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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God is Saviour, Lawgiver, and our Only God
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-06-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 144:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 138:1  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Exodus 19:1 - 20:21

Ps 81:4,5,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34, part 1 (Q&A 92, 93)

Hy 11:1,2,9

Hy 37:1,2

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


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus, most of us wear a few different hats. That is, we’ve got a number of different roles and responsibilities, depending on where we are, or depending on who we’re with.

For example, from 9 to 5 each day, someone might be the manager in a company: reading reports, supervising employees, making decisions. Then, when he gets home, this same fellow is suddenly in the role of father: spending time with his children, helping put them to bed. Then on comes a new hat, that of an elder, for he goes out in the evening for a homevisit. Finally, when he returns home, he gives full attention to being a husband, and he sits down in the living room to have a nice chat with his wife.

This is probably true for many of us, that throughout the week, we have different roles. And we don’t always wear our hats very well. There can actually be conflict between one role and another, like when we spend too much time at work, and not enough with our family or our fellow believers. It can be hard to honour the whole range of the duties placed upon us.

We’re talking about our human roles, because God too, has different functions. There’s not just one task that God does, but many. He is Creator; He is Lord; He is Provider; and more. Listen to what Isaiah 33:22 says, “The LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.”

Unlike for us, God’s varied roles are never in conflict. Though there’s so much work that He does, though the entire universe depends on him, God never fails. He is never so over-worked in one area that He has to cut corners somewhere else. As his children, this gives us great confidence. We know He’ll never back out of his commitments. He’ll always follow through and do his works in perfection.

As we open the Scriptures (and the Catechism) to the Ten Commandments, some of these roles of God come to the fore. God is Saviour, God is Lawgiver—and as such, God is all that we need, the only God. I preach the gospel on this theme, from the first part of Lord’s Day 34,

Let us acknowledge, fear, and worship the LORD:

  1. as the Saviour
  2. as the Lawgiver
  3. as the Only God

 

1) Let us know God as the Saviour: Today we start the section of the Catechism that goes under the title, ‘The Ten Words.’ We’re used to these ten words. We know them as God’s commandments, rules for wise living that we hear every Sunday morning. But as we begin learning from the commandments again, don’t overlook how at the very beginning, they reveal something important about our God. I’m thinking of the part of the law that’s sometimes called the prologue or introduction.

The Ten Commandments begin not with a command but with a statement—not an imperative but an indicative: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod 20:2). Here is a clear testimony to what the LORD God has done for his people.

That verse recalls the original setting in which the law was given. You know the story, how Jacob’s family had gone down to Egypt and flourished there. After some time, there arose a Pharaoh who was intimidated by Israel’s population, and he used them for slave labour. Mistreated and overworked, the Israelites groaned under their cruel masters.

For us, Egypt stands as a picture of sin, and our captivity to sin. Because in the same way, sin brings with it many terrible results. Creation groans, and we groan, as sin means we suffer with weak bodies and weak minds, broken fellowship and broken dreams. This misery extends past the present life, for apart from some act of rescue, our slavery will endure.

Though we forget this reality, God sees how we’re so lost without him. He knows what lies ahead for us. He hears the devil’s accusations against us, and He understands how we’ll suffer forever if we’re left outside the kingdom. But this isn’t the life that God wants for us. He is gracious!

And the first words of the law remind us that God is gracious. Earlier in Exodus, in chapter 2:23-25, there’s a beautiful description of God’s mercy for his suffering people in Egypt: “Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.”

Notice how God feels the pain of his children. He sees their misery. He hears them crying. He is concerned about their suffering. He knows what they’re going through. Sometimes a person says tritely, “I feel your pain.” But only God can say this truly, “I know your suffering.” For those hard years in Egypt, God knew every detail of their misery.

He heard the screams of his people under the whip. He felt their aches and pains after endless hours of toil. He saw every mother’s tears as her son was drowned in the Nile. And it troubled him. These were his people, the ones He’d promised a great future, and they were so badly suffering.

So God sends them a deliverer in the person of Moses. And he urged Pharaoh to let his people go. After all the misery of the ten plagues, Pharaoh finally relents—but only for a moment. And yet again, God shields his people. He opens up the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through, then closes the sea overtop the mighty Egyptian army.

And still God isn’t done saving. In the desert, He gives water to the thirsty. He provides food from the heaven for the hungry. He protects them from marauding bands of enemies. He sends a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, to guide his people on their way. On top of all this, God shows abundant patience when Israel complains and rebels.

