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Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day 15



37. What do you understand by the word “suffered?”
That all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race;(1) in order that by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice,(2) He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.
(1)I Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53:12. (2)I Jn. 2:2; 4:10; Rom. 3:25-26; Ps. 22:14-16; Mt. 26:38; Rom. 5:6.

38. Why did He suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?
That He, being innocent, might be condemned by the temporal judge,(1) and thereby deliver us from the severe judgment of God, to which we were exposed.(2)
(1)Acts 4:27-28; Lk. 23:13-15; Jn. 19:4. (2)Ps. 69:4; II Cor. 5:21; Mt. 27:24.


1. The Duration of Christ’s Suffering.
As I write this lesson, the visible church is celebrating ‘Christmas’. In churches and perhaps in some schools, there are ‘nativity plays’ where the children dress up as the Biblical characters, some churches have erected nativity scenes, Christians are celebrating, and the world is busy with commercialism and entertaining. It’s usually all very sanitised, and visually attractive with little thought of what a birth in a manger in a cattle shed in a backward region would involve. We are celebrating the birth of a baby. The Catechist helps us to put a totally different perspective on the scene when he tells us that all the time that he lived on earth, (including his birth) he was suffering for us. And that the suffering of Christ which began as the eternal Son of God, leaving the splendour of heaven, entered into this sinful world, born in a humble family in a backward area of the middle east, continued and intensified as His early life continued, and culminated upon the cross.


2. The Nature of Christ’s Suffering!
What was this ‘suffering’ that Jesus endured like?

  1. He BORE Suffering. He bore the suffering – he carried it for us, taking the burden of our guilt and misery. He bore it…
  2. In His BODY. This world was a lifetime of earthly suffering for Jesus. He suffered at his birth, suffered rejection and humiliation throughout his life, suffered from homelessness, suffered from betrayal and false arrest, from a rigged, unjust trial, from scourging and mocking, and a cruel crown of thorns rammed down onto his head, and suffered the cross, the awful agony of the most cruel of deaths. He suffered in his body.
    In His SOUL. The depths of the suffering of his soul cannot be put in words, as on the cross he cried out ‘Father, why hast thou forsaken me…’ And in all of that he was…
  3. Bearing GOD’S WRATH that was due to us.


3. The Purpose of Christ’s Suffering!

Christ suffered so that He might be:

  1. The only atoning sacrifice.
  2. To redeem us from eternal hell.
    1. Body.
    2. Soul.
  3. To purchase for us God’s grace and mercy.
  4. To clothe us in His righteousness.
  5. To to obtain for us eternal life.


4. The Paradox of Christ’s Suffering!
Jesus was condemned by the earthly judge, and delivered up to die, despite his sinless innocence. Thus condemned by sinful man, he took upon himself our judgement, which would have seen us condemned in our sins, a far more severe judgement, – a judgement which would have resulted in eternal damnation.


5. The Sufficiency of Christ’s Suffering!
The controversial part of this question and answer is that phrase that reads, ‘He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.’ Ursinus was a ‘Calvinist’ who was trying to encourage and promote Calvinistic theology without incurring the wrath of the Lutherans, who held doctrinal supremacy in the region. Lutherans believe in a universal atonement. In this catechism statement is Ursinus going to far to accommodate the Lutherans? Should he not be clearly stating that Christ died only for the elect? But give careful consideration to what the writers are actually saying. To help us, consider John 3:16, one of the most misquoted evangelical proof-texts used by Arminians and semi-Pelagians to cast doubt upon particular redemption.

Consider these points:-

  1. When ‘proof-texting’ this verse, evangelicals will stress the world ‘whosoever’. That’s not even grammatical! The ‘whosoever’ has an inbuilt modifier and cannot be read without that modifier, just because it suits you own theories better. That ‘whosoever’ is conditional upon belief on the part of the one who would experience Christ’s forgiveness. Jesus confirms this in John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. So, the ‘whosoever believeth’ is not really a problem – unless you just ignore the modifier, which is poor exegesis.
  2. Whosoever will, WON’T! We are taught in scripture that in our unregenerate state, we are DEAD in our trespasses and sins. Dead people don’t and can’t make any decision to come to life. The state of deadness precludes that decision. In context, the verse comes immediately after Christ’s teaching to Nicodemus on being ‘born again’. By any stretch of the imagination, birth is not for ‘the whosoever’ – it is something that we have no choice in, no control over whom our parents are, the date of our birth, our nationality or our status or our gender. Birth is not something we can choose to do. An equally valid translation of ‘born again’ is ‘born from above’ which gives us the sense of birth being the wilful act of our father. Furthermore, our sinful rebellion against God affects every part of our person, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our will – all are ruined by sin and are incapable of comprehending God’s means of salvation, – thinking ourselves to be righteous, we go about parading our own good works and worthiness. Unless we are awakened to our true state by the Holy Spirit we will never accept that we need a Saviour and turn to Christ.
  3. But God loves the WORLD! The other (and in my opinion) the really difficult part of this verse is the reference to God’s love for the WORLD that he gave His only Son. Was Christ’s death for everyone in the whole world? If so are all people saved, since Jesus died for all? Obviously not, otherwise hell would be empty! Or is God not sovereign? Is it that he wants to save us, but isn’t omnipotent enough to do so? But why read more into this than necessary. To say ‘world’ in a non-Christian context would imply the ‘earth’ – the planet upon which we live. – The Greek word translated as world is simply κόσμον – the word from we get cosmos. It could also simply mean the created world, the earth and the universe. Some may attempt to argue that Christ’s death was not for trees and animals and soil and the created order, it was for people. Yes, that’s true, in that mankind is God’s special creation, the pinnacle of his creative activity. But there is no doubt that creation is deeply affected by the Saviour’s death. Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. Paul is telling us that God loved His Creation, and it too will be ‘redeemed,’ indeed there will, one day be a new heaven and a new earth. But is this the primary meaning of the text, when Jesus was speaking about how a sinner may enter the Kingdom of God? Is there not a more contextual application of the verse?
  4. The solution. I don’t insist that anyone else agrees with me on this matter, but the belief expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism is that Christ’s death is SUFFICIENT for all the sins of all mankind but is EFFICIENT only for those who are His, by election from before the foundation of the world. In other words that the fulness of God’s wrath for every sin, whatever and whenever, was laid upon Jesus at the Cross, and he bore it for us. This is one of the reasons why our redeemer had to be divine. No mere man could have borne that awful burden. But how is that atoning work applied to our hearts! Only by grace through faith in Christ, and since grace cannot be earned or deserved, and faith is the gift of God, then only those whom God has chosen can receive the forgiveness for sin obtained by Christ at the cross.

This satisfies texts like 1 John 2:1-2  My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

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