************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 37-39 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 21, 2010
Q & A 37-39
Isaiah 53:1-6 (responsively)
"I Believe He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate"
I The Christian and Suffering
A "I believe ..." says the man and woman of faith. "I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." This line, of course, comes from the Apostles' Creed. And the Apostles' Creed, don't forget, is the summary of the Gospel and the content of true faith.
From here, some Christians slip into a distorted view of life. They mistakenly think that because Christ has suffered there should be no suffering in their life. They mistakenly think that believing in Christ will end all life's pains and troubles – that if they turn their lives over to Jesus everything becomes sweetness and light. Under this view, the only thing that keeps them from unending smiles and undiluted joy is a lack of faith.
This is NOT what the Bible teaches. And, it certainly was NOT the view of Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus promise that His followers can expect a painless, care-free life. Remember what Jesus said? "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24). Self-denial involves suffering. So does cross-bearing. So, followers of Jesus can expect to suffer.
Jesus is not telling us to welcome suffering. Nor is He telling us to pursue suffering. No normal person seeks pain. But following Jesus will inevitably bring suffering; so, we should not be surprised when it happens. Instead, we should "rejoice" that we can "participate in the sufferings of Christ." Of course, those who follow Jesus and share in His sufferings also share in His glory (1 Pet 4:12-13).
B Why do we suffer? In our study of Genesis, we've been looking at the curse of original sin. This morning we looked at the pain and suffering that comes to the woman. Next time we look at the pain and suffering that is experienced by the man. Suffering is the result of Adam's fall. We suffer because we inherit the guilt and pollution of original sin. We suffer because we are under the curse of God.
Why do we suffer? Suffering is also the result of actual sin. So many times people do sinful things and expect everything to be made right simply because they ask for forgiveness. Sin is forgiven when we ask for forgiveness but that does not mean we are exempt from sin's consequences. Someone can be forgiven for getting drunk or stealing or committing adultery or lying but the consequences still remain. Drinking and driving can lead to loss of license or time in jail or a crippling accident. Adultery can result in a broken marriage. Stealing and lying often results in a lack of trust.
Why do we suffer? You may not like the answer I am about to say. But it is true. I have seen it true in my life. I have seen it true in the lives of the people I have ministered to over the years. We suffer because we best learn true faith and trust only when we suffer.
Why do we suffer? According to Peter, our suffering is a participation in the sufferings of Christ. In other words, we suffer for being a Christian. The same world that hates Jesus also hates those who follow Jesus. So, the true Christian can expect to suffer because of the enmity, hatred, and persecution of the world.
Why do we suffer? At the time the Catechism was written some people claimed that the suffering of Jesus was not enough. That men and women needed to complete what he had begun. That regrettable idea is still alive today. Why do we suffer? Let me make this perfectly clear: We do NOT suffer in order to be saved. Our suffering has no redeeming virtue; only Jesus' sufferings are an "atoning sacrifice."
C A more important question has to do with how we should endure suffering. The Apostle Paul tells us we should accept it patiently, even when it is undeserved. That's how Christ suffered: patiently and innocently. That's the example He left us to follow (1 Pet 2:20-21).
Let's spend some time, this evening, looking at the suffering of Christ.
II The Sufferings of Christ
A "I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." Do you notice how the Catechism expands on this? Yes, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. However, He also suffered "during his whole life on earth." Which makes me ask, "In what way did Jesus suffer during His whole life on earth?"
How did Jesus suffer? Think of His forty days of hunger. Think of the Devil's temptations – in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Think of His rejection by the religious authorities who knew the Scriptures and were awaiting the Messiah's coming. Think of how the people of His home town of Nazareth wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Think of what He said about His homelessness – foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Think of His anguish as He faced the death of Lazarus. Think of Judas' betrayal. Think of Peter's denial. Think of His physical anguish in the Garden. Think of the abuses by the Jewish and Roman authorities when they tried and condemned Him. Think of the crown of thorns, the whipping, the hunger, the thirst, the crucifixion, the three awful hours of darkness. Think of His suffering even after the resurrection – when He faced the disbelief of His disciples that He has risen.
As our Bible reading puts it, He is "a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Is 53:3). "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... (Is 53:4). He suffered.
B "I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." The Catechism suggests that Jesus' sufferings were not just physical. We are told that Jesus suffered "in body and soul." What is in mind here? How did Jesus suffer in soul?
