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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God's justice and mercy revealed at the cross
Text:CD 2 1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 89:1,5,6

Psalm 103:1,5,6

Hymn 2

Hymn 65

Scripture readings: Exodus 34:1-9, Galatians 3:10-14

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 2.1-4

* 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 Christ,

Have you ever experienced a medical misdiagnosis?  You weren’t feeling well, but the doctor totally messed up on what was ailing you, gave you the wrong treatment.  Jane Brown experienced that with her son Bobby.  Bobby was 17 months old.  He had a high temperature, cried with a high pitch, and wasn’t sleeping.  Jane took Bobby to the family doctor – he said that Bobby had some kind of virus and he would probably soon get over it on his own.  He didn’t.  He got worse.  So a couple days later Jane took him to the hospital.  There a doctor diagnosed Bobby with tonsillitis and put him on antibiotics.  Jane refused to take him home and it was a good thing, because two hours later he was in Intensive Care showing signs of brain damage.  It was only then that further tests revealed he had meningococcal meningitis and treatments began for that.  But because it was left untreated for so long, Bobby ended up permanently losing his hearing.  In other cases, people have lost their lives because of a medical misdiagnosis.

In order to provide the right solution, you need to understand the problem correctly.  This is true with medicine, but it’s also true in relation to ultimate things.  Over the centuries, there have been numerous cases of spiritual misdiagnosis. 

Some have said the greatest human problem is our lack of a good example to follow.  We don’t know how to behave well enough to earn God’s favour.  So they say God sent Jesus Christ into this world to give us a good example.  We can read about Jesus’ life in the Bible, we can imitate that, and then we can be accepted by God because we’re being good like Jesus was good.  And they say the best thing about Jesus’ example was the way he loved his enemies, even when he was on the cross.  If we just love like Jesus loved, that’s the solution to our problem.  That’s a misdiagnosis.  That’s spiritual malpractice. 

Others have said the greatest human problem is how we don’t experience the fullness of health and wealth.  We suffer with a lack of money, with sickness, and with all kinds of other difficulties.  So they say the Bible’s message is that if you have enough faith, then God will bless you with all of those things.  It’s like a machine.  You plug in enough of your faith and then God will reward you with health and wealth.  They say God wants to do that, he wants to bless you, but he’s just waiting for you to have enough faith.  Once you do, all these good things will come raining down on you from heaven and you’ll be super-happy at last.  That’s the prosperity gospel – a false gospel.   It too is a misdiagnosis, spiritual malpractice.

In the second chapter of our Canons of Dort, we find an accurate diagnosis.  We not only find our ultimate problem laid out from the Scriptures, but also the correct solution.  It comes to us in the context of refuting a wrong teaching.  The Arminians or Remonstrants taught that Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross for anyone in particular.  That’s a wrong teaching and it gets directly answered later in article 8 of chapter 2.  But for now, in articles 1-4, some of the foundations are being laid for that answer.  As part of that, we need to learn about the nature of Christ’s work on the cross and why it was necessary.  That’s our focus this afternoon.  We’re learning about God’s justice and mercy revealed at the cross

We’ll consider:

  1. Our great problem
  2. God’s great solution

In the days of the apostle Paul there were also those engaged in spiritual malpractice.  There were those people we call the Judaizers.  They misdiagnosed the human condition.  They misunderstood what the gospel was all about.  The Judaizers taught that we need Jesus Christ, but we also need to add our own works of the law to please God and be accepted by him.  That wrong way of thinking is what Paul was addressing in the book of Galatians. 

Look with me again at our reading from Galatians 3.  Look at verse 10 [read].  Here the Holy Spirit says that if you do not do the works of the law you are under a curse.  And if you rely on works of the law, you are under a curse.  There’s something implied there.  What’s implied is that no one can abide by all things written in the Book of the Law.  No one does.  We are all failing, and we are all failing constantly. 

As a result, we are all under a curse.  That’s our great problem.  Let’s explore it a little more.  It’s important to remember that this curse is personal.  What I mean is that there is a Someone behind this curse.  There is a Someone who is cursing our disobedience and rebellion.  That Someone, of course, is God.  You see, our great problem is not so much a something as a Someone.  Our great problem is not a what, but a Who.  Our great problem is God. 

This is highlighted in article 1 of chapter 2 in the Canons of Dort as well.  God is just.  That means a few things, and one of them is that he is always going to do what is right.  Another thing it means is that God is not just going to overlook what is wrong.  When someone does something wrong, God is going to act and do something about it.  Sin always gets his attention and sin always results in his action.

