Today we speak about the justice and mercy of God as they meet in Christ. There is nowhere better to look to discover height of Gods justice and the depth of his mercy then at the cross. For there, the full justice of God is poured out upon the Son, so that from the Son may flow a river off mercy. You will also notice before we start how all these doctrines are again interrelated. In the very first article we confessed “God is perfectly… just.” Then in the last few articles we leaned about the incarnation. Why was that important? Because of God is just he must punish man for the sins that man committed. Then we learned about the two natures? Why is that important because he cannot bear the infinite Gods eternal just wrath except if he is divine, and it would not be just wrath if he were not human. And so now we come to that justice and mercy of God in Christ which is possible because of the doctrine of the incarnation, and the two natures of Christ.
He stood in the breach as the flood waters of Gods wrath were emptied upon him. The waters that covered the earth in the days of Noah, the waters that covered the Egyptians as Israel crossed the red sea, were symbolic of what Jesus underwent on the cross. Those waters flowed over him in wave upon wave of the deepest spiritual, mental, and physical agony ever experienced. So that we might enjoy the highest joys possible in the presence of a perfect holy Father. All because of Jesus. All because of the cross.
As we read in the key sentence in Article 20, “God therefore manifested his justice against his Son when he laid our iniquity on him, and poured our his goodness and mercy on us, who were guilty and worthy of eternal damnation.”
The Justice and mercy of God meet only In Christ.
He receives what we deserve: Gods righteous judgement
We receive what we do not deserve: Mercy
He receives what we deserve
Sin deserve death. And Sin is death in a sense, because it leads to destruction and decay. It leads to darkness, and hopelessness. It is a total separation and rejection of God. God himself says to Adam and Eve in the garden, that in the day that you eat of it you die. Sin means the end of humanity. It means death. And with death everything – life, joy, development, work, the possibility of repentance and forgiveness, and restoration with communion with God would cease all at once. All sin deserves death in its totality and fullness.
Sin is rebellion against God. It is unbelief. That is what sin is at its heart. It is saying, “God I do not believe you when you say your way is best. I do not think you know what you are talking about. I Think you are wrong. It’s my life. I know what’s best, not you God, and I know what I am talking about.” It is us in full view of God shaking our fist and pretending that he does not exist. Or that he does, and we don’t care at all.
And can a holy God look upon sin? Can a perfect person abide depravity? Think of how even a good person recoils and feels a burning self-righteous anger at the sins of a man like Hitler or Stalin, or a serial killer! Even we humans who are ourselves sinners have a visceral reaction against sin. How much more the perfect holy infinite God. As Psalm 7 says, “God is angry with the wicked every day.” Or Habakkuk 1, “Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.”
Indeed, God is perfectly pure, and infinitely righteous. Therefore, as we confess in Heidelberg catechism Lords 4, “His 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.” Or as Revelation describes in such terrifying language for those that do not obey God, “He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
God is righteous. He will punish every sin that has ever been committed as it deserves. He cannot simply look the other way otherwise he would not be righteous. As Psalm 130 says, “If you Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand!?” what does that mean? Does that mean, because God is just all is hopeless? It would, if we believed that God was not also gracious. As Psalm 130 goes on, “but with you there is forgiveness… with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him there is plentiful redemption.” With God there is hope! Not in us! But in Him! In Him alone! He receives all the credit!
What a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?! Thanks be to Jesus Christ our Lord.
NO WHERE ELSE! BUT CHRIST ALONE! Your riches won’t save you, “Proverbs 11:4 “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” And don’t bet on a righteousness that comes from within you. As Isaiah says, “But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
We are by nature inclined to sin, and children of wrath – it must come from without. He God must punish another for our sins.
That is what is so beautiful about the title of article 20: God’s righteousness (not ours) and mercy in Christ! How did Jesus become our righteousness? By taking on our human nature, doing for us what Adam failed to do. Or as the confession Article 20 states it, “we believe that God…sent his Son to assume that nature, in which the disobedience had been committed. To make satisfaction in that same nature, and to bear the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.”