I mentioned earlier that man suffers because he is under the curse of God on account of original sin. Which means that Jesus started His life of suffering when He entered human life and thereby put Himself under the curse of God. How it must have hurt and pained the eternal Son of God to be born as a human being in a sinful world. Jesus' suffering started, then, with His conception and birth.
Think, too, of Jesus' spiritual anguish in the Garden. Which wrought from Him the cry, "Yet not as I will, but as you will." Think of how He was forsaken by the Father. Which wrought from Him the cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Again, as our Bible reading puts it, He is "a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Is 53:3). "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... (Is 53:4). He suffered.
III Why Did Christ Suffer?
A "I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." Why did Christ suffer?
Let's remind ourselves of why mankind suffers and ask if Christ suffers for the same reasons.
Man suffers because he is under the curse of God. By taking on our flesh, Jesus also comes under the curse of God.
Man suffers under the consequences of the actual sin he commits. Jesus, though, is sinless and perfect and holy. Remember, He is the perfect Mediator – true God, true man, and truly righteous. So, unlike us, He has no actual sins for which He suffers.
We suffer because we best learn true faith and trust only when we suffer. Hebrews tells us that Christ learned obedience from what He suffered (Heb 5:8).
Around the world, many Christians suffer under the hatred of the world. In the same way, Christ suffered under the hatred of the world.
Some people suffer under the mistaken notion that they must complete the sufferings of Christ in order to be saved. Jesus is under no such illusion. He Himself needs no saving and has no personal need for a Savior.
B "I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." In many ways the reasons for Christ's sufferings are similar to the reasons for our sufferings. So, then, what makes Christ's sufferings special, unique, unlike the suffering of any other human being? What makes Christ's sufferings an article of true faith?
First, Christ's sufferings are unique because He suffered – and died – though He was innocent, pure, holy. We deserve to suffer because we are sinners. Jesus, though, deserves no such thing. Yet, He still suffered.
During a baseball game in grade school, a classmate of mine wrestled a baseball out of my hand. The principal just happened to walk by at that moment. He grabbed us both by the ears and took us to the furnace room. He took a piece of wood and spanked us both. I still feel a sense of unfairness when I think of how I was punished for something I did not do!Jesus was innocent all the time. Yet, He suffered.
I was innocent. At least that time. But there were many other times when I was guilty.
Not only was Jesus innocent but He was even found to be innocent by Pilate (Lk 23:4,14). And, yet, Pilate still sentenced Jesus to die.
Second, Christ's sufferings are unique because He "suffered the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race" and "shouldered the curse which lay on me." An expression comes to mind here. Actually, a number of expressions. One is the "substitutionary atonement of Christ." Another is the "vicarious atonement of Christ." These are just fancy ways of saying Christ took our place.
-I went astray but His is the whipping.
-I fell from grace but He received the crown of thorns.
-I sinned but He took the nails.
-I rebelled but He was pierced.
-I disobeyed but His is the curse.
-I hate but His is the cross.
-I have gone astray but His is the darkness and the forsakenness.
-Mine are the transgressions and His is the grave.
What happened to Him should have happened to me because I am the sinner. He took my place before the court of heaven. As our Bible reading from Isaiah puts it,
(Is 53:5-6) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (6) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Have you ever thought about Pilate's court? Pilate's court duplicated heaven's court. Pilate, like God, condemned an innocent man to die. Pilate, like God, made Jesus suffer for the sins of others. Pilate, like God, made Jesus suffer to keep the peace. Whether the court was in heaven or on earth, we are to see the same thing happening.
Third, Christ's sufferings are unique because no one has ever suffered as Christ has suffered. True, many humans have suffered slower and more painful forms of death than did Christ. Many children have known greater poverty than the Child born in a manger. Yet, Christ suffered more intensely than anyone before or after Him because He experienced all the anger of God against the sin of the entire human race. Though we may suffer with Christ and on account of Christ, we can never understand the depth of His suffering.
Fourth, Christ's sufferings are unique because of the unique results. What happens because Christ suffered? Listen to how the Catechism puts it:
-He set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation.
-He gained for us God's grace, righteousness, and eternal life.
-He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.
-He shouldered the curse which lay on me.
Christ's sufferings are unique because they alone take away my sins. No one but Christ can mount the cross in my place.
"I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate." He is the man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.
Did you notice the portrait Isaiah draws of this Christ? Listen to how Isaiah puts it:
(Is 53:2) He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.It is an ugly picture of an ugly Christ. A horrible picture. An awful picture.
And yet, for us who believe in the Jesus Who suffered, this is a beautiful picture of a beautiful Savior.
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