Read: Hebrews 9:23-28
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that both the preaching of the Word and the sacraments are ordained and appointed of God for the purpose of directing our faith to the sacrifice on the cross as the only ground of our salvation.
By His once and for all sacrifice on the cross, Jesus fully and perfectly accomplished all of our salvation. Nothing else need be or even can be added to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To suggest that something needs to be added to the perfect sacrifice on the cross is really blasphemy, for this suggests that somehow the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient, something else was needed.
One of the ways in which the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice has been denied in the church is through the misuse of the sacraments, a strange thing indeed. When one has a false understanding of the sacraments, especially in imagining that the sacraments have somehow in themselves the power to save us, we begin to trust in the sacraments themselves rather than Christ Jesus, the only hope of our salvation.
When God gave the two sacraments to the church, He Himself intended to direct our faith and trust in the one sacrifice of His Own dear and eternal Son on the cross, and to remind us of the absolute sufficiency of this amazing and wonderful sacrifice. The whole of our salvation was accomplished by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This truth must be maintained in the church. God then gave the sacraments in order that by the proper use of them, we might glory in Christ Jesus alone, and find all our hope and assurance of salvation in His cross alone.
The apostle Paul wrote about the great importance of this in the book of Galatians. He makes his own confession to be our example when he writes in the concluding chapter of this book, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,” Gal 6:14.
The proper use of the sacraments involves then the important issue of glorying in Christ alone and our trusting in none other than in the cross of Christ for our salvation. No wonder the great men through whom God brought about the Reformation of the Church were so earnest and zealous about the proper use of the sacraments and why there was such a lengthy debate regarding the proper administration of the sacraments. As we said in an earlier meditation, this explains why there is such a lengthy section in the Heidelberg Catechism on the sacraments.
Let me offer one closing thought. The proper use of the sacraments is maintained in the church when the proper relationship between the preaching of the Word and the observance of the sacraments is maintained. The sacraments should not be administered independently from the church and the preaching of the Word. Whenever the sacraments are being administered, the preaching of the Word continually explains to the church the true meaning of the sacraments. The church must never be confused about this.