************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 13, 2010
Q & A 1
"Our Only Comfort"
A The Catechism asks us this evening about "comfort." "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" "Comfort." Not "comfortable." In mind is not a king-sized bed, a cozy fire, a lap to sit on. In mind is not a flush bank account, a home filled with luxuries, or a vacation on a tropical beach. In mind is not an evening of good music, good wine, or good fellowship. In mind are none of the things the world normally associates with comfort.
"What is your only comfort in life and in death?" Because of possible misinterpretation, it is a shame that the original German word is translated as "comfort." A more accurate translation is to emphasize the second syllable of the word: "fort." "What is your only fort in life and in death?" In other words, what is your fortress? What is your strength? What gives you the power to keep on going? What or Who do you rely on?
B You might wonder why the Heidelberg Catechism would begin with such a question. The authors of the Catechism were addressing the anxieties of the 16th century.
First, this was an age of profound religious antagonism between Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist which smouldered for more than half a century before flaring into the Thirty Years' War of 1618-1648. War meant husbands and sons were killed, invaders trampled crops, communities destroyed, and wives and daughters were raped. In all of this hurt and sorrow where was comfort to be found? Where do believers of the 16th century find the strength to keep going? What is their fortress?
Second, this was also an age of constant famine, disaster, and plague. Therefore, crops failed, the young and elderly died, children were stunted in growth. In all of this turmoil and agony and pain where was comfort to be found? Where do believers of the 16th century find the strength to keep going? What is their fortress?
Third, Roman Catholicism was still dominant. Most people believed one needed to do works of penance to help pay for one's sins. The pious believer of the 16th century was told to do his or her best and then hope for the best. Where do you go, to Whom do you look, when you realize your best works are not good enough to save you?
It was an age of profound spiritual anxiety. So, a question about comfort, about strength, about security only makes sense.
"What is your only comfort in life and in death?" It isn't only 16th century believers who ask this question. Don't we also ask? Isn't this the question asked by the Rainbow family? Isn't this the question asked by those who are diagnosed with cancer? Isn't this the question asked by their loved ones? Isn't this question asked in the hospital emergency room or after a bad accident?
II I Belong to Jesus
A What is the Christian's answer? Let me emphasize this: What is the Christian's answer? If you believe in Jesus, congregation, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" What gives you the strength to keep on going? What is your fortress? Here is the answer:
That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
There are two points here. First, "I am not my own." Like everything else in the Catechism, this is based upon the Bible; it comes from 1 Corinthians 6:
(1 Cor 6:19-20) You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price.In other words, I don't have the final say about myself. I am not a law to myself. I am not answerable only to myself. I am not self-sufficient, self-secure, self-reliant. I am not in charge.
In our Western world, we like to think that way about ourselves. That each of us is an island. That every individual is independent. That each of us has the right and the power to order his or her own world. Don't we believe in rugged individualism?
Along comes the Catechism and says my comfort, my security, my strength does NOT lie in myself. It never lies in myself, my abilities, my strength, my mind, my hard work. It never lies in me a sinner. Because of sin, we can find no real security within ourselves or any other mere man. Security never lies in me who has fallen from the glory of God. It never lies in me who has brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, distortion of judgment, perversity, defiance, hardness of heart and will, and impurity in all emotions. Fallen people find no real comfort within themselves and have no real comfort to give to others. I am being directed away from myself, my works, and even my faith. It is not about me. Never. Ever.
B If I am not my own, whose am I? Here is our second point: "I ... belong ... to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." I belong to Christ. He is in charge. He is in control. He is sovereign. He is the One Who ordains all things. He is the One Who looks after me. He has both the authority and the power to do this as the risen and ascended Lord.
This is my comfort and this is my song: that I belong to Jesus, that I am His, that He looks after me, that He is in charge, that I am not the one in charge.
How completely am I, as a believer, in the hands of Christ? Totally. Completely. Notice the form of the question: "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" Notice, too, the form of the answer:
That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.What belongs to Jesus? All of me, body and soul. Not one part of me is exempt. Not one part of me is omitted. Look at the time frame: "in life and in death." All the time I belong to Jesus. There never is a time when I don't belong to Jesus. Does this sound familiar? It should! It is the Catechism's paraphrase of what Paul says in our Bible reading:
(Rom 14:8) If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
The Catechism is also thinking of what Paul wrote to the church at Rome in chapter 8:
(Rom 8:35,38-39) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (38) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Believers belong to the Lord. Totally. Completely. All the time. "Body and soul." "In life and in death." And, nothing and no one can ever tear them away from the Lord.
