â€œYour Only Comfort in Life and in Deathâ€
Isaiah 40:1-4; Jeremiah 31:10-13; Romans 14:7-9 (text)
Pasig Covenant Reformed Church â€¢ June 15, 2014 â€¢Â Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Today, we start our study of the Heidelberg Catechism in our evening services. We begin with the circumstances leading to its writing.
In a church in Germany, a couple of noblemen stepped forward to receive communion from a deacon. But the deacon refused to give the two men the cup. A second minister present tried to take the cup from the deacon to give it to the nobles. A struggle for the cup ensued, and as a result, the deacon was excommunicated on the spot!
The city was Heidelberg, and this mean-spirited business took place in 1559. The minister was the Lutheran theologian Tilemann Hesshus, and the deacon was a Zwinglian named Wilhelm Klebitz. This controversy was over the presence of Christâ€™s body and blood in the Lordâ€™s Supper. It was this bitter controversy, which nearly brought Heidelberg to a civil war, that was the immediate reason for Prince Frederick III to order the writing of a new catechism known to us today as the Heidelberg Catechism.
To prevent any more controversies, Elector Frederick brought in two men: Caspar Olevianus, a pastor; and Zacharius Ursinus, a professor of theology to teach at the university, and commissioned them to write a new catechism. He wanted to have a catechism that would be the basis for unity among the Reformed churches in the German territory.
Also in the late 1550s, church visitation teams were also sent to all the local congregations to determine the state of affairs of the churches in Germany. Their findings were not encouraging. Ministers were not well-trained or not educated at all, so the congregations were superstitions and relied more on traditions instead of Scripture. Godliness among the people was also lacking.
When Olevianus and Ursinus finished the catechism, it was organized into three parts, known today as Guilt, Grace and Gratitude or Sin, Salvation and Service. Later, it was divided into 52 parts, for the purpose of teaching it to the congregations during a whole year of 52 weeks. We will follow these 52 divisions, and today, we study Lord’s Day 1 in three points. Our text in Romans 14:7-9 will be divided under three headings: (1) No Comfort in Oneself; (2) True Comfort in Christ Alone; and (3) Joy in Comfort.
No Comfort in Oneself
The catechism begins with the question, â€œWhat is your only comfort in life and in death?â€ And the answer begins with, â€œThat I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.â€
But what does â€œcomfortâ€ mean? The Greek and Hebrew verbs for â€œcomfortâ€ is variously translated as â€œcomfort,â€ â€œexhort,â€ â€œbeseech,â€ â€œconsole,â€ or â€œencourage.â€ In his commentary on the catechism, Ursinus says that â€œto comfortâ€ is to confront evil with good, so that one may lessen his grief and patiently endure evil.
Our only comfort is that we belong to Christ in life and in death. The reverse is implied: there is no comfort in others, including our own selves. Our text first says, For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. All believers live and die, not to themselves, but to the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
The writers of the catechism must have taken this first answer from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, where Paul writes, in relation to â€œyour body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within youâ€: â€œYou are not your own, for you were bought with a price.â€ The Spirit indwells the believer so that he is now the treasured possession of Christ alone. The image is that of a slave, whose freedom was paid for by someone else. Again, Paul says that since Christ died for all of those who believe in him, â€œno longer live for themselves but for himâ€ (2 Cor 5:15).
But we do not belong to ourselves not only in life, but also in death. Paul says that he â€œhas been crucified with Christâ€ (Gal 2:20), which means that his sinful passions and desires died with Christ when he believed. And when he dies and leaves his earthly life, he says, â€œFor to me to live is Christ, and to die is gainâ€ (Php 1:21). His comfort is that in living or dying, he belongs to Christ alone.
Why can not our comfort be in our own selves? Because if we do not belong to Christ, we are still sinners and children of wrath who still bear our sinful passions and desires, even though they have been crucified with Christ (Gal 5:24; Eph 2:3). Without Christ, we are still in this body of death, without hope and without God. Without Christ, we are still outside of God’s grace and mercy. Without Christ, it is impossible to have saving faith. And without Christ, we will never please God with our â€œgoodâ€ works.
Therefore, Christians cannot rely on their own spiritual resources. We do not live as if we own our lives, as if we can do all things on our own power. We have no comfort in our own selves. We can only do things and have comfort â€œthrough Christ who strengthens us.â€
True Comfort in Christ Alone
Since we cannot find comfort in our ourselves, to whom do we go to find comfort? Only to Christ alone! Verse 8 says, â€œFor if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.â€ As Christians, we are united to Christ, and to Christ we belong (1 Cor 3:23). Our whole being, both body and soul, belongs to him.
