Archive for the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’ Category



Baptism Hawaiian Style

Heidelberg Catechism #43

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

A: Through Christ’s death 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 dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.

Theological: Do you ever find yourself marveling at the way the Bible speaks of our definitive break from sin and darkness? I do. Paul tells us that our old man has been put to death in Christ, that we are new creations. (more…)


Read Full Post »

Heidelberg Catechism #42

Q. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

A. 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.

Theological: For the believer in Jesus Christ, death is transformed. What used to be a just penalty for sin has become a portal into a fuller version of eternal life. O death, where thy sting? O grave, where thy victory? This, like so much Christian verity, must be approached in faith. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Heidelberg Catechism #41

Question: Why was he “buried”?

Answer: His burial testifies that he really died.

Theological: The word “buried” comes from the Apostles’ Creed: Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried.” The word “dead” certainly indicates that he died. His burial testifies to the same. Further, it was prophesied that he should not only die, but that he should be buried in association with the rich: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (Is 53:9). This was fulfilled in his burial by the hand of Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60). Furthermore, a significant theological image is that the burial of the body is the sowing of a seed for the resurrection. “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15: 42-4). Christ’s body was sown in human weakness, but raised in divine power. Thus, our human frailty is buried with him in his death, and his divine power is ours as we’re raised together with him. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the just: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

Practical: Baptism is important. Read Romans 6. Here’s a reminder: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:1-4). As those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we’re called to live in resurrection life. Sin no longer has dominion over us, for Christ has conquered sin and death. Since we’re united to him and his victory in our baptism, we’re to live in that union and life. We’re to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (vs 11). The Christian life is one of life and victory over sin, not one of death and defeat. Christ has come to save us the uttermost. Let us walk with joy in that fulsome salvation.

Read Full Post »

Heidelberg Catechism #40

Q. Why did Christ have to go all the way to death?

A. Because God’s justice and truth demand it: only the death of God’s Son could pay for our sin.

Theological: God declared that he would punish sin with death. He told Adam that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Sin, by God’s justice, brings death. If there is to be redemption from sin, there must be death. Or, another way of saying it, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). How does this strike you? Unsophisticated and primitive? Good. It should. This is exactly the sort of thing that so many nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars were embarrassed by and tried to avoid. “This type of thinking,” they might say, “make Christianity on par with the Pacific-Island natives throwing a virgin into the volcano to make the volcano god propitious.” Well, I for one am not embarrassed. Christianity is unsophisticated and primitive… at least by the estimation of modernists with their noses in their air. Good. They can keep their “Christianity” consisting of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man (or whatever). I will take the Bible in all of its pre-modern garb and offensiveness. Christianity’s connection with unsophisticated myth is not a weakness to be denied, but a strength to be preached – check out C.S. Lewis on this point. No, really… check him out. Like stop reading this NOW and read that.

Practical: Let’s quit being ashamed of the Gospel. Every generation has new reasons to be embarrassed about the Bible and the Lord of it. So what if your college profs think that you’re a rube because you actually believe that the Son of God had to be sacrificed to assuage God’s anger? So what if your urbane uncle (or worse, brother-in-law) laughs at the idea that God’s angry and demands a sacrifice. Stand strong in the gospel of Christ crucified. If you preach, labor before God to present the crucified Son of God from the pulpit every time you stand in it. There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of the blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Read Full Post »

Iona Cross

Heidelberg Catechism #39

Q. Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?

A. Yes. This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.

Theological: This is one of those things that really only makes sense, I think, in the context of the Old Testament, that is, in its Jewish context. Take Deut. 21:22-3: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance.” I’ve heard different explanations about *how* hanging on the tree (meaning: tree, post, cross) is a divine curse, but I’m not sure what’s what there. It’s sufficient to say that God constituted such a death as a curse so that Jesus, the Son of God, could suffer that death to become a curse for his people (Gal. 3:10-13). Thus, from a biblical perspective, we know that Jesus was made a curse, and that if we are united to him by faith, he’s been cursed in our place. We know that God’s justice is satisfied, having poured out his wrath and curse on his own Son – the wrath and curse due us. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

Practical: Preach the cursed Christ. Preach that God crushed his own Son to save vile sinners. Preach that Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Preach THAT. Forget all the damned self-help and political talk. Leave off social action from the pulpit and preach the crucified, risen, reigning Christ. Help, politics, social reform and the rest will follow. Preach Christ and him crucified.

