************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 65-68 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 1, 2011
Q & A 65-68
"The Word and Sacraments"
I The Word and Sacraments Go Together
A The heading at the top of today's questions and answers of the Catechism says "The Sacraments." But strictly speaking, we are not looking at just the sacraments. For, at least three of the questions and answers say something about the Word.
I point this out because I want you to realize that the Word and sacraments are meant to go together. Think of the Great Commission. The church is not only told to administer the sacrament of baptism but to also teach the Word (Mt 28:19-20). And, remember what we are told about the early church?
(Acts 2:42) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching [think preaching] and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [think Lord's Supper] and to prayer.
B In what way do the Word and sacraments go hand-in-hand with each other? The sacraments reinforce the Word. They aren't simply ceremonies and rituals. There are a number of expressions in the English language which highlight for us the connection between the Word and sacraments. I have in mind such expressions as:
-walk your talk
-practice what you preach
-actions speak louder than words
-one picture is worth a thousand words
-seeing is believing
In a classroom a teacher can spend a whole hour talking to her students about gravity and they may still have blank looks on their faces. But when she grabs a ball and drops it the students see gravity at work.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper both recognize this principle. "What are sacraments? According to A 66, "Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see ... the promise of the gospel." The sacraments are the Bible acted out, the Word demonstrated, the Gospel promise shown. Like the Word, they point us to the Gospel promise "to forgive us our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross."
C But we can and should say more about the relationship of the Word and sacraments. Though the Catechism does not use the phrase, both the Word and sacraments are "means of grace." Again, let me point you to the Great Commission.
(Mat 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Go and make disciples. How? By what means? By baptizing and teaching. By means of the Word and sacraments.
The Word and sacraments as a means of grace bring us to Jesus Christ and salvation. These are the tools God uses to give His chosen ones a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
D The Word and sacraments are not two separate entities. They go hand-in-hand. They don't contrast with each other or compete with each other. They are meant to go together. That's why we have no kitchen sink baptisms; instead, baptism is done as part of a worship service where the Word is preached. That's why we always read the Word and give a brief exhortation when we bring the Lord's Supper to our shut-ins.
The Word and sacraments go together. Both are necessary for our faith and the development of our faith. This is true whether we are young or old, whether we are a new Christian or a lifelong Christian, whether we are a baptized member or a professing member.
II The Word Used by the Holy Spirit
A "It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from?" Notice the first part of answer 65: "The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel ..."
What a beautiful example of God working with man. God has chosen to produce faith through the preaching of the gospel by His human servants.
We see here that no one is saved in a vacuum. We are not zapped with salvation like a bug is zapped by one of those electronic insect killers. A saving faith is created in the context of the preaching of the Gospel.
B Remember how Romans 10 speaks of this? In verses 13-15 we hear a beautiful sequence: God appoints or sends messengers; these authorized and appointed messengers preach the Good News; this message is heard; those who hear believe; and those who believe call on the name of Lord and are saved.
These verses all come down to one question: "How can men have faith if they don't hear the Gospel preached?" The answer: "They can't!" Man cannot have faith unless he hears the Gospel preached. Faith comes by hearing!
Think of what this says about the importance of missions, evangelism, witnessing, and worship. The peaching of the Word is how God's Spirit brings people to faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit uses my preaching and the preaching of Rev. Godfrey to bring the people of Trinity to faith. The Spirit uses the preaching of Rev. Van Ee to bring the people of Big Springs to faith. The Spirit uses the preaching of Revs. Uittenbosch and Van Hemert to bring seafarers to faith. The Spirit uses the preaching of our church planters in India and the Philippines to bring the people there to faith. The Spirit uses the preaching of the chaplains we support to bring prisoners in Visalia and Pakistan to faith. The Spirit uses the preaching of Rev. Eric Schering to bring people to faith.
Faith comes by hearing the Gospel. Two things need to happen. First, preachers need to preach the Gospel. They cannot be preaching on some book or movie – like so many churches are doing today. Nor can churches have programs and plays and musicals and mission reports instead of the preaching of the Gospel. What the Spirit uses is the preaching of the Gospel. What the Spirit uses is the preaching of salvation that rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross.
Second, people need to hear the Gospel. They cannot surround themselves with teachers who merely say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). And, they need to come to the place where the Gospel is preached – namely, the church.
