I Believe in Jesus, Pt 1 (Sunday July 28, 2019)
John 1: 1-4; John 20: 30-31
I Believe in Jesus Christ, Pt 1
I invite you again this week to turn to page 882, the Apostles’ Creed, in the hymnal as we begin our sermon today. As we talked about last week, the Creed was the statement of what we believed. It was a way for Christians to say who was in our group and what it meant to be in our group. And I want to say it together now.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 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, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living 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’re continuing today with the section on Jesus Christ. And you may notice the section on Jesus Christ is rather large. It takes up over half the creed if you look line by line. And there’s of course a reason for that: Jesus takes up most of the creed because Jesus is essential to who we are. And he therefore is the focus of the places where we have fought the most over the years, and where we have divided the most over the years. Therefore, in a document that is meant to say who we are versus who they are, this is the section to get the largest treatment. Because it’s not just that we believe Jesus existed, there’s actually a lot of evidence that Jesus existed. Even most non-Christian scholars, even prominent atheist scholars, will say that Jesus existed; and often that what he’s recorded as teaching is good. The arguments come when you start to sit here and say what we believe about Jesus, particularly around this concept of his birth and his resurrection. I’m going to split this up over the next two weeks, and we’re going to talk about the ways in which Jesus lived and died, and what we believe about him as Methodist as people in the Western Tradition of the Christian faith, and what it means for us. What we believe about Jesus is not entirely unique in religions, but is extremely rare. And isn’t really found in any prominent religion today.
This section of the creed begins with a line that has three titles in it: we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. And actually Christ is a title, “the father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth’s” only Son is a title, and the Lord is a title as well. I’m going to talk more about these titles next week. I just didn’t want you to think that I was completely skipping over that line in the creed, but we’ll talk about that next week as we talk about his resurrection and what that implies for our lives.
So continuing on, we see that the creed says that we believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. One of the things that sets us apart as Christians is that we believe Jesus was the son of God, yet fully God and fully human. It was not uncommon in that day to have religion to believe that there were children of the gods, but these children of the gods were always half god-half human. They didn’t have this concept of a fully God and fully human entity. There was 100% God, there was 100% human, and there was 50-50; and you fell somewhere in that range.
But we don’t believe that about Jesus. We say that Jesus was fully God in that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. In other words, he was not born and conceived in the normal way. It was certainly not human: there’s no male that’s a part of this. And so in that sense of his birth story looks more like a Roman god than a Roman demigod, for there were plenty of stories of Zeus or something coming down and conceiving demigods in mortal women, but let’s just say that it wasn’t a virgin conception. The story looks more like the fully god births.
And yet Jesus is decidedly not a god the way the Roman would look at gods. Jesus is born of a woman, and that didn’t happen for the gods, that was reserved for the demigods or for humans. He is mortal. He eats, he sleeps, and he dies. Furthermore, I think one of the things that makes Christianity even more unique about what they believe about Jesus is that he was poor. He was a commoner. This is completely not unheard of in Roman demigod stories, but in a god in mythology? No. The idea that a God would come to earth in a place where he would immediately have to run away to Egypt, where his family would be poor carpenters, not even the head carpenter, just an average run-of-the-mill family, and a life that will ultimately end up being ended by humans. The story just doesn’t fit nicely into any one trope. It makes us unique. God was born fully human, not 50-50 but 100-100, experiencing everything about being human whilst remaining fully God.
The implications for this belief are profound. This is what we call the Incarnation, or the Christmas narrative. Incarnation means that God came and became human, and when God came and became human, he did it with all the messiness: the mess of birth, the mess of life, the mess of pain. He didn’t shy away from any of it from the birth until, as will see in a minute, death.
We’ll get to Easter next week, but I’ll mention that in order to truly understand what that the Passion Week and Easter means for us, you have to understand this part. God came and was fully human. He experienced everything that it meant to be human. What that means for you today is that no matter what you are going through in your life you can take it to God and God experienced it, God knows it, God will understand. God may not agree, God may say that you need to overcome this or need to change this about yourself, but God will understand and will not judge you negatively. Because God’s literally been there. God knows what life is about. That is something that, in this lifetime as a Christian, you can hold onto that has had a profound impact in my life, and I think might have a profound impact in yours.
