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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Empty Hands of Faith
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Added:2022-11-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Romans 5:12-29

Lesson: Lord’s Day 7

 

THE EMPTY HANDS OF FAITH: FILLED TO OVERFLOWING

  1. Whose Hands are Filled?

  2. What is the True Value of the Filling?

  3. What is the True Purpose of the Filling?

 

  1. Psalm 27: 1, 4, 6

  2. Psalm 4: 1-3

  3. Hymn 45: 1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 123:1

  6. Hymn 68: 1, 8

 

Words to Listen For: disappoint, crop, drops, pit, money

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Which two Lord’s Days should we have memorized?  Why do you think?

  2. How could we understand the value of faith in a Roman Catholic way?  An Arminian way?

  3. In what ways is Jesus better than Adam?

  4. What is paradise?

  5. Explain the “by” and “through” challenge.

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

What is faith?

What is faith?  This is a question that our catechism asks.  An important question.  A vital question.

Years ago, back in Winnipeg, my minister had a few things that he liked to say.  Things that he would repeat, again and again.

And one of them was this.  From the pulpit, every time he would preach on Lord’s Day 1, every time he would preach on Lord’s Day 7, and many other times, he would say: If I were to call any one of you up in the middle of the night and asked you to recite Lord’s Day 1 or Lord’s Day 7 to me, you had better be able to do it.

And before really getting to know him, I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not about this.  I was pretty sure this was his way of telling us that the answers to these two questions was what it all came down to:

    What is your only comfort in life and in death?

        and

    What is true faith?

But I also made sure that I memorized those two answers, just in case he ever would call me.  I didn’t want to disappoint him.  He never did call me in the middle of the night though.

But I was thinking about this, I was thinking about Lord’s Day 7 last week when I defined faith.  I was thinking about it, because I gave a different definition than our catechism has.

For those who weren’t here, or who forget, last week, I said the following: Faith, you could say is simply a set of open hands.  Open hands ready to receive anything and everything from our heavenly Father.

I went on to say how easy faith is, and at the same time how hard faith is.

But is this really all that it is?  Faith is simply a set of open hands?  Surely there’s more to it than that!

Let’s evaluate this together this afternoon:

THE EMPTY HANDS OF FAITH: FILLED TO OVERFLOWING.  We will look at 

  1. Whose Hands are Filled?

  2. What is the True Value of the Filling?

  3. What is the True Purpose of the Filling?

 

WHOSE HANDS ARE FILLED?

As we heard the last time, in Lord’s Day 6, we have finally ARRIVED.  We have gone, to use the language of Romans, from WRATH to REDEMPTION.

As you may have noticed, the catechism has taken on the roadmap of the book of Romans - Sin, Salvation, Service.

And we are right near the beginning of the “salvation” portion.

Our previous Lord’s Day introduced us to our Saviour and Mediator.  A true and righteous man, who is, at the same time, true God.  The Saviour who was revealed already in Paradise, proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets, the Mediator foreshadowed in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Law.

This Saviour, we learned, is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

There is a Mediator and Saviour out there.  We know He exists, we know His identity, we know His name…but the question is - how is He MINE?

There is A Saviour, but is He MY Saviour?

This is where the Lord’s Day starts

Are all men, then, saved by Christ, just as they perished through Adam?

Essentially - who is this Saviour for?

Is He only for the Jews?  God’s chosen people?  Were the Rabbis right when they wrote that the only reason God made Gentiles was to stoke the fires of hell?

Or, is He only for Gentiles?  Since God’s chosen people rejected their Messiah, did He then, in turn, reject them?  They killed the Son of God!  Surely there’s no coming back from that…

Or, is He for everyone?  Every single person who has ever been born?  Did Jesus Christ completely undo the curse of Adam?

Are all men, then, saved by Christ, just as they perished through Adam?

This seems so nice.  So clean.  After all, Jesus is called the last Adam in 1 Corinthians 15.  Jesus Christ is the one who, in the Garden, when He was tempted, resisted up to and including the point of death.  Jesus is the one who got it right!

And what of our reading?

When the Apostle Paul compares the first Adam to the last Adam, he is insistent that the last Adam brought about more blessing than the first Adam brought about a curse.

Verse 15 - But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, MUCH MORE have the grace of God and the free gift of grace by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

MUCH MORE.

Verse 17 - For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, MUCH MORE will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

MUCH MORE.

So how can it be then that the answer to this question is no?

Are all men, then, saved by Christ, just as they perished through Adam?

No.

