No Condemnation! It Is Christ That Died!


Message title: No Condemnation, It Is Christ That Died! Romans 8:33,34
Broadcast date: August 28, 2022 (No. 4156)
Raio speaker: Rev. Carl Haak, Georgetown PRC

Dear radio friends,


        Romans, chapter 8, is one of the most cherished passages in the entire Bible.  Especially verses 28-39 are much loved.  That passage, perhaps, is well-known to you.  It begins with the words, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” and it concludes with the persuasion that each believer has that there is nothing that can ever “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We must be clear on God’s purpose in these verses.  What is the intent of this wonderful section?  The answer is that God’s purpose is that you and I, as His children, be unshakably sure that we have a rock-like certainty of our salvation, in order that we might be able to suffer well in the path of obedience to Jesus Christ.

        The apostle intends to build in our hearts a security and unshakable assurance so that we might have help when we are called to suffer well in the path of obedience to Jesus Christ.  Beginning in verse 28 we are given the assurance that everything works together for good to those who are called according to God’s grace and mercy.  In verses 29 and 30, the apostle went on to say that we have been freely predestinated to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and that all those predestinated will also be called, justified, and glorified.  He has driven the assurance of our salvation into the rock of God’s sovereign and eternal predestination.

        He went on in verses 31 and 32 to teach us that no one can successfully be against us, for God has given His own Son unto our death and hell, and therefore we have the assurance that God will give us all things necessary with Christ.  In verses 33 and 34 that we look at today, he goes on to say that no one can lay a charge against us in heaven or on earth, since it is Christ that died, arose, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and now intercedes for us.  No one, therefore, can condemn us.

        And God’s purpose in all of this, in telling us this spectacular and breathtaking truth, is that we be filled with assurance, so that when verse 35 comes, we might be able to endure.  Verse 35 reads:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  Clearly, God’s purpose is not that we escape the difficulties and trials and evils of this life, but that we triumph through them.  And that is the point of the passage—to assure us of the massive love of Christ and the gracious certainty of our salvation.

        It may be an undiagnosable illness that has left you on your back.  It may be the loss of a job.  It may be fear of cancer.  It may be a financial squeeze or a burden of heart, of every different shape.  There is, for a child of God, no escape from these things.  But there is triumph through them.  The intention of the apostle is to build in us a rock-like assurance in order that when suffering comes we may suffer well, in the name of Christ, and stay ourselves in the path of obedience.  God’s purpose is to deepen and make unshakable our assurance in Christ, so that we will suffer well in the path of obedience to Jesus Christ.

        These things will come—these sufferings, these difficulties, these trials.  They will surely come.  But when they come, based upon this assurance that is in Jesus Christ, they shall not remove us from our certainty.  But we shall be able to triumph through them.

        This is the point, then:  Security in Christ, standing upon the unshakable certainty of our salvation by grace, gives us the grace to suffer well, not to sin easily, not to sin indifferently.  The certainty of salvation is not a bullet-proof vest that makes it possible for us to put ourselves into sinful ways with impunity, to party, drink, swear, live with bitterness in our hearts and unforgiveness.  No!  Do not say to the certainty of our salvation, “Oh, good.  So, in addition to living the American dream of wealth, possessions, and the life of the world, I can also have heaven!  So many in the church have a faith like that.  And it is a faith that is spawned of the devil.  It will not stand.

        We are saved.  We have the absolute certainty of our salvation, in order that we might suffer well for the sake of Christ, and continue in the path of obedience.

        In verses 33 and 34 of Romans 8, the apostle is asking questions.  He is on the attack.  He is challenging every opponent of his salvation.  We have a sense of his boldness and fearlessness.  “Who is he that condemneth?  It is Christ that died….  Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God that justifieth.”  He gives questions but he intends us to furnish the answers.  He expects the answers to be obvious.  He wants to draw us into this.  He wants us to be engaged.

        Notice these questions.  Both of them deal with the issue of our justification before God.  Both of them are asking the question:  “Is there anything or anyone out there who can stand up before God and say that there is yet guilt, guilt of our sins before Him?”  “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?”  “Who is he that condemneth?”  Can anyone bring a suit, can anyone charge the supreme court of God, can anyone come and say, “There is yet unforgiven sin that belongs to us”?  Who is he that condemneth?  Who is he that shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  So the questions deal with the reality of our justification before God.  They are intended to emphasize and underscore that we have been justified in the precious work of Jesus Christ.  And there is nothing that can be found to condemn us before the presence of God.

