Tuesday, 16 August 2016 10:49

The Christian's Only Comfort

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The repeated and overwhelming message of the Bible, dear friends, is that true and everlasting help is found for us only in trusting and following Jesus Christ. In that light today’s message on the basis of Scripture is entitled, “The Christian’s only comfort”.

In introducing this grand subject, let me mention both a verse from Proverbs 3 and from Acts 26. In Proverbs 3 King Solomon is writing especially to the younger generation of the covenant people of God. And he is, in God’s name, urging them to pursue after the wisdom and gospel way of the Lord stating only in that way is there true blessing for this life and the life to come. In Proverbs 3:6 Solomon urges thus, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Yes, the Lord shall direct and lead in all the ways that are good and right and true and most fulfilling and promising now and forevermore for all those trusting and following after Him! In the same chapter in vs.15, the second half, the inspired writer, King Solomon, says even that nothing in all the world can compare to trusting and following the Lord and all His gospel word. 

Along the same lines, do you know the testimony of the apostle Paul as told to us in Acts 26?  In that passage Paul was giving a defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ and he gets two different responses. Festus, a Roman governor, considered Paul had become mad, literally, a maniac, with believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Paul responded, “I am not mad most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness” [vs.25]. And then Paul appealed to King Agrippa who was also hearing his message and who knew something of the Old Testament scriptures and the teaching of the prophets. What is your response, King Agrippa? To which King Agrippa replies, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”[vs.28].   In other words, Agrippa saw and felt something of the convicting power of the gospel message that Paul was proclaiming. Yet he waffled and seemed bent on pushing it away.  And listen then to Paul’s response in vs.29 speaking right to King Agrippa. “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds [meaning his chains as a persecuted Christian on route to Caesar].” One study Bible note states correctly concerning vs.29 how this is: A prayer expressed as a wish from the heart of a loving gospel preacher, who in love for all people desires each to be not just almost but altogether a Christian.

And why is this the case? Because the undoubted fact is, nothing ever can in any way compare to the grace and glory of being a Christian.  Whoever is not a Christian in all the history of the world and till the last day of the world will be endlessly sorry. Whereas whoever has been and is and will be a Christian in all the history of the world, also now and till the last day, will be endlessly blessed and forever satisfied and find unlimited comfort!

And this also is what the summary gospel instruction as given to us in the Heidelberg Catechism on the basis of Scripture wants to make ever so clear to us.  This 16th century Catechism, written in a time of much political unrest and religious confusion and persecution, was spearheaded by a godly German prince named Frederick III. He asked a Christian professor, Zacharias Ursinus, and a Christian preacher, Casper Olevianus, to write this Catechism. Both these men were under 30 years of age but they wrote a simple catechism of 129 questions and answers which was first published in 1563 and republished over and over since then. It has also been translated into many languages and prized by Christians all over the world still today. There is every reason for us to value it very highly too for it gives most faithful and all important Christian teaching and instruction that demonstrates clearly the heartbeat of the living word of God. Of course we never may view man-written Catechism as equal to the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures as given in the Holy Bible, but yet how thankful we may and should be for this Catechism so clear and faithful in all its teaching in submission to all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is very true in this regard what one preacher of our day wrote about the Heidelberg Catechism, saying: The chief theological task facing the Western church is not to reinvent or to be relevant, but to remember. We must remember the old, old story. We must remember the faith once delivered to the saints. We must remember the truths that spark reformation, revival, and regeneration.

Indeed, living now in our 21st century world, we must remember the all-time most precious gospel message as revealed in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. For that reason what I would bring forward now is the first question and answer of that Heidelberg Catechism under the theme as mentioned, “The Christian’s ONLY comfort!” We will consider how it is a comfort so absolutely true, so absolutely complete, so absolutely sure, and so absolutely gracious.

