The Church and Forgiveness
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 21
54. Question: What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church?
Answer: I believe that the Son of God, out of the whole human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself,  by His Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith, a church chosen to everlasting life. And I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it.
 John 10:11; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-13; Col. 1:18.  Gen. 26:4; Rev. 5:9.  Is. 59:21; I Cor. 11:26.  Ps. 129:1-5; Matt. 16:18; John 10:28-30.  Rom. 1:16; 10:14-17; Eph. 5:26.  Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 4:1-6.  Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-14.  I John 3:14, 19-21.  Ps. 23:6; John 10:27, 28; I Cor. 1:4-9; I Pet. 1:3-5.
55. Question: What do you understand by the communion of saints?
Answer: First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with Him and share in all His treasures and gifts. Second, that everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.
 Rom. 8:32; I Cor. 6:17; 12:4-7, 12, 13; I John 1:3.  Rom. 12:4-8; I Cor. 12:20-27; 13:1-7; Phil. 2:4-8.
56. Question: What do you believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?
Answer: I believe that God, because of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature, against which I have to struggle all my life, but He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never come into condemnation.
 Ps. 103:3, 4, 10, 12; Mic. 7:18, 19; II Cor. 5:18-21; I John 1:7; 2:2.  Rom. 7:21-25.  John 3:17, 18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1, 2.
The Holy Spirit
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 20
53. Question: What do you believe concerning the Holy Spirit?
Answer: First, He is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God. Second, He is also given to me, to make me by true faith share in Christ and all His benefits, to comfort me, and to remain with me forever.
 Gen. 1:1, 2; Matt. 28:19; Acts 5:3, 4; I Cor. 3:16.  I Cor. 6:19; II Cor. 1:21, 22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:13.  Gal. 3:14; I Pet. 1:2.  John 15:26; Acts 9:31.  John 14:16, 17; I Pet. 4:14.
The Head of the Church
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 19
50. Question: Why is it added, ‘And sits at the right hand of God’?
Answer: Christ ascended into heaven to manifest Himself there as Head of His Church, through whom the Father governs all things.
 Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18.  Matt. 28:18; John 5:22, 23.
51. Question: How does the glory of Christ, our Head, benefit us?
Answer: First, by His Holy Spirit He pours out heavenly gifts upon us, His members. Second, by His power He defends and preserves us against all enemies.
 Acts 2:33; Eph. 4:7-12.  Ps. 2:9; 110:1, 2; John 10:27-30; Rev. 19:11-16.
52. Question: What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?
Answer: In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.
 Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:22-25; Phil. 3:20,21; Tit. 2:13, 14.  Matt. 25:31-46; I Thess. 4:16, 17; II Thess. 1:6-10.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 18
46. Question: What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven?
Answer: That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
 Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9-11.  Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14; 7:23-25; 9:24.  Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11.
47. Question: Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as He has promised us?
Answer: Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us.
 Matt. 28:20.  Matt. 26:11; John 16:28; 17:11; Acts 3:19-21; Heb. 8:4.  Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:16-19; 16:13.
48. Question: But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if His human nature is not present wherever His divinity is?
Answer: Not at all, for His divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that His divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which He has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.
 Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 7:48, 49.  John 1:14; 3:13; Col. 2:9.
49. Question: How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?
Answer: First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.
 Rom. 8:34; I John 2:1.  John 14:2; 17:24; Eph. 2:4-6.  John 14:16; Acts 2:33; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5.  Col. 3:1-4.
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 17
45. Question: How does Christ's resurrection benefit us?
Answer: First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He had obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we too are raised up to a new life. Third, Christ's resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.
 Rom. 4:25; I Cor. 15:16-20; I Pet. 1:3-5.  Rom. 6:5-11; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 3:1-4.  Rom. 8:11; I Cor. 15:12-23; Phil. 3:20, 21.
The Kingdom of God
A Hard Question
For eleven years I was privileged to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my denomination. The responsibility of the Board is to work with people who are candidates for ordained ministry, helping them navigate their way through the long process. From assisting them in understanding God’s call in their lives to celebrating with them at their ordination, it was a rewarding experience.
Broadly speaking, the areas the Board focuses on are a candidate’s call to ministry, pastoral and leadership skills, psychological and spiritual well-being, preaching and teaching abilities, and theological soundness.