        Notice with me also that, in the question, the focus is on the one who has justified us.  We read:  “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God that justifieth.”  Then we read, “Who is he that condemneth?  It is Christ that died.”  The emphasis falls upon the One who has done this work for us.  It is God.  It is Christ.  The effect, then, of the challenge is this:  Universe, and all inhabitants, all humanity, Satan, demons, all who would stand up before God to condemn, who among you can possibly condemn us, for it is God, it is Christ, who has justified us?

        We must listen very carefully to this.  There are many voices that will arise also within us to condemn us, to indict us, and to say that we cannot possibly be forgiven and be a child of God.  We look at the testimony of our own conscience, as the Holy Spirit works within us and we see much sin.  And then there is the Devil.  And no doubt the apostle Paul has the Devil in mind. Sometimes we are not even aware that we are being oppressed by Satan in our thoughts, in our feelings.  We might be performing a mindless task and suddenly Satan is at work, not just tempting, but trying to infiltrate our thinking, and oppressing us, and saying, “But look at yourself.  How can it possibly be true that you are saved, that Christ would love you, that your sins are forgiven?”  And the apostle, the Holy Spirit in this Scripture, means to teach us that we must get blunt with the Devil, that we must be bold, that we must be courageous.  We must say, “Listen here, Devil, little Satan.  You are bringing a charge against me?  You are pointing out how it is impossible for me to be forgiven?  It is God, it is Christ.  God has pronounced my pardon and my righteousness in the blood of Christ.  It is a settled matter before God.  You could stir up the whole world to kill me.  But God has declared me righteous and justified.”

        The apostle points us to Christ’s triumph as the reason why no one can condemn us.  Notice, there are four aspects here of the work of Christ in verse 34.  Those four aspects of the work of Jesus Christ are His death, His resurrection, His being seated at the right hand of God, and then, at last, His presence there of making intercession for us.  We read:  “Who is he that condemneth?  It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”

        Now any one of those works of Jesus Christ would be enough to establish that there is no condemnation for us.  All four of them make it massive.  And note with me that they are arranged in a certain order—that the one that is given after each one is yet greater than the one before.  “Who is he that condemneth?  It is Christ that died.”  Can there be anything more important than that?  Well, the apostle says, “Yea, rather,” even more, “that is risen again.”  The resurrection is even more clear in its proof that there is no condemnation.  And then we would say, “We cannot imagine anything greater for us than that Jesus arose from the dead.”  Up from the grave He arose! we sing.  But Paul says, “Who is even at the right hand of God!”  And then we would say, “Well, how can anything be added to that?  Our crucified, risen Savior is at the right hand of God controlling all things, therefore there can be nothing that can be against me or condemn me.  Nothing can add to that.”  And the apostle says, “Who also maketh intercession for us.”  All of these things, now, are building.  And all of them combined prove beyond any doubt that there is no possibility of condemnation against the child of God.

        And then, I want you to notice that in all of these things the focus is on Christ.  We have the list here of the mighty deeds of Jesus Christ by which He has triumphed over our sin and condemnation. It is Christ.  These words imply a personal knowledge of faith in Him.  These words imply the wondrous grace of God whereby we have been united to Jesus Christ by a true and living faith, that we believe in Him, that we know Him.  And, looking to Him and His matchless work, we say there is no condemnation for us before God.

        Let us look at those four wonderful works, if only briefly.

        It is Christ that died.  We see Him, by faith, crucified upon Calvary’s cross.  We see the crown of thorns upon His head.  We see His back raw and bloody.  We see Him descending down into the bowels of death.  We see the cross as the platform from which He stepped out into the eternity of God’s wrath, into the darkness and torment of eternal punishment that our sin deserved.  Paul’s words imply His perfect and amazing willingness.  We read, “He gave himself.”  Literally, we read, “He gave himself to death.”  He did not get caught up in a tragic train of events.  He was not simply swept along to the cross. He gave Himself to all of these things, willingly, sacrificially.  He said in John 10:18, “I lay down my life.  No man takes it from me.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”  Deliberately, knowing all for whom He would suffer, He gave Himself willingly.  And He did so because of the eternal love of God (Rom. 5:8):  “But God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

        Then we read of the resurrection:  “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.”  Is risen again means that God raised Him.  He died willingly.  Yea, rather, He is raised by God.  He is raised by (Rom. 6:4) the glory of God the Father.  It means that the Father looked upon the grave of His Son.  And what did the Father feel?  He felt satisfaction in what His Son had achieved upon the cross.  He saw His Son’s work upon the cross as a perfect work.  He saw that guilt and curse and judgment had been forever removed through His sacrificial sin-bearing.  And God raised Him up.  God said, “Well done.  It is over.  It is finished.  You are worthy of life as the Head of the church.  You do not belong in the grave.  Rise up, My Son!”

