Closing Prayer: H.C. Lord’s Day 52

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 52

Q 127: What does the sixth petition mean? 
A 127: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” means:
By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.
And our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us.
And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.
Q 128: What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?
A 128: “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever” means:
We have made all these petitions of you because, as our all-powerful king, you are both willing and able to give us all that is good; and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.
Q 129: What does that little word “Amen” express?
A 129: “Amen” means: This shall truly and surely be!
It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.
The closing of both the Lord’s Prayer and the teaching of the Lord’s prayer represent three things, a recognition of God’s presence in our daily walk, a reiteration of God’s sovereignty, and a trust in God’s faithfulness.
First comes the phrase “save us from the time of trial,” an update from the traditional “lead us not into temptation.”  The original texts of Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer were never meant to give a false indication that God is the one who either prompts or creates temptation.  God’s presence in the midst of our trials and temptations, however, is a gaurantee in Scripture.  He promises to never leave us or forsake us; He walks every step of our lives with us, sustaining us even when He doesn’t approve of our actions or the things we get ourselves into.  Even when we are clearly in over our heads, there is nothing that God cannot save us from.
When we find ourselves in the midst of these times, Jesus reminds us of two things.  First, that we are indeed not alone.  We are not caught in temptation because God has left us, but rather because we are walking away from Him.  Even then, however, when we are faithless, He is faithful.  And second, He reminds us that we can always call to Him when we are lost.  There is nothing that we can get ourselves into that discounts us from turning back to God and God receiving us with His full love and open arms.
Second in the closing phrases of the Lord’s prayer is a sort of reprise and a reminder of the whole purpose and goal of prayer in the first place.  Prayer is an act of worship, and through it, we see a transformation in us that prompts us toward desiring and enacting God’s will and purposes in the world.
This is also a declaration of the state of our hearts.  Saying, “The Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” means that, for us, those things belong to God and as such they are not ours to control.  Rather, we are placing our trust once again in Him and recognizing Him for who He is: God.  
Finally, the prayer is ended by the word “amen.”  This word is not just a nice Christian word for “prayer done.”  It carries with a very real and very specific meaning: “this is sure to be!”  When Jesus is talking to His disciples about things that are sure to be, He says in the Greek “amen, amen,” or “truly, truly…”  The emphasis here points to the certainty of God’s actions in our lives and in the world.
Have you ever prayed and felt like your prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling?  Have you ever felt alone and not sure if what you were praying would even come to be?  The word “amen,” is a statement of trust.  We say this because we believe, deep in our core, that God hears and answers prayer.  In one of the closing statements of his book, Kevin DeYoung says this, “God is so gracious that He is more willing to hear our requests than we are sure that we actually want what we pray for.”  God’s desire that we come to Him, even in the midst of our doubts, is so great that we are assured that no matter the state that we are in, God will always here and answer. 
DeYoung finishes by saying this, “How Liberating!  Go ahead and pray to God better than you feel and you may just find that in His mercy you end up better than you deserve.”  How wonderful and true.  God is able and willing to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine, even at our best.  So the invitation of God is to come… no matter where you are or what is going on… go to Him!

Amen: H.C. Question129

What does that little word “Amen” express? 
Isaiah 65:24 – Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
2 Timothy 2:13 – if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

The Holy Supper: H.C. Lord's Day 28

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 28

Q 75. How does the holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits? 
A 75. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in remembrance of him. With this command come these promises:

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.

Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Q. What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood? 
A. It means to accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and thereby to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

But it means more. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul.

Q 77. Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup? 
A 77. In the institution of the Lord’s Supper:

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is [broken]* for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

This promise is repeated by Paul in these words:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

In the discourse that is the sacraments, we now take a turn in the Catechism to look at Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist.  This celebration is done in response and remembrance of the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples.

Sadly, in many churches today, this celebration has become more of a monotonous tradition that we “do because we have to.”  Whether it’s because of the approach of the congregation or the lack of engagement from the pastor, these celebrations have become empty rituals with very little meaning.

Truly, this is a sad thing.

The Lord’s Supper is packed full of meaning; it is literally our opportunity to taste and touch the Gospel and to be filled with God’s grace.  St. Augustine said of the sacraments, they are “visible signs of invisible grace.”  Again, this is multi-sensory worship at it’s finest, engaging the senses that are used during the traditional sermon.

We can (and do) talk about the Gospel a lot.  In fact, the Gospel is (or should be) at the center of all that we do, informing every decision and every activity.  Every message should touch on it in some way.  We were sinners, separated from God, and we had no hope.  God stepped in by sending His Son to pay for those sins so that we would no longer be separated from Him.  Faith in Jesus Christ grants of justification (forgiveness).

At the Table, when we take communion, we are reminded of this.  No matter what we’ve done, from the stealing of a pencil to capital murder, we remember that Christ died for our sins and we receive forgiveness when we believe in Him.  Did you fight with your spouse today?  Then you need to come to the Table.  Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Did you fight with your spouse today?  Then you need to come to the Table.  Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Were you lazy at your job today?  Then you need to come to the Table.

Have you looked questionably at another person, whether in judgment or lust?  Then you need to come to the Table.

