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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:God's Personal Signs & Seals!
Text:BC 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2008-08-31
Added:2009-05-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH XXXIII

(Reading: Genesis 9:1-17)

 

God’s Personal Signs and Seals!

 

 

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

     We consider now the sacraments in the Word of God and the life of the Church.

          But, you know, ‘sacrament’ is not a word you will find in your Bible.

             

     Because of this some have wanted to drop the word altogether.

          They say you shouldn’t use it then.

 

     Others have kept the word but minimised their teaching about this.

          They’re a bit hesitant about something with a name church history has given it.

              They would not want to follow the mistake the Church of Rome often does with elevating a tradition above scripture.

 

     The word ‘sacrament’ is good word, though.

          In fact, it serves a very useful purpose in the church.

 

     We can see the same in the word ‘Trinity’.

          That’s not found, as such, in the Bible.

              But it’s a vital word which teaches a most precious biblical truth.

 

     So these words don’t add to or distort the Christian message.

          They don’t take away from what’s in Scripture at all.

              In fact, they protect God’s Word against error.

                   And they help the teaching and understanding of God’s Word.

 

     The fact that there is no direct teaching on the sacraments, as such, explains why there is so much difference between Christians on this subject today.

          I mean, in Scripture there is instruction on individual rites – whether circumcision and the Passover in the Old Testament and baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

              But there’s nothing specific about what the these rites together mean.

 

     So it is that we must compare scripture with scripture.

          As our forefathers did that they came up with Article XXXIII.

              This, like the teaching regarding the ‘Trinity’, comes to us from searching the Bible and tying its strands together.

 

     The definition which has come out of Scripture is this: A sacrament is a sign and seal of an inward and invisible grace worked in us by the Holy Spirit.

          Romans 4:11 tells us this as it says of Abraham, “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was uncircumcised.”

              This aspect of being a sign and seal we’ll come back to later.

                   But, now, following the order in this Article, we see that, in the first place, THE WORD’S CONFIRMED BY ALL THE SENSES.

 

     The Word of God came to us through hearing.

          Romans 10 verse 14 describes this in the process of preaching the Word.

              Paul says there, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?

     “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?

          “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

    

     Indeed, this is the way we come to the faith.

          And it’s the primary way we are kept and built up in the faith.

              But God is not unkind.

     He knows that there are other senses than our hearing.

          And so He also blesses us spiritually in the physical way of those other senses – seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling.

              Article XXXIII describes this as God taking “account of our weakness and infirmities.”                      This is why He gives you His own personal signs and seals.

 

     Now, this is not to say the Word of the Gospel is inadequate.

          This is no acknowledgement that the preaching isn’t enough or isn’t strong enough.

              The Word doesn’t need anything.

                   It’s actually us who make these additions necessary because of our “weakness and infirmity.”

 

     You see, we’re slow to understand.

          Our sinfulness has dulled out minds.

              We’re extremely sluggish to learn and as thick as bricks!

     Even though the Holy Spirit works faith is us, the old man is always there.

          We keep opposing God’s Word.

              We keep causing our faith to doubt.

 

     And, then, there’s those times reality seems to contradict God’s Word.

          As the apostle Peter says in his first letter, chapter 2 verse 2, we are weak like “newborn babies”.

 

     Well, God thinks of us!

          He is so gracious.

             

     I mean, think of Gideon back in Judges 6.

          The Lord even gives two signs to that doubting man!

 

     And what about the signs God gave to Abraham, and Ahaz, and many others.

          He also gave permanent signs – the rainbow; circumcision and Passover; baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

              It’s these last two which He ordained to be institutions which the Church today must keep.

                   If we don’t do that we go against God’s will.

 

     We see our first aspect being further confirmed by the purpose of the sacraments.

          The Article speaks of God sealing His promises to us through them.

              This is so that we welcome them and hold on to them.

                   For they are “pledges” of His good will and grace toward us.

 

     Dear friend, you don’t get a better promise than a pledge.

          So in His sacraments He gives us His promises as real things in our hands, just like you would receive an engagement ring or cheque to guarantee the trustworthiness and sincerity of a promise made.

 

     Congregation, this is God’s way to nourish our faith.

          And your faith will be strong as long as it holds on to God’s promises and puts its trust in Him.

 

     So the purpose of the sacraments is the strengthening of faith.

          They make the Gospel promises visible to us, and so they seal these promises upon us.

             

     That’s why we have to see that the sacraments add nothing to the gospel.

          They are like the pictures in an illustrated book.

              We could call them “a visible preaching.”

 

     The Church Father, Augustine, called them “a visible word”.

          This was because they portray God’s promises as in a picture.

              A picture descriptive enough to see the details.

 

     The broken bread and the poured wine remind us of the broken body and shed blood of Christ.

          The water of baptism points to our cleansing in Him.

 

     This is where the minister himself has a vital role.

          If he reads the liturgical form poorly; if he does not visibly break bread or present the elements before God in the presence of the congregation; the way he uses water in baptism; if he hurries through the baptism; the effectiveness of the sacraments as a way of grace is reduced.