        Then we read, “It is Christ who died, who is risen, who is even at the right hand of God.”  That means that He was brought by God personally to the place of absolute authority and power.  All His enemies have been subdued beneath His feet (Eph. 1:21).  He has been crowned with glory and honor; angels, principalities, and powers being made subject to Him (I Pet. 3:21).  Jesus rules.  We talk of health-care, the Middle East, the economy, cancer, nerve endings, gall-bladders, special needs children.  Jesus rules.  Rules over all things for the good of the church.

        And then, number four:  It is Christ who also maketh intercession for us.  This Christ that died was raised by God the Father.  Now, at the right hand of God, it is Jesus who rules over all things.  And He makes intercession for us.  We might ask, “Now if all the work of our salvation is done upon the cross and in the resurrection, why do we need an intercessor?”  The answer is that today, and every day, a glorious moment happens.  Jesus does something for us.  He does not add to the ground of our salvation. He does not reappear upon the earth in order to suffer so that we might have salvation.  He does not try to enhance that salvation. But everyday Jesus presents a perfect salvation, accomplished once in His cross and resurrection, before the Father, as being complete.  And God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit smile.

        Then there is a cry of a child of God on the earth.  And in an instant, on eagle’s wings, grace is given to everyone who cries to God in the blood of Jesus Christ.  This is very personal.  Paul says, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?”  Are you one of the elect?  Paul says in verse 34, “Who also maketh intercession for us.”  Are you one of the “us”?  It is by grace through faith.  And faith in Jesus Christ cherishes these words of God.  Faith loves the work of Christ.  Faith lives in the work of Christ.  Faith trusts the work of Christ.  And faith is ready, ready now, to obey, to follow Christ, and to suffer well in obedience to Christ.

        In faith, hearing what God has done, I can lie down in sleep and rest in the midst of trial and sorrow, pain and uncertainty, doubt and fear, and I can say, “If God be for me, who can be against me?”

        I have read, recently, of a pastor who wrote of his experience when a member of his congregation committed suicide.  The man who committed suicide was a family-man with four children and a wife.  And the pastor asked himself, “What possessed this man to do such a thing?”  And after much prayer and struggle, he came to the answer that it was not what possessed the man that caused him to take his life.  But it was what he did not possess, what he did not apprehend.  He did not apprehend all that God is for us in Christ.

        This is why you were created.  This is what it means to live.  To know God and to enjoy Him forever, to know God’s deep, deep love in Jesus that has justified us in His presence.  To know all that is in Christ, by grace alone, is given to us in order that now we may go and we may obey and we may suffer well in the path of obedience, in the perfect security that is in Christ.

        Let us pray.

        Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word.  We pray that it may be bound this day upon our heart.  In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.


Building with Sword and Trowel


Message title: Building with Sword and Trowel, Nehemiah 4
Broadcast date: August 1, 2021 (No. 4100)
Radio speaker: Rev. Carl Haak

Dear radio friends,


         In the last weeks we have been following Nehemiah, the man who returned to Jerusalem to build the walls of the city of God.  With Nehemiah, we have seen that we too, as believers, are called in the same work.

        What are the walls of Zion?  They refer to everything that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh would want to be torn down in the Christian life.  Building the walls of Zion refers to the gathering, defending, and preserving of the church of Jesus Christ by the preaching of God’s Word.  Building the walls of Zion refers to a faithful life with respect to the truth of God, a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, a life of fellowship with the saints.  The walls of Zion are godly marriages and godly families that flow from those marriages.  The walls of Zion are the personal lives of holiness to be built up in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

        Now, no sooner had Nehemiah begun to build the walls of Jerusalem in earnest and to show that he had not come to talk but to work, than also his problems began in earnest—opposition that dwarfed all of the trials that he had experienced to that point.  There was opposition that was outside the ranks, and there was discouragement within the ranks of the Jews.  That is always the case.  In the words of the apostle Paul (II Cor. 7:5), “For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.”  The true work of the building of the walls of Zion must now, according to God’s own purpose, face great adversity.  The purpose of God is, first of all, to drive us to Him for our strength.  His purpose is, secondly, to increase our dependence upon the living God.  And, thirdly, it is to make us more sensitive to the needs of each other.

