Sermon Notes for the teaching at Christian Fellowship Church on Sunday, October 18.

“I Believe”: The Apostles’ Creed, Part 1

by Pastor Donnie Berry

[I want to share a scene from the early church with us – READ Myers, The Apostles’ Creed, pp. 1-2]

We hear in the confession of these Christians a form of what developed into the Apostles’ Creed – passed down from the early centuries of the church – which has been declared by Christians around the world, through the ages – it provides a summary of the core teachings of Jesus’ Apostles – that’s why it’s called the Apostles’ Creed

And as Phil shared a few weeks ago in a sermon – sometimes it’s “old things made new” that deepen and enrich our faith and help us follow Christ faithfully in our day

So we’re going to spend the next two weeks looking at the Apostles’ Creed together

The Apostles’ Creed (early 2nd century)
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 is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there he shall come 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.

Why not “No Creed but the Bible”
So why would we spend time teaching the Apostles’ Creed – why not just teach the Bible – or “no creed but the Bible” as some traditions say?

Here’s my short answer: first, I love the Bible – I love to teach and preach the Bible – I’m all for that – but I also know that we all read the Bible through a lens – through some tradition or way of seeing or understanding the Scriptures

If you’ve heard me preach or teach much at all, you’ve probably heard me say that understanding the big story of the Bible helps us read the parts of the Bible rightly – And that’s how the Creeds handed down from the early church function too

Irenaeus (c. 130-202 A.D.) and Tertullian (c. 155-240 A. D.) – both 2nd century church fathers – talk about “The Rule of Faith” = the story set forth by the apostles that’s meant to serve as a guide in reading Scripture – The church didn’t just hand down a collection of documents (the Scriptures), but also an interpretive framework for understanding them.

So the Creeds – like the Apostle’s Creed – tell us the story of our faith and what parts of the story matter most – biblical scholar Michael Bird calls the creeds a “portable story” – a short summary of the scriptural story line that we can carry with us everywhere we go

You may have noticed the shape of this story as we said the Creed together – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God as our Creator – and the coming of Christ for our salvation – his birth, death, resurrection and ascension – and then of the birth of the church through the Holy Spirit – and our life together as Christians – experiencing communion with God and one another – forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life – until our resurrection and the consummation of all things

This is the story handed down to us by the early church – recited by the church through the ages – that is meant to give shape to our lives as followers of Jesus and as the people of God

Recovering Mystery
And today I want to help us enter into the mystery and wonder of our faith – in our culture, we tend to value only what is practical – those things we can directly connect to our lives – so in the church, for example, we want sermons that seem immediately useful to us – and that’s okay – practical is good – but Theologian and Historian Hans Boersma argues that in our modern world – we’ve lost a sense of mystery and wonder – a sense that there are things in our world beyond our ability to fully comprehend – more wonderful than we could imagine – and these things are meant to shape us – he says that Recovering a sense of the mystery of the gospel—recovering the wonder of our faith—is the most urgent task facing the church today.

So I hope we find ourselves drawn into this mystery and wonder over these next two weeks as we look at the Apostles’ Creed together

[pray]

I believe in God, the Father

The first and most foundational thing the Apostles’ Creed confesses about God is that he is Father – which brings us from the outset to the Trinitarian nature of the Apostle’s creed (I believe in God the “Father…and in Jesus Christ … and in the Holy Spirit”)

The relationship between Father – Son – and Holy Spirit was the central issue of the early church councils – they realized that this isn’t just silly arguing over words or ideas – this gets to the heart of our faith

• The Trinity – who God is and was before anything else existed – Father, Son, and Spirit – gives shape to the entire story of the Bible – and our lives
• “God is love” – we read in the Apostle John’s first letter – he is love, because he has eternally existed as a community of love – the very Nature of God is self-giving, joy-filled love
• God is a community of joy and delight within himself – and we were made to know this God – to in some way experience and share in this loving, joy-filled community

This is mystery – this is, in many ways, beyond words – but it’s wonderful

What the Scriptures teach us is that God is the eternal Father, and when we trust in Christ, he becomes our Father.

