Apostle’s Creed

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Me, myself, I (part 1)

For the next couple of weeks we’re going to explore the Apostle’s Creed which dates all the way back to the First Century AD.
What I’m hoping to do is to reflect more devotionally than theologically and to apply the precepts of the Creed to our lives.
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O LORD, You have searched me and You know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
You know it completely, O LORD.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.      (Psalms139:1-24)

We start with the very first word of the Apostle’s Creed: “I”

As Christians we are in the awesome position that while we can talk about the faith of the church – we can also describe faith as a beautifully intimate and personal experience.

Faith is not merely a cerebral assent to a doctrine subscribed to by a community. Faith is a relationship at its most intimate: An encounter between the imperfect me-myself-and-I and the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.

Psalm 139 is an exploration of this intense intimacy. David explores this intimacy thoroughly in the Psalm. If you read it in its entirety there are moments that one senses how white-hot the Divine Interest in David is and it is as if David struggles to cope with God’s loving attention to detail: He says
“5 You hem me in–behind and before;
You have laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?”

But by the end of the Psalm David responds to Divine Interest – let’s call it by its true name – LOVE. He opens himself to the fullness of relationship: Search me, know me, test me, lead me!

To believe is a personal thing. Not personal as in private and not-to-be-shared but personal as in INtimate, INterested and INvolved. To believe is a relationship between the “i” and the “I am” and the deeper the relationship is the more I am truly me.

(More on Tuesday)
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THE APOSTLES’ CREED
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s 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.
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will 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

Me, myself, I (part 2)

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.      (Psalms139:14-16)

On Friday we recognised that faith is a personal thing. Not personal as in private and not to be talked about, but personal in the sense that it is INtimate, INdividual and INteractive.

Faith is not merely an intellectual assent to a corpus of institutes. Faith is a relationship. Declaring, as the Apostles’ Creed does, that “I believe” is to recognise that we are the relational quarry (object of pursuit not a place where you collect stones) of a relentlessly loving God.

David recognises this – God has made him, God pursues him, God has a purpose for him and God will transform him.

Faith is a personal thing. I cannot talk about God objectively – He is not distant, disconnected or dissociated – He is passionately personal, intensely intimate and relentlessly relational.

The late Prof Johan Heyns was my Dogmatics lecturer when I was a student. He opened every lecture with prayer. His impassioned prayer was that God would open our hearts to His majesty and love.
He used an analogy that has always stayed with me. He suggested that many theologians try to objectify God: to examine God as though He were the object and that we were the scientific subject. He said that it was like trying to put God on a microscope slide and examine Him. He argued that whenever we talk about God we should realise that we are on the microscope slide looking up into the loving eyes of God who is the ultimate Subject and that we are the beloved object.

This analogy suits Psalm 139 perfectly.

Let’s go into today recognising that we are the object of God’s passionate pursuit and that He knows us and longs for us to know Him.

Believe (#1) Take a step towards Him

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”      (Matthew14:28-33)

The second word of the Creed is “believe.”

We’ve already seen that faith is personal and intimate – a relationship. Now we move to the foundation that this relationship is based upon: Faith.

But faith is a tough word to define.
Our gospel account of Peter’s Galilee-stroll is a very valuable lesson in the nature of faith.

It’s the fourth watch of the morning (3AM-6AM).
The disciples have been pulling against the oars all night.
Their body clocks are at their lowest ebb.
Then a scary apparition comes across the water.
But it’s Jesus – they recognise His voice and it looks like Him.

Peter calls and is invited to do what he asked to do.
And so Peter hoists his leg over the gunwale and plants his first foot on the water and takes his first step.
Towards Jesus.

Maybe Peter’s faith is best described as his trust in Jesus.
Maybe faith is not about a complex set of beliefs.
Or even the tight set of a determined jaw…
It’s not about mind over water.
It’s that Peter sees Jesus and wants to be with Him.

Faith is a relationship with One who is Trustworthy.
Faith is trust. It’s wanting to be where He is.

Peter is fine while he’s moving TOWARD Jesus.
It’s when He looks elsewhere that he sinks.
But even then Jesus has him – because Jesus is trustworthy.

Faith is not a cranial mindset – it’s a trusting relationship where we move toward Him. It’s taking another step closer to Him and knowing that no matter where He’s standing – on water, in the fire, or in the tomb – He is able to catch us.

Believe (#2) Incorporating Doubt

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 ” If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”      (Mark9:21-24)

The boy had been having seizures or fits since he was little. The man was desperate. The disciples had been trying to help but to no avail. They brought the boy to Jesus and the evil spirit threw him to the ground. The conversation in our reading is happening while the boy convulses on the ground…

Jesus has already rebuked the disciples and the crowd for unbelief. Now Jesus tells the man that anything is possible for those who believe. In a moment of beautiful clarity and outright honesty the man exclaims “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Faith without doubt is fact – not faith.
Faith requires trust – it’s always a leap into the unknown.

The man, with a convulsing child on one side and Jesus on the other, turns and looks Jesus in the eye and asks for help. “I want to believe, but I’ve been disappointed and I doubt, but I believe YOU can help me.”

Faith is never without some element of doubt. Faith is not the “power of positive thinking.” Faith is always a plea for help. It’s an expression of trust. It’s realising that whatever the circumstances two things are sure:
1. Jesus is good.
2. Jesus can help.

That evening that man walked home with his arm around a healthy boy: The awesome outcome of doubting faith brought to trustworthy Messiah.

This is what “Believe” is all about.

Believe (#3) Certainty…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.       (Hebrews11:1-2)

(I’ve re-used an old dev – I can’t say it better)

The language of faith is never the certainty of the laboratory litmus-test or the court-room’s “beyond reasonable doubt.”

The language of faith is hope, trust and imagination.

You’re probably are worried about me using the word “imagination”…
I don’t mean imaginary (as in “not real”) – I’m thinking of the high jumper who imagines themselves sailing over the bar even before they take the run up. I’m thinking of the bride-to-be imagining the wedding.

It’s imagination that anticipates a certain future.

The language of faith is trust and relationship.
It’s believing when we can’t see.
It’s trusting when the numbers are too complicated for us to add up.

Faith is about realising that I am not and cannot be ultimately in control, but that the universe is in the good hands of a God we can know.

Faith is not about knowing or controlling the future, but about knowing the One who does.

We live in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” world.
But faith calls us to recognise that we can’t see it all.
We are not god.
But we can know, trust and hope in the One who is…

This is what it means when we start the Creed with “I believe.”

in GOD (Job’s encounter part 1.)

Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?
Can you loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, Here we are’?
36 Who endowed the heart with wisdom
or gave understanding to the mind?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens?

40:3 Then Job answered the LORD:
4 “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.      (Job38:31-40:4)

We know the story of Job. He suffered terribly and as he struggles to make sense of his anguish, heartache and pain, he comes to a place where he wears his trouble like a badge and demands a hearing and accounting from God.

It’s a crucial tipping point in the story…
While we feel sorry for Job, we have to recognise that he has reached the point where he (Job) wants God to “please explain” (like a naughty school boy) why he (Job) who as already proclaimed his righteousness and innocence should suffer so. Job wants God to explain the universe to him. (See Job31:35-37 below)

Because we know that Job is innocent we feel a certain camaraderie with him. We feel he deserves an answer – but it would come at the cost of making God accountable to Job.

And so God puts Job in his place.
Job is a creature not the Creator.
Job is not infinite – he is finite.
Job can’t put the starry constellations in place.
Job doesn’t have rain, thunder, lightning and hail at his command.

You can read ch38-41 to see God relentlessly making one simple point.
God is God and Job is not!

To truly be “God” means and implies that any Being carrying that title is not limited by humanity: Such a Being transcends our limitations, conceptualisations and our imagination. Such a Being isn’t answerable to us or can even be grasped by us. (In a beautiful illustration of this, in Ephesians 3 we see Paul praying that we have the “power to grasp (understand)” the height, depth, length and breadth of God’s love. Even His love is beyond our natural ability to grasp – God has to help us understand it!)

To declare that there is a God is to admit that I am not God.
To declare that there is a God is to recognise His transcendence.
To declare that there is a God is to worship.
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Here’s Job getting ahead of himself…
JOB 31:35 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense–let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
37 I would give him an account of my every step;
like a prince I would approach him.)–

in GOD (Job’s encounter part 2.)

Then Job replied to the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said,
Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”      (Job42:1-2)

If yesterday’s devotion left you with a sense of “God is God and you are not so shut up and accept your fate,” you would be missing the point of this beautiful encounter.

Job started his journey of suffering with great trust: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (1:21) But he had three friends, who were immersed in an “action and consequence” theology, who were convinced that Job had done something wrong and this had brought about the suffering that he was going through.

Their view of God was too small. They saw God as a “cause and effect” God. They simplified Him to a set of rules – “If this, then that.” This created a faith of reward or punishment. God was a cold impersonal being who simply applied the rule-book and it was a simple to understand Him – stick to the rules and it goes well and vice versa.

Job wouldn’t and couldn’t buy his friends’ version of a mechanistic cause-and-effect God. So, partly in reaction to his friends’ bad theology Job swings to the other side of the pendulum to make God so personal and private that Job could “have his day in court” with God.

Where Job lands up after God reveals His spectacular grandeur and awe-inspiring majesty is that he realises his own finitude and comes to a place of trust in God even though he doesn’t understand God’s ways.

The story ends with God putting the three friends in their place and He tells them to ask “my servant Job” to pray for them. He restores Job’s health and riches and lives happily ever after.

What is powerful about Job’s story is that it wrestles with an adequate God picture. Is God a cold cause-and-effect God or a God who is accountable to His creatures? Job discovers that God is neither of the afore-mentioned, but rather that He is sovereign, free and that we must trust Him even when we don’t always understand Him.

the FATHER

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God      (2Corinthians1:3-4)

Believing in God as Father is difficult for some whose earthly fathers have been absent, abusive or cold-hearted. Others think about Father Christmas when they think about God as Father – a sugar daddy who spoils us with gifts based on our behaviour but is pretty much absent in times of trouble or pain.

Part of the problem is that we think that God needed to reveal Himself to us and so He said “Well, everyone has a father and fathers are generally good guys so I’ll reveal myself as father…” (Theologians call this anthropomorphism – God morphing into anthropological terms to help us understand Him)

What if it was the other way around? That God was Father (and Mother^) first and that we, who are His image-bearers, are to reflect these facets of His nature and we either do it well or badly?

