Satisfaction: H.C. Lord's Day 6

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 6

Q 16. Why must the mediator be a true and righteous human?
A 16. God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for sin; but a sinful human could never pay for others.

Q 17. Why must the mediator also be true God?
A 17. So that the mediator, by the power of his divinity, might bear the weight of God’s wrath in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.

Q 18. Then who is this mediator—true God and at the same time a true and righteous human?
A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given to us to completely deliver us and make us right with God.

Q 19. How do you come to know this?
A 19. The holy gospel tells me. God began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later God proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets and foreshadowed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and finally God fulfilled it through his own beloved Son.

I love words; they have such power and ability to create meaning.  “Words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”  This quote, from the movie V for Vendetta (a silent favorite of mine), articulates well what I think about words.  In the Lord’s Day 6, there are a number of words, churchy type theological words, that no longer take up residence in our Christian vocabulary, that do well in helping us to understand the reality of the Gospel, the reality of the cross, and are alluded to here in the Heidelberger.

Expiation – “Christ’s death removed our sin and guilt”

Redemption – “Christ’s death ransomed us from the curse of the law and the punishment and power of sin”

Reconciliation – “Christ’s death restored our relationship with God”

Propitiation – “Christ’s death appeased or placated the wrath of God”

These terms make up the fundamental biblical aspects of the cross.  They describe the good news, or Gospel, about Jesus that in Him and through Him our sins are forgiven, we are freed from the law, our relationship with God is once again made right and we can stand before God the Father in full confidence, knowing we have been made clean and righteous.  All of this often falls under the use of the word Atonement.

Atonement  – reparation for (making up for, repairing) an offense or injury, satisfaction of law and punishment

Again, this is the Gospel, the very core of what it means to be a Christian.  The Gospel itself does not summon us to “live a better life” or show us “what we can do for God,” it doesn’t talk about cultural transformation or even relevance.  The Gospel is simply the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead on the third day.  The Gospel is the truth that we do not have to work for our own salvation because it was accomplished for us in Jesus Christ and that, through faith, we receive the total, complete, and eternal forgiveness for our sins.

What the Gospel, or “atonement theory” describes is the act through which Jesus Christ takes on the curse of God, is the subject of the full wrath of God, and receives the complete punishment of God on the cross in place of each and every human being.  This was done because, though humanity was created in God’s image to live in relationship with God, the infection of sin left us without hope and the ability to save ourselves.  We were, as the book of Ephesians says, “by nature, objects of wrath.”  That wrath was the wrath of God against sin which Jesus took on.

The good news that is the Gospel is that, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, righteousness is imputed to us.  Here, I think two more words ought to be defined well for us:

Righteousness – “the state of being right in God’s sight and in line with the attributes of God’s law, holiness, justice, morality, etc.”

Imputed – “attributed to, caused, represented as being done, assigned to, ascribed to”

This is the core of who we are.  There is nothing more important in Christian theology that this!!  People try to water it down (not really sure why) or alter it in different ways, but the reality is still the same for us.  The Gospel is the good news of divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution for the sake of us.  This happens through Christ, both completely divine and completely human, who is our mediator, our Savior, our Lord.



Revelation 8 – Trumpets (Part 1)

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When the last seal is opened, John records something unique to Revelation so far: silence.  While silence is certainly not a foreign concept in the Bible, often indicating reverence or awe in the presence of God.  This could certainly be the case as the scroll that was sealed is now open for all.  However, it could also be that this silence brings a time of preparation for what is known as the “trumpet judgments,” the next series of seven judgments that are about to take place on the earth.

The golden censer and the burning incense draw their symbolic meaning from the altar of incense in the Tabernacle and Temple and from Old Testament imagery of prayers and actions before God.  Such things rose up to God like the smoke of a fire and were thought to produce either “pleasant” or “fowl” odors before the Lord.  John records that the incense that was in the golden censer was indeed the prayers of God’s people.  Old Testament tradition holds that angels played a part in mediating between God and humanity though this is certainly not something that the New Testament indicates.  Jesus Christ is our mediator and also the perfector of our prayers and worship as He presents them before God.

As the seven angels begin to blow their trumpets, the judgments that are poured out on the earth contain some familiar imagery.  Thunder, fire, and earthquakes we have seen before indicating in some fashion the presence of God in whatever is happening.  The first trumpet judgment, like many of these, draws its imagery directly from that of the 10 plagues in Exodus, something that is echoed in the book of Ezekiel.