In the Gospel of John, John tells us that all who receive Jesus, the Son, all who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God – we get to share in his very sonship – we can know God as our Father

Jesus tells us, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven’” (Luke 11:2) – and Paul says that the very cry of Jesus: Abba Father – is the cry in the heart of every believe – we can call out, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15)

This is wonderful – the towering theologian, J. I. Packer, who recently died, asks the question in his classic book Knowing God,
What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father… You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father.” – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

And because God is eternally Father – All his ways are “Fatherly” – all that he does he does as Father – Mike Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, says, God is not just like a Father – he is Father – it’s the most foundational thing about him – there was a time before he was a Creator – a time before he was ruler of the universe – but there was never a time when he wasn’t Father – he has eternally existed as Father, loving his Son through the Holy Spirit – and

“Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly…He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is.” – Mike Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity

This is where the creed begins, “I believe in God the Father”

And then it declares that he is…

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
The Father is “Almighty” – this is one of those statements that should twist our heads in knots, in a good way – when we confess that God is the Father Almighty, we are not saying that God is a being “like us only greater” (like the pantheon – Zeus – pretty much like humans, but stronger) – Almighty God is an altogether different kind of being – he is the self-existent One – he is being itself – the “I Am” as he reveals himself to Moses
• When God says he is the “I Am” he is saying, “I am my own existence. Nothing gave me existence and I did not bring myself into existence. I could never fail to exist or cease to exist, because I Am.” (Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition, 49)
• God is the source of all being, the cause of all that exists, his being gives rise to all other beings, and he is the one who sustains and upholds all other beings and all other existence. – this is Almighty on a very different level than I tend to think about it

“Almighty” means he has infinite power and ability to achieve his purposes. – his power is not limited by anything beyond his own character and being – God always works to bring about what he intends to do, and, as Job says to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” – Job 42:2 – there is no power that rivals his power – or that threatens him in the least – I love how Ben Myers, in his little book on The Apostle’s Creed, says it,
• “There is power elsewhere in creation: each living thing has its own unique power and energy. But God does not have to compete with these other powers. God’s power is their source, the reason why they exist at all. God’s power is what sustains and nourishes the power of creatures.” – Ben Myers
He is the Father Almighty, and this is meant to humble us and give us a sense of incredible security

At a time when life seems so uncertain – when a virus has turned the world and our lives upside down in so many ways – we need to be reminded that we have a Father who loves us – and he is a Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth – we don’t have to grasp it fully – but we get to stand in awe and worship him – and we get to find our security in him – this is the proper response to the declaration, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”

And then the Creed turns to the person of the Son, who occupies the entire central section of the Creed – we confess that we believe

in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord

Each of these phrases, each of these names or titles, is full of meaning – Jesus – Christ/Messiah – his only Son – our Lord

I want to just highlight the last one: “Our Lord”

To confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that Jesus is
• the true human ruler God intended from the very beginning when he created man in his image to rule over creation
• he is the Rescuer – the promised seed of woman one who would crush the serpent’s head and rescue humanity from the Fall
• he is the Messianic King from the line of David who restores peace and justice to God’s world and causes goodness and flourishing to spread to the ends of the earth – he is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel and to the world

“Jesus is King of the Universe, He is Lord…and Caesar is not” – that’s how this declaration was heard in the time of Jesus and of his early followers – and many lost their lives because of it – This is a statement about ultimate allegiance – and ultimate authority

Michael Bird, who wrote a helpful book on the Apostles’ Creed, says (p. 93): “Nero did not have Christians thrown to the lions because they said, ‘Jesus is Lord of my heart.’ The Romans were not interested in the internal dispositions of people’s lives. Confession of Jesus as Lord was always a scandalous and subversive claim. Profession of ‘Lord’ is not merely religious language for adoration on some spiritual plane; it is also a matter of social and political allegiance.” – Michael Bird

Michael Bird, p. 94: “Jesus is the boss of everyone’s religion, politics, economics, ethics, and everything. Jesus is not interested in trying to capture a big chunk of the religious market; to the contrary, he’s in the business of completely monopolizing it with the glory, justice, and power of heaven. And he has every right to do so; after all, as the firstborn of all creation, the cosmos is his work and inheritance. Consequently, Abraham Kuyper was right to declare that ‘there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” – Michael Bird

In a world that seems so out of control, when so many human rulers fight for power and when politics are in our face – at an election season when everything seems uncertain and so up in the air – and the temptation is to put our hopes in an earthly ruler, or to despair because of the political scene – it is good to remember that Christians through the ages have confessed, Jesus is Lord – he is in charge – he rules it all – this is our confession – All our hopes and our ultimate allegiance are in Jesus, our King.