In Exodus 19, when the people finally come through the wilderness to their camp at Mount Sinai—three months to the day after their departure from Egypt—the people had already experienced the full measure of God’s intense, protecting, saving, forgiving love. He had shown himself to be God the Saviour in every way. ‘He carried them eagles’ wings and brought them to himself’ (Exod 19:4).

The people have arrived at the refuge of Mount Sinai, but in store for them there is a fearful sight! Exodus 19 describes how the people shake in their sandals as the mountain smokes and quakes, as trumpet blasts fill the air, getting louder and louder. Like they’d never seen before, this was the holiness and power and majesty of their God! No wonder their enemies didn’t stand a chance. And no wonder God sets a boundary so that his people don’t get too close and perish.

Yet when Israel finally hears the voice of the Almighty God, how does He begin? It is striking, for He begins with an opening note of tenderness and love: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod 20:2). He preaches grace! God recalls for his people where they’ve been, who they are, and how they got here. God introduces himself as the Redeemer of his people, their mighty Deliverer. And this gospel puts all the following commandments in the right perspective.

For God gives the law only after He shows that all things depend on him. He had done everything to save Israel from Egypt. He’d also do everything to bring them the rest of the way into the Promised Land.

What, then, is the law for? It cannot be for earning salvation—because salvation has already been given freely. It can’t be for winning points with God—He loves us already. With these first words of ‘the ten words,’ God reminds us that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

I said that we need reminding of this, because it’s very natural to focus on what we have to do as God’s children. We like rules and prohibitions and commands. We’d like it if the Christian life could be reduced to a list of regulations to keep, some do’s and don’ts. ‘Read your Bible. Go to church. Don’t get drunk and don’t swear. Don’t listen to bad music or watch bad movies. Pay church and school. Work hard, and above all, be nice.’ Do all that to be right with God, to be (or to stay) on his good side.

But God teaches us to put away the pride of our works. Stop the mentality of checking boxes and meeting expectations. Know that you are loved by God in Christ, loved undeservedly, loved steadfastly, apart from anything we’ve done. And then love God from the heart! For He is our Saviour, and He is the great Lawgiver.

 

2) Let us know God as the Lawgiver: Sometimes we think of God’s law as a heavy burden. It throws a wet blanket over our fun, cramps our style. And if you listen with only half-an-ear, it just sounds like a long list of things we should not do: “You shall have NO other gods before me… You shall NOT make for yourself an idol… You shall NOT kill, or steal, or bear false witness.”

When we hear these black-and-white commands, we might think that there is a conflict within the person of God. The God who was so kind in the first point—saving and protecting his helpless people in the desert—this God has now become the stern lawgiver on the mountain.

Yet there’s no conflict at all. For as He gives the law, God remains the God of love. For the LORD understands his people, that we’re weak and foolish, that we’re sinful and prone to wander. If we didn’t receive any guidance from above, we’d be sure to perish.

After all, that’s why God sent Israel the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They needed to know where to go! Without heavenly direction, God knew they’d wander in circles until they collapsed and died. Or He knew they’d stray toward dangerous lands. So God provided the blessing of his presence, to show them the right path!

What’s true for our physical direction is true in another way: we all need daily guidance from above. Without a heavenly orientation and fixed compass point, we’ll wander in circles. Maybe we’ll always repeat the same sins, descend further and further into the slavery of evil habits. Without God’s direction, we’ll all stray toward dangerous places. We stumble toward temptation, and we think we’ve found home and security in an earthly idol. But we’re lost.

With the law, the Father patiently teaches his slow-learning children. It is a shining light to our path. God speaks of this in Exodus 19. He had graciously delivered them on eagles’ wings, and He did, so that they might listen to him. This is what He says before He gives the law: “Now, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people” (vv 4-5). God as their Saviour should be fully obeyed, because He knows what is right for us, and what leads to blessing.

God wants his law to give a new and total shape to our lives. Through his law, God calls us to be distinguished from this world, to be and to act differently. What God said to Israel, He says to his church today, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). The Israelites were not to be like the Egyptians or the Moabites, or the peoples living in the land of Canaan. They were to be set apart. Don’t worship the gods of the nations. Don’t treat each other with cruelty. Don’t surrender to immorality. But stand out!

So for the people of God today: his law sets good boundaries for our lives. For in two vital areas, God’s law teaches us about what He expects. The Catechism summarizes it in Q&A 93. The first part of the law “teaches us how to live in relation to God,” and the second teaches us “what duties we owe our neighbour.”

The first part of the law is about that vertical orientation to our life. We’re looking upwards—where we realize there’s more to life than what we see here on earth. Our existence here isn’t just about us pursuing our personal goals, and it’s also more than enjoying the blessing of other people. No, there needs to be that vertical aspect, where we live in a meaningful relationship with God our Creator and Saviour. Every day, He has a claim on us. Every day, He calls us to love and worship Him. God is invisible, yet there should be nothing more real to us than our relationship with the Lord.

