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Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.

Introduction

    1. What image is conjured up in the mind of the average churchgoer when he hears the word “doctrine”?

      1. If you took a survey you would come up with various answers.

        1. One person would say, “Doctrine is boring. No one wants to listen to that.”

        2. Another would say, “Doctrine is cold. It is just abstract ideas about God.”

        3. A third would say, “Doctrine divides. Why can we not all get along?”

      2. Such people would be surprised to read Lord’s Day One, which is the beginning of our doctrinal creed, the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).

        1. The one word which doctrine conjured up in the mind of the framers of the Heidelberg Catechism is “comfort.”

        2. Doctrine, according to LD1, is comforting. In order to have comfort, insists LD1, we must know certain truths about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.

      3. We live in an age which despises doctrine and this has led to the weakening of the churches of our day.

        1. Ignorance of doctrine is ignorance of God and ignorance of God is spiritual death, since to know God is to have eternal life (John 17:3).

        2. Ignorance of doctrine leads to ignorance of how to worship and praise God and is the death of godly living and the breeding ground of idolatry and superstition.

        3. And ignorance of doctrine is destructive of hope, joy and comfort. One who does not know the doctrines of the Gospel cannot enjoy the comfort of the Gospel.

    2. We preach the HC because we and our children must not be ignorant of doctrine.

      1. But we do not preach doctrine as cold, abstract, scholarly formulae.

        1. That can happen in the church and when it does dead orthodoxy sets in: the people have the truth but they have no love of the truth.

        2. Doctrine becomes a mere intellectual pursuit which means little, if anything, to the people personally.

      2. Rather, we preach doctrine the way LD1 of the Heidelberg Catechism presents it: as personal, warm and experiential.

        1. LD1 touches on many doctrines: the sovereignty of God, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the covenant and much more, which will be explained in later LDs.

        2. But that is not the focus in LD1: the focus is on the comfort which that wonderful doctrine brings to every child of God as he confesses his only comfort in life and death. Let’s consider …

 

OUR ONLY COMFORT OF BELONGING TO JESUS CHRIST”

I. The Only Comfort

II. The Fundamental Relationship

III. The Blessed Assurance

 

  1. The Only Comfort

    1. Comfort is a great good in our life which consoles us concerning all the distress which we experience and turns all evil to our profit.

      1. This is evident from a study of the words used in the Old and New Testaments translated “comfort”

        1. In that famous OT passage, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people” (Is. 40:1) the Spirit uses a verb which means to “draw a great breath.”

          1. The idea is of a person who experiences great anxiety. One comes bringing comfort and causes him to breathe again, to sigh in great relief … “Ah, that’s better!”

          2. Thus the OT word for “comfort” emphasizes the effect which good news has on the distressed soul.

        2. In the NT, the word “comfort” is used in a place such as I Thess. 4:18 (“Wherefore comfort one another with these words”) where the Spirit uses a verb which means to “call alongside.”

          1. The idea is of a person coming to another, sitting beside him, putting his arm around him in a consoling manner and bringing a message of consolation.

          2. Thus the NT word for “comfort” emphasizes the action of the comforter in giving support and encouragement.

      2. Our need for comfort arises because we experience misery throughout life; in fact we are miserable.

        1. The HC takes aim at our misery: it is not poverty, sickness, disappointment or even death. It is sin (“how great my sins and miseries are”).

          1. Objectively, this is the misery of all men: sin in all its forms, the guilt of sin, the pollution of sin, the bondage of sin and the punishment due to sin. Every man, whether he acknowledges it or not, stands guilty before God and is miserable.

          2. But the HC, a personal and experiential explanation of doctrine, has the child of God confess that this is subjectively his misery: we, as Christians, experience this misery. We experience this misery throughout life, because daily we sin, daily we feel guilt, daily we feel unclean and daily we struggle to obey God’s commandments.

          3. Such a miserable struggle with sin causes us to echo the cry of the Apostle, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

        2. Only the Reformed Faith answers the misery of man’s sin by pointing to the comfort of the doctrines of the Gospel.

          1. Other supposed comforts address the symptoms of misery but do not address the root cause: so the world tries to end misery by ending war, social unrest and poverty but ignores the problem of sin.

