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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The law of God teaches us the bad news we need to know
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-4

Psalm 78:1-3

Hymn 28:4

Hymn 1

Psalm 48

Scripture readings: Isaiah 64:1-12, Romans 7:1-12

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 2

* 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,

It’s happened far too many times in Tasmania.  Bushwalkers start out on an overnight walk in the mountains and it’s a decent day.  And they assume the weather will just stay beautiful.  You can imagine that’s what the man thought who died at Cradle Mountain National Park back in July of 2016.  He was just 1.2 kilometers from the end of the Overland Track when he succumbed to hypothermia.  He’d been completely unprepared for the sub-zero temperatures and the snow he encountered.  

Now why did that man die?  He died because he didn’t know he was going to face those conditions and he wasn’t prepared for them.  If he’d known the bad news that it was going to go below zero and that it was going to snow, he’d probably not have started out on the Overland Track at all.  He could have been saved.  Knowledge would have made all the difference.  If he’d only known the bad news about the weather in the mountains in July, the man would still be alive today. 

It’s the same with us as we face a holy and just God.  Left to ourselves, we’re in serious trouble.  And while we know deep down that we’re to be judged by a holy God, we can deceive ourselves into thinking it will be okay.  We tell ourselves everything will be fine.  God loves us no matter what we do or something to that effect.  Then we find out that we were wrong, but by then it’s too late.

Knowing our sin and misery is a good thing for us.  If we know there’s a problem, then we can also look for a solution.  Following the teaching of Scripture, our Catechism points us to Jesus Christ as the solution for the problem of our sin and misery.  But before it can do that, it has to first show us how bad our problem really is.  You see, our Catechism works with the notion that the good news is only so good because the bad news is so bad.  This afternoon, we’ll follow our Catechism as it takes us through the Scriptural teaching on how the law of God teaches us the bad news we need to know.

We’ll be learning about:

  1. The function of the law
  2. The focus of the law
  3. The fulfillment of the law

The third question and answer asks about the source of the knowledge of our sin and misery.  How do you discover the bad news we need to know?  The simple five word answer:  “From the law of God.”  This is the biblical answer.  If we need proof, we don’t have to look further than what we read from Romans 7:7, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.”

Now right away we should be asking, “Paul, what do you mean when you talk about the ‘law’?”  And he would tell us to go back to the beginning of Romans for the answer.  In Romans 2, Paul writes about the law and the Jews.  He also writes about the law and the Gentiles, the non-Jews.  The Jews have the law written for them in Scripture.  The Gentiles have the law written on their hearts.  The law judges one and all, Jew and Gentile alike.  So what is the law?  It’s God’s standard for righteousness and justice, based on his own upright character.  And while it’s written on the hearts of all people, Jew and Gentile alike, it is most clearly and obviously revealed in the Bible.  In Scripture, and then not just in the Ten Commandments, God reveals what he wants men and women to do and not do.  And he reveals that when there’s disobedience, there must be justice.  People must get what they deserve. 

The law has a number of functions in the Bible.  We probably most often think of it in connection with our sanctification – sanctification is our growing in reflecting Christ.  In that connection, the law is the rule for our thankfulness.  But here in Lord’s Day 2 and in Romans 7, it’s something different.  It has a negative function.  Here the law condemns.  Here the law tells us what God wants people to do and not do, how to live, how to think, how to speak.  If you don’t do what he says, then there’s judgment.  Here the law is like a mirror.  And when we honestly look into this mirror, apart from Christ covering us, we see ugliness.  We can’t do what God commands -- in fact we so often do the opposite.  So we see rebellion, transgression, we see sin and misery.

The word ‘misery’ describes the experience of someone living away from their homeland.  It evokes images of homesickness.  By our sin and disobedience, we’ve been alienated from God, separated from the one we were originally created to be in fellowship with.  And so one of the reasons why God has given us his law is to make us aware of this condition.  You could say he wants to make us homesick.  He wants to make us long for fellowship with him again.  He wants to show us just how badly we need Jesus Christ to rescue us. 

