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.



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.



John 19 – Behold Your King

Read John 19

After Jesus has been with Pilot and the people are shouting over and over that He should die, Pilot does something quite unique.  He takes Jesus out and sits Him down in the “Judgement Seat.”  What beautiful irony.  Jesus is sitting in the very seat that will be His for eternity, at the right hand of the Father, and yet no one recognizes it.  In fact, that shout all the louder to have in crucified!

The Pilot says something that I’m sure they didn’t want to hear: “Behold your King.”  Interesting… hundreds of years earlier, as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cried out to God for a king, someone that would lead them.  God’s own people rejected God as their true King for the sake of an earthly one that would lead them.  Here, once again, the people stand before God the Son, the descendant of King David Himself, and reject Him.  “We have no King but Ceasar,” they say.  Once again, what beautiful irony.

More important than this, though, is the truth Jesus speaks to Pilot before all of this: “You have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”  Jesus speaks once again to the reality that all of this was taking place because it had to.  In the face of Israel’s rejection of God and the Jewish rejection of Jesus, God continues to show His steadfast, faithful love to humankind, sending His Son to die so that they might find light and life in Him.

All of this took place to fulfill Scripture, which, ultimately, is the purpose of John’s writing.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John’s Gospel reveals to us the prophesied Messiah, the Divine Son of God, the one true Savior.



John 12 – Coronation

Read John 12

The first major section of the book of John, the “Book of Signs,” comes to a close with several aspects of the coronation of Jesus Christ as King.  John uses these events and discussions to both draw from Jewish history and to foreshadow what is about to take place.

In Israel’s history, whenever a someone was chosen by God to be king, that person would be ceremonially anointed with oil.  Remember back to the stories of Saul and then David, both anointed by Samuel after God chose them to be Israel’s King.  Here Jesus is anointed by Mary which, when linked to the triumphal entry narrative, sees Jesus as Israel’s saving king.

It must have been quite a moment for Jesus’ disciples as they saw Him riding into Jerusalem with the throngs of people crowding around Him and praising Him.  We again get the sense of a king’s return to the city of David.  They even shout Scripture, fulfilling it as He rides by.

But it isn’t until later in this chapter when Jesus directs their attention to the true coronation event that is to take place, one that no one expects.

Until now, Jesus has been saying that His “hour” had not yet come.  Yet in this moment, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, a pivotal transition is taking place.  The anointed Son of God had now come and the hour of His glorification is at hand.  His coronation, however, would not be filled with the expected pomp and circumstance typically given to a King.  There would be crowds, a parade, a crowning, and a final “lifting up” that would take place, all as the Lamb of God takes on the deepest nature of a servant, lovingly giving His life so that others may truly find theirs once again.



Luke 23 – Stark Reality

Read Luke 23

The series of events that directly leads to Jesus death include at least two hearings of a judicial nature,a beating, torture, a death march, the act of crucifixion, and the process of dying which took hours.

Crucifixion is the most horrific way ever invented to kill a human being. Jesus death took that to an entirely new level. Most people didn’t actually survive a flogging much less a march down main street after being flogged.  It makes the term “cruel and unusual punishment” looks like a warm summer day at the park.

As cruel as all of this seems, there is a deeper reality that we don’t often think of when it comes to this: Jesus did this for us while we were still sinners.  Sometimes we who believe in Jesus do not realize this, having found our Savior and experienced His grace, but Jesus died for those who don’t believe too.

This, my friends, is the true depth of God’s love for us; Jesus died so that anyone and everyone would always have the possibility of salvation, even if they never come to know Him.  The true beauty in this self-sacrificial death is that the act itself is not dependent on a decision from us, but rather it creates the possibility of a decision for all, whether they take it or not.

While it may seem of little consequence to those longing for loved ones to come to know Christ, it is important to remember that the fact they can even consider the question of “who Jesus is” comes from the stark reality of what Jesus did.  Like a parent who loves a child, even in the midst of rejection, so God loves us and always leaves the porchlight on for those who want to come home.



Matthew 27 – Irony

Read Matthew 27

I’ve read and heard about Jesus’ death a countless number of times in my life.  However, in reading this today, I am struck by the repeated irony in all that was said to and about Jesus during the process of his conviction and crucifixion.  Matthew does not record Jesus’ request to the Father for the forgiveness of those who did this to Him, but truly the did not know anything about what they did.