Then we get into the Passion Week. We say that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. This is in reference to the Passion Week, or the events leading up to Easter. This is also where non-Christians often start to disagree. They are there they’re good with most everything up until this point but when we start talking about Jesus, our God, died and was buried, that’s where a lot of the other people jump off ship. This is where we get really foolish in a lot of people’s mind. Paul says Christ crucified is foolishness to Gentiles. God not only came to earth and became human, but suffered and died as he did so. God showed us how to live, God was revealed to us in this person we call Jesus Christ, and that the price for that (or the reason for that) was that he died.
And God really died. He descended to the dead. That line is important. At the time there was a belief that the soul would hover around the body for a few days, but if it got passed that few days then the soul would depart for the land of the dead. And the land of the dead was this area where all the dead would go. Within the land of the dead there was a realm called Paradise, and there was a realm typically called Hades. And in Paradise you receive the blessings, and Hades received curses. That was where you went when you were really dead; when the soul departs from the Earth. This line is in the creed to say Jesus was really dead; he wasn’t just asleep, he wasn’t just injured and in a coma, and the guards got it wrong and he wasn’t really dead when they took him down from the cross; no he was dead dead. He descended to the dead. His spirit went to the land of the dead; it departed. And then (spoiler alert), he didn’t just wake up, he was resurrected on Easter Sunday.
Yet oftentimes this line is omitted from the creed in modern times. In fact if you’re wondering why I keep having you turn the page 882, and then have to say the number at the top of the page is 881, and that’s the apostles creed too, then why didn’t I just read 881? The reason is 881 doesn’t have this line. Part of the reason I think that it gets omitted is that it eventually started to get translated instead of “descending to the dead” as “descending to Hell.” And we have an aversion to this word that we call the “H-E-double hockey sticks” in society. We don’t like saying that word. So we just cut it out. After all, we have a different understanding of what it means to be dead. As far as we’re concerned, you’re dead dead when you’ve been without a heartbeat or without brain activity for a certain period of time that is much less than three days. For us, saying he was dead and buried is fine.
But this is there to tell us that he’s dead. It’s vital. This is actually one of the first arguments in church history. In what was known as gnosticism, people believed that Jesus was fully God, but not fully human. He was an apparation, according to them, that appeared on earth. And then when he “died,” he didn’t really die, the apparation just ended; and then it came back three days later. And it was decided that that was heretical, that it was foundational for us to believe not only that Jesus lived (and therefore we have “born of the virgin” in the creed), but also that he actually died. And so we put in this line of descended to the dead.
Because we are going to die someday. All of us here will die someday, unless Jesus comes back tomorrow in which case you better get your act together. But if we’re all going to die someday then our hope as Christians is that Jesus‘s resurrection is somehow applicable to us. And that we can receive the same gift that Jesus received. For that to be applicable to us as people who are going to be really dead, then Jesus had to be really dead as well.
Now, I’d like to point out that there’s a whole lot of stuff from the Gospels that is not in the creed. There is, at least according to most Gospel timelines, three years of ministry; three years of teaching; the calling of the very apostles this creed is named after; the ways in which Jesus lives; the miracles that he does; the lessons he teaches; the things that I sit up here and tell you to live by is all glossed over in the creed. We go directly from the birth to the death.
Does that mean that all that stuff is unimportant? No, no that stuff is also extremely important. What the creed does is it gives you a reason for why you should follow the teachings of this entity, of this being, that we call Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus’s life and death show us the extent to which God loves the world. And Scripture tells us what we should do when we see the extent to which God so loved the world. We see the Gospel of John that because God so loved the world, that you should believe in him. And that believe means to trust, to give yourself fully to him, and thereby inherit eternal life. Because of what we see in the life and death of Jesus, you should give yourself over to him and receive eternal life. By the way, if you want to do that, you’re welcome to come up to the altar right after we’re done with the sermon and I will pray with you during that time and we can talk next week.
But the Scripture is not done at that point with saying what you should do when you see how much God so loved the world. Because in the letter of 1 John, conveniently also chapter 3 also versus 16 through 17, we see that when we realize how much God loves the world we should be so moved that we emulate that. When we see that God gave his life for us all, our response should be to give our lives for others. Personally, I hope that to be metaphorically and never literally, but this is what we are to do. Scripture calls on us as we look at the life of Jesus to follow the example and the teachings of Jesus; the things that I talk about in sermons. What we believe about Jesus is the reason you follow Jesus, and the reason that all those things I talk about in sermons should be lived out. So let’s do that. Amen.