Turn with me to Hebrews 1 and we’re going to read some scriptures there about the supremacy of Jesus. The whole message of Hebrews is an argument about how Jesus is better than anything and anyone. The people who first heard this message were Jewish Christians who were under a lot of growing persecution. They were losing their families, friends, jobs, and homes, being put in prison, even losing the ability to buy and sell, because of their faith in Jesus. Many of them, because it was so difficult, were turning back to Judaism. This letter was written to basically say, “Where are you going to go that’s better than Jesus? Do you not see how crazy it is to turn away from the truth toward a lie just to make your life more comfortable? Jesus is better than anything you’re going to turn to, so don’t give up. Keep praying to Jesus, keep worshipping Jesus, stay with the people of Jesus. Don’t go join a losing team because they had a good period because, at the end of the game, Jesus wins.”
Let’s start in Hebrews 1:1-4,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
We talked about this last week. Jesus is not only superior to angels but is actually God Himself.
Now move forward to Hebrews 3:1-6 to the next argument.
“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
If you recall, we talked about how great Moses was last week. This second argument is that Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses may have set up the Tabernacle, appointed the priests, and delivered the Law – but Jesus is the one who wrote the Law and whom the Tabernacle was built to worship!
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
Jesus isn’t like human priests who have their own sins and failings, and then end up dying on you. Jesus is perfect, sinless, and stands eternally before God. Why trade the perfect Jesus, who stands before God interceding on your behalf, for some human priest? That’s crazy.
Now turn to Hebrews 9:11–15,
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
Why would you ever go back to human priests, a dead religion, temporary sacrifices, human mediators, and the old covenant of the law of death? Jesus is the better high priest, the better tabernacle, the better sacrifice, the better mediator of the better covenant. Why would you put your faith in anyone or anything else other than Jesus? Everything else is worse, or broken, the way of death, or a lie! Only faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross allows us to be cleansed from sin, approach God in prayer, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and gives us the security in knowing we have eternal life. Everything else is insecure. Everything else is lesser.
Now turn to Hebrews 10:19-25 where we see the Coup de Gras of the book of Hebrews. It summarizes everything that came before and prepares us for the last couple of chapters. It is the essence of everything a Christian believes.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Confidence to stand before God because Jesus stands with us. A new and ever-living way to God because Jesus made the way through His blood. Clean hearts, clean consciences, new life because Jesus paid for our sins. Eternal security because Jesus is faithful. A family of believers who serve and love and encourage one another in His name, built on the love of Jesus. Jesus is Head of the Church. Jesus calls us to salvation, Jesus saves us, Jesus equips us, Jesus gives us good works to do. We love others because Jesus first loved us. We forgive because Jesus shows us how to forgive. We serve because Jesus shows us how to serve. Jesus rules and defends the church as King and dwells among us by His Spirit – and it is only by His Word, His Power, that it is upheld, and by which we are saved.
So why would we ever, ever trade anything for Jesus?
Jesus, at the Right Hand of God
Take a look at today’s lesson from the Heidelberg Catechism, which not only speaks of the truth and importance of the ascension of Jesus (which we’ve covered), but His glorification. Remember, we’re going through the part of the Heidelberg that is teaching the Apostles Creed and we’ve come to the last part of section 2 about what Christians need to believe about Jesus Christ.
Question 50 is,
“Why is it added, and sits at the right hand of God?”
the answer is
“Christ ascended into heaven to manifest himself there as Head of his church, through whom the Father governs all things.”
We’ve been covering the ascension of Jesus over the past few weeks and why that’s important to believers, especially with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but what happened to Jesus after He ascended?
Turn over to Ephesians 1:16–23, and let’s read it there. I want you to notice that Paul’s prayer for His church here is that they would realize how utterly crucial their faith in Jesus Christ alone is, how that connects to the work of the Father – and how the benefits of faith only come through Jesus. He says,
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
That last phrase is so critical. God put all things under Jesus’ feet and gave Jesus, the head and highest authority over everything in existence, to the church, and made the church the body of Jesus, His hands and feet on earth. One study bible I have says that
“Christ enjoys His position as head over everything for the sake of the church. Not only is Christ at the most exalted position in the universe, but He is also there representing believers and governing the universe for their sake.” 
His authority “exists for the sake of service” and as our Head, He delegates that authority and responsibility to serve to us, His body.
I know that’s a big thought, but it goes back to what we were saying before. Jesus’ ascension and glorification are not just things that happened – but are actually beneficial to the church. His ascension and glorification are an integral part of the plan of salvation.
Listen to the next question of the Heidelberg. Question 51,
“How does the glory of Christ, our Head, benefit us?”
“First, by his Holy Spirit he pours out heavenly gifts upon us, his members. Second, by his power he defends and preserves us against all enemies.”
Nothing can happen to a believer except that it comes through the hands of Jesus. He is our defender and preserver. Jesus told us that people are going to hate us because of Him (Lk 21:17.) He told us that when we follow Him we are going to make ourselves enemies of the demons and the powers of this world. The more we connect with Jesus, the more we participate in those Ordinary Means of Grace we talked about last week, the more we repent and pray and serve and share the gospel, the more Satan is going to hate us and the more difficult it will be. Anyone who proclaims Jesus as Lord and shares His gospel with tenacity is a target.
Jesus tells us in advance that this is going to happen, promises to go through it with us, and then delivers us from it. The enemies won’t win. That’s why it’s so dangerous to change teams. That’s why the author of Hebrews was so passionate in His arguments. He was deeply concerned for anyone who would water down or compromise the gospel for the sake of avoiding persecution. He didn’t want anyone to change teams in the middle of the game because it felt like Team Jesus was losing.
I think of Psalm 73 where the psalmist Asaph speaks about how close he was to changing teams,
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind….” (vs 1-5)
In verse 16 he says,
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”
Alone, he couldn’t figure out why the world seemed so topsy-turvy, but as soon as he came to the place of God, heard the word of God with the people of God, He remembered that what he was seeing wasn’t the whole story. The game isn’t over after one or two periods, it doesn’t end at half-time. That’s the message of Hebrews, and that’s the point of today’s lesson.
There is no one better to turn to than Jesus. Any religion, whether they call themselves Christian or otherwise, that is not built on the foundation of Jesus – with Jesus as the only Saviour, the only Advocate, the only Way to God, and the highest authority, is a dangerous lie and does not have the way of salvation.
The Exclusivity of Jesus
That sounds exclusive. That sounds narrow and stubborn. It sounds discriminatory and politically incorrect. It sounds like I’m saying that not everyone goes to heaven. It sounds like I’m saying that Jesus chooses some people and doesn’t choose others. It sounds like I’m saying that even the most well-intentioned, faithful people, who do good things for their whole life and believe in their religion with all their heart, will still go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus.
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Turn with me to Matthew 7:13–27 and listen to the words of Jesus as He ends the Sermon on the Mount, the manifesto of the Kingdom of God. He ends with four warnings. There are two roads, the right one and the wrong one. There are two kinds of prophets, true ones and false ones. There are two kinds of disciples, Jesus’ and the enemy’s. There are two foundations that people can build their lives on, Him or the one that will be destroyed. There are only two teams and Jesus ends His longest sermon by warning the people to be on the right team.
Listen, starting in verse 13,
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Now, let me give a very specific and very politically incorrect warning and teaching, but one that must be heard. As I said, any religion, even if they call themselves Christian, that is not built exclusively on the foundation of Jesus as the only Lord, only Saviour, only advocate, only way to God, and interprets everything through the lens of the word of God alone, is a dangerous lie – and does NOT lead people to salvation. This includes Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormons, and the Roman Catholic church.
I want to talk a moment about the Roman Catholic Church because we know a lot of people who either are Romans Catholics or are former Roman Catholics and the question comes up all the time, “Are they saved? Do I have to share the gospel with them?”
I turn the question back to you. Consider the exclusive claims of Christ that we’ve just covered, and now let me tell you a little bit about Roman Catholic beliefs.
The first thing to know is that Roman Catholics teach that the Pope in Rome is the “visible head of the church” and the “representative of Jesus on earth.” Roman Catholic doctrine states that when the Pope speaks “ex-cathedra” that his authority and infallibility is equal to that of the apostles, the Bible, and Jesus Himself. These teachings are bindingly “irreformable”. His words are as authoritative as the voice of God – even if they contradict scripture or other Popes (which they have). And you can’t argue with Him from the Bible because the Pope has proclaimed ex-cathedra that He is the only one who can interpret scripture properly. Keep in mind, this isn’t some kind of ancient teaching from 500 years ago. You might be tempted to think that this was only something that people believed when Martin Luther was alive, but all of this was reaffirmed at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches all kinds of unbiblical heresy under this authority. Here are some:
- They teach that God has made the Roman Catholic Church infallible and only Catholics go to heaven.
- They teach that the Bible does not give the full way of salvation, but that one must participate in Catholic traditions to get the whole gospel.
- They teach that people can earn their salvation through good works and even paying money – and they can do this on behalf of others so they can be saved too.
- They teach that Jesus death on the cross was not enough for salvation, but that Christians need to do good works and punish ourselves or we can’t be saved – and that includes more punishment after death in Purgatory, where people go through a version of hell for potentially thousands of years before they’re allowed into heaven.
- But they also teach that Mary and that the Saints were such good people that they built up a treasury of good works that the Pope has the authority to dispense to whoever he wants – even to the dead relatives in Purgatory – if someone does enough good things, pays the church enough money, or visits certain Catholic tourist spots. (In case you were wondering, that’s the doctrine of “indulgences” that Luther fought against and it is still alive and well today.)
- And speaking of Mary, if you’ve ever wondered why they have such a fondness for her, it’s because they have elevated her almost to the position of Jesus. They even use Biblical terms reserved for Jesus and the Holy Spirit to describe her. Mary is sinless, Mary is their mediator and advocate and intercessor, Mary is the one who takes people to heaven, Mary delivers souls from death, and must be like God because their doctrines teach people to pray to and give their lives to Mary, the “all-holy one”. They even call Mary the “Helper”, giving her the same title as the Holy Spirit. 
So, do these Roman Catholic doctrines, which are core to Roman Catholic religion, reflect the teachings of scripture and hold Jesus Christ as exclusive head, total authority, sole saviour, and only mediator for all believers before God? Or do they teach something else?
Just because someone uses the name of Jesus, doesn’t mean they follow Him? Just because they say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” doesn’t make them followers of Jesus. A corrupt gospel is not a saving gospel, even if many of the words sound Christian. Yes, you need to evangelize your Roman Catholic family, friends, and neighbours because if they follow Catholic doctrine, then their faith is not in Jesus alone and they are not saved. And that’s going to be an uphill battle because the lies are sometimes so close to the truth that they think they’re the same. This is why you must pray and study as you humbly share the true gospel with them.
