Apostle’s Creed: Week Three

We have arrived at the third week of examining the Apostle’s Creed (see week one here and week two here). This is the creed with this week’s section highlighted in bold font:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And 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; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Christians have told the story of Jesus’ death since the inception of our religion. We agree that Christ was dead for three days before his resurrection. This doesn’t necessitate seventy-two hours, but rather part of Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday when he rose from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection led to a time where he dwelt with his disciples on earth before ascending into heaven. We shouldn’t think of this as Jesus flying into space somewhere beyond Jupiter and Saturn, but rather the spacial, cosmological language describes Jesus’ return to the realm of Heaven where God the Father reigns. In the Book of Acts Jesus goes upward into heaven. Angels inform the disciples that he will return to earth as he went (1.9-11). Later in the same book a martyr named Stephen sees Jesus in heaven, sitting on a throne in the authority of God the Father (7.56).

This language is common in the New Testament. Jesus resurrected and he ascended into heaven. He reigns authoritatively as God’s chosen King over earth, though he is not on earth. He will return. The Apostle Paul described it similar to the Book of Acts stating that Jesus would return in the sky (see 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). In 1 John 2.28 this event is described as Jesus’ “appearing”. It is not that he is completely absent, but as he dwells in the heavenly realm he is not visible. Jesus’ Second Coming can be described as an “appearing” as much as a coming. Another relevant text worth studying is Ephesians 1.3-14.

Jesus’ return is seen as a time of judgment. Jesus was often described as the “Son of Man”. This takes its cue from Daniel 7 where the Son of Man comes to judge on behalf of the Ancient of Days (God). In the Gospels we have several discussions about Jesus returning to judge. The Apostle Paul talks about God judging through Christ throughout his epistles. Likewise, the Book of Revelation shows Jesus as God’s chosen judge over the world, purging it of evil and making creation into the good place of dwelling intended by God.

Apostle’s Creed: Week Two

Last week we began examining the Apostle’s Creed part by part. You can find my first post here. Let me post the creed again with our section of interest in bold font:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And 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; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

In this section we move from the person of God the Father to his Son, Jesus Christ. That Jesus is mentioned in the same creed with God as an object of belief is important. While it is not explicit it does seem to imply that he stands with God the Father as one worthy or worship and loyalty.

Jesus is called “Christ” which means he was understood to be Israel’s long-waited Messiah. The Messiah would be a son of King David who would establish David’s throne forever. Jesus is that King, that child of David, the Messiah.

As Son this means he shares the nature of the Father and he comes from the Father. He is the one who inherits all that is the Father’s. Later exploration would conclude that we can speak of him as the second person of the Trinity who is one with his Father because he shares his Father’s divine nature.

As “Lord” Jesus is declared by the church to be the supreme authority in the world. He is greater than the Caesars of the Roman Empire and any other world ruler. Likewise, many have noted that in the Hebrew Bible the name of God was replaced with the word adonai which we translate “Lord”. It may be that there is some sense in which Lord connects Jesus with the God of Israel’s identity.

When he confess that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary we state (1) that his birth was not like just anyone in that it was not the union of a man and woman that brought him to use; (2) that it was the creative work of the Holy Spirit doing a miracle that no human could perform; (3) that like Adam so Jesus is a direct creation of God; (4) that he did share our genuine humanity which he received from Mary; and (5) that it happened in a real place in a real human.

Jesus’ suffering is another way of emphasizing that he was a real human. He suffered like other humans. He felt real pain. The mention of Pilate is another way of locating this story in history. It is not timeless mythology, but an act of God in time.

We confess that Jesus was truly crucified under the authority of Rome. He really died, lest anyone doubt he somehow survived. He was buried in a place where his disciples knew his body had been laid. Finally, Jesus descended into the abode of the dead, experiencing real death, and according to Christian confession he announced to the saints of the past that God has defeated death.

Next week we will look at how Jesus did this.

Lenten Repentance

One of the common words we hear about during Lent is “penitence,” which is a synonym for “repentance.” I used to think repentance meant, “I won’t do that bad thing again!”  Sorrow for doing bad things and commitment to stop doing them is part of repentance, but there’s so much more.