Surely if the blessing is MUCH MORE - as Paul says - than it should at least be EQUAL, shouldn’t it?

 

If Adam’s sin brought death to every person who ever existed, and Christ Jesus brings life to some of the people who existed, how can the free gift of grace be greater than the trespass?

That’s a good question, but before we despair and begin to crop out portions of the catechism for being unscriptural, let’s continue reading.  Because the answer is not just a simple “no.”

Are all men, then, saved by Christ just as they perished through Adam?

    No.  Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ

    and accept all His benefits.

How are we saved?

It is BY GRACE.

This is true.  This is the clear teaching of Scripture.  Salvation is by grace.  Not because of anything that we do. For how could we do anything?  We are DEAD IN OURSELVES.  

So if it’s all grace…why then this discussion of faith?  If it’s all God, why do WE need to do something too?

Isn’t that a little…Roman Catholic?  God’s grace PLUS works?

Isn’t that a little…Arminian?  God potentially saves everyone, but it’s really up to us if we, in our own strength, choose Him?

Ultimately…whatever label we put on it…can’t we declare it to be contradictory?

If it’s ALL GRACE…then what else can there be?  It’s ALL already done!

Yes, we are saved BY CHRIST and BY HIS GRACE ALONE

But we also are saved THROUGH FAITH.

The “by” versus the “through” - this is an important distinction.

God did this wonderful, beautiful, miraculous thing.  That’s the grace.  That’s what we heard last week in the afternoon service.  God’s righteousness, marvellously displayed in His grace.

But then FAITH.  Faith is where we make it our own.  Faith is how we appropriate God’s gifts.  We don’t DESERVE THEM BECAUSE OF OUR FAITH, but instead we RECEIVE THEM THROUGH FAITH.

It’s not GOD’S GRACE PLUS OUR FAITH in equal measure - we’re not Roman Catholics.

It’s not GOD’S POTENTIAL GRACE MADE REAL BY OUR FAITH - we’re not Arminians.  For the faith, the open hands by which we receive God’s gift…that faith comes from Him as well.  It is grace that sent Jesus to the cross, and it is grace that opens our hands to receive Him.

Who is saved?  Those who believe!  Those who follow the path of salvation.

God says: there is one way of salvation, walk in it!  And those who reject the way of salvation, reject the salvation itself.  They reject the Saviour Himself.  They reject God and every good gift that He offers.  And after a lifetime of rejecting Him, God gives them what they want.  An eternity without Him.

But now what about that comparison that we read about earlier?  How the second Adam is so much greater than the first?  This we will deal with in our second point: What is the True Value of the Filling?

 When we compare what happened in the two Gardens, we may be left with a rather different conclusion than the Apostle Paul in Romans 5.

In that first Garden, our first father and mother sinned.

They listened to the deceitful words of the Devil - did God REALLY SAY?

They gave in to his temptation - She took some of its fruit and she ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate

And they plunged themselves and all of their descendants into darkness and death.

 

Due to that first sin, death has come to this world.

 

Physical Death - though Adam and Eve did not immediately physically die, that day changed everything about us as human beings.  From that very day, their bodies began to decay.  Joints began to ache, cells began to deteriorate and produce the effects of aging, we became susceptible to disease.  Physical death was now built into our physical bodies.

 

Spiritual Death - the last time that Adam and Eve talked face-to-face with God was when He called them out for their sin and cursed them.  What used to be their daily routine, walking and talking with God in the cool of the day, that immediately stopped.  They had lost that personal  communion with Him.  They still talked to Him through prayer, but the relationship was damaged.  Spiritually, they were not united as they once were. 

 

Eternal Death - Before the Fall into Sin, the plan was to live forever in the Garden of Eden with God.  But then, in an instant, the eternal destiny of man was changed. Instead of a future forever spent with God, our NEW NORMAL, our corrupted natural state, was that of hatred with God.  Enmity and animosity towards Him.  We were born as sinners and would die as sinners, having to reap the consequences of our sins forever in Hell.  Unless God would step in, this was our future.  Our destiny. 

 

This is the difficult, stark reality of the first Garden.  But what about the second?

Though it was technically on Golgotha rather than Gethsemane where our propitiation was accomplished - propitiation, the ACTUAL PAYMENT for our sins that makes our declaration of “innocent” and “righteous” actually JUST…

The Garden is a good point of contact, a good point of comparison, because it was in the Garden that we read of our Saviour tempted and distressed and longing to not have to drink the cup of wrath.

In Gethsemane, our Saviour confided in Peter, James and John - My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.