On a less emphatic note, one of the best ways to study the New Testament is to study the Old Testament. For many Evangelicals, the OT is largely a closed book. A handful of Psalms, a few sections of the Prophets, Genesis, and the first half of Exodus (and Ruth!) enjoy significant popularity. By and large the rest is not known, neither is the sacred history. Funny thing is that American Evangelicals spend a TON of time in the NT book of Revelation, which is so vastly and heavily dependent on allusions to the OT. The tail’s waggin’ the dog. What Did Jesus Read? (WDJR?) 2 Tim 3:16 – All Scripture is God-breathed – has specifically to do with the OT (though it certainly applies to the NT, as it too is Scripture). Get to know your Bible, and pay special attention to the first 3/4 of it called the Old Testament.

Read Full Post »

Pilate Washing Hands

Heidelberg Catechism #38

Q. Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

A. So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge, and so set us free from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.

Theological: Here we find something we might call substitutionary condemnation. Christ, the innocent One, was condemned, in order to set us free from the severe judgment of God that was in store for us. Jesus took our penalty; he bore the divine wrath against our sin. This is a goodly part of the Gospel.

Christ, though innocent, was condemned by an unjust earthy judge. Here we have a triumph of divine justice and mercy through an absolute miscarriage of justice on the human level. And it’s not that God “made use” of a wicked human judge. This was God’s predetermined plan: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-8). God WANTED this miscarriage of justice. He wanted the murder of the innocent Man at the hands of a crooked judge, a licentious sign-seekers, and blood thirsty populace. This was is plan to save crooked judges, licentious mystics and blood thirsty men. Does the notion that God predestined all this sin make you uncomfortable?

Practical: First, we must trust God. The Gospel preached simply isn’t that popular. In fact, some preachers are quite embarrassed by the Gospel. So many preachers would have self-help seminars instead of Gospel sermons. We KNOW that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are enamored with worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-31). It always has been. But the Gospel is and always has been the power of God to salvation. Preach it both in and out of season.

God’s absolute sovereignty should be a source of great rest and peace for the believer. Instead, too many believers don’t believe that God is exhaustively sovereign. They don’t believe he rules, overrules, and predetermined all things. They fight against that truth, and that at the expense of their own rest and peace. How pitiable and foolish!

Read Full Post »

Heidelberg Catechism #37

Q. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

A. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the anger 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 set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

Theological: The first thing I notice about this answer is the “body and soul” motif (similar to Q&A #1). Christ was no disembodied spirit saving disembodied spirits. He was a man saving men with a complete salvation. Second thing I notice is that bore “the anger of God against the whole human race.” I’m not the first to notice this universalistic language. I don’t think that Ursinus was a universalist or even a hypothetical universalist. Here’s a ditty from his commentary on answer #20 from the Catechism:

The reason why all are not saved through Christ, is not because of any insufficiency of merit and grace in him for the atonement of Christ is for the sins of the whole world, as it respects the dignity and sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made but it arises from unbelief; because men reject the benefits of Christ offered in the gospel, and so perish by their own fault, and not because of any insufficiency in the merits of Christ.

This is not any sort of universalism. The Catechist wants to make sure that there is no insufficiency in Christ, but only in the unbeliever. In stating things this way, however, I think that he comes pretty close to sounding like a hypothetical universalist of sorts. Ursinus (like Calvin) seems comfortable speaking in terms of sufficient for the world, but efficient only for the elect. This type of language would later be largely unacceptable to most Calvinists, but that is a later development.

Practical: When we preach the suffering of Christ, do we focus more on the physical suffering or upon the spiritual suffering? We *must* have them both, but I fear we often put more of an emphasis on the physical suffering. We tend this direction, I think, because we can more easily identify with physical pain. While the physical stripes of Christ were impressive, the weight of the sins of the world upon a man who knew no sin had to be unthinkable. Similarly, the divine wrath upon that sin was unspeakable. Let’s make sure we preach the whole package: Christ suffered in body and soul for sinners. What an amazing Savior!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »