Every Sunday, we will be going through one of the fifty-two Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism. Written in the year 1563, the Heidelberg still remains a popular confession of faith in many churches to this day. You can find the full text here.
Lord’s Day 16
Question 40: Why did Christ have to suffer death?
Answer: Because God’s justice and truth require it: 1
nothing else could pay for our sins
except the death of the Son of God.2
1. Gen. 2:17
2. Rom. 8:3-4; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9
Question 41: Why was he “buried”?
Answer: His burial testifies
that he really died.1
1. Isa. 53:9; John 19:38-42; Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4
Question 42: Since Christ has died for us,
why do we still have to die?
Answer: Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.1
Rather, it puts an end to our sinning
and is our entrance into eternal life.2
1. Ps. 49:7
2. John 5:24; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 5:9-10
Question 43: What further benefit do we receive
from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
Answer: By Christ’s power
our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him,1
so that the evil desires of the flesh
may no longer rule us,2
but that instead we may offer ourselves
as a sacrifice of gratitude to him.3
1. Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-12
2. Rom. 6:12-14
3. Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:1-2
Question 44: Why does the creed add,
“He descended to hell”?
Answer: 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.1
1. Isa. 53; Matt. 26:36-46; 27:45-46; Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7-10
Again, the Heidelberg writers have bitten off more beautiful truth than we are able to chew in our short time here, but I pray that you take the time to think and meditate on what it means that “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried” as we will focus on what is, and has historically been, the most controversial statement in the Apostle’s Creed:
He descended to hell.
We must remember that the Apostle’s Creed is not holy scripture. Therefore, every statement made by the creed must be supported by scripture before we can determine if the statement is true. There have been arguments over the centuries about the meaning of the phrase. Some take the word hell to actually mean “sheol” or “the place of the dead” and that Jesus went there to preach to the souls awaiting the final judgement (1 Peter 3:18-20). Some believe that Jesus actually went to hell after his death further experience the wrath of God for our sins (not biblically supported). There are some denominations that use versions of the creed that have that phrase removed completely (as to whether or not it should be removed, John Piper says yes, John Calvin says no).
Things Jesus said on the cross indicated that this would be the end of his suffering (assuring the thief that “today you will be with me in paradise.” and proclaiming that “It is finished.”), but was the physical pain the only suffering Christ experienced? I mean, his closest friends betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. He was publicly humiliated. His mother had to watch him die. But despite the humiliation and the absolute brutality and unimaginable amount of pain Jesus suffered, there was another type of suffering that Christ endured. On the cross, when Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” we see him suffer the spiritual torment of being separated from His Father, the anguish of His perfect soul bearing the weight of the sins of man, and knowing that, in this moment…it pleased the Lord to crush Him.
“Lord, why do You cast off my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
I suffer Your terrors;
I am distraught.
Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
Your terrors have cut me off.
They came around me all day long like water;
They engulfed me altogether.” Psalm 88:14-17
When Jesus is praying in the garden and He asks the Father to let this cup pass from Him…
What was in the cup?
“For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.” Psalm 75:8
The cup contained the wrath of God (Jeremiah 25:15, Isaiah 51:17, Revelation 14:9-10). Jesus is not merely asking to not be humiliated or beaten. He is not only asking to not be crucified. He that only knew holiness suffered the full wrath of God for liars, adulterers, rapists, murderers, and blasphemers. The only one who deserved heaven went through hell…for you.
Why did Christ suffer hellish torment and death? Because nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God and so we can be assured that during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment. As believers, we may disagree on where Jesus was on Saturday, but we all know where he wasn’t on Sunday…
“He is not here, for he has risen”