Previos article in this series: June 2010, p. 398.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 6
Question 16. Why must He be very man, and also perfectly righteous?
Answer. Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which hath sinned should likewise make satisfaction for sin; and one who is himself a sinner cannot satisfy for others.
Question 17. Why must He in one person be also very God?
Answer. That He might, by the power of His Godhead, sustain in His human nature the burden of God’s wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.
Question 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God and a real righteous man?
Answer. Our Lord Jesus Christ, “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
Question 19. Whence knowest thou this?
Answer. From the holy gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and, lastly, has fulfilled it by His only begotten Son.
Our first inclination when we come to this Lord’s Day is to skip to the last question because the first three questions seem so repetitive and simple. But if we stop and consider what is being said here, we see that the Catechism is answering two of the most important questions any person could ask. The background to this Lord’s Day is the sinner’s knowledge of his misery and hopelessness, and now we come to the questions, “Who is your Mediator?” and “How do you know Him?” How crucially important these questions are! Now, finally, the Catechism presents to us our Savior and tells us how we come to know Him.
A Real but Sinless Man
Was Jesus a real man? Did he have a complete human nature, a human body as well as a human soul? For centuries, the early church debated this question. Some said that He was only part human, having a human body but a divine soul. Others said He only seemed to be human, that His body was only a shell for God to live in. Still others confused or mixed His natures, so that He was seen as some created third thing, a mixture of God and man, but not truly man.
Here, there is no need for us to repeat everything that was said about the Mediator in connection with Lord’s Day 6, except to emphasize that our Savior had to have our human nature, and yet not have our sinful nature. He must be a child of Adam in his humanity, but not a son of Adam that inherits Adam’s sinful nature. The human race could never produce a sinless man.
God, by the miracle of the virgin birth, created a human nature for Jesus that did not inherit Adam’s original sin or depravity. Mary was not simply a container, which carried God, but Jesus was born of the flesh and blood of Mary. His conception was a miracle, an extraordinary work of God by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, but from a physical point of view, everything thereafter was just as normal as the pregnancy and birth of any other child. And so Jesus was a real human, of “the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16): “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3); “made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4); “made flesh” (John 1:14); “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). This is truth, for “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (I John 4:2).
As a real man, Jesus could be the substitute of real men before God, something an angel or animal could not be. As a sinless man, He was free from any liability to punishment Himself. As a complete man, He could suffer for and redeem our bodies as well as our souls, which otherwise would both suffer eternally in hell.
True God of True God
Confessing that Jesus was a true man in no way takes away from who He is and was eternally, God the second person of the Trinity. Eternally Jesus was equal with the Father. In His divine person, He fully possessed the true nature of God. The Bible ascribes to Him divine names, divine attributes, divine works, and divine honor. He Himself plainly taught the people that He was the Son of God and equal with the Father—”I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
The early church also wrestled with the question of whether Jesus was truly God. Some said He was the greatest of God’s creatures but not actually God. Others said He gained the status of being God through His obedience. Others taught that He had two persons, one divine and one human, and so God did not live in the human nature. Others taught that His person was divine, but that His nature was a mixture, not fully divine and not fully human.
The truth is that our Savior is the one person of the Son of God, and that He has two distinct natures. The second person of the Trinity added to His divine nature a human nature in which He consciously lived and suffered, and in which today He still lives in glory. This is a mystery that we do not fully understand, but these are the biblical facts, and it had to be this way.
Because He is true God, He was able to suffer the awful wrath of God that we deserve. If man would try to do this, even a sinless man, he would be destroyed. It would be like a fireman going into a raging fire without his fireproof gear and breathing apparatus. The fireproof gear that our Mediator needed to be able to endure hell was that He must be as strong as the God who punished Him. While Jesus suffered in the flesh, the power of His divine nature sustained Him, so that he paid for our sin without ever becoming disobedient and bitter toward God. While He went through all the suffering of hell that we all deserve, our Savior loved His Father perfectly.