Let’s close with question 52 of the Heidelberg, which I think is a beautiful benediction of our hope in Jesus. The question is,
“What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?”
In other words, why is knowing that Jesus, your friend, your saviour, your Lord, is the highest authority and will judge everyone in the end? That kind of answers itself doesn’t it? Imagine getting in trouble with the law, getting dragged before the court in handcuffs, uncertain about your future, and when the judge comes in, it’s your best friend.
Listen to the answer because I think it’s beautiful and can inform our prayers and our worship,
“In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but he will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joy and glory.”
That’s who I long to see when my life is over and I hope it’s who you want to see too. The One who has done it all for me – and all who believe.
 The Reformation Study Bible, Pg. 1706
Imagine following in the footsteps of Moses – how huge a task that would be. Moses is probably the most important person in the Old Testament. It was through Moses that the nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. It was Moses that led and judged the people for decades. It was Moses that climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God, and Moses who shone with the Shekinah glory, terrifying the people by his closeness to God. It through Moses that God gave Israel the Law, the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and the Pentateuch. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy.
Just for a moment, turn back a page to Deuteronomy 34:10–12,
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Those are big shoes to fill. Now, turn back to the first lines of the book of Joshua:
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”
Now there’s a big job, right? It’s no understatement to say that the people of Israel are a tough group to try to lead – and now Joshua not only has to deal with the daily problems of the nation but actually lead them in countless battles to conquer the entire Promised Land.
And Joshua has seen how this goes. He’s been Moses’ right-hand man since they left Egypt. He was there as Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and he saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf when they came down. Joshua was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and knew how strong the armies and how fortified the cities were. He watched as the courage of Israel fell, was there as they turned on Moses and Aaron, and saw the heartbreak in Moses’ face as the people lost faith in God. He saw that over and over. God makes a promise, the people break faith almost instantly, they blame or even try to kill the leader, and the nation suffers. I can’t imagine how trepidatious he must have been when Moses laid his hands on him, telling him he would be the next leader of Israel – and how difficult it must have been to see Moses die.
Tough for Everyone
What Joshua was feeling is something that all Christians can relate to. Like Israel and Joshua, someone enters our life to tell us God’s plan of deliverance, we then experience God’s power-saving us from our slavery to sin, and then we enter a new reality where we now live in relationship with God. And in that new reality, we are sometimes like Israel – rebellious, short-sighted, faithless, foolish – but eventually, we come around to God’s plan. And we are sometimes like Joshua – blessed to have a mentor who is close to God, get commissioned for some kind of ministry, and are released to go forth to win victories in God’s name.
But all along the way, like both Israel and Joshua, even though we have experienced God’s promise and power, it often seems unnecessarily difficult. People let us down – or we let ourselves down. The enemy sends temptations and lies that we fall for. We face a challenge – or series of challenges that look so daunting that we wonder how we could ever go through them. Whether it’s the ministry God has given you, the struggles of raising a family, or just your own, individual troubles, I’m sure you know how Joshua might have felt.
And I’m sure you wonder, as I have, just as Joshua and Israel did as they stood on the edge of the Jordan looking out over land full of enemies – how am I going to get through this? Have you asked that question? That’s not a question that God is unprepared for. God knows what’s going on in your heart, just as He knew what was going on in Joshua’s. God knew Joshua needed a message of hope and strength beyond himself, and so God, in His grace, gave him the recipe for success. And I believe it’s the same recipe for us today. It’s the same recipe I’ve been introducing for the past couple weeks as we’ve been covering the ascension of Christ.
I’ve been holding off going through the actual questions of the Heidelberg because I wanted to do some introductory stuff, but I think now’s the time to bring them in because, if you’ve been following the last two sermons they’ll make a lot more sense.
So, question 46 is,
“What do you confess when you say, he ascended into heaven?”
and the answer is,
“That Christ, before the eyes of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that he is there for our benefit until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.”
We’ve already covered a lot of that. Jesus, in His resurrected body, ascended into Heaven in view of many witnesses, is there “for our benefit”, and will come back again.
Question 47 comes next saying,
“Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as he has promised us?”
And the answer is,
“Christ is true man and true God. With respect to his human nature he is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.”
That’s what we covered last week, right? Jesus is in heaven, but within the mystery of the Trinity, because of the Holy Spirit, He is also with us.
Brief Excurses: The Hypostatic Union
Question 48 follows up with a technical question,
“But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if his human nature is not present wherever his divinity is?”
In other words, if Jesus has a human body in heaven, isn’t it impossible for him to be two places, or a million places, all at once? The answer given here is,
“Not at all, for his divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which he has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.”
If you’ve been around me for the past couple weeks you know I’ve been dropping the term “hypostatic union” into conversations lately. That’s what this is all about. “Hypostatic union” is the complex term for how theologians describe that Jesus can have two natures at the same time – fully God and fully man. It’s not that we can really understand it, but that we accept it because it’s what the scripture teaches.
Keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Hebrews 1:1-4 which begins by explaining the hypostatic union saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
That term, “nature” is the Greek word HUPOSTASIS, where we get Hypostatic. Jesus, the man, has the same, exact nature as God. Jesus was born fully human, died a human death, had a bodily resurrection, and still has that resurrected, glorified body right now – the same kind of body we will get when Jesus comes back. His humanity takes nothing away from His godliness – meaning in adding flesh He never subtracted from His Godliness. And His godliness takes nothing away from His humanity – meaning that His life, temptations, pain, and death were the same as any human faces. One creed says it this way: that Jesus’ two natures are perfectly unified “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”.Hence the term: Hypostatic Union. This is a critical part of understanding who Jesus is.
Three Benefits of Christ’s Ascension
But now we come to question 49, which is the kind of question we’ve seen all along,
“How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?”
In other words, “So what?” Ok, so Jesus ascended into heaven and a bunch of stuffy theologians come up with a weird, complex term to explain something nobody really understands. So what?
Well, the answer is what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks. It says that the reason Jesus’ ascension is a benefit to us is that,
“First, he is our Advocate in heaven before his Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, our Head, will also take us, his members, up to himself. Third, he sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.”
So first, it says that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. If you recall, I’ve brought up the image of Jesus as a lawyer a few times lately. That’s what an advocate is. Jesus, as our Advocate defends us before the Judge of the universe (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). If it were not for Jesus as our Advocate, we could never approach God – not even in prayer.
Listen to 1 John 2:1,
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
When you blow it as a Christian, who stands up for you? Jesus does.
Listen to Romans 8:34,
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
When Satan accuses you, shames you, makes you feel guilty, and says you deserve condemnation, who supports you, advocates for you, defends you, and stands with you between Satan and God? Jesus does.
If your still in Hebrews, turn to Hebrews 4:14–16,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
When you are afraid, tempted, weak, in need, who makes it so you can come near to the throne of God and receive the grace you need? Jesus, the Son of God. The One who can sympathize with you, who has compassion on you, because He lived a human life and faced everything you’ve faced, but can also stand before God because He is without sin. If you are a Christian today, one who has asked forgiveness for their sins in the name of Jesus, then Jesus isn’t up there judging you, angry with you, disappointed in you – He’s advocating for you.
The second benefit we’ve already covered a lot, that what happened to Jesus shows what will also happen to all those who follow Him. He died and rose again, so will we. But look at the third benefit of Christ’s ascension: That Jesus “sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above…”.
We’ve talked about that a lot too – that Jesus had to leave so the Helper would come (John 16:7) and what I want to close on today is how that works.
Life With/By the Spirit
If Jesus is up there advocating for us and has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, how do we tap into that power? How do we get that help? How do we face all the trials and temptations and pain and battles and disappointments that are going to inevitably come – and do it in a way that we know that God is at work? How do we tap into the supernatural power and promises that God has said He would provide?
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while now and the answer is far simpler than you might think. And the answer is to live by, or walk with, or keep in step with the Spirit of God. Now, what does that mean?
For that I want you to keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Galatians 5:16-26. It begins,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
There’s the problem, right? Our flesh, our sinful side, our former self, has desires that go against what God wants. Our bodies, which are still affected by sin, still have to deal with addiction, stress, fear, anxiety, depression, hunger, thirst, lust, and all the rest, and it is always pulling us in the wrong direction. Our spirits want to connect to God and live His way – to be kind, patient, self-controlled, joyful, temperate, loving – but our flesh fights against us. It wants to fulfil our desires in bad ways. Our fear fights with our faith. Our depression fights with our desire to worship. Our lusts fight with our desire for purity. Our willpower fails, we lose self-control, and we go for immediate gratification – even if it makes us sick.
So how can we win more battles than we lose? It says in verse 16, by “walking with the spirit”. That answer hasn’t changed for thousands of years. It’s the same answer that God gave Joshua. Look back at what God says to Joshua in 1:5. He was about to face a lot of enemies and was surrounded by a lot of weak, sinful, difficult people. He had his own weaknesses too.
So what was the recipe?
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’”
Over and over God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous”. In our culture that might sound like God is telling Joshua to “suck it up”, “get tough”, “try hard”, “workout”, “do it right”. But that’s not what it means. God gives Joshua lots of promises. That He will always be with Joshua, that God will secure the victories, God will make sure they get what He promised them, God will make him prosperous and successful.
But how can Joshua make sure that he gets those promises? How can he be strong enough and courageous enough to do what God is calling him to do without blowing it? By walking with, walking by, living by the Word of God. Look at verse 7,
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The promises weren’t something Joshua and Israel would gain through their obedience – they were something they would lose by their disobedience. We often get that backwards. We think that if we do good things God will reward us. That’s not how it goes. It’s the opposite. All of God’s promises are already available to His people. The Armor of God, the Fruit of the Spirit, freedom from condemnation, the peace that passes understanding, answers to prayer and spiritual and temporal blessings are all ours already because they are promised to us – and God never breaks His promises. God secured those promises in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is about. But… but… God leaves it to us to access those promises. God told Joshua to eat, sleep and breathe His word – to read the Law over and over, to meditate on it, to remember everything that God had said – or Joshua would forget and turn away.
Now, turn back to Galatians 5 and notice how similar it sounds. Joshua wants to know how to conquer the Promised Land. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.” We want to know how to escape the works of the flesh, the sinful desires that keep us so messed up, and be able to live by the fruit of the spirit. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.”
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Look back at that list in verses 19-21 and take a moment to see yourself in there. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself. How do I get rid of this fleshly desire for sexual immorality? How do I rid myself of all the addictions I run to when I get worried or stressed out? How do I stop being so angry, argumentative, and bitter? How do I get rid of my penchants for superstition? How do I stop being jealous of people? You’ve been a Christian for a while, but these things still plague you. They’re almost automatic – your body seems to jump at the chance whenever it can – almost before you can even decide to. How do you deal with that?
