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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:Word, water, bread and wine
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading of Scripture: Luke 8:4-18

Reading of text: LD 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism

Singing: Ps. 33:1,2,6; Ps. 119:39,40; Hy. 11; Ps. 100:4; Ps. 63:1,2,3
* 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:

Word, water, bread and wine. Preaching, baptism, holy supper. Pulpit, font and table. The audible, visible and edible Word of God. How rich we are. The grace of God comes to us in many ways.

This morning we celebrated holy supper. In addition to the regular preaching of the word, we saw and we ate the word of God. In this way, by preaching and table-by word, bread and wine-the Holy Spirit once again directed us to the once for all sacrifice Christ Jesus brought for us on the cross.


1. His use of the Word; 2. His use of the Sacraments.

1.Q. 65 starts by taking a glance back. Since then faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits, from where does this faith come? It is glancing back at LD 23 and 24. This was the point these LDs made: Faith alone makes us share in Christ and all his benefits. LD 23 was emphatic: ...if only I accept this gift with a believing heart; and ... I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only. LD 24 was equally emphatic. We do not earn righteousness by good works. We are righteous only in Christ. It is only in Christ that we are acceptable to God. We can receive that righteousness and make it our own by faith only.

Since this is the case, a pressing question emerges. That pressing question is: From where does this faith come? This is not a theoretical question like: How does an airplane stay in the sky? Or, why do leaves turn red in the Fall? The question of where faith comes from is a question of life or death. From where comes the faith through which we are justified? Through which we have the forgiveness of sins and life eternal? If faith is so necessary that without it we do not have Christ Jesus and his benefits, it is very important that we know from where faith comes.

We get a clear answer. From the Holy Spirit,who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel.

This teaches us, first, that faith is the gift of God. The work of God. Faith is not the work of man. It is not something that struggles out from within you. It is something that comes from outside of you-from God the Holy Spirit.

The Catechism does not just point to the gospel, but specifically to the preaching of the gospel. To the preaching. The Sunday sermons you hear. The ministry of the divine word. Through it, through the ordinary Sunday sermon, the Holy Spirit works faith in your heart. And so the sermons as you hear them, week in and week out, are important.

Just putting a Bible into the hands of people is not enough. We need to bring them under the preaching. We have all heard stories from the Gideons about people being converted to Christ simply by reading a Bible left in a hotel room. And I would be mad to say that the Holy Spirit cannot use a complementary Gideon Bible in a hotel room. But the normal way is not just through reading the Bible but through the preaching of the Word. The Word of God as it is competently, authoritatively, and reverently expounded and proclaimed.

Think of the preaching of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. The disciples, themselves filled with the Holy Spirit, went and preached the glad tidings of what God had done in Christ. They proclaimed the mighty deeds of what God had done by the death of Christ on the cross, his resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. Then we read specifically Peter's sermon. Peter preached. He opened the scriptures and preached from Joel 2 and Ps. 16. He applied these texts to the hearts of his audience and called them to faith and conversion. What an effect! 3,000 believed. How did 3,000 come to faith in Jesus Christ? By the preaching of Peter. Through a sermon. The Holy Spirit worked faith in the hearts of 3,000 people as Peter and the other apostles preached the good news of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the book of Acts we can read about the Holy Spirit working through the preaching. In Acts 16:14 we read about Lydia-about how the Lord laid what Paul had to say upon her heart. And she believed. She responded to the preaching of Paul in faith. Paul, reflecting upon such things, said in (Rom 10:17 RSV) "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ."

Asserting the Biblical truth that faith comes through hearing the proclamation of Christ Jesus for the salvation of sinners is not the same as saying that no one who has not or is not exercising a living faith cannot be save. Please understand well the point.

If an infant child of believers dies, that child is saved apart from having heard the gospel proclaimed. And apart from exercising faith. We have no doubt about that. We address this very specifically in our third Reformed confessional standard where we say that the Word of God declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents. [And that] Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.

Or perhaps there is a brother or sister who is very severely handicapped mentally. That person too is saved, even if he has never come to an awareness of the gospel through preaching. God can and does save them.

