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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:My only comfort is in the biblical gospel
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2016
Added:2017-01-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 121

Psalm 116:1-5

Hymn 64

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  1 Peter 1

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Imagine a church where all the teaching and preaching says that God is cold and distant.  Imagine a church where the suggestion is strong that you cannot have a personal relationship with God.  If you can, imagine a church where God is more of an abstract concept than a real person to whom you can relate.  Imagine a church where Jesus is portrayed more as a coming Judge than a loving Shepherd.  Imagine a church where you’re taught that you should certainly not pray to Jesus.  You should not think of him as a real person with whom you should have a relationship, a relationship where you can actually communicate with him -- like, you know, a real relationship.  If you’re going to somehow communicate with God, it’s not Jesus to whom you’re going to be speaking.  That’s not allowed, or at least, it’s frowned upon.  Imagine a church where the emphasis is on following all the right rules, doing all the right things.  Imagine a church where law is the gospel, where the good news has somehow changed into what we do or what we’re supposed to do.  Can you imagine such a church? 

The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism didn’t have to imagine it.  They had experienced or witnessed all of that.  Around the time of the Reformation, that was what the Roman Catholic Church had been like.  The Roman Catholic Church had departed far away from many of the teachings of the Bible.  Through men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, God had again brought people back to his Word.  Through his Word, he brought people back to himself, back to a real and living relationship with him – a relationship where there could be real comfort and strength.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a Reformation document.  It was written in 1563 in a small German territory called the Palatinate.  It had been commissioned by a Christian ruler named Frederick III.  He saw the degree of gospel ignorance amongst his subjects and it concerned him.  Frederick cared for the salvation of the people he ruled in the Palatinate.  So he commissioned the writing of a catechism.  He employed the services of theologians and pastors in Heidelberg, amongst whom were men like Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus.  Working with others, they produced a Catechism in German that would be used especially for the training of the youth in the Palatinate.  That’s how the Heidelberg Catechism came to be.  It’s a confession with a long history -- it’s now over 450 years old.  It’s been translated into numerous languages and people from all over the world love it and use it.

The Heidelberg Catechism is one of our confessions here at the Free Reformed Church.  Let me be clear about what that means, also for our visitors.  We believe that it is a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches on some of the most important things.  It does not replace the Bible.  It does not stand on the same level as the Bible.  The Bible is a divine book, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Heidelberg Catechism is a human document, written by men who were trying to be faithful to the Bible.  You cannot add to or take away from the Bible.  The church can make changes to the Catechism.  If the church saw merit in it and a good argument was made, the Catechism can be edited or improved.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s a human document and we should always keep that in mind. 

There’s a lot we can learn about the teachings of the Bible through following the Catechism. That’s why we go through it every year in the afternoon services.  Today we begin again at Lord’s Day 1.  This first Lord’s Day is the entrance into the Catechism.  It sets the tone and agenda for everything that follows.  One of the key things about the tone here is its warm and personal nature.  The Catechism follows biblical teaching and emphasizes that Christians are in a close relationship with God because of what Jesus Christ has done.  The gospel promises us this.  For all who believe, the gospel promises the biblical comfort of being in a relationship of fellowship and communion with God.

Let’s listen to the teaching of God’s Word in Lord’s Day 1 this afternoon.  We’ll learn how we all have to say, “My only comfort is in the biblical gospel.”

We’ll see that this gospel speaks of my:

  1. True comfort
  2. Indispensable comfort
  3. Fruitful comfort

A man lay dying in bed.  His life was drawing to a close.  He was only 49 years old, but it had been a productive 49 years.  God had done many good things through this man.  Some office bearers came to visit, including a pastor named Johannes.  The office bearers took turns reading some Scripture passages and then they sang a hymn together.  Then Pastor Johannes asked the dying man if he was confident of his salvation.  He replied with one word in Latin:  Certissimus – “Most certain.”  The dying man was Caspar Olevianus, one of the authors of the Catechism.  As he faced death, he was confident of where he was going to go after he took his last breath.  He had true comfort, not only for life, but also for death. 

