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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:The only escape
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 136:1,2,3,12

Ps. 49:2,3,4

Hy. 39

Hy. 1

Ps. 30

Scripture: Job 9:13-35; 1 Tim 2:1-7

Lord's Day 5

Sermon: The only escape

The gospel of salvation proclaims one way of escape

1. Our desperate need (for an escape)

2. Man's futile search

3. God's gracious provision

* 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 Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

When you fly on a plane, one of the first things the flight attendants do once the plane is in the air is take you through the emergency routine. They tell you what happens if the cabin were to become depressurized.

  • Air masks are going to pop out of the bulkhead.
  • You would have to put it over your head and breathe normally.
  • They tell you about the “personal flotation device” (the PFD) stored under your seat -- in case the plane crashes in the ocean.
  • And they point out the emergency escape exits.
  • Two in the front, two in the middle, and two in the back.
  • There is emergency lighting on the floor.

If your seat is right beside an escape hatch, you are put in charge of opening it if something were to go terribly wrong. A flight attendant comes and tells you in serious tones what you would have to do and asks you if you would be up to it. Perhaps you have had that and were put in charge of the emergency door. Hopefully you have not had to put your new skills into effect.

When the flight attendants go through the routine outlining how to escape a disaster, few people pay attention. Most people are reading the paper, chatting or catching a few winks.

Lord's Day 5 speaks about escaping a disaster. I hope we will pay more attention than we do to a flight attendant.

The gospel of salvation proclaims one way of escape

1. Our desperate need (for an escape)

2. Man's futile search

3. God's gracious provision

1. What is our greatest need? Above all other things what must we have?

Our greatest need, above all other things, is an "escape" from the punishment of God against sin and some way to be received again into God's favour. Somehow we've got to find a way to escape the temporal and eternal punishment of God against our sin and some way or someone to fix up the relationship between us and God - the relationship we broke through our sin. That is our greatest need. If we haven't got that, we've got nothing.

We confess that in Question 12. In Q. 12 we confess that, according to the righteous judgment of God, we deserve the punishment of God, punishment both temporal and eternal.

Temporal means "in this age". Right now, today already, we deserve the punishment of God. And not only in this age, but into eternity, forever. When a person is sent to jail for a life-term, then that's a long time. Imagine spending 40, 50, 60 years in jail. But that's nothing compared to eternity. A person with a life-term dies, and that life-term is over. Eternal punishment goes on forever—a billion life terms, and then some. And that's what we deserve for offending the holiness of God by our sin.

By our sin we have built a huge wall between God and ourselves. We separated ourselves from God. No longer can we claim the favour of God. We can expect only one thing because of our sin, and that is his anger, his punishment, our share of the coming disaster.

This is what we confess in Q. 12. And the Lord's Days 2,3,4 brought us to this confession. In LD 2 we made that painful admission that, by nature, we have only one inclination – hatred. Hatred of God and hatred of neighbour. In LD 3 we admitted that this fact is our own fault. God created us good, but we, by our own disobedience, fell into sin. LD 4 speaks about the holiness of God that demands that sin be punished.

But when all was said and done, we were brought to our knees. We confessed that we are sinners and miserable because of our sins. We confessed that all of our excuses for sin and objections against God's wrath against sin don't hold any water. We confessed our guilt. And we weren't forced. We didn't make this confession under duress. We were brought to it. We were convinced from the word of God that there was only one thing we could do – and that was confess our sin and our guilt before God. We fell to our knees. We flew to God and said, "Lord, have mercy on us, for we are sinners!"

That's what the first part of the catechism did. It showed us our sin and misery and convinced us that we have nothing to fall upon but the mercy of God.

What about you? Where are you at? Have you been brought to your knees in humility before God? Can you say honestly, from the heart, not just from the lips: "According to God's righteous judgment I deserve temporal and eternal punishment"?

That is not so easy to say, is it? Even at the end of the day when the Word of God has shown us clearly that we are sinners and miserable because of it, and that we only have ourselves to blame, even then it is so difficult for us to make that confession. But we must make sure that we make it – that it's the personal confession of each of us here. For without making that confession, it makes no sense to start the second part of the catechism, the part called "Our Deliverance". If you don't realize your great need for deliverance, then you're not going to seize deliverance when it comes your way. If you don't realize the plane is going down, you're not going to look for the escape hatch. Similarly, you are not going to be interested in deliverance because you will think that you're fine without it. But the word of God says that you are not "just fine" without deliverance. In fact, we're all in deep and eternal trouble if we have not been delivered from God's punishment against sin and if we have not been received into favour.

Make that confession, loved ones. Make it yours. Confess your sins. Confess that you know that you deserve God's punishment.

When you do that, then your confession becomes, at the same time, a cry for help. It becomes a prayer for escape. If you make this confession from the heart, you will want to escape God's temporal and eternal punishment. You will look for an escape – front, middle, back, where is it? A door through which you can escape the righteous judgment and eternal wrath of God. You will realize that you are in a deadly situation and that somehow, some way you needed to be delivered from that deadly situation.