The impact of these judgments is expressed by the fraction 1/3, indicating that at least partially, the punishment that is being poured out here is not yet complete.

The second trumpet judgment’s impact is reminiscent of the first plague on Egypt when the whole of the Nile river was turned to blood.  Jeremiah also records the image of the mountain begin destroyed as part of a vision regarding the punishment of Babylon, which becomes an image for all the is evil in the world and a focal point for the battle between good and evil later on in Revelation.

Wormwood, the falling star of the third trumpet judgment, is a very bitter tasting plant.  The star, John says, taints the fresh water of the world, making it poisonous to drink.  This event is reminiscent of the miracle of the waters of Marah, recorded in Exodus 15, except in reverse.  Jeremiah records a similar series of events in his prophecies as well in both chapter 9 and chapter 23 of his book.

The fourth trumpet judgment carries a similar theme to the ninth plague on Egypt, that of darkness.  These similarities are important to the overall theme of Revelation, that of the ultimate freeing of God’s people.  Israel’s exodus represented the freeing of God’s people from bondage; the plagues were God’s action on behalf of His people to punish the enslaver.  Here we see similar things happening again, but on a cosmic scale, signaling the coming of the “final exodus” of God’s people from the oppression of sin and evil in the world.  This is also why we draw so heavily on imagery from the prophets because they too envisioned this as a result of the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption, reconciliation, and victory that He would bring.

Drawing on imagery like this doesn’t always “explain” what exactly it means, but rather creates connections in the redemptive work of God throughout salvation history.  We can then see that what John is witnessing here is not necessarily something new, but instead is the great revelation of God’s work to reconcile the whole world to Himself and put an end to sin and evil once and for all.



Colossians 1 – Supremacy

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Paul opens his letter to the church in Colossae with joy and thanksgiving for the work that God is doing in the community of faith there.  Quickly, however, he gets down to business, even in his greeting, reminding them of the enormity and simplicity of the Gospel that is the foundation of their faith.

He does this on purpose, knowing that one of the things that they have been struggling with is a number of false teachings in which things are being added to the message of Christ.  Far too often it seems that things are being added to the simple Gospel message…

Yes, Christ died for you… but you have to follow this tradition…

Sure, Jesus forgives your sins… but you have to have special knowledge for salvation…

Of course God will save you… if you avoid all the good things the world has to offer…

These were a few of the false teachings that were slipping into this relatively young church, and things that often slip into our own practice of faith as well.

The issue?  Disorientation.  As we are following Christ, keeping on the “straight and narrow” road, other things in life pop up, whatever they may be, and our straight and narrow path becomes a bit zig-zaggy.

This is true with our faith as well.  We claim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, but as we press on toward the goal, other objectives seem to enter in.  Sometimes they are things we are told we *have* to do (legalism, traditionalism, etc.), or maybe things we *have* to believe.  In any case, our faith becomes “the Gospel and…”  Sadly, most of these things start out as good parts of our lives, things that help to direct us toward God, and end up becoming idols in and of themselves.

Paul, however, makes sure from the get go that his readers in Colossae understand that with Jesus Christ there is no “and” to the Gospel.  He is supreme in all things, being both equal with God and the only one who can reconcile us to God.  Salvation comes from no one  and nothing else.



Ephesians 2 – No More Barriers

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Salvation isn’t quite as simple as we often think it to be.  We mainly talk about salvation in terms of having our “sins washed away,” sometimes even reducing it to a simple “get out of hell free” card.  Here, however, Paul breaks it down using stark terminology for what really happened for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by laying out the reality of where we were before Christ, dead in our sins.  The use of the word “dead” is both intentional and telling.  Sometimes we brush sin off as being just a little thing, something that is relatively inconsequential in our lives.  Here, however, Paul reveals the truth of the reality of sin… and it’s literally killing us.  “Meaningless, meaningless,” writes the author of Ecclesiastes, “everything in life is meaningless” without God.  It’s utterly futile, a chasing after the wind; we live and then we die and all of our works come to nothing with no real significance unless God is in them.

Moreover, our sins also create a barrier between us and the only one who can both heal us and give our lives true meaning, God.  Isaiah writes, at the end of his book, that our works are like filthy rags without the Lord to redeem them.

Sin creates a barrier between us and God. Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by dying for our sins.

In the midst of all this, though, Jesus enters the scene.  He doesn’t wait for us to figure it out, but rather lives and dies in our place that we may be reconciled to God, that the barriers would be removed.

