Category Archives: Catechism sermons

Pray with an Eye on our Father and His Love (Lord’s Day 46 Sermon Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from last Sunday afternoon’s sermon at the Providence Canadian Reformed Church.  The catechism lesson was Lord’s Day 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism:


Having God as our Father is a basic Christian teaching.  We have a Father in heaven, because we have a Saviour who came to earth.  We have a Saviour who reconciled us to our Maker, and because of that reconciliation, we are in a relationship of fellowship with God.  That relationship is described in terms of a Father and his children.  God is our Father, and we are his children.  It’s a beautiful gospel reality.

Our Master teaches us to open our prayers with an eye on God as “our Father.”  Right away, we need to be clear about what that means.  There are those who say that Jesus is referring to the Father as one of the persons of the Trinity.  They say that we are then to pray only to the Father as that person of the Trinity.  The conclusion is that Jesus is teaching us only to pray to the Father, as distinct from the Son and from the Holy Spirit.  However, brothers and sisters, there is another way of looking at this, and it is a better way.

When Jesus said, “Our Father in heaven,” he was not introducing something new to Jewish ears.  In the Old Testament, the word “Father” is found several times in reference to God.  When it’s found in the Old Testament, the word “Father” refers to Yahweh.  The word refers to God in himself, not as the person of the Father distinguished from the Son and the Holy Spirit.  A good example of this is in Malachi 1:6.  God is rebuking his people there.  He says, “A son honours his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honour?…”  God is a Father to his people.  There, the word “Father” is being used in connection with Yahweh’s relationship to his people, not to the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.  This is the pattern of the Old Testament usage of the word “Father” for God.  It refers to Yahweh.

Our Master continues in that pattern with the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus is not speaking about God the Father as distinct from the Spirit and the Son, but God our Father as distinct from the creatures who call upon him.  This is not a reference to the Trinity, but to God as One.  Therefore, we cannot conclude that our Master is teaching us to address one particular person of the Trinity to the exclusion of the others.  That’s not in the picture here at all.  This is confirmed by other prayers that we see in the New Testament.  For example, when Stephen was being martyred in Acts 7, he prayed to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Paul uses the prayer, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus” and other examples could be added.  We have the freedom to do likewise.

With the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ is simply teaching us to look up to Yahweh as our Father and call upon him with an attitude of childlike reverence and trust.  We need to trust that our God loves us and will take care of our needs.  This is laid out beautifully in Matthew 7, further in the Sermon on the Mount.  There too, Christ is speaking about our Father in heaven, Yahweh, as he relates to his children.  Jesus makes a comparison between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father.  Earthly fathers will normally take care of their children and provide for their needs.  A child who asks for bread is not going to get a stone from his dad.  Or even worse, if a child asks for some fish, his father is not going to throw him a cobra.  People are evil and yet they still give good things to their children.  But then there is God.  He is perfectly good.  So, what would make you think that he wouldn’t give good gifts to those who ask him?  So, the conclusion:  ask your Father in heaven for good things, and because he loves you, expect that he will follow through and provide you with what you need.  We have a Father in heaven who loves us and it’s to him that we need to pray expectantly.

But that’s a lot easier to say than to do, isn’t it?  Trials and difficulties can easily muddy this teaching in our minds and even make it sound glib.  For example, one of the hardest things in life is to lose a baby.  My wife and I have gone through that and many of you have too.  You have hopes and dreams for that baby in your womb and then the Lord decides otherwise.  It’s hard to take.  Glenda Mathes is a sister from the United Reformed Churches and she has a helpful book on early infant loss.  It’s called Little One Lost.  I highly recommend it.  In the book she tells the story of Brad and Stephanie.  They were pregnant with their second child.  Caleb would be only fifteen months younger than their firstborn Joshua.  They had dreams of the two boys playing together and they planned to homeschool both.  Stephanie had an induction scheduled, and the day before they did an ultrasound and everything looked normal.  The next day they came in for the induction and there was no heartbeat.  They were devastated.  Later a medical examination revealed that there was no discernible reason why Caleb died before he was born.  Brad and Stephanie struggled with that.  “We had prayed for a healthy baby,” they said, “why had God chosen to answer us with a dead baby?”

That’s a tough question to answer.  In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “your Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him.”  The Catechism paraphrases that in QA 120.  Isn’t a healthy baby a good thing?  Why would God withhold that from Brad and Stephanie or from any of us who have gone through this?  It’s easy to understand why tragedies like that would make you question our Father’s love.  Stephanie did that.  She says that, after losing Caleb, she questioned God and found prayer and Bible reading to be extremely hard.

Yet, in time, Brad and Stephanie came to peace with what God had done with Caleb.  Through this tragedy, they came to closer fellowship with the believers in their church.  Their brothers and sisters surrounded them with love and encouragement.  They came to see that their little baby boy was spared the heartbreak of sin.  Because of the covenant God has with believers and their children, Caleb is enjoying perfect blessedness.  Stephanie says, “There is peace in knowing that Caleb is safe, that God is taking infinitely better care of him than I ever could.  Though we never knew our baby, it is assuring to know that he was and is known by God.”  In time, this couple came to see that what happened was not inconsistent with what we confess about the love of our heavenly Father.  He does know what is best for each of us at any given moment.  It’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge that, but yet this is what the Scriptures teach.

