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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The Way of Escape
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2011
Added:2011-07-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 63
Psalm 36
Psalm 40:1,7
Hymn 1
Hymn 26

Reading:  Genesis 7
Text:  Lord's Day 5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

It was a dark and moonless night in March of 1944.  Two hundred British and Commonwealth airmen prepared to escape from Stalag Luft III, a Nazi prisoner of war camp.  For about a year, they had been preparing for this moment.  It was a brilliantly designed plan.  It involved the digging of three tunnels with code names Tom, Dick, and Harry.  They would only need one tunnel, but the other two were for backup.  If the Nazis discovered one tunnel, they would not likely suspect that two others were underway at the same time.  These tunnels were about 30 feet below the surface.  They were narrow, only about two feet square.  And they were long, about 300 feet.  Finally the moment came.  But not everything went as planned.  The tunnel was supposed to come out in the woods.  It fell short.  The tunnel door froze shut and took over an hour to open.  An Allied air raid meant that the power went out and the lighting in the tunnel went out too.  In the end only 76 men made it out.  Of those 76, most were recaptured and many were executed by the Gestapo or the SS.  It’s an incredible story and some of you may be familiar with it because it was turned into a book and then later on a movie.  The name of the book and movie:  The Great Escape.

Now being in a Nazi POW camp was miserable.  For example, the prisoners lived on less than subsistence rations.  And of course, they would much rather have been doing their part to defeat the Third Reich than being locked up.  We don’t want to undermine that.  But yet compared to what sinners face apart from Christ, the Nazi POW camp isn’t so bad.  According to God’s righteous judgment, sinners deserve to be punished here on this earth and into eternity.  The Nazis could only serve up pain and misery on this earth.  They couldn’t hurt people for eternity.  According to God’s judgment, sinners deserve to be subjected to his wrath.  Nothing human beings can do to one another can compare to what the wrath of God can do to us. 

Sinners are in a place where escape is something we need.  Who wants to go on like this?  But unlike those Allied airmen, we can’t make our own way of escape.  There’s no amount of brilliant design or energetic effort on our part that can provide the escape from the punishment we deserve.  For our great escape, we need help from above.  This afternoon we’ll consider how this way of escape involves:

1.      A full payment

2.      A full payment that neither we nor any mere creature can make            

3.      A full payment that another can make for us

As we consider our escape, we need to give careful attention to the One we’re dealing with here.  Some have believed that our escape is in the first place from Satan.  Through Christ we are escaping the grip of Satan.  Others have held that our escape is from sin.  Both of those positions have some truth to them.  Apart from Christ, we are children of the Devil.  Apart from Christ, we are under the dominion of sin.  Scripture teaches us those things.  But Scripture also teaches that our greatest need for escape has to do with the righteous judgment of God.  Our great need is to escape his wrath.

Think of the way it was in the days of Noah.  God saw the great wickedness that was on the earth.  He “was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain” (Gen. 6:6).  This grief and pain resulted in God’s decree to execute judgment through the flood.  God would express his justice and his intolerance for unrepentant sin by sending a flood to destroy all the earth and all these sinful people.  For anyone to survive this, they would have to survive the righteous judgment of God. 

God demanded that his justice be satisfied then and he continues to have the same demand.  And he always will.  God’s honour has been insulted by sinners.  Whenever we or anyone else sins, we are offending his majesty.  He is our Creator.  He put us on this earth for the express purpose of bringing him praise and glory.  He designed every part of our being so that we would live for him.  When we sin, we slap him in the face, give him the finger, cuss him out, do everything offensive that you can imagine.  That’s the ugly nature of human sinfulness.  God does not overlook this.  His justice must be satisfied.  In other words, something must be done about this offense.  Somehow God’s wrath must be turned away, so that we can be again received into favour.  For there to be an escape, there must be propitiation.  Propitiation means the turning away of God’s wrath so that we are again received into favour.  The big question is:  how can that happen?  How can God’s justice be satisfied?  How can God be appeased when he has been so grossly offended? 

