Friday, August 16, 2013

Going further in "We Believe in Jesus Christ"

We are in the middle of a sermon series right now called, "What Do We Believe, Anyway?"  We are looking at our most essential and basic beliefs - convictions that are held by Christians of every stripe and flavor.

The series loosely follows the clauses of the Apostles' Creed.  Rather than teaching the creed from the pulpit, I am focusing on aspects of the text from the day and how they affirm our most basic beliefs.  This, of course, leaves many of the aspects of the creed itself unexplored.  Each week, I am putting together supplemental material that accompanies the sermon notes to provide some teaching through the Apostles' Creed.  Here is the supplemental information that was included in the sermon notes for "We Believe in Jesus Christ."

When We Say the Apostles’ Creed, what are we really saying?

The second clause of the Apostles’ Creed says, “[I believe in] Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Jesus is the name given to our Lord in infancy (Luke 2:21).  “Jesus” comes from the Greek word for the Hebrew name “Joshua,” meaning “savior.”  The angel “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  His name is more than just a name, it tells us what his life would be about.

The New Testament word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah, meaning, “anointed one.”  Anointing with oil was the rite and ritual for consecrating a king.  The disciple Simon Peter says, “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16).  In confessing Jesus as the Christ, we submit ourselves to the values of his kingdom, which are love, compassion, and grace.

God’s only Son
On one hand, we are all children of God.  But here, Jesus is described as God’s only Son.  How do we reconcile this contradiction?

John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.”  The word “begotten” is derived from the Middle English word “beget” which means “to procreate, to father, to sire.”  It suggests that some part of the parent is passed on to the child, that they are made from the same stuff.  When we speak of Jesus as God’s only Son, we are saying that he is made of the same divine stuff as God.

Our Lord
When the earliest Christians confessed “Jesus is Lord,” they were making a controversial political statement.  In those days, people were required to make an oath to the emperor, pledging their ultimate allegiance to and reliance upon him.  The oath was simple: “Caesar is Lord.”  The early Christians knew they were playing with fire when they said, “Jesus is Lord.”  It means, “Jesus is the boss.”  Jesus is in charge, Jesus is running the show.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary
We affirm the full humanity and the full divinity of Jesus.  Jesus is fully human – sharing in all our sadness and all our gladness and the full range of whatever we experience; and Jesus is also fully divine, doing for us only what God can do.

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate; was Crucified, Dead, and Buried
The cross is Christianity’s distinguishing mark.  We worship a suffering servant, a righteous Lord suffers at the hands of the unrighteous.  The cross is an instrument of cruel torture, suffering, and shame.  Yet, Jesus transforms it from a tragic symbol of a cruel and unjust death into an enduring sign that the Master’s work is finished.

Even today Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him to.  We proclaim the central message of God’s kingdom, the message of love, grace, compassion, kindness and inclusion, and to remain faithful to that message even to the point of death.

The Third Day He Rose from the Dead
But death is not the end of the story.  We place our faith in the One who is stronger than death and overcomes death.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Ascended into Heaven, Sitteth at the Right Hand of God the Father
Jesus departed earth in such a way as to teach us that he was no longer physically present on earth, leaving his followers as his ongoing physical presence in the world.  Over all other powers, God reigns.  And at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus has all the majesty, power, authority, and glory of God.

Judge the Quick and the Dead
Judges in courts of law discern guilt and innocence and meet out punishments to fit the crime.  This, however, is not the way the Bible speaks of the role of a judge.  If you think back to the Old Testament, in the period before the kings of Israel, you will recall that the people were governed by judges.  Judges weren’t primarily concerned with matters of guilt or innocence, or making distinctions between who was God and who was bad.  Rather, judges were advocates before God on behalf of the people; if you want to put it in our trial language, judges were more like attorneys than anything else.

Likewise, Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead – he is our advocate before God the Father.  It is as if we have hired the best trial attorney in the world to represent us.  Yes, Jesus judges every single person, which means that he pleads our case before God the Father.  So, when we think of Jesus as our judge, that is not a statement that should fill us with fear, but one that should fill us with hope.

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