The Covenant Faithfulness of Jehovah
Scripture: Psalm 103
Text: Psalm 103:17-18
Sermon by Rev. Harry Van Dyken
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Burlington, Washington, 1980
© Burlington United Reformed Church; Vol. 1, No. 3
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
You know that that love of Jesus Christ is love incomparable. You know that that love of God in Jesus Christ is a love which transforms hell-bound sinners into saints of God. You know that that love is that which has made out of dead people a living church. So congregation, it is with particular emphasis that Christ says again and again, beloved. The word of God is constant in its statement that God’s grace and God’s love is first, primary; that which precedes all else. That is why in the text, the first word that appears is an adversative — but. That is a strange way to begin a text.
The text begins that way because the Lord, through David, has just spoken of what it is all like here. Note it — “As for man, his days are as the grass. As the flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” It is total, complete, unconditional hopelessness. The place thereof won’t even know it. It left no imprint, no footprint. It is nothing at all.
But — once and again in God’s word that comes, you know. In Romans 3, when Paul concludes that first section in Romans on the totality of sin and the complete lost-ness and depravity of man, he says in Romans 3:21, “But there is a righteouness revealed from God.” And in Psalm 130, “But the LORD brings that grace which is sufficient.” Over and over again you hear that in the Word of God, and it’s here, church of Christ — and I want you to note it — in the figure of that which transpires in life today.
We flew here last night. Before we boarded the plane, we could have purchased insurance for that trip. They sell that kind of insurance. There is something rather difficult about that — you can’t collect it unless you die. And then what are you going to collect? Somebody else collects for you.
Here is insurance that is totally different — the covenant faithfulness of Jehovah. I want you to notice its trip insurance, its family plan and its passenger list. I want you to notice that of course that covenant faithfulness of Jehovah stands in complete contrast. That’s why I said when you want to buy insurance of any kind here on earth that insures life, it takes death to pay. When you’re dead, you can’t collect. Here is an insurance that is totally different. “The lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.” That is a long time! It has to be a long time, church of Jesus Christ, because the trip is long. The trip goes all the way into eternity. And either that trip ends in death, and that’s all you collect is death, the death of hell, or that trip is the glorious consummation of life.
This morning, a little child has, in a certain way, just begun that trip, though I want you to notice that it is from everlasting to everlasting. God comes to Egypt at an appointed time and says, “My people, it is time to go. It is time to begin that trip.” God’s work is all before that. This morning, a little boy knows nothing about it. You can’t talk to him about it or consult him. You can’t advise him. The Lord said, “I will prepare him.” All flesh is grass; it is all like the flower of the field; it grows up and looks like it has a little promise. The wind blows and it is gone. You can’t even find the place where it was. What do you do about it? There is insurance. It’s beautiful insurance. It’s the insurance of which Isaiah speaks of when he says, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters and drink; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” You have to buy this insurance without money and without price, because the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting. What a contrast to what I can give my children — a little life, a little food, maybe a place to stand in this world, and what a contrast to what these parents can give this little boy. Death comes along and takes it all away.
But our Father in heaven says, “But, the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting.” When God wanted to make this earth plain, Paul struggled with it in Romans 8 and he said, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” How can that be? Does God so take and turn the things of history that somehow all this tangled mess we have made becomes good again? Paul says no, that is not really the way it is. No, it is from everlasting to everlasting. “For whom he did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified, from everlasting to everlasting.”
That is God’s election. That is why in Romans 9 and 11, when Paul struggles with the seeming failure of Israel, when it almost seems like God’s plan had gone wrong and somehow Satan, in the midst of all this history, got the better of it, and the wonderful plans for Israel had gone awry, Paul says, “No. God’s purpose regarding election stands. It hasn’t changed a bit. It is from everlasting to everlasting.”
We read some beautiful words from the form for baptism. I know that there are people who confess to be Christians, and yet, sadly, understand the Word of God so little, who would say, “How do you dare say that about a little baby who hasn’t been able to say a thing for himself?” How? Because the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting. In Ephesians, Paul says, “This is the wonder of the beauty of it all, that you were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world.” That is why Paul could say without a moment’s doubt or hesitation, when he looked at Jehovah and at his faithfulness, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Why? Because I can hang on so tight? No, but because the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting. The trip insurance is for the whole trip, written in eternity for David Jonathan, and for each child of God; for the church of Jesus Christ; for the bride of Christ. It is written in eternity! It is not a hurried contract about some special trip that we are going to make, or some exigency or crisis that arises in life and we plead, “Lord, some special insurance.” He doesn’t have that to offer. This is a trip insurance which is written in eternity by Jehovah God himself. His lovingkindness extends all the way, which Peter says in his first chapter of his first epistle so wonderfully and beautifully, that this is the hope that we have which is bound up in the resurrection of Christ, so that our inheritance is kept where moth and rust do not corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal. We are kept by the power of God, unto his salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time. It moves right on into eternity — the Jordan will be crossed. Canaan will be subdued and will belong to the people of God, and there will be no accident on the way that can kill. None!
