************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 27, 2017
Lord's Day 16
"Christ Suffered Death, Burial, and Hell"
We continue our study of sound doctrine. Most churches don't spend time on sound doctrine anymore. Instead, their preaching is focused on self-help messages, or a book on the top ten sellers list, or a topic that is suddenly the rage. Most churches don't even teach sound doctrine to their children and youth anymore. Instead, they play games, go to the ball park, or watch a movie.
We continue our study of sound doctrine. Sound doctrine that we find in the Heidelberg Catechism and Apostles' Creed. In case you have forgotten, sound doctrine is reliable doctrine, trustworthy doctrine, doctrine you can believe, because it is doctrine based upon the Bible. Men's itching ears want to hear other things. Pressure is put on pastors to preach other things. That is why Paul urged Timothy and Titus and all pastors to preach the Word -- that is, preach sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine teaches us today about Christ's death, burial, and descent into hell.
I Deliverance from Hell
A Let's start with Christ's descent into hell. The Apostles' Creed says "he descended to hell." The Roman Catholics and the Anglicans believe Jesus died, then was buried, and then He descended to a physical place called hell.
Where did Christ go between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Are the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans right in saying He went to hell?
Where did Christ go between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? In answering this question we must look at Christ's humanity -- His body and soul -- as well as His divinity.
There is no question concerning the whereabouts of Christ's body between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: it was in the tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. So, His body was not in hell.
Nor is there much question concerning the whereabouts of Christ's divinity between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: as part of the divine, triune Godhead, Christ was present everywhere God is present; as God He was and is infinite. So, His divinity was not in hell.
What about Christ's human soul or spirit? Where was Christ's human soul or spirit between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Was His soul or spirit in hell? Think of Christ's words to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Paradise. That's where Christ's soul or spirit was between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
So what do we mean when we say Christ descended into hell? What does sound doctrine profess? In confessing that Christ descended into hell sound doctrine confesses that Jesus suffered the anguish, pain, terror of soul, and torment of hell. He didn't go to hell; rather, He suffered the anguish and torment of hell.
B When did Christ experience this? When did He experience the torment of hell? "On the cross but also earlier." The eternal Son of God came to this sin-filled earth as a man. He went from the purity and holiness and glory of heaven and was immediately surrounded by sin and the effects of sin. It must have been hell for Him to live on this earth. He lived a life that was sinless and holy and perfect yet He was hated, despised, rejected, afflicted. It must have been hell for Him to live on this earth.
He experienced hell on the cross but also earlier. In mind is the increasing hatred, anger, and bitterness of Jesus' own people against Him. Jesus wept when He thought of the hardness of their hearts (Lk 19:41ff). What anguish this caused Him.
In mind is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He "began to be deeply distressed and troubled" (Mk 6:33). "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," He said (Mk 14:34). Luke tells us that "being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Lk 22:44).
In mind is His betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:43ff) and His denial by Peter (Mk 14:66ff). It cut Jesus to the heart that a close friend, someone He trusted, someone who shared His bread, would betray Him. And it hurt even more when a close friend, someone He trusted, someone who shared His bread, would deny knowing Him.
In mind is His treatment in front of the Sanhedrin: the lies and false witnesses, the spitting, the blindfold, being struck with fists (Mk 14:64ff).
In mind are the jeers and shouts of the crowds. One week before they were waving palm branches and yelling,
(Mk 11:9-10) "Hosanna! " "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (10) "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"But on Good Friday they were yelling, "Crucify him!" "Crucify him!" "Crucify him!" (Mk 15:13ff).
In mind is the cruelty and torture by the Roman soldiers: the purple robe, the crown of thorns, the mockery, the spitting, the hitting (Mk 15:15ff).
In mind is the crucifixion.
When did Christ experience the torment of hell? During His whole life on earth but especially on the cross. And especially in that amazing moment recorded in our Bible reading when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46).
Imagine the scene. Jesus was forsaken by the crowds that had greeted Him so jubilantly a few days before. His disciples were scattered like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 26:31). He assigned His own mother to the care of another (Jn 19:26-27). His clothes were stolen, and one soldier got His undergarment with a throw of the dice (Jn 19:23,24). He lost His friends, His family, His dignity. And then He lost His heavenly Father: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). It was at that point Jesus experienced the full terror of hell.
C "He descended to hell." In speaking of hell the Catechism speaks of something considered to be out of date and out of touch in our modern age. Hell doesn't mean anything today. Instead, it is a swear word. People believed in hell in the dark Middle Ages; but in our age people think they are far too advanced to believe in such foolishness.
Yet the Catechism speaks of hell. The Catechism speaks of an angry God Whose justice must be satisfied or else you will end up in hell. The Catechism speaks of a God Who says sin must be paid for or else you end up in hell. Who believes in such a God in our modern age? A God Who cannot forgive unless sin is paid for is considered a tyrant. Very few are the churches and the Christians that believe in such a God today.