The opening question introducing the whole of the Heidelberg Catechism is this searching one. What is your only comfort in life and death?  This is not just a general question about what often comforts you or what gives you relief and happiness on occasion. How many ways that might be answered. But, no, consider how this first question is far deeper than that.  The question is what is your only comfort in life and death? The word comfort should be understood here as what is your only security or consolation, or that which gives you really ongoing fortitude and strength and hope and promise, regardless your circumstances? What is it that you ultimately lean on that always satisfies and never disappoints but steadfastly fulfills your every desire and hope?  What is your lasting confidence in all of your life and yes, even in and through death?  Listen to how the Reformation fathers of the 16th century said the Christian may answer this question. 

It is that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, from henceforth to live unto Him.

In short, the only comfort in life and death is knowing and trusting Jesus as given to us by God the Father and made known to us by God the Holy Spirit and belonging to Him in true faith, following always after Him as my only Saviour and Lord, in submission to all His gospel word. Why is this Christian comfort so true, or you could say, a matter so real?  Here notice with me how this only comfort faces honestly the reality of our situation left to ourselves. There are so many counterfeit comforts that just never are real and honest with us.  The fact is we live in a fallen and cursed world and each of us are born as depraved and defiled sinners by nature, desperately needing the electing grace of God the Father, and the redeeming work of God the Saviour, and the regenerating renewing work of God the Holy Spirit.

The book of Genesis tells and proves the devastating effects of the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden when they, instead of obeying God, listened to the devil and willfully rebelled against God.  Living now in this fallen and cursed world, as children of Adam and Eve you and I live under the bondage of sin and Satan by nature, and our worst problem is never our circumstances or needy situations in life but that we, as children of Adam and Eve, are guilty fallen sinners under the righteous condemnation and eternal punishment of God left to ourselves. We are all born in sin, and as one put it rightly, …the heart of the problem we all have is the problem of our sinful hearts.  This is our root problem which no comforts of the world or from anyone of our fallen race can ever resolve for us, not even any angels in heaven.

How many so-called comforts the world offers us with this and that and by this person and that person, but is there any lasting comfort and true security found for us without having this sin problem of ours really and radically dealt with in a redeeming way, pleasing to God Himself and that counts forever and ever? No. Nowhere will anyone find deliverance anywhere from our root problem of sin except with Jesus the Saviour and belonging to Him in true faith and repentance.  With Jesus Christ we have the Saviour of sinners that can be counted on most definitely, for whoever repents of sin and believes on Him. And the Bible teaches us only with Jesus Christ, the crucified risen Redeemer,  as revealed to us in the written word and word made flesh, do we find a Saviour able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. 

The point now is, this Christian comfort is so true and real exactly because it deals with the root issue of all our problems.  In our fallen and troubled world you can’t help but notice so many comforts being promised without there being any honest facing of our root problem, being born sinners and haters of God and each other by nature, apart from the grace of God.  But the Christian gospel is honest with us and gives a message of true comfort dealing with all the facts of our sinful and hopeless condition, left to ourselves.

Notice too how real and true the first question is in speaking not just of life, but of death.  How many comforts are being advertised to us as worth everything but that provide no help at all in the face of the reality of death?  So you have a huge savings account.  Will it help when death comes?  So you have the approval of others and are viewed by many as such a good person, yet when death comes and you have to meet the almighty, holy, and righteous God Himself, face to face, what then?  Without deliverance and remedy from your sin, how will you be able to stand before God and live? So you have done quite a lot of so-called good things for others.  Is it enough for you to be accepted of God when you appear before Him? Doesn’t God rightly demand from us perfect righteousness without exception in the last judgment day? 

We live in a culture today which tragically more and more hides the reality of the curse of death, and which today even wants only to celebrate death as part of our necessary evolving somehow to who knows what and where. But it is all so false and empty. The Christian faith, however, provides comfort honestly and wonderfully even in the face of death.  Belonging to Christ the Saviour, who lived and died in the sinner’s place as triumphant Saviour, we find true and real comfort both in life and death. For Jesus Christ we know, as Substitute for sinners with His death on the cross, made perfect once for all payment for sin bringing also thereby death to death, totally taking away its sting by His redeeming grace. Isn’t this gospel comfort so confirmed to us with Jesus’ resurrection from the grave on the third day after he died, and the Bible saying He arose as the first-fruits, on His people’s behalf? 

