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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Our only comfort in life and death comes from the Triune God
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1-3

Hymn 49

Hymn 64

Hymn 1

Psalm 31:1-3, 14

Scripture readings: Psalm 46, 1 Peter 1:13-25, Romans 8:1-17

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 our Lord,

This afternoon, we’re beginning another series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism.  Our Catechism can be considered like a road map for the Bible.  It doesn’t take the place of Scripture, but it helps us see the important teachings in it, like a road map helps us see the important places in a region.  Moreover, it helps us organize those teachings in a systematic way.  The Bible is a big and diverse book.  So with our Catechism we have its important teachings organized in a simple and memorable format.

I want to begin with a bit of history.  This isn’t history for the sake of history.  It’s some history we can learn from.    

Our Catechism was written in Germany in 1563.  It was written during the later years of the Reformation.  Its primary author was Zacharias Ursinus, but he was helped others including Caspar Olevianus.  They were young men (28 and 26) who’d been appointed professors of theology at Heidelberg.  They’d been appointed by Elector Frederick III, the ruler of the Palatinate, a German-speaking region.  Frederick had arranged for the writing of this catechism with the idea that it would be used for teaching the children under his rule and that it would guide pastors and teachers in the Palatinate. 

I suppose that a lot of this is familiar to many of you.  However, has it ever struck you that our Catechism, this Reformed Catechism, was written in what we today call Germany?  Germany is usually associated with Lutheranism, not with the Reformed faith found in the Heidelberg Catechism.  You need to know that there was a rift between Calvinists and Lutherans in the time our Catechism was written.  To have a German catechism that was Reformed was unusual.  It actually created some controversy. 

The patron of our Catechism, Frederick III, was aware of this controversy.  It bothered him enormously.  When our Catechism was written and published, German Lutherans raised a stink.  They charged that Frederick (and the Palatinate) had turned Reformed.  This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it hadn’t of been for the Peace of Augsburg.  Under this treaty between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the German princes, only Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism were permitted in that region. 

Immediately after our Catechism was published 450 years ago, there was enormous opposition to it.  Elector Frederick caught the brunt of it and he was eventually called to appear before Emperor Maximilian II at the Diet of Augsburg.  Everything was up in the air – Frederick could have lost everything – his office, his life, and his catechism.  As he appeared at Augsburg in 1566, Frederick was charged with promoting Calvinism through the Heidelberg Catechism. 

Why does this matter for today?  It matters because still today there are those who see the Heidelberg Catechism simply as an expression of human opinions.  The Heidelberg Catechism expresses Reformed beliefs, but it isn’t the Bible.  Of course, it’s true that our Catechism isn’t the Bible.  And it’s true that it expresses Reformed beliefs – but there’s more needing to be said.   Frederick made his defense to Emperor Maximilian and his words should be heard today as well.  He reaffirmed the faith he had confessed with the Lutheran princes in 1558 and 1561.  However, he went on to say,

…in this faith I continue firmly, on no other ground than because I find it established in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Nor do I believe that anyone can successfully show that I have done or received anything that stands opposed to that creed.  But that my catechism, word for word, is drawn, not from human, but from divine sources, the biblical references that stand in the margin will show.

We’re told that Frederick faced Maximilian, the most powerful human ruler of his day, alongside his son John Casimir.  Frederick’s son stood with an open Bible and then Frederick challenged the Emperor with these words,

What I have elsewhere publicly declared to your Majesty in a full assembly of princes; namely, that if anyone of whatever age, station or class he may be, even the humblest, can teach me something better from the Holy Scriptures, I will thank him from the bottom of my heart and be readily obedient to the divine truth.  This I now repeat in the presence of this assembly of the whole empire.  If there be anyone among my lords and friends who will undertake it, I am prepared to hear him, and here are the Scriptures at hand.  Should it please your Imperial Majesty to undertake this task, I would regard it as the greatest favour and acknowledge it with suitable gratitude.

Frederick’s bold challenge went unanswered.  The Heidelberg Catechism passed into history as one of the most well-received summaries of scriptural teaching.  This is our confession.  We do well to follow Frederick’s lead and emphasize that this isn’t a compilation of human doctrines.  It’s the truth of God from his Word faithfully distilled into 52 Lord’s Days.  We can be thankful for the witness of Frederick and we can also pray that we’ll continue to have the same Spirit, not only of boldness, but also of being teachable.  We should always be willing to be taught from the Scriptures. 