This cry for help is prompted by a certain amount of fear – to put it bluntly, fear of hell. When we hear and learn about God's righteous and holy eternal anger against sin, that's frightening. More frightening than what the flight attendant is talking on about.

It is true that no one will ever be scared into heaven. Fear of hell alone will not make anyone seize the salvation of God in Christ. That only happens through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

But at the same time we must say that even the Lord Jesus himself was not scared to warn the church about hell – about, as he said: "the place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies." The Lord Jesus did so in order to awake the slumbering out of blissful complacency. To bring them to their knees before God confessing their sin and praying for some way to escape the punishment of God against sin.

I said that when we confess that we are sinners and that we deserve the wrath of God then that confession makes us cry for help – for a way of escape. There's a second thing it does. It makes us long to be received again into favour with God. For it's not enough just to escape punishment. We also want to have fellowship restored. In paradise, we enjoyed fellowship, communion with God. We want that back. We don't only want the escape hatch to be an exit through which we can flee. We want it to be a door through which we can enter into the presence of God.

Let me use another image. Imagine a child who has done something bad. I know it is very hard for the children of the congregation to imagine that, but please try hard! Now imagine that this child escapes punishment. Father doesn't punish the child, but it is clear that father is still angry with his child. That won't make the child happy. He won't be happy until he asks for forgiveness and father gives it. Until then, there is tension in the air. There is bad feeling. The child is not happy only with escaping punishment. He also wants to be received into favour again.

When God promised Moses that he would bring Israel through the wilderness to the promised land, then Moses answered that they would rather stay in the wilderness if God's presence were not to go with them. Better to stay in the wilderness with God than enter the promised land flowing with milk and honey without God!

That's how it is. The beautiful thing about heaven will not be so much the gates of pearl and the streets of gold but the full presence and enjoyment of God. And that's true for today already.

That, then, is Q & A 12. Accepting and confessing the truth that we deserve God's punishment, how to escape this punishment, and how to be accepted again into favour?

That's the question. The answer, at first blush, might be a little disappointing

A. God demands that His justice be satisfied.

Therefore we must make full payment,

either by ourselves or through another.

We were crying out for grace. What do we hear about? Justice, demands, satisfaction, full payment.

The fugitive has raised his hands up to heaven pleading for mercy – for refuge and fellowship – and he's pushed aside. It sounds so cold, so unfeeling and hard.

It will sound cold and unfeeling if we look at it superficially. Answer 12 does not speak about full payment needing to be made because God is cold and unfeeling. Rather, it does so because God is righteous. God is a faithful God. He is faithful to his own word – also to his threats. Because of who God is, the just demands of his law must be satisfied.

Some times we complain that criminals often get off too easy. We get angry at a system that lets murderers and thieves go little punishment. "Where's the justice," we say. In the same way God would not be just if he did not punish sin.

We may not contrast the mercy of God with the justice of God. They are two sides of the same coin. As Isaiah 1:27 even says, "Zion shall be redeemed by justice." God demands that his justice be satisfied. And how can his justice be satisfied? Only one way: By a full payment being brought for our sins. We stand before God as debtors. The debt must be paid. It is our responsibility to bring that payment. We must either do it ourselves or do it through another.

Somehow, some way, we need to be delivered from God's punishment. We need to be received again into God's favour. We need to find a good escape hatch. But, what do we find?

2. We find that what may, at first, have looked like good escape routes really were false doors leading nowhere good.

Answer 12 says either we must bring the full payment or someone else must do it for us. And so Q. 13 asks, "Can we ourselves make this payment?" Can I open the escape hatch – for myself, and maybe for others?

There are many who think they can. The Pharisees of the Lord Jesus' day thought they could save themselves by keeping all sorts of rules and regulations. During the Middle Ages, the church taught that its members could escape punishment and be received into favour by certain acts of devotion and penance – by good works. Modern liberals think they can save themselves by being nice to their fellow creatures – human and animal.

Can we serve as our own deliverer? Can we mediate between God and ourselves? "Certainly not", answers the catechism.

Those are pretty strong words. But let's admit that they're true. We like to think that God had better be pleased with us – that he had better receive us into favour – because of our acts of devotion and self-sacrifice. God does demand acts of devotion and self-sacrifice and self-denial. But God never owes us anything because of them.

We like to brag about the things we do for the LORD. We like to think that these wonderful things we do will help us escape God's punishment and be received into favour. Answer 13 cuts through all of that conceit. It reminds us of the parable in Luke 17:7ff. The Lord Jesus told a parable about a servant who did all that his master had commanded him. He plowed the field; he kept the sheep. And afterward he prepared supper for his master. And then the Lord Jesus asked, "Does the master thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

We have nothing to offer God. Anyone who is at home in his/her own spiritual life will admit that. We cannot save ourselves from judgment. We come with empty hands.

In fact our problem is not only that we cannot make the payment. Our problem is deeper than that. It is that we daily increase our debt. Our debt becomes larger every day. How can we even begin to talk about delivering ourselves.