The world around us thinks it knows about comfort.  If you were to ask random people on the street, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”, you would get some interesting answers.  Some Canadian Reformed young people in Hamilton did exactly that.  They went out in the CBD in Hamilton and asked people, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”  They had a camera and recorded the answers.  You can find it on YouTube.  It’s very interesting, but also quite sad.  Most people said things like, “I get comfort from coming home and watching TV.”  Or, “My only comfort in life and death is being with my family.”  Or:  “You know, just living in the moment.”  There was one person, a guy from whom you never would have expected it, he said, “It’s in Jesus Christ.”  But for most of these folks, the things they found comfort in were shallow and superficial. 

What is comfort, anyway?  Comfort has to be defined against the background of a world gone horribly wrong.  We live in a broken, messy world.  In this world there’s so much that breaks your heart.  It’s not only stuff that you’ve gone through and see, but also the sad stuff that you hear about in other people’s lives.  There’s the stuff that takes place in other countries, terrorism, war, and famine.  This world is messed up.  So, what is it that gives you strength to go on?  What is it that gives you the right perspective on the troubles you experience and others experience?  What is it that gives you hope?  That’s comfort.  Comfort is what puts solid rock under our feet when it feels like the world is falling apart.  Comfort is what gives us confidence to face both life and death, both waking up in the morning and the prospect that one day you’re not going to wake up, at least not here. 

God gives us true and meaningful comfort, deep comfort, in the gospel.  What does that word “gospel” mean?  Gospel simply means “good news.”  This is what the entire Bible is designed to bring us.  It’s there to bring us good news in a world where there’s so much bad news.  The good news of the Bible is centered on Jesus Christ.  You see that reflected in QA 1 of the Catechism. 

Our comfort is in belonging to Jesus Christ.  We belong to him completely and permanently, body and soul, life and death.  This is good news because he is a good person to belong to.  He has a warm heart of love for all who are his.  In fact, he loved us so much that he went to the cross for us to fully pay for all our sins and deliver us from Satan.  He loves so much that he preserves us too.  Nothing can happen to us apart from the will of God.  Whatever does happen, he promises that it will work out for our salvation, for our good.  That gives us perspective on life.  That gives us a confident comfort.  You can say, “With Jesus Christ as my Saviour, I’m in good hands.”  Moreover, he gives his Spirit to assure us of life forever with him.  We can be assured, when you belong to Jesus through faith in him, you don’t have to doubt your ultimate destiny.  Instead, you can say, “Where he is, someday I will be too.  I know that for sure!”  All of that is gospel, it’s good news, the best news that sinners could hope for.  And I can confidently tell you that it’s totally biblical too.

We can see that in what we read from 1 Peter 1.  Verse 18 speaks of being “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”  That word “ransom” is used in the Bible a little differently than the way we use it today.  A while back, some Australian oil workers were kidnapped in Nigeria and held for ransom.  They were released, so apparently someone paid the ransom to the kidnappers.  In the way we use the term, a ransom always has to be paid to someone.  However, the Bible never speaks directly about a person to whom the ransom for sinners is paid.  Instead, the focus is on the fact that a payment has been made to secure the freedom of someone.  The focus is on the payment and the freedom obtained.  So also here in verse 18 of 1 Peter 1.  A payment has been made, focus on that payment:  it was the precious blood of Christ which paid for our sins.  Because that payment was made, we enjoy the freedom that comes with belonging to him.  We are free from our sins and the consequences that our sins create.  Our sins create a debt with God’s justice, we earn God’s wrath.  Through Christ, the debt has been paid, wiped out.  We now belong to him.  We are his.  As Peter says in verse 3, through Jesus Christ, we now have a “living hope.”  The gospel gives us the comfort of knowing that our future is in good hands. 

So we don’t have to find comfort in superficial things.  Think back to Olevianus on his death-bed.  He didn’t have a TV back then.  But imagine if he had been around today and the pastor came to see him.  “Caspar, what is your only comfort in life and death?”  What if he had said, “Oh, all those hours I spent watching TV.  That’s real comfort.”  How ridiculous, how shallow, how sad.  Loved ones, when you look to Christ in faith, you get comfort with substance.  You get comfort that will strengthen you for life’s struggles.  God gives you comfort that will take you through the veil of death unafraid.  That’s true comfort.