You have to remember that sin too is personal.  That means sin is always against a Someone.  The Bible teaches us that sin is against God.  Whenever we do evil, we are rebelling against what God has said is right and good.  We are slapping him in the face.  With our sin, we are dishonouring, insulting, and degrading him.  With our rebellion, we’re saying God is worthless.  He can say whatever he wants, but we’re going to do whatever we want.

God doesn’t take that sitting down.  Because he is just, he is going to do something about it.  He must.  He must punish this sin.  Satisfaction must be made to his justice.  If God is to be true to himself, the sinner must be dealt with. 

In itself that might not sound so bad.  Here on this earth, wrongdoing gets punished all the time.  We’re used to that idea.  If you break the law and you get arrested, charged, and convicted, you’ll go to prison.  But your prison sentence is always for a set time.  Even if you get a life sentence, that’s not forever.  Or if you’re a child and you disobey your parents and they discipline you.  It’s just for a set time.  There’ll be an end to it.  But things are different with God’s justice.  Because, if you sin against him, you sin against infinite majesty.  Infinite majesty – think about that for a moment.  Infinite means it has no bounds.  His majesty is limitless, it just goes on and on forever.  So when you sin, you sin against someone who is lifted up beyond what you can imagine.  “Infinite majesty” is key here.  If you have a pen, you should underline those words in the Canons.  This is exactly what makes our problem so great.  In fact, we have an infinitely great problem because God has infinite majesty.  When you sin against infinite majesty, you owe an infinite debt to his justice.  This is why hell is eternal.  It’s because of our infinite, unending debt.  Hell is unending because there is no end to the offense we have given to God.  This is why our problem is so great.  We have offended the most high God and because he is just he is going to punish sinners body and soul in a hell that lasts forever.  This is where Isaiah 66:24 says “their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched.”  Hell is not the absence of God, but the presence of his unending wrath against sinners.  That is precisely what makes hell so terrifying. 

This is why the prosperity gospel is gross spiritual malpractice.  The prosperity gospel taught by Hillsong and others says that our greatest problems are the ones we face here on this earth.  But the true Word of God says that our greatest problem is eternity and where we’re going to spend it.  Our greatest problem is that if we don’t have Christ, we’re going to face God and his justice on our own.  That’s not just a limited time problem, but an eternal one.  And “we cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is made to the justice of God.”  That’s what article 1 says.  And article 2 says, “We cannot free ourselves from God’s wrath.”  That’s exactly right.  There’s no self-help here. 

Thankfully, in his love and mercy, God made a way for us to be redeemed while still upholding his justice.  While God is just, he is also merciful.  When he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 34, this attribute was mentioned first.  Yes, God said that he was just too, but his mercy came first.  God said in Exodus 34:6, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  We sang Psalm 89 a few moments ago.  In Psalm 89, we sing not only of justice as the foundation of God’s throne, but also of the mercy God displays.  Mercy is kindness shown to those who don’t deserve it.  We don’t deserve a solution to our great problem with God’s wrath and justice.  But because he is merciful, God supplies it.

In fact, as we confess in article 2 of chapter 2, God has infinite mercy.  Because our problem involves infinite, limitless debt, we also need infinite, limitless mercy.  This God has shown in lovingly giving his Son to be our Surety, as article 2 says.  Now, what is a surety?  When someone is your surety, he guarantees your debt is taken care of.  He guarantees that he has paid your debt.  How did Christ do that?  By taking our place on the cross.  The cross is where we see God’s justice and mercy revealed for our salvation. 

Canons of Dort 2.2 paraphrases 2 Corinthians 5:21.  Look that up with me.  Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  That is a most remarkable passage.  On the one hand, you have Christ.  He knew no sin.  That means he never sinned.  It means he was also completely obedient.  God made him to be sin.  Let that sink in.  God made Christ to be sin.  Not just a sinner, but sin.  When Christ was on the cross, God made him to be the thing he hates and the thing for which he has infinite wrath.  God imputed or credited our sin to Christ.  He became what we are.  He took our place.  Consequently, we receive his righteousness.  We who know sin all too well, we’re very intimate with it.  God imputes or credits all of Christ’s payment to us, all of his obedience to us.  Because of the cross and the justice satisfied there, God now looks at us and it’s as if as he sees his own beloved Son.  We call this “the sweet swap.”  All our sin was imputed to Christ, he became sin in our place;  all Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us; we become the righteousness of God.   He became the thing God hates: sin – and we become the thing God loves: righteousness.  Isn’t that amazing?  That’s the sweet swap and it’s what happens through the cross.  It’s the way justice is mercifully satisfied for us. 

