Old Self: H.C. Question 89

What is the dying-away of the old self? 

Psalm 51:3-4, 17 – For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Joel 2:12-13 – “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Romans 8:12-13 – Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

2 Corinthians 7:10 – Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.



What Washing? H.C. Question 73

Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

1 Corinthians 6:11 – And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Revelation 1:5 – and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

Revelation 7:14 – I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Acts 2:38 – Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 6:3-4 – Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Galatians 3:27 – for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.



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.



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.



Inability? H.C. Question 9

Heidelberg Catechism Question 9

But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?

Genesis 1:31 – God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Ephesians 4:24 – and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Genesis 3:6, 13 – When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it…

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

John 8:44 – You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Romans 5:12, 18-19 – Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.



1 Thessalonians 4 – Dead in Christ

Read 1 Thessalonians 4

I have to admit, the title of today’s thoughts is intentionally eye-catching.  We often talk about being alive in Christ; we often wonder about what happens to those who are alive in Christ but experience physical death.  In lieu of talking about living to please God, something that is certainly important, but is addressed time and again throughout the New Testament, it is important for us to look more specifically Paul’s words here on the Second Coming of Christ.

Paul is addressing a question or concern that the church in Thessalonica had about those among them who had or were dying.  This is a legitimate concern, especially when facing persecution that may, in fact, demand one’s life.

We have to acknowledge that what Paul is addressing here is a great mystery, even for him.  He is not necessarily, here or elsewhere, prescribing exact events or giving detailed outlines about the second coming or life after death.  Instead, this is a pastoral reassurance from Paul to these believers who are facing persecution and wondering about what happens when this life ends.

The first thing he does as he addresses this subject is talking about those who are dead as those who have “fallen asleep.”  In using this language, Paul is making the point that death is not the end, nor is it somehow an annihilation of the person.  There is some continuity between who we are now and who we will be when in the resurrection.

He also briefly talks about Christ’s second coming, referring specifically to the resurrection of the dead and the coming reunion that we will all experience at that time.  Some have taken this to be a reference to the Rapture, an interpretation of Scripture about the nature of Christ’s return.

Again, Paul is not prescribing the events of Christ’s return, but rather giving the assurance that, at that time, all those who believe, both dead and alive, will be reunited together with Christ.  This is not just to say that we’ll be together again, but also to reiterate the nature of the hope that we have in Christ, a hope that transcends all trials and difficulties that we have in this world… even death.