Something else that the first answer of the Catechism brings out so powerfully, showing the true and real comfort found with belonging to Christ, is the way the whole Triune Godhead is behind and included in this comfort God has for us in Christ Jesus.  When belonging to Christ in true faith you and I may know and be assured of God the Father’s love and care in all our lives and we may be so comforted with God the Holy Spirit’s ministry as Comforter from God in our hearts and lives initially and all throughout our lives. True comfort is God-given and God-approved comfort.  True comfort is comfort drawing from the one only Triune God as fully revealed in Christ the Saviour, and the Bible itself assures us this comfort from above for sinners like us is comfort most true indeed. As Proverbs 3 also states, with the Lord as your comfort you don’t need to be afraid ever and you can have sweet sleep at night, for as vs.26 states, “the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.”  

We live in a world of constant passing and fading untrue and unreal comforts being proposed to us. All comforts of man’s own making can in no way serve as the only comfort that endures in life and death. All worldly comforts and comforts of the other religions of man’s own making all miserably fail to give that real consolation and lasting strength whatever our situations.  But the Heidelberg Catechism in its opening question and answer tells us, on the basis of Scripture, the only comfort so absolutely true.  I say “absolutely” purposefully because in our age of relativism and pluralism, in spite of what people say, this is yet the absolutely undeniable and unquestionable only genuine good news for whoever has ears to hear.

In fact, the Christian’s only comfort is not only absolutely true, but absolutely complete.  Here just think of how the first answer to the Catechism teaches faithfully not only about a comfort that holds in life and death, but it is a comfort for body and soul too. Again, how many bodily comforts are promoted and pushed in our times, but leave the soul to it’s peril.  What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world in physical and earthly comforts and lose his soul?  On the other hand, think of false religions that focus only on comfort for the soul, but offer none for the body. But the Christian faith promises total comfort for our total being, body and soul. Jesus perfectly cares for His people and provides a salvation therefore for the whole person, soul and body. How many Christians, when their body breaks down with sickness and senility, even sometimes having to lose body parts, may receive so much comfort knowing God will make all His redeemed people one day completely whole again. Yes, both in body and soul and perfectly so even, fashioned like unto Jesus’ glorious resurrection body as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:21. The Christian comfort in and through Christ is complete comfort for soul and body in both life and death, for now and forever!  If you think this through, you have to agree that all the money in the world can’t buy the value of this complete Christian comfort for all who belong to Christ in true faith.

The Christian’s comfort is so complete too in that it is a comfort providing real remedy and deliverance from not just some of my sins but Christ the Saviour fully satisfied for all my sins. And listen to this too. Our Saviour God delivers from all the power of the devil as well.  What comfort do we have if Christ saved us only from most of our sins but not all, or if the Saviour had left some power to the devil to overpower us and destroy us after all. But no, in and with Christ Jesus we have a complete Saviour covering for us in our every need.

This is the gospel truth you need to hear! No matter how great sinners we are and how great our sins and miseries are, and regardless the struggles from within and around us, yet with Jesus Christ, the crucified risen Redeemer, we have a far greater Saviour still. With every sin problem there is abundant salvation and solution found in and with Him.  And through Christ’s saving work we are forever assured of the Father’s constant love and protection over us, and we may be forever guaranteed of the Spirit’s renewing and sanctifying work in our hearts and lives. How wonderful the comfort that we don’t have to depend on ourselves or trust ourselves to persevere to the end in the Christian way, but to know that God Himself assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him

This first question and answer mentions eternity too. Who of us thinks of eternity as we should?  Just thinking of eternity in the one of two places the Bible speaks of, are there not today so many false views of heaven and along with that, erroneous views of hell? But Jesus gives us the true view of heaven and hell, and He alone is the way to heaven and our only escape from hell. Hear the Saviour say in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father [you might say, to salvation and heavenly glory beyond this life], but by me.”  Reconciliation with God comes only through the redeeming work of Christ the Saviour.  This is what the Bible teaches us and what the Heidelberg Catechism keeps coming back to again and again in all its faithful gospel teaching. Thinking of the complete comfort found in belonging to Christ by true faith, what reasons God’s people have to break out in doxology before God Triune saying with Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3&4, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort: Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”  I ask you in Jesus’ Name: Do you know this God of all comfort?