The answer is:  a full payment must be made.  The flood in the days of Noah points us in this direction.  God was so offended by human sin that this flood came upon the earth and destroyed everything.  The flood killed every human being except for the eight in the ark and the animals with them.  A universal flood.  Rain for forty days and forty nights.  A full measure of God’s wrath upon the earth.  But that was only the temporal punishment.  Eternal punishment also  waited for all those destroyed by God’s wrath in Noah’s day.  When their lungs filled with water and they took their last breath, they were ushered into an eternity of hell.  There they would spend eternity learning what it means to make a full payment for sin.  The full payment never ends because the heinousness of sin comes from the great height of the majesty that has been sinned against.  There is never really a full payment apart from Christ.  There is no escape.

So who can make this payment for us?  Who can make the payment that will give us escape from temporal and eternal punishment?  Obviously, we can’t do it for ourselves.  We’re sinners and we’re constantly adding more debt to our account.  We are not only poor sinners, but we are becoming poorer all the time by virtue of our sin.  We have nothing to bring to the table but our sin.  And our sin problem doesn’t disappear in this life.  We continue to sin each day.  How can someone whose debt is constantly increasing ever hope to pay off the debt he owes?  In our human experience, it’s impossible and it’s also impossible when it comes to God.  Psalm 130:3 puts it well, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  Why would we not be able to stand?  Because those sins don’t stop.  Yes, as Christians, there is growth in holiness.  We are being more and more renewed to look like Christ.  The Holy Spirit is changing us and there is consequently less sin in our lives from day to day.  But yet there is still sin and it is still piling up.  That’s the reality for each one of us.  Therefore, as human beings, we can’t make the payment that God’s justice demands.  It’s impossible.

Yet there are those who want to try.  You’ll run into these people from time to time.  It’s good to identify their ways of speaking and thinking, so we can know how to respond.  One common way is that people will talk about God as judge, but then they have a skewed idea of what that means.  Their idea of God as judge involves God having a sort of balance.  Maybe it’s like a literal balance with weights on each side, or maybe it’s like a balance sheet in accounting.  At the end of your life, you stand before God and then he weighs your good deeds versus your bad deeds.  He compares the income to the expenses.  And if you’ve lived a good life, if you’ve done lots of good things for people, then that’s good enough for God and he lets you into heaven.  Where does Jesus fit into this?  Sometimes he doesn’t fit at all.  For others, Jesus is the good example of how to live the good life you need to live in order to have the balance fall in your favour. 

What’s wrong with that whole view?  Two things.  Number one, it presents a wrong view of God.  It vastly underestimates God’s holiness.  In this view, God is willing to overlook the sins if you’ve got enough good deeds to compensate.  That is not a biblical view of God.  God is holy, holy, holy.  He does not wink at sin.  Number two, that view doesn’t present a realistic view of human beings.  It says that we are basically good people who sometimes sin or, more likely, make mistakes.  The Bible says something completely different.  The Bible says that we are conceived and born in sin and that every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts are evil all the time (Gen. 6:5).  And the deeds that we think are so good?  God says that they are like filthy rags, disgusting “sanitary napkins” – that’s Isaiah 64:6.  This view debases God and exalts man.  It puts human beings up on a pedestal.  It says, “Yes, you can climb your way up to God.”  You don’t need Jesus Christ as a Saviour.  This view demeans the cross.  It says that the cross at best is just an example of Jesus suffering for what is right.  The cross doesn’t involve Jesus taking the place of sinners as God’s wrath was poured out on him.  Loved ones, when we talk to our friends and neighbours and have opportunities to speak about our faith, we have to speak the truth to them in love.  The truth is no mere human being can make the full payment that God’s justice demands.

