Heidelberg Catechism Lesson 15

Q. 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered”?

 
That He, all the time that He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind;[1] that so by His passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice,[2] He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favour of God, righteousness and eternal life.

[1] 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:12;  [2] 1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25.


 
Q. 38. Why did He suffer under Pontius Pilate, as judge?
 
That He, being innocent, and yet condemned by a temporal judge,[1] might thereby free us from the severe judgment of God to which we were exposed.[2]

[1] Luke 23:14; John 19:4; Psalm 69:4;  [2] Galatians 3:13–14.


 
Q. 39.
Is there anything more in His being crucified, than if He had died some other death?
 
Yes [there is]; for thereby I am assured, that He took on Him the curse which lay upon me; for the death of the cross was accursed of God.[1]

[1] Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.

Commentary

Whenever we think of the Lord’s suffering, most of us would think of the events leading up to the Cross, as well as His suffering on the Cross. However, we must realise that the Lord’s suffering on our behalf did not only begin after Gethsemane. He was no doubt suffering, afflicted, and ready to die from His youth up (Ps 88:15). This is why the prophet Isaiah tells us that He would be “acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). The Lord is fully God, but He took on human nature, was born of a virgin and lived as man, in order to represent men. We need have no doubt that He suffered from birth, for He must have suffered the natural pangs of hunger and thirst, and sorrow, as well as constant vexation in His soul as He beheld evil in the world and experienced the effects of wicked works. For ordinary men, we may not call these suffering, but remember that the Lord was perfectly holy and righteous. He needed not to suffer the consequences of the Fall. Yet, He suffered for our sakes, that we might be reconciled to God.


The fact that Christ did not suffer for His own sin (He being tempted at all points like as we are, and yet without sin) is highlighted in His trial before Pilate, as Pilate pronounced Him guiltless on numerous occasions. Moreover, in His suffering under Pilate as a judge, we are reminded that we are guilty before the Supreme Judge of the world, but our guilt was borne by one who is without guilt before God and man. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21), says the Apostle Paul.


The manner in which the Lord died, moreover, fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and types, and also provided further lesson for us concerning what our guilt deserves. He shed His blood because “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb 9:22). He was nailed hands and feet on the Cross to fulfil the words of Psalm 22:16b–17,—“They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.” He was, moreover, hung on the Cross in order that He might bear the curse of God upon us for our transgression of His Law, for the law of Moses declares: “he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut 21:23). Thus the Apostle Paul exclaims: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal 3:13).