In Acts 26:20, Paul declared that people “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”  Paul tells us that repentance means turning to God.  It’s difficult for well-intending people to admit they have turned away from God, feeding habits which are completely against His will, in fact serving the purpose of God’s enemies (Ephesians 2:1-3).  That’s one reason why following Jesus is repulsive to the world – to truly turn to God, we have to admit that the way we’ve been living is bankrupt, twisted, aligned with evil powers, and in fact dead.

When we turn to God and confess our guilt, we know that God always punishes the guilty, but we also trust that He will forgive (Ex 34:6-7). Only God can resolve this conflict, and He resolves it through the God-man, Jesus, who trades places with us.  Our ungodliness goes on Him, and his righteousness is credited to us.  He takes our punishment, and we are declared innocent.  He was resurrected, and we are given new life too.

So repentance is turning from our old selves and turning to God.  And He never leaves us there, midway in the turn, but takes us all the way through to begin a new life of everlasting quality, because repentance is followed by forgiveness and transformation.  Being forgiven through faith in Jesus, we are washed clean and renewed in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit (Timothy 3:5).  That’s when are our deepest desires are to honor God, to trust and listen to Him, and to live in ways which reflect our love for Him (Galatians 5:16-25).

So during Lent we take time to remember that we were dead in sin.  We remember that we turned and trusted in God to forgive us.  We remember that Jesus died in our place and was resurrected.  We remember the new life we received.  And we do this to renew our gratitude and loyalty and love for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, motivating us to continue performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

Why Observe Lent?

Think of an important event that you celebrate each year with a loved one, like an anniversary or a birthday.  And suppose you have seven weeks to plan for that event.  In a way, the more thought and planning you put into the day, the more meaningful your celebration will be, and the more your loved one will know how much you love them.

Lent is a period of seven weeks during which Christians prepare to remember the day that Jesus died (Good Friday) and the day He was resurrected (Easter Sunday). How can we prepare to celebrate these important days of the Christian year?

We can think back and remember how life was before we trusted Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-3).  We were separated from God by the guilt we carried for the things we’d done wrong and by the shame we carried for the wrongs done against us.  We were caught up in the course of popular culture, indulging our impulses yet never satisfied.  We were in fact aligned with powers working against God instead of for Him.

We can acknowledge to God how fantastic His love is, in that Jesus died for us even when we were against Him (Romans 5:6).

We can remember how we turned to God in broken humility, confessing the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, and trusting that He would be merciful and forgive us (Joel 2:12-14).

We can give God thanks for the cleansing, healing, transforming power of the forgiveness we received through Jesus (Ps 51).

And remembering all this can stir a renewed love in our hearts so that we live today in ways which demonstrate our love and faithful trust in Jesus (John 14:15; Acts 26:20).

Break away from the busyness of life and take time to prepare your hearts to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.  May this Easter season be a particularly special one for you, for our church as we gather to celebrate together, and for Jesus, as we express our deeply-thought love and devotion to Him!

Apostle’s Creed: Week One.

We have recited the Apostle’s Creed the last two weeks at Grace Bible Church. Pastor Ken Garrett asked me to “exegete” or explain the creed for four weeks which we began last week. In addition to the short talks I will be giving on Sunday morning I will be posting a brief thought on this blog as well. If you have any questions feel free to ask.

This is the Apostle’s Creed (traditional English version):

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. 

And 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; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

We discussed the words “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” These words confess a few things. First, we don’t believe in gods plural, we believe in one God. This God is our Father. As Father he is the source of all things created, including humanity. We owe our very existence to God.

As Almighty this means there is no deity, spirit, or being who compares in power to God. God is superior over all. God is the sovereign King of the universe.

There were some heretics in the early church who denied that the true God created everything. They argued that matter and physicality were evil and spirit was good alone. This is not the Christian confession. We believe our God to be the same God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the story of Israel, as the Father of Christ Jesus.

God created all things and determined their purposes. In Genesis 1 he calls his aristic work “good” over and over again. Our God made all things and he loves his physical, material creation. It is his grand design.

Some people argue today that God is completely divorced from the creation of our world. While Christians have different views of how God went about brining creation into being and setting creation in order we do not deny that God is the Creator. As the Creed say, God is “Maker of heaven and earth.”

