Lord’s Day 1 – 2016
Tomorrow is the first Lord’s Day of 2016. As we embark upon a new year, we begin another journey through the Heidelberg Catechism, which is possibly the best summary of Christianity to be found anywhere on the planet. In the space of its 129 questions and answers, organized into 52 Lord’s Days, it beautifully expounds the Christian faith and life, explaining the distinction between law and gospel with stunning clarity and pastoral warmth. It exposits three of the most crucial fundamentals of the Christian faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. With its combination of profundity, simplicity, and comfort, the Heidelberg has brought the light of the Reformation to Christians all over the world for more than 450 years, providing them with a firm foundation for their faith.
As a Reformed church, we have the blessing and privilege of confessing the Heidelberg as a standard of doctrine, one of our Three Forms of Unity. But that confession isn’t limited to being posted on our website under “Our Beliefs.” We confess the catechism in public worship every week, following the sequence of the 52 Lord’s Days. We receive instruction in catechism classes. We teach it to our children in the home. We commit much of it to memory, so that our minds are equipped with an arsenal of sound theology. We make it our aim not only to have the words of the catechism on our lips, but as part of our very lives. Far more than a statement of faith, the Heidelberg helps us prioritize biblical doctrine and connect the dots of Scripture.
We being with Lord’s Day 1, which reads as follows:
1.What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.
 Rom 14:7-9;  1 Cor 6:19-20  1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14  1 Pt 1:18-19  1 Jn 1:7, 2:2;  Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Jn 3:8  Jn 6:39-40, 10:27-30; 2 Thes 3:3; 1 Pt 1:5;  Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18;  Rom 8:28;  Rom 8:15-16; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5, Eph 1:13-14;  Rom 8:14
2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?
Three things: 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 catechism begins with comfort. It begins by telling us who we are in Christ, namely, that we belong to him, body and soul, in life and in death. This helps us get our priorities straight as we pursue the various comforts of life. As we all know, life is full of pressures and discomfort. Much of our time and energy is spent looking for ways to overcome these problems and live in some level of comfort. We want to overcome loneliness, so we look for a spouse. We want the comfort of sharing our lives with someone. We want to overcome financial distress, so we work hard in our vocations to provide for our families. We want to overcome boredom, so we get hobbies and look for ways to be entertained. We even seek comfort in what we eat! We talk about “comfort food,” finding some measure of happiness in our favorite meal, or a good cup of coffee in the morning.
But the catechism zeroes in on a comfort that transcends every other comfort. It speaks of our only comfort in life and in death. In other words, what is my only comfort, even if every other comforting thing in life – family, friends, vocation, health, wealth, hobbies – is removed? After all, those things are not guaranteed to us, and we can’t take any of them with us when we die. None of those things can make me right with God. What offers me comfort that God accepts me, even though I am a sinner? What will comfort my conscience when I face death?
Only the gospel can comfort us that way. Only the good news of what Christ has done for me and the fact that I belong to him can make me truly live and die happily. Apart from Christ, we stand under the judgment of God and await his wrath. We are in bondage to sin and the tyranny of the devil, who tells us that we belong to ourselves. Apart from Christ, we are on a mad quest to find comfort and satisfaction in pleasure, knowledge, wealth, work, fame, and sex.
But the good news is that we have a faithful Savior who lived the perfect life that we haven’t, suffered the judgment of God in our place, and was raised again from the dead gloriously in order to reconcile us to God. The good news is that by faith alone in Christ, God considers me to be as righteous as his Son. He promises me eternal life, and adopts me as his Son. He gives me his Holy Spirit, and watches over me as a loving Father does his precious child. No matter what happens in life – no matter what other comforts may be taken from me – I belong to Jesus, body and soul, which means God is for me, not against me.
I can’t think of any better way to begin 2016 than to hear again of my only comfort in life and in death.
Happy New Year!