All Hell Broke Loose: H.C. Lord's Day 16

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 16

Q 40. Why did Christ have to suffer death?
A 40. Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.

Q 41. Why was he “buried”?
A 41. His burial testifies that he really died.

Q 42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
A 42. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.  Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

Q 43. What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
A 43. By Christ’s power our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may offer ourselves as a sacrifice of gratitude to him.

Q 44. Why does the creed add, “He descended to hell”?
A 44. To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment.

The narrative of Christ’s death is, bar none, the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to a human being.  Our emphasis on the events of Jesus’ last 24 hours on earth is rightly placed and the sorrow that we feel is certainly warranted for all that happened.  He endured hell on earth for us, experiencing the physical pain of torture beyond that of what many humans could bear.  More than that, however, He bore the spiritual burden of divine abandonment, crying out to God and hearing nothing but silence for what would be the first and last time in all eternity.

It is as much a fact as any that this act, and all of the details that come with it, cannot be overstated.  It is, hands down, the most horrific and the most loving thing we could ever talk about.

That said, it is important that we don’t dwell on the details.  Conversations, sermon topics, and even the media that we are exposed to in this time often focus on these events whilst tagging their description with a hollow “He did this for us” comment that comes with a minimal explanation at best.  The Catechism, however, makes sure to answer some of the natural questions surrounding Jesus’ sacrifice as well as rightly emphasizing the purpose of this act, not simply the details.

Jesus suffered through all of this not simply for the purpose of taking on our sins, but also for the purpose of dying to pay for them.  Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death.”  Therefore, Jesus, to fully pay the price, had to die.  He was buried to testify to this death.  In the same way that, when you get pulled over by a police officer and are given a ticket, and for that to be resolved you have to pay the fine, so too Jesus paid the price for us by dying.

In doing this, Jesus took on our sins so that, as Scripture says, our old selves would be crucified with Him and buried with Him.  All these things that seek to control our lives, the sin that keeps us in bondage, it was all nailed to the cross with Him; driven into Him like the nails in His hands and feet.

The Catechism also addresses the question of “hell” as it relates to Jesus.  There has been a considerable question about this over the years, wondering what this actually meant.  When the Apostles’ Creed was originally drafted, the word “hell” didn’t appear.  Instead, the word “dead” was present.  However, at some point, this was replaced by the word “hell” thus giving us this question to consider.  Perhaps this is just another way of signifying that Jesus actually died; “hell” or “hades” is often considered to be the realm of the dead.  It is also possible that using this terminology, also draws our attention back to the suffering and anguish that Jesus experienced on earth and especially going to the cross.  Both are certainly good thoughts.

One thing theory that has been put forward with regards to this phrase is the idea that Jesus actually went to Hell, the place separated from God where sinners are eternally tormented.  What He would have done there is up for some debate.  Did He witness to the sinners there trying to save them?  Did He experience more torment and suffering?

In considering a question like this it is important for us to remember that the Creeds and Confessions, like the Heidelberg Catechism and the Apostles’ Creed, are both witnesses to Scripture and not Scripture themselves.  So, what we need to do here is look to Scripture to gain some clarity.  It is safe to say that the Bible doesn’t give any real indication that Jesus was actually in “Hell” as it pertains to a location, the realm of the devil.  It also gives no indication that Jesus was witnessing to people in that location.  In fact, Jesus, while talking to the repentant sinner on the cross, says, “today you will be with me in paradise.”  A phrase like this would seem to be proven false if indeed Jesus went to Hell on that day.

Indeed this question seems to be related to question 42 regarding why it is that we still have to die if Jesus died for us.  The Catechism is fairly clear that our physical death becomes our entrance into eternal life and puts an end to our sinning.  You may not hear this preached much at a funeral but it is none the less true.  Whereas some people battle cancer until they can fight no longer and gain victory through death, all of us fight the battle with sin until, at some point, we claim victory in death.  Everyone who passes on to glory no longer deals with thoughts of lust, jealousy, or resentment.  All of those things pass away too.

Jesus too experienced this moment, having taken on the sins of the whole world, put them to death with His own death that we would experience eternal life through faith in Him.



Hell? H.C. Question 44

Why does the creed add, “He descended to hell”?

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 justifymany,
    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.

Matthew 26:36-46 – Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Matthew 27:45-46 – From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Luke 22:44 – And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Hebrews 5:7-10 – During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.



Benefits Package: H.C. Question 43

What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?

Romans 6:5-14 – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master,because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Colossians 2:11-12 – In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Ephesians 5:1-2 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.



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.