Could it be that bad fathers obscure the reflection God’s nature in themselves and that good fathers reveal more of Him and less of their own brokenness?

The Father Paul reveals here is awesome:
– He is the Father of Jesus, And Jesus loved Him and trusted Him so much that He was willing to say “Not my will but yours be done” and went to the cross.
– He is the God of all comfort. He had to watch His Son carry the weight of our brokenness and His heart was broken over our sin. He understands pain. (As an imperfect earthly father I would rather give my own life than sacrifice my son Caleb’s)
– He comforts us. He sent His Son. He sends His Spirit. He finds sulking Jonah outside Nineveh. He finds Elijah burnt out under the broom tree. He finds Hagar and Ishmael alone in the wilderness. He sees and hears and comes down to the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. When the world was broken and lost He sent His Son.

Take the word Father and embody it with the VERY BEST you have seen of Fatherhood and you have only scraped the surface of what God is like.
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^ The Scriptures portray God as Mother (“Can a mother forget her children” (Isaiah 49:15) “As a mother comforts her child I will comfort you (Isaiah 66:13)) It think it is important to recognise that God transcends male and female but when human beings reflect the nature of God, they often do it as “mother” or “father” and when they do it well, God’s nature is reflected.)

^^ Patriarchal societies have focussed on God as Father almost to the exclusion of the truth that God is also Mother. Some have compromised by talking about God as the “perfect parent” but some of the richness is lost. I believe it is best to just do justice to the concepts as Scripture gives them to us.

ALMIGHTY

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty– he is the King of glory. Selah
(Psalms24:1-10)

(You’ll need pencil and paper for today’s message…)
God is Almighty – another word for this is Sovereign.
It means that He is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent.
He is either God over all or He is not God at all.

This has challenging implications and forms the basis of one of the most common and challenging objections that non-believers have: “If God is good and loving then why is there pain and suffering in the world?”

We’d prefer to say that God is God of the good things and that He has nothing to do with evil. The problem with that is that evil would then be independent of God and out of His control…

We have to hold on to a more complex reality. The best way to explain it is to draw two circles, one inside the other. Label the inside circle as “What God wants or wills” and the the outer circle as “What God allows (but doesn’t necessarily like)” All of reality fits into one of these circles because anything outside the circles would be out of His ultimate control and then He wouldn’t be Almighty.

Psalm 24 paints a picture of an Almighty God, but it also paints a picture of a humanity that may choose. It may choose for or against God – this freedom of choice is what necessitates the “Allows” circle. When God lovingly created us with the freedom of choice, it meant that He allowed us the possibility of choosing against Him. He allows us this freedom and the consequences of this freedom results in the heartache and brokenness in the world that we struggle with. God is not the author of pain. God is good and He gave us freedom, but when we walk away from the light, we find ourselves in darkness and we become the authors of pain.

Take your drawing of the two circles and draw a cross that has its centre in the inside circle of “Wills” but its arms stretch to the outer edges of the “Allows” circle. By coming into our broken world and dying for us, Jesus revealed that He loves us and is concerned about the brokenness. By rising from the dead He conquered and trumped heartache and pain. He can heal the pain of the things that happen in the “allows” circle and bring them into the “wills” circle.

Finally draw arrows pointing outward on the “wills” circle and remember that the King, the Lord Almighty, is coming again and when He does, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev21:4)

Read the Psalm again and celebrate that He’s truly God over all.
Let’s resolve to be a generation who “seek Him.” Do it with your church family this Sunday!

Is there life on other planets? (MAKER)

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.      (Acts17:24-27)

The Apostles Creed reminds us that we believe that He is the “maker of heaven and earth.” Paul is talking to the philosophers of the day in Athens. He’s addressing the brightest and the best.

Creation is a controversial subject. People argue creation vs evolution. Literal seven days vs figurative seven days. Real Adam vs mythological Adam and so forth.

Paul does a helpful thing when he discusses creation with the scholars: he doesn’t talk about “how” but “why”. When one gets down to the “why” of creation, the “how” is less of an issue.

Paul gives two reasons for creation:
Firstly creation is a display of the glory and grandeur of God. God doesn’t need a temple made by human hands – all of creation is His temple. Creation is an expression of His glory and majesty.

Secondly creation is a signpost that points humanity toward God. God didn’t create us because He was lonely. (God enjoys perfect community in the Trinity!) God creates because giving life, beauty and vastness to creation is an expression of WHO HE IS.

Creation is vast and majestic. The astronomers tell us that the universe is still expanding. As we unpack the wonders of DNA and other microscopic wonders scientists are using the phrase “intelligent design” more and more.

So… is there life like us on other planets?
If there is – then the vastness of creation speaks of a God much bigger than they can think or imagine and calls them to worship. If there isn’t then creation still serves its two purposes:
– To speak of God’s grandeur
– To call us to reach out for Him and find Him – though He isn’t far from us.

Creation isn’t centred around us – it’s about Him.
Creation makes best sense when its creatures know Him.

Sustained (MAKER)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.      (Colossians1:16-17)

Here, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul is talking about Jesus who was co-creator with the Father and the Spirit.

Two things to note about this beautiful passage:

1. The extent of creation and attention to detail. ALL things were created by Him: Heaven, Earth, Visible, Invisible, Thrones, Powers, Rulers, Authorities – All things.

There is nothing that has not received the intimate attention of the Triune Creator. Nothing was left to accident. I have a unique finger-print and each zebra has its own pattern. We are cherished creations and God broke the mould when He made me and when He made you.

2. All things hold together in Him. Creation isn’t like a clock that the watchmaker builds, winds up and then observes from a distance. He actively sustains creation – He holds it in His hands. He in INterested in His creation. It’s just as it was in Genesis 1: The Spirit still hovers above creation.

Jesus reminded the disciples of this: Not a sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge and the very hairs on our heads are numbered.

This is easy to believe when things are going well and our prayers are being answered. It’s harder to believe when we engage the heartache and suffering in our world and in our lives. Here we have to return to the two circles of “allows” and “wills” that we drew on Friday. We must recognise that, in the flogging, the crucifixion and His God-forsaken death, Jesus is INcarnate to creation and sustains it by conquering sin, death and Satan. It’s not the absence of trouble, but that He is at work IN our trouble.

“LORD help us to know You are at work IN our lives even when we struggle to see You.”

Of HEAVEN and EARTH (Shalom!)

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.      (Psalms133:1-3)

(I’m going to stretch a premise this morning, but bear with me – I think you’ll agree when I’m done…)

When the creed indicates that God is the “Maker of Heaven and Earth,” it is affirming that the totality of creation is a gift from God.

But the totality of creation isn’t simply the physical part of creation… Because we are made in the image of God and have His Spirit breathed into us, we also have relational, emotional and spiritual dimensions that are part of creation.

In many ways modern society has inherited Greco-Roman thinking that was analytical and dis-integrative in its world view. We have tended to see life as separate dimensions. We separate physical and spiritual, we distinguish between “sacred” and “secular” and we compartmentalise life. We live life out of tune with nature and our artificial environments leave us out of sync with the seasons and the rhythms of day and night.

Hebrew thinking (the language and mindset of the Old Testament) was integrative in its approach to life. Life is a whole (a “SUM of parts”) and not just “some PARTS.”

This psalm captures this reality beautifully – the Psalm talks about relationships between people, the blessing of God, the physicality of anointing someone with oil (it can be messy) and the phenomenon of dew that usually falls on Mount Hermon in the North occasionally falling in Jerusalem.

The Hebrew blessing “Shalom” (Peace) means implies wholeness, togetherness and integrated-ness. It means the celebration of Heaven AND Earth. That ALL of life is a gift – our bodies, our time, our seasons, our relationships and our physical world.

The well-loved Welsh preacher Granville Morgan once preached that God’s favourite word is “AND”: God made heaven AND earth, moon AND stars, flowers AND animals, birds AND fish, you AND me. Life is a glorious gift and it’s bounteous Creator should be recognised as the God is is Lord of ALL and God over ALL. And that His blessing is pronounced “Shalom!”

Fearfully and Wonderfully MADE.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.      (Psalms139:14-16)

We are not here by accident…
We are not randomly here…
We are not a mistake…

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
This applies generally in the sense that our bodies and the intricacies of our biology are beautifully designed and engineered. But also specifically in the sense that I am a beautiful combination of body, personality and history and that makes me unusual and special.

I’m not the handsomest (although Brenda disagrees :-) )
I’m not the strongest (although a young Caleb used to disagree)
I’m not the smartest (and my teachers definitely agree!)
But I am perfectly me.

I don’t have a serial number or a producer’s brand-label. I don’t even have a “copyright reserved” label on me – because there just can’t be another like me…

God made me.
He carefully designed my DNA and moulded my body.
He chose my parents and my geography.
He laid out a pathway for me, allowing me forks in the road where I could draw closer to Him or wander away from Him.
And He lovingly calls and guides me on the way if I would just let Him.

Every every cell in my body contains DNA that speaks of the miracle of being and the incredible comfort that I am not a random spark generated by some incidental cosmic reaction – I am MADE.

And God doesn’t make junk!!!

You can watch a lovely music video by Hawk Nelson about this:

Two big names.

…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.”      (Matthew1:19-23)

Joseph’s plans to divorce Mary were upended by the angel who brings him startling news.

There are some interesting facets to this passage:
1. The angel addresses Joseph as “son of David.” This alerts us to the distinct possibility that whatever message Joseph was going to receive was going to have something to do with the Messiah who was expected to come from the line of King David.

2. The name Immanuel, which means “God with us”, is also used in a prophecy in Isaiah which also relates to the hope of a coming Messiah. This is what Matthew is referring to in v.22-23

3. The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew “Yehoshua” which means “God (Yahweh) saves.”

The creed affirms that you and I “believe in Jesus Christ…”
The word “Christ” – means “Messiah” or “anointed One” and indicates the long awaited God-intervention into the human predicament. The name “Jesus” tells us that He is the Saviour. He’s the long-expected Rescuer and Redeemer.

