Sermon delivery by Elder Dennis Dawal
In the past four Vesper sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism, we learned how Scripture points to our sin and misery.
We might ask: “Why do we have to talk about the issue of sin and misery over and over again?”
Since we are already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, can’t we just talk about the grace of God and the daily blessings He showers on His people, like the daily provisions and protections we enjoy. Why don’t we just talk about the promises He has for those who called to belong to Him?
Brothers and sisters, we will not fully grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” if we lose sight of the depth and gravity of our sin.
Even as professing believers, we need constant reminders of who we are before God extended His grace upon us. After all, it is one thing to know the gospel intellectually and another thing to really feel and experience the misery caused by our sins and find relief in the solution God had provided.
To guide our discussion this afternoon, this sermon is divided into two main parts:
- The insufficiency of every human effort to appease God’s wrath.
- The sufficiency of God’s divine effort to solve our dilemma. Let’s begin with the first point:
I. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF EVERY HUMAN EFFORT TO APPEASE GOD’S WRATH
These is something deeply ingrained in the human consciousness – a desire to solve our weaknesses and achieve eternal life. The most brilliant minds in history keep striving to find that cure to sickness, disease, and death; even convincing themselves that science can one day make this world better, and enable humans to overcome their limitations and, possibly, live forever.
But this ingrained desire is just one of the many outcomes of that broken relationship humans had with God after Adam and Eve sinned. When they realized their fellowship with God was broken, when they realized they messed up, they did not run to God and ask for deliverance.
We all know they didn’t.
“Because they chose to disobey, their link to life was gone. The outcome of their fateful choice could never be undone.”
The fellowship was broken. Instead of seeking God’s mercy, they sewed together itchy fig leaves to cover their shame. And since then, people have been inventing different ways to make themselves feel okay with God. Some would deprive themselves of earthly pleasure and flagellate their bodies just to get rid of their indwelling sin. Others would invent beliefs systems that meet their interests, mostly revolving around puny gods that either practice the same sins humans commit or have no problem turning a blind eye to the sins of their devout followers.
Many would try every means to hide their sins and save their reputation. They would put up a front, portray an appearance of morality, or sincerity, or eagerness, or a form of intellectual skill, that people around them will admire. But deep inside their souls, in the depths of their person where only God sees, sin has taken bondage of their will.
Of course, God did not leave humankind without guidance. After the fall, God still listened to the prayers of His people, provided that they offer a sacrifice. They have to kill an animal, mostly a goat or a ram, and offer worship to the Most High.
But in many OT passages, it is clear that even the best sacrifices can never satisfy God.
In Psalm 40:6-8, King David said “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
This gist of this verse is that no amount of sacrifice and burnt offering can satisfy God. What satisfies God is the work of the person who delights to do God’s will and in whose heart the law
of God is implanted. The phrase, “your law is within my heart” means this person is saturated by the law that everything he thinks about and does is pure righteousness.
Obviously, King David was not that person. None of us can be that person. Why?
- Our best efforts always fall short of God’s righteousness. In Psalm 40:11, King David cries, “As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! 12For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than
the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.”
King David is aware of his sinfulness. Most of the time, he disobeyed the law of God. Therefore, he knew he can only rely on God mercy, and not on his own merit.
Now, does this mean everything humans do are evil and devoid of anything good? This is a tricky question. To be clear, we are not saying that people cannot do good like help a neighbor, rescue a dog, share food to the hungry, or even fight for the rights of the oppressed. People can do that. People can even live a moral and ethical life.
But when it comes to our standing before God, the question is whether or not these good deeds can satisfy what God requires?
In the NT, Paul reaffirms this. In Romans 3:23, he says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We fall short. We can do what is good and moral. We can be a good neighbor, a good spouse, a good child, a good parent, a good employee.
But whether we like it or not, our exercise of goodness is still tainted with sin. Unless the Holy Spirit regenerates the human heart, it is corrupted with self-interest, greed, and the every desire to glorify the self instead of God.
In other words, our best effort always lack in the perfect goodness and righteousness God requires.
- Our best pursuits of righteousness never last. Aside from the fact that our best efforts always fall short of God’s righteousness, our best pursuits of righteousness never last. I’m sure you have one of those days when you had a good sleep and woke up early just to have time to pray and meditate on God’s word. You left your house for work in a good
mood thinking that you are starting to live up to the standards of God’s word. You get into the car and drove off. But in just a few minutes, someone cuts you in your lane. For sure, at that moment, everything righteous in our minds get replaced by sinful thoughts.