Now, look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit. I’m sure you’ve prayed, “Lord, how do I experience real love? How do I find real peace? How can I become more patient and kind? How do I start doing good things instead of the bad things I keep doing? How do I become gentle? Where do I get some actual self-control, because my willpower just isn’t doing the trick?”
It comes by “walking by the Spirit”. What does that mean? It means the same thing it meant to Joshua. Joshua was told that the victories are already won. Just walk in and take the land. God is with you. God will fight for you. God will make sure it happens.
What did Joshua have to do? Cross the Jordan, walk with God, and remind Himself every single day that God is with Him. I’m sure there were times he said to himself “I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go.”
In the same way, Christians can say, “I don’t have to sin. I don’t have to be discouraged. I don’t have to be afraid. Christ Jesus has crucified my flesh with its passions and desires and I have new life by the Spirit. All I have to do is believe it, ask Jesus for help, and walk where He tells me to go.”
Ordinary Means of Grace
You see, it’s not about trying harder, going through a Bible in a Year program, pulling up your socks, and white-knuckling your way into becoming more patient, kind, self-controlled. It’s about reminding yourself that God has already won those victories in your life and invites you to simply take them. These promises are available – but they do not come to those who do not ask.
In Joshua 7 we see Israel blow it big-time. After the huge success of the fall of Jericho, Joshua and the people of Israel are feeling pretty confident. So confident they forget to ask God what to do next, someone breaks God’s law, and when they head off to their next battle they get utterly wrecked. Why? Because they stopped obeying God’s word and depending on God for their victory.
God was happy to give them victory – right up until they forgot about Him and started thinking that the victory was their own. Right up until someone decided to go against His word and do what they shouldn’t. Then they lost the blessing – until they dealt with the sin. That’s how it goes, and that’s how it always will go. God will give you the victory over that sin you want to kill. He will demonstrate great power in your life – but only if He gets the credit for doing it.
But let’s get practical. How do we walk in step with the Spirit? What does that look like? What did it look like for Joshua and Israel? What did it look like for Moses and Elijah? What did it look like for Peter and Paul? What did it look like for Jesus? Same answer.
Through what Christians have called the ordinary means of grace. If the question is, “How do I, as a believer, get access to all the Grace the Lord wants to give me for all the needs I have? How do I walk in step with the Spirit? How do I find Jesus every day? How do I hear His voice, find His wisdom, feel His presence, get His protection, sense His correction when I’m going wrong, and know His comfort when things are hard?”
The answer is so very simple and has been the same one forever: It is the simple, daily obedience of talking to God in prayer every day, regularly reading and sitting under the teaching of God’s word, participating in the life of the community of believers, and reminding ourselves of what God has done through the ordinances He provided.
That’s how it worked for Israel, for Jesus, for Peter, and how it works for us. Sure, there are special times when God shows up in a unique way, but God isn’t playing a game of “catch me if you can” where we have to go looking for Him. God makes Himself available everyday all day, and is interested in every part of our life, and has given us these ordinary ways to connect with Him regularly. Talking to God every day, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word regularly, participate in a community of believers, and follow the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
That sounds too simple, too easy – there must be something more complicated that God wants, something that specifically targets my own sin, my own issue, my own fears – some special book or discipline or exercise – but ask yourself how easy is it really?
How hard do you find it to read God’s Word and pray every day? How hard is it to attend church once per week, 52 weeks in a row? How hard is it to fully participate in a worship service? How hard is it to commit yourself to serve in even the most simple ministry? How hard is it to fully participate in the Lord’s Supper with repentance, reverence, and celebration? How hard is it (or was it) to submit to baptism and attend someone else’s? How hard is it to have other Christians over for a meal? Or, how hard is it to ask other Christians to pray for you?
It’s actually very hard, isn’t it? Those ordinary means of grace sometimes feel almost impossible! They should be easy! There are a dozen things we do every day without even breaking a sweat. So why is reading God’s word and praying every day so hard? Why is Sunday morning such a struggle? Because the enemy knows that these simple things, prayer, studying God’s word, and being here together, are the single greatest weapon we have to defeat him.
If the enemy can get you distracted with 1000 good things – but keep you from your devos, you’re an easy target for temptation and lies. If he can get you bitter against just one person at church, and keep you from attending or being able to pay attention – you’re an easy target for temptation and lies – and then he can use you to divide the church and wreck it for everyone.
That’s why Sunday morning is such a battle, why prayer is such a battle, because the ordinary means of grace are so incredibly potent that they can dismantle the works of the enemy in our lives. They are what keep us in step with the Spirit. They are what help us bear fruit in our lives. They are what allow us to hear the voice of God. And they are the ways by which we are able to conquer sin.
My encouragement to you is to commit to these ordinary means so you can walk in the Spirit, walk with Jesus, and let Him destroy those sins and strongholds in your life.
Turn with me to Luke 24:50-53 and then we’ll be headed into Acts 1. Luke and Acts are actually two parts of the same work, both written in about 60-70AD by Luke, a gentile, Christian doctor who travelled with the Apostle Paul and was commissioned by someone named Theophilus to write a history of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian church.
So, let’s take a look at how Luke ends his first book. The events of Passion Week occur in chapters 22 and 23, the resurrection and Jesus’ appearing to His followers and disciples are covered in chapter 24 – and then at the very end of chapter 24, in verse 50, Luke closes off with a little summary of the Ascension, which he will describe in greater detail in Acts. It says,
“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
If you recall last week’s message, you’ll remember that on the night of His betrayal, while He was still in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Supper, and then even more as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be arrested, He was teaching them and preparing them for this moment. He told them of His imminent death, resurrection, and then ascension. He told them that even though He would die, and they would be in great sorrow, He would rise again – but even then He couldn’t stay long, but would ascend to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for them (John 14:3). But even then they wouldn’t be alone because He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit who would continue His work – and do even more through them than Jesus could ever have done Himself.
That’s what we’re talking about today.
Turn over to Acts 1 and let’s read there. Acts 1:1–11:
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.”
Now skip down Acts 2:1,
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
So, the timeline kind of works like this. Jesus was crucified the Passover and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Pentecost literally means “the fiftieth day” and was on the 50th day of the Passover. So Jesus dies on the Passover, rose again 3 days later, and our passage in Acts here says that Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days. So, if you math that out, Jesus ascended on the 43rd day of the Passover, meaning that the disciples waited seven days in Jerusalem between Jesus ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, bringing about the next phase in God’s plan, the birth of the Holy Spirit empowered Christian Church.
Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a remarkable change in the followers of Jesus. Remember last week I told you how scared they were, locked away in a room, afraid to get the same treatment as Jesus? Not after Pentecost! Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a very different group of people.
Suddenly they can speak languages they could never speak before – not through education or study, but because the Holy Spirit just made it happen. Then, as a result of the sound of mighty wind and fire, and the commotion of the voices, a group of people starts to build outside. Let’s read that together in Acts 2:5–18:
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’”
Peter, the one who, over and over denied Jesus, who locked himself in a room afraid to be hurt because of what Jesus had stirred up, who had been rebuked by Jesus, along with the other disciples for his lack of belief, and had been given the great commission to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:14-15), had sat in that room for a whole week after Jesus ascended. But once the Holy Spirit came, what do we see?
We see Peter stand up before crowds of people, Jews, Gentiles, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, everybody, and boldly proclaim the risen Lord Jesus. This uneducated fisherman stands before thousands of people gives a powerful sermon, full of prophecies and scriptures, speaking with conviction, accusation, authority, bravery, and humility.
Look how he ends his sermon in verse 36,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
These are not the words of a coward. This doesn’t even sound like the same man from a few weeks before, does it?
That’s the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life and was exactly what Jesus had promised. Jesus said that after He ascended, the Helper, the Holy Spirit would do something new. No longer would God be with them, as in, alongside them, but after Pentecost, God would come and live inside of them. (John 14:15-16) And from the inside, with promptings and empowerment, they would learn things and be capable of things that they would never have been able to otherwise. The Holy Spirit would help them in their walk with God by being like a Geiger counter for lies, always pointing them to the truth if they would listen. He would teach them more than Jesus had ever been able to, and take away the blinders so their hearts and minds could finally understand what He had been saying. He would help them love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, reconcile the irreconcilable, empower and guide them for the mission He was sending them on, and allow them – even when things were at their most dark and most difficult – to experience joy, peace, and patience that surpasses their understanding.
That’s what we see here in Peter on the day of Pentecost.
But keep reading. Look at verse 37.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
There’s another fulfillment of one of Jesus’ promises about the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said in John 16:7-8,
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
Here’s the fulfilment of that promise. Some of these people standing before Peter were ones that had been chanting “Crucify Him” at Jesus’ trial. Peter tells the whole crowd that it was because of their sin, their hard hearts, and their rebellion that they crucified their Lord Jesus Christ. That was only a month ago! How does a group of thousands go from “We hate Jesus so much that we want to mock Him while He is beaten, scourged, humiliated, paraded down the street bleeding in a crown of thorns, and then nailed to a cross” to being “cut to the heart” and asking the followers of Jesus what they need to do to be forgiven?
There is only one explanation. A movement of God, the promise that Jesus made that the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, cause them to feel guilt and shame, and change them into people who want to repent and be forgiven. No one changes that much or that quickly unless the Holy Spirit does it for them.
Maybe some of you know a story like this. Maybe this is your story. Someone in absolute rebellion, hates God, hates Jesus, hates religion – and then boom! they turn their life over to Jesus. A rebellious child or selfish friend that suddenly, and for no reason, comes to their senses and wants to make things right. A drunk or addict who didn’t just get off of their substance, but has fallen down before God in repentance and is now a new man or new woman, a new creation and you would have never guessed what their old life looked like. A prideful, arrogant, jerk turned into a humble servant. A person full of anxiety and fear, out risking it all in Jesus name. Someone crippled by grief and depression changed forever into someone with a thankful heart who encourages others. That doesn’t just happen. They didn’t just read a good book and get some counselling. That’s a miracle. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we depend on Him. That’s why we pray.
The Holy Spirit for Everyone
But now, look at verses 38-39, what Peter tells the crowd they must do in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit,
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”
I want you to notice three things here. First, I want you to notice that we don’t save ourselves, but it is the Lord our God who calls us to salvation. That way we can’t take any of the credit for it. He gets all the glory. Second, I want you to notice that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t just for the apostles or those people a long time ago, but for all believers, everywhere, for all time.