He went a little further, fell on his face and prayed, saying My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.

And later He prayed a second time, My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.

And as He was praying, He was in agony, and His sweat became like great drops of blood, falling to the ground.

 

The first Adam was invited to rebel against God and eat of the one tree that was forbidden.  “Eat the fruit!”

          The final Adam was invited to rebel against God to avoid suffering and pain and misery and death.  “Don’t drink the cup!”

The first Adam gave in and damned all of mankind.

          The final Adam refused to give in and saved…some of mankind.

 

To be sure, to say that we are thankful for the sacrifice and resulting salvation of Christ is an understatement.  We are eternally in awe.  We are eternally grateful.  We will eternally sing to the praise of our Saviour who so selflessly suffered for sinners.  Al that is absolutely true.

But still the question remains: isn’t the trespass greater than the grace?  Didn’t Adam do more harm that Christ did good?

It feels almost blasphemous to ask such a question, but that’s what Scripture lays out, doesn’t it?

Damnation for ALL, salvation for SOME.  The math is clear.

But that’s not what the Apostle Paul is saying here.  There isn’t only one way to measure greatness.  It’s not only about the numbers.  We have to look a little deeper.

There is a parallel between Adam and Christ, and a contrast.  Let’s first look at the parallel.

The physical death that came in Adam has been transformed.  Physical death, instead of a punishment for sin, has become a portal into eternal life.  That is why, when a believer dies in the Lord, we say that he or she was “promoted to glory.”

The spiritual death that came in Adam has been undone.  Though we do not walk and talk with God in the cool of the day, instead, we have His Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, constantly guiding us.

And eternal death - Jesus suffered the horrors of hell to forever close its gates.  Eternal death is not an option for believers.  We will never have to suffer a single second of hellish agony.

That’s the PARALLEL.  That’s Jesus undoing what Adam did.

But what Jesus Christ did was GREATER Paul says.

MUCH MORE is the phrase he uses.  And we see this in several ways, 3 of which we will examine this afternoon.  3 ways that the gift is greater than the curse.

First of all, our redemption, our salvation, this gift is MORE CERTAIN.

Eternal damnation is not God’s ultimate purpose for humanity.  Though He would be completely justified to send each and every one of us to hell, this isn’t His ultimate purpose.  If it was, as soon as Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they would have spiritually died immediately - God would not have come to them asking,

“Where are you?” - a question of grace.  They would have spiritually died immediately, hearing nothing from God ever again.  They would have physically died immediately,

their bodies withering and decaying, breathing their last.  And their physical death would not be a portal to eternal life, but eternal death in hell.

BUT GOD intervened.  If it’s over and grace hasn’t won the day…you can be certain it’s not over.

Salvation and life and grace and love and joy is God’s ultimate purpose for humanity, and He will accomplish His purpose.

 

Secondly, this gift is more POWERFUL.

More powerful than Adam’s sin?  More powerful than damning the whole human race to eternal destruction?  YES.  ABSOLUTELY.  Because where there is sin, where there is damnation, where there seems to be absolutely no hope left…there is a BUT GOD.

The flood seemed to last forever

    BUT GOD remembered Noah (Genesis 8)

Abraham, through his fear and foolish sinful decisions lost his wife to Abimelech.

    BUT GOD came to Abimelech in a dream and made him give back Sarah (Genesis 20)

Laban hated Jacob and cheated him of his wages 

    BUT GOD did not permit Laban to harm him (Genesis 31)

Joseph was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers

    BUT GOD meant it for good (Genesis 50)

And that’s just a few examples in Genesis where the phrase is literally used.

 

But every act of salvation throughout the Bible is a BUT GOD moment.

And can we say the same for Satan?  That every time God shows grace, there is a BUT SATAN and he undoes it?  Certainly not!  NEVER!  Satan can’t undo anything that God has done.  Not permanently.

The power of salvation through Christ is ETERNAL.  We are ETERNALLY justified.  ETERNALLY holy.  ETERNALLY blessed.  The curse of Adam was TEMPORARY.  It only lasted until God acted.

And finally, this gift is just MORE.  This we will examine in our final point.

Jesus Christ is the superior Adam, not just because justification is better than condemnation…not just because life is better than death, and blessing is better than a curse…instead, it is so much more than that.

It’s more CERTAIN, it’s more POWERFUL…and it’s JUST MORE.

What does death BECOME?  What happens after death?  Nothing…death is…death.  It doesn’t produce anything more, it just is.  The curse is the curse, and nothing more.

