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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:Comfort for God's People
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Cor 1:1-11
Songs: Ps. 23; Hy. 11; Ps. 57; Hy. 1A; Hy. 49
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Is there comfort? Is there peace? So much hate and so much fighting in the world. Even the church has its share of unrest. Is there peace and comfort for the people of God?

Yes, there is.

I preach to you the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ under this theme:

Our only comfort in life and death is that we belong to Jesus Christ

In Lord’s Day 1:

1. We are confronted with a probing inquiry
2. We hear a profound answer
3. We are offered a perfect agenda

1.The question we are asked this afternoon is a probing one: “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

The Heidelberg Catechism begins in a beautiful way. But if we really open our ears to the question, then we have to admit that the Catechism also starts in a way that is, perhaps, not so easy. For there is an assumption behind the question. The assumption is that we need something. The thing we need is comfort.

It does not ask: Do you need comfort? It does not ask: If you are ever in need of comfort, to where do you turn? No. It takes for granted that we need comfort. There is something lacking in our lives. Things are not good as they naturally are. Of ourselves, we are uncomfortable. We experience discomfort. We need someone to give something that will give us a sense of comfort.

What is comfort? Comfort is something good that takes care of a bad situation. Comfort is something that will encourage and strengthen us so that we can endure a bad situation.

You might say at this point, “Well, I am not really sure that I need this thing called ‘comfort’ about which you are talking. “I am just fine on my own. “My life is good. “I am doing what I want. “I do not need any special comfort. “I do not need anyone to give me anything special. “All things are well. “I am ... comfortable.”

But then you do not yet realize what true discomfort is. Discomfort (the opposite of comfort) is not, first of all, having a broken arm or some disease. It is not, first of all, being poor or sad. These things can cause discomfort. They make us look for comfort. But we should not think that if we have got two strong arms that can work, if we are free of sickness and disease, if we have much money and are happy, that we do not need any comfort. We still need comfort. Because the basic cause, the first and true cause, of all discomfort is sin. We might feel sad and miserable when we are sick or if someone we love dies. But the thing that really makes us pathetic people is sin. And pathetic people need comfort.

We are all sinners. And therefore we are all, by nature, pathetic, wretched people, who need comfort.

If this is foreign to you, if this is something new to you, if it has never occurred to you that you, that each of us, needs comfort because of how pathetic sin has made all humanity, then you need yet to confront yourself with the scriptural truth that all people are born sinful and sinners and in desperate need of comfort. If you never sense any discomfort in your life but are perfectly happy with yourself, then you have not been honest with either God or yourself. Then you have not yet confessed your sins. You must do that, today.

For the question that comes to us this afternoon comes to each of us. Not just some or a few of us. The Heidelberg Catechism looks each of us in the eye and asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

You cannot avoid the question. The Heidelberg Catechism grabs each of us by the chin, looks us in the eye and asks, “And what about you–what is your only comfort in life and death?” The catechism asks old and young, rich and poor, this same question. It makes no distinction. It does not discriminate. It asks all. It is an equal-opportunity question.

This is not only a question for the deathbed. It is also a question for the young man or woman at the peak of life. It is not only a question for the old and worn out. We also ask those who are filled with the exuberance and vitality of youth: Young man, young woman, what is your only comfort in life and death?

The Heidelberg Catechism asks us about our only comfort. The implication is that there is only one true comfort. There are many people, movements, philosophies as well as material things that claim to offer you comfort. But they do not offer you the true comfort. The one and only comfort.

And this comfort the Catechism is asking about is good for life and for death. And that is a good thing. What good is something that gives you comfort while you are living, but leaves you standing alone when you pass through death’s door? Or what good is something that will only help you after you die but offers you nothing while you deal with the struggles of life every day of every week?

The comfort about which the Catechism is asking you is a comfort that helps you today when you are living and will not abandon you when you die. It will comfort you in death. It will comfort you in life. It is the only comfort. It is your comfort. God holds it out to you.

Is it your comfort? A probing question.

2. When the Church of all ages was asked, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”, then it answered, and continues to answer, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

It is a profound but simple answer.

When the LORD came with his promise to the exiles groaning in Babylon (Isaiah 40) his first words were: “Comfort, comfort my people.” “Comfort ... your sins are forgiven.”

