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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:The Death of Christ
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: John 19:30-42

Text: LD 16

Songs: Ps. 116:1-5; Ps. 116:8,9,10; Ps. 88:1,3; Hy. 51:1,2,7; Ps. 118:4,8
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

From time to time we are all confronted with death. A loved one dies. We stand around the open grave. We must be honest about death. After all, we are all going to die. Barring the imminent return of Christ, we will all die some day. Death remains our constant companion. The odds of you dying are 100% The death rate is one out of one.

As Christians, we are not scared to talk about death. When we discuss death, we use the Christian vocabulary and speak about the death of Christ, about his burial and descent into hell.

LD 16 discusses these different aspects of the death of Christ and how they relate to us Christians. We will see how the death of our Lord Jesus Christ changed everything for us.


We will speak about: 1. Physical death; 2. Spiritual death; 3. Eternal death.

1.a. When the catechism turns to the topic of physical death, it speaks first about the death of Christ. Why did Christ need to die? Why did He have to go all the way to death?

Death is a deep and profound, perhaps the ultimate, humility for man who was created to live. As he took the various steps of humiliation, why was this last one necessary-death and burial? We read it in John 19. Christ bowed his head and gave up his spirit. He died. The practice was to break the legs of those who had been crucified. This was meant to hasten the death of the one who had been hanged. Crucifixion was a slow form of death. One hung on his cross for hours, sometimes days, until he died from fatigue, pain and loss of blood. The legs would be broken so the person could not hold himself up anymore. With broken legs he would hang by his extended arms which would hasten death by suffocation or heart attack.

The Jews did not want the upcoming Sabbath to be desecrated by half-dead men hanging on their crosses, and so they asked that their legs be broken. When the leg-breakers came to the Lord, they saw he was already dead. And so they did not break his legs.

John quoted Exodus 12:46 which said that no bone of the Passover Lamb was to be broken-and said that this text was now fulfilled.

What do these two have to do with each other? Why was no bone of the Passover Lamb to be broken? And why was that law fulfilled when the soldiers did not break the legs of Christ?

Christ died before the leg-breakers came to do their work because he had to give up his life rather than have it taken from him. He consciously gave up his life. He said: It is finished, and then bowed his head and gave up his spirit. He was not a victim, but a high priest bringing a sacrifice. And that sacrifice was himself.

That explains why no bone of the OT Passover Lamb was to be broken. The lamb foreshadowed Christ. As the legs of the final Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, would not be broken, so the bones of the shadow had to remain in tact-to be a proper shadow.

As the HC says, Christ humbled himself to death. He gave himself up, for us.

The justice and truth of demanded this. In Genesis 2:17 God told Adam that if he were to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. As Romans 6:23 says, the wages of sin is death. The paycheque the work of sin deserves is death. Death is the wages, the salary, the remuneration, transgression earns. It is our just earnings. Death in all its dimensions: Physical, spiritual and eternal death.

The gospel is that our sins were imputed to Christ. Reckoned to him. He who had no sin became sin for us. But then he had to die. He had to be paid out. He had to accept the dishonoring honorarium. He could not be victimized by it, but he had to accept it, and humble himself under the deadly wages.

The only way was for the Son of God to accept death. Imagine, the Son of God had to die for you. Quite a thought. In this way he made satisfaction for you, for your sins.

As a testimony to his death, he was buried. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodumus laid the body of Christ in a tomb.

The death of Christ changes everything for us. It is universally transforming. One of the many things it transforms for you is your death.

b. Your physical death.

Jesus Christ is the key to dying well. The death of Christ has great benefit for our dying. Q. 42 asks: Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die? That is not a strange question for those who take seriously that death is God's punishment for sin and that Christ bore that punishment when he died for us. Indeed, why do we still need to die? Why are Christians not whisked into heaven in fiery chariots, like Elijah?

The HC says, what you need to understand is that your death is not a payment for sin. Of course, Christ accepted the painful payment for you. He died for you. And yet you need to die some day. But for you, for the believer, death has a completely new function. It's not punishment; rather, it is the door to eternal living. We need not be scared of death. Death is very frightening when it is punishment from God. But for us, the sting of death has been removed. It is like a wasp without a stinger anymore.

Death is God's final remedy for us. Our biggest problem is that we still sin. Death puts an end to that. We step through the door into eternal life, into the presence of Christ.

We do not glory in death. We do not desire death. We may not do anything to hasten death. Our times are in God's hands. Death is not a friendly thing. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 15, it is an enemy. It is the last enemy on God's list of enemies to be defeated. Death, the last enemy, and God will destroy it. In the new order there will be no death. Death has not yet been destroyed. However, God has already beat it into submission. He uses even this last enemy to bring us into his presence.

We may know, beloved, that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, love and obey him, when we die we will pass through the door and enter into the presence of Christ.

Not only did the death of Christ transform our physical death. It also causes our spiritual death and transforms our lives.

2. Spiritual death.

QA 43 speaks about the effect the death of Christ on the cross has on our daily lives today. We say that our old sinful nature was put to death and buried with him so that the evil desires of the flesh no longer sit on the throne of our hearts but that we begin to live for him, for Christ.