        Nehemiah is now faced, in chapter 4, with great opposition to the work of the building of the walls.  But we will note that Nehemiah did not bemoan it, he did not curse it, he did not become pessimistic.  But he showed the grace of perseverance. He showed the grace of strength and Christian love.  We read in the chapter, “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (v. 9).  “I set them behind the walls with sword and spear.  I rose up and said to the people, ‘Be not afraid. Remember, the Lord is with us.’”

        Nehemiah is an example to us upon whom the ends of the world are come today, as we, too, are engaged in that same work and face the same adversity and opposition.  He is an example of faith.  He is an example of God-given, God-centered, and God-dependent faith.  Nehemiah continued in the work because of God’s grace working in him mightily.  His was a faith that knew how to use the tools God gave him.  He placed in one hand of the men of Israel a weapon of war, a sword to defend, and in the other hand a builder’s tool, a trowel to build.  He built with sword and trowel.

        Chapter 3, which we looked at last week, gave a beautiful picture of God’s people whose hearts were in the work, of how they went about to build the walls of Jerusalem in unity, with sacrifice, and in a display of great zeal.  Waves of enthusiasm pulsed among them—the singing of the Psalms, and the smile of satisfaction in God’s blessing.

        But now chapter 4 brings us back to reality.  There are moments of enthusiasm and excitement in the work of the Lord—for example, in the beginning of a new Christian school, the establishment of a new congregation, the first child born in a marriage, a honeymoon.  But in chapter 4 we have the reality that in the work of the Lord we must expect to be bombarded with trouble, adversity, and opposition.

        The trouble came, first of all, from outside, in the form of mockery, in the form of threat, and in the form of plots devised by those who were the enemies of what Nehemiah was doing because they hated Nehemiah’s God.  We are told of Sanballat and Tobiah.  These two men, we remember from chapter 2:10, were grieved when Nehemiah came.  They were grieved exceedingly that there came a man to seek the welfare of the Jews.  The two men laughed when the Jews decided to heed Nehemiah’s call to begin the rebuilding of the walls.

        Sanballat means “sin gives life.”  He was a profane man.  He was a governor in the area.  And Tobiah was an Ammonite and was a false prophet.  These two enemies tried three things to defeat the building of the walls.

        First, they tried cruel mockery.  If you read verses 1-3, you will find that when these two men heard that the walls were going up, they began to say, first to themselves, “What do these feeble Jews?  Will they fortify themselves?  Will they sacrifice?”  Then they began to mock. Tobiah said this:  “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (v. 3).  They began with cruel mockery.  They derided the purpose of these feeble Jews, of building the walls of Zion for the glory of God.  They mocked them.  They lampooned their enthusiasm.  They magnified the problems that they would experience.  Words are powerful.  Words can hurt.  The words of Tobiah and Sanballat were filled with sarcasm and bitterness.  They said that even if a fox (which is known for its being light-footed and balanced), even if a fox would daintily walk upon the stone wall that they are building, that stone wall would fall down.

        The second thing they did was try to bully Nehemiah and the people.  As the work continued to progress and walls were joined together, the enemies held counsel of war from all the areas surrounding Jerusalem.  They marshaled their forces before Jerusalem, thinking that their presence, a show of force, would be enough to drive the people off the walls and cause them to give it up.

        Then they tried to scare them with intimidation.  We read of that in verses 11ff.  Each morning the workers who had gone home to the surrounding villages would return to the work on the wall. The enemies said, “We will sneak in among them as they enter into Jerusalem.  We will pretend to be workers.  We will sneak in among them and slay them.  We will try the Trojan-horse approach.”