God is responsible for both the physical world (earth) you see and the invisible realm that you do not see (heaven).

What does this mean for Christians? It means we can be thankful for the creation we see around us. We are pleased to know its Creator. The cosmos have a purpose and God the Father is the source of all things.

The Preacher is a Servant of Jesus Christ

With the metaphor of a servant, the late Dr. John Stott concludes a presentation of five metaphors to describe the role of a preacher.  The particular verse from which Stott draws the metaphor is found in 1 Corinthians 3:5:

 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.

The Corinthians had succumbed to “the shameful cult of human personalities,” drawing out distinctions and comparisons between such leaders as Paul, Peter, and a skilled speaker from Alexandria named Apollos.  They claimed loyalty to their favorite leader or preacher, and looked down on those who weren’t members of their particular fan club.   Stott focuses on Paul’s response to such twisted, misguided thinking about the church.  All genuine, called preachers of the gospel are, at the end of the day, servants who have simply done their jobs to the best of their ability.  They are not artists seeking to “create” a masterpiece of a sermon week by week, or pulpit politicians who seek to sway the will of their listeners in a certain direction politically.

Stott writes that a servant must be provided the tools and means to accomplish his task by his employer, or Master.  As a gardener needs to be given tools to work the ground, so a preacher must be given the proper tools to preach effectively—and the primary need is for the very power of God to be dispensed into the preacher so that it can be relied on by the preacher in the sermon.  Stott lists four sources of the power need:

The first source of power is the Word of God.  People are not saved by the words of people, but only by the Word of God.  This means a godly preacher does not rely on arguments of reason or flourish that could play to any crowd, Christian or not, for sake of their impressiveness and apparent wisdom.  Instead, the preacher finds the unadulterated, unadorned words of the Bible to be his one and only subject and source of material.  All other information sources find their value only in the extent that they contribute to the proper interpretation of the Word from God.

Second, there is matchless power in the cross of Christ.  While perplexing to the spiritually minded Jews of Paul’s day, and foolishness to the “logical” Greeks, Paul stubbornly refused to present any other source of truth or reason than that of the fact and results of the most heinous crime in human history—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the astounding opportunity of redemption that the cross afforded for all who simply believed in it for their salvation.

Third, the preacher finds power for preaching in the filling of the Holy Spirit—in the preacher himself and in his hearers. Whereas common public proclamation and discourse rests on the ability of the speaker to persuade—often through manipulative technique or the display of great speaking skill—the preacher relies on a spiritual transaction to occur in the soul of both himself as he preachers, and in his listeners, as they sit under the preaching of the Bible.

Finally, there is preaching power to be found in cultivating a life of holiness and humility.  A preacher must speak from a life that, while not perfect or sinless by any means, is  sincere in its preference and pursuit of a holy life before God and man.  Also, the preacher gains power through humility.  As the Word tells him that God “gives grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5), he seeks that grace from God, week after week.

Whew!  Those are the five metaphors of the preacher that Stott leave us with in The Preacher’s Portrait.  Are there any that you feel he left out?

The Preacher is a Father to his Church

Well, this is a tricky one, isn’t it? The late Dr. John Stott’s book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ. The metaphor of a father is not usually applied to the role of the preacher!

Stott warns that this father-like attribute of a faithful preacher has limitations; the preacher is not to presume to exercise any sort of fatherly authority over his congregation, for such authority belongs to God alone, and not to the frail human entrusted with preach! (Matt. 23:9)  However, the preacher is to treat his church as family, and relate to them with the tender-hearted kindness, understanding, and sacrifice that any good father demonstrates towards his own children.  Stott’s other domestic metaphor for the preacher, the steward, refers to the preacher’s relationship to the household, particularly in his administration of the goods and stores of the master of the house.  But a father’s primary role in the home is to lovingly relate to its people.  

Stott writes, “Love, then, is the chief quality of a father to which the Apostle refers when he uses the metaphor to illustrate his ministry; not a soft or sickly sentimentality, but a strong, unselfish love which cares and which is not incompatible with discipline.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Only by genuinely loving those we preach to can we truly understand the daily joys, blessings, challenges, and blessings that our church members face.  When a preacher gains such wisdom into the real life of the congregation, he then is fit to speak with both appropriate authority and tender affection to their specific condition.