Is that not true? If you don't remain in the realm of generalities when you confess your sins at night, you will understand well what the catechism is talking about. If we think back about the day gone by, the past week, year, all the way back to the sins of youth, then what do we come to the Lord with? Empty hands! Truer yet, with dirty hands.

And so what looked like an escape hatch remained locked. The way of self-salvation is closed.

What then? Answer 12 said that if we could not bring the payment to deliver us, then perhaps someone else could. And so Question 14 asks, "Can any mere creature pay for us? This is a rather humbling question. We step off our high and mighty thrones and put on beggars' clothing. We must seek escape outside of ourselves. We sit by the way and hold out our hands. We cry out, "Help, help, please help. "Please, is there anyone who can pay for us?"

We've humbled ourselves somewhat, and yet, what a pathetic, sorry sight. We are looking among "mere creatures". We've faced up to the fact that we are bankrupt in ourselves, and yet we're still trying to find a way to pay our debts ourselves – by finding some mere creature. We're still looking within the realm of creation.

What about bulls, calves and lambs. Can they deliver us? Can they bring us back into God's favour? What about some very noble fellow man or woman? What about king David, Moses or Abraham? Lydia, Dorcas, or Mary—yes Mary! Didn't they do enough good works so that they can share their credits and merits with us and so deliver us? Can't they act as mediators between God and us? What about an angel? Gabriel? Michael? Another angel? Can't an angel deliver us? Can't one of the elect angels mediate.

No, says Answer 14. The just God will not punish an animal nor an angel for the sin which man committed. That would not be fair. Furthermore, the burden of God's anger against sin is so great that any creature, man, angel or animal, would be crushed. No mere creature would be able to bear that eternal wrath.

And so more possible escape routes have closed. Not only the way of self-salvation but also the way of praying to saints. The way of animal sacrifice has been closed. The way of possibly expecting salvation through angels is closed.

What now? I can't think of anyone or anything else who might be able to serve as a deliverer and mediator. I've seen that I can't. No other creature (animal, person or angel) can. We've exhausted all possibilities. Who's left? Our search for a deliverer and mediator has proven to be vain. We've search high and low within the realm of creation, and we haven't found him. The plane is going to crash and there's no emergency exit!

3. Finally, one way of escape is opened.

Question 13 asks, "What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?" So, the catechism still holds out hope. All is not lost.

We must seek a Mediator and Deliverer who is true and righteous man and yet more powerful than all creatures; i.e., one who is at the same time true God.

In other words, we must seek one who comes to us from outside of the realm of creation. LD 6 goes on to explain the qualifications of this Deliverer and Mediator. We will leave that for next time. Let us today marvel at the suggestion, the ray of hope, that somewhere there is a Deliverer who can provide a way of escape from punishment – a Mediator who can restore us to favour. All we have to do is find someone who is a true and righteous man and at the same time, true God. If, in our search, we find such a person, then we can escape and we can be restored. Then we would have found the way of escape from wrath and reception into favour.

But, let's be serious, how ever would we find such a person – true and righteous man and at the same time, true God? Does such a Deliverer and Mediator exist? Didn't Job express frustration when, he complained, (Job 9:33-34): “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more." Job saw what was necessary – someone to stand in the breach between God and man. Someone able and daring enough to lay a hand on both and bring them together. But of course, says Job, there is no such mediator.

Job was right that there was no such arbitrator in his day. He was right that we could search the world high and low and not find such a mediator.

But, and here's the gospel, there is such a Mediator today. And he has been revealed. Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, was and is such a Deliverer and Mediator. (1 Tim 2) He was true man, and righteous man, and at same time he is true God.

This can only be known by the revelation of God. And it can only be accepted by faith.

This perfect man who is also true God did what we are not able to do, and what neither animals nor angels could do. He made the full payment which we owed to God and which satisfied God's justice. The Lord Jesus satisfied the justice of God for us. And so through Jesus Christ, we can and have escaped God's punishment (he is our deliverer). And through Christ God receives us into favour (he is the Mediator between God and us).

God has revealed his son Jesus, the Mediator and Deliverer, to us. If he had not revealed him, we would not have believed in him. And yet the command is there to seek him.

Are you seeking him, loved one? Are you seeking Jesus, the only one who can provide you with an escape from the punishment of God – the only one who can restore you to God's favour? Seek him, beloved. Seek him while he may yet be found. Seek him while there is still time. Seek him before God comes with his eternal punishment against a world that rebels against him. Before the coming disaster arrives. Seek him out and bow before him. Confess your sins and receive a full pardon.

Seek him. He will not hide himself from anyone who searches for him. You will find him. He will deliver you from all punishment against sin. He will restore you fully to God's favour.

Next time you fly and the flight attendants go through the routine of so many escape hatches, and this is what you've got to do to find one, think to yourself: Yes, of course; but really, there's only one. Jesus, the Way; and I have already escaped by free grace, through faith in Him. 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 2013, Rev. George van Popta

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