Our Catechism begins by asking the familiar question about our only comfort in life and death.   Today many people think of comfort as being comfortable.  If you’ve got lots of money, lots of toys, lots of everything, then you have comfort.  But that’s not how God’s Word defines or speaks of comfort.  There comfort is having something or someone to encourage you when things have taken a bad turn.  And if we follow the teachings of Scripture, we know sin has made all humanity take a bad turn.  Left to ourselves, we’re at war with our Creator.  Left to ourselves, we hate God and our neighbour.  We’re on the highway to hell.  And even when we come to faith in our Lord Jesus, we still face the effects and power of remaining sin in our lives.  We cause trouble for ourselves and others with our sins.  So, we need to have true, biblical comfort.  We need someone to help us and give us hope.

In this first Lord’s Day, the Catechism beautifully summarizes the teaching of Scripture that our only comfort in life and death comes from the Triune God.  That’s our theme for this afternoon.  And we’ll unfold that theme by briefly learning about the work of each of the three persons of the Trinity. 

So, first let’s look at the work of the Father.  We learn from Scripture that God the Father does many things, but for our purposes this afternoon we want to focus on his work of preservation.  The Catechism summarizes this teaching by saying that without the will of our heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from our heads; indeed, all things must work together for our salvation.  God the Father created us, but also continues to take care of us each and every day.  We can see that in Psalm 46 as well.  If you look at verses 1-3, it’s clear that God is our refuge.  These verses appear to be speaking about an earthquake, some kind of catastrophic event shaking up the Psalmist’s world.  I’ve never been in a big earthquake, but from what I’ve heard and read, it sounds a lot like what we have in Psalm 46.  It seems like the earth will give way and the mountains will fall into the ocean.    In the face of that, the Psalmist says that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  God will protect, even when the mountains are falling down.  God is always the safe place to hide.  God will keep the Psalmist safe.  And God will do the same for you, brothers and sisters.  Believing in our Lord Jesus, you can be sure that no matter what is going on in your life, the heavenly Father will be your refuge.  His love for you is sure and strong. 

That gives us comfort.  That’s because you know then that nothing happens to us by chance.  There’s no such thing as luck, whether good or bad.  God is always in control.  As he promises in Romans 8, he’ll work out everything for our good.  “Indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.”  We have to remind ourselves of that when tragedy strikes in our lives.  Or when there’s pain, suffering and trouble.  You may not understand how something so bad can ever turn out good.  But God your Father knows.  As we travel on, we do so in faith, trusting him and holding on to his sure promises.  Doing that, we can have comfort in life and death, knowing our Father in heaven loves us. 

We also have comfort in knowing our Lord Jesus died for us and we belong to him.  Our Catechism says, “He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil.”  Now you might recognize some of those words, not just because they’re in the Catechism, but because they come from what we read in 1 Peter 1.  That passage tells us Christ bought us from the empty manner of life handed down to us from our forefathers.  Christ bought us from our old sinful way of living.  And he didn’t do that with something that could waste away.  Silver and gold can be burned up and disappear.  So can money.  But our Lord Jesus gave something imperishable, something that can never disappear or be destroyed.  His precious blood was the perfect and imperishable sacrifice.  And because it was so perfect, we can know ourselves to be God’s children now.  1 Peter 1:21, “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”    This is good news!  This is real comfort. 

The comfort is in belonging to Jesus Christ in life and death, with body and soul.  This notion is entirely counter-cultural, and it doesn’t just go against the flow of our culture, it goes against the fallen nature of humanity.  People don’t like the idea of belonging to somebody else.  Today all the emphasis is on human autonomy – you belong to yourself.  Nobody owns you and no one can tell you what to do with yourself.    Teenagers might say to their parents, “You don’t own me!”  Or women might think their husbands or boyfriends are possessive.  Belonging to somebody else gets framed in a negative way.  But loved ones, belonging to Christ is different – it’s a good and beautiful thing.  Why?  Because the truth is that you will belong to somebody whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not.  If you don’t belong to Christ, you’ll belong to the Devil.  And while belonging to Satan might seem fun for a time, later on things will get very, very hard.  Guaranteed.  We find God’s Word on this in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the unfaithful is hard.”  It’ll be hard in this age and it’ll even be harder in the age to come. 

But when we fix our eyes on Christ, we hear him promising us he is a good master, a good Shepherd.  Listen to his voice in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Belonging to Jesus is a good thing – he’ll give us comfort.  Following him isn’t always easy, but it’s always the way of blessing.  And when we belong to our Lord Jesus we also have a hope for the future – we have the comfort of knowing all the blessings we’ve received in this life will find their fulfilment when we pass away or when Christ returns. 