My particular position was to serve with the group that assessed a candidate’s theology. We were responsible for reading a candidate’s theological paperwork and then interviewing him or her in person.
One of the tough issues each candidate had to face is the topic we will look at in this chapter: The Kingdom of God? What is it? How are we to understand it?
Would you be able to answer those two questions? Correctly? It’s a hard subject, one that many Christians have not spent a great deal of time thinking about. Some candidates struggled with it as well.
The Focus of Jesus
Maybe you’re wondering why, if it is such a hard question to answer, would we ask the candidates about the Kingdom of God. That is not a hard question to answer. The reason candidates are asked about the Kingdom of God is because it was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Everything he preached on, did, and taught somehow related to the Kingdom of God.
Here are some examples of Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel alone.
Matthew 13:24 – Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 13:31 – He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Matthew 13:33 – He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Matthew 13:44 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Matthew 13:47 – “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
Jesus referred to the Kingdom over thirty times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. That certainly suggests this was an important topic for our Lord.
Jesus Begins His Ministry
Our text finds us at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew 4:12 reports that Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison. We do not know how long it was after Jesus heard this news, but we learn Jesus returned to Galilee.
This is key because Jesus was moving from something of a wilderness setting to a much more highly populated area. It was one in which he would be able to minister to a greater number of people. Many roads traveled to and from Galilee. Many people lived there. The opportunity to reach more people with his message would increase considerably.
Interestingly, Matthew suggested this move to Galilee was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah 9. That’s why he wrote in Matthew 4:13-16,
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles–
 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
Then we read these important words in verse 17,
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
That phrase, “From that time on…” is important. Matthew highlighted that Jesus was beginning his public ministry, one that would eventually take him to the Cross.
And what was the message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
You have likely heard the word “Repent.” When we hear the word, repent, we often think of being sorry for something we’ve done and then promising never to do it again. And certainly there’s an element of that here. However, in the Bible, the word means more than that. The word repent carries a couple of essential ideas with it.
A Change of Thinking
First it denotes changing the way a person thinks about something. Instead of thinking about something the way “the world” does, in a self-centered, rebellious sort of way, repentance means agreement with what God has said about that issue.
The Sermon on the Mount is a marvelous exposition or teaching on this very thing. Jesus teaches us the fallen world thinks one way, but he calls his followers to think another way, his way.
A Change of Life
In the Old Testament, and the way Jesus was using the word here, repent means more than a change in one’s thinking. It also means a change in one’s behavior. One commentator said by “repentance,” Jesus meant,
“A radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.” (William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 197)
Again, the Sermon on the Mount is focused on what this “radical change of mind and heart and complete turnabout of life” looks like.
Jesus also seemed to stress an urgency in his call to repentance. But what’s the hurry? Why the sense of urgency to repent? Because, Jesus stressed, the kingdom of heaven is near.
What is the Kingdom of God?
What is Jesus referring to here? What is this “kingdom of heaven” that is near? The Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, is the sovereign and gracious reign and rule of God.
Jesus doesn’t refer to the Kingdom as a place, in the sense of a geographical location. Instead, the Kingdom is God’s rule and reign. It’s wherever God’s will is being proclaimed and done. It’s wherever his influence is in effect. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, for example, in Matthew 6:10,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God is manifested in the hearts, minds, and lives of those who have bowed their knees to the King of the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever the loyal subjects of the King serve him, there you’ll find the Kingdom advancing, being extended into every sphere of life.
The Church and the Kingdom aren’t identical, but the Church - followers of the Lord Jesus - are the primary agents who spread God’s Kingdom.
What are some examples of the Kingdom breaking into our fallen, broken, and sinful world?
The rule and reign of God, saturated in his grace, empowered by his sovereign Spirit, and directed by his will can be found wherever God’s people are at work for his sake and in his name.
United Methodists believe in God’s prevenient grace, the grace of God that goes ever before us, drawing us to Christ. We therefore hope and pray that even in those places where the name of Christ is not yet known or proclaimed, God’s prevenient grace is drawing people to the King of the Kingdom.