Each Sunday we hear the Ten Commandments in our morning worship service.  Sometimes people wonder whether this is really necessary – after all, some of you have heard it thousands of times.  Well, consider this function of God’s law, of which the Ten Commandments are a summary.  Galatians 3:24 teaches us that the law is there to drive us to Christ.  Well, do we need to be driven to Christ time and again?  Think about it.  Aren’t we prone to self-satisfaction and laziness?  Don’t we quickly forget our need for a Saviour?  Aren’t we all afflicted with a Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder?  Be honest.  We so easily become smug and think we’re doing okay.  The reading of the law each Sunday strips us of our pretensions and puts us in the place we need to be.  It humbles us.  It’s our weekly reality check.  It exposes us for who we really are:  sinners in need of a Saviour.  The law is God’s appointed means to make us recognize that.  Why on earth would you want to get rid of something that repeatedly brings you to the cross?  Why would you want to turn away a friend who is going to point you to the only Saviour Jesus?   Brothers and sisters, this is part and parcel of the divinely appointed means of grace that we can’t do without.  We can’t do without it anymore than the book of Romans could do without its first three chapters.  We need the law of God, and we also need it in our weekly Sunday worship. 

Now I realize many people’s minds often go on autopilot during the reading of the law or they get distracted.   If this is you, please reflect on what you’re doing.  Do you really know your need for a Saviour so well that you can do something else at this crucial moment?   Are you so far advanced spiritually beyond the rest of us?  What’s living in your heart as the Ten Words are being read?  Are you humbling yourself before a holy God or are you drifting off in your thoughts?  There’s that cliché about how familiarity breeds contempt, but keep in mind that if you’re being contemptuous of the Ten Commandments, you’re holding God’s Word in contempt.  That’s a very dangerous place to be in.  And the familiarity that we have with the Ten Commandments can be put to good use during its reading.  We know what the commandments are and we can reflect on them more meaningfully as a result.  There are no surprises during the reading of the Ten Commandments.  Loved ones, it’s the Word of God.  So, regard it as such, look at this as a means of grace that God has given to you to freshly drive you to Christ at the beginning of each new week.           

The next question and answer takes us a bit further by asking about the requirement of God’s law:  What does God’s law require of us?  Now you might think our Catechism would at this point introduce the Ten Commandments, but instead we find the words of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 22.  Those words are familiar to us as well from hearing them from time to time after the reading of the law.  When our Lord said these words he was teaching the people of God two things.

The first thing is that the law can be summarized.  Everything God requires can be boiled down to those two simple things:  love God and love your neighbour.  It’s not really that complicated.  It focuses on just those two things. 

The second thing Christ taught there in Matthew 22 is that the law of God is deep.  It goes for the jugular, so to speak.  Anybody who thinks they’ve kept God’s law had better think carefully about what our Lord Jesus says here.  Sure, maybe you didn’t steal from your neighbour.  Maybe you didn’t kill him.  Maybe you didn’t lie about her to others.  But did you love him?   Did you put her before yourself?  What was in your heart towards your neighbour?  And did what was in your heart show itself in actions?  Were you willing to go so far as to lay down your life for him or her?  If you didn’t do that and do that consistently 24/7, all these other things are just window dressing and they don’t really matter for anything as far as your standing with God is concerned.

The same thing goes for the first table of the law and the commandments regarding God.  Maybe you didn’t use God’s Name in a wrong way.  Maybe you kept the Lord’s Day holy by not working and diligently attending the worship services.  Maybe you didn’t worship idols and you worshipped exactly the way God commands in his Word.  But did you love God?  Did you love him consistently 24/7?  Did you love him with all your heart, soul and mind?  Did you cast aside all other loves and empty yourself for him?   What was in your heart with respect to God?   And did what was in your heart show itself in actions?  Did you love God?  That’s the most important question.  And by putting that to us, our Lord Jesus shows us that the demands of God’s law are simple, but also deep and far-reaching.

