Don’t let the name intimidate you! To “catechize” simply means to instruct someone systematically through questions and answers. If you have kids or have ever trained a new employee, then you have likely catechized them is some form or fashion.
In 1562, Elector Frederick III, a ruler in a part of the Holy Roman Empire now known as Germany, ordered the preparation of a new catechism for his territory. The new catechism would serve three purposes: (1) as a tool to educate children, (2) as a guide for preachers, and (3) as a form for confessional unity among Protestant factions in the region. He commissioned a professor at the University of Heidelberg named Ursinus (great name for you expectant mommas!), who would be the chief architect of the Heidelberg Catechism (hereafter HC).
Like most catechisms, the HC is largely a commentary on three thing: the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. HC’s structure is unique from others for two reasons: (1) the overall structure of the HC fits in to the pattern of salvation found in the book of Romans, with Questions 1-11 dealing with man’s misery, 12-85 with man’s deliverance, and 86-129 with man’s response — or as one author memorably summarized: “guilt, grace, and gratitude.” (2) HC’s 129 questions are divided up into 52 Lord’s Days (or Sunday), making it convenient for family or personal devotions each week of the year.
The Catechism was published in 1563 in Heidelberg and has since been used in scores of languages and is widely praised as arguably the most devotional, most loved catechism of the Reformation.
This Sunday, as we study the temptation of Christ together from Mark 1:12-13 and Matthew 4:1-11, we’ll be reciting questions 16 through 19 together:
Q. “WHY MUST HE BE TRULY HUMAN AND TRULY RIGHTEOUS?”
A. “God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin; but a sinner could never pay for others.”
Q. “WHY MUST HE ALSO BE GOD?”
A. “So that, by the power of his divinity, He might bear the weight of God’s anger in His humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.”
Q. “AND WHO IS THIS MEDIATOR — TRUE GOD AND AT THE SAME TIME TRULY HUMAN AND TRULY RIGHTEOUS?”
A. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God.”
Q. “HOW DO YOU COME TO KNOW THIS?”
A. “The holy gospel tells me. God Himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later, He proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; finally, He fulfilled it through His own dear Son.”
What a stunning summary of Jesus Christ’s vicarious and victorious life on behalf of sinners! Simply beautiful!
¹Summary adapted from Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 16-17