Open and Closed Preaching: H.C. Question 84

How does preaching the holy gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven? 

Matthew 16:19 – I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

John 3:31-36 – The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 20:21-23 – Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”



Keys to the Kingdom: H.C. Question 83

What are the keys of the kingdom? 

Matthew 16:19 – I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

John 20:22-23 – And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”



All Cleaned Up! H.C. Lord's Day 26

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 26

Q 69. How does holy baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?
A 69. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.

Q 70. What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?
A 70. To be washed with Christ’s blood means that God, by grace, has forgiven our sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for us in his sacrifice on the cross.

To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed and sanctified us to be members of Christ, so that more and more we become dead to sin and live holy and blameless lives.

Q 71. Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?
A 71. In the institution of baptism, where he says:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism “the water of rebirth” and the washing away of sins.

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is the first place that we see it expressly commanded that Baptism is a vital part of the life of Christ followers.  It is important that we recognize how, though.  In Jesus’ parting words, the key action is not “go,” it is “make disciples.”  How we are to “make disciples” is by going, baptizing, and teaching.  These three supporting actions provide for us the model for outreach, discipleship, and the Christian life in general.

Baptism is an important part of this, not just because Jesus tells us to do it, but rather because of the significance and the reality that it points to.  The water of baptism symbolizes washing and it reminds us that God’s forgiveness is for us, no matter what age we are.  We are shown physically the grace of God and reminded of the promise of God that whoever believes in His Son, Jesus WILL be saved.  Jesus’ blood doesn’t stain, it washes us clean and makes us righteous before God.

We don’t think about this enough.  Baptism, far too often, is just a cute thing that we do.  Especially in the Reformed Church, where we practice infant baptism, it is an even that takes place where we get to see a little baby and celebrate a new life.  Sadly, we don’t often think of the reality that the event we are witnessing reminds us of.

Every day, at the end of the day, I take a shower.  I honestly cannot go to bed without doing so.  If I try, I feel sticky and gross and just can’t get around laying in my own filth.  So I shower.  The water washes me clean and I can end the day, crawling into bed free of the day’s filth.  Perhaps you have a similar experience?

In baptism we are reminded that, through faith in Jesus Christ, we too are washed clean.  Infant Baptism, something we will talk more about next week, reminds us of the true nature of this washing: it is the promise of God available to all, no matter how unaware of this reality we may be.  This washing removes the filth, the blemishes, the grime that is sin in our lives.  It taints every aspect of who we are and, without Christ, we would constantly be working to scrub it from ourselves.

But, we are washed.  You may notice that in the baptismal liturgy that is often read, it doesn’t say “you washed yourself clean,” but rather “you are washed clean.”  In Jesus Christ, we are washed clean.  We don’t have to lay in our own filth anymore.  Rather, we have been cleansed!  This is God’s work in our lives through Jesus Christ and it is an integral part of our identity.

Whether babies or new believers, the symbolism is the same: Forgiveness is for you, through faith in Jesus Christ.  The next time you take a shower, jump in a pool, take a dip in Lake Michigan, or even wipe the sweat off your face with a cold, wet cloth, think about your baptism.  Remember that you are washed in Christ’s blood, you have been made clean, and you can rest assured that we no longer have to wallow in our own mess but can dwell in God’s presence and security through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!!



Romans 5:1-5 "The New Life"

Christians talk a lot about “putting our faith in Jesus” which leads to the forgiveness of sins and our justification before God.  But Justification is just the beginning, the doorway into a new life with Christ.  Today we explore a bit of what that looks like.

What does it mean for you to have “Peace with God” now?  How does that peace impact how you live as a Christian daily?

Does the Grace we gain access to by faith in Jesus Christ transform your everyday experience?  How?

Through the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ and experience the love of God; nothing can separate us from it (not even death).  How does this Hope affect your daily life?



Forgiveness: H.C. Question 56

What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Micah 7:18-19 – Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 2:2 – He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Romans 7:21-25 – So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

John 3:16-18 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Romans 8:1-2 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.



Judgment Seat: H.C. Lord's Day 19

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 19

Q 50. Why the next words: “and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A 50. Because Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church, the one through whom the Father rules all things.

Q 51. How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
A 51. First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.

Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.

Q 52. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?
A 52. In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.

It is a rare day indeed when the prospect of being judged, especially when it’s something as seemingly final as the last judgment, is actually comforting.  I can’t say that I ever found any of my final exams, tests, or even quizzes in school to be even the least be comforting; even when I knew I would do well.  However, the Catechism here seems to take a different approach to this judgment.

To really have a true understanding about this, though, we have to draw on all that we have talked about for the past couple of weeks regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.  After His resurrection and ascension, we read in Scripture that Jesus “sits down” at the right hand of the Father.  This “being seated,” as Paul writes at the beginning of the book of Ephesians, is a symbol of Christ’s work being finished.

Imagine, if you will, a lawyer making his closing arguments in a trial.  He eloquently defends the accused person that he represents and then says “your honor, I rest my case,” sitting down next to the defendant.  There’s nothing else to do, there’s nothing else to say; it is in the hands of the judge now.  The same is true here with Christ; He sits down at the right hand of the Father because the work is finished.  He doesn’t have to do more, He did it all when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.