This expectation has been present in Old Testament thinking since God promised Eve that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head. It is an expectation that became clearer and more ardent as it became evident that the Law could not save and that the human predicament could not be altered by human effort alone.

To believe in Jesus Christ is to affirm that we believe in One who saves and and we recognise that this was God’s plan all along.

Not a spur-of-the-moment but a long-term plan.
Not a general intervention but a personal one.
Not a plan but a person.
Not a religion but a relationship.

Only Son

Apologies for the missed devs for Wed & Thu – I took a bit of leave….
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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.      (John3:16)

We believe in “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord…”

In Genesis 22 (the story of Abraham who is asked to sacrifice Isaac) we read: “Then God said, Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.

We know that the account ends with Isaac being spared, but in the account of God’s dealing with humanity, Jesus the Son is not spared: He is given:

1. Given in the Incarnation to experience humanity as He “made Himself nothing and taking on the form and nature of a servant. (Phil.2)

2. Given in the Crucifixion to pay the price for our sin. (Rom.6:23)

3. Given in the Ascension to live forever praying for us. (Heb7:24-25)

But I’d like to think about the “Only Son” a little more…
While it is true that you and I are adopted as sons and daughters of God, we are not sons and daughters in the same way as Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is in unique relation with the Father.
– He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is pleased.
– He is the unique expression of who the Father is.
– He is uniquely obedient – even to death on the cross.

When I became a parent, I along with Abraham, began to understand a little bit of how difficult it might be to give up my only son. When I believe in Jesus who is God’s only Son, I believe in a God who loves and is loved and then shares and sacrifices this love for me who has not loved Him anywhere near as faithfully…

Our Lord

…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.      (Romans10:9)

It’s not enough to believe that He was a good man or a great guru…
It’s not enough to believe that He was a great role model and teacher…
It’s not enough to believe that He was a noble martyr…
It’s not even enough to believe that His death saved us.

We also have to believe that He is LORD.
The Greek word “kurios” means “master” – it requires loyalty, obedience and fealty.

The idea of confessing or declaring that “Jesus is Lord” is reflected twice in the New Testament (here in Rom9:10 and 1Cor12:3) it reflects a real issue that the early church faced: As the cult of the Roman Emperor developed, it became a likely scenario that members of the Roman Empire would be required to bow before a statue of Caesar and burn incense in his name and worship him as “lord.”

The Early Christians refused to do this.

This could result in a martyr’s death, imprisonment, beatings, loss of business or rejection by society. After Nero the persecutions against known Christians became more and more severe, but Christians steadfastly clung to the confession: “Jesus IS LORD” (not Caesar, not Greek Philosophy, not Jewish Legalism, but only Jesus.)

Declaring that “Jesus is Lord” is to draw a line in the sand.
It is to declare a new loyalty and a new direction.
It is to place oneself under His management.
It is to offer ourselves AND all our stuff AND all our time to His direction and purpose.
It’s to make Him the boss of my life.
His way – not mine.

It is to say: “I am not my own – I have been bought with a price – I will honour God with my body” (1Cor6:20)

Conceived

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death–
even death on a cross!
(Philippians2:5-8)

Sometimes we think that the start of Jesus’ life was the birth in Bethlehem. But Jesus didn’t “begin” at Bethlehem – He has existed eternally with the Father and the Spirit.

When the Creed tells us that “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit” this doesn’t indicate His beginning but it tells us of His incredible sacrificial transformation. In military parlance, a soldier is “inserted” into the area where the rescue mission must be performed. Jesus becoming incarnated in Mary’s womb was the start of the ultimate Rescue Mission.

Paul, quoting from an early church hymn describes it like this: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man…”

The writer to the Hebrews put it like this:
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;'” (Heb10:5)

Do you remember the scene in the movie Aladdin, where the Genie describes having “AWESOME POWER!” (while he looms as a six story high giant) and then he shrinks and curls up inside the lamp and says “itty bitty living space!”

Think about Jesus (the co-creator of the universe who lit the fires of the sun and knows each star by name) who by the power of the Holy Spirit is stripped of glory, majesty and power and is implanted in Mary’s womb: Limited, Vulnerable, Humble, and Fragile.

This is love!

A Virgin

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”      (Luke1:34-37)

The Creed tells us that Jesus “was born of the Virgin Mary.”

Strangely enough there are many people who have trouble with this.
“Mary a virgin? Sure! Pull the other leg!”
Some have even tried to turn their rejection of the virgin birth into a positive thing, by saying that the merciful Messiah came into the context poverty and brokenness of a young girl who’d landed up with a “bun in the oven.”

But Mary was a virgin – The Bible says it – I believe it – and it is important. Not because it makes Mary special, but because it makes the conception and birth special.

If Mary hadn’t been a virgin and the child was actually Joseph’s then we lose a critical concept that Paul was at pains to make in Romans 5 where he talks about Jesus as the “second Adam.” Paul points out that all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are prone to the same failures and sinful desires. (Irenaeus called this “original sin”)

We needed a new start. Jesus, though born of Mary, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not through human intercourse. He is not part of the chain of human brokenness.

The other important facet of the Virgin Birth is that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. He’s born of a very human Mary (who wasn’t special or sinless) but He’s conceived by God. He’s fully human so that He understands our situation and is able to die in our place and He is fully God so that He can be without sin (unlike the first Adam) and that He can bear the weight and sin and death on the cross.

The Virgin Birth isn’t about Mary – It’s about Jesus and we should recognise how important this is: It means He is eligible and able to take our place and die for our sins. HALLELUJAH!
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This brings us to the end of the devotions for 2014 – I will pick up the creed again in the new year. I pray you will have a blessed CHRIST-mas and know God’s guidance in the new year. Thank you for sharing in this devotional journey with me this year.

Suffered (1)

The schools have started and so it’s time for the EmmDevs to resume! Hope you had a blessed Christmas, a good break and precious time with family and friends. Blessings for the new year everyone! May it be year in which we grow closer to Christ!I’m going to continue the series on the Apostle’s Creed (which I’ve included at the end).
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But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.      (Hebrews2:9)

“Suffered.” Now there’s a word that I wouldn’t expect to find in the creed of any faith – especially not with God as the subject. When it comes to Creeds and God, we expect verbs like “Created”, “Conquered”, “Ruled” and “Reigned” – not a verb like “Suffered”.

But this is the unexpected truth at the heart of our faith.
God stepped into humanity’s mess as the “Word made Flesh” (which is what Christmas is all about) and then He endured the consequences of that “enfleshing” – He suffered death on the cross (which is Easter.)

The writer to the Hebrews is alluding to Psalm 8 when he talks about Jesus being made “a little lower than the angels” – this is the same status that God affords to humanity in Psalm 8 – and yet, according to the Psalm – God is “mindful of us” – So mindful, in fact that Jesus makes Himself a servant (Philippians 2:7), a “little lower than the angels.”

Even His incarnation is suffering. He goes from omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence to the powerlessness, limitedness and helplessness of a baby. Then, instead of being surrounded by the worship of angels He is in the company of bickering and broken humanity. (Can you imagine how tough it was for Him to hear His disciples bicker about who was greatest when He was on His way to the cross?)

And then there’s death on a cross – unspeakable suffering, shame, abandonment and torment. For me, and you, and then you, and then you, and then you…

It is one of the mysteries of the faith – that God would choose to suffer – for me it is a great comfort.
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You might want to consider printing Heb2:9 out and sticking it to your wall as one of your year-verses. I have. I’m determined to see Him clearly this year because when I see Him like this I know that He is mindful of me.

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THE APOSTLES’ CREED
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s 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.
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will 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

Suffered (2)

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.      (Isaiah53:1-5)

When we share our faith with others, one of the most frequent objections that emerges is “Why would a loving God allow suffering?”

It’s a tough question.
Theologians have even categorised these kind of questions into an area we call “Theodicy” (Questions about the justice of God in the face of evil, suffering, pain and injustice.)

Isaiah 53 offers an incredible answer to these questions:
God enters our suffering and defeats suffering by suffering.

Sound incredible? Hard to imagine?
It may seem that Isaiah thinks so too when he asks “Who has believed our message” but his parallel line asks “and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” And then he goes on to describe the Messiah growing up like a tender shoot and then suffering. To paraphrase him, Isaiah is saying: “It may seem hard to believe, but actually it’s plain for all to see – just look at that the tender shoot that grew up and then suffered. Look at the cradle and the cross.

Christianity doesn’t offer a cheap answer for the question of theodicy. The answer it provides is incredibly expensive:
What did God do about suffering?
– He entered it – became a tender shoot
– He experienced it like one of us (no special treatment, no beauty or majesty.)
– He suffered: He was despised, rejected, sorrowed and made suffering a companion.
– He took up your and my suffering – and we did not recognise it
– And by His wounds He heals us.

Stop and consider this great truth: “God enters our suffering and defeats suffering by suffering.” And then bow your head in humble adoration and pray “Lord, I can barely grasp what this cost You – Thank You for this most expensive answer to our pain.”

Suffering (3)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.      (1Peter4:12-13)

The early church had a unique perspective on suffering. When they went to the lions or the gladiators, when they had to hide in the catacombs, when they were blamed for the burning of Rome and when they were executed for not bowing down to Caesar’s statue they considered it a privilege to share in Jesus’ suffering.

This is a unique perspective on suffering. Usually when suffering comes our way we say: “Why me Lord?” or “I don’t deserve this!” We see suffering as an intruder and we do whatever we can to avoid it.

The early church recognised that Jesus suffered ultimately – both in the sacrifices He made in the incarnation and also in the agony of His death. They believed that their suffering was just a drop in the bucket of the suffering of humankind that He had ALREADY BEEN THROUGH.

They believed that the pain of martyrdom, the strain of persecution, the loneliness of rejection that they were going through had ultimately been embraced by Jesus on the cross.

They counted it a privilege to suffer knowing that Jesus had walked this road ahead of them. They were comforted in knowing that their suffering was a subset of His.

But the early church weren’t masochists. They didn’t get a kick out of pain. They weren’t suffering seekers – they were just comforted by the fact that Jesus had been there. As they viewed it suffering isn’t an unwelcome intruder (“something strange”) but rather a reality that Jesus had addressed.

Their eyes were on the victory He obtained. Suffering had been defeated and when Jesus returns, the suffering that we shared in small parts with Him will be completely overshadowed by His glory.

