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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Sinners tremble before the greatness of God
Text:LD 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1                                                                                          

Ps 66:1  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Deuteronomy 32:1-47

Psalm 84:5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 4

Ps 19:5,6

Hy 6:1,2

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

Beloved in our Lord, no one likes to face an accusation. So when someone does put the blame on us, often our first reaction is to deny or evade. You change the subject, you storm away, or you shift the attention onto your younger brother. Even when we are guilty of breaking the rules, it’s remarkable that we can sound so sincere: “It wasn’t me, honest!”

When we look back on the rebellion of Adam and Eve, we see them trying to evade God’s searching question. The LORD had asked: “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Gen 3:11). And the man replied with an excuse which we’d say is quite ingenious; he points away from himself in two directions at the same time, blaming both his wife and God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (v 12).

And then see how quickly Eve tries to deflect her husband’s pointing finger, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v 13). This is the pattern of avoidance and dodging which was laid down long ago in Eden, and we follow it still today.

In Lord’s Day 4, there are three human responses to God’s charge against us. But first, God’s charge against mankind; it is this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). So what is our response to this serious accusation? How do we answer?

We ask: Isn’t God unjust by commanding us to be obedient when He knows we’re not able to do it? (Q&A 9). We wonder: Why can’t God allow our sins to go unpunished? (Q&A 10). And we mutter: So much for God being merciful—why does He insist on judgment? (Q&A 11)

Yet we cannot escape what lies against our account. We might try to dodge the accusation, and so escape the verdict and the punishment. Yet our deeds and thoughts are all laid bare before the God who knows all. So let’s not deny the charges against us. Instead, let us flee to his glorious Son, our Saviour. Seek your salvation with fear and with trembling, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). But know that there is salvation to seek, for in Christ our God is merciful. I preach the gospel as it is taught in Lord’s Day 4 of the Catechism,

Sinners should tremble before the greatness of God:

  1. God’s goodness and our failure
  2. God’s justice and our punishment
  3. God’s mercy and our hope


1) God’s goodness and our failure: I think we’re quick to point it out when something is ‘unfair.’ For example, we would protest that it is unfair or unjust to demand of a child what only an adult can do. A young child can’t be expected to do the grocery shopping for mom, and a child cannot be expected to fill out all the application forms for a bank loan. The ability is not there, so the demand is unfair.

So what about the demand which is placed on us? We saw it in Lord’s Day 2: the demand is whole-hearted and full-strength love for God, and genuine and active concern for our neighbor. And what is our ability? Can we even do this? We saw in Lord’s Day 2 and 3 that we are very talented in evil, but mostly incompetent in good.

Though this first question of ‘fairness’ in the Catechism comes across as a bit hesitant, the sinners still dares to ask it, “But does not God do man an injustice by requiring in His law what man cannot do?” (Q&A 9). Are God’s high expectations not beyond the reach of our short arms? But the sinner is not a child.

Adam and Eve’s failure cannot be blamed on a ‘manufacturer’s error,’ on faulty software or a compromised operating system. God is a good God, and He wouldn’t demand what man could not do. Could we accuse God of any shortcoming in our creation? We were made good and in God’s image. The Catechism answers: “God so created man that he was able to do [God’s law]” (Q&A 9). We had complex and beautiful bodies, we had a right knowledge of God, we had an ability to think and to choose the good. In our creation, God put his own goodness on display.

And then to this perfect man and woman God gave some key commands: Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Do not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Mankind was able to obey these laws, but he did not. Likewise, to sinful people God today gives some basic rules for life: You shall have no other gods before me. Honour your father and mother. You shall not murder, and so on.

Someone will say, “Maybe Adam and Eve were once capable—they could’ve obeyed, but they failed. But when God gave us his law—like the Ten Commandments—we were already unable, in way over our heads. God should’ve known what would happen when He gave sinners such an impossible law.”

But then we need to remember that God looks at us in harmony with Adam. We’re included with him: we are included in the perfect ability he had, and included in the failure he chose. Adam didn’t just sin on his own behalf, but we sinned in and with him. Listen to what it says in Romans 5:12, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” It’s hard to wrap our heads around this, but at one time, we also were able to obey, but we did not.

In short, it means that as God’s creatures, we are responsible for our behaviour. So we should never deny God’s clear requirement for our lives with excuses. We’re actually not allowed to say that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Even if really bad things have happened to us, we can’t blame our sin on these things. We can’t blame our bodily desires on our raging hormones, just as we can’t blame our sin on the bad example of our friends.

The Catechism doesn’t allow any excuse of inability, and it focuses on how we actually responded to God’s law in the beginning: “Man, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience, robbed himself and all his descendants of [God’s] gifts” (Q&A 9).

