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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:The One and Only Safe Place
Text:LD 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Hy. 80

Ps. 5:1,2,3,7,9

Ps. 85:3,4

Hy. 1

Ps. 84:5,6

Reading – Psalm 90; Romans 1:16 – 2:11

Sermon: The One and Only Safe Place

1. The justice of God's demand

2. The justice of God's wrath

3. The justice of God's mercy

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

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,

In LD 4 we hear man at his most desperate. He is trying to find a way out from under the righteous punishment of God against sin. He is moving towards Q. 12 of LD 5, where he asks: “…how can we escape the punishment of God and be received again into favour?” That's man's concern. It is a legitimate concern. How, indeed, to escape the punishment of God against sin? How to be received back into God's favour?

In LD 5, the brilliant light of the gospel will begin to shine. We will hear about another One, a Mediator, a Deliverer, who will deliver us from the wrath of God. But LD 4 is not that far yet. In LD 4 we hear man as he tries to wriggle from under the just demands of God.

You see, man hates to give up his sins. He wants to maintain himself in sin. Although he hates the thought of punishment, of hell, he loves sin.

And so, in his attempt to maintain himself in his sin, he tries to change God. He strips God of what he sees as his sterner attributes -- the attributes of justice, anger and punishment, and changes God into a harmless god who will allow sin to go unpunished. Into a meek little god whose mercy over-rules and negates his justice.

The Word of God will have none of it.

I preach to you about God's justice and mercy

1. The justice of God's demand
2. The justice of God's wrath
3. The justice of God's mercy

1. Man begins by going on strike. In Q. 9, man lodges a complaint against the divine Employer. Man does so to justify himself in his sin. 9. Q. “But does not God do man an injustice by requiring in His law what man cannot do?”

You understand the question -- or rather the implication in the question. What man is implying is that the requirements God imposes upon us are too severe.

What is it that God requires of man? God requires of man that he love him and love his neighbour. Remember LD 2:

4. Q. What does God's law require of us?

A. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. … And …
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

But this is exactly what man cannot do. By nature man is inclined to hate God and his neighbour. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, man is so corrupt that he is totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil.

Man cannot do what God requires of him in his law. It's not only that man will not. True, he will not. But he will not because he cannot. His will is determined by his nature, and his nature is that he is inclined not to love but to hatred.

Let us go back to Q. 9. Is God being fair? Is he not being unjust? Is there not a gross inequality between the demand (of God) and the ability (of man)? Isn't God requiring obedience of man while man cannot obey something like a teacher testing her students on topics not covered by the course? Or isn't it something like asking a Kindergarten student to do an assignment in university level calculus?

The answer is an unconditional and unequivocal No.

No, God is not unjust. God is just. And his justice is perfectly righteous. There is no unrighteousness in God. The question is not whether or not God is just. The question always is whether or not we, at a given moment, understand the justice of God.

The Apostle Paul once asked this question, in Rom. 9:14. He was writing about something else there, about election and reprobation. But what he said about the justice of God in this respect is pertinent for us today. He asked: "Is God unjust?" Answer: "Not at all!" In the Greek Paul answered: "Let it not be!" Away with that thought, with the suggestion that God is unjust. Let this be perfectly clear, for all time and in all situations. Let this be firmly established: God is just!

What Paul said in Rom. 9 about the justice of God applies to what we are speaking of as well. Although man is not able to keep God's law, yet God is just in demanding it of him. As Answer 9 says: For God so created man that he was able to do it. A. 9 speaks about the gifts God gave man. The gifts referred to in A. 6 -- the gifts of righteousness, holiness, and right knowledge of God.

God created man righteous and holy to know God his Creator. In possession of these gifts, man could love God and his neighbour. In Paradise, he could demonstrate his love by obeying God's command, by refraining from eating of the one tree God had put off limits.

But man went against the law. He believed the lie of the devil rather than the true Word of God. Instigated by the devil, and deliberately disobedient, he robbed himself and all his descendants of the gifts of God, the ability to do God's law. The beautiful gifts of God changed into their opposites. Instead of true knowledge of God, he was lost in the darkness of the lie. Instead of righteous, he became perverse. His original holiness was changed into corruption.

It's not God who changed. Man changed. God remains the same. What he required of man at creation, he still requires today.

As LD 3 already said, it will not do to pin the blame on Adam and think that we can run off Scot free. Romans 5 tells us about the effect of Adam's sin. When Adam sinned, he sinned as the representative of the whole human race. Furthermore, Adam and Eve, as sinful parents produced sinful children. We are related to Adam in these two ways: He is our corporate head. He made a decision for the whole human race. And we are organically related to him. We share in the original sin. And on top of that, we commit our own actual sins.

