Saturday, January 30, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Q16-19

16. Q. Why must He be a true and righteous man?

A. He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.

17. Q. Why must He at the same time be true God?

A. He must be true God so that by the power of His divine nature He might bear in His human nature the burden of God's wrath, and might obtain for us and restore to us righteousness and life.

18. Q. But who is that Mediator who at the same time is true God and a true and righteous man?

A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (I Corinthians 1:30).

19. Q. From where do you know this?

A. From the holy gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise. Later, He had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Finally, He had it fulfilled through His only Son.

Let's look at the human nature of Jesus Christ.  The best, most vivid place to look is Isaiah chapter 53.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 

We see things happening in reverse.  This is a reference to Christ's resurrection and exaltation.  Then we go back to his crucifixion and punishment.

As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations; 

His punishment pushes him beyond the description of an actual human.  Even though he was fully human, he was not like us in the fact that he was debased into a sub-human.  Even humans rejected him because he was made worse.  And yet, his spilled blood sprinkled the many and cleanses us--out of all nations--from all our sins.   

kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

When the children of God, the flock, even the most wealthy kings and queens of our world, hear the gospel, the Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts and instills them with faith, giving them understanding of the Gospel.  And yet there are those who hear and still do not believe, even though the Gospel is simple and straightforward.  This is proof that the unbelieving mind is dulled to understanding, that the unbelieving will is in bondage to sin.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 

This line about Christ having no beauty is quite compelling.  We think this is a post-beating Christ, but I would offer that Jesus on-the-whole was not handsome to view.  He didn't have the charisma that our church leaders seem to need today.  The heart turning toward Jesus is solely based on the Holy Spirit drawing it, not because of some worldly appeal.  We see pictures of the blue-eyed, blond-haired Jesus even today, and it has been replaced with a more swarthy look--but still attractive.  He MUST have been attractive, we say. But...

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

Although despised by us, he took on himself all of our ugliness, all of our sin.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 

Grace and peace are the two words that summarize the Gospel in the tightest way possible.  By Grace, God sent us the means of reconciliation, and the result is peace between ourselves and our creator.  Christ's is the ultimate sacrifice, once for all:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 

All of these descriptions of the Christ are only possible if he were fully human, being treated as human by other humans.

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

Remember the thief on the cross, who repented and made a confession: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  A true fruit of faith is the correct view of oneself and the correct view of Christ himself.  We are wrongdoers, justly condemned, but Jesus did nothing wrong and he was punished instead.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 

All of this is a plan of God, delivered to us out of God's good grace.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 

And since Jesus is also fully God, he himself is in on the plan.  He died in anguish, yes, but also with satisfaction.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. 

All of this is made possible through our Lord Jesus Christ alone, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Q12-15

12. Q. Since, according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?

A. God demands that His justice be satisfied. Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another.

13. Q. Can we ourselves make this payment?

A. Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.

14. Q. Can any mere creature pay for us?

A. No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.

15. Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?

A. One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.

The answer to question 14, the part that says, "God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed," seems to contradict scripture.  In Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, which we read aloud minutes ago, this text appears:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

Since all sin boils down to idolatry, this text is saying that the sins of the father receive a punishment that is passed down through the generations, even to four generations. This definitely sounds like God punishes a creature for the sins of another.  Why is this?  Not because sin is magically passed down from father to son.  Original sin is genetic, but actual sin is taught and learned.  Remember catechism question 10?  The answer includes that God is terribly displeased with our inborn as well as actual sins.  The difference is between that of disposition and action.  We are born with unregenerate hearts, predisposed to sin, and so we are under the wrath of God.  Then, when we actually sin, when we learn how to sin and actually commit it, in thought word or deed, we are racking up guilt.  As it says in the answer for question 13: "we daily increase our guilt."