Our Lord Jesus Christ
In the answer to question 18, Jesus is presented to us as our perfect Mediator. Three things should be noted about this.
First, this is a personal confession. When I say that He is my Mediator, who is a real and sinless man and at the same time true God, I am not simply doing mathematics or laying down theological arguments that all add up and make sense. No, to say Jesus is my Mediator is to confess that I need Him as Savior. It is of utmost importance that I have Him. There is no other way for me. Because of my sin, I have nowhere else to turn.
Second, I confess that Jesus is everything I need in a Savior. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. Nothing can be added to His work. He has fully satisfied the justice of God. All that is required for our restoration into fellowship with God has been accomplished by Him.
And third, He is freely given me, of God. Jesus is the gift of God’s grace to undeserving sinners. Sinful man did not desire Christ, did not ask for Him, did not deserve Him, and does not accept Him. “He was despised and rejected of men” (Is. 53:3). God, who was under no obligation to us, “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and “commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And with Him, He freely gives us all things for body and soul. Even repentance and faith are gifts to us (Eph. 2:8).
Do you confess your unworthiness and see salvation in its entirety as a work of God’s grace?
Revealed in the Gospel
How do we know Jesus the Savior? We know Him through God’s gracious revelation. God has spoken through His Son, and because of this we know Jesus the Savior. The gospel has its origin in God. The gospel is announced by God. The gospel is realized by God.
This gospel, which is the good news of Jesus the Mediator, God revealed from the very beginning of the world. After Adam and Eve had fallen, when they were lost in darkness and engaged in sin with the Devil, when they “trembling fled from the presence of God,” He “was pleased to seek and comfort” them, “promising [them] that He would give His Son” and again “make [them] happy” (Belgic Confession, Art. 17). God continued announcing this gospel all through the Old Testament to and through the saints as they knew and spoke the promise of Christ. God also gave special sacrifices and ceremonies to represent Christ visually to His people. All of this was God’s gracious revelation of the gospel. The whole Bible, the Old Testament just as much as the New, is about Christ our Mediator. Jesus says of the Old Testament writings, “They are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
Today, we have the gospel fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ, in the full Scriptures, and in the true preaching of the gospel. The New Testament Scriptures complete the Old by presenting Christ’s life, ministry, death, resurrection, and glory as the great fulfillment and realization of the gospel. Today God speaks to us through the Bible, His inspired, trustworthy, and complete revelation. In a day of ignorance and searching for truth, it is wonderful to hold in your hands and believe God’s special revelation.
Hand in hand with the Bible is the preaching of the gospel. God never intended His Word to stay on paper, but gave it as something to be declared and proclaimed to the ends of the earth for the salvation of sinners. This preaching is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). Because of this, the heart of all true preaching must be the message of Christ and the cross. Paul says of his preaching, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).
Responding to the Gospel
The saving response to the gospel is to believe on Jesus Christ as your Savior, and to do this by humble confession of and grief over your sin and a looking to and trusting in Jesus alone as Savior. The response is also to believe and value very highly the Word of God by studying it, by following its directives, by learning its doctrines, and by seeing Christ in it. And the response is also to find and place yourself under a true ministry of the Word in a church that is faithful to the Scriptures.
How do you respond to the gospel of Christ?
Questions for Discussion
1. What important questions are answered in this Lord’s Day? What makes them so important?
2. Why did Jesus have to be a sinless but real human? Can you answer this personally?
3. Did Jesus have a human soul? Why is this important?
4. Did Jesus have a human body? Why is this important?
5. What would have happened if a mere man tried to suffer what Jesus did on the cross?
6. Why did Jesus have to be God? What does this say about the enormity of your sin?
7. By what miracle did God provide the perfect and complete Savior?
8. What basic thing did God tell Adam and Eve inGenesis 3:15?
9. What important thing do all the sacrifices of the Old Testament teach us?
10. How does God reveal the same gospel to us today?
11. Why is it important for the Christian to hear “true gospel preaching”?