The Only Possible Solution: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 5

The Only Possible Solution

12. Since, then, by the righteous judgment of God we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how may we escape this punishment and be again received into favor?
God wills that His justice be satisfied;1 therefore, we must make full satisfaction to that justice, either by ourselves or by another.2
[1] Ex. 20:5; 23:7. [2] Rom. 8:3–4.

13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction?
Certainly not; on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.1
[1] Job 9:2–3; 15:15–16; Matt. 6:12; *16:26.

14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?
None; for first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man committed;1 and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin2 and redeem others from it.
[1] Heb. 2:14–18. [2] Ps. 130:3.

15. What kind of mediator and redeemer, then, must we seek?
One who is a true1 and righteous man,2 and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.3
[1] 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 25–26. [2] Jer. 13:16; Isa. 53:11; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:15–16. [3] Isa. 7:14; Heb. 7:26.

Lord’s Day #5 of the Heidelberg Catechism is the hinge between the first and second sections of the Catechism. Given the reality of the problem of sin and of God’s justice, what is our hope?

Question 11 tells us that God is not only merciful, but also just. Having explored His justice in the last few weeks, we ought not forget His mercy. God is always absolutely true to Himself, and just as He must be just He must also be merciful. This truth is a great comfort to us. We can know that His mercy is not some accidental accommodation of His character to changing events, to possibly be displaced by more fundamental aspects of His character, but rather is fundamental to who God is. His mercy endures forever.

God never denies Himself, and this mercy must be displayed in a way that fully complies with His justice. This series of questions explores that issue. We know God is merciful, and therefore there must be a way of escaping His wrath. At first glance, the question seems to be exploring the problem only within the scope of God’s justice, asking what we as those condemned sinners can do to satisfy the demands of that justice and escape His wrath. But considering only God’s bare justice, the doors are closed. We cannot satisfy His wrath. Our state of sin and misery means that God’s justice has new claims against us every day. We cannot expect God to inflict punishment on some other creature for our sin. And therefore our options appear to be exhausted.

They appear so, that is, until we understand that God is not only just, but also merciful. There is one option which we would never have considered, would never have even crossed our mind, and that is that God Himself would pay the debt that we owe. And in fact, this is the only solution to the problem. God in His mercy would satisfy His own justice, and would do so by becoming man. That man-who-is-also-God could satisfy the requirements. He will be capable of suffering death, the prescribed penalty for our sin. He would be capable of enduring that eternal death for all the human race in a finite period of time, since He is possessed of the infinite power of God. God’s justice would be satisfied, since the penalty for the human race’s sin would be fully absorbed by a member of the human race itself, and His mercy would likewise be satisfied, since it would be God Himself who would absorb that penalty and free man from the curse.

Isaiah prophesied this very solution in Isaiah 59, which laments the terrible state of mankind and the absence of justice on the earth. The prophet says in verse 15, “Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him, that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessory. Therefore His own arm brought salvation… The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob.” In the face of man’s complete inability to rescue himself from his terrible state, God took on the task Himself and brought salvation to His people.

This is the mediator that we then must seek, the only One who meets or could ever meet all the requirements. He is a man, who can suffer death. He is a righteous man, who does not Himself deserve death. And He is God, who can suffer that death for all mankind, can emerge victorious, and can thus display in all its glory God’s perfect justice and mercy, wisdom and power. He is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name alone is salvation.