But third, I want you to notice the responses that God requires of those who feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The response of a person who wants to be saved is to “repent and be baptized”. To repent simply means to “turn around”, change your direction, change your behaviour, change your mind. Admit you’re going the wrong way and turn around. This is the first step of being saved. Admitting that you’re wrong and God is right. Admitting that you are a sinner who loves your sin and who needs Jesus to save them from that curse. There are many who will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but not many who actually repent. You must admit yourself to have broken God’s law, broken your conscience, be in need of forgiveness, and then ask God for that forgiveness – or you will not be forgiven. Even if you get baptized and go to church your whole life, telling people you are a Christian – if you do not admit you are a sinner, repent of your sin, and ask forgiveness, you are not saved, you are still going to hell, and you do not have the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does baptism make you cleansed from sin. Baptism is the outward sign of what has happened inside you. It is the first, symbolic act of obedience for a believer in Jesus. In baptism, you are saying that you have been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, the way that taking a bath cleans you on the outside. In baptism you are saying as you sink into the water, that you are dying to yourself, you are no longer your own, but now belong to Jesus, that your sinful self has died, has been pinned to the cross and buried in the tomb with Jesus – and then, as you come out of the water you are rising again as a new person, justified and sanctified by Jesus, utterly changed by the Holy Spirit, a new being with a new life. In Baptism you are publically identifying yourself as a follower and ambassador of Jesus Christ. That you love Him so much that you are willing to obey Him no matter what He tells you to do, and you’re not afraid to tell everyone.
So our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit is to repent and be baptized. What does God do? He forgives us and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. The moment we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit inside us. Not upon baptism, not when a pastor or priest lays his hands on us, not once we’ve spoken in tongues or done some kind of miracle – the very moment of our conversion, the moment we admit sin and ask forgiveness, the Holy Spirit goes from “with us” to “inside us”.
And at that moment we are made new. From that moment we have all the promises that Jesus made to the disciples, all the promises of the New Testament, available to us.
Now, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, because we’re not actually supposed to talk about the Holy Spirit until Day 20 of the Heidelberg, but I really feel like we need to cover this, because it’s critically important that we realize as individual believers and as a church that all the things we want to see happen and every good thing God will do through us as individuals or as a church, will only happen if we are dependent on and in communion with the Holy Spirit.
We have family members, husbands, wives, children and grandchildren who we desperately want to be saved. Will they be saved by our own actions or words or nagging or discipline? No. They will be saved when the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts.
We are facing stresses and problems and anxieties and frustrations that are stacking up against us so high that we not only have no idea how to deal with it all, but we feel like we are always on the edge of collapse. How will we have the wisdom, discernment, patience, and strength to get through? By reading self-help books, trying a new diet, and making a really good list? No! It will only be by the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering us beyond our human capabilities.
We want to see our church grow and impact our community and raise up leaders and missionaries and motivated disciples who will go out and change the world – but we’ve got financial issues, and leadership issues, and volunteer issues, and practical issues. How will this happen? With clever posters and websites and ministries and music and fun events? No! It will only happen if we allow the Holy Spirit to show us what to do, convict us of sin, empower us to ministry, raise up new workers for the white harvest, and then only if He goes out and does the work of convicting the world and changing people’s hearts before we ever get there.
Look back at our passage in Acts 2:42, about what the church looks like when the Holy Spirit has free reign over a group of people – before it gets corrupted by politics and sin and selfishness; before the enemy sent corrupt leaders and brought down great persecution on them, and all the rest. Look at what the church looks like moments after it was born, as they experienced the new miracle of the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of them:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
That is my desire for me, you, your family, my family, this church, and the community around us. To love God’s word and each other. To see God’s power at work regularly. To be a united community of sacrificial love that takes care of each other, enjoys each other, worships regularly, and whose number grows because God keeps saving our family members, friends and neighbours. I’m sure that’s what you want too…
I don’t believe that’s something that only happened a long time ago. I believe that the same Spirit that inhabited them inhabits us today – but we no longer understand how to listen to Him. It’s my hope to talk about that over the next couple weeks, so we can all understand what it means to have the Holy Spirit inside us, and how to walk with Him so we can experience that kind of power and presence and hope here and in our homes.
My invitation to you is to read the Book of Acts and look at what the Holy Spirit does among God’s people, to whet your appetite and make yourself hungry, even desperate, for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life – to begin to pray that you would know Him better, understand what it means to hear Him, feel Him, and have Him inside you.
A Farewell Address in the Upper Room
On the night before Jesus went to the cross, He had a lot of things to say to His disciples in the Upper Room. Matthew, Mark and Luke give some of the story like what Jesus said and did, but it is the Gospel of John, written 30 years later, that fills in a lot more of the details of what happened.
John spends five whole chapters sharing what Jesus taught that night – and it’s some powerful and critically important stuff. In chapter 13 we see Jesus wash the disciple’s feet, demonstrating the kind of humble, servant-hearted love His followers are supposed to have towards one another. Then, after predicting Peter’s denial and telling Judas Iscariot He knew what was up before Judas left to betray Him, Jesus gives a very long talk.
He tells them that He will be leaving them soon and that if there is one thing they need to remember once He’s gone is that He loves them and that the movement He has just instituted must be known for one thing: Love. John 13:34–35,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
With that as the jumping off point, that Jesus is leaving and they need to love one another, He gets into the details of what that means. In chapter 14 Jesus speaks of where He is going – to prepare a place in heaven with God for all the people who follow Him. They’re confused, as usual, and want to know how to get to where Jesus is going what He’s talking about. Look at 14:6. Jesus tells them flat out how to get where He’s going and why He has the authority to say what He’s saying. He tells them that a relationship with Him is the only to God, because He is God Himself!
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him…. [then verse 10] I am in the Father and the Father is in me…”
This gives some comfort, but Jesus sounds pretty serious about leaving and the disciples are concerned that if Jesus leaves then everything they’ve been experiencing will stop. They’re worried they will once again be left alone, afraid, powerless under the thumb of the Pharisees and the Romans. They won’t know what Jesus wants them to do, and won’t be able to do anything of worth because He’s not there, and that they might fall back into old patterns of sin because they no longer have Him around. But Jesus isn’t done teaching yet and what He’s about to say will radically alter how they and everyone else perceives their relationship with God.
Even though Jesus is leaving, Jesus isn’t going to leave them alone. Look at what He says in John 14:15–20. I want you to notice the interplay, overlapping and distinctiveness of the persons, roles, and individuals in the Trinity:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. It’s not that the Holy Spirit wasn’t around until that moment. We see the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and we know that none of the disciples would be able to follow Jesus or understand even a tiny bit of what Jesus is saying if the Holy Spirit wasn’t working on them. But now, after Jesus dies, rises again, and leaves them after the ascension, the Holy Spirit will be with them in a new way.
The Helper: The Holy Spirit
Continue reading in John 14:25–31 where Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit and explains once again that He is going to be murdered by sinners, but they won’t be left alone:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”
Now we come to chapter 15 where we read the famous section about us being branches, Jesus the “true vine”, and God the Father “the vinedresser”. Jesus just said He is leaving them but will be sending the Holy Spirit. But look at how he words this. How can He say that they must remain connected Him if He’s going away? There’s a lot going on in this passage, a lot of imagery, and a lot of pointing to teachings we see in the Old Testament, but the core of the message to the disciples is this: Even though Jesus is about to die a terrible death and be buried in a tomb, they are not alone. They have each other, His love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then later, after Jesus has risen from the dead, He’s going to leave again, ascend to the right hand of the Father – and they still won’t be alone. He’ll still be with them.
So their natural question will be, “How do we stay connected to you while you are gone? How do we keep in contact with you when you’re not standing in front of us? How can we have access to your presence and comfort and answers and hope if you go away?”
Jesus answer is, “I know you can’t do anything without me. I’m the vine, you’re the branches. If you disconnect from me, you’ll die. I know that. What I’m telling you is how to remain connected to me. In fact, you need me more than you know.”
Look at what Jesus says in John 15:18–20,
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
Following Jesus isn’t going to be easy. Jesus says, “When I go away, not only will you have spiritual enemies, and Pharisees and Rome to deal with, but so much more. As you spread my message of love, the world is going to hate you for no reason – and they’re going to try to stop you, hurt you, and kill you.”
Left Alone and Afraid?
Now look at chapter 16, because it gets worse. John 16:1–4,
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me…”
How scary is that? “As you follow Me”, says Jesus, “it’s going to go from bad to worse. Even your friends, family and neighbours will hate you because of me.” I can just imagine the fear and desperation in their eyes. Remember, these guys are not strong men. They’re not military guys, great warriors or heroes. A very short time after this they are going to get to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is going to be arrested. Do you know what most of the disciples do? They scatter! One guy is so scared when the soldiers grab his cloak, he tears it off and runs away naked. Peter puts up a bit of a fight and sticks around for a bit, but ends up denying Jesus a few hours later to save his own skin.
These guys are terrified. Do you know where the disciples are the first time Jesus appears to them after rising from the dead? They’re not preaching the gospel… they’re hiding in a locked room afraid that they would get the same treatment as Jesus!
So Jesus says this and these guys are freaking out. How do I know? Look back at chapter 16:4-6,
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Of course, it had, right? Their teacher, leader, guide, protector, friend, Saviour, Messiah, and connection to God just said He was about to be killed, and would be leaving them alone very soon… and after that everything was going to go really sideways for them. And they knew everything Jesus said was the absolute truth.
“Jesus, if you leave, how will we be able to be with you? If you go, how will we connect with God? If you go, how will we not fall back into sin? If you go, who will protect us, teach us, guide us, show us what to do, where to go, how to live, and how to pray? How will we be able to defend ourselves against demons and enemies? If the whole world is against us, how will we have the courage and strength and wisdom to be able to share your message with others? How are we supposed to do anything without you, Jesus?”
Have you ever asked those questions? I have. Have you ever prayed that you could just see Jesus for a minute? That you could just hear His voice, feel His hand on your shoulder, sit at His feet, put your head in His lap? Just hear one encouraging message, one solid direction to tell you where to go, one proof of His love… right from His lips. Have you ever, after a trying day, or a difficult time of temptation, or a long battle, longed for the presence of Jesus – wished that He would come to you, or take you home, or just come sit at the end of your bed and tell you it’ll be ok?
I think all Christians feel this way. They long to be with Jesus because He is their friend, their God, their protector, their hope, and they not only want to know Him better but are also afraid of what life would look like without Him. Things get confusing or hard and they just want to hide behind Him like a child hiding behind their father’s pant leg or digging their face into his neck during a thunderstorm. I think anyone who knows Jesus, who have learned about Him and has learned to love Him, trust Him, believe in Him, knows the feeling of wanting to see, hear, and touch Jesus – and has had that moment of fear for what it would be like if Jesus left them alone.
I think all believers have faced that temptation to think that Jesus has left them, has abandoned them, is powerless to help them, or that He has forgotten them in their struggles, pain, temptation, and fear. And it’s a terrible feeling. I think that’s what the disciples felt.
It is Better That I Go
I want you to look at what Jesus says in verse 7.
