This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Text: Lord’s Day 2 (Q&A 3-5) of the Heidelberg Catechism
Dear people of God,
We have all been to the doctor's office. Hopefully, it’s just for a regular checkup. Otherwise, the reason why you are in the doctor's office is because you are sick. But when you are ill, the doctor is the one you should go to. He's the one who can help you out. He'll take all the necessary kinds of tests to determine the precise reason why you are feeling sick. Once he has made his diagnosis of the problem, he will provide a remedy to counter-act the reason why you are sick. Perhaps a few pills will do the trick. Perhaps the solution is more serious and surgery is required. Whatever the diagnosis, the doctor will try to offer a solution to the sickness that you have. Because that's the goal of going to the doctor's office; it’s to get healthy and feel better once again.
And so going to the doctor's office really involves three things. There is the sickness that needs to be treated. There are the tests to determine what exactly the problem is. And then there's the remedy, which offers the solution to the sickness.
Lord's Day Two is much like going to the doctor's office. It deals with a sickness. It provides a test to precisely diagnosis the seriousness of the problem. It leads to the question: what solution is there to this problem?
But this report from the doctor's office isn't merely dealing with a single individual. It’s dealing with all of humanity. It’s reporting on the general condition of the world. The sickness is serious. Despite the protests of humanity, all the tests show that humanity has a terminal illness. The question remains: Is there any way out?
Today we will hear the report from the doctor's office of the condition of humanity. We look first of all, at the illness. Now we would quickly say that it is sin. And you’ll be right. But sin is one of those words that has lost its impact in society, and even within the church, because of its overuse. What really is sin? There are many different ways of describing sin. The word the catechism uses to describe sin is misery.
But what does that mean? What does this word "misery" describe? Let’s begin by asking: How do we regularly use this word? Sometimes we hear it to describe a child or a baby who is acting up. Say, for example, a baby is brought into church today by her parents. At first, the baby is quietly sleeping. Then she wakes up and begins to cry. And no matter what the parent tries to do--giving her a bottle, offering her a soother, or rocking her back to sleep--nothing works. She continues to cry and be a nuisance to everyone around her. As a result, the baby has to be taken out of the sanctuary. As the parents will explain to others, the baby was being miserable.
Is that what the catechism means by being miserable? Are we like an unhappy baby, who is unable to be quieted down? In some ways, this picture can point us in the right direction. We are like a baby who can't be quieted down, who can't be hushed by the usual pleasures. Like a crying baby, humanity finds itself in a condition that is unsettling. It finds itself in a situation over which it should cry loudly.
But the word misery, as it is used in the catechism, means more than being like a miserable baby. The word misery is a translation of a German word, which literally means to be kicked out of your homeland. It means to be in exile; to be an alien in a strange and foreign land. That's what the word misery is trying to capture. It’s trying to capture the feeling of someone who has been forced to leave home.
Perhaps the boys and girls here can sense a bit of what I am talking about. There are times when you get to spend some time away from home, away from mom and dad. Maybe, you’re spending a week at your grandparents, or with some friends or going off to camp. You were looking forward to being away from home, but after a few days you begin to get homesick. Even though you love your grandparents, or are having fun with your friends, or enjoying the activities at camp, you still miss home. You miss your own bed. You miss your mom and dad. And so when they come to pick you up, you are very happy. Perhaps you got so homesick, they had to pick you up early. That feeling of homesickness is what the word misery is trying to describe.
Those of us who have immigrated from one country to live and work in another country can appreciate this sense of homesickness. Maybe some of us have left whole families behind to come to a new land, with a different language and culture. At times, we miss the friends and family left behind. We miss being able to speak the language we were born and raised with. We miss some of the foods that are no longer readily available in our new place. Uprooting oneself and leaving what was once home is a difficult thing to do.