        So the tactics were: scorn, bullying, and threats.  Please take note.  The prosperity of the true church of Jesus Christ is a great grief, an irritation to the world.  It angers the forces of sin.  When you make progress in sanctification in your own life, repenting and forsaking sin, this provokes the devil.  Faithfulness in marriage and not living together before marriage but living pure and chaste—this angers the world, this incenses the forces of darkness, so that they become dedicated to destroying you in that way of holiness.

        But note: all opposition to you must not turn you from your duty.  The ridicule that you receive for your walk of life, the looks of scorn, and the jokes heaped upon you—these must not drive you from your Christian duty.

        But the adversity that Nehemiah experienced was not only from the outside.  He was faced with discouragement within the ranks that was even more threatening to the work.  The people of Judah came to Nehemiah to tell him of the difficult working conditions and that they were tired and that the dangers to which they and their families were being exposed were great.  We read, “And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (v. 10).  Their strength is decayed.  They were teetering, tired, so tired they could hardly stand straight anymore.  They were staggering.  A couple of weeks tussling with boulders up the cliff had drained their strength.  They had begun the work but now it was very plain that what was involved was a great effort and it promised only more in the future.  The demands had increased.

        Secondly, they were exposed to a danger in their families.  We read, “And it came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came [that is, their adversaries], they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you” (v. 12).  That is, the men who lived in those outlying villages were repeatedly being threatened that in their absence their families would be attacked.  Or, when they came home exhausted from the work, they would be ambushed.

        Picture Sanballat placing his thugs, his bullies, on the street corners as a man went early to work. “Hey, buddy.  Going to work on those walls, huh?  Wife and children home alone, are they? You’re going to come back tonight tired.  You had better watch your back.”

        The difficulties, the discouragements, the fears, and the weariness of the people of God were very real.  They constituted as great a threat to the work as the opposition from the outside.  In fact, a greater threat.  It is easier to begin the work of the Lord in the church, in a Christian marriage, in a Christian family with little children, than it is to continue it.  Pessimism and hopelessness and despair and inward cynicism (I can’t, it’s too costly, the threats are too great) are great enemies.  Pessimism is a greater enemy than atheism. Unbelief is a threat to us.  Despair and hopelessness sap our strength. And pessimism distorts reality.  The people were beginning to say, “We are not able to build the walls.”  That was not true.  Philippians 4:13:  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

        What did Nehemiah do?  Three things.

        First, he prayed, and he had the people pray (vv. 4, 5).  “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.”  So immediate, so spiritually engrained is prayer in Nehemiah that here he does not even announce it.  He just breaks right out into prayer.  He stands with the builders and he hears Sanballat and Tobiah and all of their ridicule.  And he does not respond in a verbal battle.  He does not say, “Oh yah?  Well, you listen here!”  He does not begin to spar with them.  He does not begin to mix it up with them.  This was not his weapon.

        And these are not our weapons.  We do not battle scorn with scorn, ridicule with ridicule, cut-down with cut-down, jeering with jeering.  Those are not our weapons.  The weapons of the church are not the refurbished weapons of the world. You may not use those weapons as you go about your work, wherever you are—in the church, in marriage, in the family.  You may not use the weapons of the world.  Use the weapons of God.

        Nehemiah prayed, and his prayer centered in God:  “For they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.”  Now, get that!  You would expect that something they were saying would hurt him.  One of the arrows that they had shot at him would lodge in his soul.  But, to Nehemiah, it was not about his leadership, not about his work, not about his ability as a bricklayer, or his motives.  But it was about God.  He does not try to defend himself.  He sees that the insults are directed at God Himself.  He prayed that God would take care of His own name.  And he had the people pray that way.  He said, “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.”

        How full of significance.  How pregnant with truth for us.  How rich is the application.  You cannot build the walls of Zion in your own life, you cannot labor in the church, you cannot labor in behalf of the kingdom of God, without prayer.  You cannot shield yourself from the darts of sarcasm and the threats of this world, without prayer.  What is your first response?  To return in suit?  To pick up the weapons of the flesh?  To use what is at the disposal of the flesh—your tongue and further sharp words?

        Nehemiah viewed all of these things as foolishness.  But he went in prayer to the present God.  He believed that the issue ultimately was God and that God would and must maintain His honor.