One of the keywords in QA 120 is “childlike.”  When it comes to prayer, we have to be like children, because we are, well….like children.  We are not the equal of our Father, nor are we anywhere close.  We don’t have the understanding of our Father.  We don’t have the comprehensive knowledge of our Father.  We don’t have his wisdom.  We are finite, he is infinite in every way.  Really, we are like little children before him.  He has the full picture and full plan of our lives in his mind.  He knows everything from its beginning to its end, and we know very, very little. We have ideas about what is good for us, but they don’t always line up with what he knows for certain to be good for us.

Loved ones, we need to trust what Scripture says about our Father.  We need to believe his promise that because of Christ, he loves us and will provide what we truly need.  If we struggle with that, we can and should pray about that too.  We can pray and be honest with God and say, “I’m having a hard time believing that you love me because of all these trials – please help me to trust your Word.”  Even that would be an expression of childlike reverence and trust, the kind of thing taught to us by our Master.

New Catechism Resource Added

To my collection of preaching themes and divisions on the Heidelberg Catechism I’ve just added Lord’s Day 44.  You can find the link here, along with all the rest.    This time, at the request of some users, I’ve begun adding the Scripture readings.  In due time, I hope to revise all the files to include that feature.

More Heidelberg Catechism Themes Added

My project to compile themes and divisions for preaching the Heidelberg Catechism is just about completed.  I’ve just added Lord’s Day 33 and, two weeks ago, I added Lord’s Day 32.  That leaves just four more to go.  At some point, I’ll get around to them.  This project originally started for my own benefit while in seminary.  While I was a missionary, a conversation with a URC colleague about the challenges of preaching the Catechism regularly led me to begin posting my work online.  Judging from the stats WordPress provides, the Heidelberg Catechism Themes page is one of the most-accessed on Yinkahdinay — it ranks #9.

Yes, I know that not much else new has been posted here recently.  In a couple of weeks, I’m going to Brazil again.  I’ll be speaking at a conference, teaching a Reformation church history course at the John Calvin Institute, and a bunch of other speaking and preaching engagements.  A lot of my spare time and energy has been absorbed with getting ready for all this.  When I get back, I hope to have some more time available to write on some topics here.  Do stay tuned… 


The Heidelberg Catechism: “From Divine Sources”

Statue of Elector Frederick III (aka Frederick the Pious) at Heidelberg Castle

Statue of Elector Frederick III (aka Frederick the Pious) at Heidelberg Castle

Yesterday I had the pleasure of leading the worship services at the Vineyard Canadian Reformed Church in Lincoln, ON.  For the afternoon, I was asked to take Lord’s Day 1 as the catechism lesson.  Below you can find an excerpt from my introduction.  In this excerpt, I quote from Frederick III’s defense of his catechism, offered in 1566 at the Diet of Augsburg.  This is especially appropriate to remember this year as we celebrate the 450th birthday of the Catechism.


This afternoon, we’re beginning another series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism.  The Catechism can be considered like a road map for the Bible.  It doesn’t take the place of Scripture, but it helps us to see the important teachings in it, like a road map helps us see the important places in a region.  Moreover, it helps us to organize those teachings in a systematic way.  The Bible is a very big and very diverse book.  So with the Heidelberg Catechism we have its important teachings organized in a simple and memorable format.

The Catechism was written in Germany in 1563 – 450 years ago this year.  It was written during the later years of the Great Reformation.  Its primary authors are usually considered to be Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus.  They were young men (28 and 26) who had been appointed professors of theology at Heidelberg.  They had been appointed by Elector Frederick III, the ruler of the Palatinate, a German province.  Frederick had arranged for the writing of this catechism with the idea that it would be used for teaching the young people under his rule and that it would guide pastors and teachers in the Palatinate.

Up till now, I suppose that a lot of this is familiar to many of you.  However, has it ever struck you that this Catechism, this Reformed Catechism, was written in Germany?  Germany is usually associated with Lutheranism, not with the Reformed faith found in the Heidelberg Catechism.  You need to know that there was a rift between Calvinists and Lutherans in the time the Catechism was written.  To have a German catechism that was Reformed was unusual to say the least.  It actually created some controversy.

The patron of the Catechism, Frederick III, was well aware of this controversy.  It bothered him enormously.  When the Catechism was written and published, German Lutherans raised a stink.  They charged that Frederick (and the Palatinate) had turned Reformed.  This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it hadn’t have been for the Peace of Augsburg.  Under this treaty between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the German princes, only Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism were permitted in Germany.