Stott lists six aspects of such affection: understanding, gentleness, simplicity, earnestness, example, and prayer.  He concludes, “We do not have this love for people by nature; we can only receive it by grace.  By nature we are selfish, lazy and hungry for the praise of men.  There is only one way to learn to love, and that is, to yearn for people, in St. Paul’s phrase, ‘with the affection of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:8).

May our pulpits be filled by only by those who love their congregations like a father loves his children!

The Preacher is a Witness to the Lord Jesus Christ

The late Dr. John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ.  Whereas the role of the steward is a domestic metaphor, which “takes us into a house,” and the role of the herald is a political metaphor, which “takes us into the open air, perhaps a street or marketplace,” the metaphor of the witness is legal—it takes us into the lawcourts.

It is required that a witness has both experienced something, and then is willing and capable of giving an truthful account of what was experienced.  Dr. Stott writes that there are two primary requirements of the preacher who acts as a witness: experience and humility.

The nature of experience required is not of much preaching experience, or advanced academic preparation.  It is rather the experience of living in personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without such a living relationship, the preacher is simply speaking about something that happened, or happens, to someone else, but not himself/herself.  The “testimony” would at best be only hearsay.

Likewise, humility is required of the preacher. Stott writes that it is a “perilous” undertaking to stand before a church presuming to authoritatively speak God’s truth into the lives of its members.  There is a temptation to presume it is your message, your words, your sermon, instead of your humble testimony to what God has said and done.

We preachers might do a better job of it all if we observed Dr. Stott’s requirements to our sermons, asking ourselves, Am I speaking from my own, personal experience?  And, Do my words arise from a sincerely humble soul, or are they merely the expressions of a proud spirit? I would add third question: Have I preached this sermon to myself before I preach it to others?

The Preacher is a Herald of the Good News of Jesus Christ

John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ. The second role presented is that of a herald.

Whereas the emphasis of the steward is on the role of faithfully preserving and dispensing the Word of God to the church, the role of the herald in pastoring is that of both proclaiming a specific message entrusted to him, and then making an appeal for a response on the part of the listener.  The specific message that he proclaims is that of the spectacular accomplishment of the cross of Jesus Christ in bringing about the opportunity of reconciliation between God and man—the Gospel.  The pastor-as-herald is more than a mere spokesman who says something—he is an ambassador who calls upon those to whom he has been sent to make a decision about what he has told them.  Thus Peter preached to his Pentecost listeners “Repent, and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).  A herald needs to be clear about his message, simple in its presentation, and courageous in calling for a response from his listeners.  It’s this type of moral courage that marks a faithful pastor.

From Stott: “So the true herald of God is careful first to make a thorough and thoughtful proclamation of God’s great deed of redemption through Christ’s cross, and then to issue a sincere and earnest appeal to men to repent and believe.  Not one without the other, but both.”

The Preacher is a Steward of the Word of God

John Stott’s magnificent book The Preacher’s Portrait describes five roles that a pastor-preacher fills in serving the church of Jesus Christ.  For the next five days, I’m going to share one of those five roles, for the consideration of our church.

A steward is responsible to manage the resources of another in a way that serves the desires and best interests of the master of those resources.  In a broad sense, all Christians have been entrusted with gifts, skills, and resources that they are responsible to use to serve Jesus, but the pastor fills a unique roll of stewardship in the church.  He is entrusted with the faithful, regular, effective dispensing of the Word of God to the church.  He is to prepare and present the Word in such a way that it can be taken in by the church and acted upon in the life of the church.  Likening the ministry of the Word to the feeding of a family, Stott writes, “So the skilled steward sees that his larder is kept well stocked  He will never weary the household with a monotonous menu, nor nauseate them with an insipid diet, nor give them indigestion with unsuitable food.  The steward will rather be like the householder whom Jesus described, “who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt. 13:52).”

So, first and foremost, the pastor must be a man who, in a skilled and winsome manner, applies Word of God to the day-to-day life of the congregation entrusted to his care.