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.

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.

Can I Get a Sub? H.C. Question 14

Heidelberg Catechism Question 14

Can another creature—any at all—pay this debt [of sin] for us?

Ezekiel 18:4, 20 – For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die…

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

Hebrews 2:14-18 – Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Psalm 49:7-9 – No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough— so that they should live on forever and not see decay.

Psalm 130:3 – If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?

Total Depravity: H.C. Question 8

Heidelberg Catechism Question 8

But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?

Genesis 6:5 – The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

Genesis 8:21 – The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Job 14:4 – Who can bring what is pure from the impure?  No one!

Isaiah 53:6 – 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.

John 3:3-5 – Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Did God Do This? H.C. Question 6

Heidelberg Catechism Question 6

Did God create people so wicked and perverse?

Genesis 1:26-27, 31 – Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them…

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.

Colossians 3:10 – and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Psalm 8Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

2 Peter 3 – Slowness

Read 2 Peter 3

When we look around at the world and see so much of the awful things that are going on, we often echo the words of Scripture, “How long oh Lord?”  Our liturgies include in them a bid for Jesus to come back soon and even our worship music emphasizes this at times.  The truth is that we long for Jesus’ return so that all things in this world will be put right once again.

Christians in the days of the early church longed for this as well.  In fact, most figured that Jesus would be back in their lifetime.  However, when that did not come to pass, and especially as the great persecution broke out against the church, people began to wonder when the time would be that Jesus would come back.

This is not necessarily a bad thing to wonder about.  It does, however, create some “fertile soil” for the seeds of doubt to grow, especially if those scoffers that Peter talks about here were to come and try to grow their seeds with scoffing and questions.

Peter, in his desire to feed God’s sheep, does a lot here to put things into perspective.  We are really only capable of thinking in terms of our own lives or known history at best.  This reveals our finite ability to understand both time as we know it and God’s time (and timing).  God stands outside of time, holding the whole of eternity in His hands and so, it is understandable that God’s work and will may also be outside the scope of our vision and understanding.

God’s original promise to Abraham took somewhere between 1500 and 2000 years to come true in Jesus, but it did come true.  In the same way, Jesus’ promise to return and God’s promise to complete His redemptive work, bringing all things under Christ and making everything right, destroying wickedness and evil forever, will come true in God’s perfect time.

Why the delay?  Well, who is to say that there is a delay?  It feels like that for us but for God, it’s right on time.  More than this, though, we see in God’s timing a true act of love and mercy, desiring that none would perish but that as many people as possible would come to know His love and mercy.

This is a very deep perspective that we need to keep as we think about Jesus’ coming.  Though we long for that “great and terrible” day, we also need to remember that each day we are here, each day that Jesus does not return is another day for us to spread God’s love and grace so that none would perish.

Titus 2 – Salvation or salvation?

Read Titus 2

As Paul is writing to Titus, he is imploring Titus to teach and encourage transformed living in a way that is applied to all who are believers.  It isn’t simply enough to have leaders who reflect the transformative work that is done by the Holy Spirit, all must live in this way.  This is a response to our eternal Salvation, and yet at the same time is part of “earthly,” contemporary (current time) salvation as well.

Far too often we get “salvation” mixed up as being something that happens to us when we die.  When we believe in Jesus, we know that we will “go to heaven” after we die.  But if this is the extent of the salvation that we understand, we are getting a very small picture of what God is actually doing in our lives.

The work of our salvation begins even before the very moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, building up our faith.  God is constantly at work in us, reforming and reshaping us into the image of His Son.  We call this “sanctification,” and it is a very important part of the Christian life.

Not only is God working on us in this way, He continues to work in this world to bring about redemption and restoration to all of His creation.  This is something that He has been doing since the very beginning and something we also are called to participate in through the careful tending and treatment of this planet.

When we limit the scope of God’s salvific (salvation related) work to a sort of “escapist” mentality line of thinking that is only true for us when we die, we grossly limit and box in God’s extraordinary work throughout history, culminating, but not ending in the work of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross.

Ephesians 2 – No More Barriers

Read Ephesians 2

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.

Romans 7 – Why the Law?

Read Romans 7

Looking at what Paul has laid out thus far in the book of Romans, one might be led to ask the question, “what role does the law actually play here?”  Paul spends time examining this question, seeking to clarify a right understanding of what the Law is and what it means.

To do so, Paul uses very well crafted, intentionally specific language so as not to confuse things.  “Why is this important?” you may be asking.  It is important because how we talk about God, Scripture, the Law, etc. has a bearing on how we think about and what we believe about God.  Paul is trying to make certain that we don’t speak wrongly about the Law or God’s intentions behind it.

Far too often Christians say that the Law is “all about works” and that we don’t need it anymore.  Others have said that, because the Law was before Christ, it was imperfect and steeped in sin.  Neither of these is true and both border on suggesting that God’s work is both imperfect and steeped in sin.  Simply put, that is not true.

The purpose of God’s perfect Law, as Paul points out, is to reveal sin.  As we talked about earlier in this book, sin is a necessary component of God’s redeeming work. Tossing sin aside means tossing aside the need for grace and the work of the cross as well.

Paul is quick to point out that the Law is not responsible for our guilt, but rather the sin that is within us.  We have the tendency to, once we know what we shouldn’t do, to do it anyway.  That is not the fault of the Law, but of our sinful nature.  Thanks be to God, Christ died for us “while we were still sinners.”

Acts 10 – Clean and Unclean

Read Acts 10

As the Gospel continues to spread in the first century, there were many barriers to overcome.  We’ve see persecution and even language barriers be overcome through the work of the Holy Spirit.  One thing that happens here, something that is abundantly important to the rest of the world, is the Gospel going out to the gentiles.

Until now, all that we have read has been primarily a movement within Judaism itself, a sort of Jewish reformation. When the believers were scattered, they would go to the synagogues of other towns and preach the name of Jesus in those places.  They would go to the people that were familiar, keeping to tradition of Israel that encouraged avoidance of outsiders (which is completely contrary to the Law, but that is another subject for another time).

Here Peter receives a revelation of the true nature of the Gospel and its impact: God, in Jesus Christ, has taken the unclean and made it clean.  Jesus’ death was a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; the truest, deepest realization of His statements, “I AM the Light of the World,” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father  accept through me,” and all the other I AM statements too.  Through Him, this way has been open to all people who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, this is the beginning of the reality of freedom that comes in Christ Jesus.  Through sin, the world was made unclean, but in Christ Jesus, all of that has been reversed and true restoration has happened and is happening.  This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of the redemption of the whole universe through the work of Jesus Christ.