That's especially true for those who have been forced to leave their homeland. Immigration, after all, is a voluntary act. It is something you can choose to do, even though it may be painful. But now imagine how much more painful and difficult it would be if you were forced to leave your home. You want to stay but you can’t. Millions of people have been kicked out of their homes, forced to become refugees, forced to live in exile.
One famous case is that of Alexander Solzenitsyn. He spoke out against the abuses of the Communist Soviet Union. His writings about the evils of the prison system, led the government to kick him out of the country. He was exiled. Forced to leave his home. He longed to return home. Finally, after the fall of the communist empire, he was able to do so. After many years, his time of exile came to an end.
That's what the word misery is trying to capture. It’s the feeling one has when he is forced to leave home. It’s knowing there is no home to return back to. It’s the lonely ache of being homesick and realizing there is nothing you can do to alleviate the situation. That's what misery is all about.
That's the miserable condition, humanity is in. Humanity is in exile. We’ve been kicked out of our original home. That has been true ever since the day God evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. They were thrown out of Paradise and barred from entering that garden of peace and happiness ever again. We read that story from Genesis 3:22-24.
Humanity has been banished from the presence of God. Ever since the fall, humanity has been in exile. It is because sin made us unworthy of living in Paradise. The pollution of our sin and guilt made it impossible for us to stand before God and expect to live. Because of sin, we have been separated from God. We have become alienated from him. We are now refugees in a cruel and harsh world, where sin and the curse unleash their nasty effects.
That's what it means to be miserable. That's the illness which plagues humanity. Our misery is that we have been separated from God, no longer in full fellowship with him, so that we have been cast out of his presence. We have been exiled from our home with God. That's the sickness.
This leads us to our second point: the test which diagnoses the problem. Now in a doctor's office, a variety of tests will be done in order to confirm the true nature of the illness. That's also the case here. A test is provided to confirm that the true problem of humanity is being separated from God.
For you see, after describing this illness, the response you may get from many people is: you got to be joking. The real problem of humanity is being exiled from God due to my sin and guilt? I don't sense this homesickness from God. I don't seem to miss this home in paradise. If this is the central problem of humanity, why does it seem as if humanity ignores it?
After all, it’s not reported on the evening news. They don't provide in-depth reports about this issue. In fact, these news programs tell me other things are more important. We face problems such as natural disasters, or wars in far off places, the threat of terrorism or the effects of greenhouse emissions on the environment. These are the type of issues the politicians, the media, and the academics deal with.
So how can you say that being exiled from God due to our sin and guilt is the central problem of humanity? How do you know you have identified the right illness? Because we have been given a test or a standard by which to evaluate humanity. Just as a doctor has his tools and his tests to determine the nature of a disease so we have been given a tool or a test to determine the actual condition of humanity. That tool or test is the law of God. That's the yardstick by which we must gauge ourselves.
But immediately we have a problem. We live in a society which has rejected the law of God. Our society rejects the idea that there is a moral order, which applies to all people at all times. Instead, relativism reigns. What is right or wrong depends on the individual person or a culture.
But just because our society rejects the law of God, that does not mean it will not be the standard by which God will judge humanity. A patient may reject the results of an x-ray, and refuse to believe it shows a broken bone. But that doesn't take away the reality that the bone is broken. In the same way, even if people reject the law of God, it remains the standard by which we are judged.
Now the catechism could have used the Ten Commandments to summarize the law of God, but instead it uses the summary of the law. We are to love God and love our neighbor. Love is at the root and heart of the law. The entire will of God must be seen as flowing from that central command to love. A love which is directed first of all to God and which flows from there to our neighbor. Because there can be no true love of neighbor without first of all a love for God. Any expression of love which is not rooted in love for God, is no love at all.
And so this standard of love for God and neighbor is the test to judge the true condition of humanity. Like a thermometer which tells us how warm or cold it is, so the law of love will reveal whether we are full of warmth or whether our hearts are cold.