Well, what about other creatures?  Can they provide the way of escape?  Now today I don’t think too many people would want to go that route.  Most people would consider it barbaric to think that offering an animal would be the way to atonement.  When the Catechism put this forward as an option in 1563, people didn’t think in those terms either.  Animal sacrifices were not made in the sixteenth-century Palatinate.  The Catechism had in mind the Old Testament.  Could the Old Testament sacrifices make full payment for sins? 

Hebrews 10 answers that question.  It says that the sacrifices could never “make perfect those who draw near to worship.”  Hebrews 10 says further that, “...it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  The Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to Christ.  In and of themselves, they were inadequate to make atonement.  This was why Christ had to come and do what these sacrifices could not:  make full payment. 

But why is the route of another creature paying for us ruled out?  The Catechism gives two good reasons.  Man is the one who sinned.  Man is the one who sinned at the beginning and continues to sin every day.  Man is the responsible party.  God is just and he will not accept full payment from a party that’s not responsible for the offense.  That’s not how God works.

The second reason is that creatures are incapable of making this full payment.  They would never be able to bear the brunt of God’s eternal wrath against sin.  Again this highlights the seriousness of our offense against God.  Our sin is not a light thing.  That’s true for us individually and even true for us collectively, as the mass of humanity.  Just in terms of the sheer number of offenses, the thought is overwhelming.  Unless you downplay the weight of these offenses and how God regards them, there’s no question that this route of escape is closed.

So we can’t make the payment and another creature can’t make the payment.  How can we escape?  Think again of Genesis 7.  God provided a way of escape for Noah and his family.  Noah trusted God and believed his promises and God took care of him.  The ark became his lifeboat, the God-given instrument to escape the waters of judgment.  God told Noah about his plans.  God gave Noah the orders to build the ark and he told him how to do it.  After the ark had been built and the rain started falling, and everybody was on board the ark, then God came and closed the door.  At the end of verse 16, “Then the LORD shut him in.”  Building and getting on board the ark was one thing.  But if the ark wasn’t sealed properly, Noah and his family and all those animals would still have gone to the bottom of the waters.  God closed the door – that’s Moses way of telling us that God made the way of escape. 

There we’re pointed ahead to the redemption we have in Christ.  For there too, God has made the way of escape for us.  He’s made the way so that the full payment can be made.  We need a true and righteous man.  We need someone who is one of us, yet sinless.  But we also need someone who can take the brunt of divine wrath – only God himself is equal to that. 

Loved ones, here’s the gospel:  a full payment has been made for us by Christ!  You’ve heard it from this pulpit time and again, but I beg you not to take it for granted.  There is a way of escape through our Lord Jesus.  Your sins may feel like too much.  You may wonder if God can even forgive you.  I’ve heard people say that, people who are members of the church.  “How could God forgive me for what I’ve done?  It’s just so bad.”  Listen:  no one is out of the reach of grace.  Not you, not anyone.  There is an escape through Christ.  He will be your ark so you can escape the waters of divine judgment.  Brothers and sisters, continue to rest and trust in his perfect work for you.  Through him, you have “the great escape” guaranteed!  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our gracious Father,

We acknowledge again your justice and your holiness.  We know that you cannot look upon sin.  You don’t wink at sin.  You will punish it perfectly and justly.  Father, we thank you have given us a way of escape through Christ.  Thank you that we could hear the gospel about our Saviour again.  We pray that you would help us with your Spirit so that we continue to rest and trust in him alone for our well-being now and into eternity.  We pray that you would help all of us to be confident of our place in your kingdom through Jesus our Saviour.  Help us all to be sure that our escape has been made through his perfect life and death.  Father, we also ask again for your help in sharing the good news of the escape through Christ.  Please give us opportunities to speak with friends, neighbours, and co-workers about the things that matter most.  Please give us the wisdom and the words to always point to our Saviour as the true escape from the real problem.  We pray for the help of your Spirit in this, because of ourselves we are so inadequate and weak.  Please do this because we love the people around us and we want to see the gospel go out and be accepted and your Name praised. 

                                          




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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