“He himself is our peace,” Paul writes, “who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  In language equally as stark and descriptive as barriers and death, Paul talks about the results of Christ’s work, breaking down barriers, bringing life, and drawing those who were once foreigners and strangers, near to God as citizens, members of God’s house, and intimately near to Him.



2 Corinthians 7 – Condemnation or Conviction?

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Far too often in the Church, the words ‘condemnation’ and ‘conviction’ are used interchangeably.  As Paul continues in his thoughts to the church in Corinth, he is making sure that they understand the difference.  The letter he wrote to them was, by his own admittance, truthful but also harsh, a difficult letter that may have caused some sorrow.  He is not, however, regretful of that because the intended goal of the letter, namely repentance, was accomplished.

Christian discipline is never condemning.  Condemnation says to a person or group of people that you are “too far gone,” you are “terrible,” that not even God can save you.  This is flat out wrong; a lie straight from the mouth of the enemy.  No one is every too far gone for the grace of God.

That is not to say that we cannot call out sin when we see it, particularly within the body of the church.  Paul talks at great length, in these two letters to the church in Corinth, about removing sin from within the faith community.  Rarely does he ever say anything about the surrounding culture apart from the need to be set apart.

When we are addressing sin, whether it be in our own lives or the lives of others in our faith community, Paul’s words here are an important lesson for us.  Yes, he spoke harshly, but he would not take it back.  His words were truthful but loving, convicting but not condemning.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us it is for the purpose of repentance, reconciliation, and further sanctification of ourselves before God.

Romans 8 says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  John writes that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, that those who believe in Him would have eternal life.  There are no qualifiers here, only the offer of grace.  NO ONE is too far gone on this earth.

 



2 Corinthians 5 – Ambassadors for Christ

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In bringing the message of Christ, Paul did not ever rely on his abilities as a philosopher, a great speaker, or any sort of great physical presence to be the driving force behind his message.  Instead, he allowed God to speak through him so that Paul’s message was actually God’s message.  He trusted that the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the hearers and that the Word of God would not return empty, as Isaiah 55 says.

He takes this posture of humility because he knows where the true power of the Gospel lies, and it isn’t in human achievement.  Our Bodies are mortal; from the moment we are born we are already beginning to die.  If eternity were a timeline stretched before us, our time on earth in this life would be unrecognizable, smaller than the point of a needle.

That seeming insignificance, though, is not Paul’s point.  In fact, his point is just the opposite; our lives have eternal repercussions both for ourselves and possibly for others too.  Without Jesus, we are hopeless.  But when our hope is in Jesus Christ, our lives take on new meaning and new power through the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us.

Indeed, Paul calls us “Christ’s ambassadors,” and reminds us that we are given the same ministry that Christ had on this earth: the ministry of reconciliation.  We are heralds of the Kingdom, proclaimers of grace, witnesses to the love of God that we experience daily.  It is, as Paul says as if God were making His plea to the world, to those who do not know His love, through us.  And while the message of the Gospel does not depend on human abilities for its power or substance, God calls us to live and speak in such a way that all the world may know His great love for everyone.



2 Corinthians 3 – The Lifted Veil

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As Paul continues to address the need for forgiveness in the offense that has occurred, he grounds that subject in the life and work of Jesus Christ ushering in the New Covenant of reconciliation.  Any punishment or discipline that is necessary in this case, then, is not meant to exclude but to correct and to bring reconciliation; to be in line with the will of God who is continuing to build us up into the image of His Son.

In that transformation, God’s glory will be revealed in greater and greater ways.  Paul likens this to the ‘glory’ that shown on Moses’ face after he went into the tent of meeting.  In the Old Testament, no one was able to see God and when Moses’ face had the glow of God’s glory, the people were scared.  Seeing God meant that they would die.

However, Christ has ushered in the New Covenant, and with the New Covenant He has brought reconciliation and grace that we may once again be in relationship with God.  He wants to show us His face, He wants us to see His glory.  No veil is needed for those who have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus.  Indeed, at the moment of His death, the curtain in the temple separating the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s dwelling on earth, from the world was torn in two!  For the first time since the Fall in Genesis 3, the veil was lifted and we come before God.

The hope that this reconciliation brings emboldens Paul, and should embolden us as well.  We don’t need to veil our salvation or the grace that God shows us.  In fact, as God lifts this veil from our hearts through the hearing of His Word, we find the freedom that is granted us to shine forth the light and glory of God into all the world.