Here is trip insurance, church of Christ. You say, “If it is from eternity to eternity, how do you get it? After all, if it is from eternity, from everlasting to everlasting, it is all set up, isn’t it.” You have heard that said. Yet wonderfully, this God spoke to Israel who was saying in Babylon, “It is all set. There is nothing we can do. God has cast us all.” We plead with his people who have said, “Not if you turn.” “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die, O house of Israel? I have no pleasure in the death of him that dyeth, saith the Lord, but rather that he should turn from his ways and live.” Jehovah said that. When you turn, you discover the wonder that that too was written in eternity. It is not a quick clause in the contract. It is not a quick change in what God has done. No, we look back and we find that God wrote even that from eternity. Church of Christ, it is glorious, because that is why the child of God can be sure — “from eternity to eternity, from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.”
You know there is that last little part there — upon them that fear him. It almost seems to come full-circle and say, “No, it is not what God did in eternity; it is what you do today. It is if you fear him. Then it comes upon you.” There is no problem there, beloved. That too is written in eternity, chosen from before the foundation of the world unto good works. It was chosen in Jesus Christ that we might live in the fear of God. The Lord calls parents to teach a little child the fear of the Lord, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This is meaningful in history, church of God. It is wonderfully and gloriously meaningful for the Lord would not have said it otherwise, would he! And then to find that too was written in eternity and goes to eternity. Children, that is why it is so wonderful to hear the Lord say upon a certain occasion, “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” It was written in eternity! God said to you, children, “You are mine.”
It is a family plan — notice it. “…and his righteousness unto children’s children.” You can’t travel just on your own. It is a family plan, says the Lord. Your family gets involved. Because, you see, when God first made man in covenant — not made man and then made covenant — but made man in covenant. He made man as a covenant creature. He said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” “And they two shall be one flesh.” In the love-life of which God gave, in the oneness of family, God looked in the mirror of his image.
So God says, “…and his righteousness unto children’s children.” That scares you, you know, doesn’t it? His righteousness — suddenly there is a shift. His lovingkindness is from everlasting to everlasting, and now his righteousness to children’s children. Is the Lord now suddenly going to stand in judgment, and his righteousness is going to be brought to bear and he is going to ask about my children: Have they kept my law perfectly? Yes, he is, church of Christ. “If thou shouldst mark transgressions, who then could stand?” But… — that’s Psalm 103. “But with thee there is forgiveness, that thy name may fear command.” It is because of his righteousness, that which he brought on Calvary, that which Christ suffered because God said, “My justice must be satisfied.” In that righteousness in which Christ comes to say, “I’ve paid it,” that is why this water was applied this morning as a picture of the blood of Christ, God’s righteousness satisfied in death unto children’s children. Circumcision, that bloody sign, and now the un-bloody sign which looks back on the cross of Calvary and the shed blood of Jesus Christ — glorious, church of Christ. “My righteousness to children’s children” — here’s trip insurance, church of Christ.
Children, you have been baptized. God came to you and said, “You are mine.” One day, God is going to call you before his judgment seat, either at the end of time when Christ comes again, or you know it could be any day too that he says to you, “Come home.” He doesn’t tell us when that is going to be. He can come and say, “This is the end of the trip. It ends here. You come to me.” Then he is going to do what is right. Children, we are terribly naughty, aren’t we! We are sinful. And if God does what is right, what is he going to do? What is he going to do if he calls us home tonight? He is going to say what is right. It promises it here — “his righteousness unto children’s children.” And then he says, “I baptized you. I promised to be your God. Now it comes to you.” Then someday, children, you are going to find a husband or a wife, and you are going to have children. Notice it said, “children’s children.” And then your children are going to be brought here, aren’t they, to let God speak again. It is a family plan. Oh, it is beautiful! Because otherwise what would we do as miserable failing parents, fathers and mothers, who do it so terribly? We fail over and over. What would we do? But God says, “My righteousness to children’s children.” When you come on the plane of the heavenly airways, when you board and take your pass, your children go with you. God said so. “My righteousness to children’s children” — they are covered by that insurance.
