New City Catechism – Week 26

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“All Creatures of Our God and King”
(Hymn #11 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q26: What else does Christ’s death redeem?

A26: Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.

Most of the time, when we think about the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are focused on our eternal salvation. This makes sense, because the condition of our eternal soul is an important concern. Whether we spend eternity in heaven or hell should matter more than anything else.

However, there is another aspect of Christ’s redemption that we shouldn’t forget. To understand that, we first need to understand the nature of the fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, humanity was affected. The Bible says that “death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12), and all humans now have a corrupted nature—we are sinners by “nature and choice” as the EFCA statement of faith says. That is what we usually focus on when we talk about the fall.

But there is more. Not just humanity, but all of creation was affected by the fall. The death and corruption that was unleashed into the world had cosmic implications. What was created good was now spoiled. Romans 8:22 puts it this way, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We now observe a fallen world with natural disasters, death, predation and scarcity. Groaning.

The good news is that just as God made a way for humans to be reconciled to him through Christ, he is also powerfully working to restore his creation. C. S. Lewis expresses this concept in his book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when he writes that “death itself [starts] working backwards.”

God’s plans for his creation are ultimately good plans. The earth is not simply disposable, and when we exercise good stewardship of creation we express our faith in that fact. Eventually, God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), in a glorious new heaven and new earth. We will live with him, experiencing the fullness of God’s good creation, no longer fallen, but redeemed through Jesus Christ. Let’s anticipate that day with constant expectancy and hope.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 25

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“His Mercy is More”
(by Matt Boswell & Matt Papa)
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Q25: Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?

A25: Yes, because Christ’s death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as if it were our own and will remember our sins no more.

I need to get something off my chest: the statement “It’s better to give than to receive” never really made sense to me. On one level, it does. I think most people enjoy giving to others and knowing it meets a need or a desire. However, I really like getting stuff too! I realize that makes me sound selfish, but before you rush to judgment, make sure there isn’t something inside you that might agree with me a little.

The best presents are the ones you didn’t expect or really even deserve. I can still remember fondly when my father bought an army figure I had begged him for. The local hardware store used to sell a few of them, and they carried one specific one I hadn’t seen at any other stores. I tried to explain (as an eight year old) how rare that figure was and how valuable that made it. None of my friends had it, so I would also be the envy of them.

I think I finally broke him down and out of the blue, he came home with it one day. It’s weird how those little things stick in our minds through so many years. I can recall there was nothing special about that day. I hadn’t done any extra chores. I didn’t express my love for my parents anymore that day than usual. And we didn’t even have a dog that I could have walked. He just came home with it and smiled as he handed me the bag.

The unexpected or undeserved gift is not a foreign concept to a follower of Christ. Paul makes it very clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Christ’s sacrifice is an all-encompassing gift from God. It was nothing we deserved. In fact, we deserve quite the opposite. Paul emphasizes that point in Romans 5. In our helpless and completely sinful state, Christ died for our sins.

This gift extends to even the vilest of offenders. Paul called himself the chief of sinners. Even the most godly among us, though, must never take advantage of the grace of God. We’re reminded this week of how complete Christ’s death was. It covered all sins. It’s a gift we don’t deserve.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 24

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“I Will Glory in My Redeemer”
(Hymn #196 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q24: Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?

A24: Since death is the punishment for sin, Christ died willingly in our place to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin and bring us back to God. By his substitutionary atoning death, he alone redeems us from hell and gains for us forgiveness of sin, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Why did Jesus have to die? Many people have asked that question over the last two thousand years. Some people try to explain away the resurrection by saying Jesus only appeared to die (often called the “swoon theory,”) but the evidence is clear: Jesus Christ was executed by the Romans by crucifixion, and before they took him off the cross, he was dead.

But why? Was he simply caught up in political circumstances? Was he misunderstood as a revolutionary and executed by mistake? No, the Bible is clear that the Messiah would suffer and die. Paul explained this to the Thessalonians (Acts 17:1-3), Philip tied Jesus’ suffering to Isaiah 53 with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-35). And the resurrected Jesus himself explained the necessity of his death to his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:26).

