First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ April 26, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
The Heidelberg Catechism is a well-known and widely respected Protestant confessional document. Composed originally in German by two young German theologians (Zacharias Ursinus 1534-1583 and Caspar Olevianus 1536-1584) and first published in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany, over the years, the catechism has been translated into many languages and, as I said, is regarded as one of the most influential Reformed catechisms.
The catechism summarizes and captures the basic elements and the major doctrines of the Reformed theology, taking the form of questions and answers. I think the first question of the catechism speaks in such a profound way to our needs and challenges today. In fact, the answer given to the very first question of the catechism is refreshing, assuring, and uplifting.
This morning I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. I will first look at why the topic at hand was important back then as much as it is important to us today; then I will highlight a couple short implications. Before we do that, let me real quick state the question and answer.
Question 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer: That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
First: Our Only Comfort
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Remember that the catechism was originally written in German. The word translated “comfort” here emphasizes a sense of security and safety. A more accurate translation would be “fort” or “fortress.” What is your only fortress in life and in death? Where does your strength come from? When you get to the point of quitting, what or who gives you the power to keep on going? What or who do you rely on?
You might wonder why does the Heidelberg Catechism begin with a question about humanity’s only comfort, only fortress and secure place? Well, the authors of the Catechism were addressing the anxieties, fears, and uncertainties of the 16th century. The 16th century was a very tough time in Europe. Wars broke out everywhere. War sent young men to battlefield where they faced death every day, invaders trampled crops, communities destroyed, and wives and daughters were raped.
In addition to war, the 16th century was also an age of constant famine, disaster, and plague. As a result, crops failed, the young and elderly alike faced starvation. In the midst of this hurt and sorrow, agony and despair, where was comfort to be found? Where did the 16th century believers find the strength to keep going? What was their fortress? So, questions about comfort, about strength, about security only made sense. The circumstances of the 16th century Europe were very similar to ours right now.
Second: I Belong to Jesus
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Here is the answer: “That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Two profound observations here. First, “I am not my own.” The Prophet Isaiah says in 43:1, “Don’t fear for I’ve redeemed you! I have summoned you by name. You’re mine.” In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul reminds us “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” In other words, I don't have the final say about myself. I am not a law to myself. I am not answerable only to myself. I am not self-sufficient, self-secure, self-reliant. I am not in charge. My God is. I am precious in His eyes. He loves me. He cares for me and He is faithful. The catechism reminds us that our comfort, our security, our strength does NOT lie in ourselves, but in our Almighty God.
So, if I am not my own, whose am I? “I ... belong ... to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” I belong to Christ. He is in charge. He is in control. He is sovereign and He is faithful. He is the One who ordains all things. He is the One who looks after me. This is my comfort, and this is my hiding place that I belong to Jesus, that I am His.
How completely am I, as a believer, in the hands of my faithful Savior? The catechism states totally. Completely. “Body and soul, in life and in death – I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” All of me, all the time, I belong to Jesus, body, spirit, and soul, from the day we are born to the day we leave this earth.
Friends, in a broken and an upside-down world, what is your only comfort? What is your place of safety? Your comfort, your strength, your security lies in Christ. It is Christ – and Christ alone – who gives you the strength to keep on going, to endure, to persevere to the end. In 1834, British Baptist Pastor, Edward Mote, wrote this beautiful hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
To God alone is the glory now and forever more. Amen!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.