This is why we cannot blame Adam for our sins.  He is responsible for our sinful nature, but we are responsible for the sins that spawn from this nature.  Ezekiel 18 confirms this.  Read all of the chapter:

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

This "proverb" reflects the verses from Exodus 20 and Lamentations 5:7, which says, "Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities."  The Lord is clarifying things through the prophet Ezekiel: fathers are responsible for their own sins and sons are responsible for their own sins.  The soul who sins shall die.  All have sinned, therefore all die.  In Israel, God's people believed that they could lead righteous lives and live without a mediator. Remember, the sins of the father are visited on the son to the third and fourth generations, but the righteousness of the father carries on to the thousandth generation.  Now, one thousand, as we investigated last week, is a symbolic, round number that means a large amount or many.  But Israel believed that since Abraham was righteous in God's eyes, then they must be righteous, no matter what sins they have committed.  The father's righteousness is counted to the children.  But God is saying here in Ezekiel 18 that each is responsible for his own guilt.  The soul who sins shall die.

“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—...—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God. If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), ... shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

This flies in the face of what Israel believed about God's nature.  Surely, they were God's chosen people, born under Abraham, so they must be counted righteous.  God is obligated to count them as righteous! The same goes the other way, if the father is an unrepentant sinner and the son is righteous:

“Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: ... he shall not die for his father's iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, ... behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

God is saying that the iniquities of the father are NOT transferred to the son.  Now, God knows exactly what Israel is thinking, because he hits it head on:

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Not only is God telling Israel, and us as well, that each individual is responsible for his or her own guilt, but that the solution is quite easy.  Turn from your sin and live, he says.  Cast away from you all transgressions.  In other words, repent.  Make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.  Is this possible?  How is the sinner able to give himself a new heart and a new spirit?  Going back a few chapters in Ezekiel, we can read God's clarification.  What he means in chapter 11, he means in chapter 18:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

Once again we need to be reminded: regenerating the heart is God's work.  It is his alone.  Repentance can only be done on a regenerated heart, and it is our response to that regeneration.  Jesus Christ is the mediator and deliverer that we seek.  He is the one who is a true and righteous man, and yet he is more powerful than all creatures, because he is at the same time God incarnate. 

Have faith in the one who died for you.  Once you understand how crucial that fact is and you believe, the Holy Spirit will take away that heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.  He will write the truth on your new heart with everlasting ink.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Q9-11

9. Q. Is God, then, not unjust by requiring in His law what man cannot do?

A. No, for God so created man that he was able to do it. But man, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.

10. Q. Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?

A. Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins.  Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them (Galatians 3:10).

11. Q. But is God not also merciful?

A. God is indeed merciful, but He is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:20-29:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins....

Notice the words "righteous man."  When we think of a righteous man, we think of someone who does right.  But here Solomon is saying that even the righteous--or those we call righteous--do no good and are continually sinning.  As confirmed by the Heidelberg Catechism, the last verse of this passage of Ecclesiastes says that man was created upright and could fulfill the law, but he can no longer.  

All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 

Now, Solomon is considered to the wisest of all in the Old Testament.  Indeed, he prays to the Lord to give him a heart of wisdom, and the Lord grants his request.  But, here he is saying that he tested wisdom and found it truly far from him.  Even when other men consider us wise, by the Lord's standards, we are still fools. 

That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness.

Solomon even went in the other direction, to test the limits of not only wisdom but of wickedness, folly, foolishness, and madness. What did he discover?

 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 

He discovered that of all the sins, sexual immorality was the one that brought down a wise man into the pit of despair. This applies particularly to our own day and age, where satisfying our sexual appetites is the norm.  Physical pleasure is the standard.  Because of the intense pleasure acquired, sex becomes more addictive than any drug.  Indeed, Solomon himself, as wise as he was, fell hard due to this very sin.  Let's look at 1 Kings 11:1-8:

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8)

Let's connect this back to the most important verses in the passage of Ecclesiastes:

Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things—which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. 