The Catechism also speaks of temptation. Temptation refers to a direct attack upon our souls by the devil causing us to fear and doubt that we have received forgiveness of sins and escaped the punishment of hell. But who believes in the devil today? Or who faces such temptations today? The trouble is we live in an age of unprecedented spiritual darkness; our age is called the post-Christian age. There is very little interest in the spiritual side of life. There is very little interest in such things as righteousness, holiness, and purity. Men are busy with the things below and do not seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
People think of God as a big man -- exactly the same concept the ancient Greeks had of God. God is a man with the same weaknesses and faults we have, only He is bigger. He is a God Who winks at sin and in a sickly, corrupt way He forgives sin. But do not believe it. If you do not believe God is righteous, if you do not believe God is angry with sin, if you do not believe God sends sinners to hell, then there is no forgiveness. If God is God, if God is righteous and holy, then there must be hell.
Many people understand hell simply to be the place of death. They say hell is nothing but the grave. They say hell is nothing but the state of death. They say the original word for hell means only death and the grave. It is true that the Hebrew word for hell -- "sheol" -- simply means the place of the dead. But that is not what Jesus suffered when He experienced hell. Rather, hell is the place of judgment and brimstone. Hell is the place of everlasting torment where the flame is not quenched and the worm does not die.
If we look at hell this way, we understand there is no way of redemption other than Christ suffering the torments of hell. Christ must suffer in this way if there is to be salvation. The truth, justice, and love of God demand it.
I stand amazed when I think of such things. Can there possibly be redemption for a sinner such as I? Can I be saved from the anguish and torment of hell? The answer: Yes, because of the complete satisfaction of Christ. God's truth is that you and I deserve hell. And, God's truth is that Christ has suffered hell for His chosen ones.
So, sound doctrine tells us there is a hell and that Christ delivers us from it.
II Dying with Christ
The sound doctrine of the Catechism also looks at the death of Christ. And based upon what I read from Colossians 3 earlier in the service, it emphasizes that the death of Christ is also my death. Through Christ's death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him.
By nature we are not only sinful, but we are prisoners of sin. By nature, we are so in the power of sin that we love sin. By nature we are alienated from the life of God. Instead of being holy and righteous in the sight of God, I am filled with unrighteousness and corruption. We can never exaggerate our condition. We are totally corrupt. We are filled with sin. We are prisoners of sin. We are dead in sin. The only way to change any of this is to kill the old man of sin.
That's what Christ did. On the cross, by His sacrifice and death, Christ put to death our old man of sin. Through Christ's death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.
This doesn't mean sin is dead; we all know it is very much alive. Rather, it means we are dead. We are dead to sin. We are dead to unrighteousness. All the elect died when Christ died. The cross of Christ is the death of the elect. So the evil desires of the flesh no longer rule us. Instead we who were formerly dead may now dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to Him.
III Freedom from Death
Finally, Christ's suffering and death means freedom from death.
The Catechism asks, "Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?" And it answers that essentially we don't die. Yes, the body is put in the grave. But do you know what else is put there? The old man of sin as well. The old man of sin is put in the grave with my body, never to rise up again, never to awake evil desires in me again, never to tempt me and lure me again. It dies when my body dies. It dies when my body dies so I no longer sin. So the body is in the grave. The old man of sin is in the grave. And what remains? The new man which passes into glory.
We must all pass though physical death. That cannot be avoided, unless the Lord comes first. We must all pass through physical death and physical death means two things. First, it means that my body will go in the grave. It will return to the dust from which it was taken. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That's what happens to the body.
Second, physical death means the soul will leave the body. Where does the soul go? Did you know the grave has three openings? There is the hole or opening we dig. There is an opening to hell. If you don't believe in Jesus, that's where you soul goes. That's why the world is afraid of the grave and tries everything it can to avoid it and deny it and change it. The grave is terrible if you are not a believer because it is the place of corruption and decay and is your entrance into hell.
The grave also has an opening to heaven. Christ made this opening. Christ went through this opening. Christ bore a hole through the grave that leads to heaven. So between Good Friday and Easter Sunday His soul was in heaven. He went first. Now, if you believe in Jesus, you follow the steps of Christ. He has been there before us and paved the way for us so the grave becomes your highway to eternal life.
Perhaps someone here worries about the grave and the fires of hell. Because of some dreadful sin in your life. Because you think your faith is not real and your commitment is not heart-felt. Because you are filled with doubts and fears. In such times of personal crisis and temptation you have the assurance, if you believe, that thanks to Jesus the grave is your entrance to eternal life.
What does sound doctrine believe? What does sound doctrine confess? That upon the cross Jesus suffered the anguish and torment of hell for us. That our old man of sin died with Christ. That from the grave Jesus bore a hole for us to heaven and eternal life.
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