Or perhaps an older brother or sister loses completely his memory. You visit an old child of God who has no memory anymore of the gospel. No longer does he exercise faith. No longer consciously accepting the gift of righteousness and eternal life with a believing heart. Attending to the preaching of the Word is meaningless to him. If you ask him if he has faith in Jesus, you get a blank stare back. Is that person still a child of God? Is he still saved? Of course. Without any doubt. Because of a devastating disease or the unrelenting ravages of old age he may have forgotten God. But God will never forget him / her.

* God can save an infant who dies, an unborn infant who dies. * God can save someone who, because of mental infirmity, never articulates the faith. * God can save someone who, because of disease or old age, forgets the name of Jesus. God can, and does!

But the point for us today is not: What can or can't God do? The question is: What has God revealed in his word about how he wants to work with people who can hear and understand the word? Then the answer is clear: God works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel,

That's an amazing thing. Amazing for a preacher to think about. The mighty and holy God who calls into existence the things that are not; who spoke and there was light - this God binds himself to something as common as the preached word. He sets a man, an ordinary man, behind a pulpit-a man who has nothing but a human voice. God sends you not an angel, but a man. A man with clay feet. As Paul said it: clay pot, a jar of clay. Someone who needs to believe as you do. A sinner like you. Someone who needs the saving work of Christ no less than anyone else. He lets him announce the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation. God binds himself to that. He is pleased to use that. To work faith in us-in our hearts.

What a thought. Let every preacher, everyone who would be a preacher, be humbled by the thought.

LD 25 says that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. The word "heart" refers to our total existence. It includes everything: Your mind, your intellect, your conscience, your emotions-every part of you.

By nature, our hearts are closed to God. But then the Holy Spirit comes to us by way of the preaching and breaks open our hearts. He makes us hear, really hear, the gospel of Christ. And so he works faith.

A powerful word is used. Works. Farmers speak of working the land. And then they mean that they are breaking it up -- in the spring. In preparation for seeding the crops. So the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. He breaks open our hearts and works faith in it.

The word "works" is in the present tense. It's an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. That's good. For we are so weak and doubting. The devil tries to stifle our faith. Listen: It is especially when you are weak and doubting that you must come to church to listen to the preaching. It happens so often that when people are weak, struggling and doubting, that they do not come to church. At that point they quit attending the preaching of the gospel. That is very dangerous and not very smart. Because then the devil's got you where he wants you.

When you doubt, you must open your ears to the preaching of the gospel. That's how the Holy Spirit does his precious work in us. By way of the preaching the Holy Spirit binds Jesus Christ upon our hearts. He pours into our hearts the treasures of Christ: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Because the Holy Spirit is pleased to use the preaching of the gospel to work faith in our hearts, it is critical how we listen. Think of what the Lord said in Luke 8:18, after he told the parable of the Sower. In this parable the Lord spoke about different kinds of soil. The seed sown by the sower is the Word of God. The different kinds of soil are images of the different ways in which people receive or reject the Word of God. Then in Luke 8:18, the Lord said: "Therefore consider carefully how you listen."

How are you listening? Are you careful in listening and in working with it? Letting the Holy Spirit work with it in your heart? For then you will be richly blessed. For the Holy Spirit will then work faith-ever greater and deeper faith-in your heart by way of the preached gospel.

2. Answer 65 says more. It says that the Holy Spirit also strengthens faith by the use of the sacraments. What he works by the preaching he strengthens by the sacraments. And so we have another question: 66. What are the sacraments?

Again, this not an abstract question along the lines of: What is a electron? Or: How big do crocodiles grow? The answer shows us that this is not an theoretical question. The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals by which God the more fully declares and seals to us the promise of the gospel. So the sacraments, too, have everything to do with the gospel. God gives us signs of his promises. By baptism and Lord's supper he seals the promise of the gospel to us.