‘Disobedience’ is one thing—deliberate is far worse. If the city council gives us an infringement notice for building our fence too high, or having too many dogs on the property, we might claim ignorance: ‘I didn’t know!’ But our disobedience against God is often deliberate. It was deliberate in the garden, and it sometimes still is today. We know what’s demanded by God, and we sin anyway.

The Old Testament calls this “sinning with an upraised hand.” This happens when we sin in defiance of God, when we throw our hand in the air to resist God and ignore him. A lot of times we do sin without intending to. But there’s also times when we sin willfully—when we plunge ahead, knowing exactly what we’re doing.

You know these sharp words are going to hurt your wife, but you say them anyway. You know your parents’ rules about internet use, but you simply ignore them. You know very well that God wants you in church with his people, but you choose to stay home. This is dangerous ground: we know what God’s Word says, and we ignore it. May God the Spirit help us to repent of our willful ways.

Not all sin is deliberate, of course, because we are weak and forgetful. We hurt someone by our words, not aware that we said something insensitive—that’s an unintentional sin. Or we forget what belongs to a God-pleasing prayer; we still pray, but we’re not doing it in the Scriptural way. Or we’ve gotten into bad habits with our money, not out of greed or ingratitude, but a lack of reflection about what God says is important.

Deliberate or not, sin doesn’t take place only when we realize it, or only when we feel bad about it. We sin, whenever we go against what God has said, or whenever we fall short of his holy commands in the Word.

In Deuteronomy 32, God’s people sing the blues about their deliberate disobedience and their unwise conduct. This song tells about Israel’s stubbornness in rejecting their Rock. In fact, in this song there’s an almost perfect contrast between God’s goodness and his people’s failure. In verses 3-4 Moses sings, “I proclaim the name of the LORD: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect.” The perfect God is worthy of all our praise, for He is the source of every good and perfect gift, and He makes no mistake in his mighty works.

Yet Moses has hard words for God’s people: “They have corrupted themselves; they are not his children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation” (v 5). Having received much, much was expected from them. God holds them responsible, and holds us responsible. And even though we’re children of a giving Father—children of an immeasurably good God—we are still inclined to do wrong against him.

The question that this song asks is hard, but it cannot be avoided, “Do you thus deal with the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (v 6). Yes, He is our Father. He made us in his goodness. He bought us in his love. He established us in his power. Yet we’ve often acted foolishly. So we must consider,


2) God’s justice and our punishment: If we’ve done something wrong, we probably hope for leniency, for a little mercy. For example, when a student hasn’t completed his homework, he goes to school hoping that his teacher will let it go.

On a far more serious level, this is what’s hoped for in Q&A 10, “Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?” In other words, if God is so good, such a loving Father, can’t He allow this sin to go unpunished? Does He really have to punish us? It’s another escape route that the Catechism wants to explore.

But once again, we’re stopped short by the greatness of God. He is the God of unfailing justice, He is the God of everlasting truth. It’s He who decides what is right—and He will always uphold the right. He wants to see his Word upheld and honoured, because his Word embodies and expresses who God is.

This means that breaking the law of God doesn’t leave God unmoved. Sometimes we think of God as a being without emotions. We think He doesn’t get too excited one way or the other. After all, He knows that we’re a sinful people. So your materialism or your lust or your lack of prayer doesn’t surprise God or make him too upset. But no, God cares deeply for his own honour and truth. What’s more, God loves his people intensely.

Because of this, God is grieved when we sin against him, and when we don’t walk in the good paths He’s marked out for us. That is why the Catechism says “[God] is terribly angry” with our sins (Q&A 10). Anger so often arises in our hearts because we are sinful, and that anger so often fuels more evil. But God’s anger arises because He is holy, and He has a holy hatred of all evil. And God shows this anger in the punishment of all those who do wrong.

Deuteronomy 32 says that the Father is ‘provoked’ or angered “by his sons and daughters” (v 19). He doesn’t turn a blind eye. Now, if you’re a child, and you go against the household rules—say you spit out a mouthful of bad language—you expect mom or dad to respond. If they shrug and walk away, it’s nice, but kind of uncomfortable, because it actually seems like they don’t really care. You know they should do something!

So with God. As a righteous Father, He reacts to the sinfulness of his children. We find one reaction in verse 20: “I will hide my face from them.” Most parents have heard of a ‘timeout’ for little Johnny, putting a child all by himself for a while. In a sense, this is what God will do: “I will hide my face from them.” He does it to discipline his people. He doesn’t abandon them, but He hides his face. His children feel it, and it hurts.

When we’re living in sin, and when we haven’t repented of it yet, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that God has hidden his face from us. Unconfessed sin means a heavy discouragement might lay on your heart. It’s hard to pray. There is no joy in worship. Your inner peace might be wrecked. Your mind might be bothered by something, uncertain and nameless, but deeply troubling.