In saying these words, our Lord Jesus also showed us how it’s impossible for us to keep God’s law perfectly.  Love is the one thing we all struggle with.  We do many of the external things -- in fact we often specialize in keeping up appearances.  But what lives inside, our love or lack of it, that’s where we struggle, falter, and fail.  So, our Catechism finishes this Lord’s Day with a question and answer to point this out:  Can you keep all this perfectly?  And the answer is a straightforward ‘no.’  We can’t fulfill God’s law.  I can’t and you can’t either.  God wants perfect love for him and our neighbour and we have none to give.

And here we have to be thinking of our own sins and shortcomings.  We have to know how our own tendency or inclination is to hatred.  Brothers and sisters, the Bible teaches us this vividly in passages like the one we read from Isaiah 64.  There we read Isaiah’s honest assessment of what he and others among God’s people are really like.  One of the most stunning acknowledgements of pervasive human depravity is found in verse 6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”  God’s Word speaks there of our “righteous deeds.”  These are the things we do that we think are so good in and of themselves.  We think they’re pleasing to God.  His evaluation is different.  The reality is they’re like a polluted garment, like filthy rags.  All our so-called righteous acts are like cloths stained with disgusting filth.  Why are we disgusting?  Because we can’t please God by perfectly keeping his law.  We can’t perfectly love God and our neighbour – and so in ourselves we aren’t fit to stand in the sight of the God who is holy, holy, holy.  We’re swept away by our sins and we shrivel up. 

God’s Word tells us this and what we see around us confirms it.  A few years ago, I remember seeing a poll which stated that 95% of Canadians believe themselves to be morally and ethically upstanding.  But 42% of the respondents said they would lie to get ahead in their career.  I imagine the statistics would be similar for Australia.  For many people, the issue isn’t whether it’s right or wrong, but whether they can get away with it.       

And so our Catechism doesn’t go too far when it says we are by nature inclined to hate God and our neighbour.  When it says “inclined,” it means we head in that direction, just like a car with steering that’s out of alignment.  It would be a misunderstanding of Scripture and our confessions to insist that people in general are always as evil as they possibly can be.  Unbelievers can do much civic good in the world.  Unbelievers can love their spouses and children and they can love others too.  Unbelievers can make good, true and beautiful art and music.  Through God’s restraint and through his gifts, many unbelievers aren’t as bad as they possibly could be and neither are we. 

We confess rather that Scripture teaches we’re inclined to hate God and our neighbour.  That means we often do that.  Especially apart from Christ and his redemptive work, we drift towards a hatred of God.  We often want to fight against him and rebel against his will for us.  The same thing goes for the relationships we have with other people, with our neighbours.  Without God’s Spirit working in our hearts, love for our neighbour should be something surprising. 

Our Catechism uses the words “by nature.”  That simply means, “by ourselves without God and his work in us and for us.”  This is the way we come into the world.  Left to ourselves, we’re more than likely to be focussed on ourselves and not on others, whether that be God or other human beings.  We slide in that direction and so fulfillment of God’s law is an impossibility for us. 

So, in that state, there’s no hope for us.  If we’re on our own, without God on our side, we’re in a plane that’s about to crash and burn.  In fact, we’re going to die eternally.  That’s how bad our situation is apart from Christ.  And when we have this knowledge, then we know how much we need to be saved too.  You can’t know how good the good news is until you know how bad the bad news is.  Because then we really know how much we need our Saviour Jesus.  Only he can save.  Only he does save.  The bad news we need to know about ourselves teaches us to look to the only Rescue God has provided:  our Lord Jesus Christ.  As you look to him in faith, you can say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”  AMEN.  


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your holy law.  We regard it as a gift from you.  It graciously reveals your holiness and our lack.  We look at your law as a friend, because it works to point us to Jesus Christ.  Thank you, Father, for showing us our sin and misery so that we would constantly flee to the cross.  With your Holy Spirit, please keep us humble.  Please keep our eyes fixed on Christ alone as our only righteousness before you.                

* 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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