          2. The Medieval Church lost the Gospel and with it lost the comfort that only the Gospel gives. It lost the Gospel by minimizing man’s misery (man is not really as bad as the Bible says) and then by minimizing God’s work in delivering sinners from misery (the work of the cross is not enough).

          3. But in order to have comfort, we must have something to console us concerning our sin, to make us breathe again, and someone who comes alongside of us to speak consoling words to us as long as we are sinners.

      3. The HC speaks here of an “only” comfort. There are not different varieties of comfort for different situations but only one comfort.

        1. This is the comfort which consoles, cheers and upholds every child of God no matter his circumstances.

          1. The answer to this question (“What is thy only comfort …?”) is the hope of the little child who learns of this comfort on his mother’s knee.

          2. The answer to this question is the comfort of the teenager who goes through the often bewildering process of becoming an adult.

          3. The answer to this question is the hope of the elderly saint, who experiences the trials of old age.

        2. This comfort brooks no rivals and cannot be replaced by anyone or anything in the universe because only this comfort answers my need as a sinner.

          1. When I become sick, my comfort is not the fact that there are good doctors.

          2. When I lose my job, my comfort is not that I can get another or that I have money in the bank or people who can lend me money.

          3. Nor, may I seek comfort in the ways of sin, by forgetting my troubles through drinking, drugs or ungodly entertainment.

    2. The only comfort is, of course, that we belong unto our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

      1. The HC explains this both neg. and pos: I am not my own, and I belong to Him.

        1. That I am not my own means that I do not stand alone, friendless, comfortless and utterly hopeless in this dark world of sin.

          1. Proud, foolish, sinful man believes that he can stand alone, that he can deliver himself from whatever miseries befall him. But how dreadful to be alone, without Jesus Christ, when the trials of this life overwhelm the soul!

          2. How dreadful to be alone in death and then to stand alone naked and exposed before the awful majesty of God with no defender on the Day of Judgment.

          3. And how dreadful to be alone forever in hell, exposed to the eternal wrath of God, and knowing only misery and despair and desperate loneliness forever!

          4. But the child of God, who knows the comfort of the Gospel, is not alone: Christ is with us every day; He is with us in death; He stands with us in the Judgment and He delivers us from the wrath to come.

        2. I am not my own means that I am not my own master; that I do not belong to myself but that I am the property of another.

          1. Against the arrogant independentism and “human rights” philosophy of man the Catechism proclaims that “I am not my own but belong” to Christ.

          2. Such language is not popular. Men and women claim to be free over their own lives and over their own bodies so that they can do whatever they want.

          3. But if I am not my own, I do not have freedom to do whatever I want: as a child of God I have the great calling to live for Jesus Christ and my whole life is devoted to Him.

        3. That I belong to Jesus Christ means He is my Master and Lord. He has authority – the right to rule – over me and He exercises that authority.

          1. He does not rule over me with whip in hand, threatening me and beating me every time I step out of line but His rule is one of love.

          2. As my Lord He takes care of, and He is always seeking my welfare and He assumes responsibility for me.

        4. That I belong to Jesus means that I am in Jesus Christ. This is the great truth taught in the passage we read together, Ephesians chapter 1.

          1. God has blessed the man Christ Jesus, the Head and Mediator of the Covenant of grace with all spiritual blessings; He has been exalted to be the Head over all things and He is the Beloved of the Father.

          2. But sinners cannot be blessed. They have no life, but are spiritually dead; they deserve only cursing and wrath.

          3. But the point of Ephesians is this: just as Christ, the Head is blessed with all spiritual blessings, so the church with every individual member enjoys all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (v. 3).

      2. Eph. 1 lists many ways in which we belong to Jesus Christ or are in Him.

        1. First, we always belonged to Jesus Christ because we were elected in Him before the foundation of the world.

          1. The Triune God chose Jesus Christ in His eternal decree to be the Head and Mediator of the Covenant and He chose us (with all the elect) in Him (v. 4).

