The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament."
When we read the Bible backwards, we discover that the gospel promise has been revealed throughout all of history. According to the Catechism, those living in the Old Testament had the gospel revealed to them. These Old Testament saints did not have just part of the gospel; they possessed the entire gospel promise. It is true that the full riches of the gospel were only gradually displayed, proclaimed, and understood as the centuries rolled by, yet they still had the whole gospel.
B According to the Catechism, we see the promise of the gospel in the Garden of Eden already, right after man's fall into sin. The Catechism's footnote refers us to what we call the "Mother Promise" of the Bible:
(Gen 3:15) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.This is what God says to Satan right after Satan tempted the first man and woman to fall into sin. God tells Satan two things: first, there will be enmity between the spawn of Satan and the children of God; second, this enmity will reach its culmination in Christ at that time, Christ will suffer but Satan will be crushed.
That promise in the Garden is the whole gospel. Nothing is ever added to this first revelation of the gospel that is not already implied in it. Since that time the gospel as preached and proclaimed has only become more and more clear. It hasn't been changed or added to. Until finally it reached its fulfilment in Christ. What was unclear or only hinted at before, becomes clear in Christ.
The Catechism reminds us that the gospel was proclaimed to the patriarchs. The Apostle Paul can write,
(Gal 3:8) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." (Cf Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10)
The gospel is also found in the prophets. The Catechism refers us to such well-known passages as:
(Is 53:3-5) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (4) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
(Jer 23:5-6) "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. (6) In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
The gospel is even portrayed in the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Exodus through Deuteronomy go in great detail about the rules and regulations for sacrifice and worship. Many here may think that hardly anything in the Bible is as boring or as meaningless as these chapters. But even here we find the gospel. Because the sacrifices and other ceremonies foreshadow and anticipate the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.
C You should know there are churches, pastors, and theological viewpoints that believe the Old Testament is irrelevant to New Testament believers. Not so, says the Catechism. Because in all of the Bible not just the New Testament we see and hear the proclamation of the gospel.
Which is why in this church and from this pulpit you will hear sermons from all of the Bible. If we ignore the Old Testament, we do no better than those who believe the Old Testament does not speak to us today. For, as I already said, when we read the Bible backwards, we discover Christ and the gospel everywhere.
"How do you come to know your deliverance?" "The holy gospel tells me."
I am sure you all realize it is not enough to simply know the gospel. I think of what Paul says:
(Rom 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.There you have it: we must also believe. Because, it is only when we believe that we are set free from our sin and made completely right with God.
If you are an unbeliever, I invite you to believe in Christ. Either that, or you remain in misery and face the judgment that God's justice demands. Which reminds us that the gospel is a two-sided coin: either you suffer the punishment or Christ suffers it for you.
If you are a believer, I invite you to keep in mind that the Greek word for gospel literally means "good news, glad tidings, good word." It is no accident that our English word "evangelism" comes from the exact same root. Like Paul, we cannot sit on the gospel, we cannot keep the gospel to ourselves, we cannot hide the gospel; rather, we want to share it with others.
Let me repeat what I already quoted from Paul. My prayer is that what Paul says is what you also say:
(Rom 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
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