Adding to this image, what would it look like if the lawyer defending the accused, which in this case is you and me, was also the judge?  He rests His case and then sits down in the judge’s place, rendering the verdict that He Himself has fought for.  The accuser has no say in anything because our defender is also our judge and He has paid the price for us.

Now that, my friends, is comforting.

It goes far beyond that as well.  There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and a final judgment of all people will come to pass.  For those who are in Christ, there is nothing to worry about because the one who will judge the world is also the one who paid our debt.  But for those who do not know Christ, whose sins are not forgiven, this may be cause for considerable angst.  Without Christ, the verdict is guilty… no matter how good a life we have lived… and the punishment is eternal.

Enter the idea of hell: eternal punishment and separation from God.  How is this comforting?  For many, especially in the insulated western world is the United States, the notion of Hell is repulsive and horrifying, something we are very quick to shy away from.  We don’t understand what it means to have real enemies.  Our greatest enemies are more likely our in-laws, or the guy that cut of off on the road the other day.  They certainly annoy us, but we would not wish eternal punishment on them… the definitely aren’t the enemies of God.

In other parts of the world, however, there is a different feel.  The enemies of God, those who actively oppose the Gospel and all who follow Christ, are real, dangerous, and deadly.  They behead Christians with swords, burn them alive in cages, and even sell Christian women and children into slavery and forced sexual servitude in the name of their god (who is not the same as the Christian God, mind you).  These are the enemies of God and they are ruthless; justice in these situations looks a lot different.

Now, I’m not saying that we should wish Hell on anyone.  We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us.  However, we cannot argue that there is a comfort associated with knowing that, no matter how bad the world gets, Christ wins in the end and the enemies of God will be brought to true justice as well.  It is hard for us to fathom here in the U.S.  We experience only a micro-fraction of what Christians in other parts of the world live with daily… but for them and for us one thing is very clear: the battle has been won, the work has been finished, and judgment has been rendered, and as Job so eloquently states:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!  Job 19:25-27



Matthew 26:20-29 "Forgiveness"

Sometimes the hardest forgiveness to give and receive is the forgiveness we give to ourselves…



Philippians 4 – Think On These Things

Read Philippians 4

As Paul closes his letter, he returns to the subject of unity, once again encouraging them to be unified in their actions and thinking.  He even names a few people whom he asks the rest of the church to help in being more unified.  It is interesting that he doesn’t put them down here, but rather builds them up as those who are faithful in their work for the Gospel.  They have worked alongside Paul for the advance of the Gospel but struggle now with unity together.

How often does that ring true in our congregations?  We are all in this together, working to share the Gospel and Christ’s love for all people, but we cannot seem to get along with each other well.  Sometimes it’s because of current issues, but far too often it has to do with us holding on to things in the past that continue to divide us, even if the original issue has been solved or is no longer relevant.

How can we move toward greater unity in the midst of such struggles?  Paul says to think on things that are noble, pure, lovely, etc.  He encourages them to show gentleness to everyone as well.

Perhaps, if we are indeed looking for the good, seeking out what God is doing in our lives and all around us, and keeping the focus on the “peace of Christ” rather than on the abundance of negative things that are so prevalent around us.

The reality is that the Church is full of imperfect people.  We do things that end up causing hurt but we also have a choice in that moment, to focus on the negative and the injury to ourselves, or to share the same mind as Christ, identifying and forgiving sins committed against us, not allowing those things to cause division among us.



Psalm 51 "Forgive us our debts…"

As we look at the 4th phrase of the Lord’s Prayer we are both reminded of our need for forgiveness and that we need to also be forgiving.  Christ’s love and forgiveness for us allow for the cultivation of a forgiving heart, a work that done in us by the Holy Spirit.



Luke 11 – Bath Time

Read Luke 11

I always enjoy reading a narrative where Jesus calls out religious leaders for the different things that they do and say.  It’s like seeing someone known for corruption being caught in the act and brought to justice; it is wholly satisfying.

Everytime I read something like this passage though, there is a little twinge in my heart.  I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am too am a hypocrit, guilty of many of the things that Jesus calls the pharisees out on.  Seeing others’ sins brought to light may seem satisfying until we realize that we are guilty of the same thing.

For many of us, this is of what it means to be Christian.  Sunday mornings are full of arguments, threats, screaming, yelling, crying, and anger until we get out of the car at church, then everything is fine with us.  At the same time, while we are walking around with our masks on to hide our imperfections, we are more than happy to call out others for things they aren’t hiding quite as well.

This epidemic of illusion is something we as the Church cannot continue.  In many ways, those outside of the Church are much better at being authentic than we are, understanding their own imperfections whilst calling us out on ours.  We are no different than they are… except for one crucial fact: We Are Forgiven.

Jesus doesn’t call for us to hide our sin from the world.  In fact, the Light of the World shine into the dark corners of our lives for the very purpose of cleaning them out so that, rather than being a slave to that sin, forced to wear the mask, we can live in freedom from it, washed and clean both outside and inside as well.