        The second thing that Nehemiah did was that he took action.  He did not panic.  He looked around, he surveyed, he assessed the situation.  He took time to evaluate.  Prayer led to action.  Prayer made him decisive.  I think one of the most memorable statements in the book of Nehemiah is the one found in chapter 4:9:  “Nevertheless [and this is in the context of the slander thrown against his work] we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night.”  We prayed, then I set a watch. Prayer led to prudent, decisive, courageous action.  He did not pray and waffle.  He did not pray and then, at the end of his prayer, throw up his hands in confusion.  He did the next prudent step decisively. In the conviction and in the calmness of his Lord, he put men out to stand watch, so they would be alerted if there was any threat of physical danger.  He did not pray and bemoan.  He did not pray and send out a scouting party to see how many men Sanballat had.  But he prayed…and he set a watch.  Putting his trust in God, he arranged for a defense of the weak spots of the wall.  He gave to families swords and spears.  He announced to the enemy that their threats would meet with resistance.

        And he thought of the people with compassion.  He said to them, “Be not ye afraid of them:  remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren….”  He made changes in the work schedule to alleviate bone-weariness by organizing work into parties – those who would bear burdens and others who would be builders.  Then he had every man strap a sword on, put a trumpeter by himself, and told the people, “When you hear the trumpet, you gather to me and we will fight.”

        Beloved, Nehemiah did his duty.  How often does opposition, weariness, adversity, and fear cause us to freeze in indecision or to drop our hands and say, “Go ahead then.  Roll over me. I give up.”  We have so much more than Nehemiah.  We have the full Scriptures—the crucified Lord, and Jesus’ promise: “I will build my church.”  Do we wait for problems to go away before we will work? Do we expect we can do good only if there are no negatives in marriage?  Do you say, “Well, I’m not going to.  It’s just too hard…until she….”  Is that what you say?  In the church:  “Why should I until they….”  No, Nehemiah prayed, and then took action.

        And in the third place, Nehemiah equipped them with sword and trowel.  Everyone had a sword.  We read, “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.”  Those who did not need both hands for working, who were harnessed to a sled pulling, they had their sword ready.  The rest, equipped by Nehemiah with a trowel, had their sword strapped to their side.

        Both sword and trowel were needed.  The sword of the Word of God—to defend us from the temptations of the world, the sins of our flesh, the heresies, the waves of despair infiltrating our heart. Beat them back by the sword of the Word of God.  Through the preaching, through catechism, through the creeds, through Christian discipline, keep the church free from ungodliness.  Maintain your life of holiness.

        And a trowel.  That is a brick-layer’s tool.  It is short and wide to carry the mud, to smooth out the mortar, to lay each brick evenly and carefully.  A trowel to build up in the Word of God, to encourage, to make our life firm, to give peace, hope, and strength of soul. 

        This is an important point.  Do not confuse these two.  A sword is not a good tool for laying bricks, and a trowel is not a good weapon for defending a breach.  I have seen the sword used wrongly in building the walls of the church and in marriage.  When there are issues and questions and weaknesses among the people of God—areas where there is the need of growth and maturity and understanding—one may say, “I have my position, and it’s the only position.  This is the only way to do it.” Then instead of the trowel, the careful, patient use of the Word and the patient placing of each brick of truth into place, I hear the sliding of the sword out of the scabbard and the readiness to fly in and start hacking fellow believers with the truth.  They use the truth as an ax to smash the other person’s head.  How awkward it would be if you had to lay brick with a sword.

        I’ve also seen the trowel used in place of the sword.  I’ve seen that questions arise in the church over whether the Bible is inspired, whether creation is true, whether the fourth commandment is enforced, whether justification is by faith or by faith and works, whether homosexuality is just another lifestyle.  And as the enemies of heresy and ungodliness approach and a breach is made in the wall, men wield a trowel in response, and churches say, “Well, I suppose we should make a study of this.”  The enemy has entered into the city to slay the truth, and the church comes out against them with a trowel.

        Builders on the walls of Zion need to know when to use the sword and when to use the trowel.

        Nehemiah continued in the work of the building of the walls.  In verses 23 and 24 of chapter 4 we learn that he was ready to fight if attacked by Sanballat.  He was ready to go on laboring in the face of much discouragement.  He had the commuters (those who would otherwise go home each night) lodge instead within Jerusalem.  And he himself did not take off his clothes for weeks except for washing.  He practiced constant vigilance, readiness.  He continued in the work.