Man changed, not God. God is entirely just in still demanding what he always demanded: obedience. The fault that man cannot obey lies with us.

Imagine you signed a contract with someone to build you a new house. You gave the contractor $50,000 up front. A few weeks later he had not yet begun the work. You found out that he had lost the money at a casino. You reminded him that you and he had a contract and that he'd better get busy. He said to you: “You're being unfair expecting me to build you a house. You are being unjust by requiring me to fulfil the terms of our contract. I have no money with which to build your house.”

What would you say? Would you say: “Yes, you have a point.” No. You'd say: “See you in court!”

Your continued insistence that he build your house would not be unfair. In the same way, God's demand is just.

2. Let us consider secondly the justice of God's wrath.

In Q. 10 we have the second attempt on the part of fallen man to maintain himself in his fallen state and to feel safe in it. It reads: “Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?”

Many say Yes. Yes, God will allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished. Some deny the existence of hell. They create a weak god who is incapable of punishing sinners.

Answer 10 will have nothing to do with such ideas invented by man that make God out to be a weakling so that he (man) can maintain himself in his sin. If there is no punishment of sin, then you can sin to your hearts content!

A. 10 says: God is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. This displeasure of God is worked out in God's curse against everyone who does not do everything the law of God requires. God punishes sin both now and in eternity.

a) God punishes sin now, in this age already. If you break the law – say, if you were to steal or assault someone -- you will be arrested, convicted, and punished (by way of a fine or a jail term). You will be punished by the civil magistrates, who are God's servants. God is then punishing you for your sin. If you try to escape that then you are trying to escape God's punishing, disciplining, and corrective hand. If you are guilty of a crime or an offense, then you have no business pleading not guilty, or trying to get off on a technicality. If you take that route, then you are attempting to flee the hand of God. And that will not be blessed. Then you will answer Q. 10: “Will God allow disobedience to go unpunished?”, with: “Yes, of course God will.”

b) There is another way that God's curse against sin still operates in this world. Death hounds us relentlessly. As, e.g., Psalm 90 says, God returns men to the dust of the earth. He sweeps people away in the sleep of death. They are like grass: Fresh in the morning; dry and withered at night. Death pursues us throughout this life, by way of sickness and disease. True, as we confess in LD 16, by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ has beat death into submission. For the believer, death is a doorway into eternal life and into the presence of God. But yet, as Paul tells it, death is still the last enemy.

In this life we experience pain, sorrow, grief, physical and mental agony. Death dooms all our efforts to ultimate vanity and failure. Death will take all of us. And the empires we have built will belong to someone else. Death is not an accident. It is the heavy hand of God pressing down upon us.

As Psalm 90:7-11 says:

7 We are consumed by your anger 
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 The length of our days is seventy years --
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

The wages of sin is death. God warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed him, they would die. That principle -- You sin; you die – still operates in the world to this day. And it will until the day of Jesus Christ.

The only way out, beloved – the only way out of the present wrath of God is the cross of Christ. The only beam of light that pierces the darkness of our present death is the resurrection of our Saviour.

c) The wrath of God against sin and God's just judgment is also evident in the special miseries and sufferings that are so inseparably connected with particular sins. This is certainly obvious in the grosser and more apparent cases of sin.

  • If a person is sexually immoral and promiscuous, God will often punish him in his just judgment with certain diseases and with the corruption of his body.

  • A person who abuses alcohol or drugs will seriously damage his body and mind.

  • A person who live a very reckless life may end with a broken body.

Paul wrote about this in the second half of Romans 1. The wrath of God against sin operates in this life in that God punishes sin with more and greater sin. He hands people over to their sinful lusts and desires. In this way (Rom. 2:4) they are storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God's wrath, when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed. By handing people over to their sinful desires, God is preparing these vessels of wrath for eternal destruction.

People who indulge themselves in the evil passions of their corrupt natures ought to know that they are playing with the fire of God's wrath. Let no one think for a moment that he can sin with impunity, for God is terribly displeased with all sin. He punishes today and in eternity. God's punishment in eternity and his punishment in time cannot be separated. The wrath of God experienced today is preparation for eternal wrath.

There is no escape. No escape from the wrath of God – except in Jesus Christ and him crucified. For in Christ Jesus, the sufferings of this present time, and even death as it is experienced by those who belong to Christ, are made subservient to our salvation.

d) The last way in which God punishes sin is in unending hell. Some people deny the Bible's clear teaching about the eternal punishment of God-haters in hell. Even some who claim to believe the Bible's teachings deny it. They invent theologies which teach that unbelievers will be annihilated. That unbelievers have no conscious existence after death. That they are gone forever. Only believers, they say, have a conscious existence after death and that only believers will be resurrected.