In the moment, it’s hard to understand how it’s beneficial. Yet as God withdraws from us, He wants us to seek Him. Sometimes only in the pit of despair do we realize how impoverished we are without Him, and how we need to change.

So God uses these means to reach out to his sinful people. Verses 20-26 are full of these warnings: “I will provoke them to jealousy… I will move them to anger… I will heap disasters on them…. I will spend my arrows on them… I will send against them the teeth of beasts…”

Are these the acts of a merciless God? Is this a God who doesn’t care? He does care! And God knows that, however many his blessings, we often learn more through adversity than prosperity. Affliction is a good teacher. Trouble can drive us to prayer. Suffering can turn us back to God.

So God warns us in love. For the Israelites, on the day when these things happened, they could think of that song they once learned. They knew that God was urging them to return. As Moses says, “Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this!” (v 29). What was God trying to tell them? He says that sin troubles him greatly. Our sin bothers Him so much that He’ll certainly punish all those who don’t repent.

And when sinners sin, and don’t repent, what is the punishment? The punishment promised is as old as the commandment given: “When you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Disobedience of God must result in death. This heavy penalty is unchanging. It’s found in the Old Testament (Deut 27:26), and it’s found in the New Testament (Gal 3:10), “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them.”

Because God is God, we can’t expect him to go soft on sin. He has to uphold that perfect standard of his “most high majesty” (Q&A 11). Otherwise, He’ll contradict himself. And if He contradicts himself, what kind of God would He be? Not a God worthy of trust. How could we trust him, if God kept his Word sometimes, but not other times?

We want to believe in God’s promises as 100% trustworthy. We delight to know that God is a righteous God, and maintains his Word. When God promises to carry you through hardship, there’s a great comfort—the LORD will do just what He said! He will carry you. And when God promises to provide you with everything needed, there’s sure peace in such a promise—the LORD will do what He said! In Jesus Christ God keeps all his words with a perfect righteousness, and with a perfect mercy.


3) God’s mercy and our hope: After hearing about God’s anger, and hearing about the prospect of everlasting curse, a sinner might dare to pose one last question. You can hear that he’s holding onto a sliver of hope: “But is God not also merciful?” (Q&A 11).

Mercy—that’s the only way. How else could anyone stand before this God, so justly and so righteously angry? As quickly as the door is opened to the mercy of God, the door seems to be slammed shut: “God is indeed merciful, but He is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul” (Q&A 11).

It sounds severe. There is no mention of salvation here—no sign of Jesus Christ. But we know what comes after this first section of the Catechism: the second section, which is all about our deliverance! It is the best news that we could ever hope for: God’s righteous penalty can be carried by someone else.

In his mercy, God provides someone to stand in the place of sinner. If you have sinned, you don’t have to die. If you have sinned but repented, you have hope. It’s the gospel of Deuteronomy 32:43, “He will provide atonement for his land and his people.”

Now, mercy doesn’t mean that God has changed his standards. He’ll still do what He says. He still seeks the death penalty for sin. But it happens through God’s own Son, who became sin for us. Hanging on the cross, Jesus took on our curse. There He was punished “with the most severe, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul” (Q&A 11). If we are united to Christ by faith, his perfect holiness is all ours.

It’s a sure thing. By faith, we are made right with God. By faith, we are forgiven. It’s his solid declaration—true because God says it’s true. Yet that can be hard for us to accept. Many Christians wonder at some point or the other, ‘Am I really forgiven? Am I really so loved?’ And the trouble is, most of the time, we prefer to listen to our feelings. We don’t accept something until we feel it deep down inside, and we don’t think something is true until it moves us.

But we can have confidence in God’s sure promise. Believe what He’s said—believe it, because God has said it! The LORD is righteous forever, and his Word is truth. If we believe in Christ, there is mercy, abundant mercy, forever mercy.

Our theme for this sermon was that ‘sinners should tremble before the greatness of God,’ the greatness of God’s goodness, his justice, and his mercy. We tremble, because the salvation of sinners is undeserved, it is unthinkable, it is beyond repaying.

So we can wonder sometimes: Why did God choose this way? Why didn’t God start over after that first deliberate disobedience in the Garden? Why didn’t God leave stubborn Israel to rot in the wilderness? Why doesn’t He leave us, for we’re no better?

Maybe we find the answer in Deuteronomy 32:39. There God says to his people: “Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides me.” See that I am God! This is the point:  the LORD wants us to know his great Name.

He wants us to know him as LORD Almighty, our Saviour and our God. He wants us to know his name, to love him, to fear him and serve him all our days. If God’s people will believe in him, if we will confess him, then his mercy will surely fall like rain.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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