Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 25 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism and I will be talking to you today about questions 65-68.
This week, we are talking about the Holy Sacraments or Ordinances and for the next several weeks we will be studying these to try and get a better understanding of what they are and the role they play in our lives as believers. Today, we will not be looking at the sacraments specifically but the general function and purpose of them in our lives.
Lord’s Day Focus...
But before we get to the questions, let’s take a minute to walk through a little bit of church history so that we can appreciate the role these things have played within the church. The word sacrament historically has been used to designate something that is sacred. It comes from an old Latin term sacramentum that roughly translates the New Testament word for mystery. If you put these together, a sacrament is something that is mysterious and sacred. In some ways, sacrament is a term that is used to describe all types of religious rites and ceremonies.
Why are religious rites and ceremonies thought to by mysterious and sacred? The ceremonies themselves served as outward visible symbols or signs that conveyed something of the mysterious nature of the inward spiritual reality. Over time the term sacrament became more narrowed and focused to refer only to a specific set of Christian practices that were ordained by Christ and are said to offer some spiritual (mysterious) benefit to the participant.
The Roman Catholic Church determined that there were seven sacraments and they include: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction. Protestants have historically argued that there are only two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Many Protestants, including Baptists, have even changed the title of these things from Sacraments to Ordinances, in the hopes of removing some of the mystery from them and to focus on the fact that these things are important because Jesus ordained/commanded them to be performed.
So, whether you call them Sacraments or Ordinances, it is important to understand that we disagree with the Roman Catholic church. As Protestants we believe that there are only 2 ordinances that were (1) directly instituted by Jesus, (2) they are significant religious acts, (3) they are designed to be done until Christ returns, and (4) they are symbols meant to instruct and encourage believers.
Now that we have a little background on these Holy Sacraments, let’s move on a look at questions 65-68.
Question 65: It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all His blessings: where then does that faith come from?
Answer: The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.
It is fitting that we think of the sacraments in their connection to the gospel because the whole point of the sacraments is to serve as visible signs of the invisible grace that we have received by faith in Jesus. The Protestant reformers wrote about the doctrine of justification by faith alone more than any other point of doctrine. But coming in at a close second were the sacraments.
They didn’t all agree on the role and purpose of the sacraments, but they agreed about their connection to justification and their significance for the Christian life. Here in question 65, w Heidelberg wants us to see that the sacraments serve to confirm our faith but they are not the cause of our faith.
The Holy Spirit produces (faith) in our hearts through the preaching of the holy gospel, and (the Holy Spirit) confirms (our faith) through the use of the holy sacraments.
In other words, we owe our salvation to the work of God and the Gospel. But the Holy Spirit uses the sacraments to remind us of that fact. He uses them to confirm or corroborate that our faith is well-placed. These sacraments don’t save us, but they are vital to help us grow in our faith and even in our understand of how our faith needs to grow and be nourished by the gospel of grace.
Question 66: What are Sacraments?
Answer: Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. 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 might put His seal on that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’ one sacrifice finished on the cross.
Let’s start with question 66 by looking at what it means that the sacraments are signs and seals. They are signs in that they are outward visible symbols that help us understand our inward invisible status with God. They are a vital part of our worship because they make tangible the invisible reality of our faith.
The Sacraments are covenant symbols which remind us of the spiritual truth that binds our souls to God and seal His promises in our hearts. And what is God’s promise? That our sins are forgiven, and we have eternal life by grace alone. These sacraments nourish our faith in the gospel and they do so in an amazing way.
It is an amazing gift to the church that Jesus has given us two ordinances, which provide a feast for our physical senses. As Christians we are people who live by faith, and faith is trust in a savior that we cannot see with our eyes, feel with our hands, or hear with our ears.
Like Abraham we are called to live by faith and this has proven difficult for us many times over. Like Moses we often cry out to God to, “show us your glory!” because we want to see God with our own eyes. Like David we often cry out for God to speak to us because we want to hear His voice with our own ears. Prior to faith many of us were like Thomas who said, “Unless I see in his hands the marks of the nails, and place my fingers into the marks of the nails, and place my hands into his side, I will never believe (John 20:24-29).”
We are called to walk by faith and not by sight, but faith is hard. In fact, the Bible tells us that unless God opens the eyes of our hearts faith is impossible (2 Cor 4:1-6). But even as born-again believers we often, like the apostles, ask the Lord to strengthen our faith because believing while not seeing is hard.
This is all the more reason why it is an amazing gift from God that we have two ordinances intended to strengthen and renew our faith; and these ordinances are gloriously physical.
“We live in a world of sense, not yet in a world of spirits; and because we therefore find it hard to look above the things that are seen, we are directed in a sacrament to look through them, to those things not seen, which the sacraments represent.” –Matthew Henry
The next question deals with what the sacraments represent?
Question 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?
Answer: Right! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments He assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.
Think about the fact that the Lord’s Supper is something simple; a small piece of unleavened bread and a small bit of wine. Both elements point to the fact of Jesus body and blood, they do not point to anything that we contribute to the table other than our sin. These elements are given to us as a gift to be received and in receiving them we are reminded,
1 Corinthians 11:23 That the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
When we eat the bread and drink the cup we remember Jesus. We remember His sacrifice for us, that saves us from our sin. The Lord’s Supper is a meal taken throughout our life of faith and each time we eat it we are to remember our Lord. We are to remember his body and his blood, broken and shed for the forgiveness of our sin. But Jesus doesn’t simply want our remembrance to be an exercise of the mind, He has given us bread to eat and wine to drink.
He has given us bread, which we can see, touch, smell and taste. He has given us wine also and these elements do more than just engage our memory they make the sacrifice of Christ come alive. Jesus has given us a meal that we are to sink our teeth into and as we do this we remember his body that was broken and his blood that was poured out for our salvation. Like Mr. Henry said, we look through these touchable things in order that we may see Christ more clearly.
Question 68: How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
Answer: two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking more closely at these two things and we will find that there is much for us to consider. But for now, it is important for us to remember that Our Lord has given us, not in order to confuse us, but to help us. These sacraments serve to strengthen and confirm our faith because they aid us in preaching the gospel to ourselves when we participate in them.
Thanks for joining me today as I discuss the Heidelberg Catechism. I hope you’ll join me again next week as we look at Lord’s Day 26 and questions 69-71.
If you want to learn more about Cornerstone Baptist church, you can find us online at Cornerstonewylie.org. You can follow us on Twitter or Instagram @cbcwylie. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/cornerstonewylie. You can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or google play to stay up to date on all the new content.
Thanks for listening.
 Matthew Henry A Puritan Theology pg. 748.