It’s not that the sacraments themselves save us.  In fact, the act of taking communion or getting baptized does not ensure salvation.  Rather, they remind us that we are saved, we are forgiven, our sins our washed away because of Jesus Christ and we receive that through faith.

Maybe the way your church does communion is boring… or you just don’t like it…

Maybe your pastor doesn’t explain it well or just reads the same old stuff each time…

…if either of those are so, that is sad…

…but it is no excuse for ignoring the deep meaing and the reality of grace and forgiveness that we live in which is symbolized in the taking of the bread and the drinking of the cup!

We are forgiven!  We are united with Christ!  We are called to newness of life!

Take, eat, remember and believe!  Be what you see and receive what you are!

Remembrance: H.C. Question 75

How does the holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits?

Matthew 26:26-28 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 14:22-24 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.

Luke 22:19-20 – And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 – For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Infant Baptism: H.C. 74

Should infants also be baptized?

Genesis 17:7 – I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Matthew 19:14 – Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Isaiah 44:1-3 – “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.  This is what the Lord says— he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

Acts 2:38-39 – Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Acts 16:31 – They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Acts 10:47 – “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

1 Corinthians 7:14 – For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Genesis 17:9-14 – Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Colossians 2:11-13 – In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

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!!

Blood and Spirit: H.C. Question 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?

Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Mark 16:16 – Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Acts 22:16 – And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

The Holy Sacraments: H.C. Lord's Day 25

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 25

Q 65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?
A 65. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Q 66. What are sacraments?
A 66. Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.

Q 67. Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A 67. Yes! In the gospel, the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

Q 68. How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
A 68. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.

It is probably safe to say that if there is something that most people in the church don’t think much about on a regular basis, it would be the sacraments.  In my opinion, this is often due to either a lack of appropriate understanding or a misunderstanding of the purpose, meaning, and nature of the sacraments.  Far too often, when we celebrate them, a liturgy is read from a book in a rather monotone voice and then we do something… something we do the same every time without thinking about it.  Then we continue on like it never happened.  It’s a sad sort of traditional thing that seems to be overlooked…

Apart from the doctrine of justification by God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith alone, the Reformers (those writing, teaching, and standing against much of the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century) wrote more about the sacraments than any other topic.  They are, as many would say, very important to the life of Christ followers.  But why?  What purpose do they play?

First, it is important to point out that the sacraments themselves do not save.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only, and while partaking in the sacraments can be a sign of that faith, their physical actions have no saving element to them.  The Reformed Church, in which I am ordained, practices Infant Baptism, yet baptizing an infant does not ensure that child’s salvation.  This act is sign and symbol that salvation is available to that child and that, in a special way, that child is called and a part of the community of faith; but it is only through faith that we are saved and infants are completely incapable of having a saving faith (far as we know).

The second thing that is important for us to remember about sacramental celebrations or rememberances are that they are signs and seals of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century, which taught that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) was a reenactment of Jesus’ death, we believe that this is a symbol of the promise that is confirmed in Jesus’ once for all death on the cross for the sins of the entire world.

Related to that is the reality of what takes place in the sacraments.  As signs and seals of the promises of God the sacraments do not create faith, they confirm it, making us understand the Gospel promises more clearly through the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit and confirming to us our salvation.  I often say, when speaking of the Lord’s Supper, that we are nourished spiritually through the sacrament in a similar way to the fact that the physical food nourishes our body.

The sacraments are called “visible signs of invisible grace.”  It is another way that God works to reveal Himself, His love, and His grace to us.  For those who are visual learners, these sacraments can speak volumes!  In fact, the sacraments take sensory worship to a whole new level, providing for us the ability to see, smell, taste, and touch the promises of God made physical in the elements of the sacraments in the same way that we hear these promises proclaimed through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

Hebrews 6 – Moving Forward

Read Hebrews 6

There are some difficult sayings in this chapter that, when we read them, don’t always jive with what we think we know about Scripture and what we know about God’s grace and salvation either.  The author says that it’s impossible for those who are of the faith and then turn away “to be brought back to repentance.”  How does this stand up next to Paul’s words in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of Go that is in Christ Jesus?

Considering these words, and looking at those around them, and the context in which the author is writing, it doesn’t seem so much that the author is trying to set down some sort of new doctrine where salvation can be lost, but rather to cast a warning about falling away from the faith and the impact that it can have both on the life of the believer and on the church as well.

None of this, however, negates the promise of God, originally made to Abraham, to be God to His people.  Because of God’s mercy, love, and enduring faithfulness, we know that God will always be with us and never turn His back on us.  No matter what we do, God promises to be faithful to us.

This promise was confirmed to us in Jesus Christ, who came to the earth as a human to make a way for us to be in a relationship with God.  As Jesus eternally fulfills the role of “priest,” as the writer of Hebrews says, He eternally intercedes for us before God.  As the sacrifice for our sins, He washes us clean so that we have the hope of salvation which can never be taken away.

Here the writer of Hebrews encourages us to move forward, deeper into this relationship.  As we realize the love that God has for us, we respond in relationship with God, growing closer to Him and taking greater hold of our hope and salvation.