There’s a lot that we can learn from the early church!

Suffered under Pontius Pilate

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”      (Matthew27:23-24)

Other than the members of Trinity, there are only two other names mentioned in the Creed: Mary and Pontius Pilate.

Why is Pontius Pilate given this honour when, in my thinking at least, Pilate is a weak character who gave in to the priests and the crowds and handed Jesus over to be crucified?

I think there are three key reasons: The first is the usual answer to the question, the second and third take us a little deeper.

1. The mentioning of Pilate, who is a verifiable historical figure, grounds the gospel account in concrete reality. It helps the Creed to anchor the events of the gospel in time and space. By mentioning his name, the Creed would, in effect, be inviting its early readers to “go and ask Pilate – he’ll tell you.” It gives the account credibility.

2. Pilate stands out in the gospels, because of his discussions with Jesus and his ongoing assertion that Jesus was innocent. When you read the gospels carefully Pilate emerges as a wily politician who gets the Priests to betray themselves by getting them to say “we have no god but Caesar” and who knows the danger of an out of control crowd. He comes across cynical and utilitarian and one could imagine he has seen innocents die before, but somehow he sees that Jesus is innocent and he makes it crystal clear. Theologically this is an important point. Jesus had committed no crime. He was innocent – without sin – and this makes it possible for Him to die in our place.

3. Pilate is a representative of the oppressive power of Rome. The creed’s mention of him highlights that Jesus was a victim of “the system.” When we are victims of cruel inhumanity it is a great comfort to know that Jesus died at the hands of a cruel war-machine that used crucifixion to intimidate its victims. Jesus’ death at the hands of “the system” also reminds us that systems too must be redeemed and so in the name of Christ we take our stand against human trafficking, slavery, corruption and other broken systems.

Was Crucified (1)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”      (Galatians3:13)

(Our dev is a little technical today but it’s very important for us to understand the principle…)

When we’ve grown up with Christianity then we take it for granted that the cross was a necessary part of the work Jesus did to save us. But we don’t always understand why

Paul, writing to the Galatians, who had no prior background to Christianity or Judaism, explains it by quoting from Deuteronomy 21:23 in the Old Testament. This verse makes it clear that Jesus’ execution and the public display of His death (hung on a tree) was not only a public humiliation, but it was considered a sign and expression of God’s wrath and curse.

Jesus’ mission was to set us free from the brokenness of our sin. In order to do this, He had to be without sin of His own so that He could legitimately carry our sin. But if He was without sin then His death would have been a martyr’s death (the death of an innocent one) and would only increase His holiness. So He had to die in a manner that was considered as an expression or embodiment of God’s wrath. In effect Paul is saying: “When innocent Jesus was put on the cross, He became guilty by association because the cross was the Roman instrument of punishment and humiliation.”

This guilt-by-association was the means by which Jesus (who was without sin of His own) became worthy of God’s wrath. How could a just God pour out His wrath on His innocent Son? Because the cross-death clearly associated Him with broken humanity. Isaiah 53 talks about Jesus being “numbered with transgressors”. When someone died on a cross you saw them as guilty. When God saw Jesus on the cross, guiltless Jesus became guilty of dying a sinner’s death.

The cross was the means by which Jesus died a sinner’s death even though He was without sin. Blameless Jesus chose to die in a way that connected Him with blame-laden humanity.
What amazing love this is!!!

Notes for further thought:
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Some scholars have argued that Deuteronomy speaks about someone being executed (by stoning or by the sword) first and then their body being hanged or impaled for public humiliation, but the point remains the same – in crucifixion the Romans had found a way to execute and humiliate at the same time in a way that prolonged the agony.
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Even the idea of Jesus being a Jewish Martyr crushed by Roman Tyranny is negated by the fact that it was the Jewish High Priests who handed Him over for execution. Being handed over by the Jews (rejected) and crucified by the Romans (dying under a curse) made Him a scandal – both in the eyes of society and God.

Crucified (2) not only physically

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”      (Mark15:33 )

We often focus on the physical aspects of the crucifixion.
To be sure, these are not trivial. Medical doctors have analysed the physical trauma of the flogging, carrying the cross to Golgotha and the crucifixion itself and it is a picture of horrendous suffering that Jesus endured without narcotic and with His composure intact.

But the physical and emotional suffering pale into insignificance when we consider the spiritual suffering…

Yesterday we made it clear that hanging on the cross was synonymous to being cursed by God.
It meant being under God’s wrath.
It meant utter separation.

Mark describes it as three hours of darkness that culminated in Jesus crying out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” It’s telling that Jesus cries out in Aramaic – this was probably the first language He learned as a child – it has expression of complete and absolute desolation.

Here, squeezed into three hours of darkness is the wrath and separation from God that I deserve and that you deserve heaped onto Jesus. Squeezed into three hours of human time is your eternity-without-God and my eternity-without-God. The suffering of the cross is beyond intense. Here on the cross He is the scapegoat, chased out into the wilderness of God-forsakeness in our place.

And He carries that burden faithfully and successfully because just before He dies (more on that in the next day or two) He says: “It is FINISHED! – The debt is paid in full!”

Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Crucified (3) Thinking about us

26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.      (John19:26)

As we saw yesterday, the physical suffering of the cross was totally eclipsed by the spiritual suffering and yet the words Jesus spoke while He was on the cross show us that He was in control in spite of the agony and that He was thinking about us.

Think about some of the things He said:
“Father forgive them – they don’t know what they’re doing”
“Today you will be with me in paradise”
“Dear woman, here is your son”
“My God, my God why have you forsaken me”
“I’m thirsty”
“It is finished”
“Into Your hands I commit my spirit”

Of these seven utterings:

  • three are completely geared toward us. (“Forgive them”, “today you’ll be with me”, “Here is your son”)
  • three are about the process – He is telling us what is happening to Him (“Abandoned”, “It is finished”, “Into your hands”)
  • one is about Himself, but only sort of, because He’s making sure that the Scripture about being given wine-vinegar to drink is being fulfilled and He’s also reminding us that He “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (one of the beatitudes.)

But, for me, His word to Mary and John epitomises His incredible love for us in that while He is suffering incredibly, He takes the time to sort out domestic arrangements for Mary and meet her and John’s emotional needs.

We know John lived right up to 95AD and it probably indicates that he was just a teenager when Jesus was crucified and that’s probably the reason that John is the only male disciple at the cross – he was too young to be arrested by the Romans.

Jesus sees a young John’s devastation and Mary’s heartache and He gives them to each other for comfort and purpose. (A responsibility for John to man up to and youngster for Mary to mother)

In the midst of His suffering, He was thinking about them and He was thinking about us!

Died (1)

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.      (Luke23:44-46)

At the end of three hours of forsaken-ness on the cross, Jesus cried out “It is finished!” (Jn19:30) and the temple curtain separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple tore from top to bottom.

Jesus, by dying the death of the cursed on the cross as an innocent, had effectively paid the price for our sin. (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Gal.3:13)

Sin was the first of the enemies that He had come to destroy.

Now He would tackle our second enemy: Death.

And He tackles death in the same way as He conquered sin – He enters into it. At the end of the crucifixion, having effectively paid the price for our sin (that’s why the curtain tore) Jesus breathes His last.

John is even more specific: Jesus bowed His head and gave up His Spirit (John19:30). They didn’t take His life – He gave it. Jesus willingly faces the physical consequences of human sin – He takes on death – our most final enemy – because it is His plan to demolish it!

Paul describes this beautifully in 1Cor15:
v20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
v55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

He takes no shortcuts – to conquer death on our behalf He experiences it and defeats it.
HALLELUJAH!

Died (2) The end of the bully

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.      (Hebrews2:14-15)

I’m conducting a funeral^ today.

My friend, Rod Botsis, shared with me that funerals feel like spiritual warfare to him. Death bullies and terrifies us. It paralyses us with a sense of finality, futility and fear. But we believe in our Saviour Jesus who really died and really rose again and that He did this to break death’s grip on our lives and on our hearts.

Look at these verses:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb2:9)

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has DESTROYED DEATH and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim1:9-10)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be NO MORE DEATH or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev21:4)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28-39)

Death is a bully – the funeral liturgy I use says this: “Death has seemed to be the last indignity and the end to all that is lovely, but through Christ God has made it a gateway into new life.”

I love seeing bullies being sorted out!!!

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^ Ken Hagerman was 72 and leaves behind a legacy of 8 children, 15 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. He was a gentleman, a gentle man and a man of faith and he is in the arms of Jesus.

Buried

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.      (John19:38-39)

There’s a lovely anecdote around the burial of Jesus that I love:
“Upon hearing that Joseph of Arimathea had made his garden tomb available for Jesus’ burial a friend was heard to remark: ‘Hey Joseph, that was a lovely tomb you had, you must be sorry to lose it.’ To which Joseph replied: ‘Oh it’s ok, my friend only needed it for the weekend!’ ”

There are a couple of things that we note about the burial of Jesus.

1. He really had died. He didn’t swoon into a coma. He died. There is a great sense of finality that is almost humourously depicted in the 30kg of spices Nicodemus brings for embalming (to picture 30kgs imagine 30x1L bottles of water). He clearly expected Jesus to be in tomb for a long time.

2. Jesus is buried according to Jewish custom – not breaking any ceremonial laws. The gospels tell us that they had to hasten to get it done before the Sabbath. Even in His death Jesus is without sin-guilt.

3. The hardest part of any funeral is when the coffin is lowered in the ground or when the hearse departs for the crematorium. As much as our theology tells us that these are earthly remains and that they will be made new, there is a visceral reaction to separation. Even in this, Jesus’ maintains His connection to our human experience: Standing at Lazarus’ tomb moved Him to tears and His heart went out to the widow of Nain who was burying her only son. Now Jesus enters into this same passage so that He can break the power and hold that death has over us. I believe that the burial of Jesus and the detail that the New Testament gives us about it is a convincing pointer to the fact that resurrection is physical and not merely spiritual (as some people unfortunately claim)

Jesus’ burial is for me a great comfort – He is the pioneer who leads us all into the new frontier of resurrection.

Buried – The end of entropy!