Our best pursuits of righteousness never last. Heidelberg Catechism Question 13 asks if we can pay our debts before God. The answer is clear: “Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.”
That is why the psalmist in Psalm 130:3 asks: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Indeed, if God were to count all the sins we commit in a day since the time were became conscious of God’s moral law, and perhaps balance it with the righteous acts we perform, we have literally nothing to present to God as merit.
- Our best natural resources cannot deliver us from His judgment. Aside from the fact that our best efforts always fall short of God’s righteousness and our best pursuits of righteousness never last, our natural resources cannot deliver us from His judgment.
When King David and Bathsheba sinned, no amount of David’s kingly influence could prevent God exposing and punishing his sin. No amount of David’s kingly power could keep God from taking the life of their child, from punishing his family, and from sending pestilence upon Israel.
King David was the richest and most powerful man in Israel during his time. He could have offered hundreds or thousands of sheep and rams every day to pay for his sins. But none of these really matter. On one hand, we cannot give anything because he owns everything. In Psalm 50:9-12, God tells the people of Israel, “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.
On the other hand, no creature on earth can bear the wrath of God against the sins of humankind.
Question 14 asks, “Can any mere creature pay for us?” The answer is No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.” Nothing temporal can stand as the eternal remedy for our misery.
Nothing in us and from us can save us from God’s judgement against our sins. The Bible says we were enemies of God, dead in our transgression, and doomed to destruction. We were running that hell-bound race, as rebels indifferent to His grace.
We were born under the curse of sin, both due to the original sin and because of the actual sins we commit every day.
Because God is just, He cannot let sin go unpunished.
Unfortunately, the only solution there is to pacify God’s anger is far beyond any human means. Because sin is an affront against the perfect and everlasting God, the solution should also be perfect and everlasting.
Brothers, this puts all human beings in a hopeless and helpless predicament.
On our own, there is no way to escape God’s punishment for sins. Our gravest problem is not our sins itself. Our ugliest crisis is not the wickedness of this world. Our worst problem is not the devil. Our first and foremost problem is that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God.
There is no way for us gain entry again into the presence and favor of God. As we learned in Heidelberg Lord’s Day 4, “God’s 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.”
This is our misery. We need someone to save us from God Himself. This is our great dilemma. But praise be to God!
King David in Psalm 40 was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, prophesying about a future when one person will come to fulfill the will God and satisfy the requirements of God’s law.
This leads us to the second point in our brief sermon:
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF GOD’S DIVINE WORK TO SOLVE OUR GREAT DILEMMA.
In Hebrews 10:1-4, the author explains that the sacrifices offered during the Old Testament are just a “shadow” of the “true form of these realities.” The authors referred to the sacrifice during the Day of Atonement, which the high priest performs every year.
Based on Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement was a day of national cleansing. No one worked, played, or did their normal daily activities. Everyone fasted, prayed, and mourned for their sins.
Now, before the high priest perform his duty in the Most Holy Place as the representative of the people, he must first offer a young bull for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering. These are offerings needed to cleanse his sin.
After that, he will take two male goats and cast lots to determine which goat is to be sacrificed as a sin offering for the people and which goat is to be released in the wilderness as a scapegoat.
The blood of the goat was chosen as a sacrifice will be sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering to consecrate it from the sins of the people.
Then the high priest will put his hands on the head of the live goat and confess all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites. This scapegoat will carry the sins of the people for as long as it is alive.
Hebrews 10:1 says these sacrifices “could never…make perfect those who draw near.” Hebrews 10:11 states: “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
For if they did, if the blood of animals could cleanse the people from their sins, there was no need to make these sacrifices every year. But it was a beautiful picture of how God will one day solve this great dilemma and redeem His people from their sins. How did this happen.
Christ’s work met God’s standard of righteousness.
Question 15 asks, “What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?” The answer: “One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.”
The writer of Hebrews tells us only Christ was able to fulfill David’s prophecy in Psalm 40. Only Christ was able to do the will of God perfectly and gain God’s delight. Now, what was the purpose of the second Person of the Godhead coming as man and living a perfect life?
Hebrews 10:8: When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.”
It was to put an end to the ceremonial practices of the Mosaic Law and establish a new covenant where we pitiful sinners can depend on that only sacrifice that pleases God. Only Christ’s work satisfied God’s standards of righteousness.
Now, there is another element to Christ work that makes is sufficient to solve our dilemma.
Christ’s righteousness is eternal.
Think of this. What if the benefit of the righteousness Christ performed as the God-man was only as good as his three-year stint on earth? What if it is only as good as a decade? Or a century?