And what comfort do we obtain from Christ? The basis of our comfort is that he is our Savior. He came into the world to save us, his people, from sin, Satan and the wrath of God. In accomplishing his mission, he was obedient to his Father all the way to his death on the cross.
And what are the benefits we receive in belonging to Christ?
First, â€œwith His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins.â€ We were â€œbought with a priceâ€ (1 Cor 6:20), â€œransomed… with the precious blood of Christâ€ (1 Pet 1:18-19). The Apostle John affirms that â€œthe blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sinâ€ (1 John 1:7), that â€œhe is the propitiation for our sinsâ€ (1 John 2:2).
Second, Christ â€œredeemed me from all the power of the devil.â€ Jesus made it clear that his mission was to set his people free from slavery to sin, â€œTruly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeedâ€ (John 8:34-36). Since the devil is the power behind the works of sin, Jesus came â€œto destroy the works of the devilâ€ (1 John 3:8). Jesus also destroyed the devil at his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, â€œthrough death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devilâ€ (Heb 2:14).
Third, he â€œpreserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head.â€ Believers are guarded by Christ from the devil (2 Thes 3:3), so that â€œno one, [not even the devil], will snatch them out of my handâ€ (John 10:28). He can guard us from the devil because he has defeated him. Furthermore, Christ knows the number of the hairs on our head, and not a hair can fall from our head without his permission and knowledge! (Mat 10:29-30).
Fourth, â€œall things must work together for my salvationâ€ (Rom 8:28). Since God is sovereign over all creatures and events, he works all things, both good and evil, for the good of his people. So when you see all kinds of wickedness happening in this world, they are for your benefit. When you are going through all kinds of trials and temptations, they are also ultimately for your benefit, to strengthen your faith.
Fifth, â€œby His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life.â€ â€œThe Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of Godâ€ (Rom 8:16; 2 Cor 5:5). God â€œhas also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guaranteeâ€ (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13). Since God’s Word is always true, whatever he says and promises is guaranteed to be fulfilled.
Sixth and last, he â€œmakes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.â€ Not only does the Holy Spirit assure us of eternal life. He also gives us the will and the power to live obedient lives in Christ. â€œFor all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of Godâ€ (Rom 8:14). The fruits of the Spirit are evident in our lives.
Washing away all our sins. Freedom from Satan’s power. Preservation to the end. Working all things for us. Assurance of eternal life. Power for holiness and righteousness. What great benefits from being in Christ and belonging to Christ! What great comfort! What else is there for us to desire? What else is lacking in us? None whatsoever!
These are things that should give us unspeakable comfort and joy.
Joy in Comfort
In Q&A 2, we read about the three great divisions of the catechism: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption. The Scriptures give us knowledge of our sin. It also tells us how we are redeemed from our sin. Lastly, it tells us how we are to give thanks to God for this redemption from sin.
When we are redeemed from sin, we have great comfort and joy even when we are near death. Life and death are seen from the perspective of the Bible, so that we â€œmay live and die happilyâ€ in this knowledge. We can go through all circumstances in this life, both good and bad, with joy and thankfulness (1 Thes 5:18). When sufferings come, be assured that in your grief and sorrow, your only comfort in life is Christ your Savior. He has sent us his Spirit who is your Comforter.
When you know that life is about to end, be assured that in your afflictions, your only comfort in death is Christ your Savior. Commit your soul into the hands of your heavenly Father. When that day comes, will you even think of all the material things that were the most important things in your life when you had both health and wealth? If you are young, will you even think of all your gadgets, or your ticket to the One Direction concert, or your boy friend or girl friend? What is your true comfort in death?
What is your true joy in life and in death? Only when you know that you are spiritually poor, when you mourn over your sin, and when you know that all your sins have been pardoned, can your mourning turn into joy. Isaiah 40:1-2 says Israel found comfort only after their â€œiniquity was pardoned.â€ Jeremiah says that after God restores Israel, he â€œwill turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrowâ€ (Jer 31:13). This is what Jesus also promises you in your salvation, â€œTruly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joyâ€ (John 16:20).
Remember: your only comfort in life and in death is that you are not your own. You live and die for Christ, because Christ lived and died for you. You belong your faithful Savior Jesus Christ, â€œwho comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by Godâ€ (1 Cor 1:3).