For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.      (Acts13:36-37)

Entropy is a word that is used specifically in thermodynamics. Its specific scientific technical definition is hard to understand, but the word is also used in a more general sense (we talk about “entropy in the market place”) and there is a more general definition is more understandable:
ENTROPY: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

If I use this definition, the word “entropy” powerfully describes what happened to a world that God made good (to use Gen 1’s phrase) after sin entered into it:
-Adam and Eve hid from God.
-Adam blamed Eve.
-Relationships became power based with the abuse that goes with it. (Gen3:16)
-The earth started bringing forth weeds.
-Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him.
-And so it goes.

So we live in a world of moral, spiritual and physical decay.

Jesus was placed in the tomb and the expectation was that decay would begin. But unlike Adam who grasped at equality with God, Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Where Adam took, Jesus gave. Where Adam had to hide because of his selfish sin, Jesus was put on public display on the cross where He offered His selfless sinlessness in our place. And so when decay came to take Jesus’ physical body – God the Father said:
“NO MORE!
There will be no more death
no more mourning
no more crying
no more pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev21:4)

HALLELUJAH! – Let’s join together with God’s people on Sunday and celebrate our awesome God!!
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There will be a short hiatus in EmmDevs next week.
We are fortunate enough to be going on sabbatical long leave and will be travelling down to Hermanus next week. Once we are settled I’ll resume the devs until this series on the creed is complete and then we’ll take it from there!
God bless!
Theo

Descended

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.      (Romans6:23)

Today we get to one of the most difficult and contested parts of the Apostles’ Creed: “He descended into hell/the dead.”

There are are couple of things we need to note about this phrase.
1. The very earliest forms of the Creed don’t have this phrase.
2. The Nicene Creed, which is our next oldest creed doesn’t contain anything similar to this phrase.
3. The word used for “hell” (Greek “Hades”) could also be translated as the “realm of the dead” which is very similar to the Hebrew word “Sheol” rather than the Greek word “Gehenna” which is used for the place of eternal judgement and punishment.

There are two directions that interpreters take with this phrase:

Some argue that Jesus, after enduring separation from God on the cross, (remember His cry: “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”), and having obtained our forgiveness (“It is finished!”) still had to go to hell where He:
1. Steals the keys of death and hell from Satan and/or
2. Preaches the good news to those who died prior to His coming.

Another group point out as Paul does that the wages of sin is death and that this includes physical as well as spiritual death. On the cross Jesus already endured spiritual death and now He submits to physical death, but as David predicted and Peter confirmed: “The Holy One did not see decay.” (Ps.16:10 & Acts2:27)

Without getting into too many technicalities, my preference is for the latter explanation rather than the former which raises too many difficulties.

What’s the bottom line?
The bottom line is that Jesus’ journey in humanity’s shoes was a complete journey. He was born, He lived, He suffered, He died and the idea of descending into the dead is an indication that He didn’t swoon into a coma, but that He really did physically die. This makes the resurrection very very very significant.
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(Technical stuff…)
Calvin and most conservative scholars take the same (latter) route while some conservatives like Grudem go even further and suggest that the phrase should be left from the creed. To argue the former that Satan held the keys of death and hell accords too much power to Satan. Furthermore the suggestion that Jesus preached to the spirits in hell is based on 1Pet3:19 “through whom (the Spirit) also he (Jesus) went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
Here the obvious question would be “Why only those who lived in Noah’s time?”
In the context of ch.3 Peter is talking about sharing the gospel at all times in word and in action (see v.15) It would be better to understand v.19 as talking about a pre-incarnate Jesus appealing through the Spirit and Noah’s actions to the pre-flood masses. This also better explains Peter’s paralleling the flood to baptism creating a very clear “then and now” scenario.

He rose (1)

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!      (Luke24:5-6)

To kick off our thoughts about the Resurrection, I can think of no better place to start than a song/poem written by Matt Maher but based on a sermon by John Chrysostum (349-409AD)

You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mXeA0GxKc

“Christ Is Risen”

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let Your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he’s alive! he’s alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Rise up from the grave…

He rose (2)

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.      (Mark16:6)

“See the place where they laid Him.”

The New Testament is just full of these little phrases that naturally point to and take for granted that Jesus’ resurrection was a physical one.

-His body wasn’t lying where it had been placed.
-Thomas could touch His wounds.
-Mary could cling to Him.
-He ate food.
-He broke bread with the two on the Emmaus road.
-He walked with Peter on the beach and I’m sure they’d have noticed if He didn’t leave footprints!!
-The early Christians, like Stephen, faced death with hope, courage and joy.

There are many who have difficulty with the physical resurrection of Jesus. They would prefer to settle for some kind of “spiritual” resurrection. But this is a poor substitute that robs the gospel of its incredible vitality, hope and power.

Most of the resistance to physical resurrection comes from two key issues:
1. Physical resurrection (and ascension) sets Jesus apart from every single other religious figure or guru. It moves Him from being a martyr and a great example to being the Son of God who will return in glory.
2. It profoundly challenges the divide between physical and spiritual that has been with us since Plato. This divide allows us to perpetuate the division of “sacred” and “secular”. It means that Christians can allow themselves to be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use. (More on this tomorrow…)

Jesus’ physical resurrection is taken for granted by the NT. It IS important for our understanding of Jesus, the gospel and our life, both now and eternally. Let’s treasure it, celebrate it and rely on it.

He rose (3) so we’d be more integrated

Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”      (Luke24:39)

In Graeco-Roman times, particularly under the the philosophical influence of Plato, the view was widely held that there was a qualitative divide between physical and spiritual. The body was seen as a prison for the soul and so the idea of a physical resurrection was unattractive to the thinkers of the day. (Have a look at Paul’s Areopagus audience walking away when Paul mentions the resurrection in Acts 17.)

In the OT a much more integrated picture of reality emerges. Alan Hirsch notes that in the Pentateuch one verse will speak about approaching the temple while the next verse is about how to rescue your donkey that has fallen into a pit. In Old Testament thinking life is an integrated whole and all of life needs to be lived under God’s rule.

The fact that Jesus has physically risen from the dead has profound implications for our theology and understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday I spoke of the division of sacred and secular and how this can lead us to be so heavenly minded that we can be of no earthly use. If Jesus rose physically then it means that our physical bodies matter. It means that it matters that we feed the hungry, that we clothe the naked. It means that I must look after my body and conserve creation, because although our bodies and creation are made new, we will still have them and the habits we learn now are the habits that we will take with us.

The early church was plagued by a heresy called Gnosticism, which, in one of its guises, suggested that because our bodies were temporary, Christians could do what they liked with their bodies (including sexual immorality and gluttony) because it didn’t affect their spirits.
Recognising and embracing a physical resurrection (which the gnostics didn’t) would make one think twice about these lifestyle choices.

In a nutshell then, Jesus’ physical resurrection emphasises the redemption of ALL of life, not only a “spiritual” component. ALL of life has been bought back from the brokenness of sin. It’s our job, then, to tackle hunger, pollution, addiction, abuse and all the things we might be tempted to avoid if we said “Oh but this physical stuff is only temporary!”

He rose to break death’s hold

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.      (Acts2:24-25)

The creed is brief in its treatment of the resurrection: “The third day He rose again from the dead.” (We’ll talk about the third day tomorrow.) The creed is brief about the resurrection because there was no debate, no uncertainty, no doubt. Jesus rose from the dead. PERIOD.

Today there is much debate and nuancing around the resurrection. There are those who deny the resurrection, those who spiritualise it, and those who argue that He lives on in our memories but we need to return to the simple confident clarity of the Creed: He rose from the dead.

In contrast to the creed, which is the belief statement of the church we have the founding sermon of the Church that was born on the day of Pentecost. (The creed is a catechism for believers, whereas the sermon is evangelism.) Peter, filled with the Spirit, preached the sermon which brought 3000 people to conversion. His sermon spends one verse on the incarnation (v.22), one verse on the crucifixion (v.23) and twelve on the resurrection and the Old Testament passages that anticipated it. (v.24-36)

Resurrection was the heartbeat of the early Church!
“God’s not dead – He’s alive!”
“It is IMPOSSIBLE for death to keep its hold on Him.”
“You can persecute me, feed me to the lions our stone me as a fanatic but my God has conquered death.”
The early church recognised that death was a defeated enemy and lived with power, hope and confidence!

In some ways our modern-day focus on the cross can inadvertently leave us with a historical martyr-based faith. We can land up with a picture of a tragic victim God who died on in our place. We’re often left with an overwhelming sense of guilt and responsibility that is bereft of the hope that resounded through the early church: It was impossible for death to keep its hold over Him!!!

But Jesus is not a victim – He is a victor.
Our faith is not cheap triumphalism – Our God has entered into the deepest recesses of our pain and frailty and has OVERCOME!

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This is a trend throughout the New Testament. Resurrection is emphasised in gospel preaching and taken as a given in the epistles (with exceptions in 1Cor15 and one or two other places.) Resurrection was proclaimed and explained and extolled to unbelievers and accepted as a norm by believers.

On the Third Day

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures      (1Corinthians15:3-4)

Why the third day?
Without getting into technical debates about whether this is a literal 72 hour period or 3 days or parts thereof, the bottom line is that in the OT three days is a framework that appears often and that the three day period comes to symbolise a breakthrough or climactic event after the period of struggle and uncertainty.

Here are some examples:

  • Abraham travelled for 3 days with Isaac before coming to the place of sacrifice – where Isaac is spared!
  • The baker and winetaster had dreams that Joseph interpreted and these dreams were fulfilled on Pharaoh’s birthday three days later.
  • Joseph kept his brothers in prison for three days before allowing them to return home to fetch Benjamin.
  • The Israelites prepared for three days at Sinai before Moses went up to receive the law.
  • Three days after David wasn’t allowed to fight for the Philistines he returned to Ziklag and found they had been raided by the Amelikites.
  • Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days.
  • A sick Hezekiah waited for 3 days to hear whether God would grant him extra life.
  • Esther fasted and prayed for 3 days before going to the king.

These examples illustrate the point that three days had become symbolic of a period of waiting and then a dramatic event – often involving salvation – would take place.

This is not unlike the symbolism of 40 days which is a period of testing and preparation. Today is Ash Wednesday and maybe it is good to start the 40 days of Lent with the assurance that He rose on the third day. There is a clear salvation event at the end of our wait!

Ascended (1) Job Done!

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.      (Hebrews1:3)

He ascended into heaven.

