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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God Grants us the Great Escape
Text:LD 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-03-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 40:1,2                                                                                     

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Romans 5:1-11; Philippians 3:1-11

Ps 38:1,2,4,8,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 5

Ps 18:1,2

Hy 70:1,2,3,4

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


Beloved in Christ, there’s trouble in all our lives. Maybe it’s trouble with your health, or in your family, or in your relationships with other people. Or it’s concerns over employment, or worries about the church, or about everything that’s going on in the world right now—so many problems… And of every trouble, what’s the biggest? There’s definitely a Problem #1. This problem is the same for you as it is for me.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest trouble is sin. Reflecting for a moment, I think we’d all recognize that this is true. Sin is the worst thing in our lives, the biggest issue we have to deal with, day in and out. And that’s not going to change. If God lets some of us live for another thirty years, or sixty years, this will still be our biggest struggle.

For sin wrecks things. Sin makes us unhappy. Sin confuses us, and sin captivates us. Sin breaks down the relationships with those we’re supposed to love. Because there is sin in the world, our bodies wear out. Because there is sin in the world, creation itself is groaning and laboring as with birth pangs.

But sin is our chief problem for a bigger reason than all of this. You can see this reason when you look back at Lord’s Day 4: that because of our sin, God isn’t pleased with us. The “holy, holy, holy” God who created us is deeply offended whenever we sin, when we live without submitting to his good will. So we are estranged from God—between us and him there’s a great distance, a yawning chasm, a dividing wall. Because of sin, our relationship with God has been ruined and we’re in serious trouble. God is angry on account of the things we’ve done wrong, even angry on account of who we are, and He has resolved to punish us.

So what do we do? How do we get out of this trouble? The Catechism asks the same question this way, “How can we escape this punishment?” (Q&A 12). We need escape from this heavy burden of guilt. We need to get away from it all, and where do we go? We want to escape God’s punishment, we want to “be again received into [his] favour” (Q&A 12). Forever unsettled, we long for peace with God our Creator. We’ll see how this can happen as…

God grants us the Great Escape:

  1. the wretched prison we’re in
  2. the dead ends we try
  3. the perfect Deliverer we have

 

1) the wretched prison we’re in: The heading over Lord’s Day 5 is “Our Deliverance.” This tells us that after three Lord’s Days on our sinfulness, we’re now headed in the right direction. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There is the promise of deliverance, or as Q&A 12 puts it, there’s a chance at escape.

But let’s first be clear on what we’re escaping from. We need a firm understanding of what our prison is like. Otherwise we might be like those inmates who spend months digging a tunnel out of their cells, only to end up in the prison courtyard!

What is it from which we need to break free? “Sin and Misery,” you say with the Catechism. The first part of that is sin. Sin is the breaking of God’s law, and sin is the nature that wants to break God’s law.

Now, instead of saying that sin is a wretched prison, some will claim that sin is freedom. Sinning means you can do what you want, when you want to do it! For the lawless person there are no rules, no inhibitions; there’s nothing holding you back and you’re out in the great wide open. That might seem true at first. But we learn very quickly that sin is not freedom—not at all.

This is how Paul talks about sin in his letter to the Romans. For instance, in Romans 6 Paul says that sinners are “slaves to sin” (v 17). Sinners are slaves, because sin always demands that we keep doing it. It doesn’t allow us to say “no.” Haven’t you experience how one sin is never enough? Once we’ve tasted the pleasant effects of a sin, we want to taste it again.

This goes for so many sins. The more I get into the habit of gossiping, the more I need to know what other people are doing so that I can talk about them. The more I surrender to lustful thoughts, the harder it is to resist the pull of pornography. For lying, for greed, for bad language—the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

Like the thick stone walls of a prison, like the iron shackles on a slave, sin comes to confine us. It quickly gets a hold on us, and it doesn’t let us go. Like Paul says in Romans 7, “I am a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (v 23). Imprisoned and overpowered, we’re forced into service. Sin is obeying the wrong master, the wrong commands, and for the wrong reason.

And this slavery is so hard to break from. Think of how God set Israel free from Egypt. Their captivity was a lot like being enslaved to sin: it was hard in Egypt, it was deadly, there was no future there. But even once God set Israel free, she wanted to go back. She longed for the few good things of her harsh life: the onions and cucumbers and fresh water. The known and familiar was comfortable, even if it was bitter.

We still prefer the familiar routines of sin. It somehow feels like home, like wearing a cozy sweater that we’ve had for years: our bad habits, our wrong attitudes, our evil thoughts. And even though we sometimes enjoy our sin, the fact remains that sin imprisons us. We can go for a time without realizing it, but then it hits us: that even if we “have the desire to do what is good… we cannot carry it out” (Rom 7:18). We realize that “when we want to do good, evil is right there with us” (7:21). Sin offers so much, but in the end, it overwhelms us and leaves us powerless to resist.

