Mortality: H.C. Question 42

Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

Psalm 49:7 – No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—

John 5:24 – “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Philippians 1:21-23 – For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 – For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.



Buried: H.C. Question 41

Why was he “buried”?

Isaiah 53:9 – He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

John 19:38-42 – Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Acts 13:29 – When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,



Did He have to Die? H.C. Question 40

Why did Christ have to suffer death?

Genesis 2:17 – but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Romans 6:23a – For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Philippians 2:8 – And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Hebrews 2:9 – But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.



Suffering Shepherd: H.C. Lord's Day 15

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 15

Q 37. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?
A 37. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.

This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might deliver us, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

 

Q 38. Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?
A 38. So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge, and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.
Q 39. Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?
A 39. Yes. By this I am convinced that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was cursed by God.

Did Christ die to save everyone?  Or did He die to make everyone saveable?  This is an interesting question of what is, perhaps, an important play on words.  What exactly did Christ’s suffering, both in life and in His death, accomplish and how does that impact us?

Before we answer that question, however, it is important to note that the Heidelberg Catechism doesn’t do a lot to cover the ministry of Jesus.  This is primarily due to the fact that the most significant part of Jesus’ life is His death.  Nearly 1/3 of the Gospels spend their time looking specifically at the final week of Jesus’ life.  Given Jesus’ 33 years on earth, that is a disproportionate amount of time spent on just one week of His life.  However, the authors of the catechism, as well as many of the great theologians throughout Christian history, knew that the ministry of Jesus’ life finds its true meaning and fulfillment in and through His death.

So what exactly does that death accomplish?  Well, often we call what happened in Jesus’ self-sacrifice the “atonement.”  There is a tenant of the Reformed faith, particularly put forth by John Calvin, that the atonement itself is limited.  His purpose and understanding of this was not an attempt to limit the power and love of God that is exhibited and accomplished in Jesus Christ, but rather to make a distinct understanding that the forgiveness of sins is made possible for all people in Jesus death but does not actually take place in our lives until we put our faith in Jesus Christ.

While this may seem like semantics, it is a vitally important part of what Scripture reveals to us about Jesus’ death on the cross.  Nowhere in the Bible do we find the notion of “universal salvation” in that everyone, no matter whether they have faith or not, is saved by Jesus.  It is important, then, to understand what exactly is accomplished by Jesus’ death.

A helpful term here might be “particular redemption.”  Scripture says that the “Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.”  John 6:37 points out that Jesus came to save those that the Father had given to Him.  So, does that mean that Jesus’ work on the cross is only accessible for a particular group of people?  No… John 3:16, the most well know Scripture in the world, makes it clear that God’s love that is poured out in Jesus Christ extends to the whole world; every human man, woman, and child that has ever and will ever live.  In the same way that sin is present in every human, the offer of grace is extended to every human in Jesus Christ.

What we are not saying, however, is that every person is saved because Christ died on the cross.  Scripture is very clear that those who are saved become so because they place their faith in Jesus Christ.  The Bible is also very clear that, while this offer is available to all, sadly there are those who will not accept it.

This brings us back to our original question: Did Christ come to save us or to make us saveable?  Well, without Christ there is no hope for our salvation, no hope for a restored relationship with God.  So, in one sense, we need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for that restored relationship and our salvation to be possible.  We receive this gift of salvation through faith, but it is not faith that saves us from our sins, it is Jesus’ death that does that too.

So, the answer to our original question is “yes.”  Jesus says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Indeed, the way to the Father is opened because of Him and in His death He conquered both sin and death for us.  Now, Jesus offers that salvation to us, and calls us to receive it by faith.



Matthew 26:20-29 "Forgiveness"

Sometimes the hardest forgiveness to give and receive is the forgiveness we give to ourselves…



Crucifixion: H.C. Question 39

Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?

Galatians 3:10-13 – For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

Deuteronomy 21:23 – you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.



Pilate: H.C. Question 38

Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

Luke 23:13-24 – Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

John 19:4 – Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”

John19:12-16 – From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparationof the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Isaiah 53:4-5 – Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”



Suffered: H.C. Question 37 (part 2)

What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

1 Peter 3:1 – For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Romans 3:25 – God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

Hebrews 10:14 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

1 John 2:2 – He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10 – This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:1-4 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 3:24-26 – and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.