Ascension day used to be a public holiday in South Africa but now each year we have to make a special effort to observe Ascension Day, which, in my mind, is not a bad thing because instead of just seeing it as a day off, we have to think about why we’re going to such effort.

Did you know that there are seven significant truths about the Ascension?
The Ascension means that:
1. Jesus completed His Ministry as our faithful High Priest.
2. Jesus takes our humanity into heaven and the God-head
3. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit
4. Jesus intercedes for us
5. Jesus prepares a place for us
6. Jesus will return and restores the Kingdom
7. Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

Jesus is our Great High Priest. A significant portion of the letter to the Hebrews explains this. Being both God and Man, He represented God to us and then as a sacrifice for sin, He represented us to God.

The ascension into heaven and being seated at God’s right hand is an indication that His sacrifice was accepted, that His offering was complete and that His work is done.

On the cross Jesus said “It is finished.”
The Ascension and being seated at God’s right hand is the conclusion of the matter. It is God saying “Come sit at my right hand my Son – Your work is done!”

We could describe Jesus’ work with three C’s: The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown. The ascension is a culmination of all the enthronement psalms we read in the Old Testament. The Ascension is the announcement of His success and His victory. The ascension is the announcement that He is our great High Priest and King.

Ascended (2) Humanity celebrated

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”      (John20:27)

God with scars?
Seem unthinkable?

That’s the incredible thing about the resurrection and ascension. Jesus took our humanity into the Godhead. As Michael Card sings: “He’ll be known by His scars.”

We keep thinking of heaven as spiritual – that we’ll float around as disembodied spirits. But Paul describes physical death as the planting of a seed: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1Cor15:42-44)
Did you see that? “It is raised a spiritual BODY!” The plant is a continuation of the seed.

If you want to know what heaven will be like, look at Jesus (Paul says that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of eternal life.) A physical body that could touch and be touched, that could eat with His disciples, yet could appear behind locked doors. A physical body but without limitations.

The incredible thing is that Jesus ascends into heaven with something He had taken on 33 years previously – our humanity. The God family (which we call “the Trinity”) now has humanity integrated into it.

Jesus could have discarded our humanity like a dirty rag saying “I’m glad that’s over with.” But in an amazing and beautiful act of love and divine accommodation, He has maintained His link to our humanity as He continues to be our Great High Priest.

This is great love!

Ascended (3) He sends the Holy Spirit

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
… 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”      (Acts1:4-8)

Jesus’ ascension marked an important transition: the coming of the Holy Spirit. Up until this point, the Holy Spirit came upon kings and prophets temporarily for specific purposes at specific times.

Because Jesus was able to make a full sacrifice for our sins and pay for our guilt, it is now possible for us to be indwelt by His Spirit. When Jesus “sat down” at the Father’s right hand (indicating that His work was complete) He could send the Holy Spirit to indwell us in a way that had not been possible since Adam and Eve sinned.

Because of the completed work of Christ, we are able to receive the power of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on a redeemed world to do great and beautiful things in believers, in the church and in the world.

The prophet Joel put it beautifully:
“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel2:28-29)

When Jesus was having the Last Supper with His disciples and preparing them for His death, resurrection and ascension, they were distraught at the idea of His departure. But Jesus comforted them with these words:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John14:16-19)

In essence Jesus is saying: “I’m going so that you can have something better!!”

We’ve received a beautiful gift through the ascension!

Ascended (4) He prays for us

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.      (Hebrews7:23-25)

When the (now) late Edwin Pons(^) retired, we asked him to conduct a retreat for ministers in the Port Elizabeth Presbytery. He conducted a very meaningful day long retreat and shared what had been his greatest comfort in a long and very fruitful ministry.

His comfort came from this idea that the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the victorious Son of God, prays for us and that His prayers for us come from His experience of our pain and heartache: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb4:15)

Edwin had us meditate on this thought:
Jesus (think about who He is and what He did)
our great High Priest (think about what this role entails)
prays (think about what is involved in sincere prayer)
for me!! (My “stuff” matters to Him)

Think about it: Right Now – Jesus (along with the Holy Spirit in us) is praying for us – with understanding and sacrificial priestly love.)

Go through the rest of the day comforted by this amazing thought.
Jesus, our great high priest, is praying for you!
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^ Edwin Pons was one of the most well-loved and able ministers in our denomination. He was a past moderator, planted many churches, including Port Alfred which he planted with Glen Craig after his (Edwin’s) retirement. I remember him as a warm and godly man who opened his home in Kleinemond to hungry theology students (and their girlfriends!) whenever they came to preach in the newly planted Port Alfred Preaching Station.

Ascended (5) He prepares a place for us

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.      (John14:1-6)

There’s not really much to add to this beautiful passage…

Imagine the picture Jesus is sketching for us here:
It’s the picture of an innkeeper or housewife preparing a place for a special guest. It’s an intimate and personal action.

Heaven is not about “becoming one with the cosmic consciousness” – the picture Jesus paints is of a place of being where individual attention is paid, where people matter and troubled hearts can be comforted.

To take this a little further:
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords has ascended into heaven and took His seat at the right hand of God, but when Steven was being tried by the Pharisees and about to be stoned we see something very special: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts7:55)

Why is Jesus standing?

Maybe it’s because He’s just come back from preparing Stephen’s room…
So…..
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John14:27)

Ascended (6) Jesus will return and restore the Kingdom

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”      (Acts1:6-11)

Jesus ascended and He will return.

This passage links the return of Jesus to the “restoration of the Kingdom to Israel.”

During the time of Christ, this expectation was highly politicised. The restoring of the Kingdom meant ousting their Roman Oppressors and seeing Israel reach the empire-like glory and majesty that it had when David was their king.

This was not a new expectation: the fervent hope and expectation that the Messiah would come and restore the Kingdom is found throughout the Old Testament. But in the Old Testament this expectation is richer and fuller and more beautiful than political power.

The Old Testament hopes and dreams are pointedly expressed in what the scholars call “eschatalogical prophecy.” Eschatology has to do with the study of the “end of things.” It has to do with the belief, hope and expectation that history is on its way to a definite conclusion and that there is a plan to it.

If the birth, incarnation, crucifixion and death of Jesus represent the steps of His humble descent into our humanity, then the resurrection, ascent, return, kingdom restoration and final judgement represent His rightful steps to His glorious enthronement and King and Lord of all.

Old Testament eschatology powerfully depicts the healing of a broken and sin-infected world with images of:

  • The lion laid down with the lamb
  • Trees bearing fruit along the river of life with food for feeding and healing
  • Nations streaming to the glorified temple for worship
  • And many other beautiful pictures.

Revelation 21 makes this hope even clearer:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The ascension is part of Jesus’ plan to restore all things!
Hallelujah!

Ascended (7) to Judge

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.      (Matthew25:31-32)

The picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” returning in divine glory and majesty to execute judgement is a one that many people struggle with.

We like to talk about God’s love.
But love without justice is not really true love.
It is blind love (ignores the sin, failure and brokenness) and we’re always at risk that the sin that is “swept under the carpet” becomes a lump that love trips over.

Love without justice can also become favouritism because love without justice means that I am as loved as you are even though I am hurting you in a terrible way. If your cause is not picked up by love then maybe I am loved more than you.

So God’s love includes justice – it balances the scales. It rights the wrongs.

The other side of love is justice.

There are two ways for justice to be satisfied:
Either I must pay for my crimes or someone else must.

BUT the other side of justice is love.

And so Jesus offered Himself as the consequence-bearer.

The final judgement is where every human being will face their sin and guilt and will either carry the weight of the consequences of their brokenness or they will have trusted Christ to do so.

Must people think about judgement with some negativity.

I welcome the idea of judgement.

When I watch the news, hear the reports and read the papers I am alarmed, distressed and traumatised by the child-rape, the abuse, the war, the martyring that goes on in the world. I am shaken to my core at the horror of heartache and pain that people go through at the hands of others.

If love just overlooked this I wouldn’t feel safe.

I am comforted that sin will be confronted and that it will be paid for. I am sad beyond description that some people will reject the payment that Jesus made on their behalf when He died a sinners’ death on the cross, but I am comforted by judgement and it makes me trust Him more – especially since He chooses to judge even though it meant severe consequences for Jesus.

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That concludes this mini-section on the ascension – it also deals with “and sits on the right hand of God the Father” (See Ascension 1) and “returns to judge the living and the dead.” (Ascension 7)
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The Creed has only one line on the Holy Spirit:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
(The early church experienced the work of the Holy Spirit so powerfully that they did not seem to think it necessary to explain His work.)

Things have changed and I believe there is much to learn about the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago I did a series on the Holy Spirit and I think it might be helpful to revisit that material.

As I’m still on long leave, I will be sending you the first two parts of that series tomorrow. This will allow you to work through this systematically until after Easter when I’ll pick up on the rest of the Creed.

With much love,
God bless,
Theo

Church (1) Foundation

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.      (Matthew16:15-18)

Welcome back after our holiday gap in EmmDevs! We’re resuming the series on the Creed and we get to the line: “I believe in the holy catholic church.” We’re going to explore this phrase in quite a bit of depth for the next few days.

There are only two places in the Gospels that Jesus uses the word “Church” (here and in Mt18:17). This is understandable because His earthly ministry was to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. After His death and resurrection the Church would be born at Pentecost.

But Jesus makes His intention clear here: He intends to build His church. But what kind of church will it be? What will its purpose be? And who can be part of this church? These are questions we must ask over the next few days.

The starting point of any building is its foundation. Jesus has been asking the disciples’ opinion as to His identity. Peter nails it: “You are the Christ – the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus makes a startling declaration in response to this. “On this rock I will build my church.” Historically there has been some confusion about this because the name “Peter” (Petros in Greek) means Rock. But Jesus talks about building His church on “this petra” (which is the neuter form of petros). The petra is not Petros but the confession that he has just made.

Even without the help of the Greek, just looking at the text makes this obvious. It is the question of Jesus identity that is key. Simon-Peter is not so special for seeing this: God revealed it to him – which makes his confession all the more true.

The Church stands on this solid foundation: “Jesus is the Christ(Messiah), the Son of the Living God.” When we build the church on other personalities and ideologies it does not last.