Immediately after our Catechism was published 450 years ago, there was enormous opposition to it.  Elector Frederick caught the brunt of it and he was eventually called to appear before Emperor Maximilian II at the Diet of Augsburg.  Everything was up in the air – Frederick could have lost everything – his office, his life, and his catechism.  As he appeared at Augsburg in 1566, Frederick was charged with promoting Calvinism through the Heidelberg Catechism.

Why does this matter for today?  It matters because still today there are those who see the Heidelberg Catechism simply as an expression of human opinions and ideas.  The Heidelberg Catechism expresses Reformed beliefs, but it is not the Bible.  It is true that the Catechism is not the Bible and it is true that it expresses Reformed beliefs – but there is more that needs to be said.   Frederick made his defense to Emperor Maximilian and his words should be heard today as well.  He reaffirmed the faith he had confessed with the Lutheran princes in 1558 and 1561.  However, he went on to say,

…in this faith I continue firmly, on no other ground than because I find it established in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Nor do I believe that anyone can successfully show that I have done or received anything that stands opposed to that creed.  But that my catechism, word for word, is drawn, not from human, but from divine sources, the biblical references that stand in the margin will show.

We’re told that Frederick faced Maximilian, the most powerful human ruler of his day, alongside his son John Casimir.  Frederick’s son stood with an open Bible and then Frederick challenged the Emperor with these words,

What I have elsewhere publicly declared to your Majesty in a full assembly of princes; namely, that if anyone of whatever age, station or class he may be, even the humblest, can teach me something better from the Holy Scriptures, I will thank him from the bottom of my heart and be readily obedient to the divine truth.  This I now repeat in the presence of this assembly of the whole empire.  If there be anyone among my lords and friends who will undertake it, I am prepared to hear him, and here are the Scriptures at hand.  Should it please your Imperial Majesty to undertake this task, I would regard it as the greatest favour and acknowledge it with suitable gratitude.

Frederick’s bold challenge went unanswered and the Heidelberg Catechism passed into history as one of the most well-received summaries of scriptural teaching.  This is our confession.  We do well to follow Frederick’s lead and emphasize that this is not a compilation of human thoughts and doctrines, rather this is the truth of God faithfully distilled into 52 Lord’s Days.  We can be thankful for the witness of Frederick and we can also pray that we will continue to have the same Spirit, not only of boldness, but also of being teachable.  We should always be willing to be taught from the Scriptures.

God Says, “Serve Me Only” — A Sermon on the First Commandment

Bill spent most of his spare time in worship.  He put in his eight hours a day at his job – he would come home and then worship.  But even in his spare moments at work Bill would be worshipping.  Sometimes he would even take time away from his work to worship.  His boss was not very clued into these sorts of things, so Bill got away with it.  Hours and hours every week were spent at home and work devoted to the one thing that gave Bill pleasure and relief from the stresses he faced.  Bill was an avid worshipper of pornography.

Then there was Sue.  She was also a worshipper.  She too had something in her life that absorbed her heart and captivated her attention.  She had something she loved more than anything else in the world.  It was something that gave her comfort and hope from day to day.  It gave her life meaning and made her feel secure.  If she would lose it, it would have stripped her life of all purpose.  Like Bill, she devoted hours to her worship.  Sue was an avid worshipper of her self-image.  She spent hours devoted to diet, exercise, and her appearance.

Now those are just two examples – and, by the way, they are interchangeable.  I could have described Sue as the worshipper of pornography and Bill as the worshipper of self-image.  They’re not exclusively male or female things.  And we could add all kinds of other objects of worship:  money, sports, music, other people, pride, your children, your job, alcohol, drugs, the list is endless.

What I want you to realize is that human beings are always worshippers.  When we were created, we were designed to serve and worship our Creator.  It was in our DNA, so to speak.  But with the fall into sin, the drive to worship became distorted.  Rather than serving the Creator, human beings turned into idol factories.  After the fall, everyone still worships, but not everyone worships the true God and him only.  And even those who only worship the true God in principle, they don’t always worship him alone in practice.  As Christians too, we easily devise idols, things that take the place of God in our lives.

We are very clever and inventive when it comes to our idols.  We can take anything created in this world and turn it into an idol.  Things that were created good by God become the objects of our devotion in place of him.  Want an example?  Take food.  Food is a good thing.  We need food to live.  We can even enjoy food and find pleasure in it.  All the different varieties of food that are out there are there for our enjoyment.  But food can become an idol.  People can take food and easily, without even thinking, mould it into an object of worship.  You don’t have to be overweight to do this.  People can be gluttonous idolaters while staying well within their BMI.  That’s how deceptive sin is, that’s how idolatry captivates us and corrupts our thinking and lives.

We are worshippers and we always will be.  As long as we live here on this earth, there will always be something enticing us away from the worship of the one true God.  That’s why we need to heed the call of God’s law.  As a whole, God’s law calls us to love him and him only.  But then the first commandment sharpens this further.  This commandment recognizes that we are worshippers, but we need to direct our worship and devotion to the one true God.

Click here to continue reading this sermon on the first commandment.