The pleasures of women were Solomon's downfall.  Even though he was wise and wrote most of the great wisdom of the Old Testament, he still was led astray by his lusts and he made God very angry.  Now, the verse just above needs deeper study, because on the surface it seems to say that one in a thousand men can be found to be righteous, but absolutely no--zero--women can be.  I read a sermon that actually claimed that Solomon's wisdom is in error and that women are more righteous than men.  Neither of these scenarios is the case.  Remember the first verse we looked at in Ecclesiastes?  No one is righteous, no not one.  Not one in a thousand women, but not one in a thousand men either.  Then why does Solomon seem to say that one in a thousand men is righteous?  Because this is a prophecy of Christ.  To help us see with more clarity, let's look at a similar prophecy of Christ from Job 33: 23-28:

If there be for him an angel,
a mediator, one of the thousand,
to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,

‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
I have found a ransom;

let his flesh become fresh with youth;
let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
then man prays to God, and he accepts him;

he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
He sings before men and says:

‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.

He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’

No, women are not righteous, but neither are men.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, all except Christ, born of a woman but male in gender, which is why Solomon places him among the men, within the round, symbolic number of one-thousand.  Solomon is not pitting men against women here but pointing to Christ as our only hope for salvation.

He is our only mediator and advocate.  He is our only truth.  He is our only deliverance.  He is our only ransom.  We are accepted only by Christ's prayers to the Father.  He is our only righteousness.  He is our grace and mercy.  Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Q6-8

6. Q. Did God, then, create man so wicked and perverse?

A. No, on the contrary, God created man good and in His image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God His Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify Him.

7. Q. From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?

A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.

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

A. Yes, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

Not only did God create man good, but he created man in his image.  Do we understand what this means?  It means that the qualities of God were forged in us, and those qualities are spelled out in the Ten Commandments.  God is good, he is pure in heart, and he is righteous.  He is pure justice and he is also pure mercy.  When Adam was created, he had these qualities, too, but God also gave him free will, the ability to love God freely, but also to choose evil.  We think we have free will today, but our wills are actually in bondage.  When Adam sinned, his corruption became a genetic disorder that has been passed down through the generations.  We actually are incapable of choosing the good without regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  We aren't puppets, controlled by God, but sin is like a prison, where we are unable to do good.  By doing good, I mean doing good for God's sake, for his glory.  Unregenerated people do things we call "good" all the time, but never are these things done for God's glory but for their own.  Good done for one's own glory is still sin, is still considered evil in the eyes of God.

God had a solution for Adam's fall--and subsequently our own fall--into sin and death.  Paul unpacks this solution in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)

Paul acknowledges the genetic effect of sin to all people through the bloodline of Adam. Yet, we can't blame Adam for our own sin.  We sin because we are sinners.  We have to take full responsibility for our actions, and when we hold our lives up against God's original, intended image, we realize that we don't have that image anymore.  We are now by nature children of wrath, deserving of death and hell.  We must believe that with our whole hearts, if we are to be rescued.

There's a philosophical puzzle that atheists have posed to Christians for a long time.  The puzzle involves God's relationship to the moral law.  Is he above the moral law or under it?  If he is above it, then he should be able to do away with it.  Since he does not do away with it, he must be evil.  If God is beneath the moral law, then he is subject to it, and something more powerful than he exists.  God them becomes impotent.  There seem to be only these two options, but there is a third.  God IS the moral law--it is his very nature itself.  He can't do away with it, and he is not imprisoned by it.  He is the moral law, and when we break it, which we do every day, we are, in effect, breaking God himself.  We are hating him, we are hurting him.

Since God is pure justice AND pure mercy, he provides a gift, a rescue from this prison of the moral law, from God himself, from his wrath.  The gift is Jesus Christ, who was born under the law, and he kept the law perfectly, so that all who believe in him will suffer no condemnation under the law.  Whereas sin is a genetic defect passed down through birth, the new life is through adoption as sons and daughters based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Adoption into the family comes from our putting our faith in the first born of that new family.

For as by Adam's disobedience all humanity were made sinners, so by Christ's obedience to the moral law, all of those adopted into his family by faith will be made righteous.  We are unable to make others righteous, even if we perfectly obeyed the law, which we cannot.  Only Christ's obedience to the law does this.  We must never take these verses to mean that we now need to be obedient in order to add family members.  We are obedient only out of gratitude, which is a reflection of the faith we have in Christ.  Without obedience, there is no faith, but obedience does not produce faith.  Faith is a gift from God.