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away…”
Jesus looks at the sorrow on the face of His friends, the ones He loves so much… the ones who long for His presence, and say, “It’s actually better that I’m going away….” That’s hard to hear, isn’t it?
Some of you grew up in homes where you had an absent father or mother – because they were gone or drunk or sick. Or maybe you were abandoned. Maybe you were abused. You longed for their love, protection, comfort, and help, but they weren’t there for you, or they hurt you. And it soured you on all kinds of relationships. In your loneliness and fear, you ran into the arms of people who hurt you. Then, in your hurt you closed off your heart from others; even from those who wanted to love you and help you, even from God.
Some of you even heard these words, “It’s actually better that I’m not there. It’s actually better that it turned out this way.” and those words didn’t bring comfort, they stung. It was like a slap in the face. “Better that you were gone? Better that I was alone? Better that you hurt me?”
Maybe, as you read these words of Jesus, you see them through that kind of lens, and it puts you on the defensive. One more person who is taking off on people they say they care about. Jesus is supposed to be all loving, all kind, all wonderful – and here He is seemingly ditching the people He just said He loved – and telling them that it’s actually better! How can that be? How can Jesus say, “it is to your advantage that I go away.”
Let’s read. John 16:7–15,
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Skip to verse 20,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Jesus is speaking of His arrest, trial and crucifixion that would be coming within the next hours. The disciples would be in complete sorrow, utterly confused, totally lost. And Jesus knew they would forget everything He had been saying to them that night. He knew they didn’t understand – but He also knew that after He left, after He ascended into heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit to them, and He would remind them of exactly what Jesus said, teach them what it meant, and expand upon that teaching so they would finally understand and have hope.
Jesus said it was better that the Holy Spirit comes not because He was going to abandon them, but because while Jesus was on earth He could only be in one place at a time, only have one conversation at a time, only teach a group of people at a time, and not be able to walk beside everyone at once. But, the Holy Spirit would carry Jesus’ presence and Jesus ministry to the entire world at all times. The very presence of God, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, would then dwell inside believers.
Remember that verse from Ezekiel 36:26-27 last week? God says to His rebellious people,
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
What’s better: Having Jesus walk beside you, but you have a heart of stone that can’t understand what He is saying, and refuses to listen and obey – just like the Pharisees and followers and disciples couldn’t understand Jesus for the whole three years they were with Him – or having the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God dwell within you, changing your heart, mind, and soul to be more like Jesus’, and giving you the conviction and power to actually “cause you to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules”? Which is better, the physical presence of Jesus without conversion, or the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart after His gift of conversion?
Jesus says that in God’s sovereign plan, the way that salvation would come about would be that the Holy Spirit would not come in that new covenant power until Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended into heaven.
Listen to John 7:37-39,
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus said that not only would the Holy Spirit be with them, but He would go forth and “convict the world”, turning many who hate Jesus into faithful disciples. But, that life-giving water that comes from Jesus, that will flow out of Him into the hearts of believers, bringing life to all those who encounter it, would only come after Jesus had been raised from the dead and glorified after ascending into Heaven. There would be no outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a new way, no tearing of the temple curtain to expose the Holy of Holies, no expanding the Kingdom of God to the whole world, no new covenant power sent to believers to courageously spread that message if Jesus remained on earth in bodily form.
The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one in the same and yet distinct – and none of this could happen – the conviction of the whole world, the empowerment of the disciples at Pentecost, the presence of God dwelling in all believers giving them spiritual gifts, making them part of the body of Christ, empowering them beyond their abilities, guiding them places they would never go, teaching things they could never learn on their own, and making them bear fruit in their lives beyond what they would ever imagine – if Jesus stayed on earth in physical form. That’s why it was better for Him to go. Not to leave His disciples alone, but so that He, God, could be with them in a new and better way they couldn’t experience if He didn’t. Jesus is not like us. He doesn’t take off. He is ever faithful and only does for us the things that cause us to grow closer to Him – even if we must be sorrowful for a short time.
This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been trying to understand what it means to live in the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, and tap into the power and presence of God to be able to get through the challenges of life. I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to have the presence of Christ inside me, how to find hope in that, and how to connect with Him if He’s not standing in front of me.
Next week we are going to talk about what the ascension of Jesus and the consequential presence of the Holy Spirit means to Christians – and it’s so very important because understanding who the Holy Spirit is and how He connects you to Jesus is everything to a believer.
But I needed to go through this section of scripture first because I think it’s important that we understand that Jesus taught us how important the Holy Spirit is – so important that it is better for us that we have the Holy Spirit inside of us than Jesus Christ Himself walking beside.
That’s a big thought and we’re going to discuss it more next week, but let us make our application this: Let us thank God for not only our salvation through Jesus Christ, but for Jesus sending us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And let us pray that over the next couple weeks we will understand and learn to love Him more and more.
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 15 in light of how critical the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to not only Christians but to the very meaning of life itself. We read it last week during the Easter service and I said that we’d be revisiting it today because there’s more to see – and it goes right along with our study of the Heidelberg Catechism. So, consider last week an extended introduction to this week.
If you recall, we are on the 17th Lord’s Day, the 45th question, in the section of the Heidelberg covering the Apostle’s Creed. This brought us to the second section and fifth phrase of the Creed which says “on the third day he rose from the dead”. (If none of that makes sense to you, you can catch up by either going for coffee with me this week or by listening to the previous sermons on my website.)
Question 45 asks this,
“How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?”
and it’s the perfect follow up to what we were talking about last week. If we make the argument that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not only a historical reality but the most important thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind, then it stands to reason that we are going to follow that up with a “so what?” type of question.
I invited unbelievers last week to look into the resurrection to see if it’s true. This week we push the conversation one step further and say if it is true, then what implications does it have? What happens if I do believe? That sounds selfish and silly, but it’s the way that humans think, isn’t it? “What’s in it for me?” is the question everyone asks when presented with something this radical.
I remember hearing stories of when door-to-door salesman used to go around trying to sell vacuum cleaners, each salesman saying how super-amazing their own brand was, trying out outdo one another to get the sale. You’ve probably heard the story of the little, old lady who was sitting alone in her home when a well-dressed man came up to her door trying to sell her a carpet cleaner. She tried to tell him to go away, that she didn’t want it, but he was persistent. He had his foot in the door and managed to work his way a couple steps into her home. She finally said to him, “Listen son, I haven’t got any money! Go somewhere else!” But before she could finish the salesman grabbed a bunch of bottles out of his bag and started to dump ketchup, mud, grape juice, and salsa onto her carpet – and topped it off with a big lump of horse manure. He then looked right at her and said, “Listen here, ma’am. I’m so confident in my product that if this carpet cleaner doesn’t remove every trace of that mess from your carpet, I will personally eat the remainder!” The woman laughed and said, “Alright. I hope you’ve got a good appetite. I told you I don’t have any money. They cut off my electricity this morning.”
It’s not enough for a company or salesman to say, “This is the greatest product of all time.” They have to demonstrate to you why it’s the greatest product for you. And in the same way, it’s not enough to say, “Jesus rose from the dead, so you need to believe it.” because, right or wrong, humans want to know what’s in it for them. That’s what this section of the Heidelberg is all about: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?”
The Threefold Benefit
Now, the answer to that question is infinitely long. There is not enough paper in the world to describe every benefit a person receives from being in a relationship with the risen Lord Jesus, but the Heidelberg Catechism gives us three important ones. It says,
“First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he could make us share in the righteousness which he had obtained for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are raised up to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.”
If we were to summarize these three benefits into just three theologically rich words, we would get the words, “Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification”. These are super-important words that every Christian needs to know because they are the basis by which we understand our salvation – and an important way that we combat the schemes of the devil.
How does Christ’s resurrection benefit humanity? What do we get out of it? By Jesus death and resurrection, we are “Justified, Sanctified, and Glorified”. It is these three words that I want to go through together today.
The first word is “Justification”. The Heidelberg says,
“First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he could make us share in the righteousness which he had obtained for us by his death.”
What does that mean? If you know anything about the Christian gospel you know that it doesn’t start by talking about how great God is, and how amazing Jesus is, but by how terrible humanity is. Jesus is the solution, but before we can know the solution we need to know the problem. This is why when Paul starts talking about the most important thing about Christianity he starts with our sin.
Look back at 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle says,
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
And what is the very first, most important thing to remember?
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…”
What put Jesus on the cross? Our sins. We’ve talked about that lots, but it’s worth remembering. The scriptures say that sinners are condemned. That’s the story of the whole Bible. “None is righteous, no, not one…” Rom 3:10. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin. But, Jesus didn’t just die, He rose again.
In dying, Jesus paid the penalty for sin, in rising again He secured that payment forever. Death is the payment for sin, but Jesus didn’t owe anything. Death had no power over Him because He had no sin. If Jesus had remained in the grave, then His death would have been no benefit to us, because then death would have been the victor – destroying even the one over which it shouldn’t have had a hold. That’s why it says in verse 17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” It was not merely his death that was required, but the resurrection to show that He was the Son of God, the final sacrifice, and not for Himself, but for others. If Jesus died and stay dead then we would have to conclude that Jesus was a sinner. But since death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him, He proved He had no sin. Jesus’ death wasn’t for His own sake. It was for ours.
To be justified is to be “declared righteous” or “made right with God”. Remember that passage in 2 Corinthians 5:21 from a few weeks ago, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” When we believe in Jesus for our salvation we are “declared righteous” by God. It’s a legal word.
You stand guilty before the Judge of the Universe. He says, “The payment for your sin is your death. Eternal death, separation from Me, punishment in Hell.” Jesus steps in and offers to pay that debt for you by suffering and dying and going through Hell in your place. The judge says, “I’ll accept my Son’s payment on your behalf.” Jesus suffers, dies, and rises again showing His death wasn’t for Himself but for you, and the Judge stamps your paper, “Paid in Full”.
Justification doesn’t mean that your own misery paid your sin debt or even that you stopped sinning and are a good person now. Justification means that you have been pardoned and that your sins will no longer be held against you because Jesus took the full weight of God’s wrath against your sin for you.
One of the attacks the enemy often brings against us is that we have somehow messed up so much that we have lost our salvation. God is angry with us because of our sin. God is punishing us because we sinned. Or that we should put ourselves through suffering so we can earn our way back into God’s good books. He tries to get us to avoid God by telling us we’re unworthy or to waste our time jumping through religious hoops to impress God, but that’s all a lie.
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, then all of your sin, past, present and future, is totally paid for by the blood of Jesus. Nothing more must be done. You don’t need to serve or give or punish yourself or anything. When Satan tells you that God is angry with you or disappointed in you, that there’s no point in praying, so you should just avoid God, say, “No. I am justified by Jesus. Jesus took that wrath on Himself. That Judge declares me righteous, as clean as Jesus, and holds nothing against me.”