          2. Thus the Heidelberg Catechism can use the present tense, “I belong …” (I have always belonged, there never was a time when I did not belong and there never will be a time when I shall cease to belong to Him).

          3. It is not the case, then, that I choose to belong to Christ by allowing Him to save me. Rather God set His love on me before I was even born and gave me to Jesus Christ.

        2. Second, we belong to Jesus Christ because in time Christ redeemed us with His own blood and thus made us accepted in the beloved.

          1. By His cross Jesus merited for us the blessing of the forgiveness of sins (v. 7) and since we are in Him God imputes His perfect righteousness to us.

          2. By His cross Jesus underwent the punishment which we should have borne. Now He has “satisfied” God’s justice and “delivered us from all the power of the devil” who held us captive in sin.

        3. Third, since we are in Jesus we share in all the riches which Christ possesses.

          1. Christ is the Son of God and we are in Him; thus we are also children of God. We are “predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” (v. 5).

          2. As adopted children of God we share in the same inheritance of heavenly glory and everlasting life, but only in Him (“in whom also we have obtained an inheritance … v. 11).

          3. Outside of Christ we are poverty-stricken orphans with nothing and no right to anything but as children of God in Christ we are heirs, joint-heirs with Christ to the greatest inheritance imaginable.

          4. Thus, the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of my Heavenly Father, who is my Father only because He is first Christ’s Father and thus my Father in Christ.

        4. Fourth, our place in Christ is secure because we are sealed by Christ’s Spirit unto the Day of Jesus Christ (vv. 13-14).

          1. The Holy Spirit has stamped us with a mark (a seal) which says “Property of Jesus Christ,” and the Holy Spirit in us is the earnest (or down payment or deposit) of our inheritance.

          2. The idea is that God by giving us the Spirit of Jesus Christ gives us a foretaste of what is coming as a guarantee that we will certainly receive the rest of the riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

          3. How can I not have comfort when the HC speaks of Christ preserving me?

  2. The Fundamental Relationship

    1. Belonging to Jesus Christ is the most fundamental relationship of our life: it shapes our entire existence and in the end is the only relationship which matters.

      1. This is the relationship of the covenant, an intimate friendship of communion and love.

        1. We belong to Christ and we are in Him in a legal sense.

          1. He is our legal representative before the Law of God because He has taken upon Himself to answer for us. He said to His Father, “My people have sinned, but I assume all responsibility for their sins. Punish me instead,” and God did!

          2. When He took responsibility for our sins the curse of a broken Law fell on Him and the righteousness which He earned was imputed to us.

        2. We belong to Christ and we are in Him in an organic sense.

          1. We are the Body and He is our Head; just as life flows to the Body from the Head, so Christ is the source of eternal life for us. Life flows to us from our Heavenly Head through the bond (the mystical union) of the Holy Spirit.

          2. But the term “Head” also describes His authority over us. The Head rules the Body, so Christ, our Head, is our Lord, our Sovereign Friend to whom we owe our obedience.

      2. This is a permanent relationship: We belong to Christ, our faithful Savior.

        1. There are many relationships which break down because of unfaithfulness.

          1. The world – and yes, even the church – is littered with broken marriages because of broken promises.

          2. Friends may betray one another by forsaking one another at their time of need; people may break up; and fiancés may even call off their engagement.

          3. Often our human relationships end in broken promises, broken hearts and bitter disappointment.

        2. But the HC calls Christ “my faithful Savior”: Christ alone is faithful; we can always trust Him; the one who believes in Christ will never be disappointed.

          1. Christ loves His Church and He is married to the Church and to every member and He will never forsake His Church.

          2. Christ is the Head of the Covenant, which is the bond of friendship which we enjoy with God through Him, and He will never break His covenant.

          3. There will never be a time when Christ says to us, “I have had enough. I want out of this relationship. You’re on your own!”

        3. Christ’s faithfulness lasts throughout our lives and even through death.

          1. Christ is no “fair weather friend” who is there only when things are good.

          2. Christ will not abandon us when we face the terrible trials of life: when sickness leaves us weak and when death approaches Christ is our comfort.

          3. And when we face the horrors of death Christ is there in heaven to welcome us into our eternal home where we will enjoy His fellowship forever.