Articles 3 and 4 of chapter 2 take us a bit deeper into these glorious truths.  We’ve seen that it’s God’s infinite majesty that has been sinned against.  As a result, we’re confronted with infinite wrath.  But God has shown infinite mercy in sending his Son to be the Saviour of sinners.  Notice all the emphasis on “infinite.”  Now we confess that Christ’s death has infinite value.  It is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins.  There is no defect or deficiency in what Christ did on the cross.  There is no shortage or lack in his sacrifice for sinners.  His atonement on the cross was complete.  It has infinite value and worth.  If it were God’s will, Christ’s death on the cross could “expiate the sins of the whole world.”  Expiate:  that means Christ’s death is sufficient to cancel the sins of absolutely every human being who has ever lived or will live.  That’s how infinitely great his sacrifice was.  Its greatness has no limits or bounds.  It’s enough for everybody and enough for anybody’s sins, no matter how great.  His sacrifice is enough for your sins too, whatever they may be.  All your sins can be cancelled, wiped out, through the death of the Son of God.  All we need to do is trust that this sacrifice was made for us and in our place. 

And why does this death and sacrifice of Christ have infinite value?  It’s because of a few things.  It’s first because he was a true and sinless human being.  As a human being, he could make the payment for human beings.  God’s justice requires that like pays for like.  As a perfectly holy person, he did not have to pay for his own sins.  He could focus on paying for others.  God’s justice means that one who is himself a sinner cannot pay for others.  But Christ could and did.  His death and sacrifice also have infinite value because he was true God.  That means he had the strength to bear infinite wrath and come out on the other side.  Finally, he not only had the strength, but he actually did it.  When Christ suffered and died on the cross, he experienced the infinite wrath and curse of God against all our sins.  Loved ones, he took our hell.  Jesus didn’t just take part of our hell, he swallowed the whole thing.  He drank the whole cup of God’s wrath.  He took it all.  He took everything we deserved.  That’s why we say that his death has infinite, limitless value. 

Now we’re going to see further in the Canons that this is crucial to understand.  There’s no inadequacy whatsoever in what Christ did on the cross.  There’s no lack.  What Jesus accomplished was of mind-blowing proportions.  Your puny mind will never wrap itself around the magnitude of what he suffered.  It’s truly infinite, beyond our grasp.

But what are we to do with all this today?  Loved ones, first and foremost, be impressed with your God.  Be impressed with the magnitude of his wrath against sin.  Never minimize sin and its consequences.  Realize that God has infinite wrath against sin.  But also be impressed with the magnitude of God’s mercy.  Never forget the great love God has shown towards sinners like us.  Think often on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Stand in awe of God’s rich mercy and praise him for it, thank him for it so long as you have life and breath.  Then there’s the Saviour Jesus Christ.  See him stretched on the cross suffering infinite wrath in your place.  See what love he had for you to drink that cup.  See the lengths to which he was willing to go to redeem you from what you deserve.  Be impressed with your Saviour.  Again, consciously place all your hope and trust in his infinite sacrifice made for you.  Stir up your heart to love him more deeply.  Let your love lead you to be more committed to him as your Lord and Master.  If you really believe that his death was in your place, that this was a death that had infinite value, then treasure it.  Treasure him and what he did.  Value this above everything else in life.  And be eager to share this most precious treasure with anyone and everyone you can. 

Brothers and sisters, when doctors are being trained, they get taught how to diagnose.  Those who are experts teach them in the classroom and by way of textbooks.  But they’re all fallible.  They still make mistakes.  When it comes to our greatest problem, we have the greatest Expert to teach us.  He is an infallible Expert, no mistakes.  In fact, he is the Creator who knows us inside out and backwards.  He gives us the diagnosis in his Word and we need to listen to him as he lays out our problem.  But our God also lays out for us the solution – he’s provided the solution in Christ.  He’s addressed his own justice with his mercy at the cross.  Let’s pay attention to his diagnosis and his solution in the gospel.  AMEN.


Our God in heaven,

We stand in awe of you.  You are so perfectly just.  You hate sin and have infinite wrath towards sinners who don’t repent.  But we also stand in awe of your infinite mercy displayed at the cross.  Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to take our wrath.  We don’t deserve this gift, so we thank you for it from our hearts.  Lord Jesus, we praise you for bearing our infinite wrath on the cross.  Thank you for loving us to death.  Thank you for bearing our sin and curse, for taking our hell.  What you did is of infinite value in and of itself, and what you did is of infinite value to us.  Help us with your Spirit to see that more clearly.  Help us with your Spirit to value you as the infinite treasure you are.  LORD God, we pray for strength too to share this gospel treasure we’ve heard about today.  Please open doors for us to share our hope with others.  Make us more useful in advancing the gospel.  Use us to bring others to yourself in true faith.  O Father, work through us to bring more glory to yourself through the salvation of sinners.

* 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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