Heidelberg Catechism Devotional Q12

Q.12. According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?

A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.  Therefore the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another.


Today we start a new section in the Catechism.  The first eleven questions dealt with the misery that humans find themselves in because of their sin.  It is a horrible place, but today we begin looking at how God will deliver his people from such horrible circumstances. 
The Law of God requires that every sin must be punished.  All unlawful acts must be condemned.  In our world, that means that whenever theft occurs, it is caught and stopped.  The action is punished so that the world was a safe place.  The same is true of breaking God’s law.  Whenever it happens, God demands that the action be stopped and punished.  But what punishment is enough for our sin?  Read Romans 6:23 and Leviticus 17:11. 


According to our question there are two ways of having God’s punishment of sin brought to the human race.  Either they can be punished themselves or someone else can be punished for them.  Yesterday we learned that death by shedding blood was the only acceptable way to remove sin.  So either we can die for our sins, or someone else can die for our sins, both are acceptable to God.  Both meet the demands of justice, but both have different effects on the sinner.
Read Deuteronomy 27:26 and 2Kings 14:6.


God has allowed us the option of having someone else take our punishment. Consider a time when you broke the rules and got caught.  Now if your mother or teacher offered you the choice of taking your punishment or letting someone else take the punishment for you, which would you choose?  Why?
Most any honest child will answer, “Let someone else have it.”  While this might not seem right to us, God has allowed this possibility to humanity.  When we are punished, then we are fulfilling the righteous demands of God’s written law, but when Jesus is punished for us, then the Law of the gospel, the Law of mercy and the Law of Love are all operating.  Read Romans 8:3 and John 3:16.  Consider the Love God must have for us to send his son to die in our place?  Consider the Mercy he displays by punishing an innocent man?  Consider the good news that every lawbreaker receives when they understand that they have been released from the consequences of their sinfulness.  Truly the Gospel is just and merciful.  It is good news.


It would be right to ask, “Did the option exist for men to allow another to be punished in their place before Jesus?  Absolutely.  Read Leviticus 17:11 again.  In this passage we find that God has provided for a substitute to take the punishment of death.  In the Old Testament, the substitute was always an animal, but there was a substitute available.  In all times and all places, God’s mercy and grace have been extended to people who are in need of salvation.  Salvation has always been available to those who trust in the Lord.  Read Psalm 31 for a wonderful statement of trusting in God for salvation from all the evil that surrounds people.


Read Isaiah 53:11.  In this passage Isaiah is looking forward to the future coming of Jesus the Christ.  Isaiah sees into the future with God’s help and recognizes the wonderful gifts that Jesus will bring.  He will justify sinners and take their sins upon himself.  These are answers to the problem of sin.  If people are miserable because they have lost their right standing with God and have become wicked by doing and thinking bad things, then the things Isaiah foresaw are exact answers to the human problem.  To justify is the Bible, means to declare righteous, and to bear sin is to release us from its burdens, both sinning more and dying.  This is why Jesus’ death is the greatest event in history and why his resurrection from the dead gives us great hope.


Read Numbers 14:1-10 and 14:21-24.  In this story we find an example of men being punished for their sin.  The Israelites refused to believe God and enter into the Promised Land so God punished then by forcing them to pay with their lives as they lived in the desert.  The same thing happens again with Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16.  Even Moses isn’t exempt, when he disobeys God in Numbers 20:9-12; he is punished with his life being kept from entering the Promised Land too.  All humans are sinners.
Now read Luke 18:13-14 and Acts 4:12.  In the first passage the tax collector is looking to God for mercy.  He knows that Law that demands blood and death and is seeking mercy.  In the second passage we see that mercy proclaimed in the name of Jesus by Peter.  Rest assured, Jesus was punished and punished severely for our sins, but he is alive and calls you and I to join him in the wonderful freedom of the gospel.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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