Church (2) Holy part 1

… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.      (Ephesians5:25-26)

When we talk about the Church, “holy” is not a word we feel very comfortable using because many people have experienced judgementalism and holier-than-thou attitudes from church people. On the other hand we have been appalled at the failure of church people and church pastors who have been crooked, abusive, hypocritical and broken.

So how can we talk about the Church as holy? Well, to properly answer that question we need to use two theological words: “Justified” and “Sanctification.” The first word is an event and the second describes a process – we’ll focus on the event today and the process tomorrow.

To be justified is to be brought to a place where justice has been satisfied. Paul explains that this is what Jesus did for us: He loved us and gave himself as a sin offering to make us holy. This means that regardless of our practical and daily failures there is an event that balances the scales. In spite of our brokenness and sin, there is a game-changing moment that took place. The justice that our sin deserved was handled on the cross.

When God looks at us from a justice point of view He sees us in the light of the Good Friday event. He sees us “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

This means that the church is not a showcase for saints, but a hospital for sinners who get to stand behind a wonderful Saviour.

The great hymn “It is well with my soul” by Horatio Spafford puts it well:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Thank You Lord Jesus for making us holy – We know it came at great cost. Amen.

Church (3) Holy part 2

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”      (1Peter1:14-16)

We’re still looking at what it means when we talk about the “holy church”. There are two dimensions to the church’s holiness. On the one hand holiness is an event – it is to be justified – the letter to the Hebrews puts it like this: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb10:10). This is what we looked at yesterday.

Today we look at holiness as a process and we call this sanctification. In Afrikaans the word is “heiligmaking” (holy-making) which is beautifully descriptive of what this is all about.

When we surrender our lives to Christ, He fills us with His Holy Spirit who begins to work in us. Paul talks about the fruit that the Holy Spirit cultivates in our hearts: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. The goal is that our lives slowly but surely become more in-tune with God’s nature and God’s will. And God is holy.

So, the church is in the process of looking more and more like Jesus. This needs to reflect in the individuals that make up the church and in the way that the church as a gathering of people behaves.
It has practical implications:

  • My personal life needs to be guided by Jesus’ example of integrity, obedience to the Father and love.
  • Our gatherings need to be loving, gracious, and accepting
  • Our meetings need to be conducted with kindness and grace.
  • Even our buildings need to be open to all (ramps for wheelchairs, changerooms for moms with babies, etc)
  • and so on…

When we become more and more like Jesus we are becoming holy.
Holiness isn’t a standard as much as it is worship.
And fortunately we don’t have to try and do it by ourselves.

Paul, writing to the Philippians, describes it like this: “… confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil.1:6)

Have a great weekend and use Sunday to thank Jesus who made you Holy and ask the Holy Spirit to help you become more like Jesus.

Church (4) catholic

You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.       (Galatians3:26-28)

The word “catholic” is often misunderstood. In the context of the creed it does not mean “Roman Catholic” but rather it means “universal” or “all-encompassing”. It comes from two Greek words: kata (according to) and holos (whole) and indicates a sense of wholeness and inclusivity.

We talk about someone having a “catholic taste in music.” This doesn’t mean that they like church music, but rather that they like all kinds of music.

To affirm that the church is catholic is to say that it is inclusive and welcoming – that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Paul makes this point powerfully in Galatians 3. The church is not about race, status or gender, but about the fact that we are clothed in Christ and therefore one in Him.

This is a vital truth to embrace. We are not the same, but we belong to One Church. When we talk about the Church we are talking about all who belong to Christ: protestants, roman catholics, orthodox, pentecostal, charismatic, baptist, etc – it doesn’t matter as long as we own Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We are one in Him.

It has been nice, over the last 25 years to see the boundaries between Denominations coming down and see all the branches of Christ’s Church working together. It has also been nice to see how our congregations are made up of people of different cultures and races. That’s what being catholic is all about.

So… why not use the word “universal” if “catholic” is misunderstood? Well, “universal” doesn’t quite capture the sense of inclusivity (wholeness) that “catholic” does. And at the end of the day, we must remember Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 – “That they may be one…”

Church (5) We are a body

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.      (Colossians1:15-20)

We started this section on the church by noting that the church is built on the creed confessed by Peter – that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), Son of the Living God.

In the next few days we’re going to look at a number of images for the church: A body, a building, a field and a flock. As we look at each of these images we’ll see that the person and work of Jesus is central in each of these images.

Our reading from Colossians is a tremendous statement of who Jesus is and what He does.

  • He is God Incarnate
  • He is the primary agent of creation
  • He is the source and the life of all things
  • He is the head of the church which is His body.
  • He is also the primary agent of resurrection
  • He is the fullness of God and the reconciler of all things

We could spend a couple of days looking at the bullet-points above. (And maybe we can do that after the Creed series is finished…) But here’s the point: The church is always about its Head. The church is not the be-all and end-all. Jesus is.

Throughout history and in our lives the church, when it eclipses Jesus, becomes irrelevant, broken, decrepit and damaging. A body without its head cannot function. When we are not clear about who the Head of the church is, we are headed for trouble.

Take some time to read Paul’s words again and be “lost in wonder, love and praise!”

(Tomorrow we’ll look at practical aspects of the body image…)

Church (5) Bodyworks

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body…
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?…
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.      (1Corinthians12:12-27)

The body – an amazing topic of discussion and reflection. Watch a gymnast do their thing or the precision of an artist. Think about the miracles of hugs, smiles, singing and sight. Our bodies can do all these things.

Paul turns to the body as an analogy for the church. It is a magnificent picture:

  • There are many parts, but one body.
  • It’s made of different parts, but all are needed.
  • It is unified under the headship of Christ and the bonding power of the Spirit.
  • It is able to do amazing things through the diversity of the parts.
  • Through the body we are able to share sorrow and rejoice in blessings.
  • It belongs to Jesus

Western Christianity in particular is guilty of moving in the direction of “lone-ranger Christianity.” Paul’s picture of the church as a body is both vibrant and beautiful and a great corrective to individualism.

What part of the body might you be?
I think I might be an elbow – the kind that jabs you in the ribs to remind you that God loves you.

Have you taken some time to look at the family of believers that you have in your local congregation? Can you see the same magnificence and potential that I described in the opening paragraph?

Last thought: Jesus is the King and head of the church. The body functions well when it is connected to the head. When a physical body loses connection with the head through a spinal injury – it becomes paralysed. The church is not all that different….

Church (6) Stoneworks

As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone”      (1Peter2:4-7)

We’re stones – not bricks (bricks are all the same) in God’s building. By this image Peter is conveying some important truths about the Church.

These truths can be divided into two parts: Firstly there are truths about Jesus. Peter identifies Christ as the cornerstone and capstone of the building.

  • The cornerstone was important, because the Master Builder would lay the cornerstone and the labourers would use the cornerstone to get the orientation of the building correct. All building was done with reference to the cornerstone.
  • The capstone is the stone at the top of an arch and in a sense brings together two opposing forces. The higher the arch, the more impressive the capstone.

The church is founded by Jesus and He is its foundational cornerstone – He defines the orientation, purpose, and direction of the church. But He is also the capstone – He is to be lifted up and glorified by the church.

Secondly, we must look at ourselves: the stones.

  • Stones in a wall are all unique and each has a part to play.
  • We have to find our fit in the walls of God’s building.
  • The mortar that binds us together is Christ’s love overflowing from our hearts
  • A wall cannot consist of one stone – we need each other

Sometimes we struggle with the stones who are next to us. Sometimes they let us down or frustrate us. Our commitment to being God’s building is tested at this point. Can you imagine a wall of stones bickering at each other? There are unfortunately some churches that are like that – they have forgotten the Cornerstone and the Capstone.

Here are some closing reflection questions:

  • Have you found your fit in God’s building?
  • Are you guilty of looking at the other stones instead of the Cornerstone and Capstone?
  • Are you using enough mortar?

 

Church (7) Field

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.      (1Corinthians3:5-9)

The Corinth Congregation liked to argue about their star-preachers. Apollos was a gifted preacher who was good at explaining the Old Testament. Paul had an exciting testimony – not many people were met as dramatically by God on the Damascus road as Paul (aka Saul) was. The congregation had developed fan-clubs and favourite preachers. They were so loyal to these human preachers that it was splitting the church.

But Paul blows this out of the water.

As God’s people – the church – we are like a field. Paul and Apollos are merely seed-planters and seed-waterers. Seed-planters and waterers come and go but they can’t make seeds grow. Only God can!

The seed is the Good News about Jesus Christ. Only God, by the power of the Spirit working in us, can make the seed grow.

pic When we were driving down to the Cape for our long leave, we drove through fields and fields of sunflowers in the Free State. These beautiful flowers were the “fruit” of plain and ordinary seeds that a farmer planted and watered. These seeds grew into beautiful plants that were beautiful to look at, provided oxygen through photosynthesis, seeds for sunflower oil, flowers for florists and seeds for another planting.

What we didn’t notice while we were looking at the sunflowers was the field. Underneath the flowers was a field. The seed are sown in the field. The water is poured onto the field. The seeds grow in the field and the fruit is harvested from the field.

The church is a field. God sows a glorious seed into our lives and if we are the “good soil” that Jesus describes in His parable, then the seeds grow into fruitful plants that bless and inspire the world.

This is what healthy farms do – you don’t see the workers, you don’t see the soil, you see the crop and the yield. May we, as the church, be the same!

Church (8) Flock and under-shepherds

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.       (Acts20:28)

The image of Shepherd and flock is a powerful theme in Scripture. Ps 23 and John 10 portray God as Shepherd, Good Shepherd and the one who provides, guides, accompanies and protects.

The image of the flock is that it should be protected, nurtured and that it should stay close to the shepherd. In the Old Testament the flock is often depicted as faithless and rebellious. It is often seen to be scattered by lions and captured by enemies because they have strayed or have chosen false shepherds who have looked to their own interests.

Here in Acts 20, Paul is saying farewell to some of the elders of the congregation in Ephesus. He is heading to Jerusalem where he knows he will be arrested and go to Rome. This is the last time he will see them. With “last words” urgency he leaves them with this charge: Lead the church but do it as shepherds of flock that belongs to the One who bought it at great cost.

As the church we are a flock – we need to be together, we need to be shepherded, we can’t do it on our own and we belong to the Great Shepherd. This goes against the pride and independence of the current age. Modern humanism says that we should depend on no-one, that we should individualise and self-actualise. The Bible calls us a flock. We need each other and we need a shepherd.