We must not only confess the benefits of Christ's death for our dying, but we must also say what his death means for our living. Is it not true that we are quicker to speak about how Jesus took the fear out of dying than to confess that he puts us to death while we are living? We do not mind "dying in the Lord" when the time comes, but we would like to continue having our own life as long as we are still here.

Dying is gain for those who live for Christ. As Paul said in (Phil 1:21), For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. You may say that you are not scared to die because Jesus Christ died for you. Of course you may say that. And you may calmly face death when the time comes because Christ has transformed death from punishment for sin to an entrance to eternal life. But then you must also say: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Gal 2:20 NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The question that confronts you is: Are you included in the death of Christ? The third membership vow of public profession of faith: Third, do you declare that you love the Lord God and that it is your heartfelt desire to serve Him according to His Word, to forsake the world, and to crucify your old nature? Are you included in the death of Christ? Were you there when our Lord was crucified? Has your old nature been put to death and buried with him?

If you believe in Christ, then you died together with him. Then your old sinful nature died. Died on Golgotha. Died on the cross.

This was sealed and confirmed to you in your baptism. Your old nature was drowned in the baptismal font.

Died on the cross; drowned in the font. That's the gospel you must now embrace, believe, and taste by faith in Jesus Christ. Then you will offer yourself as a sacrifice of thankfulness.

When you crucify your old nature, a new one comes to life. You are transformed. No longer conformed to the old pattern of life. No longer conformed to the ways of the world, but transformed by the Holy Spirit. Renewed, reborn, spiritually resurrected.

That new life you begin to live is eternal. As the Lord Jesus said to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. "

3. Eternal death.

We come now to QA 44. The words "He descended into hell" have, throughout history, been explained in different ways. There have been those who said that when he died, Jesus Christ went to the place of eternal punishment-either to liberate the OT saints or to announce to his enemies his victory. But his final words, as we can read them in Luke 23:46, would rule that out. He said: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Before that he had promised the one criminal that they would be in paradise together that very day.

What then does the confession "He descended into hell" mean? It probably originally meant nothing more than that while his Spirit went to be with the Father into whose hands he committed it, his body spent several days in the grave, the realm of the dead. You see, the English word "hell" used to have two meanings. It could mean simply the grave, but it could also mean the place of eternal death and punishment-what we today mean with "hell." The Greek word for hell, Hades, also had this double meaning.

So, originally, the creed probably meant that Christ was buried, and this his bodied remained in the realm of the dead until Easter Sunday. The Westminster Larger Catechism explains these words this way. It says that the words: He descended into hell, mean that Christ continued in the state of the dead and under the power of death till the third day.

QA 44 explains the expression differently. Beautifully and biblically. Comfortingly, but, admittedly, not acc. to it's original sense. Our catechism follows John Calvin's explanation of the AC as you will read it in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book 2, ch. 16, par. 8-12). John Calvin understood the word hell as an expression of God's judgment. He emphasized the other meaning of hell. Hell as the place of the damned.

He does not say that Christ went to the place of the damned when he died. Rather he says, and what he says is true-that hell came to Christ while he hung on the cross. Hell came to Christ when God forsook his Son.

What is the worst thing about hell, the place of the damned? Not the fire. Not the pain. The worst thing about hell is being abandoned by God. Eternally forsaken. Left on your own, forever.

When Christ was on the cross, God forsook him. He abandoned him. This caused Christ unspeakable anguish, pain, terror and agony. Christ had to grapple with all the powers of hell while he was on the cross in the thick darkness. He was in the pit of hell when he cried out asking his God why He had forsaken him. Then he was in the depths of hell.

Hell came to earth. Hell came to the cross.

That's how QA 44 explain our confession of Christ's descent into hell.

What does that mean for us? It means that Christ has delivered us from the anguish and torment of hell. Christ went through hell for you. That means that you will never go to hell-to eternal death.

That means that life on earth will never be hell for you. It means that God the Father will, for the sake of his son, never forsake you.

Sometimes we are scared. We feel pain. We are anxious and worried. Scared to die. Scared about tomorrow. Anxious about going to work. About picking up the phone-maybe the news is bad.

We feel lonely, left alone-left alone by God. Forsaken. On our own.

Temptations to sin really make us feel far away from God. When we are tempted we wonder whether God is really hanging on to us. Or has he let us go? We begin to doubt, to question.

The catechism takes us by the hand. It brings us to a rich source of comfort. It speaks to us the gospel-about the unspeakable anguish, pain, terror and agony which Christ endured throughout all his sufferings but especially on the cross. And it tells us that in this way Christ has delivered us from the anguish and torment of hell.

You see how the HC again shifts into the first person singular here-like a confession should. Christ has undergone this for me. When I am sad, when I am tempted, when it feels like God is far way, then I remember what Christ did for me. He went through hell on the cross so that I may have eternal fellowship with him and with his Father. The promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God counts for the dark moments of life as well.

Do you see how the death of Christ changes everything? It alters everything. It transforms the way we die; it transforms the way we live. Because of Christ's death on the cross we can live well, and we can die well. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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