The Good News of the Kingdom
In verse 23, Matthew wrote,
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (emphasis mine)
What does Matthew say Jesus is preaching here? The good news of the Kingdom. The phrase “good news” is where we get our word “gospel.” The Kingdom of God ultimately cannot be understood apart from the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news is what God has done in and through his Son to reconcile sinful, lost and broken people to himself. God sent Jesus, as his name implies, to save his people from their sin. The Kingdom cannot be properly understood apart from this.
God’s Kingdom turns all other kingdoms upside-down and not only offers salvation through Christ, but also sets patterns, attitudes, and behaviors for citizens of the Kingdom.
Already and Not Yet
The coming of Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. Yet the Kingdom will not be fully consummated and enjoyed until Christ returns and we’re gathered to him. Theologians call this living between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Kingdom is present in our midst, and yet, it is not all it will one day be.
This “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom is perhaps why Jesus, while he was still with his disciples at the Passover meal, told them,
Luke 22:15-18 – “…I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Emphases mine)
Part of our understanding of the Lord’s Supper includes not only looking back to what Christ did for us, but it also emphasizes looking forward, forward to that day when we’ll dine with our King at the heavenly banquet, he’s graciously prepared for us.
Until then, Christ’s faithful subjects are called to live in this in-between time, representing their King and extending his Kingdom into every sphere of life.
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 15
37. Question: What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
Answer: During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.
 Is. 53; I Tim. 2:6; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18.  Rom. 3:25; I Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; I John 2:2; 4:10.  Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.  John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.
38. Question: Why did He suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?
Answer: Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.
 Luke 23:13-24; John 19:4, 12-16.  Is. 53:4, 5; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13.
39. Question: Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way?
Answer: Yes. Thereby I am assured that He took upon Himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by God.
 Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13.
The Virgin Birth
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 14
35. Question: What do you confess when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
Answer: The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon Himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Thus He is also the true seed of David, and like His brothers in every respect, yet without sin.
 John 1:1; 10:30-36; Rom. 1:3; 9:5; Col. 1:15-17; I John 5:20.  Matt. 1:18-23; John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14.  Luke 1:35.  II Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 132:11; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3.  Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:17.  Heb. 4:15; 7:26, 27.
36. Question: What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
Answer: He is our Mediator, and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born.
 I Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 9:13-15.  Rom. 8:3, 4; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 4:4, 5; I Pet. 1:18, 19.
The Son, Our Savior
The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 13
33. Question: Why is He called God's only begotten Son, since we also are children of God?
Answer: Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. We, however, are children of God by adoption, through grace, for Christ's sake.
 John 1:1-3, 14, 18; 3:16; Rom. 8:32; Heb. 1; I John 4:9.  John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:5, 6.
34. Question: Why do you call Him our Lord?
Answer: Because He has ransomed us, body and soul, from all our sins, not with silver or gold but with His precious blood, and has freed us from all the power of the devil to make us His own possession.
 I Cor. 6:20; I Tim. 2:5, 6.  I Peter 1:18, 19.  Col. 1:13, 14; Heb. 2:14, 15.
Discipleship Is Hard
Fair Weather Fans
In John 6, Jesus laid some hard, heavy, and profound teachings upon the hearts and minds of the disciples, not just the Twelve, but all who were following him at the time. We do well to remember that earlier in chapter 6, Jesus had accused many of those so-called “followers” of only tagging along because of what they thought Jesus could give them, what he could do for them. Why? Because earlier (John 6:1-15), Jesus fed the 5,000 and they were duly impressed. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone who could do that? They liked it. It benefited them. They wanted more. So, they followed him.
But Jesus knew their hearts and how the heart of man is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9; cf. Psalm 64:6). Thus, he knew their real motives. That’s why he told them in verse 26,
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
The Bread of Life
Jesus then used this as an opportunity to tell them about the Bread of Life which could sustain them eternally. Of course, we know it is he who was (and is) the Bread of Life – and only by believing in him could they receive real life (John 6:29, 47-48).
Jesus then developed this idea of receiving him as the Bread of Life by telling those half-hearted disciples they must eat his body and drink his blood. This was and is a truly amazing notion, and I think we can appreciate on that side of the Cross, without 2,000 years of Christian tradition and teaching on the subject, it would have been pretty hard to swallow. We can understand why many responded,
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60)
A Shock to the System
Again, Jesus knew this was what they were saying and thinking. He knew this was a massive shock to their systems, so he reminded them that his words were (and are) life (John 6:63).