The people cry out that Jesus’ “blood be on us and our children.”  Little do they know how much they truly want that to be true.

The soldiers bow down before Jesus and say “Hail, King of the Jews.”  Little do they know how they will be doing that for real one day.

The people walking by, beckoning Him to come down from the cross if He “truly is the Son of God.”  Little do they know that this is right where the Son of God needed to be.

The religious leaders chide that they will believe if Jesus comes down from the cross.  They mock Jesus for trusting in God.  Little do they know the trust that Jesus had for the plan of salvation being carried out at that very moment.

It wasn’t until Jesus’ last breath when all this had taken place that one man, a soldier guarding Jesus’ cross, recognizes the truth of Jesus’ identity.  But that acclimation wasn’t too late, it was the beginning of billions of faith professions that would follow since that day.

Once again we are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways.  Even when we think we know how God should act, we must submit our trust to God whose ways and love are far higher and greater than we could ever ask or imagine.



Day 289: Matthew 27-28; The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

There is so much to say about today’s reading that I honestly don’t even know where to start.  How does one effectively cover the death and resurrection of Jesus in one single blog post?  To be honest, I think Matthew does less of a job here in linking his writing and the events of Jesus’ life with the Old Testament than he does with the rest of his book.  However, he does do a good job of chronicling the whole of Jesus death from start to finish.  Matthew also has what is probably the most well known account of Jesus’ resurrection which is followed immediately by His ascension and great commission.

I think that instead of commenting on every little part of this narrative, I will just talk about few things that struck me as I was reading through this section of Scripture.  Really this began in our reading from yesterday, when Jesus was brought before the high priests.  Jesus was being questioned and is actually charged by the religious leaders that he answer under an oath before the God of heaven.  What I think is interesting about this is that they are not actually looking for the truth, they are looking for a reason to condemn Jesus because He has become dangerous to them.  Sadly the people that know the Scriptures the best, those that should have known and seen the Messiah’s coming, were the ones to condemn Him in the face of the truth He spoke to them.  Notice that He doesn’t answer the religious leaders at all again in Matthew’s account.

What we see through all of this is a constant stream of realization about what is going on here, at least one some level, from many different people that are involved in it.  As Jesus stands trial before Pilate, he is warned to not be involved in this ordeal by his wife.  Yet he doesn’t stop the proceedings because of a fear of the crowd and the riot that was starting.  From a historical standpoint, this is a legitimate fear because the Jewish people had rioted and rebelled against the dominant government many times in their history and actually won.  Pilate seems to try and get Jesus out of this whole thing, but fails and washes his hands of the whole order.

Something happens here that I think is very interesting though… ironic really.  Did you recognize what the people of Jerusalem say when Pilate tells them that Jesus’ blood would be on their heads?  They speak out and say this thing that I’m sure they don’t really understand, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  What an unbelievably theological proclamation… and they would probably never understand it.  They were calling for the crucifixion of the Son of God, the plan that was for them all along, that He would die and His blood would indeed be poured out for them.

So Jesus is taken out and crucified at Golgatha and at the moment of His death there is an earthquake and the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn… from top to bottom.  This is incredibly symbolic of the action that is taking place here.  Because Jesus is dying for us in our place, through His blood our relationship with God can be restored.  We could have ripped the Temple curtain from the bottom up exposing the throne of God to the world, but it would not have done anything to restore our relationship with God.  It had to be an action of God that restored our relationship with Him; it could never be us.  At this time too the soldier standing guard at the cross recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.

Finally, Jesus is is raised from the dead and this is witnessed by both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and all of the soldiers that were posted at Jesus’ tomb.  I have to imagine that witnessing an event like this was more than likely convincing for these guards who had to be paid off to be kept quiet.  Really, with all the shaking, tearing, dead raising, and darkness that was taking place, not to mention angelic appearances, it is a wonder that everyone didn’t know something was going on.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the great commission at the end of the book of Matthew.  In many ways, this is one of the passages from which the church derives its identity as a sent community.  Jesus doesn’t offer His disciples the opportunity to keep their mouths shut about this, but commands them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel in His name… the name under which all authority has been given.  We as believers have not been given the message of salvation only so that we can keep it to ourselves.  We are a community of believers in Jesus Christ who are sent out into the world to preach the Gospel, the Good News that in Jesus our sins our forgiven and we have been set free!  We go knowing that Jesus is with us always.