The reason for all of this can be summed up in a good theological phrase: “penal substitutionary atonement”. Our catechism this week unpacks the meaning of that phrase. First of all: penal means that his death was punishment for sin. Romans 6:23 reminds us that the “wages of sin is death,” and Christ bore that punishment through his own death.

Secondly, the word substitutionary means that Christ’s death was in our place. The death that he received was the death that we deserve because of our sin. Because he satisfied that penalty and paid for our sins completely, we are no longer under God’s wrath. The word “atonement” means that because of Christ’s work, we are now reconciled to God—we are no longer his enemies.

All these big theological concepts may be hard to grasp, but at their root they bring good news to us. It’s news of forgiveness, righteousness and everlasting life. Jesus has set us free. We are no longer slaves to sin, we are saved from the righteous wrath of God (Romans 5:9). Let that truth sink into your heart, and your heart will sing the truth of this week’s hymn: “I will glory in my Redeemer!”

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 23

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“Jesus Paid it All”
(Hymn #281 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q23: Why must the Redeemer be truly God?

A23: That because of his divine nature his obedience and suffering would be perfect and effective; and also that he would be able to bear the righteous anger of God against sin and yet overcome death.

We confess that Jesus is truly man and truly God. This is the most concise way of stating the nature of our redeemer. When we speak rightly of our redeemer, we cannot diminish either of those truths.

Last week we looked at the reasons Christ had to be man. Only a man could properly represent man. As Adam represented man and brought us into sin, so only a man could represent man in order to redeem Adam’s helpless race.

But why, if this is the case, did Jesus also have to be truly God? Wayne Grudem does a great job of answering this paradox.

“(1) Only someone who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sins of all those who would believe in him—any finite creature would have been incapable of bearing that penalty; (2) salvations is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9 NASB), and the whole message of Scripture is designed to show that no human being, no creature, could ever save man—only God himself could…” (Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, p. 553)

Anselm of Canterbury centuries ago said this, “…it could not have been done unless man paid what was owing to God for Sin. But the debt was so great that, while man alone owed it, only God could pay it.” Man must pay, but only God can.

The gospel of sin’s defeat in Christ required not only death for sin, but also resurrection from the dead. No man could have defeated death unless he was both fully man and fully God.

Whether we truly grasp it, we will be eternally grateful that Jesus Christ was a perfect redeemer. He did what no other person could ever have done.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 22

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“Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”
(Hymn #184 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q22: Why must the Redeemer be truly human?

A22: That in human nature he might on our behalf perfectly obey the whole law and suffer the punishment for human sin; and also that he might sympathize with our weaknesses.

A science fiction movie from a few years ago imagined an alien planet where scientists could live and work among the native species by means of remotely-controlled bodies. The synthetic bodies looked and acted like the aliens, but in fact human operators were making them move and talk while connected to computers back at the base station.

You might be wondering what this has to do with our catechism? The answer is that it has quite a bit to do with it. This movie is similar to a heresy that existed in the early church regarding the nature of Jesus. Gnosticism was an ancient belief system that saw the material world as inherently evil and inferior to the spiritual realm.

Some people reasoned that God could not have become truly human, because to take on a material form would have tainted his perfection. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth could not have been truly human—he was closer to something like a remotely-controlled body, who only appeared to be human.

However, this view of Jesus’ nature denies what we know from Philippians 2:5-11 that Jesus fully identified with us. He did not just pretend to learn Aramaic or the carpentry trade of his earthly father, but he learned as a real human with real human DNA. He did not just pretend to feel pain or to suffer on the cross, but he experienced the real agony associated with that torturous death.

And we should be grateful. For Jesus’ true humanity means that he can identify with us in our struggles. He knows what it is to be exhausted from a hard day’s work, or to feel the pain of a friend’s betrayal. He can help us in temptation, for he was sinless when facing the same (Hebrews 2:18).

But more than identifying with us, Jesus’ full humanity makes him a valid representative for us before the judgment throne of God. Just as Adam was our first human representative and left an inheritance of sin and death, Jesus has now stepped in as our second human representative. But in him, we now have access to the grace of God (Romans 5:2). His sacrifice for our sins was accepted as legitimate by the Father. Let’s rejoice in the hope that truth brings us!