We also need to lead responsibly. Anyone who feels called to lead should spend some time reading Ezekiel’s denouncements of the hireling shepherds who misled Israel. (Eze 34 – It’s incredibly scary reading!!) Paul calls the Ephesian elders to be shepherds of a flock that was bought at great price: The blood of God’s son.

Jesus is the only truly Good Shepherd. At best we are only under-shepherds. The flock is His – He laid down His life for us. He gave everything for us.

So three thoughts:

  1. We’re a flock. I need to be humble enough to admit that it’s not all about me. I need to recognise that I need my fellow sheep and I need to be shepherded. I need to admit that I go astray. Often. And I need the Good Shepherd to rescue me and that I am safest in the flock.
  2. When we are called to lead we should be extra humble. It’s not our flock. People often ask me how things are going at my church. I have to keep saying: “It’s not my church, it’s His, I just work there!” I must follow the footsteps of the Good Shepherd.
  3. We belong to a Shepherd who loves us and gave His life for us.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:6)
 

Church (9) Ekklesia

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.       (2Timothy1:8-11)

The Greek word for “church” is “ekklesia”. It means “those who have been called out.” We have been called out of our old lives and into a new life with Christ.

Paul, writing to Timothy who is his protege and a pastor-in-training, describes the life and ministry of the church. Let’s pick up a few of his points…

  1. Being part of the church requires boldness and courage. The church has not always experienced the peaceful times we’ve been privileged to live in.
  2. God’s power is available for us to testify and live for God, even if it involves suffering.
  3. We were saved before we could live a holy life and not because of anything we have done, but all because God showed His amazing grace through Jesus His Son.
  4. Jesus has been there from the beginning of time, appeared to us (to reveal what God is like), died to be our Saviour, destroyed death and sent His life-giving gospel into the world.
  5. We have been called! Called to live a holy life in response to what God has done!

This is a high call and a high privilege. We’re not called to do it alone, but as a community.

We are called by a loving God. Our community does not lie in the strength of an organisation or denomination but in the One who calls.

We are called to come out of an old life that is centered around self and selfish pursuits to live for God and for a world that needs us to be heralds, apostles and teachers of the good news that is the gospel. God makes us His co-workers. He puts His reputation in our hands. He asks us to tell the incredible story of what His Son did for us!

(If that doesn’t cause your heart to beat a little faster then you need to read this again!)

While it is a bit a cliche, it remains true to say this:
What is CH–CH ? The answer is: U R!

The communion of saints

…[t]herefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…      (Hebrews12:1)

This phrase, “the communion of the saints”, is one that very few people fully understand.

The writer to the Hebrews has been talking about all the heroes of the faith that had gone before the church. In chapters 11 and 12 he builds a picture of a stadium filled with spectators (those who have already run their race) and participants (those who are busy running now.)

This is the church, past and present. There are those who have gone before and those who are our brothers and sisters now. Church tradition has often talked about the church militant (those of us on the field) and the church triumphant (those have gone ahead and are the great cloud of witnesses.)

This means that the “communion of saints” has two important facets.

  1. We are one church, although we are spread out geographically and form part of different traditions, congregations and denominations, we are one church. We are part of this amazing community because we have the same Heavenly Father, the same Saviour and the same Spirit who lives in our hearts. We are one because of Him.
  2. Death doesn’t terminate our connection with this one church. The writer to the Hebrews seems to hint that when we die we enter a space that is outside the limitations of time and history and that the full picture is clear for those who have passed into His presence.I don’t fully understand how eternity works (my brain can barely cope with this week!) and I don’t believe we should make saints of or pray to those who have already passed on, but I am grateful that we are part of something big and permanent!

The power of the communion of saints is not in the individuals, but in the Lord whose love makes us all one.

PS: Nearly twenty years ago we went overseas with Brenda’s folks. The sense of privilege and cost of the trip had us rushing around squeezing every last drop out of every moment. Sunday found us quite tired, but we decided to go to church. I stood in worship with tears of joy streaming down my face. What an incredible joy to be in a church on the other side of the world and feel like I’m home!!! This is the communion of saints.

The forgiveness of sins

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all…
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.      (Isaiah53:6-10)

Guilt.

How does this word and its buddies (shame, regret, self-hate, failure and bitter remorse) make you feel? Guilt drove Adam and Eve to hide in the garden and it drives you and me into avoidance, neuroses, denial, isolation, distraction and many other failures.

The creed offers us the simple and permanent solution: forgiveness.

Not a self-help tool.
Not a pep-talk.
Not a technique.
But a gift.

A gift that is credible and reliable in what it promises because it came at a formidable cost. God’s Son, Jesus the Saviour, the Rescuer, the Deliverer (This is what “Yeshua” means) came and gave His life to offer us this amazing gift. We can’t earn it or deserve it, but oh my goodness we can receive it!!!

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace”
(Chris Tomlin)

Take a moment and bow your head and give thanks.
You are forgiven.
You are free!
——————————-
You can listen to Chris Tomlin’s song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbe7OruLk8I

The resurrection of the body

RO 6:5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.      (Romans6:5-8)

Having spoken about God (Father, Son and Spirit) and the church, the creed ends with three personal assertions:

  1. The forgiveness of sins (we looked at this yesterday)
  2. The resurrection of the body
  3. Life everlasting

These three personal assertions are crucial for a vibrant spiritual life. The forgiveness of sins is our reminder that our imperfections do not have the final say. As we journey with God, His gift of forgiveness covers the gap between His righteousness and my failures. Without the gift of forgiveness I would become discouraged and demoralised.

The resurrection of the body is also important. It confirms our forgiveness and our faith in a physical resurrection infuses this life with value and importance. What we do in this life really matters. There were a group of false teachers in New Testament times, the Gnostics, who said that you could do what you liked with your body and with the world because heaven was purely spiritual and so the physical didn’t matter.

But resurrection means that our lives here matter and it makes working for justice, humanitarian causes and environmental issues important and significant.

But more than that, resurrection is the hope that counters the fear of death. Death is the ultimate roadblock. All of us reach it, and without the hope of resurrection, life seems pointless and futile and cynicism and hopelessness threatens.

This was even more significant in New Testament times where Christians were being persecuted and martyred for their faith. Yet the church grew and prospered – why? Because they believed in resurrection and faced death with faith, hope and courage.

Having heard of the recent terrorist attacks at a university in Kenya (just a little up the map from us) where Christian students were executed, the hope of resurrection has become very real to me again.

The Life Everlasting

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.      (Revelation22:1-5)

Everlasting life.
Cynics call this “pie in sky” – a useless panacea for the reality of life.
Scripture views it differently.

We’re created in God’s image (Gen1:27) and He has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc3:11.) Jesus nailed the definition of eternal life in John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Eternity is not a place or a state. It’s not something that only happens in the future. It is a relationship and it starts in the present.

John’s vision, rich in symbolism as it is, makes the same point. Although eternity is presented as a city with the river and tree of life, he talks about the city not needing sun or lamp because the glory of the Lord will be our light. Knowing Him is everything we need.

Eternity is a relationship with God.

  • It is what we were created for.
  • It’s why Jesus died on the cross.
  • It’s what the Holy Spirit’s presence in us is all about.
  • It’s what gives purpose to the struggles we go through now.

Eternity is being with the God who gave Himself for us!

The 80’s band Silverwind put it well:

Heaven is being with You
I’ve heard stories of heaven
Pavement made of gold
Ageless beauty forever
That never grows old
But if I got there only to find out
Jesus, You were not up there
Goodbye wings, angel things

Chorus:
Heaven is being with You
There’s nothing I’d rather do
There is nothing better, knowing You is heaven
There is nothing better
Loving You, forever, Jesus

Heaven holds all my wishes
Making dreams come true
Heaven has to be Jesus
Just being with You
There is no laughter or joy in the music
Jesus, if You are not there
Then the song is all wrong
(Chorus)
————————
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= zZCYN7hhtM

Concluding Thoughts 1

he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.      (Philippians1:6)

Our verse talks about the fact that God places His Spirit in our hearts and journeys with us to make us more and more like Jesus.

Rich Mullins, a well-known Christian songwriter, talked about the Creed in a unique way. Please read his song below and think about the bits that I’ve emphasised.

CREED
Rich Mullins

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ
His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried

Chorus:
And I believe that what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me

It is the very truth of God and not
The invention of any man

I believe that He who suffered
Was Crucified, buried and dead
He descended into hell and
On the third day he rose again
He ascended into Heaven where
He sits at God’s mighty right hand
I believe that He’s returning to
Judge the quick and the dead
Of the sons of men

Repeat chorus

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord
I believe in the Holy Spirit
One Holy Church, the communion of Saints,
The forgiveness of sins
I believe in the resurrection
I believe in a life that never ends

Repeat chorus

Concluding Thoughts 2

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”      (Mark9:24 )

We looked at this passage in November last year when we looked at “I believe“… It’s good to end where we began…

We’ve come to the end of our study on the Apostle’s Creed.
The Creed is about the content of our faith.
It describes who God is, it also gives us some idea of the when, where and what of our faith. It says a little less about the why and how.

The answer to why is wrapped up in what Jesus did for us. His enormity of His actions: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension are all indications of His GREAT LOVE for us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. (John3:16)

But this brings us back to “believe” and back to the final aspect of the creed: how do we believe?

While the answer to this question could be a doctoral thesis numbering hundreds of pages, I would venture to give a simple but profound answer. It’s not my answer, but the answer given by the father of the demon possessed boy: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

The how of faith is trusting relationship. The father, reaches out with all he has and trusts Christ for what he doesn’t have. I think that we are often so focussed on what we don’t have that we don’t even take the first step with what we do have.

What might today look like if we took a few faltering first steps and trusted that God (who settled for nothing less than sending His only Son to die for us) would be there for us?

Faith is a relationship with a God who is good, a God who wants us to pass not fail and a God who has already demonstrated His faithfulness, credibility and trustworthiness. What if faith is about a relationship rather than an exam to be passed???

The creed tells us about God. To believe is to know this God.
——————————————
I hope you have enjoyed the Creed series.
Next week I’ll share a few thoughts about Pentecost and then we’ll start our next series.

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