That’s Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When Satan accuses us, we rest in the justification we have before God because of Jesus.
The first benefit of the resurrection is Justification, the second is “sanctification”. The Heidelberg says,
“Second, by his power we too are raised up to a new life.”
To be sanctified simply means to be made holy, to be set apart for special use. Jesus is not only our justifier but our sanctifier.
Let me read four passages of scripture that describe “sanctification”. The first is Romans 6:3-4 which speaks of what happens in our souls when we are saved, and how that is seen in the Christian rite of baptism:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
When Jesus died on the cross, He died in our place. When we become Christians, God is taking our old, sinful self and putting it on the cross with Jesus. In Jesus death, our old self dies, and we are raised again to new life. This is why Jesus uses the term “born again” (John 3:3,7). It’s that big of a change.
The second passage is 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Jesus breaks the curse of sin, kills our old, sinful self with Him on the cross, and then raises us up with Him.
The third passage is Ephesians 2:4-5 says,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”
Jesus’ death and resurrection was not merely a legal transaction, causing us to go from guilty to innocent, but actually causes within us a spiritual resurrection. I’m reading Leviticus right now, about when God first set up the tabernacle and appointed Aaron and his sons as priests, and if there’s one word that can be used to describe the process it would be the word “messy”. Everything from the tabernacle to the furniture to the priests was covered in blood and oil. This was a symbolic way to show that they were being made holy, set-apart, made special, sanctified for a unique use. The blood cleansed them from their sin, the oil anointed them for a special purpose.
The same thing happens to us when we are saved. We are covered in the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from sin, and then we are anointed to a new life. The next part of Ephesians 2 (:8-9) says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
You are not saved by your good works, but you are saved unto good works. You are justified, then sanctified. Made righteous, made clean, made special, and then given a brand new life to live. Sanctification is as dramatic as going from death to life.
The Enemy will tell you that you need to clean yourself up before you can come to Jesus. He will tell you that you are not worthy to come to church, talk to other believers, pray to God, sing worship songs, serve in church, share your testimony. He’ll call you dirty, gross, a hypocrite, and make you feel ashamed to call yourself a Christian. He’ll tell you that you are broken goods, unworthy of love, unworthy of help, unworthy of protection, unable to be used. He’ll tell you to give up, to quit, that a holy God doesn’t want people like you around.
That’s not the gospel. It is not you who needs to clean yourself up to be worthy of God, but God that will clean you up to make you worthy of Himself! The fourth passage is from Ezekiel 36:22–27 and it explains sanctification this way,
“Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Sanctification is God’s job and God’s gift. When Satan tells you you’re dirty and sinful and unworthy and tries to convince you that’s a good reason not to come to Jesus, tell Him that he’s wrong. That’s the best reason to come to Jesus. There’s nothing you can do to make yourself worthy of the presence of God, or to be used by Him, or do anything good for Him, and knowing that means you know how much you need Him.
And since you belong to Jesus, you are sanctified by His blood. Satan says, “No, you’re unworthy. God thinks you’re a hypocrite!” You say, “I’m not the person I used to be. I’m no longer a slave to sin. I hate sin and I hate you. And so, in the name of Jesus, because of the blood of Jesus, I tell you that I am a son or daughter of God, a new creation, justified by Jesus, sanctified by Jesus, and accepted by God because of everything Jesus did for me.” When Satan calls you dirty and unworthy, tell Him that the blood of Jesus has made you clean, and there is nothing that can stain you now. And yes, you might sin, you might fall into living like your old self, and feel guilt and regret – but it is that feeling of guilt and regret that is meant to drive you back to Jesus to be sanctified even more! As theologians say, “Your sanctification is both already and not yet.” That old flesh might win the day, but that sin is already forgiven, you are still considered holy before God, and the Holy Spirit is working every day to help you put that kind of sin to death. Just consider how far you’ve come!
Here is the verse to quote when the enemy tries to tell you not to go to Jesus because you’re too sinful. Hebrews 10:19-23,
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
Through Jesus resurrection you are justified, you are sanctified, and third, you are “glorified”. The Catechism says
“Christ’s resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.”
Our passage in 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 says,
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Jesus’ resurrection showed us what will happen to us. As I said last week, it’s amazing to me how many churches call themselves Christian yet don’t preach the resurrection. What hope are they giving? The only way we can know we are justified, sanctified, and glorified, is that the resurrection of Jesus is real, actual, historical, and true. How can we give people hope that they are free from sin and will one day go to be with God if Jesus is still dead?
That’s what glorification is. The resurrection of Jesus is our pledge, the assurance that our bodies after we die, will be made perfect, restored to us, and live forever. Jesus was scourged, beaten, crucified, stabbed through the heart, wrapped in pounds of cloth, and then left in a tomb for three days. He was thoroughly mangled and completely dead. And yet, He rose to life in a resurrected, glorified body.
When one of Jesus’ friends died, a man named Lazarus, he had already been buried for four days before Jesus came to speak to Lazarus’s sisters. It says in John 11:20–26,
“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”
In the story we see Jesus weep over the sadness and grief of death, deeply moved by the hurt around him.
But then, in verse 38–44 we read,
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
Martha said she believed Jesus was the Son of God, but argued with Him every step of the way. “If you would have come sooner, you could have done something, but now he’s dead and you can’t.” “Why do you want to move the stone? He’s dead! It’s going to stink, and there’s nothing you can do about death, Jesus.” But despite arguing, she kept trusting Jesus.
Jesus demonstrates His power over death more than once by raising people from the dead, and then, most powerfully by rising from the dead Himself after His own crucifixion. And then He tells His followers, “Listen, in this world you’re going to have trouble. They’re going to persecute you like they persecuted me. They’re going to kill me, but I’m going to rise from the dead. I will justify you, sanctify you, and live in you – my first work will be to raise your spirit from the dead. But then, in the end, if you stick with me, just as I rose from the dead to a new, glorified body that can stand in the presence of God the Father forever, so will you.”
To the unbeliever, this sounds like pie-in-the-sky, religious mumbo-jumbo. This sounds like wishful thinking and a way to take the sting out of the inevitability of death. But that’s only the case if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it’s all true.
This is why we preach, teach, share, sing, and remind each other of the resurrection every single week. The enemy will attack you and tell you that this world is hopeless, that sin and death have won, suffering is all there is, and then nothing but darkness. But Christians can look at him and say, “No. In this world I have trouble, just like Jesus. But Jesus walks with me through it just as He promised He would. And more than this. No matter what happens in this world, even if I suffer a lifetime of injustice, it will be nothing in comparison to the glory and joy I will receive for eternity if I stick close to Jesus in this life. I say along with Romans 8:18, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ I can make it through anything, knowing that Jesus is with me, and that this world is only a short-term preparation ground for the rest of eternity.
Let me close with Philippians 3:17-4:1, because it’s a very important reminder today about keeping our eyes focused on Jesus. These are the words of an apostle and a pastor to the congregation that he loves, pointing them to the only one who can get them through.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
When doing any kind of experiment or making any kind of change, you need to establish a “baseline”, a starting point that serves as the one, known point of measurement that everything else will be compared to. Whether you’re studying climate change, time zones, altitude, typography, medicine, or physics, you need somewhere to start. You couldn’t do physics if the force of gravity or the speed of light changed from day to day. You couldn’t perform medicine if you didn’t know what healthy looks like. If you’ve ever tried to write a note on a piece of paper without lines, you know how wonky and wobbly your words get without them. You need a baseline to start with – something to compare everything else to.
Please open up to Hebrews 12:1–2. I’m reading out of the English Standard Version and before I begin I want you to notice the heading that the editors have given this section: “Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith”. The “founder” of something is the one who originates something, initiates it, establishes it. It comes from the word “found” where we get the word “foundation” meaning “bottom” or “base” or the “lowest part”. The word “perfecter” is the word meaning to make perfect, make complete or totally finish.
This passage will speak about Jesus as, the “Founder and Perfecter of our faith”, meaning the One who came up with the plan of salvation, who set the rules for salvation, who laid the groundwork for salvation, and who became the foundation, the baseline, the bedrock of salvation. But Jesus is special. He not only established the rules and laid the foundation upon which everything stands – but He actually came and lived by those rules, walked the earth as a human being, faced everything this world has to offer, and did it so perfectly that it can never be done better.
Think of the NHL. There’s a big difference between the person who invented hockey, the coach of the team, and the individual players, right? If you had a competition between the guy who invented hockey back in 1875 and even an average player today, there would be no contest. The “founder” of hockey could never keep up. Even if the contest was between the coach and the player it might be a little more of a contest but the player would still dominate.
But each has a role. The league sets the rules so everyone knows how to play. The player has natural talent and practiced skills in order to play the game. And the coach studies the rules, observes the game, and critiques and organizes the players they can learn and grow beyond what they would be able to do for themselves. But none of them are perfect. Hockey coaches and players compare themselves to Scotty Bowman, Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr, but none of them were perfect.
What makes Jesus amazing, and what we are going to talk about today, is that Jesus not only sets the rules but plays the game perfectly and knows exactly how to coach everyone to do the same. Jesus is who we compare everything we understand about God, salvation, and life as a human being to. He’s the prototype, the standard, the baseline, the foundation, the founder, and the perfecter.
The preacher of Hebrews, as he is trying to encourage believers who are going through hard times, after giving a whole list of examples of people who remained faithful through difficulty, says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In other words, as great as the examples of other believers like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Gideon are, they are neither the founder nor the perfecter. They didn’t write the rules and they all blew it big time – and more than once. They are as much examples of God’s faithfulness to sinners as they are examples of people who kept the faith.
So, who are we to look to so we can understand how to “run the race set before us”? Do we look to Moses who took 80 years of training and then messed up in the end so that even he wasn’t allowed to see the Promised Land? Do we look to Gideon, who, though he followed God into great victories actually ended his life as a self-glorifying apostate who turned away from God and led the people into false worship practices? No. We look to Jesus who not only founded but perfected our faith.
I’m not a runner, as you can tell, but I like the illustration of “the race” that he uses here. Think of one of those Ironman Triathlon races. They need to know which way to go so they don’t get lost, how to pace themselves so they don’t waste energy, how to manage the ups and downs so they don’t get hurt, what to eat and drink, how to press forward when their body hurts, how to dress so they don’t chafe or carry extra weight, and so much more. Imagine if they had a video of someone who had run the race perfectly, and then was given the offer to have that person coach them, even to run and swim and bike alongside them?
Who should we compare our lives to in order to see if things are going right or wrong, for how to deal with what’s happening, and who should we ask for help when we don’t know what to do? We look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” He’s wrote the rulebook, established the path, walked it perfectly, and offers to walk with us as we do it ourselves
How This Affects Me
Now, before we get into the Heidelberg section of the message today I want to tell you why this point of theology is such a big deal – especially to me right now.