      3. This is an exclusive relationship: we belong to Jesus Christ, and to no one else.

        1. The all-consuming passion of Christ is the welfare of His Bride, the Church.

          1. Christ’s Incarnation, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His rule in Heaven are for the salvation of His church to the glory of God.

          2. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that all things (the whole of human history, the entire universe) are subservient to (lit. “serve”) our salvation.

          3. And Eph. 1 teaches that the purpose of God is to gather all things together in Christ (v. 10) and He does that “to the church” (v. 22, meaning, for the advantage of the church).

        2. Since that is true, our calling is to be entirely devoted to serving Christ.

          1. The Catechism does not permit us to devote one part of our life to Christ (our “religious side”) while we devote other parts of our life to our own desires.

          2. Since Christ is our Lord, He owns us body and soul, and all parts of our life are His: We are His on Sunday when we sit in church or on Monday/Saturday when we are in Catechism, but we are also His when we are with our friends on Friday night.

          3. There is no part of my body or soul which is “off-limits” to Christ. The Spirit has sealed us (not just a part of us) with a stamp of ownership and Christ says of every child of God: He is MINE!

    2. This is the fundamental relationship because it is the relationship to Christ, the Son of God appointed by God to be our perfect, all-sufficient Savior.

      1. This is a salvation which delivers me from all of my sins.

        1. Notice the language of the Catechism here.

          1. Christ has not partially satisfied the justice of God, so that some of God’s justice must still be satisfied through other means (good works, penance, purgatory or the covenantal faithfulness of the FV). No, “He hath fully satisfied.”

          2. Christ has not satisfied for some of our sins, so that we have to satisfy God for the rest. No, “for all my sins.”

          3. Christ has not delivered us from some of the power of the devil, so that the devil may yet lure us into slavery and drag us down to hell with him. No, “from all the power of the devil.”

        2. Thus the HC would have us take comfort in the perfect work of the cross.

          1. From the very first Q&A the HC insists on a real, substitutionary atonement which actually redeems certain sinners from their sins.

          2. The HC opposes in the interests of comfort the modernistic heresy of a Christ who is a moral example but whose death did not satisfy the justice of God.

          3. The Catechism speaks to the experience of the child of God: we know that we have a real problem with real sin and therefore we need a real cross with a real atonement. That is exactly what we have in Christ, redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins (v. 7)

      2. Christ’s perfect salvation includes both the deliverance from sin and preservation in eternal life. He saves us to the end.

        1. Again, notice the language of the Catechism.

          1. Christ “so preserves me” with a sovereignty so all-encompassing that it includes the very hairs of my head. If God cares for each hair, we can be sure He cares for everything else.

          2. Not just the good and pleasant things – not many things, or some things, or most things, but ALL things – serve our salvation.

          3. Thus Paul can write in Eph 1:11 that we have an inheritance in Jesus Christ because we have been predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh ALL things after the counsel of His own will.

        2. But there can be no comfort if we know that today we belong to Jesus Christ but tomorrow someone or something might snatch us from Him.

          1. There is no comfort in Romanism, Arminianism or the Federal Vision, all of which deny that Christ preserves those who belong to Him.

          2. If perseverance in salvation depends on our works or our faithfulness or anything else in us, we are of all men the most miserable because we know that we cannot continue in our own strength even for a moment.

          3. Only if we know and are assured that Christ preserves us can we breathe again as Christ comes to our side to soothe our soul: that’s our only comfort!

  3. The Blessed Assurance

    1. Assurance of salvation is necessary to enjoy comfort because we can only enjoy comfort if we know that we belong to Jesus Christ.

      1. Sadly, assurance of salvation is a controversial subject in Reformed Churches.

        1. Some churches openly deny by their teaching and practice that assurance of salvation is the normal, healthy experience of the believer in Christ.

          1. Some teach that believers may only have assurance (and therefore comfort!) if they have a mystical experience which comes only after years of struggle with doubt. That, according to such churches, is the normal Christian experience.

          2. Thus, in churches which promote such teaching, the vast majority of people, although they believe the Scriptures and believe in Jesus, do not know if they really belong to Him, and thus live and die without comfort.