Suffered: H.C. Question 37 (part 1)

What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

Isaiah 53 – Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.



Virgin Birth: H.C. Lord's Day 14

Q 35. What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?
A 35. That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might also become David’s true descendant, like his brothers and sisters in every way except for sin.

Q 36. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
A 36. He is our mediator and, in God’s sight, he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness my sinfulness in which I was conceived.

For practically all of the 2,000 years of Christianity’s existence, following the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the theological concept of the Virgin Birth has been an essential element of its faith and belief structure.  Recently, however, this Biblically founded and theologically assumed element of Jesus’ life has been called into question from both forces on the outside and some on the inside as well.

The question of this vital theological element has taken two main paths.  First, those who are deemed as scholars (and I am not calling into question their credentials) have looked at the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7, the passage seen as the prophetic telling of the Messiah’s virgin birth (or rather, virgin conception) and pointed to the fact that the word has a much wider meaning than just “virgin.”  Even though every other Biblical use of that word clearly points to the aspect of virginity in a young woman, the range of the word’s meaning could be considered questionable.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament makes clear the intention of Isaiah’s word choice, however the original Hebrew gives cause for question, according to some.

Second, and perhaps a much more insidious line of thinking, is the question posed by Rob Bell, once pastor of Mars Hill Church and author of the book Velvet Elvis.  He asks,

What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus has a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?

He then goes on to say,

I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. . . 

But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it? (Velvet Elvis, 26-27)

Now, first of all, it is important to note that, while there are a few religions and traditions that include the myth of a virgin birth in their stories, none of them actually include real virgins (or people for that matter) and all of them came into being after the founding and subsequent expansion of the Christian faith.  It is also important to point out that, no matter what element of doctrine or theology is examined or questioned, the existence of the Christian faith, Christ’s Church, or the love and grace of God does not find its strength or life in mere humans but instead comes solely from its source: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, does that mean that the Virgin Conception of Jesus is not important?  By no means!  It is absolutely important and vital to our understanding of who Jesus is.  Apart from the fact that this doctrine has been a part of the Christian Church for the whole of its existence, the entire principle of the dual nature of Christ, that He is both fully Divine and fully human, finds its reality here.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God our Lord, cannot be the product of human conception.  If he were, He would not be the Son of God, but rather the son of someone else.

While Scripture doesn’t go into detail about the physical reality of Jesus conception, we know that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, and that the human life that was and is Jesus of Nazareth came into being through that event.  The implication of this is that, while Jesus is indeed fully human, being born of a human woman (rather than just appearing at some point out of thin air) and living a human life, He did not inherit the natural sinful nature that comes with being human.  This is not to suggest that it is the Man’s fault that everyone in the world sins, but rather a general understanding that God’s action here made the incarnation, the literal putting on of flesh of the Second Person of the Trinity, possible.

At its core, the issue at stake here is Salvation.  Is salvation possible without the virgin birth?  The answer, I think, is no… at least not as we understand it.  As we have talked about several times in our study of the Heidelberg Catechism, and as we will see again in the coming weeks, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, must be both fully human and fully Divine.  Jesus Christ must be human because a human sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of human sins.  Jesus’ human mother and human birth grants Him that.  Jesus must also be Divine because no human could shoulder the burden that is the wrath of God’s punishment of sin.  The virgin conception through the work of the Holy Spirit grants Jesus His full Divinity.  Without Jesus being fully human, salvation itself falls apart.  Without Jesus being fully Divine, His ability to save us from the punishment our sins deserve ceases to exist.

So, is the Virgin Conception of Jesus important?  Yes.  It is vital.



Conceived: H.C. Question 36

How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?

1 Timothy 2:5-6 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

Hebrews 9:13-15 – The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

1 Peter 1:18-19 – For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.



Incarnation: H.C. Question 35

What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?

John 1:1, 14 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 10:30-36 – I and the Father are one.”

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

Colossians 1:15-17 – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

1 John 5:20 – We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Luke 1:35 – The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Matthew 1:18-23 – This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Galatians 4:4 – But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Hebrews 2:14 – Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—

2 Samuel 7:12-16 – When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

Psalm 132:11 – The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne.

Matthew 1:1 – This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Romans 1:3 – regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,

Philippians 2:7 – rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Hebrews 2:17 – For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 7:26-27 – Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.



John 14:15-27 "The Holy Spirit"