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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:God's justice meets his mercy at the Cross
Text:CD 2 art 1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2020-10-04
Added:2021-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise:  2014

Psalm 85:1,2

Psalm 85:3,4

Hymn 37:1,2

Psalm 40:7

Read:  Micah 2; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Text:  Canons of Dort Chapter 2, art. 1-2.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

In 2001 Keith Getty and Stuart Townend composed the hymn “In Christ alone.”  It is a beautiful hymn, well loved, and sung by many.  But not everybody likes it.  In fact, a few years ago the Presbyterian Church of the USA decided to leave “In Christ Alone” out of their new hymn book because they were not allowed to change one of the song's lines.  The problem that they had with this song was that it speaks about “the wrath of God” in connection with the cross of Christ. 

This is what it says in the second verse:

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,

Fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness,

Scorned by the ones He came to save.

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied;

For every sin on Him was laid –

Here in the death of Christ I live.

"Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied."  What this song is saying is that on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ suffered God's punishment for our sins.  For the Hymn Book committee of the PCUSA, singing about God's wrath being satisfied through the death of his Son was unacceptable.  What they wanted instead was to be able to sing not about God's wrath but about his love.  And so they suggested to have the words changed to,

“Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.

But the authors of the song did not permit them to make the change.  And rightly so!  It is true, of course, that God's love was magnified through the death of Christ on the cross, but the cross was more than just a display of God’s love: it was also a display of His wrath, specifically his wrath against sin.  And in our eagerness to speak about God's love and mercy we may not neglect to also speak about his justice and his wrath, because these two things go hand in hand.  It is at the cross that we witness the perfect display of both God's wrath and his love, both God's justice and his mercy.  And that's what I want to preach to you about this afternoon.  Turning to the Word of God in the book of Micah and the Second letter to the Corinthians, in connection what we confess together in chapter 2, article 1 & 2 of the Canons of Dort, I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

God's justice meets his mercy at the Cross.

1. Justice satisfied

2. Mercy applied

 

1. Justice satisfied

In this sermon series on the doctrines of Grace as outlined in the Canons of Dort, we've come to chapter 2, which speaks about Christ's death and our redemption through it.  The basic question that this chapter of the Canons wants to answer is, "For whom did Christ die?"  And, "What did Christ actually achieve through his death?"  As we consider these questions in the weeks ahead, we'll be introduced to the doctrine of "Limited Atonement."  But before we get to that doctrine, the Canons first want us to have a right understanding of why Christ had to die.  More specifically, the Canons want us to have a right understanding of the wrath of God against sin, and how there was only one way for his wrath to be appeased and his justice to be satisfied, and that was for our sin to be paid for in full.  And the only way for our sin to be paid for in full was for Jesus to take our place and do it for us.

To speak of God's justice and his wrath against sin is not always popular.  It is not popular because we don't want to think that sin is all that bad, nor do we want to face the reality of what God has done - and will do - about it.  That's nothing new.  In fact, that was the already the situation in the days of the prophet Micah.

The prophet Micah came from the tribe of Judah in Israel and he was called to prophecy against the tribe of Judah some time between 750 and 700 BC.  By that time the 10 tribes to the north had been taken away into exile by the Assyrian army, but the tribe of Judah to the South felt safe and secure.  They proudly considered themselves to be better than the Ten Tribes to the north, and concluded that the LORD must be pleased with them and only had plans to bless and not to punish them.  But that was not true, and so God sent Micah to them with a word and warning of judgment that was to come.  In Micah chapter 1 the LORD declared that he would come to punish them for their sin too.  And then the LORD said in Micah 2:3-4,

3 Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster. 4 In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.”

That was a heavy message of wrath and of judgment, but the reason for it was clear: it was because of their sin that judgment would come.  Micah 2:1-2,

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. 2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.

This was terrible behaviour, to be so consumed with greed that they oppressed the poor.  And it was even worse because by doing this they were enslaving the people of God, fellow Israelites.  And so God said to them, "No.  You might be working out evil on your beds, and you might think that no one knows, that no one is there to call you to account.  But I, the LORD, I do know, and I will call you to account."

And when we read these words, knowing the things that were going on in those days, we are inclined to say, "That's good!"  To punish the people guilty of such sin is exactly what God should do.  I am so glad that he is just!"

But therein lies the problem for us.  You see, if God is just and if God will by no means clear the guilty - as the LORD himself declares in Exodus 34:7 - what does that mean for us?  It is human nature to look at others whom we think have sinned more than we have and say that something needs to be done about that.  But what about you?  What about me?  What about your sin and my sin?  The Israelites to whom Micah was prophesying did not think that they were so bad.  The 10 tribes to the north were bad - the people of Judah were prepared to say that.  The 10 tribes to the north, therefore deserved to be punished, deserved to go into exile.  But the people of Judah?  Surely not!  Surely the LORD would take care of them!  And so they responded in Micah 2:6-7,

6 “Do not preach”—thus they preach— “one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” 7 Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds? Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?

