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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The law of God gives us some really bad news
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Law Exposes our Sinful Nature

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-4
Hymn 1A
Psalm 78:1-3
Hymn 24:4
Psalm 48

Readings:  Isaiah 64:1-12, Romans 7:1-12
Text:  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 caused many accidents in aviation.  It was also the cause of this particular accident in 2007 off the coast of Florida.  Normally pilots of small aircraft have to make sure that there's no water in their fuel.  Condensation can take place inside fuel tanks and this water can get in the fuel and then cause the engine to quit.  The pilot in this situation didn’t bother to check if his fuel was contaminated.  As he was flying over the Gulf of Mexico, the engine suddenly quit and he was forced to ditch.  Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t survive.


Now why did that man die?  He died because he didn’t know that there was a problem with his aircraft.  If he’d known that there was water in his fuel, he’d probably never have gone out over the Gulf waters.  He could have been saved.  Knowledge would have made all the difference.  If he’d only known the bad news about his aircraft, the man might still be alive today. 


It’s the same with us as we face a holy and just God.  Left to ourselves, we are in serious trouble.  And while we know deep down that we are to be judged by a holy God -- we deceive ourselves into thinking it will be okay.  We tell ourselves that 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 that there is a problem, then we might also be led to look for a solution.  Following the teaching of Scripture, the 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, loved ones, the 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 gives us some really bad news.  As we do this, we’ll consider the function of the law, the focus of the law, and 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?  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, “Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law.”


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 speaks about the law and the Jews.  He also speaks about the law and the Gentiles.  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 is God’s standard for righteousness and justice.  And while it is written on the hearts of all men, 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 he reveals that when these things are not done, 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 as the rule for our thankfulness.  But here in Lord’s Day 2 and in Romans 7, it is something different.  It has a negative function.  Here the law condemns.  Here the law tells us what God wants people to do, how to live, how to think, how to speak.  If you don’t do what he says, then there is 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 cannot do what God commands, in fact we so often do the opposite.  So 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 have been alienated from God, 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 – 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.  Are we not prone to self-satisfaction and laziness?  Do we not quickly forget our need for a Saviour?  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’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 dump something that repeatedly brings you to the cross?  Brothers and sisters, this is part and parcel of the divinely appointed means of grace that we cannot do without.  We cannot do without it anymore than the book of Romans could do without its first three chapters. 


Now I realize that 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 is 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 is a cliché about familiarity and contempt, but keep in mind that if you are being contemptuous of the Ten Commandments, you are 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, this is 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 very 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 that the Catechism would at this point introduce the Ten Commandments, but instead the authors chose to use the words of the 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 the 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 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 that they’ve kept God’s law had better think carefully about the 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 that 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 is the most important question.  And by putting that to us, the Lord Jesus shows us that the demands of God’s law, while simple, are also very deep.


In saying these words, the Lord Jesus also showed us that it is impossible 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, the 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 cannot fulfill God’s law.  God wants perfect love and we have nothing to give.

And here we have to be thinking of our own sins and shortcomings.  We have to know that our own tendency or inclination is to hate.  Brothers and sisters, the Bible teaches us this very vividly in passages like the one we read from Isaiah 64.  There we read Isaiah’s very honest assessment of what he and others among God’s people are really like.  One of the most stunning acknowledgements of human depravity is found in verse 6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”  God’s Word speaks here of our “righteous acts.”  These are the things that 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 that they’re like filthy rags.  All our so-called righteous acts are like cloths stained with disgusting filth.  Why are we disgusting?  Because we cannot please God by perfectly keeping his law.  We cannot perfectly love God and our neighbour – and so in ourselves we are not fit to stand in God’s sight.  We are 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, a poll stated that 95% of Canadians believe themselves to be morally and ethically upstanding.  But 42% of the respondents said that they wouldn’t have an issue with lying to get ahead in their career.  For many people, the issue is not whether it is right or wrong, but whether they can get away with it.       


And so the Catechism doesn’t go too far when it says that we are by nature inclined to hate God and our neighbour.  When it says “inclined,” it means that we head in that direction.  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 civil good in the world.  Unbelievers can love their spouses and children deeply and they can love others too.  Unbelievers can make good, true and beautiful art and music.  Through God’s restraint and through his gifts, unbelievers are not as bad as they possibly can be and neither are we. 


We confess rather that Scripture teaches that we are inclined to hate God and our neighbour.  That means that we often do that.  Especially apart from Christ and his redemptive work, we often move 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. 


The 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 is 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 the Lord Jesus.  Only he can save.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  AMEN.                

* 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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