Lately, I’ve been struggling a lot with the kindness of God. The Bible, especially the psalms, talks a lot about God’s “lovingkindness” (Isa 63:7, Ps 69:16). The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and we know that one of the definitions of love from 1 Corinthians 13 is that love is “kind” (vs 4).
You all know a lot of my story (and my story of late) so I won’t get into it, but over the past while here I haven’t really felt like God has been very “kind” to me, my family, some of my friends, the church, other people I hear about in the world. Now, I totally believe that God is “loving” and “good” and “just” and that all things work out “for the good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28), but sometimes that doesn’t feel like “kindness”.
A good king can send a soldier off to die in a war for the sake of the kingdom, depriving a family of their father, but for the greater good. A good coach can make an athlete workout until their body hurts or until they get sick and literally can’t get up. A good martial arts instructor can give their student a swift kick in the guts, doubling them over in pain, as part of their training. I understand that. God as good creator, good king, good coach, the founder and perfecter of faith, allowing hard things, difficult things, painful things – loss and suffering — for the sake of His name, His glory, His kingdom and His people. I get that, I really do.
But it’s hard to see that as “kind” and it’s been a real struggle for me lately. And Satan has been chipping away at my faith and trust in God because I allowed that doubt, that thought, that confusion, to dominate my mind. It led to resentment with God, anger with God, distrust of God. It affected my prayer life. It’s been a struggle and I’ve talked to a lot of people about it – my counsellor, mentor, friends, other pastors – and they’ve all tried to help, but I’ve been stuck.
What really helped was a message I heard this week from a man named Doctor Paul Tripp who spoke at The Gospel Coalition Conference about the danger of viewing God through the lens of our circumstances instead of viewing our circumstances through the lens of God. He talks about times when because of what we are going through, we bring God into the court of our judgement and judge Him as being unfaithful, uncaring and unkind – which is an inversion of the proper theological process.
“It’s tempting, when you are going through dramatic things that you cannot escape to… let those function in your mind and heart as a way of understanding God. Danger! Danger! Danger! You don’t ever allow your experiences to interpret who God is. You let who God says He is interpret your experience. And that’s warfare.”
Now, I don’t want to re-preach his sermon because I hope to share it with you all one day, but I want you to know that’s the war-front I’ve been facing for a long while now. In my fatigue and sadness and anger, I have, too many times, fallen into the temptation of inverting my theological process. Something bad happens to me and I say, “Since I feel bad, and God knows and could do something about it but hasn’t taken away my problem, God must, therefore, be unkind.” That’s inverted theology.
What I’m supposed to do, what a Christian is supposed to do, is, when the difficult times come, is to speak the gospel to myself, speak truth to myself, speak the Bible to myself, and let the surety of who I know God has become the tool that interprets what I’m going through.
“Since I know God is kind, and I know God could do something about it but hasn’t taken away my problem even if I feel bad, God must, therefore, be doing something kind – even if I don’t understand it.”
I was getting it the wrong way around.
Heidelberg Catechism LD16
This is one of the advantages of going through this section of the Apostles Creed as taught in the Heidelberg, especially during the season of Lent when we are turning our minds to the sufferings of Christ. In my temptation and confusion of saying “God must be unkind because my life hurts right now” what I was really saying was, “Something has gone wrong with God, or my understanding of God. He’s not who I thought He was. Something is out of control. This isn’t normal. This isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. This goes against the rules, this isn’t the way the race is run, the coach is wrong about this one.”
But is it wrong? If Christians go through suffering, does that mean something has gone wrong with God? Is this how the race is supposed to go? The invitation of our scripture today is to “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” to see if that’s what happened to Him. Because if it’s normal for Jesus, the One whom I’m following and who did it perfectly, then it must be normal for me.
Let’s look at the questions in the Heidelberg for the Lord’s Day 16, questions 40-44 and see what it says there about what we’re talking about today.
Question 40 says,
“Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even unto death?”
and the answer comes,
“Because of the justice and truth of God satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.”
We’ve talked about that a lot. Why did Jesus have to die? Because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) and there was no other way to pay them.
Question 41 says,
“Why was he buried?”
and the answer comes
“His burial testified that he had really died.”
That makes sense.
Then, having what Jesus went through, Question 42 says,
“Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?”
and the answer comes,
“Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life.”
There’s more to say here, but for our purposes today I want you to notice how personal the Heidelberg makes these theological statements, reinforcing the truth that since Jesus is the founder and perfecter, the baseline and the model, of our faith, then it makes sense that we will go through what He went through and our experience will have a purpose because His had a purpose.
Question 43 gets even more personal saying,
“What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?”
Almost sounds selfish, doesn’t it? Sure, sure, Jesus died on the cross and saved me from Satan, death and hell and has invited me into an eternally glorious relationship with Him and the Father forever in the perfection of paradise…. but what else do I get? The answer comes,
“Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves to him as a sacrifice of thankfulness.”
This is straight out of Romans 6 which we’ve already talked about. Jesus died so that the sinful nature within us could be destroyed and so we could live free from the curse.
But now look at question 44,
“Why is there added: He descended into hell?”
Why would the Apostles Creed, the oldest and most trustworthy creed in Christian history include the line “He descended into hell?” This is a question that theologians have been arguing about for a long time and I don’t want to get into that argument right now, but I want you to notice how the Heidelberg’s answer applies to what we’re talking about today.
Why do we need to know that Jesus went through hell? The answer given is,
“In my greatest sorrows and temptations I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which he endured throughout all his sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”
In short, Jesus went through hell to found and perfect our faith. He went through hell, took the full weight of the wrath of God against sin, so we wouldn’t have to. He made salvation possible through His blood and suffering. That is the foundation, the bedrock, of our faith. But He didn’t just found our faith, He perfected it. In other words, He went through the sufferings of Hell so that, when we are in our greatest times of sorrow and temptation we can know that Jesus has faced worse than us, has taken those pains upon Himself, and has offered to walk with us through them until He delivers us through them in the end.
Suffering is Normal & Necessary, but not Ultimate
That’s the lens through which we are to interpret our difficult circumstances. Why did Jesus have to die and be buried? To save us. Why did Jesus have to suffer? Not only to save us, but to show us His love, commitment, and that suffering in this life is normal and necessary, but not ultimate.
Suffering is normal. That means everyone will face it. If God in human flesh, the most perfect being to ever live, faced suffering and taught that his followers would suffer, then it must be normal. God the Father loves Jesus His Son more than anything else, cares for His Son more than anyone else, and would never cause His Son to go through any unnecessary sufferings, He would never be unkind to His Son, and yet The Father put Jesus through great suffering for His whole life. That means the suffering was not only normal but necessary.
Hebrews 2:1 says it this way,
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
But even though that suffering was normal and necessary, it was not ultimate. Jesus came to suffer and die, but that wasn’t to be the end of the story. It says that Jesus founded our salvation through suffering, but one doesn’t stop building at the foundation. One lays a foundation in order to build something. Why did the Son of God lay the foundation of salvation? In order that the Son of God might “bring many sons to glory”! Christ’s sufferings were normal, they were necessary, but they were not ultimate.
And so, since Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith, the baseline, the model, the one who ran the race perfectly, the coach who can show me how to do it, then, when I am going through something difficult in my life and I start to ask myself, “Is this normal? Has something gone wrong? Has God lost control? Has God become unkind?” I must look to the baseline – look to Jesus – and interpret my circumstances and understanding of God through that lens. To let who God says He is, how God says He operates, how He operated in the life of His Son Jesus, interpret how I see my trials, temptations, and sufferings.
How to Endure
Look back at the text of Hebrews 12:1-2 one more time. It says,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
“…Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” The cross of Christ represents the greatest suffering, the greatest injustice, the worst series of hours in human history. We talked about them a couple of weeks ago. How could Jesus endure such terrible things? Because He had his eye on the joy set before Him. He despised the shame and sufferings of the cross, He disregarded them, thought little of them, in comparison with the joy of what would happen through those sufferings.
He would win the souls millions, maybe billions of the people He loves and establish His Kingdom on earth. He would show the perfection of His holiness and set the perfect example through them. He would glorify God through His obedience and humility and conquer Satan, death and Hell once and for all. He would usher in the birth of the church. And by going through those sufferings He would be raised up to glory (Phil 2:5-11).
But not only that. Not only would He be raised up to glory, but all those who would follow Him. He was founding, paving the path, for His followers to achieve something they could never do on their own. He was making possible something that no one could ever attain. He would obey the rules so well, run the race so well, and be awarded such a prize that anyone who believes in Him would be automatically considered a winner of the race too.
This is easy to forget when we focus on our trials and sufferings. It’s easy to interpret God through the lens of our sufferings instead of interpreting our suffering through the lens of Jesus.
Conclusion: Romans 8:18-39
Let me close by reading one of my favourite passages of scripture which says this so clearly to those who are going through difficult times. How is it possible to go through suffering? How can we endure? The same way Jesus did – by keeping our eye on the joy that is set before us. Turn to Romans 8:18–39 which speaks of all these things – suffering, endurance, the life of Christ, struggles with faith, Jesus’ glorification, and ours, and our trust in God.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you recall back to the last series of weeks in our study of the Heidelberg Catechism you’ll remember that we’ve been talking a lot about the question, “Who is Jesus?”. This part of the Heidelberg is going through the Apostles Creed and we are on the second section that speaks of what Christians believe about Jesus. It says,
“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, our Lord; he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he arose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
We’ve already covered a lot of ground going through it word by word, learning what the name Jesus means, why the title Christ is so important, what “only-begotten, Son” means, etc. Today we are on the part that says Christians believe that Jesus Christ, “suffered under Pontius pilot” and it is an extremely important teaching because a lot of people stumble over that word, “suffered”.
Turn to Mark 8:27-38 and let’s read there. We’re going to retread a little of the ground we’ve already covered but it’s important. Start in verse 27,
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’”
We’ve already talked about the importance of the title “Christ” and how it is the same word as “Messiah” or “Chosen One” and why Peter’s declaration was so important, but I want you to notice what Jesus says to His disciples next. Start in verse 30:
“And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.”
So Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and then Jesus starts to unpack what that means. He describes what the rest of His life on earth would look like, preparing His followers for what would be happening during that year. He tells them of how this would be His final journey to Jerusalem, how difficult it would be, how much rejection He would face, and how the leaders of the city, even the priests and the scholars who knew God’s word best, would challenge Him, despise Him, reject Him, and ultimately work to get Him executed. But to remember that wouldn’t be the final defeat as in three days He would rise again from death.
I’m not sure Peter heard that last part because, what is Peter’s response?