You see, God knows us head to toe, better than we know ourselves. In Article 33 of our Confession of Faith we say: We believe that our gracious God, mindful of our insensitivity and weakness, has ordained sacraments to seal His promises to us... God knows that we are weak. And so he ordained a second way into our hearts: the sacraments. As Ps. 139 has it: the LORD has searched us and he knows us. He knows that we are weak and that the devil is strong. And so, as BC 33 said: Our gracious God has added the sacraments to the Word to represent better to our external senses his promises. The Word gains access to our heart by way of the ears. The sacraments gain access to our heart by way of the other senses, the eyes, and even the mouth.

Six times per year we celebrate Lord's supper. We did this morning. It was very visible. Lots to see. A table. Plates of bread. Cups filled with wine.

The minister took a piece of bread and broke it. Bread which is the communion of the body of Christ. Broken bread which symbolizes the body of Christ broken on the cross.

Red wine was poured. Wine poured to symbolize the violent death of Christ on the cross.

The elders brought you the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ate and drank. We felt the bread, smelled the wine, saw and tasted the bread and the wine. We tasted our salvation. We tasted and we saw that God is good.

And once again the Holy Spirit laid the gospel of Jesus Christ upon our hearts.

Think of baptisms. In the front row you will see a mother and father with a newborn baby. The parents stand. The minister asks some questions. The parents answer. Then the child is brought forward and water is splashed upon its forehead. It's a solemn moment. God speaking to that child. God busy with that child. The Holy Spirit at work giving a visible display of God's covenant of grace.

It's a wonderful thing, that God brings the gospel to us so clearly, so visibly. And so the HC calls them visible signs and seals. They are signs of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And at the same time, by way of the sacraments God places his royal seal (stamp) deeply in the promise. He authenticates and guarantees the promise by the sacraments. The sacraments are like his signature upon the promises he's made to us. Let us make good use of the sacraments.

With the Word of God, baptism and Lord's supper as the centre of our lives, we have all we need for living the Christian life. If we ignore, scorn or disdain these, we'll be bound for trouble. The Holy Spirit does not scorn the use of means. Let us not either. Let us rather use them: both word and sacraments. Then we will grow in the faith and persevere in the faith.

As we confess in CD V:14- Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so He maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and by the use of the sacraments.

As QA 67 says: both the word and sacraments are intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation. Both point to the once for all sacrifice of Christ. By the preaching of the word, the Holy Spirit teaches us that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross. By the sacraments, the Holy Spirit assures us of the same. Throughout the centuries, the word and sacraments have pointed God's people to Christ -- to Golgotha. That's where you need to go, every day. There on that hill your salvation was earned. There flowed the blood of which the word and sacraments speak. That blood is the only ground for your salvation. There is no other ground.

There is still QA 68. A simple question; a simple answer. A favourite among catechism students for well over 400 years. A short little answer and yet there's a lot of history in that little answer. For the church of the middle ages, which had enslaved God's people and from which God set us free, had added five more sacraments for a total of seven. It added confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, and last rites. The Reformation shoved these five human inventions aside and said: There are two sacraments. And the Reformation had the Bible on its side. It's not hard to point to the passages where Christ has instituted baptism and Lord's supper, whereas one cannot point to any Bible passage which indicates that Christ has instituted the other five as sacraments.

With these two sacraments of the new covenant, baptism and Lord's supper, Christ has clearly fulfilled the old covenant. The bloody sacrament of circumcision became the bloodless sacrament of baptism. The bloody sacrament of the Passover lamb became the bloodless sacrament of holy supper. Baptism grafts us into God's household. Lord's supper feeds us in God's household. In all four: the outdated sacraments of the old covenant and the current sacraments of the new, the precious blood of Christ stands central.

The Holy Spirit has not scorned the use of means. Let us be faithful in using them, the more so in this age of apostasy and rebellion against God. Listen to the word. Let the Holy Spirit work faith and strengthen your faith by the preaching of the word. By way of the word the Holy Spirit reaches through your ears into your heart. Reflect often upon your baptism. Continue to celebrate the Lord's supper. By way of the sacraments the Holy Spirit reaches through your eyes and mouth into your heart.

Word, water, bread and wine. Preaching, baptism, holy supper. Pulpit, font and table. The audible, visible and edible Word of God. How rich we are.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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