              To clearly show the right picture, they must be painted the right way.

                   They must be done with the right dignity and grace to carry their message through the eye and ear of the recipient into his soul.

 

     Article XXXIII goes on to describe the sacraments as being “joined to the Word of the gospel.”

          For the two – Word and Sacrament – cannot ever be separate.

              In fact, to have the sacrament without the Word is to make that action completely meaningless.

     And here I also include occasions where the appropriate Form may have been used.

          Because there has occurred throughout periods of history and in different Reformed denomination a situation where a service only has the sacrament.

             

     It happened when there were baptisms in isolated places.

          Then it was decided that just reading the Form was enough.

                  

     And it happened when the church membership was so large there had to be five or six tables and that itself took over an hour and a half.

          Then too it was decided that just reading the Form was enough.

 

     For on such occasions how can the Word be shown through the sacrament if the Word itself is not declared?

          That’s why we come, in the second place, to see, THE OUTWARD ACTION SIGNIFIES THE INNER REALITY.

 

      Here we move to realise an opposite danger.

          For we have seen how the sacrament can become seen to be something special in itself.

              That’s certainly what it is in the Church of Rome.

                   And it’s what has occurred in our churches also as people make that special effort to be at the Lord’s Supper service.

 

     But there are also those who say we make too much of the sacraments.

          They would agree with such a man as Ulrich Zwingli who said that the sacraments are only reminders – and nothing else.

              Our Article is clear there is more.

                   It says that through the sacraments “God works in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

 

     The Article even goes further.

          It declares “the signs are not empty or meaningless, so as to deceive us.”

              And then it points directly at how Jesus Christ is pictured by them.

 

     Here it is useful to come back to the expression “signs and seals.”

          Two key words.

         

     The first is “sign”.

          And what is a sign but something which tells us of the way to somewhere.

 

     Think about it.

          You drive along the road and you see a sign.

              HAMILTON 90 KM it says.

                   It’s got an arrow on it and so you know you’re going the right way.

 

     Is that sign actually Hamilton?

          Of course not!

              But it is an assurance that you’re going the right way.

     You are still looking forward to getting there.

          The sign even brings to mind what a lovely time you’ll have when you get there.

 

     Now, that sign which would be of no worth if you were trying to go to Avondale.

          Apart from telling you you’re going the wrong way!

 

     And how about that sign of the rainbow?

          As Christians we see that wondrously multi-coloured bow in the sky and we know it’s God’s own sign that He will never flood the world again.

              No matter how much rain we get in one winter!

                   Genesis 9 verse 15 is His word on this.

 

     So the sacraments are “signs” for the believer.

          Because that means he’s going the right way.

              That’s how Jacco and Carmen are encouraged in their faith through the baptism of Nathan this morning.

     Yet if they themselves were not living God’s way that baptism only serves to tell them they’re going the wrong way.

          The same if we participate at the Lord’s Supper while in a state of sinful rebellion against the Lord.

 

     The second word is “seal”.

          A “seal” guarantees something to us.

         

     The word comes from what the people in the 16th century used to close their letters to each other.

          Because a signet ring on your finger would be pressed into hot wax on that letter.

              So when a person got a letter he could tell from the seal who it was from.

     He could also have confidence that it was from that person.

          The seal guaranteed it.

 

     Today we could say the same about a person’s signature.

          Then we can be sure it is from that particular individual.

              That confirms its trustworthiness.

 

     So “signs and seals” don’t say anything about the person who receives them.

          Rather, they testify that this is of God.

              This is the promise.

                   These sacraments are pledges of His goodwill and grace toward us.

 

     I like how someone once described the comfort we have as Christians.

          He said, “Faith saves us but assurance satisfies us.”

              That’s the place of the sacraments.

                   They show God going out of His way to give us exactly what we need when we need it.

 

     This is also why we can be satisfied with the two sacraments Christ our Lord has instituted.

          We don’t need anymore.

              Baptism and the Lord’s Supper exactly fit our need.

                   But to not have them would leave us quite spiritually hungry.

 

     And the same goes for any church which has more than these two sacraments.

          That only leaves you hungry also.

              Because then you cannot have them all.

     In some way, one or another will be restricted to only some.

          And that’s the last thing God means them to be!

 

     Dear believer, perhaps you’re feeling like you’ve been starving for a while.

          You feel listless and unsatisfied.

              Well, the next time we have holy communion you prepare the whole week for it.

     Every day of those six days before it you pray for it.

          You open up your heart to God.

              And you live then looking forward to it.

     Then it will indeed be a foretaste of heaven itself.

          Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray…

     O Lord Jesus, in You it all comes together.

          For we see the Word about you all the more clearer as we truly receive the signs pointing to You, and the seals confirming You.

              What a tremendous assurance we have!

     You so much care for us.

          You have given Your all for us!

              And for that, Lord, we lay ourselves before You.

     Please bless us in You.

          Keep us looking to You.

              For the sake of Your sacrifice, we plead, Amen.

 

 

 

 

    

 

             

             

 

 

         




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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