2 Corinthians 2 – Pleasing Aroma

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In Hebrew culture, hundreds of years before this was written, there was a prevailing understanding that our actions, as well as our prayers, rose up before God in the same way the smoke rose from the fires of a sacrifice.  When we love God and love our neighbors, our actions are a pleasing aroma to Him.  However,  in the case of Israel, when the turned away from God, even the smell of the Temple sacrifices was repulsive before Him.

Paul draws on this theme as he addresses the church in Corinth, knowing full well that the divisions there, between each other and even what has happened between them and Paul are anything but a pleasing aroma.  What’s worse, this so-called aroma is one that everyone else around them can “smell” as well.  Rather than being the pleasing aroma of Christ, Paul warns them such actions (as well as many others) could be an aroma of death.

Reconciliation is what Paul is seeking here; living into the call of the Gospel for unity in the Holy Spirit.  Paul longs to be reconciled to them and them to each other, that their actions of forgiveness and love would be the “aroma” that those around them smell.

People can almost smell fakeness on others.  I think this is something that the church today struggles with a lot.  We all want everyone else to believe that we have it all together; that somehow our faith has made everything in life perfect for us (because obviously, it is for everyone else).  The reality, though, is that we’re not perfect… we’re all messed up.  Pretending to be perfect, or that the hurts of the past don’t matter, doesn’t actually help and those outside of our faith communities can see right through it.

We are called to be reconciled to each other.  In fact, we are given the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation as those who are in Christ and it has to start with us.  As much as it may be easier to call others to it while ignoring ourselves, reconciliation is the “plank in our own eye” that we may need to get out first.



Introduction to 2 Corinthians

Second Corinthians is Paul’s second of what was likely four correspondences that he wrote to the church in Corinth and the Christians throughout that region.  It is also likely that this was the last of those four letters.

  1. Paul refers to a letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9
  2. The letter that we know as the book of 1 Corinthians
  3. A “severe letter” that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4
  4. The letter that we know as the book of 2 Corinthians.

Paul clearly has a special place in his heart for the church in Corinth and is both saddened and frustrated by the continuing conflict and challenges that were going on there.  As part of Paul’s journey, he may have actually returned to Corinth to address these things head on, something that didn’t go well and turned out to be quite painful for Paul.

The words that Paul uses here are words of both reconciliation and rebuke, correcting some of the errors and challenging some of the false teachings that were present in the community.

While we don’t have the full story, having lost the two other correspondences that took place, we get a pretty good idea that not all was well in Corinth.

It is possible, some have suggested, that 2 Corinthians is actually two letters in one.  While the book itself contains a coherent whole, Paul’s tone changes from chapter 9 to chapter 10 in a very dramatic fashion.  There are a number of possible  explanations for this including a possible addendum to the original letter, he wrote it and then got a report which caused him to write more, or the desire to prepare the church for his upcoming visit.  Perhaps it is one of the two lost letters that somehow was attached to this one.

Whatever the case, as the early church councils and synods worked, led by the Holy Spirit, to affirm the full canon of Scripture as we have it now, 2 Corinthians in its present form was affirmed.  Therefore, whatever the case, Second Corinthians is part of God’s Holy Word and therefore both authoritative and divinely inspired by God.



Romans 15 – The Mind of Christ

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As Paul begins to conclude his letter to the church in Rome, he draws all of his thoughts together by encouraging believers to “have the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.”  This may sound like a tall order, however, he recognizes that this isn’t simply a work of the people that he is writing to, but rather a part of the sanctifying and empowering work of the Holy Spirit on their hearts and minds.

Sanctification is the word that we use to talk about the work of God, mainly through the Holy Spirit, in our lives after we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, responding to the Grace of God, that is not the end of the journey, it is the very beginning.  The Holy Spirit begins the work of transformation, making us more and more like Christ.

Really, this brings Paul’s letter to the Roman church, and God’s plan of salvation full circle.  Ultimately, the trajectory of Scripture is bringing us back around to beginning, to a perfectly restored relationship between God and His people and creation.  This is the “big picture” of the redemptive and reconciliatory work that is God’s plan of salvation.

Part of this will be the redemption of our hearts, which sounds rather obvious.  Paul gives us a small glimpse of what that looks like: having the same attitude of mind toward others as Christ Jesus had.  While this will look perfect when Christ comes again, we can see small glimpses of that here and now.  We are encouraged always to look to the needs of others, to serve one another, and therefore to build them up.  When we take this posture we get a glimpse of true reconciliation.