The first oppressive wall of our prison is Sin. And the second wall, enclosing the first like a five-meter wall topped with razor wire, is Misery. What is this misery? It’s the punishment that our sin deserves. Because we’re sinful, we’re miserable, for we know we’re going to be punished for what we’ve done (and not done): “God demands that his justice be satisfied” (Q&A 12). Without an able advocate to plead for mercy on our behalf, we’re like inmates on death row. Doom hangs over our heads, and we can’t break out.

In short, the sinner’s life is impossibly hard. Without God, there is no hope of deliverance. There is no comfort in this world of trouble. We simply cannot rest until we’re made right with our Maker. We cannot live in peace until we’re restored to fellowship with God.

Do people realize this? Probably there’s only a relative few in this world who are at all aware of their guilt before God. Most people have no idea of their sin or about the prison they’re in. It’s what Asaph says in Psalm 73, “This is what the wicked are like – always carefree…” (v 12). About God in heaven they ask, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” (v 11). As far as so many people are concerned, either God is far, far away, or He doesn’t care what we do. And so they live happily, in the way they like. Ignorance looks like bliss.

Yet don’t make our unbelieving neighbours out to be happier than they are. When they sin, their conscience still testifies against them—God still makes sure they know what’s right and wrong. And many still experience how a life without God is futile, how a “nameless something” is missing, how there’s a void that can’t be filled.

Living apart from God is like being in a wretched prison. It’s miserable because even when we think we’re free, we’re not. It’s miserable because of what awaits those who are held captive. And it’s miserable because all our attempts to break out will fail, and all our efforts to forget our condition won’t work. That leads us to consider,

                       

2) the dead ends we try: So what are we to do? How can we possibly escape the results of sin, or at least make the most of a bad situation? We can do a few different things.

The first approach is one mentioned already: ignorance. That is, we could try to remain oblivious to our sin. Since we know what sin is from the law of God, if we just close our eyes to God’s Word, and try to forget his law, we won’t really know how we’re offending him.

That may sound good, but our irritating conscience is still there. Even without opening the Scriptures every day, our conscience will still accuse us. What’s more, even if we don’t realize that we’re sinning, God does. And that’s the key point. Unlike what the sinners in Psalm 73 said, God does know, God does see, and God will judge.

So perhaps we need to find something we can believe in. And at some level, all religions wrestle with the problem of human existence. They might not call it “sin and misery,” but people everywhere recognize that something isn’t right with this world, that something isn’t right with who we are. And so people look to the gods or subscribe to the philosophies that try to lift humans beyond the troubles of life on earth. They go to retreats, and buy self-help books, and connect with nature spirits because they’re seeking peace, or healing, or something stable.

Not everyone turns to false gods, but some go down a different tunnel. This is the escape route of distraction. If we can never stop breaking God’s law, if we can never stop adding to our guilt, if we’re all going to be judged one day, then the best thing we can do is to avoid thinking about our condition. Drown it out with distraction.

Distraction takes many forms. I could drink and drink until I forget. I could immerse myself in some pursuit, in entertainment or sport, or some other cause. Our escape could even come through virtuous things like our work, or our family, or something else. It’s anything that keeps us so busy that we don’t have to think about our relationship with God. Instead of facing up to sin, instead of making sure we’re right with God, we focus on these other things.

There’s at least a temporary security in our material goods or our talents. There’s a sense of purpose in our children, or comfort in our friends. Don’t such things “make life worth living,” and get us out of bed in the morning? They might. But even then, we can’t deny what’s coming.

Perhaps some simply hope that sin and misery will go away. We hope that over time, God will forget how we’ve failed. We hope that if we live a quiet life, if we don’t draw attention to ourselves, that maybe then God won’t notice. But this too, runs into that absolute justice of God: it must be satisfied. Further, as the Catechism says, “We daily increase our debt” (Q&A 13). We can’t put any distance between us and our sins, because they’re always there: being planned, being committed, being remembered. Another dead end.

Perhaps as a final effort to escape our wretched prison, we could break out by efforts of our own, dedicating ourselves to doing good works. If we commit ourselves to service in the church, if we give heaps of money, if we spend much time in prayer, if we become zealous defenders of the truth, or we suffer deeply for some worthwhile reason, perhaps we can slip out of this prison for good behaviour. Maybe God will think we were only visiting, and let us go.

Beloved, will any of this save us? Will our pursuits or pleasures, our possessions or our loved ones, our good works or our solid knowledge—will these things give our restless hearts their lasting peace? More to the point, will these things be able to “sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against [our] sin”? (Q&A 14). Sometimes we act like they will. We reckon that if we have this or we do that, then we’re good. We just might get by. But then we’ve been deceived in the most deadly way.