Belonging to Christ. That is our comfort, our song, our joy. That is what gives us the strength to keep on going. That is our fortress and our security.
Belonging to Jesus. Did you notice, this is the Christian's only comfort! There is nothing and no one that compares to this. Comfort is to be found in Jesus alone. The strength to keep going is found in Jesus alone. The ability to endure every trial is found in Jesus alone.
III Christ Has Bought Me
A "I am not my own, but belong ... to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." That's what the Catechism says. "So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." That's what our Bible reading says.
Why? Why do I belong to Jesus?
Listen to what the Catechism says in the very next two lines of Q & A 1:
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.Or, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 6:
(1 Cor 6:19-20) You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price.The background image is that of slavery. We are slaves of sin and Satan. We are in bondage, in stocks and chains. What has Christ done? Christ has bought us. As Peter puts it, Christ has bought us not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). He has paid for us with His blood shed upon the cross. So "I am not my own, but belong ... to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ."
Over against the Medieval church which looked for salvation in the sacraments and its ceremonies, the Catechism proclaims salvation in Christ Who "has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood." It is Christ Who frees me from my sin. And, it is Christ Who frees me from the tyranny of Satan (cf 1 Jn 3:8).
Notice what this says about our comfort. Our comfort lies in Christ because He took on our flesh, adopted the nature of a servant, was obedient, suffered and died, arose, ascended, and sat at God's right hand (cf Phil 2:6-11). Our comfort lies in a humiliated and exalted Jesus!
How big the difference between the Christian and the world here. The world looks for comfort and strength behind walls and gates, in security systems and the neighborhood watch program, in tanks and armies, in peace talks and treaties, in technology and spies, in weapons and missiles, in a police force and the national guard. The world, in other words, looks for comfort and security in what looks big and strong and mighty. The Christian, on the other hand, finds his or her comfort in Jesus – Who was laid in a manger as a baby and hung upon a cross as a man.
Remember what Paul said about this? Something about the foolishness of the cross to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but the power of God and the wisdom of God to those whom God has called (1 Cor 1:23-24). Then Paul continues with these words:
(1 Cor 1:27-29) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, (29) so that no one may boast before him.
B What else does Christ do to give me comfort? "He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven." Christ Jesus is like "Big Brother" in George Orwell's 1984 – seeing and watching over everything, hearing everything, missing nothing.
I recently read an article that made these claims about Google. How much does Google know about you? Its stored data may include your visited sites, search terms, maps, contacts, calendar, e-mail, chat history, Google Voice phone records, YouTube videos, Picasa photos, documents you store online, Google Buzz updates, and – in some instances – your cell phone data. If the government comes with a subpoena or even a strongly worded letter per the Patriot Act, Google must hand it all over. However, unlike Christ, Google does NOT watch over me for my good (Rom 8:28) so "all things must work together for my salvation."
Ours is a world filled with violence, warfare, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, tidal waves, oil slicks, forest fires, drought, hail, floods, volcanoes, cancer, heart-attack, stroke, death, etc. How comforting to know that in such a world we belong to a Christ Who "watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven."
IV The Benefits of Belonging to Jesus
A Let's end by looking at the benefits of belonging to Jesus.
Let me start by asking about the future. Do I have hope for the future, or do I simply have to hope for the best? Do I face death and the grave not knowing for sure whether I will end up in hell or heaven, or can I say for sure that mine is eternal life with Jesus?
"Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life." Or, as Paul puts it, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Rom 8:16). The Spirit is Christ's deposit within us guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5). So, I have hope. I have confidence. I have a deep-rooted assurance that my sins have been forgiven, that I have been made forever right with God, and that I have been granted salvation. All because I belong to Christ. What comfort this gives me. What comfort this gave to Jon Rainbow and family as he faced death.
B But what about the present? How does belonging to Jesus impact my present? "Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit ... makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now to live for him." In this life, even the holiest of saints make only a small beginning in living according to God's commandments. After all, we still have a sin-filled life in a sin-filled body on a sin-filled earth. Nevertheless, by the power of the Spirit, those who belong to Jesus begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments.
Do you see what Christ does to those who belong to Him? He is renewing us to be like Himself. And someday, when He returns, or when we die, Christ will bring to completion this good work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6).
"What is the Christian's only comfort in life and in death?" Congregation, in a broken, sin-filled, mixed-up world, what is your only comfort? Your comfort, your strength, your security lies in Christ. It is He – and He alone – Who gives you the strength to keep on going, to endure, to persevere to the end.
"I am not my own but belong ... to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." This is my comfort and my song.
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