Wisdom of “old stuff” – Heidelberg Catechism question #1

Heidelberger Katechismus 1563.jpg
By http://heidelblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/catechismus1563.jpg, Public Domain, Link

Having grown up “low church” I didn’t encounter creeds, confessions, and catechisms until much later in life. I’ve seen the Heidelberg catechism question number 1 show up in some worship services in the last handful of years as part of the responsive reading within the liturgy.

In our 21st century minds, it is easy to think all the “new” stuff is the best stuff and to dismiss the “old.”

Take a look at the reflections below from the 16th Century. If truth is capital T truth then it should stand the test of time.

What do you think?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own(1), but belong – body and soul, in life and in death(2) – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ(3). He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood(4), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil(5). He also watches over me in such a way(6) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven(7); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation(8). Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life(9) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him(10).

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

Question: Do we have guardian angels?

Cortona Guardian Angel 01

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_angel#/media/File:Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01.jpg

When you lead a small group Bible study, various questions related to the text you are studying will come up. For instance, if your passage for the night has an angel saying or doing something, you might get asked if we have guardian angels?

During the time of the group discussion, you may want to let the conversation go briefly on the topic but do NOT let it consume the whole time. At some point, if necessary, firmly intervene by saying, this is an interesting topic that we could discuss more AFTER the study; let’s return to the specific passage before us.

Some group members will probably let the topic go after the Bible study is concluded for the evening but some may continue to be curious so you should be ready to address their  interest.

One can go to the “all-knowing” Google search engine and you will get a lot of web pages! Some are quite reputable while others are perhaps less trustworthy. However, for this blogpost, let’s take a quick look at what French Reformation theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) had to say about it. If you haven’t heard by now, the Reformation is marking its 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses while a professor at the University of Wittenberg. In addition to Luther, John Calvin was one of several other leading theologians of the Reformation.

Interestingly, in his magnum opus (first published in 1536; expanded and revised until 1559) theological work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he has a section on angels in book 1, chapter XIV, sections 3-12 and within those reflections he touched on the topic of guardian angels.

For the very quick survey of pertinent Bible passages see Dan. 12:1, Matt. 18:10, and Acts 12:15.

For a brief survey of Calvin’s comments in Book 1, Chapter XIV, sections 3-12 read on …

Calvin was very committed to Scripture as the basis of theological understanding whether or not one fully agrees with his interpretations. Thus, he identified the handful of Bible passages regarding angels and built his reflections around those verses. Some are highlighted below.

Calvin summarized, “Scripture strongly insists upon teaching us what could most effectively make for our consolation and the strengthening of our faith: namely, that angels are dispensers and administrators of God’s beneficence toward us.”

However, on the specific subject of “guardian angels,” he said, “whether individual angels have been assigned to individual believers for their protection, I dare not affirm with confidence.”

Calvin noted there are passages of the Bible that clearly teach the “protective” role of angels. He cited that the angel Michael “stands guard over the sons of your people” (Dan. 12:1). In the Gospels, Jesus taught “do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Calvin observed that the strongest hint of personal guardian angels can be seen in Acts 12:15, “They kept saying, ‘It is his angel’” referring to a possible guardian angel for Peter. He observed that angels when given physical description are winged suggesting “they are ever ready to bring help to us with incredible swiftness should circumstances require it.”

He cautioned about excess speculation about the details of angels beyond the limited specifics provided in Scripture. He urged that we shouldn’t be too curious or speak too confidently about these matters.

Nonetheless, from the Bible, Calvin points out that angels are utilized by God for our benefit: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14)?” Acts 7:53 and Gal.3:19 stated that angels participate in the giving of the Law to humanity. Additionally, angels are also deeply invested in the restoration of humanity and celebrate at the repentance of any one of us (Luke 15:10).