This is why Paul is so determined not to let anything get in his way of believing in Christ wholeheartedly and sincerely. He says to the Philippians, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Phil 3:7). All the good things he had done as an ultra-obedient Jew, all the fine accomplishments, every bit of excellent status—it was all worthless compared to knowing Christ. Because none of it could save him from God’s wrath, only Christ could!

As Paul continues, “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (vv 8-10). You can hear that more than anything, Paul wants to gain Christ—he wants to know Christ.

And this should be our greatest longing too, our hunger and thirst: to know Christ. Because when we do, we’ll have found true peace. Not more striving, no more chasing, but peace with God through faith in Christ.

According to Scripture, true peace isn’t that happy feeling you have when all your troubles disappear and your body is whole. True peace isn’t a state of mind, when your worries have finally quieted down and anxieties have evaporated. That’s what people want today: relief from the troubles of this life, freedom from the worries that afflict us. They say the greatest human need today is to be comfortable, to be free of the unpleasant things like diseases and economic hardships and an untimely death.

Yet true peace is about your relationship with the God who made you. Has that been fixed? Has that relationship been made right? As the Catechism put it: Have you been “again received into [God’s] favour?” This question matters more than anything. It’s the one thing we need, and it’s what we must look for. As the Catechism asks, “What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?” (Q&A 15). We must seek him, a true mediator and deliverer! And praise God, He is not far away!

 

3) the one Deliverer we have: After discarding various means of escape, the Catechism comes to that final question. “What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?” (Q&A 15). Who is able to get us out of the double prison of our sin and misery?

First, “One who is a true and righteous man” (Q&A 15). He must be like us, like you and like me. He must be human, so He can stand in our place. And this Deliverer is Jesus Christ. For He’s fully a human being. From the time He spent on earth, He knows well the pain of this life. It says about Jesus in John 2, “He knew what was in a man” (v 25). He knows what’s in us.

Christ doesn’t just know the human experiences like hunger or thirst or fatigue. Jesus knows us to our depths. He knows the hardship of temptation. He knows how illness can destroy a body, and how sin can break apart a friendship. He knows the anguish of suffering, and the sadness that death brings to the living. And above all, He knows how we live estranged from the God who made us. Christ knows all this ugliness, yet He stands with us!

And secondly, our Deliverer has to transcend the things of earth. He must be one who is “more powerful than all creatures” (Q&A 15); that is, He must be God himself. And Christ our Saviour is God! With his divine power, He can guarantee our eternal security. With his divine strength, He can ensure our escape from condemnation. With his divine might, He can break through the walls of our prison and carry us to freedom.

As Paul says, “When we were still without strength, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). Sitting in our prison cells, without an ounce of hope, without even a clue how to get out, we had no chance. But “at just the right moment,” Christ died. He died to pay the price, to put right all that is wrong, to deliver us from our chains!

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8). Filled with hatred for the God who could save us, we deserved to rot forever. But Christ gave his life to make us his friends, even to make us children of his Father. Through Christ, the way of escape is open!

Only we have to take that way, and we take it by faith alone. We leave our cells and plunge ahead, trusting that Christ alone can lead us out. And when we do believe, Christ brings us into a real and glorious freedom.

Freedom means the many charges against us no longer apply. Freedom means judgment has been applied, not to us, but to Christ, who died in our place. He reconciles us, makes us dearly beloved and precious to our Maker again. In short, Christ has brought us peace! Paul says, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

We have been freed, freed to serve the Lord. For when Christ sets us free, it is more than freedom from—freedom from sin. Liberty in Christ always means freedom to—freedom to a new life. Christ gives us freedom to live, and not just survive. For the slave becomes a son! The prisoner becomes a king, a queen!

As for all our other troubles, they haven’t disappeared. As long as we live, we’ll have to struggle against sin. The old prison habits are hard to break. As long we live, Problem #1 will be our stubborn disobedience of God, our persistent inclination to forget his Word and find our own way. Sin remains at the root of all our troubles, whether it’s a new illness or a broken friendship or a sharp anxiety or some other trial that we face.

Yet now our view of this life has changed. Instead of being hounded by troubles, endlessly discouraged by hardship, we hold onto our peace, because nothing will take that away. The problems we face today, the troubles, the conflicts and uncertainties—all of these pale in comparison to the greatness of being reconciled to God. For Christ walks with us through the troubles. Along the way, He gives us strength, blesses us with wisdom, and fills us with his Spirit. For we have again been received into God’s favour.

And as we press on, He tells us this life is only but a moment while He prepares for us a heavenly dwelling. Instead of remembering the constant darkness of our prison cells and yearning to go back there, now we get to live in the beautiful light of freedom from sin. We get to live in the beautiful light of peace with God.

Our restless hearts have found their rest!

Beloved, has your restless heart found its rest?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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