When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, it’s all too easy to rattle off each clause without devoting our full attention to the words. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell…” The Heidelberg Catechism, however, reminds us that the Creed is a careful and thorough summary of the tenets of Christianity by carefully and thoroughly examining its contents. Today in our URC Psalmody series on the Heidelberg Catechism we turn to Lord’s Day 15.
37 Q. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?
A. That during his whole life on earth,
but especially at the end,
in body and soul
the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.
This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,
he might set us free, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
and eternal life.
38 Q. Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?
A. So that he,
might be condemned by a civil judge,
and so free us from the severe judgment of God
that was to fall on us.
39 Q. Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?
This death convinces me
that he shouldered the curse
which lay on me,
since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.
126, “Save Me, O God” (Psalm 69)
“During his whole life on earth, but especially at the end…” It can be easy to forget that Jesus’ suffering did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; his entire life on earth, from his lowly birth in a stable to the moment he cried, “It is finished,” was a life of affliction and pain, both physical and spiritual. As Psalm 69 says, it was Christ’s zeal for his Father’s house and its worshippers that caused this suffering.
Save me, O God, because the floods
Come in upon my soul,
I sink in depths where none can stand,
Deep waters o’er me roll.
It is for Thee I am reproached,
For Thee I suffer shame,
Until my brethren know me not,
And hated is my name.
It is my zeal for Thine abode
That has consumed my life;
Reproached by those reproaching Thee,
I suffer in the strife.
147, “I Thought upon the Days of Old” (Psalm 77)
“Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.” Psalm 77 gives us just a glimpse of the wrath of God which Christ endured for our sakes.
My heart inquired with anxious care,
Will God forever spurn?
Shall we no more His favor see?
Will mercy ne’er return?
Forever shall His promise fail?
Has God forgotten grace?
Has He withdrawn His tender love,
In anger hid His face?
O God, most holy is Thy way,
Most perfect, good, and right;
Thou art the only living God,
The God of wondrous might.
34, “My God, My God, I Cry to Thee” (Psalm 22)
“This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.” Psalm 22 sets forth for us the agony of Christ on the cross, but it does not stop there; it also goes on to show the glories of salvation.
My God, My God, I cry to Thee;
O why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Afar from Me, Thou dost not heed,
Though day and night for help I plead.
My words a cause for scorn they make,
The lip they curl, the head they shake,
And, mocking, bid Me trust the Lord
Till He salvation shall afford.
Down unto death Thou leadest Me,
Consumed by thirst and agony;
With cruel hate and anger fierce
My helpless hands and feet they pierce.
O Lord, afar no longer stay;
O Thou My Helper, haste, I pray;
From death and evil set Me free;
I live, for Thou didst answer Me.
213, “Rebels, Who Had Dared to Show” (Psalm 107)
“This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.” The previous three psalms reflect Christ’s experience, but what of ours? What was the penalty we deserved, and how was it paid? This section of Psalm 107 beautifully illustrates our plight and the deliverance wrought by God.
Rebels, who had dared to show
Proud contempt of God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Shades of death and darkness nigh,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.
To Jehovah then they cried
In their trouble, and He saved,
Threw the prison open wide
Where they lay to death enslaved,
Bade the gloomy shadows flee,
Broke their bonds and set them free.
Sons of men, awake to praise
God the Lord who reigns above,
Gracious in His works and ways,
Wondrous in redeeming love;
Iron bars He breaks like clay,
And the brazen gates give way.
With these words in mind, we ought to find ourselves paying more attention next time we recite the part of the Apostles’ Creed that says Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell.” This confession should motivate us to turn in disgust from our sins and cling rejoicing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered and died that we might live.