The second part of the law, says the Catechism, deals with “what duties we owe our neighbour.” This describes how we live horizontally, with all the people on our level, around us, each day. You can’t treat the people in your life whatever way you’d like. Neither can you avoid them and say you don’t need them. Because you meet them everywhere: they’re in your house, they’re on the bus or the train, at church, at the store and at work. And the question is how we deal with them: Do we live in genuine love for other people?

In this we have the guidance of God’s unchanging law. In an unstable world, a world beset by so many questions about what is right and what is wrong, God’s law gives us the blessing of stability. We can read God’s law and say: “I know that this is how my relationship with God my Saviour must be: that I love and fear and worship him. I know that this is how my relationship with my parents must be, and my husband or wife, and my fellow saints, and my neighbours across the road.”

This means that the law really is a gift of grace. It’s a gift from the same God who saved us from sin. Having delivered us from slavery, He doesn’t let us wander in the wilderness, but He shows us the way!

Now, to this point, we’ve been very positive about the law. Yet God’s commandments have another function, too. There’s something that happens, whenever we read it honestly, whenever we listen to it carefully. The law condemns us. It reveals our sin. What are my words like? And my desires? What are my true securities and joys in life? Only when we look intently into God’s law do we see the whole truth. In fact, the law will show what is wrong, how we’ve fallen far short of God’s glory.

Just like when you glance into your bathroom mirror, the law is very personal. The imperfect person you see there is yourself! It’s always easy to think of how this or that text or sermon applies to someone else. But when we look into the mirror of God’s law, it reveals what’s wrong with us. When I read it, the Word condemns me: “I’ve been proud. I’ve been spiteful. I haven’t thanked God like I should or given him my best. I haven’t sought the interests of others ahead of myself.”

The LORD wants us to see these things, but not so that He can destroy us. God wants us to see our sins, so that we realize again how we ought to depend on him. A knowledge of sin and misery should lead to the knowledge of salvation! Humbled before God the lawgiver, we must turn back to God the Saviour. And in him we see that He’s the only true God.

           

3) Let us know God as the Only God: When the people of Israel gathered at the mountain, the anticipation was heavy in the air. They knew something big was about to happen. For first God calls them to consecrate themselves. He then warns them not to set foot on the mountain, lest they die. And finally came that amazing display of God’s glory: the thunder and lightning, smoke and fire, the trumpet blast, the trembling and shaking.

It was then, with the thunder still fading in the hills, that God spoke the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. And Israel’s response is very telling. “When the people witness the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking…they trembled and stood afar off’” (Exod 20:18-19).

All that glory had fulfilled its purpose: to humble the people, to instill in them a fear of God. As they saw it, you can imagine them asking, “Who is like the LORD our God? Who can stand in his holy presence?” They were filled with fear. Not just scared, but fearful, with a humble reverence for God. They stood in awe of his glory, the Lord of all the earth.

This is the response God wanted. For Moses replies to the people, “God has come to test you, and that his fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (v 20). Notice how the fear of God leads to obedience of God: If God’s people truly fear him, if we truly revere his name, we’ll long to resist that urge to sin. If God’s people truly know and adore the greatness of the LORD, we won’t quickly forget him and turn from his will.

At Mount Sinai, God presented himself as one clothed in fearful majesty. But He who also comes near to his people in amazing grace as the Saviour, for God desires that his children see all this and respond in faith. And the consequence of this revelation is driven home in the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3).

God wants to be first. He wants this, and He shows us the reason why. For He’s rescued us, and brought us away from the power of Satan and the realm of death. He has shown that He is so worthy of our trust! This is really the heart of the entire law: putting God first.

So now that’s what we must do: Trust in God alone. For if He could part the waters of the Red Sea, won’t He deliver you from your sins? If He could send his Son to die, and then raise him from the grave, won’t He save you from everything else that threatens, all that troubles? We can trust our God, and trust him alone.

And if we trust in God, we’ll also obey God. If God wrote with his own finger on tablets of stone, his commands will be trustworthy. If the living God spoke in a storm of fire and smoke, shaking the foundations of the earth, his word will certainly be the path to blessing. There’s no need to turn anywhere else. We have everything that we need for life in the LORD our God.

He is the gracious Saviour, the one who has redeemed us from sin.

He is the wise Lawgiver, the one who patiently shows us the way.

And He is the only true God, worthy of worship forever!  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 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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