Others teach that all will be saved – that believers and unbelievers alike will be saved. Or that unbelievers will get a second chance after death.

In one way or another, these are all different ways in which man denies that there is a state of unending punishment for those who do not believe in Christ. Do we really need to go through all the Biblical data that clearly teaches that there will be a day of judgment? That a separation will be made? That Jesus Christ will take his sheep into eternal glory, and that he will cast those who refused to repent and believe into eternal perdition? Throughout the gospels, the Lord Jesus warns about hell. Did you know that no one in the Bible speaks more about hell than Jesus Christ?

Do not underestimate the displeasure of God against sin. His displeasure is terrible. It is terrible because of his holiness. God is holy. His anger against sin is the reaction of his holiness against man's wickedness.

This holy wrath of God is expressed and realized in the curse. The curse of which Gal. 3:10 (and which is quoted in answer 10) speaks. Curse is the opposite of blessing. Both curse and blessing are the almighty words that God speaks. Blessing is the word God speaks in his favour, grace and lovingkindness towards his people. Curse is the word he pronounces against the ungodly, the unbeliever, the unrepentant, in his constant and eternal wrath. Curse is the word that brings misery, temporal and eternal misery, upon all that love unrighteousness.

There is no escape. There will be no escape, expect in Christ Jesus. In Christ who bore the wrath and the curse of God on the cross. In Christ (only) there is eternal righteousness, favour with God, all the blessings of life, both now and forevermore.

3. The justice of God's mercy.

Question 11 asks, “But is God not also merciful?”

This is now the third attempt on the part of sinful man to find a way out of his misery without satisfaction being made for sin and without repentance. Man continues his desperate attempt to change God so as to make it quite safe to sin in God's face.

The first attempt was an attack on the right of God to demand of the sinner that which the sinner, through his own fault, cannot do. The second attempt was a denial of God's punishing justice. Now man tries to divide the perfections of God, to introduce a conflict between them. Such a conflict that the mercy of God will make God deny his justice.

Actually, Q. 11 is a complaint against A. 10. Impertinent, sinful man says: "If you say that God is a God who punishes sin, then God is a God who wants his pound of flesh. This God, then, is a God who is only just and not merciful."

The fatal error in this reasoning is that you cannot divide God. There is no conflict in God. His justice and his mercy are not at war with each other within him. His mercy does not eliminate his justice. And, (and this is important): The mercy of God can reach us only through the channels of God's justice. Mercy can only be bestowed upon the wicked on the basis of justice.

Justice has its requirements. The requirement of God's justice is (as Answer 11 says):

  that sin committed
  against the most high majesty of God
  … be punished with the most severe,
  that is, with everlasting,
  punishment of body and soul.
  against the most high majesty of God
  … be punished with the most severe,
  that is, with everlasting,
  punishment of body and soul.

God's justice requires that sin get what it deserve. Sin is an offense against the most high majesty of God. Therefore it deserves the most severe punishment. To sin is to spit upon the majesty and glory of God. To sin is to clench your fist and to shake it in God's face. It is to rebel against the everlasting Lord of heaven and earth.

Sin is no small matter. And there is no escape. He is the Lord of both time and eternity. He is the Lord of the universe. There is and there will be no rest for the wicked. God's punishment is most severe – he will punish in body and in soul, forever.

There is no way out. No human escape. No one can hide from the justice of God. There is no safe place in the universe.

Where can we go from God's Spirit? 
Where can we flee from his presence?
If we go up to the heavens, he is there;
if we make our bed in the depths, he is there.
If we rise on the wings of the dawn,
if we settle on the far side of the sea,
even there is he. 
If we say, "Surely the darkness will hide us
and the light become night around us,"
even the darkness will not be dark to God;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to him.

If we were to take a space ship to the moon or to Mars, we would meet God.

There is no escape. There is no safe place. No safe place – except for one. That one safe place in the whole universe is at the foot of the cross. 

It's the only safe place, for there God emptied out the bottles of his wrath against our sin upon Christ crucified. Yes, God is merciful, but only by the way of justice. God satisfied his justice when he laid our sin upon his Son. Jesus, our Saviour, bore the eternal wrath of God against our sin in his body and soul. And because the justice of God was satisfied by the most bitter passion and death of Christ, God now pours out his goodness and mercy on us – on us who were guilty and worthy of damnation.

God raised his Son from the dead for our justification, that through him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.

Go, beloved, go every day, back to the foot of the cross. Go to that one safe place in the whole universe. When you sin and make yourself worthy of God's punishment, go to that one safe place. For there the justice of God was satisfied. For there, and nowhere else, will you find the mercy of God. AMEN


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. George van Popta

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