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 21

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“Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”
(Hymn #184 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q21: What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?

A21: One who is truly human and also truly God.

Empathy is an odd word. Not in the sense of grammar, but in the meaning of the word. Webster’s dictionary has two definitions for the word. One of them we’re very familiar with. It’s the more commonly used sense of the word: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively.” Simply put, it’s being able to share the feelings of someone else. The other meaning is a little more nuanced: “the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.”

Did you catch that difference? Besides being quite shorter, there’s a subtle distinction between the two. The first talks of being able to put oneself into another’s shoes. The second definition refers to two different objects almost becoming one. When we think about the role Christ played for humanity in our salvation, that definition really comes alive, doesn’t it?

Think about this: it wasn’t just enough that Christ understood what we were like as humans. It wasn’t enough that he was tired, hungry, thirsty, sad, happy, and other human traits. Instead, he took on the nature of a human. His divine nature and a human nature literally became one. It wouldn’t do for a sacrifice to be just “like” a human. The sacrifice had to be human in every sense.

That human sacrifice also had to be sinless. That’s why the divine nature of Christ wasn’t lost in the process of his taking on a human nature. That also allows the sole reason for God sending his Son to be accomplished. His reasoning was as a sacrifice for us. It’s accomplished by his Son taking on a human nature to become the only perfect human ever to walk on earth.

Without this plan being put in motion and accomplished, we have no hope in life. The plan of salvation, the conquering of death, and the hope of resurrection can only be accomplished through a Savior who is both human and divine!

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 20

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“Hallelu Jah My Redeemer”
(Hymn #200 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q20: Who is the Redeemer?

A20: The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, in whom God became man and bore the penalty for sin himself.

Last week’s catechism was something of a cliffhanger. After being confronted with our sin and idolatry in weeks 16 and 17, and the fact that God will not allow it to go unpunished in week 18, humanity was in a bad situation. Justly condemned by a righteous God and deserving of his wrath.

But then, there was a glimmer of hope in week 19. A way to escape the punishment we deserve, opened by God’s mercy alone, through a Redeemer. This week we pick up the story and answer who that Redeemer is. But first we should understand the concept of redemption, because it’s not a concept use very often in our day.

In biblical times, the word was often used of buying someone out of slavery. When you redeemed someone or something, you gave a payment that satisfied whatever claim the other party had, and then it belonged to the Redeemer.

Who is the spiritual Redeemer? The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about that concept of redeeming someone from slavery and apply it to salvation. Jesus paid a price—the very penalty for our sin—with his own blood (Galatians 3:13). His payment satisfied God’s justice, so that now we do not belong to sin.

However, we are not freed to simply ignore God or to continue in sin. Since Jesus purchased us, we now belong to him (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are set free to live righteous lives that honor him.

The next couple weeks the catechism will look at the specific characteristics of Jesus that make him the perfect and only Redeemer. But for now, just let it sink in that Jesus Christ, God become man, willingly offered himself on your behalf. It was not because of any great quality or anything you had to offer him, but only because of God’s great mercy.

When you begin to grasp that truth, you begin to see that it is not burdensome to obey God’s commands, but it is a joy. For the one who saved us by his blood, we gladly serve him. And we have the Holy Spirit enabling us to do it. Let’s pray that we can live in that reality each day.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 19

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“Grace Greater than Our Sin”
(Hymn #78 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q19: Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?

A19: Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.

“Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing” go the words of the old hymn. Were we to look to our own innate righteousness or our best works for escape from judgment, we’d be lost.[1]  Our answer to today’s catechism question would be a resounding “no”.  We would not escape.