There is a passenger list, “to such as keep his covenant, and to those who remember his precepts, to do them.” Again, there seems to be a change. But there isn’t a change, church of Christ. It simply shifts from what God has said, to what he calls us to do. God speaks in covenant. God comes to us and says, “I make covenant with you, just as in Adam I made you in covenant. And you are covenant breakers in Adam, so I come to you again in my Son, and I plead with you, “Oh be ye reconciled to God. Yes, my covenant is effective, and it is from everlasting to everlasting. It works out in history.” The call which I extend to you to be faithful, read it very carefully. In Ezekiel 18, Israel tried to play these over against each other, and tried to blame God for their sorry plight in Babylon. They tried to blame God that there was no hope on the horizon. God said, “Yes, I said I will bring my wrath unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. But there is a father who sins, blasphemes, and dies in his sin, and he has a son that follows in his way. But he turns from his way and turns to me. Shall he not live, saith the Lord?” Of course, for those who keep his covenant. Fathers, mothers and children, God brought you in covenant and said, “Keep it.”
How do you do that? Well, it goes on. “To those that remember his precepts to do them.” That is Hebrew parallelism. That is to state it one way and then to state the same thing another way. “To such as keep his commandments, and to keep his covenant, and to those who remember his precepts, to do them.” It almost seems now like it has shifted entirely, hasn’t it — if you keep the law. But it doesn’t say that, church of Christ. It is for those kind of people who are covenant keepers by God’s grace, who have been brought from eternity to eternity in his love, to such. How do you know it? Will you keep covenant? If you are in that grace of God you keep covenant. If you are in that grace of God you look at the precepts of God, and you say, “Isn’t it wonderful that God Jehovah, when he put us in life, didn’t just leave us there to flounder and try to find our way.” He said, here is the way of life. He gave us his precepts and law. And so we say, “Oh, how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
It is so important, fathers and mothers, that your children know the law of God; not because that law will save them; it will only condemn them to hell if they are not children of God, but because that law is the way and the footsteps of life — “to such as keep his covenant and remember his precepts, to do them.” “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the way of sinners, nor standeth with the ungodly, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of God, and in his law doth he meditate, day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, who bringeth forth his fruit in its season; whose leaf also shall not whither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” “…who remember the precepts of God, to do them!” — that is the passenger list! — covenant keepers, those who keep his covenant. That is the passenger list, checked in heaven, the book of life. One day, says Revelation 20, the Lord is coming back and the books will be opened, and another book will be opened, which is the book of life — the passenger list.
Is your name written there in that book of God’s kingdom? Is your name written there? How do you know? You must be elect of God — yes, that is true. You must be in covenant family — that is true. How do you know? We must keep covenant. We must love his precepts, to do them. God does a part and we do a part? No. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work according to his good pleasure.” Gloriously he has brought them together so that we can say the covenant faithfulness of Jehovah has this wonderful trip insurance which goes all the way from everlasting to everlasting, and you collect yourself, when you live! You live forever. It doesn’t go to someone else because you die. And it has a family plan. And when in my weakness, sinfulness and love-life which is tainted, God brings fruit in his children born to me in my image — my ugly image — God says that they are in the family plan, in His righteousness unto children’s children. Suddenly it is so wonderful because this child that I may say is mine, God says “He’s mine.” This child, who I may call by my name, God says, “Call him by my name,” in the passenger list.
Children, young people, that throws upon you a tremendous responsibility because God spoke to you in baptism. He’s listening. He wants your answer. You are answering and you cannot avoid that. You are answering him in everything you do and say and think. Your whole life is an answer. You cannot possibly escape that.
What is your answer? He called you. He calls us as parents. You see it is a very serious business that we train up our children and teach them. It is not an automatic thing, that somehow this matter of election just makes it all kind of a big slide that we go on and we will all slide down the slide; we will all be there. It is a life and a calling. It is a call of God in covenant to which he says, “Now keep covenant with me and answer me.”
Children and young people, that is why I have said to you so many times in catechism, “There comes a time indeed, besides that fullness of answering which is your life, when you must say, “Yes, Lord,” and you confess him. You answer him, because this matter of a passenger list is dead serious; it is life or death. You answer to a God who so graciously came when you were a little baby and said, “You are mine.” Church of Christ, this is amazing, boundless grace; you cannot compare it. You cannot spell it out. You can just touch the fringes. So easily we take it for granted, we who have such a rich Reformation heritage and covenant theology, and a covenant understanding of the word “God.” Fathers and mothers, be sure that your children know that, because it is almost lost in this generation. Plead with him for his Spirit. Plead with him, for he has promised that your children, through your covenant-keeping, may by his grace be covenant keepers. And they too will hear him from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.