        Do we? Does adversity drive you from the working on the wall?  Does weariness or fear drain your heart of the impetus to go on?  Are you committed to stay at the work of God?  In your personal call to holiness, do you say:  “Oh, my sin is too great.  I can’t overcome it.  Don’t be naïve, preacher, I can’t be delivered.”  Do you talk like Sanballat before the call of Jesus Christ who says, “Repent!  Follow Me!  Deny yourself!”  Do you say, “What can I, a feeble Christian do?  How in the world can I revive the stones that are fallen down in my life?  I can’t put this back together.”  You say, “I’ve yelled all my life at my kids. I’m not going to be able to change.”  Do you say, “I just don’t get along with that person, and it’s never going to be any different”?  In your marriage, do you say:  “It’s just too hard to pick up the pieces anymore”?  Are you weary of the burden and say, “We can’t build the wall.  The cost is too great”?

        May God raise up Nehemiah-like faith, Nehemiah-like love, Nehemiah-like strength and prayer and action.  May God put a sword in your hand and a trowel in your other hand.  And then may God raise up in us the kind of knowledge of God that Nehemiah had—the knowledge of a God who is present, a God who hears, a God who will maintain the honor of His name, a God who in mercy will use His servants for His good, a God before whom the enemy is puny (a bunch of loud-mouths), a God who is committed to us.

        Our God shall fight for us.  So we labored in the work and the wall was built.

        Let us pray.

        Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word.  And we pray that Thou would apply it unto our hearts today.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.


Trusting and Not Fearing (A Special Message)

duck on waterFrom the Reformed Witness Hour Committee:

This is part of a special message of hope and peace as we live in these unsettling days and weeks, when fear is real and faith grows weak. Below is an excerpt from a radio message of Rev. Carl Haak, pastor of Georgetown PRC, which he delivered on January 23, 2005. Below the excerpt is a link to the entire message. You are encouraged to read and meditate on this Word of God and on these words of exposition and application.

Trusting and Not Fearing
Psalm 56:3-4

The Scriptures say, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” There is something very touching and profoundly comforting in the simplicity of this statement. God speaks in simple, powerful words. Very plainly, this is the theme of the whole psalm. Repeatedly it comes back: Not fear, but trust! Trust in God. With a true and living faith, depend only upon Him. Cry out to Him. Bring your fears to Him.

That solves it all. Whatever that fear may be for you, whether that is surgery, or your child’s health, or your daughter’s soul, or your son’s married life, or your personal fear—here is the simple, the conquering, the never-failing answer: trust in God.

“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word; in God have I put my trust.” There is the answer. Put your trust in God. God here is commanding us to an activity. He works faith in our hearts and He commands that which He works into action. He says, “I have given to you a heavenly grace of trust. Not something that proceeded from your will but something that proceeded from Me. Something that is now implanted in a new heart and in a new will within you. And I call you, by My grace, to be active in that trust.”

Read or listen to Rev. Haak’s full message here:
Here is also part of a pastoral letter Rev. C. Haak wrote to his congregation on Tuesday:

As measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus increase, so also our anxieties for the future increase.

Today all of us are feeling the direct impact of the governor’s order [in Michigan] to quarantine ourselves for the next few weeks. Our jobs and income are directly threatened and we wonder about the future economy. Just how far will this go? Will our livelihood be lost? Is our hard made personal business going under? Where exactly is all of this heading? How many of our plans for the next months will be lost? The second week of schooling our children at home is proving harder than we thought, will our schools open again? When do we get our old life back?

Our minds become a factory of worries and mass produce questions we can’t answer.

Instead we need to ask ourselves these questions: Are we listening to God? Did we come apart to the secret chamber of prayer today? As we observe how the world is acting are we, who have eyes of faith to see Him on the throne, acting differently? Do we feel the peace of God ruling in our hearts in this very day, even as God promised us? (Phil. 4:6, 7, Col. 3:15, Isaiah 26: 3, 4) Do you believe and experience that His grace is sufficient for you today?  (II Corinthians 12: 7-10)

As in every spiritual battle for the heart, faith must not lie inactive within us. We are called to a spiritual warfare in these days (Ephesians 6:10-18). We wrestle against fear, boredom, anxiety, hopelessness, fatalism, anger, depression, loneliness, and others. If you can’t get up to fight today, call the elders, kneel right now in prayer, read the promises of God. Better yet, “Be still! and know that I am God”, the God who has never failed you in the past and is not going to do so today. Read Psalm 46.

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