          3. But then LD1 is meaningless to almost everyone in the Church! It should be reworked to read, “What is the only comfort of a few, usually elderly, members of the church?”

        2. But assurance of salvation is one of the jewels in the crown of the Reformation and one set forth gloriously in the HC, especially the first LD.

          1. Before the Reformation men and women worked themselves into exhaustion with religious works and could never know whether they had done enough to please God. They lived and died without assurance.

          2. When the Reformation preached a salvation which is based on the finished work of Christ the Gospel brought peace to countless hungry and thirsty souls, and a confidence which moved them cheerfully even to die a martyr’s death.

          3. The Reformation Gospel taught every believer in the words of LD1 to call Jesus Christ “MY faithful Savior” and God “MY heavenly Father.”

        3. This is also the teaching of the book of Ephesians.

          1. Paul addresses every member as “the saints” and the “faithful in Christ Jesus.”

          2. Paul rejoices in the truth that all members of the church are made partakers of all the spiritual blessings which are stored up in Jesus Christ.

          3. And, notice, that this address includes the men (the husbands), the women (the wives) and the children (Eph. 6).

      2. The first Lord’s Day puts into the mouth of the child of God assurance of his own personal salvation.

        1. Notice the personal language of the catechism in this first Lord’s Day.

          1. The Catechism could have addressed us thus, “What is man’s only comfort …?” or “What is the Christian’s only comfort …?”

          2. Rather the Catechism addresses us this way: “What is THY only comfort …?” and puts the answer into the mouth of the child of God, “That I … belong unto MY faithful Savior… He hath fully satisfied for all MY sins” … and so on.

          3. That is how Paul addresses the Ephesians, “Grace be to YOU … Blessed be the God and Father … who hath chosen US … that WE should be, etc.”

        2. Thus the Catechism speaks of absolute certainty; there is no “perhaps,” “maybe” or “I hope so” in Lord’s Day One or in the rest of the Catechism.

          1. To live and die happily we must know that we belong to Jesus Christ.

          2. To live and die happily we must know that God is our Father who loves us for Christ’s sake.

          3. To live and die happily we must know how great our sins and miseries are, and how we are delivered from those sins and how we are to show our thankfulness to Him for that great deliverance of us.

    2. The Catechism tells us how we may know that we belong to Jesus Christ and thus enjoy this comfort.

      1. The Catechism puts this confession in my mouth: “[Jesus] assures me by His Holy Spirit of eternal life.”

        1. The Spirit, however, does not assure us through a mystical experience, by fuzzy, warm feelings in our heart, by whisperings in the night, by dreams and visions, but through the Word of God.

        2. The Spirit applies the Gospel, which is the “Word of truth” (v. 13), and He gives us faith to believe that Gospel and through faith the Spirit gives assurance.

        3. And in this way He seals us so that we have that mark of genuineness in us which assures us that we are the property of Jesus Christ.

      2. When we see the fruits of election in our life we know that we have eternal life.

        1. When you see an apple tree with apples on it, you do not ask yourself, “I wonder if that apple tree is alive.” Of course it is alive! It has fruit! Even if there are only a few apples and they are small and have worms in them, it is alive; it has fruit.

        2. The fruit of election in our lives that assures us that we belong to Jesus Christ is simple to find; we do not need a lot of soul-searching.

      3. The fruit of election – of being in Christ- is threefold in Lord’s Day 1.

        1. First, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, so that we know misery because of sin. No unbeliever confesses that his misery is his sin and no unbeliever hates his sin, but by God’s grace we do!

        2. Second, the Holy Spirit works in us faith to believe the Gospel so that we believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. No unbeliever trusts in Jesus Christ for all his salvation, but by God’s grace we do!

        3. Third, the Holy Spirit works in us a sincere desire to live for Jesus Christ ( “… makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him”). No unbeliever desires this, but by God’s grace we do!

        4. As we find these things in ourselves, worked by the HS, we have assurance that we, yes, even we, belong to Jesus Christ and knowing this we enjoy comfort, our only comfort in life and in death, Amen!