"Don't preach these things!" they said.  "Surely God is merciful!  Surely he has plans for good and not to harm us!"  But do you see what they were doing here?  Rather than compare themselves to God's law, the people of Judah compared how they saw themselves to what they thought of the 10 tribes of Israel to the north - and on that basis they thought they were doing pretty well.  And then on top of that, they did not want to hear about the justice and the judgment of God; they only wanted to hear about his love and his mercy.  "Surely," they said, "our God is a God of Love and he will therefore treat us with that love and not punish us for the wrong that we may have done."

  And in this way the people of Judah in the days of Micah only wanted to hear about the love of God and not his wrath against sin.  They only wanted to hear about his blessing, that God had good plans for them, that they would live their best life now.  But they did not want to hear about their sin, nor the warning that this sin would be punished.  That's the meaning of Micah 2:11,

"If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, 'I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,' he would be the preacher for this people!"

No more of this talk about God's wrath and his judgment against sin: just remind us again that our God is a God of love and that all will be good.

But the problem here is that the people of Judah in the days of Micah did not just have a wrong understanding of themselves; they had a wrong understanding about God.  God is merciful, of course.  He is gracious and he is loving.  But he is also just.  And in his justice, he cannot, and he will not, overlook sin.  Rather he declares sin for what it really is: sin is that which is committed not just against our fellow man but that which is committed against the most-high majesty of God.  And that's why sin must be punished.  That's what the Bible so clearly teaches us, and therefore that is what Chapter 2, article 1 of the Canons of Dort explains when it says,

"God is not only supremely merciful but also supremely just.  And as he himself has revealed in his Word, his justice requires that our sins, committed against his infinite majesty, should be punished not only in this age but also in the age to come, both in body and soul.  We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is made to the justice of God."

But thanks be to God, our God is not only just, but he is also merciful.  And in even in Micah 2, when he warned of the wrath that was to come, the LORD also gave the people a message of hope.  In Micah 2:12 God said,

"I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men."

And the way that God would do this, the way he would make this possible, was by providing them with a Saviour.  Later on in the book of Micah, in chapter 5:2, we read of the promise that this Saviour would come from Bethlehem.  And then, at the end of the book of Micah, in chapter 7, having heard of both God's punishment for sin and the promise of salvation, Micah rejoiced, and he sang in Micah 7:18-19

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

That's the other thing we need to know and remember about God.  Not only is he supremely just, but he is also supremely merciful.  And in his mercy, he will forgive.  He will see to it that his justice is satisfied, and his mercy displayed in the sending of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  That brings us to our second point,

 

2. Mercy applied.

The book of Micah teaches us that God cannot, and he will not, leave sin unpunished.  The book of Micah is also a warning that if our sin remains then we will be punished.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  But the book of Micah leaves us with the hope that although we could never make satisfaction nor pay for sin, there would be One who was to come who could and would do that for us.  And the One to do that, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that's what we confess in Chapter 2, article 2 of the Canons of Dort.

"We ourselves, however, cannot make this satisfaction and cannot free ourselves from God's wrath.  God, therefore, in his infinite mercy has given his only begotten Son as our Surety.  For us or in our place he was made sin and a curse on the cross so that he might make satisfaction on our behalf."

It is in this way that we see God's justice meeting his mercy at the Cross.  It is at the cross that we see sin for what it really is.  It is at the cross that we see that sin committed against the most high majesty of God could never be left unpunished.  And it is at the cross that we see that this sin was punished in and through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But it is also at the cross that we see the greatness of the mercy of God.  God demands that his justice be satisfied, that is, that full payment for sin must be made.  But it was God himself who saw to it that full payment was made.  And not by us but by his own Son.  To repeat the second line of Chapter 2, article 2 of the Canons,

"God, therefore, in his infinite mercy has given his only begotten Son as our Surety." 

(And by "Surety" we mean that he is our guarantee; he is the one who assumes responsibility for us; he is the one who took our place.). He did it!  God did this for us!  It is in this way that the cross is not only the greatest demonstration of God's justice, but it is also the greatest demonstration of his mercy.

  Our second Bible reading was from 2 Corinthians 5 and I chose this Bible reading because it teaches this to us so clearly.  Have a look at 2 Corinthians 5 again and see what it teaches us about what God has done in giving up his Son.  2 Corinthians 5:14 begins by saying that it is "the love of Christ" that controls us, not our love for him.  But then verse 18 goes on to say that

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

All this is from God!  It is God who reconciled us to himself.  And verse 19,

"in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself"

and God

"was entrusting to us the message of reconciliation."

Then verse 20 says that God was "making his appeal through us."  And finally in verse 21,

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

It was for our sake that God made his own son, who knew no sin, to be sin so that in Christ our sin might be punished in order that we might become righteousness of God.  Or, as article 2 of the Canons puts it,

"For us or in our place he was made sin and a curse on the cross so that he might make satisfaction on our behalf."

Hallelujah!  What a Saviour!  And even more, Hallelujah!  What a God! 

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."  (Micah 7:18)

And that's why it is good to be singing these things.  That's why we sing not just about God's love, but also about his wrath.  That's why we should keep those words,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied;

For every sin on Him was laid –

Here in the death of Christ I live.

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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