So when this test is applied, what answer do we find? What is man's natural tendency? What is the condition of humanity, apart from the grace and intervention of God? When left completely on our own, where would each one of us, end up? The catechism confesses that on our own we are not able to keep that law of love; that in fact, we have a natural tendency to hate God and our neighbor. That's how alienated and separated we are from God. That's how miserable we truly are.
But that confession of the catechism is hard to swallow. Hate is such a strong word to use. We may admit that human nature is indifferent to God, that our tendency is to ignore him, or serve other things besides God--but hate him--isn't that too strong of language?
But according to the Bible, to ignore God, to live as if he doesn't exist, is a deep insult to our God. Boys and girls, what would happen if in school, you ignore the teacher and pretend she didn't exist? What if you ignored all the rules and did whatever you wanted? How would your teacher react? She would be angry and upset with you, wouldn't she? That's even truer for God. After all, he is the Creator. We depend upon him for life. To ignore him is really to show a hatred for him.
If you think the catechism is harsh in its judgment, you should remember the words of scripture upon which it is based. Earlier we read from Romans 3. There Paul strings together a series of OT verses which reveal the utter plight of humanity. He quotes, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away.” This is the testimony of scripture concerning the true nature of the human heart.
The law of God reveals the ugly truth. On our own, we do not love God but rebel against him. We do not seek to obey his law, but instead twist the law to suit our own purposes. We do not show love to our neighbor as we ought, but place ourselves and our concerns ahead of others.
The illness has been confirmed by the test. We have been exiled from the presence of God because we cannot keep the law of love. As a result, we have this illness. It is a terminal illness. It is an illness that leads to death—not merely physical death, but a spiritual death—an eternal death. It’s that serious.
Is there any cure to this sickness? The catechism at this point does not mention any cure. A doctor, after giving his diagnosis, will offer his assessment of a cure. At least, the patient would long to hear about a cure. What can be done about the situation?
But the catechism at this point does not mention a cure. But the whole point of revealing our misery; the whole purpose in uncovering our sin is to direct us to a cure. To point us to the savior Jesus Christ. He is the only cure. He alone can bring us out of our exile and bring us back to the promised land of eternal life. He alone can bridge the gap between God and man. Eventually the catechism will lead to that cure.
In the meantime, we need to sit in the doctor’s office and contemplate humanity’s plight. It’s never pleasant to look at the misery of the human condition. There's no joy in considering the extent of sin in the world. But unless, we face the reality of our sin and misery head on; unless we come to terms with the seriousness of this problem, we will never turn to Christ and find in him all what we need. Amen.
Prayer of Response
Father in heaven, we have been to the doctor’s office today. We acknowledge that we sick, that we are in misery. We break the law of love. Forgive us—and lead us graciously to Christ. We thank you that by faith in him we are restored! May we enjoy returning home in your salvation. In Jesus name we pray. Amen!
Order of Worship
GOD CALLS US TO WORSHIP
Call to Worship: Psalm 66: 1-3
Silent Prayer followed by LUYH 526 (2x) “Come, Now is the Time to Worship”
*Prayer for God’s Greeting: “May grace, mercy and peace be ours, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
*Song: LUYH 538 “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty”
WE RENEW OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Prayer of Confession (LUYH 640)
Song of Salvation: LUYH 604 “To God be the Glory”
God’s Will for our Lives (LUYH 722)
Song of Response: LUYH 739 “I Surrender All”
Song: LUYH 755 “Speak, O Lord”
GOD SPEAKS TO US IN HIS WORD
Prayer for Guidance
Scripture: Genesis 3:22-24 and Romans 3:9-20
Text: Lord’s Day 2
Sermon: “In the Doctor’s Office”
Prayer of Application
GOD SENDS US INTO THE WORLD
*Song of Response: LUYH 623:1-4 “God Be Merciful to Me”
*We Confess our Faith: Apostles Creed LUYH 783
*Prayer for God’s Parting Blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
*Doxology: LUYH 927 “God, the Father of Your People”