“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Peter, and likely the rest of the disciples’ – especially Judas’ Iscariot’s – concept of Christ’s mission was a very different one. Their idea was that this march into Jerusalem would be one of victory and conquest, overthrowing Rome, re-establishing Israel as a great world power, Jesus calling down angels and fire and spreading health and wealth to the people, kicking out all the bad rulers and putting all 12 disciples as the new regents under Him. But Jesus completely shuts down that idea.
What Must Happen
It all comes down to one, very important word in verse 31: “must”. “…he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…”
This is the question the burns in the minds of so many. Why “must” suffering be a part of life? Why “must” the Messiah, the Christ, the most perfect, most loving, kindest, most sinless person in the world, the King of Kings “suffer many things”?
Our study of the Heidelberg Catechism answers this question in three important ways. Question 37 asks, “What do you confess when you say that he suffered?” Question 38 asks, “Why did he suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?” and Question 39 asks, “Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way?”
If I were to re-word those questions to be a little more applicable to us today I would say, “What does it mean to suffer?” “What purpose did the suffering have?” and “Wasn’t there a better way?”
These are all questions we ask ourselves every time we are hit with pain, sadness, sickness or difficulty, aren’t they? We ask ourselves, “Is this really suffering I’m going through? Can I really call it suffering? What does it mean to suffer?” And then, once we answer that we move on to, “Does this suffering have meaning? Is there a reason for it? Why am I, or why is the person I care about, going through this?” Then, once we’ve sort of settled that in our minds a bit, maybe starting to realize that this suffering has a purpose, that it is bearing some kind of fruit, that God must have a reason for it, we all ask God the same question: “Isn’t there an easier way? Is this the best way? Surely this level of suffering isn’t necessary for God to accomplish whatever He is doing. is it?”
The Sufferings of Christ
For answers to these questions, we look to the life of Christ. The Heidelberg’s answer to the first question, “What do you confess when you say that he suffered?” is,
“During all the time he lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. Thus, by his suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, he has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.”
What does that mean? We talked a little about it last week, right? I wanted to spend some extra time last week really contemplating the need for Christ’s suffering and how it was the only way to destroy the curse of sin. If you recall we covered 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the second part of this answer, that it was only by Jesus’ sufferings, only by becoming the dragon for us, only by facing endless temptation and pain, only by having God’s wrath against sin poured out on Him on the cross, that we were able to be redeemed, bought back, from our slavery to Satan, rescued from eternal death and everlasting damnation, and are now able to live as new creatures, free from the curse, able to live righteously forever.
I don’t want to go over that again, but instead, want to concentrate instead on the first part of the answer about Christ’s sufferings. What do we mean when we say that Jesus suffered? The answer here is that every moment of Jesus life, from birth to death, was of unending suffering. Is that true? At this time of year, we often talk about the Passion of the Christ, the last week of great sufferings, but was Jesus’ whole life a passion walk?
That’s the testimony of scripture. John 1:10-11 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Isaiah 53:3 says the Messiah would be, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” Jesus knew rejection, grief, and sorrow very well, and not just in His last week, but His whole life.
When He was born his parents could find no good place to stay so He was born in a laid in a feeding trough (Luke 2:7). Then, not long later, when he was only a couple years old, Jesus barely escaped being murdered by King Herod (Matt. 2:14) and had to live as a refugee. When He came back He lived in Nazareth, a place that some people didn’t apparently care for much (John 1:46). It is thought that his father died when he was young because we hear nothing more of him, which is why Jesus waited until he was older to start His earthly ministry. Then when He did, His family called Him crazy and tried to shut him down (Mark 3:21) and when he came back to Nazareth to spread the gospel, they chased him out of town so they could throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). For his whole life, Jesus knew thirst (Matt 4:2), exhaustion (John 4:6), poverty, and homelessness (Luke 9:58). I think of Luke 19 where Jesus wanders off by Himself to a hillside to look at the city of Jerusalem, which He loved so much, and we see Him burst into tears.
The devil tempted Him harder and more than any other person (Matt 4:1-2) and his enemies hated him more than anyone else (Heb 12:3). He was falsely accused many times of being a glutton, drunkard, blasphemer, and child of the devil (Matt 11:19, 9:3, 12:24). His disciples were weak in faith and support, and people around him only liked them for what they could get out of Him and rejected Him repeatedly when He wouldn’t perform for them. Near the end, when we see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane we see Him alone, forsaken by all His disciples, and so overcome with sorrow and fear that in His agony He literally sweat blood (Luke 22:44).
And that’s not even speaking of the false trials, beatings, mocking, and sufferings He faced before being tortured to death in the worst way humans have ever devised – a Roman cross.
And all of this suffering – every bit of it – was totally undeserved. In our sufferings we sometimes know that we deserve it, right? We mess up a relationship, get addicted to something, lash out in anger, don’t plan ahead enough, spend too much money, and it causes suffering in our lives. We complain, and we try to blame, but we know deep down that it was our own fault that we’re suffering right now. Theologically, we know that all sin leads to suffering – that our sinful souls, even when we don’t realize it, are always getting us in trouble, pulling us from God, leading us into sin, causing ripple effects of suffering in our lives and those around us.
Jesus never deserved any of His sufferings. None of them. He never did anything wrong. He had no sinful nature. Everything He suffered was undeserved. And He faced it perfectly! And when He was given the option to take the easy way out, to avoid suffering, He never took it. Why?
Because the Christ, “…the Son of Man must suffer many things…” That was His mission. To face a lifetime of suffering that only got worse and worse. As the Christ, Jesus had a job: to suffer. He would be the final, spotless, sacrificial lamb whose blood would make the final atonement, the final payment, for sin.
Turn with me to Isaiah 53, the prophecy about the Messiah’s mission, and start in verse 3:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
That’s us it’s talking about. We’re the transgressors, the guilty. And the payment for sin was paid not only by Jesus on the cross, but by a lifetime of suffering.
But why suffering? Why couldn’t God just declare us all free and sinless and let it go? Why did Jesus have to go through all that? The Heidelberg asks it this way, “Why did he suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?” The answer,
“Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so he freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.”
Jesus, the innocent, was declared guilty, so that we, the guilty could be declared innocent. Let us read John 19:1–16 together and see what Jesus faced,
“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.”
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent but was too afraid to defend Him. He had Jesus cruelly and unjustly flogged in hopes it would appease the bloodlust of the crowd, but it didn’t work. Jesus knew what would happen. He knew that God had already ordained that He would be crucified and that Pilate’s resolve would soon give out. But Jesus had to be declared guilty and condemned to a sinners death so that He could die in our place. He was the representative for all humanity, the new Adam, the scapegoat, the advocate for His people, the shepherd who would protect his sheep, the leader who would take the blame on behalf of His people.
Why? So anyone who would believe in Him could escape the judgement of the Greater Judge, God Almighty, who has decreed in Romans 6:23 that “the wages [the payment] of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And the only payment for sin must be suffering. Everyone agrees with this, even if they don’t like it.
If someone commits a crime, our internal sense of justice demands they make it right. If someone steals, they must pay it back and then face a punishment. If someone murders, they must be held accountable. If someone wrongs us, hurts us, abuses us or someone we love, our heart always cries out for justice. We never, ever want them to get away with it? Why? Because God wrote justice that into our very DNA. Sin deserves suffering. The suffering must be in accordance with a crime. We wouldn’t give someone life in prison for stealing a candy bar. That would be unjust. We wouldn’t give a $10 fine to someone who murdered a whole family. That would be unjust.
And so, we ask ourselves, what is the appropriate amount of suffering that the perfect Judge, God Almighty, would pour out upon Jesus, for the entire weight of sin held against millennia of human sinners? It would be terrible beyond imagination.
Why the Cross?
Which leads us to the final question: Why the cross? Wasn’t there a better way? Did it have to be so serious, so severe, so terrible? “Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way?”
The Heidelberg’s answer is,
“Yes. Thereby I am assured that he took upon himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by God.”
Why couldn’t Jesus get a slap on the wrist, pay a fine, or just die of old age? Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” And Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’…” (That is a quote from Deuteronomy 21:23.) One reason it was inconceivable for Peter and the disciples to think of Jesus being crucified was because to be hanged like that was to be considered cursed of God. And how could the Messiah be cursed? It made no sense.
But it makes sense to us. He was cursed for our sake, bled for our sake, was disgraced for our sake, because as He hung there He was taking our place. God placed our curse on Him. God took His blood for ours. It was the only way.
How can we apply this today? Turn back to our passage in Mark 8:34–38. After Jesus explains that He must suffer, He must take up a cross, because it is the only way, He says this:
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’”
Jesus gives us some options here. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus into His sufferings and thereby be saved – or run from suffering, try to save your own life and then lose it. Trade your soul for what the world offers, or give up what the world and come to Jesus who can save your soul. Live ashamed of Jesus and His words, argue that suffering is pointless and sin is helpful, turn your back on Jesus, and then be rejected in the end, or live in a way that shows that you believe what Jesus says. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says,
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Those questions pester us every day: What does it mean to suffer? Why is there suffering in the world? Why do Christians suffer? Why is it happening? Does it have a purpose? And isn’t there an better, easier way?
And when they plague us, we must look to the life of Jesus because in Him we find the answer. Jesus said that those who follow Him will follow in His footsteps. His path, the one He must tread, would be to obey God by suffering, dying, and then be raised again in victory. And so He says, anyone who follows Him must tread the same path. Obey Jesus by picking up your cross, suffering in this sinful world, die to yourself, die to sin, and then allow God to raise you to new life.
Why do Christians suffer? Because this world is still full of sin. Jesus said so, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Does suffering have a purpose? Yes. How do we know? Because Jesus’ suffering, which was the worst tragedy in history had purpose. And God promises that all of our sufferings will not go unnoticed, unrewarded, and will always have meaning. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” And Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
And is there a better way? If there was, that’s what God would have done. Jesus demonstrates that none of our sufferings, no matter how terrible, will go to waste. They all have a purpose. He is not cruel, He is compassionate and merciful.
Our feelings betray us, our hearts give out, our bodies long for release, but when we are Christians, our spirits can know – even in the midst of suffering – that God can be trusted. Consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afraid, overwhelmed, weeping, sweating blood, not wanting to face the cross. His body was falling apart, He wanted an escape, release, freedom from suffering, for some other way. Jesus knows how you feel. But what did He say, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus’ sufferings had a purpose and so do ours.
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
That’s all we can do. Tell God that it hurts, that we wish it could be different, but then say, “But I trust you.” I trust you know what you’re doing, that you will punish those who have wronged me, that you will restore all that was taken from me, that you will reward those who have been overlooked, that you will strengthen those who are weak, raise up the humble, give wisdom to those who lack it, establish and hold fast everyone who has chosen to build their lives upon your foundation.
The question is, looking at the life of Christ, “Do you trust Him in your suffering?” and “Will you pick up your cross daily and follow Him?”