“You know that you are ransomed from your futile ways ... with the precious blood of Christ” I Peter 1:18, 19
Last month we looked at the theme of the Heidelberg Catechism. We saw that the theme of the catechism is comfort. But what kind of comfort is it that the catechism is referring to?
Today we use that word “comfort” in a lot of different ways. We use it to refer to the things that make our lives easier. For example, I am an avid camper. In the middle of a cold February I think about Spring and I start planning where the family will be camping. Over the years I have noticed something about my camping habits and the habits of other campers.
When my wife and I first started camping, we stayed in a tent. That worked fine for the first two years. The third year, for some reason, my eight month pregnant wife was not excited about camping in a tent. I believe our discussion had something to do with “comfort.”
That year we added to our comfort by buying a pop-up trailer. It has served us well for several years but I have to admit it’s a lot of work to crank the roof up, pull those beds out, and get everything situated. Maybe we should look into a trailer. One with air conditioning, because you certainly remember how hot it was last August, don’t you?
I have noticed that this kind of thinking goes on in the minds of many campers. Eventually, people move up to a fifth-wheel. Once the children move out of the house, they buy a motor home with a slide out. Last summer I saw one motor home with three slide outs! That thing had more comfort in it than my home! In addition to the air conditioning, it had a king-size bed, a satellite for the color television, a generator should the owners ever wind up some place where there is no electricity, built in grill, and a dish washer. You name it - it’s all available. And you know, we gotta have all that comfort, even if we “just park it at a Wal-Mart.”
That is not exactly what the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism thought about when they used the word “comfort”. They were not looking at any temporal comforts where a person goes out and “roughs it” with all the creature comforts of home and then after the camping season goes back to his normal life with air conditioned homes, dishwashers, microwaves, and so on. Not at all.
The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism sought a comfort that was eternal. They wrote about a comfort that would endure from everlasting to everlasting. They wanted a comfort not only in this life; but also a comfort that would remain with them even at the time of death.
For them, comfort was not a lazy-boy recliner that would one day wear out and need to be replaced; comfort was not an air conditioned cab on your John Deere; or a camper with all the conveniences of home. No. The comfort that they sought was something far greater than the material things that this world can offer.
Comfort can be defined as a good thing that takes care of a bad situation. It doesn’t necessarily take the bad situation away, but it makes us strong enough to endure it. When your little toddler wakes up from a night-mare and screams about a place of man eating tigers and monsters, it is usually enough for a parent to say, “That’s okay, we are right here with you” or “Don’t worry, we won’t let the monsters get you. Go back to sleep.” When your child hears you talking to him and is aware of your presence, then that child is all right and goes back to a comfortable sleep. He is comforted.
Sometimes comfort can act as a tear drier. Sometimes it is a shot in the arm. It can be positive re-enforcement or affirmation. It can be encouragement in a difficult time. Comfort is strength to keep you going.
A God of Comfort
Now, let’s look at that in connection to the relationship that we have with God. Every time we hear the Law of God, it is not difficult for us to see that we have violated it. We have been jealous; we have been angry with a brother or sister in Christ; we have been envious of others. Our eyes have wandered away from God’s Word and looked at our neighbor’s possessions with envy and our neighbor’s spouse with desire. We are guilty. We have sinned against God.
The Bible tells us that when we sin against God we deserve to die. In fact, we deserve to go to hell forever! That would be God’s just punishment for us all. In that sense, Pope Paul IV was right when he said, “The fear of God’s judgment at the moment of death is always present.” All the earlier catechisms were right when they wrote about the fear of facing God in the final judgment. We are a people filled with sin and we do indeed deserve the wrath of God. We deserve to go to hell.
And yet, as the Heidelberg Catechism points out, our God is a God of comfort. Not comfort in our sin, but comfort for all who seek to be delivered from it.
To expose evil may be the work of the moralist. To scorn evil may be the work of the self-righteous Pharisee. But to convince us of our sin, even as the Law does, is never enough. God comes to us as more than the Judge. He comes to us as a Savior.
I Peter 1:18, 19 teach us: “You know that you are ransomed from your futile ways…with the precious blood of Christ.” That is comfort.
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, tells us that He did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17). That is comfort. How important it is for us to know, not only that we are sinful, but that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus is the great Deliverer! He said of His own death: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).
Through Christ our iniquity is pardoned. Sin is forgiven. That is the great comfort for all those who believe in Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as their own Savior. Romans 5:8, 9 says: “But God showed His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” Saved by Him from the wrath of God. Oh, what a comfort is to be found in Jesus Christ!
What is your only comfort in life and death? May you be able to say: My only comfort is that I am not my own, but I have been redeemed! I have been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I belong to Him completely - body and soul, in life and in death. I belong to Him and He is going to take care of me. No, He has taken care of me on the cross of Calvary.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and editor of The Outlook.