Will His righteousness matter if it only lasts for a period of time?
Brothers and sisters, we need a representative before God who can be our mediator for eternity.
Praise be to God, by Christ’s work, by His will, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Once and for all!
Christ’s divine resources perpetually answered our need for salvation.
The purpose of the sacrificial system was to remind the people every year of their sins. It was to show them their status before God. The Law was given so God’s people would be made aware of their inability to fulfill God’s righteous standards and drive them to seek refuge in God’s divine resources.
No resource on earth can save us from God’s wrath. Only God’s divine means can save us from His wrath. And that divine means, that divine resource, is no other than Christ himself.
Hebrews 10:12-14 says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
This passage tells that for the elect, Christ’s sacrifice had a three-fold objective. First, it was to pay for our sins. To clear us from our debts. Second, it was meant to make us perfect before God. Not by our own righteousness but Christ’s righteousness. Whenever we stand before God in prayer and worship, it is not our merits that He sees. No. It is the merits of Christ that make us worthy to stand before the presence of the thrice Holy God.
But there is a third. Christ’s righteousness paved the way for our sanctification. Sanctification means being set apart. Those God called to salvation are set apart for His purposes. We were removed from the wide road that leads to destruction and placed in that narrow road that leads to life. But this narrow road is hard. It is tough because it is part of our sanctification. It can also be uncertain. But it will certainly lead to our glorification.
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION
1. Admonition for believers
These points should draw us to our knees before the LORD in gratitude. As believers, our only hope, our only source of refuge is the merits of Christ. We will fail time and time again. We will fall short of God’s standards of righteousness. But praise be to God. He does not treat us according to our sins if we are in Christ. Our Chief High Priest is perfect. He is eternal. He has unlimited resources. His love and forgiveness is unquenchable. Unfortunately, we often forget to thank God for this. Yes, we thank Him for the food on the table, for the material blessings we receive. For the happiness we experience perhaps at work or in our family. But when we the last time that we thanked Him for forgiving our sins because of Christ Jesus?
When we lose sight of God’s eternal blessings, we gradually become materialistic and end up perceiving God as good only when we get what we want. He is good only when life is good.
Then this attitude affect our homes. I’ll give an example that’s very dear to my heart. Many parents today forget to teach their children about the gospel and instead rear them up like what most parents in this world do. In 1 John 2:15-17, the Bible says:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. us not to love the world and anything in the world, We prioritize the things of this world, spend majority of our free time enjoying the pleasures of this world, even though we are neglecting our God-given duty to guard our homes from the influence of this world.”
What standards are we asking them to meet and strive to fulfill? Is this how God wants us to build our homes?
If we are not careful, we can end up influencing or driving our kids to meet the standards of this world, which is mostly defined by money and more money, by fame and more fame. God forbid that years from now we will scratch our head confused that the children under our care are lovers of this world. I know we cannot convert them. But it does not mean we should neglect our daily duty to teach them the word of God. Even if your children are already old, don’t stop with reminding them the gospel until your very last breath!
Press on, dear brother and sister. Press on. His mercies are sufficient. His favor is sufficient. His preserving grace is sufficient. The LORD is near!
“Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19-25).
- Admonition to the hardheaded and those who persist in unbelief. The author of Hebrews did not just write to encourage the persecuted church. He also warns those who profess keep on sinning even after receiving the knowledge of the truth.
Hebrews 10:13 warns the believe that Christ is for that time when “his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
Hebrews 10:26-31: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Yes, only God knows if our hearts are converted or not, if it is repentant or not. But do we see the warnings of Scripture against unbelief? Do we take this seriously? If powerful man with ties to the underground world tells us he will come to our house and destroy it, should we take his threats lightly?
One little compromise leads to another compromise, and so on and so forth. One act of hardheadedness will lead to more hardheadedness. It will be foolish for us to take God’s warnings lightly because it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. By God’s mercy, may we not be among those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls!
Brothers and sisters, every human effort to appease God’s wrath is insufficient because our best efforts always fall short of God’s righteousness. Our best pursuits of righteousness never last.
And our best natural resources cannot deliver us from His judgment.
But praise God because His divine work to solve our misery and great dilemma is sufficient. Christ’s work met God’s standard of righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is eternal. And Christ’s divine resources perpetually answered our need for salvation.
The gospel is plain and clear. There is only one divine solution to sin and its penalty – the work of Christ. Yes, the unbelieving will remain hardened and unrepentant. If any of us hears God’s voice let us not harden our hearts.