C Many of you, I am sure, have heard of Harold Camping and his prediction that the rapture of believers will take place on May 21, 2011. He further predicts the world will be destroyed by God on September 29, 2011. I consider Harold Camping to be a nut-job. He has hundreds of followers – maybe thousands. Why do they follow him? Why do they listen to him?
What does Scripture say? Scripture says that those who preach must be sent. Sent by God, that is. And God does the sending through the church. There is no place for self-appointed preachers and teachers, for people who claim a gift apart from the call of the church. Yet, that is what Harold Camping claims. And Camping is not alone. There are all sorts of self-appointed preachers and teachers. I saw an advertisement in the newspaper this weekend for some big-name religious speaker who is coming to Visalia. He comes on his own authority and not by the authority of God.
What a joy and privilege it is to be "sent" by God and appointed by God to proclaim the good news. Paul quotes Isaiah in talking about this privilege: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom 10:15; cf Is 52:7).
Isaiah has in mind a messenger with good news – news of a military victory, or a birth, or a wedding. His feet are said to be beautiful because they run so swiftly and so surely over mountains and through deserts and beside rivers and other dangerous places to bring good news to Zion.
Preachers are appointed to bring good news. The good news is the Gospel. What a joy, what a privilege, it is to tell people God forgives them their sins and gives them eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross.
III The Sacraments Used by the Holy Spirit
A As I said earlier, there are two means of grace. First, the Spirit produces faith "in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel." Second, the Spirit confirms faith "through our use of the holy sacraments."
Notice the difference: the Word produces faith; the sacraments confirm faith. That is to say, the Word has precedence.
This doesn't mean, however, that the sacraments are not important. This doesn't mean the sacraments are little more than rituals. The sacraments are actual, holy means by which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.
B For the Reformers the sacraments were a very emotional issue. They argued about them vehemently, even violently. They disagreed, of course, with the Roman Catholics. What is distressing is that they could not agree among themselves about the sacraments. "Devil's whore" and "dirty, rooting swine" were just two of the names they hurled at each other when they argued about the sacraments.
The word "sacrament" is not a term you can find in Scripture. It was used during the third century to describe a great variety of ceremonies within the church so that included in the list of sacraments were such things as the casting out of evil spirits and the giving of salt to Catechism students. Eventually the church decided that seven ceremonies were the officially approved sacraments: baptism, mass, confirmation, penance, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction. The Reformed churches reduced this list to two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper.
To the majority of people at the time of the Reformation the mass was the real heart of the Christian faith. The echoing cathedrals were not places where people came to hear the Gospel preached but, rather, places where they could celebrate the mass.
This helps us understand why the Reformers asserted the central importance of preaching the Holy Gospel. What is surprising, though, is that the Reformers also maintained the vital importance of the sacraments.
C I want you to notice that the sacraments have the same focus as the Word. Both the Word and the sacraments focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation. The message of both is that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross.
Good preaching focuses on Christ. The proper use of the sacraments also focuses on Christ.
Along this line, the Catechism tells us sacraments are holy signs. When you head to LAX there are overhead signs telling you what lanes to be in to get on the 405. There are also signs telling you the exits for airport parking, car rental, and the airport itself. The signs give needed directions so you get to your destination. In similar manner, the sacraments are signs. They tell you the way to forgiveness and salvation and heaven and life with God. That way, of course, is through Jesus and His cross and His grave. The sacraments, as signs, point to Jesus as the way to salvation.
The sacraments are also seals. Every official document has a seal: my passport, my driver's license, my Social Security card, my long-form birth certificate, my mortgage papers, the title to my car. What do these seals do? The seals authenticate. They prove. They state the document is real and trustworthy and dependable. In similar manner, the sacraments are seals. They authenticate. They prove. They state the promise of the Gospel of salvation and forgiveness through the blood of Christ is real and trustworthy and dependable.
"The Holy Spirit produces faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the sacraments." Don't ever forget the Spirit uses both the Word and the sacraments. Both are important. Neither should be neglected.
I want you to also notice something very important, congregation. I want you to notice that both the preaching and the sacraments take place within the confines of the church. This says something about the vital role of the church in bringing God's children to faith. How the Lord must love His church that He entrusts both the Word and the sacraments to her. And, how the Lord must love His people that He gives them both the Word and the sacraments so that faith is produced and confirmed.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page