And he was…
conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary

Here we have the mystery of the incarnation – in which God becomes man – and human nature is joined to the divine nature – 100% God (the eternal Son, who has been the object of the Father’s love before creation, now conceived by the Holy Spirit) – and 100% human (conceived in the womb of a young Jewish girl, having her DNA for all eternity, born into the world as a baby, one who fully shares in our humanity) – this is mystery of mysteries – fully God and fully man

And there are two reasons this is so significant
1. As Anselm of Canterbury famously put it in 11th century,

Only humans could pay the debt for our sins and make right the wrong that has been committed by our race – but it’s too great for us – only God can truly make it right – and it’s in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, that our great salvation was accomplished (see Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils, p. 60)

But also,

2. We see in Jesus what has always been God’s plan from the very beginning: the union of the human and the Divine.– God always intended to bring humans into the deepest kind of communion with him possible – the kind experienced by Father, Son, and Spirit from all eternity

This is what marriage is a picture of – the Bible teaches us that two become one flesh – and that this mystery is about Christ and his church – earthly marriage is intended to give us a taste—not a complete taste—but a real taste none-the-less—of an experience of intimacy and of oneness that we all long for and were created for – a love that will never end – an intimacy and joy in knowing and being known – loving and being loved – and this has been God’s plan from the beginning – to take us as his bride, as it were – to bring us into the joy and life of the Trinity

• Theologian Oliver Crisp, Word Enfleshed – says that part of what it means to be made in the Image of God is that within our humanity is the ability to be united with God (which was God’s purpose from the beginning) – the early church fathers spoke about this kind of thing far more often than we do

– Irenaeus (2nd century) – “He became what we are so that we might become what He is’

• In other words, the Son of God “did not reject human nature or exalt himself above it” but united himself with our nature in order to unite us to God (Meyers, p. 88)

This is mystery indeed – but it’s wonderful – it’s what, at the deepest level, we all long for – for the closest of relationships with God – and the Son has united himself with our nature in order to make it possible

And then, the creed says that he
“suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried; he descended into hell”

• Pontius Pilate

The mention of Pontius Pilate in the Creed is somewhat surprising – famous 20th century theologian Karl Barth says Pontius Pilate enters the creed “like a dog into a nice room”

But by mentioning Pilate, we see that Christianity is based on history, on God acting at a particular moment in history. The salvation of the world can be dated, certain people were there when it happened – The heart of Christianity is not theory or a nice idea. It’s a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered under Pontius Pilate.

• Suffered

And when the Creed says he suffered, we know that he suffered for us – in our place – Isaiah 53:3-5 – calls him a “man of sorrows” – and says he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows

There’s nothing we experience that he hasn’t in some way experienced also. [the author of Hebrews tells us] He has suffered with us, and for us.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son:

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.

“We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.” – Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

• was crucified, dead, and buried

And he suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross, as the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians – or in the words of the Creed: he was crucified, dead, and buried

Jesus was crucified for our sins, the Bible tells us – “the punishment for our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed”

Forgiveness of sins, a new relationship with God, the powers of darkness defeated, the rule of sin and death—unleashed in the Garden of Eden—now overturned, all in the death of the Son of God.

This is love at its greatest – it’s highest – the Son of God giving his life to rescue us – the– the knight defeating the dragon and taking the princess as his bride – and they lived happily ever after

That’s what Jesus became human and offered himself up to death for

The Apostle Peter tells us, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18) – we are brought near to God in Christ

Wonder of wonders – we can know God – approach God as our Father – know that we are always welcome in his presence – always wanted – accepted and loved – safe in him – secure in him – nothing can ever separate us from his love – Christ has taken into himself our very worst, and given us his very best, taking us to himself as his bride.

[marriage] It’s why my favorite part of the wedding ceremony is when the bride and groom say to one another, “all that I have and will have, all that I am and will become is yours” – because this is the gospel – we give to Christ all that we have all that we are – and he gladly receives it – all our sin – our weakness – our shame – he owns it – he covers it

And then he gives to us all that he has, all that he is, all that he ever will have and will be – he clothes us in his righteousness – he makes us co-heirs with him – shares his very relationship with the Father – that’s the relationship we have now – this is the gospel – what Christ has done through his death for us

And finally, the last phrase having to do with his suffering and death – where we’ll leave off until next week – the Creed says

• he descended into hell

this line is the most debated of the creed – is this metaphorical? – is it literal? – there are different opinions – and I have my leanings, but whatever the case, I think Ben Myers captures the significance:

“The Son of God has taken our nature to himself. He allows our fallen nature to drag him down. He descends to the very abyss of the human condition. He traces our plight right back to the root and takes hold of us there. He embraces our humanity at the point of its total collapse into nonbeing.

Because he shares our nature he is able to fall with us into death; because he is the
Son of God he is able to fill death with his presence so that the grave becomes a source of life. In Christ, the dead are united to God and are alive in the strength of that union” – Ben Myers, Apostle’s Creed, 81-82

Mystery, wonder, beauty, grace – This is our faith – this is our God – this we believe