But eternal life…this justification through Christ…this is just the beginning.  This we see a clue of in verse 17 - THE ABUNDANCE OF GRACE.

This is a reference BACK to what we heard this morning, about the result of faith.  The blessings of peace with God, access to God, joy and rhope in God, and love from God.  It is also a reference to what comes at the end of verse 17 - much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness REIGN IN LIFE through the one man Jesus Christ.

Our eternal life is not going to be spent back in the Garden, restored to Eden.  We hear that phrase, we might long for it: EDEN RESTORED.  To be among the trees of the Garden.  To walk with God in the cool of the day.  To fall asleep in the soft grass and drink from sparkling clear rivers.  It sounds like PARADISE.

But despite what we may THINK, despite what we may have read in Christian books or even children’s Bibles…Eden is never called Paradise.

Only 3 times is this word used in Scripture, and each and every time, our eyes are pointed FORWARDS to the eternal life to come, never BACKWARDS to the Garden.

Though the Garden was SINLESS, though the Garden was GOOD, and mankind was VERY GOOD…it wasn’t paradise.  It wasn’t paradise, and it wasn’t perfect, because it was precarious.  It might fall at any second.  Which, eventually of course, it did.

We might think that would be wonderful, to enter back into the sinless state of Adam and Eve…but what we receive is so much more than that.

Our eternal life isn’t spent in the Garden of God where there is always the potential to fall back into sin…but rather our eternal life will be spent in the city of God, surrounded by trees with leaves for the healing of nations.  With the sparkling river of life that flows from the throne of God.  True paradise, where we will never sin, but instead, where we will reign with Him on His throne.  No longer Gardeners…but Rulers of the universe.

This future is vitally important to our faith.  We must know it.

Faith is knowledge of all of these things.  It is.  How can you have faith in someone, how can you believe in someone when you don’t know anything about him?  We need to have knowledge.

Faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word.

Our hands are open, and they are filled with knowledge.  That’s part of faith.

But the catechism goes on

AT THE SAME TIME, it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me God has granted forgiveness of sins (propitiation), everlasting righteousness (clothed in the robe of Christ, we can enter the throne room), and salvation (fully accomplished in heaven).

Past, present, future ASSURANCE.  Assurance is the most important fruit of our faith as we live in this world.

Now, although we all love assurance, one of you might say to me, “But isn’t this assurance a little…presumptuous?  Isn’t the throughline of being Reformed that we can’t do anything ourselves and that God is totally sovereign?  How can we be incapable, and, at the same time, put all of our assurance in our own faith?  Do we actually think our faith is strong enough to save us?  What about days when my faith is weak and my sin is strong?”

This is a very important hypothetical question to address here before we close.  This is a question that is answered by the catechism, but not for another 16 Lord’s Days.  But you know me, I’m not constrained by things like that.  Turn ahead in the catechism with me to Lord’s Day 23.

We see this exact concern addressed in Question and answer 61.

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

And we can see that there’s already a word in this question that is so easy to misinterpret.  And that’s the word BY.  “Righteous only BY faith.”  This wording is as specific as we would have hoped.  To be fair, it is wording that is used in Scripture as well, but a more accurate translation would have this word always rendered as THROUGH in this context.

The ESV is right on the money when it translates it this way in Ephesians 2:8 - For BY grace you have been saved THROUGH faith.

The “by” refers to the SOURCE of our salvation.  The REASON behind it.

“Through” is the METHOD BY WHICH we RECEIVE that salvation.

 

And this is how the catechism answers this question

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God.  I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

We receive the grace BY FAITH.

We are saved THROUGH FAITH.

And here is the difference between assurance and presumption.

Presumption says: I AM SAVED FOR MY FAITH IS STRONG.

But assurance says: I AM SAVED FOR CHRIST IS STRONG.  I BELIEVE THIS.

___________

Let’s close with a beautiful poem about the real meaning of empty hands

One by one He took them from me,

All the things I valued most.

'Til I was empty-handed,

Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth's highways, grieving,

In my rags and poverty.

Until I heard His voice inviting,

"Lift those empty hands to Me!"

Then I turned my hands toward heaven,

And He filled them with a store

Of His own transcendent riches,

'Til they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended,

With my mind, stupid and dull,

That God will not pour His riches

Into hands already full.

And so, fellow sinners, fellow men and women of faith…turn your hands upwards to heaven.  Turn them upwards in humility, turn them upwards in trust, and in assurance that your open hands will not remain empty hands for long.

AMEN.




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

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