The reason we would be without hope for escape lies in the nature of our sin and the nature of God. Our sins left us morally bankrupt.[2] God’s nature is perfect justice. He says that he does not let the guilty go unpunished.[3]

But God is also a God of perfect mercy and compassion.[4] He was not willing for us to perish. God acts. He initiates. While we were still sinners and enemies of God, he sent the redeemer into the world to reconcile us to himself.[5]  We can truly say, “For God so loved the world.”[6]

God did not do this because we were lovely, worthy or irresistible. He did this by the determination of His free will[7] and an act of His incomprehensible grace.[8] God chose to redeem us sinners from our sin and from its power and its curse.  He brings us into relationship with Himself reconciling us to Himself.  Can we escape judgment? Yes, because God who is rich in mercy has given us a redeemer.

[1] Romans 7:8, Ps 51:5, Eph 2:1
[2] Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23
[3] Nahum 1:3, Exodus 34:7
[4] Exodus 34:6
[5] John 3:17, 2 Cor 5:18-19
[6] John 3:16
[7] Acts 2:23
[8] Titus 3:5

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 18

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“How Sweet and Awful is the Place”
(Hymn #350 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

A18: No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.

“My God would never…”
“The God I worship wouldn’t say…”

I’ve heard statements along these lines more and more lately. Usually, it has to do with something “harsh” some read in the Bible about God. Or it’s in relation to something someone said about God in a conversation or sermon. In some ways, it’s really hard to think about an all-loving God ever punishing someone. Does God really punish those who have not accepted the gift of forgiveness through Christ? Could he condemn someone to hell?

Some perspective is needed. In other words, let’s take an honest look at exactly who this God is that is so “mean”. This God is the one who said even Moses wasn’t able to see his face. Moses wanted to, but God said he would die if he did. Just being in his presence altered Moses’ appearance before the Israelites so that they couldn’t even look at him unless he veiled his face!

This is also the same God that brought Isaiah to his throne in a vision. Isaiah saw the angels worshipping him and the majesty of his beauty. His response? Isaiah throws himself down and

figures he’s a dead man. He admits he’s a sinner and unclean.

This is the God that punishes sin. Is it really so hard to imagine such a phenomenal being not allowing sin to be in his presence? It’s an often- used statement, but the love of God is truly seen in his not giving punishment to us that we deserve. It’s in his punishment for sins where we see his glory best. The fact that no one can even be near or see him because he is that perfect gives us even more reason to notice the love shown through his Son’s death on the cross.

The song asks the question, “How deep the Father’s love for us/How vast beyond all measure/That he should give his only Son/To make a wretch his treasure.” We are wretched before him. How could he bring us to him? By justifying those who believe in his Son and removing those who don’t from his presence.

My God would never be able to let sin go unpunished. That’s a harsh reality we find in the Word. But my God has also created a plan which makes me one of his children.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 17

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“All I Have is Christ”
(Hymn #389 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q17: What is idolatry?

A17: Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.

The word “idolatry” often brings to mind images of tribal people, elaborate costumes, and primitive sacrifice rituals. Those are the idolaters, right? Idolatry is not something that is still a sin in the developed world, is it?

I am afraid that conclusion is tragically wrong. As long as humans struggle with sin, we will struggle with idolatry. As the catechism says, idolatry simply means that we are finding our hope, happiness, significance and security in created things rather than the Creator God.

One way I have sometimes expressed it is that whatever we think is “off limits” to God may be an idol. So if you find yourself saying to God, “I will follow you, but don’t take away __________, (fill in the blank yourself)” be careful.

Another “idol detector test” we can employ is to consider the things that provoke our emotions. Augustine wrote that things like worry, fear, and anger can be “smoke from the fires” rising from the altar of the true God we worship. Those emotions reveal the things on which we have set our hearts.

Here’s the tricky part: we can take good things, even common-grace blessings from God, and make them into idols. Money is necessary to survive in the world, but when we make it the source of our security, it can become an idol. God gave us taste buds to enjoy an amazing variety of food, but when we turn to food for emotional comfort or indulge a gluttonous appetite, we are in the realm of sin and idolatry.

What is the antidote to idolatry? It is trust in God, rooted in a sense of contentment that he will provide exactly what we need. Charles Spurgeon has this encouragement, “remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Let’s turn away from idolatry and honor Christ the Lord as holy. We can trust him for our good.

-Pastor Jonathan