And yet, again, he knew their hearts (John 2:24-25) and knew the real reason they were following him around. But he also realized some, even if a minority, would accept this hard teaching and remain with him and in him (John 15:1-8).
Alas, verse 66 of John 6 is the bearer of sad news.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Discipleship is hard. Following after Christ means picking up crosses and denying oneself. It includes hard teachings. It wasn’t all giant picnics on the countryside with incredible, crowd-pleasing miracles performed by Jesus. Following Jesus included some tough ideas, ideas that run contrary to how unregenerate people think. So, they turned away.
Some, if not many, continue to turn away today when Christianity proves too tough, too ordinary, too unexciting, or too demanding. Some folk are intellectually honest and leave the faith altogether. Others are less honest – with themselves and others – and remain in the church but have long-since left the Jesus of Holy Scripture and his hard teachings.
The Desertion of Demas
The Apostle Paul understood this truth from his personal experience. One of Paul’s co-laborers in the gospel ministry betrayed him. After a far-reaching missions tour and much fruit for the Kingdom (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24), Demas abandoned Paul as Paul sat in prison, toward the very end of Paul’s ministry and life. Perhaps the demands were too severe. Maybe the cost was too high. Possibly the thought of sitting in a prison cell didn’t seem like a proper reward for all his efforts. We’re not sure of the details, but Paul offered this insight regarding Demas’ desertion.
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy. 4:9-10) (Emphasis mine)
What does this mean for us? Well, if this committed Christian missionary and personal companion of the great Apostle Paul could desert his beloved brother in Christ out of love for the world, just imagine what can happen to us if we do not stand firm in our faith.
The Devil’s Dark Dominion
It is not too difficult, in light of that, to understand why John would later write in 1 John 2:15-16,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.
Obviously, when the biblical writers use the word “world” in this way, they are not talking about the earth as a planet or the world of people (after all, remember who it was that God “so loved” in John 3:16). Instead, “world” in this context is that dark dominion of sin that John describes in 1 John 2:16 (cf. James 4:4). The world depicted in this way is that realm of the City of Man under the direct dominion of Satan and against whom is our real battle (Ephesians 6:10-13).
The Kingdom of Life and Light
But those who follow Christ, the Bread of Life, have life indeed, and light. The darkness is falling (1 John 2:8) because of this Light and one day will be done away with completely (Revelation 22:5).
Are you of and in the light or are you still enslaved in darkness? It is possible to know the answer to that question. John tells you how you can know in 1 John 1:7 and 1 John 2:3-6.
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.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
When we turn our backs to the fallen, darkened, and decaying world in which we were born and actively resided – when we shun its allurements and temptations – when we reject the dominion of its dark king and his fleeting rule – then and only then can we call ourselves subjects of the Kingdom of Light that knows no end. It is only by trusting in the one true King that brings eternal life (1 John 2:17). For it is this King who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and ushered us into his own glorious Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Two Things to Remember
When the temporary and illegitimate “king” of this world and his enslaved servants seek to lead us astray, remember two things:
First of all, as they are now, you once were. It is by sovereign grace alone you were rescued and released from the bondage of the dark lord of this world. It is by the pleasure of God’s will you saw your depraved nature for what it was and made sick by its very sight. Thus, there is no room for boasting on our part. We boast only in God’s grace, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his Cross.
Second, stray but a little to the left or to the right and you may very well find yourself on another path altogether, for the path of our new King is straight, narrow, and hard. We must be careful not to wander off. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who did in his day:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
In light of this, let us uniformly and with great courage declare with Peter and the other faithful disciples who, when Jesus asked them if they too wanted to leave him (John 6:67), replied:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Any other profession about our Lord is a lie and the Father is not a part of it (1 John 2:22-23).
Stand Firm to the End
True Christianity is not easy. Often a person's response to tough times and hard teachings reveals their real motives in following Christ. Christian history is littered with those who could or would not stay true to the end. But before we cast judgment on them, we better take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the grace of God that stares back at us. It is only in his strength we can stand firm. But stand firm we must, for God’s glory and the good of our neighbors, indeed, for our world.
Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.