The biblical gospel also speaks of indispensable comfort.  “Indispensable” means that you can’t do without it.  You need this comfort, you need it more than anything else in the world.  Now we don’t always recognize our needs.  A person could have a deadly disease without knowing it.  The person with that disease could need a life-saving treatment or surgery, but because they don’t know they have the disease, they don’t know that they need the medical care.  We don’t always recognize our needs.  But our Creator does.  He made us and he knows us inside out and backwards.  He has given us his Word to diagnose our greatest needs.  He tells us in the Bible that we desperately need the comfort the gospel offers.

Again we can turn to what we read from 1 Peter 1.  In verse 9, the Holy Spirit reminds us that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls.  Sometimes Scripture uses that word “soul” to refer to the immaterial part of our being.  As human beings, we have bodies, which are material, and we have souls which are immaterial.  But sometimes that word “soul” is also used to refer just to who we are as total human beings.  That’s the way the word is used here.  But it’s really “salvation” that needs to be our focus here.  What are we saved from?  Do we need saving?  In other words, do we need the saving comfort the gospel offers?  Could we do without it? 

We could ask the same questions with an eye to Lord’s Day 1.  It says that Jesus has fully paid for all my sins.  Why do I need that?  What are the consequences if my sins are not fully paid for?

The Bible’s answer to those sorts of questions is the bad news.  The Bible gives bad news to unrepentant sinners.  To people who don’t turn from sin and find comfort in Jesus Christ, there is horrible news.  You’re under God’s judgment and wrath.  There are many Scripture passages I could quote to prove that, but let me just mention one.  Psalm 7:12-13, “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.”  We need the saving comfort of the gospel because without it, we’re facing not only God as a just judge, but also as a fierce warrior.  Without the gospel, the Almighty God is our enemy.  This is the bad news and we might not like to hear about it, but the good news is only so good because the bad news is so bad.  The gospel gives so much comfort because the alternative is so horrific.  Without Jesus Christ as your Saviour, there is no real comfort for life, and certainly not after death.

The gospel provides you with the comfort you really need.  You really need a Saviour who has given himself for you.  You really need a Saviour who has shed his precious blood in your place to pay for your sins.  You really need a Saviour who will love you and protect you, who will never let you fall away.  You need a Saviour who will constantly assure you of his love and his certain goal of bringing you to glory.  He will do it! 

Loved ones, you need to be able to say that for yourself.  Again, notice how the Catechism speaks in these personal terms of “I,” “me,” and “my.”  That’s biblical.  God is calling you personally to take this comfort for your own.  He’s saying that you have to be able to say for yourself, “I need this comfort because without it, I’m in serious trouble.”  Lord’s Day 1 has to be your confession, brothers and sisters.  It’s not just the confession of the church to which you belong.  It is, but it has to be more.  Because it captures the comfort of the gospel that you need, it has to be your personal confession.  Here’s something you can do.  Take it home and say it for yourself.  If it helps, you can even start by saying it in the third person.  For example, if I were to do that, “What is Wes Bredenhof’s only comfort in life and death? That Wes is not his own, but belongs with body and soul, both in life and in death, to his faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” and so on.  Do it once like that, and then do it again with the first person as we have it written in the catechism.  But loved ones, make it your own, make it personal.  Look, that’s the way it’s written because that’s the way the biblical gospel is supposed to be embraced – it’s to be embraced by each of us personally and meaningfully.

The biblical gospel also speaks of a fruitful comfort.  When we really embrace this biblical gospel for ourselves, it does something.  It transforms our lives.  The comfort of belonging to Jesus Christ results in changed hearts and lives.  The gospel message does not consist of what we do.  The gospel proclaims what Jesus Christ has done and will do.  Nevertheless, when it’s embraced, the gospel does always have an impact on our lives.

In Lord’s Day 1, we confess that the Holy Spirit of Christ makes us “heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”  We belong to him and with his Spirit empowering us, we live for him.  When you look at the lives of Christians, there’s going to be a difference.  The difference will come through in what you want.  It says being “heartily willing and ready.”  What you want in your heart gets changed when you believe in Christ.  It’s not always consistent, but it’s there to some degree, that desire to live for your Lord and Saviour.  But also what actually happens in your life also gets changed.  You do actually begin to live for him.  Again, there are those inconsistencies, there are lapses, there is much weakness.  Sin clings to all of us this side of glory.  It’s sad and sometimes frustrating.  Yet change is happening.  No more status quo.  We want to grow and, by God’s grace, we actually do begin to grow.