What is your only comfort in life and death? Is it belonging to Jesus Christ and enjoying this comfort so absolutely true, so absolutely complete, and notice next, so absolutely sure too?  What makes it so absolutely sure, you ask? Is it not the fact that this comfort for Christians is all of God and through God from beginning to end? The great comfort of the comfort with belonging to Christ is that Christ gives a salvation and comfort based all on the work of God and not in any way whatever dependent upon ourselves.  What great comfort this gives when you know anything about yourself as a sinner and sinful by nature, even when a true Christian. That salvation is of the LORD from start to finish, without in any respect being dependent on us, is something God’s true people glory in over and over again.

As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works [on our part he means] lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”

 How crucial to understand this gospel message about the only comfort of belonging to Christ. The Bible clearly teaches us the Christian’s only comfort so sure and providing “all manner of consolation” is all because essentially and ultimately it is all divinely planned comfort, divinely accomplished comfort, divinely given comfort, divinely promised comfort, divinely sealed comfort, and divinely guaranteed comfort.  It is comfort pledged by God even with an oath to all who repent of sin and believe in Christ. The Triune God of the Bible in all three Persons and altogether is the very God who cannot lie and is always true to His word in every way. The comfort of the Christian gospel is infinitely sure because it is revealed in God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant word and it is confirmed in the Person and work of Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh.  “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” is what the Holy Spirit inspired prophet, Isaiah, was to proclaim as stated in Isaiah 40, which passage further prophecies of Christ and His coming as Saviour of sinners and promised Messiah Deliverer for us. In a later chapter, Isaiah 53, the inspired prophet also foretells how Christ as suffering Saviour of sinners would make full atonement for sin and accomplish true and complete and sure salvation for all God’s elect people, whoever turns from sin and trusts and follows Christ as only Saviour and Lord. 

Who are those who know and enjoy the only comfort as revealed and promised in the gospel of Jesus Christ and who live and die happily in that comfort?  We will consider that more in another message, God willing. However, let me end now just mentioning yet that the Christian’s only comfort is so absolutely gracious too. That is, the comfort every true Christian may have is something most freely offered and freely given to all who confess their lost and hopeless condition of themselves and flee to Jesus Christ as their only refuge and hope of deliverance.  The faithful church is given both the holy privilege and mission in fact to proclaim Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners, to all people and to declare and to offer freely the riches of the gospel comforts in and through Christ Jesus to all who will hear. 

Coming back to our two Scripture passages mentioned earlier, Proverbs 3 and Acts 26, how those passages reflect so clearly the earnest appeal and call of God Triune to all sinners to come to Jesus for the only true comfort in life and death.  Come to Jesus, one and all, while He freely offers pardon and peace to all who come to Him. Jesus Christ as the God-given and Spirit-anointed Saviour of sinners is able and willing to give freely a gospel comfort to all who come to Him, to give this gospel comfort that is so absolutely true and complete, and sure and gracious even for all who call upon Him. May no one fall for the empty comforts of this world and of false religions instead, like Festus and King Agrippa did. Surely the comforts they pursued were and are all counterfeit comforts which miserable and eternally fail us. They are false comforts that cost you everything and then leave you only in eternal hell forevermore. 

In Jesus’ Name I proclaim to you, the only comfort in life and death is that of belonging to Christ in true faith and following after Him in true repentance and devotion in submission to all His holy word.  Are you looking for this only comfort today? You find it still with Christ Jesus, the one and only Saviour of sinners. Thus saith the LORD, the one true God, and the only God of all comfort. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.                      

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor 

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