He concluded his reflections on angels by writing, “these helps have been prepared for us by the Lord that we may not be frightened by the multitude of the enemy.” Calvin reminded that the vision of Jacob’s (Gen. 28:10-17) ladder with angels ascending and descending was cited by Jesus and applied to Himself (John 1:51) indicating that only through Christ’s intercession does the ministry of angels come upon us.

Thematic Bible Conference 2017

Cogito, Credo, Petam

TBC2017_eventcoverThe Mystery of the Kingdom of God. First weekend of July, main site in Princeton. New York and Philadelphia are both only an hour away. Think about it. I hope you can go!

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Easter Sunday – He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed!


Matthew 28:1-8
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Here the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be born again
Here the bells ringing
They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said he has risen, just as he said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the word, he has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, he will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus’ power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, he has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

The angel up on the tombstone
Said he has risen, just as he said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, he has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
— Annie Herring

Stations of the Cross 14 – Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb


Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

The native American artist has painted a simple and stark picture to represent the fourteenth station. Everything is dark except the dominant image of the white box slab where Jesus body would be lain upon. In the background, there is a faint representation of a hillside with stick-figure like trees but it is all very dark and almost indistinct. There are several figures to the left and to the right. Are they asleep? Are they dead? Are they prostrated in mourning? It is hard to tell. Everything is dark – except the white box where Jesus body would be lain upon.

Is the artist foreshadowing the resurrection as there is no body of Jesus laying on the white stone slab?

Run an image search on Google with the search terms: “stations of the cross jesus is laid in the tomb.” The gathered images almost always have Jesus body in the painting sometimes covered in burial cloths sometimes not. Sometimes laying on a stone table sometimes not.

On the night before Jesus’ death, he spoke at length to his disciples, in particular some devoted to the reality they soon would experience: that he would die and they would no longer see him and then yet, they would see him again after the resurrection.

John 16:16-22 (NRSV)
“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

— Robert Lowry

Stations of the Cross 13 – Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross


Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

As you look at the faces of the women in the painting, they are in grief and saddened by what has happened.

Matthew 27:55-56 (NRSV)
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Jesus and his immediately family were probably not very wealthy and thus there were no burial plans given how suddenly his life came to an end.

Mark 15:42-47
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

However, God provided for Jesus in the form of Joseph of Arimathea who boldly asked for the body and prepared it for a placement in the tomb. I think I heard a podcast by R.C. Sproul who said that this was the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation in that he was placed in the tomb of a wealthy man and culminating in the glory of resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God!

Luke 23:55-56
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

John 19:39-41
Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

The story of Nicodemus comes full circle. He had visited Jesus back in John 3:1-21 and didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. But God was not finished with Nicodemus and apparently at some point after that encounter, he came to be a follower of Jesus.

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
— Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend

Stations of the Cross Twelve – Jesus Dies on the Cross


Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

John 21:31-34
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

In the painting, there are the three women, the three Mary’s (mother of Jesus, wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene) who grieve the death of Jesus. The spear is driven into the side of Jesus that confirms his death. The “INRI” is above the cross refers to the Latin phrase, “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” that means Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Interestingly, on the upper left appears to be the sun and on upper right what looks like the moon. The light that dominates the day and the lesser light that rules the night are personified and they appear sad – Jesus, the light of the world, has died.

Most of us have all seen death at some point in our lives. In some cases, our loved one is taken suddenly. In some cases, death is anticipated and we can gather for those final moments. But even anticipated, the moment and the moments afterward takes our breath away and there is sorrow.

For those who are followers of Jesus, we know that there is the victory of Easter Sunday and the glory of Resurrection that is the guarantee that those who trust in him though they inevitably die, will live again!

Nonetheless, we sit with the feelings of the death of Jesus at the Cross. Jesus entered this world to dwell among us. He lived, laughed, cried, did good works, and taught truth and embodied grace. He lived a fully human life and he died. When we arrive at that moment in our lives, we will know that Jesus has walked through it and will walk with us.

Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Words to the first movement translated from Polish
My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.