Sin deserves eternal wrath. All mankind has sinned in Adam. All mankind deserves the eternal cup of Gods wrath. But the eternal God sent his son to take on Adams flesh so that he might take their sin upon him and might cloth them in his righteousness. Gods infinite wrath was poured out on Jesus. God manifested his justice against his son when he laid our Sin on him.
Or as Paul says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Here in one line we have the justice and mercy of God. On the one hand God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. That is justice. So that we might become the righteousness of God. That is mercy.
My Sin. Every rebellious act. Thought. Word. Dead. Deserved eternal wrath. Death. Suffering. Pain. And worse separation from God the Father. And Jesus came and said, I will take it just punishment for it. So, what did God do? As Isaiah says, “God laid on him the iniquities of us all!” Justice has been paid! But there is more! Not only does our sin get applied to him, but his righteousness is ours and so we receive what Adam never got – eternal life, immortality goodness, and mercy.
We receive what we do not deserve
Sinners receive Mercy in Christ and judgement outside of him! There is nowhere else where mercy and justice meet except in Jesus!
Yes, God is merciful to the wicked every day in sending rain, in giving food, life health, and everything else. But if they do not repent and believe in Christ even that mercy only serves to condemn them as they enjoy the gifts without honoring the giver. There is no mercy. No grace. Outside of Jesus. All who are outside of Christ life under the law and will be judged under the law. Therefore, the world so desperately needs the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! For he is coming, not to save the world, as he did the first time, but to judge the world! And what a terrible day it will be for those who do not believe.
As Revelation says, “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Who can withstand it? Those who are in Christ. Only in him is there safety and security from the wrath of God. We run from the wrath of God, by running to God in Jesus and there find that his wrath and mercy meet. It’s as if the cross of Jesus stands between us and God. We stand behind it. God wrath is poured out on him, as we shelter in his shadow, and hear the words, it is finished! There is nowhere else where we can run from the wrath of God, except to the righteousness that is revealed by God in Christ Jesus.
You see in Christ we have a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. In Him we have a righteousness that is not our own, and we can come before God and commune with him and not be destroyed. He does not treat us as our sins deserve but removes them as far as the east is from the west, because the punishment that our sins deserved were put on Christ. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might be the righteousness of God! So God looks at you as justified. As if you had never nor will ever commit any sin. It is as if you are already perfect, as if you are already seated in the heavenly place! O what amazing grace! We are not treated as our sin’s deserver, and we receive more then what we deserve. In and only through Christ.
O how he suffered on the great day of Gods wrath on Golgotha, as the cry rang out my God my God why have you forsaken me?! That was the day of Gods wrath for all who believe in God. Now there is no more wrath. No more judgement. Only grace and mercy for those who are in him. Only life immortal and perfect communion with the holy, holy God. I love that last line, “Out of a most perfect love he gave his Son to die for us and he raised him for our justification that through him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.” Life eternal. Immortality. Living our short human lives on this sinful earth we cannot even begin to fathom what those words mean. They are the words of science fiction, and fairy tale. But we believe they are true. In Christ we have been made righteous, and that means the opposite of death. We are given life, and immortality. In other words, we CANNOT die, it is impossible to die for a Christian as it is impossible to die for Christ.
So, to sum up. What does sinners deserve? Death. Eternally, and separation form God. What do sinners receive in Christ? Life. Eternally, and communion with God? What made it possible. The eternal one who was life himself entered into this world, to experience separation from God, and die the death we were meant to die!
Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.
This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us,
Took the blame, bore the wrath:
We stand forgiven at the cross.
Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin;
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.
Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death,
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.
This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
So, the call goes out today! There is a safe place for the worst of sinners. There is a place where we might be healed, it is by acknowledging our sin, bowing the knee to Christ and worshipping him for his word. As Psalm 2 puts it, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Where justice is meted out, and mercy if provided.