[This article was written for my local paper in a series on the Heidelberg Catechism.]
We continue our series of articles on the Heidelberg Catechism. The catechism is a series of 129 questions and answers on the Christian faith. Theologians wrote the catechism in 1563 to teach people the Christian faith.
The questions are divided into 52 Lord’s Days, one for each week of the year. Today’s article covers Lord’s Day 16, Questions 40-44, as we continue our discussion of the Apostle’s Creed.
Q 40 Why did Christ have to suffer death?
A. Because God’s justice and truth require it: (Gen. 2:17) nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God. (Rom. 8:3-4; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9)
How does a holy and just God forgive sinful human beings without becoming unholy or unjust? Humanly speaking, this question presented God with a problem. On the one hand, God loved His people and did not want to punish them. On the other hand, since God is just, he must punish their sin. God solved this ‘problem’ in the Person of Jesus Christ.
God became a man and came to earth as Jesus Christ. Because He was a man, He was tempted just as we are. Because He was God, He lived a perfect life in the face of that temptation.
Christ died a death he did not deserve in order to pay the full penalty for our sins. Because He was a man, He represented fallen human beings. Because He was God, He could suffer an infinite punishment, a punishment horrific enough to pay for the sins of all those who place their faith in Him. (See Cur Deus Homo [lit. ‘Why the God-Man?’] by Anselm of Canterbury.)
Q 41 Why was he “buried”?
A. His burial testifies that he really died. (Isa. 53:9; John 19:38-42; Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4)
Many modernist theorists hold to the ‘swoon theory.’ The idea behind the swoon theory is that Christ did not die on the cross; he only passed out or swooned. The cool air of the tomb revived him.
But the fact of His burial by those who loved Him most exposes this theory as untrue. Why would his closest friends and family members bury Him without knowing he was dead?
Q 42 Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
A. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. (Ps. 49:7) Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life. (John 5:24; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 5:9-10)
Christ’s death has changed the very nature of death for those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him. Death is not a punishment for sin; it is a deliverance from sin. Christ makes Christians into the kind of people they have longed to be: people who are perfect in what they think, speak, and do.
Q 43 What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
A. By Christ’s power our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, (Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-12) so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, (Rom. 6:12-14) but that instead we may offer ourselves as a sacrifice of gratitude to him. (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:1-2 )
Remember the three main divisions of the Heidelberg Catechism: guilt, grace and gratitude. We realize that we are guilty of sin. We become aware of all that Christ has done by His grace, and we place our faith in Him. We then live the best lives we can because we are thankful for what Christ has done for us. Christ’s sacrifice helps us to be grateful.
Q 44 Why does the [Apostle’s] creed add, “He descended to hell”?
A. 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. (Isa. 53; Matt. 26:36-46; 27:45-46; Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7-10)
Satan’s very name means “accuser.” He can bring torment on God’s people by reminding them of their sins, and we have all committed sins that Satan uses to torture us. When Satan reminds us of what we have done, we should remind him of what Christ has done. Christ’s suffering of the wrath of God frees the Christian from his or her tormented conscience.