We read how the apostle Paul described God in 2 Cor. 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” And then in v. 5 Paul says, “...through Christ comfort overflows.”

God is the God of all comfort. And through Christ we share in the comfort God holds out. When we believe in Christ and are grafted into him by faith, we share abundantly in the comfort of the God of all comfort–namely, the forgiveness of all our sins.

What does it mean to belong to Jesus Christ? Well, first of all it means that I do not belong to myself. That is how the answer starts, “That I am not my own.” I’ve been set free from myself. I am no longer in bondage to myself.

Do you see how the answer starts? It does not start by dealing expansively with how we are set free from all the power of the devil. That is a very important part of the answer. And we will talk about that. But the catechism says, “Wait a moment. That we belong to Jesus Christ means first of all that we no longer belong to ourselves.”

Do you find that hard to accept? We want to say, “I am my own man/woman. “I am the one who says what’s what in my life. “I am in control of my life. “I am enslaved to no one.”

But then along comes the Heidelberg Catechism and bursts our inflated egos. It says: “Do not say that.” A person who has been redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ will no longer say, “I am my own.” He will say, “I am not my own; I belong to the Lord Jesus. He bought me.”

The confession: “I belong to Jesus” is not identical with: “I belong to the church.” My only comfort is not that I have my name and address in the church registry. My only comfort is that I belong to Jesus Christ.

Now, we may not make a false separation between Jesus Christ and the church. The two belong together. And someone who belongs to Jesus Christ will join the local church of Christ and be a living member of the church. If Christ is your head, then it is only natural that you will find your place within his body, the church. However, it is sadly true that some times there are people who, in name, are members of the congregation (i.e., they are on the membership list) but who do not belong to Jesus Christ. They are like kidney stones. They are in the body, but they do not belong to the body.

Our confession is not: My only comfort is that I am a member of the church, as important as church membership is. My only comfort is that I belong to Jesus Christ.

At this point you might think: “Hmmm... If I belong to Christ, then I am not free. “Then I am bound. “Then I am a slave.” Well, here is one of the wonderful mysteries, the wonderful paradoxes of the Christian religion. It is only when you are bound to Christ that you are truly free. To be free, you must become a slave of Christ.

Think for a moment about a fish. A fish is bound to the water, and yet it is free. A fish is only free when it is in the water. When it is taken out of the water, it will quickly die. Water is its element.

In a similar way, belonging to Christ, being bound to him, having him as our Lord and master, is our element. Then we are doing that for which we were created. Man was originally created to praise God in all that he did. We fell from that wonderful height. But when we are bound to Christ, then we begin again to perform our original task–praising God and living as his image. I am, O LORD, your servant, bound yet free, your humble slave, whose shackles you have broken. I’ll offer you my sacrifice as token of thankfulness, and praise you constantly.

So our only comfort is that we belong to Jesus Christ. Well then, how did we come to be his? The second paragraph answers: “He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.”

The Lord Jesus has done two things to make us his own: 1) he has paid for our sins; 2) he breaks the grip that Satan has on our lives.

By his death on the cross, by the shedding of his precious blood, he paid for our sins. He underwent the punishment of God’s wrath that we deserved. In this way he got rid of the very thing that makes our lives so wretched, namely, sin. “By his death he has removed the cause of our eternal hunger and misery, which is sin.” (cf. Lord's Supper form.) And then he also breaks the power of the devil in our lives. We had sold ourselves to the devil. We were his slaves. But by his sacrifice, the Lord Jesus sets us free from this horrible slavemaster. He saves us from a master who only wants to crush the joy and life out of you–who wants to burden you with a yoke that will kill you. The Lord Jesus saves us and makes us slaves of himself. He calls us to bear his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light.

Jesus is a perfect Saviour. Not only does he save us from the guilt of sin. He also breaks the power sin and Satan had over us.

And he is a complete Saviour. He saves us body and soul. The Christian religion is not only for the soul. It is also for the body. It is not only for the future; it is also for today.

That is what we confess in the third paragraph. The Lord Jesus preserves us in our salvation in such a way that without the will of our heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from our heads; in fact, all things must work together for our salvation.

The Lord does not promise us at this point that we will never suffer, that we will never experience pain. But he does promise us that no suffering or pain will ever enter our lives outside of his and our Father’s will. Sometimes the Father, in this life, might lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. But he will be there with us. And he will bring us through.

Oh, we have our questions. And we cry our tears. We do not understand how this or that could possibly be good. Just like a child does not always understand the actions of his parents. But a child trusts that his mommy and daddy know best. And so we, in a childlike way, trust that Father in heaven knows best and that he is leading us in a good way. Whatever God does is, by definition, good. As the apostle Paul said in Rom. 8:28, all things must work together for the good of those who love God. That is comfort.

Lord Jesus is the Saviour of our bodies, but also of our souls. The last paragraph of Answer 1 brings that out. “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.”

We belong to him in life and in death. Even when we die, he keeps his hold on us. He does not let us go. We can be greatly comforted knowing that even when we slip beyond the grave, we will still belong to Christ. Forever. For all eternity.

That eternal life begins today already. “I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy.” We begin in this life the eternal sabbath. Eternal life begins on this side of the grave. Today we are laying the foundation stones for eternity. The life you are living today is the beginning of the life you are going to be living beyond the grave. And so, if you have no interest in belonging to Jesus today and living for him today already, then you will not belong to him after death. If Jesus is not your comfort in life, then he will not be your comfort in death.

But if he is your comfort now already, then he will be your comfort on the day you die, and when your body is in the grave.

As the Lord Jesus said in John 11, “He who believes in me has eternal life.” He did not say, “Will receive eternal life;” rather, he said, “has eternal life.” Now, already. Eternal life is that new way of living. It is being born again.

And whoever has this new eternal life becomes a new person. By the Spirit, he/she begins to live for Jesus. He no longer lives for himself, but for Christ.

That is the new life. And the Holy Spirit assures us of it. By the work he does in our lives. By giving our lives new direction. He makes us want to live for Jesus. He makes us want to start living the new life for Christ today already. He makes us bear fruit unto the Lord. And when we see ourselves earnestly desiring to live for Christ, then we can be greatly comforted knowing that that is only because we have been born again and that we, therefore, already have eternal life.

Are you heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Christ? Then be assured that you have the new eternal life. You need have no doubts.

However, if you cannot say that you are willing to live for Christ, then you had better spend some time in prayer this afternoon. Then you need to start by repenting from your sins. Then you need to turn to Jesus Christ. And if you do that, you will receive the new life. And then you can go and begin living the new life, today.

3. For that is the point, isn’t it? We do not sit on the treasure of salvation. We go to work with it. We live out of it. That is why question 2 asks: “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?”

Here we see Lord’s Day 1 becoming much more than just some memory work. The comfort we confess here is much more than just something intellectual. It is a new way of life. It is an agenda. A perfect agenda.

The comfort we receive from God through Christ fills us with joy. The question is: “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” To belong to Christ is a happy, a joyful thing. Enjoy the benefits of what Christ has done! Seize them and go to work with your salvation. Bring it to every aspect of your life.

Christ has not come to give us a bit of comfort and a bit of joy. He has come to fill us with his comfort, to cause our cup of joy to overflow.

What are the three things we need to know? How great our sins and misery are; how we are delivered from all our sins and misery; how we are to be thankful to God for such a deliverance.

There you have the “abc” of joyful Christian living.

The Holy Spirit, by way of the Word of God, teaches us these three things we need to know in order to live and die happily in the comfort of Christ. He likes to do so on Sundays right here. And he likes to teach us this from when we are very young until we are very old. That is why we should bring the children to church as soon as possible. It is for the children and for the grandparents. Never too young to start; never to old to learn yet a little more. We never graduate from the school of the Holy Spirit until the Lord himself promotes us to glory.

The three things we need to know fit together perfectly. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and we realize how wretched we are because of our sins, then we flee to Christ for salvation. And when we have received God’s gracious, free salvation, then it becomes our desire to serve God in thankfulness for salvation. If I know that I have been saved from my sins, if I can see the Holy Spirit working in my life, making me live for Christ, then I am comforted. I am comforted, then, in the knowledge and experience of belong to Jesus Christ body and soul, today and forever.

Embrace this comfort, beloved. Make it your own by faith in Jesus Christ. You need not face life alone. Face it with Christ. You need not face death alone. Face it with Christ. Lean on him. Depend upon him. The one who has bought you with his precious blood.

The warfare is over. Your sins are covered. Peace waits for you. There is comfort for the people of God.AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. George van Popta

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