So, there’s comfort with the Father and the Son.  Then last of all, there’s also comfort in knowing the work of the Holy Spirit.  Listen again to what the Catechism says about his work, “Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”  One of Christ’s gifts to us is the Holy Spirit living in us.  Every believer has been baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:15 says we have received the Spirit of sonship.  The Holy Spirit is the one who makes our adoption as God’s sons a reality.  He does that by giving us new life in Christ Jesus.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s work would be meaningless.  Without the Holy Spirit, we’d be lost forever.  We need him for our only comfort in life and death.

The Holy Spirit does a number of things in us and for us.  Our Catechism points out two in Lord’s Day 1.  The first thing is that he gives us assurance.  Assurance is simply knowing for sure that we are God’s children through our Saviour Jesus.  This is what we read about in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  How does he do this?  He works faith in our hearts, faith in God’s promises.  God promises to save all who believe in Jesus.  Believing that Christ is our Saviour, we can know for sure we’re God’s children.  Of course, that’s a great comfort.  Why?  Because if you’re God’s child, then nothing can take God’s love away from you.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God will always be our Father who loves us and cares for us. 

But the Holy Spirit does more.  He also progressively sanctifies us, in other words, he makes us holy, set apart from sin.  Sanctification is how we’re daily growing in our walk with the Lord.  This is what our Catechism is speaking of when it says that the Holy Spirit makes us “heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

As believers, we still have remaining sin in our lives, we still have the remnants or leftovers of our old nature.  But the Holy Spirit, he is an integral part of the process of putting everything of that old nature to death.  He helps us to fight and conquer the monster.  He helps us grow in our walk with God.  Even though we won’t be perfect in this life, the Holy Spirit is leading us forward so we do grow as Christians.

With Christ’s Spirit in us, we increasingly let ourselves be led in ways of holiness and righteousness.  Listen again to what it says in Romans 8:13-14, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  We must be led by the Spirit of God if we desire life.  To be led by the Spirit of God, we need to focus on the means he uses to lead us.  The Holy Spirit’s tool is the Word of God, the Bible.  So, if we are to be led by the Spirit, we need to be listening to what God says in his Word.  We do that with the preaching of the Bible in church, but we can and should also think about how we do that with one another in our study clubs.  We grow in the Word together.  If you’re not a regular member of a Bible Study group, let me challenge you this afternoon. 

If you’re in the youth or older youth range, I hope you’re making it a habit to study the Bible with the other youth of the church.  If you’re in some other age group, the same thing applies.  This should be a priority for all of us.  Perhaps you think to yourself, “But I don’t get anything out of it.”  Then don’t go for what you can get out of it – go for what you, being led by the Holy Spirit and the Word, what you can offer and contribute.  As we work with the Word, we can’t be developing a spiritual lone ranger mentality.  We need each other – each of us in whom the Holy Spirit lives.  After all, we’re not only individually the temple of the Holy Spirit, but also corporately or collectively, together.  That’s what 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you (plural) not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (plural)?”  Think also of what God says in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Now, how is this work of the Spirit a comfort to us?  Well, think of how the Spirit continually leads us back to God’s promises and God’s ways.  When we believe in the certainties of God’s Word and when we’re led to follow his ways, then life in a sinful, messy world becomes more bearable.  But most important, it’s a comfort because we know that we living in communion with God, our Creator.  We’re living for him, giving him the praise, the love, the thankfulness we were created for. 

So, comfort is found entirely with God.  Misery comes from humanity.  Comfort comes from God, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this comfort, is it yours?  Notice how our Catechism is so personal.  “What is YOUR only comfort in life and death?”  Can you say with our Catechism, “That I am not MY own,” and so on?  A Christian must be able to say that.    

The second question and answer provides us with the outline for where our Catechism is going to take us over the next 51 Lord’s Days.  To live and die with the joy of this comfort, we’ll need to hear about our sin and misery.  We’ll need to be reminded of our deliverance from sin and misery.  Finally, we’ll need to learn again the proper response to this deliverance:  thankfulness.  It’s the familiar guilt, grace, gratitude.  As we go through the Catechism Sunday after Sunday, we’ll see how the whole teaching of the Bible gives us comfort.  It directs us to a proper faith in God and the praise that will be offered to his Name, now and forever.  AMEN.


Our God in heaven,

We thank you for the comfort the gospel gives us.  We thank you Father for your preservation of us.  Thank you for your providential control of our lives.  We thank you Lord Jesus for redeeming us with the imperishable sacrifice of your blood.  Thank you for delivering us from all the power of the devil.  We thank you Holy Spirit for giving us assurance in the gospel.  Thank you for your work of sanctification.  O God, we pray that we would always rest and trust in your promises and find our only comfort in life and death in belonging to you...

* 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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