It’s obvious from 1 Peter 1 that this teaching does come from Scripture.  Peter not only speaks about gospel hope in that chapter, but also about the bearing it has on the lives of believers.  Because we have been saved through God’s grace, we respond accordingly.  We’re called to aim for holiness in our conduct.  Holiness – that means being set apart from sin.  “You shall be holy, for I am holy” – Peter quotes from Leviticus 11 there.  That’s not to earn anything from God, but because he is worthy of our devotion.  Christ is worthy of our love and commitment.  He deserves to be honoured as Saviour and Lord.  If we belong to him, our lives should reflect that.  It should be increasingly apparent that we don’t belong to ourselves, but to him.  As Peter says, “the passions of our former ignorance” are no longer what we’re to be conformed to.  There’s what we loved before Christ, and there’s what we’re to love after we believe in Christ.  When we have Christ as our Saviour, we’re to love and pursue holiness.  That’s holiness in God’s eyes, holiness as described in his Word.  The gospel comfort that we have as Christians bears fruit – it is, indeed, a fruitful comfort.

Our comfort as Christians comes from the biblical gospel.  Now in order to believe that gospel with your heart, you need to first understand it with your mind.  There are things that you need to know with your head.  While faith is far more than knowledge, faith does have to be informed with knowledge.  Knowledge is essential to faith.  You have to learn stuff if you want to be a Christian.  That’s why the second question and answer sets the agenda for the rest of the Catechism.  There are things we’ll need to understand well in order to live and die with the joy of gospel comfort.  Sin and misery, deliverance, and thankfulness encompass the essentials of the Christian faith.  I’m not going to go into the details of all those this afternoon.  God willing, we’ll have plenty of time to learn about all this in the coming year.

We began with imagining what it must have been like to be a member of the Catholic Church before the Reformation.  Let’s take it a little further.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to encounter the Heidelberg Catechism for the first time?  Imagine reading Lord’s Day 1 and discovering these rich biblical teachings for yourself after so long in the dark.  I have encountered people like that today.  For instance, in Brazil, I’ve seen the Heidelberg Catechism often used as an outreach tool.  Free copies are handed out to heaps of people.  Many read it and they’re right away impressed with its personal nature and warmth.  They hear the language of the Bible in it.  Many people have become Reformed Christians through the Heidelberg Catechism, and some have even come to saving faith through it.  It’s been a powerful tool in God’s hands not only in Brazil, but around the world.  Here many of us have grown up with it.  Some of us have probably heard dozens of sermons on Lord’s Day 1 and all the others too.  There’s a real danger that comes with that.  The danger is in familiarity producing a yawn.  Indifference.  “Whatever.”  Loved ones, I want you to see this in a fresh light and appreciate what we have here.  What we have here is the gospel and that’s something you can’t take for granted.  Because the Catechism is faithful to God’s Word, it’s to be treasured, valued, learned from, and believed.  AMEN.   

Prayer:

Lord God, our Father,

Thank you for the comfort you’ve given in the gospel.  We thank you that you have given us what we truly need for life and death, for body and soul.  We deserve eternal condemnation, but you bless us with life and fellowship in the Saviour.  How good and merciful you are!   How loving!  Our Lord Jesus, we thank you for owning us.  It’s good for us to belong to you.  Lord, we praise you for fully paying for all our sins.  You loved us on the cross, loved us through hell and back.  What amazing love!  Without you, we would have no comfort, no hope.  Thank you for setting us free from the power of Satan.  Lord Jesus, we thank you further for preserving us so that nothing can harm us in any ultimate sense.  We thank you for your Spirit who assures us of life everlasting.  We worship you for his sanctifying word in our hearts and lives.  Lord God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we exalt your name for giving us this gift of comfort in a messed up world.  Please give us each more grace to embrace this comfort and believe it with all our heart. 

                                                             




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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