A sermon preached this past Sunday, February 22nd – in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. In the writing of this sermon I have made use of an essay by Richard Burridge in the book Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed.
We come this morning to the second section of the Apostle’s Creed and to the heart of our Christian confession.
We confess: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.
As we consider the heart of the Apostles’ Creed this morning; as we consider this statement of our fundamental trust in God; I’d like us to focus on the particularity that lies at heart of our confession. I’d like us to look at the particularity that defines us as Christians.
But first, what do I mean by this notion, this idea of particularity?
Well to explain the notion of particularity, we could begin by acknowledging that in Canadian society today there is tremendous interest in spirituality. There is a growing search for the deeper meaning of life. Men and women want to go beyond the mundane, beyond the everyday – which often seems meaningless. They want to reach beyond the superficiality of so much of human life in order to get hold of some deeper level of substance and significance. And the language that our culture applies to this search, to this desire for deeper meaning and significance, is the language of spirituality.
Though it finds expression in so many ways, there is a general sense that we must reclaim the spiritual, under whatever guise it might be discovered or experienced.
Now, the Apostles Creed points to just such a deeper meaning for human life. As we said a few weeks ago, the ‘I believe’ of the Creed pushes us toward the deep trust that undergirds all of human existence. The ‘I believe’ of the Creed pushes us toward the very foundation of life – it does so by inviting us to a dynamic relationship with the living God.
As Augustine says: You have created us for yourself oh God, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.
Turning specifically to the second section of the creed, we find a more specific answer to the question of our human fulfillment and meaning. This is the particularity of which I spoke. We note that our creed points to a particular person – to someone who has a particular name, and the name is Jesus.
If the threefold ‘I believe’ of the creed is a statement of our fundamental human trust, and if the heart of the creed is here in its second section, then what we discover is that our deep trust is to be placed in a person – a particular person – his name is Jesus.
This creates something of a tension in relation to the wider culture – for there is resistance in the wider society to this particularity, to this insistence on one name, one person. Our culture has a general sense of spirituality, but is resistant to the idea that the meaning of life is found in any one place. This tension, this dilemma in relation to our culture is often referred to in the Christian tradition with this phrase: the scandal of particularity. This morning I don’t necessarily want to focus on this ‘scandal’ – rather, I want to focus on the nature of the particularity. Doing so, we look this morning at three words. Those words are:
Beginning with Jesus we immediately face to face with particularity, for Jesus is the name of a particular man. A man who lived two thousand years ago in the backwoods of Judea – in a region called Galilee. More specifically, he is Jesus of Nazareth – he is located in a specific time and space.
He lived two thousand years ago,
He was born in the town of Bethlehem,
He grew up with his parents in the town of Nazareth.
He was a Jewish boy and a Hebrew man.
He grew up as a member of a particular ethnic and religious community.
The creed says that we put our trust in this Jesus – I believe in Jesus.
Notice that we don’t simply believe the teachings of Jesus. And we don’t simply believe in his way of life. The truth is his teachings and his way of life could be detached from him as a person:
If we focus on the teachings of Jesus, it’s possible to forget about the man
– just follow the teaching.
If we focus on Jesus’ way of life, it’s possible to forget about the man
– just follow that way of life.
Rather, our faith is in the person himself. Our faith is in this person and not in something that can be detached from the person.
We believe in him.
We trust him.
To know something more about this particular man confessed in the creed, we do well to think about his name. You see the name ‘Jesus’ is actually a Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeheshua, or Joshua. And what does the name Yeheshua, mean? It means salvation. The name Yeheshua, the name Jesus, means healing, it means wholeness, it means salvation.
Recall those words of the angel to Joseph: “Mary will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, you are to name him Yeheshua, for he will save his people from their sins.” This child, this man, is healing, and wholeness, and salvation – and his very name, Jesus, Yeheshua, points to that truth.
He was a particular man. He had a particular name. Without this one there is no answer to our restlessness.
I believe in Jesus.
We move on now, to the title given to this Jesus. The title of Christ. And doing so we recognize that very often we use these two words in close conjunction – Jesus Christ. We use them in such close conjunction that it sometimes feels like Jesus is his first name and Christ is his family name. But what does it really mean to refer to Jesus as Christ – what does this title mean?
Once again we have to think about words and their meanings. For like the word Jesus, the word Christ is a Greek word – it is a translation of the Hebrew words messiah. And each of these words mean ‘to anoint’. Anointing is an Old Testament, a Hebrew concept. To anoint someone is to set that person apart, according to the purposes of God. It is to set them apart for a particular calling. In the Old Testament priests are anointed and kings are anointed. Thus we read this morning from First Samuel concerning Samuel’s anointing of David. We read: “And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed David in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
As we read through the New Testament, it becomes apparent that, at that time, the people of Israel were waiting for the anointed One. They were waiting for one sent by God. They were waiting for one set apart by God to bring restoration and wholeness and healing to God’s people.
And they weren’t just waiting for any anointed one – they were waiting for the anointed one of all anointed ones. The one. So it is that the impulsive Peter blurts out, when asked who he thinks Jesus is: “You are the Messiah.” Or, you are the Christ. You are the anointed one, Jesus. You are the one sent by God. You are the one we’ve all been waiting for.
Now we must acknowledge that during his lifetime the title ‘anointed one’ is at best an ambiguous title for Jesus. When the people of his day spoke of the anointed one, they generally had in mind the image of a conquering hero. But that was not the path of life that Jesus envisioned for himself – his way was the way of suffering service. So during his lifetime he in some sense shied away from that title.
Nevertheless, after his death on our behalf, after walking through suffering and death in solidarity with us, and in the light of his resurrection, the title of Christ is applied to Jesus in a decisive way. When those first Christians encountered the risen Jesus, they saw his whole life and being in a new light. They saw that this suffering servant was the chosen one, the anointed one of God. Indeed, so close is the identification between Jesus and the idea of ‘the anointed one’ that the two words are set right alongside each other – Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the messiah.
Jesus, the anointed one.
Jesus, the set apart one.
When we stand to confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed – I believe in Jesus Christ – we stand to say, with those first Christians, that we believe and trust, that this Jesus is the chosen one of God:
He bears our death, our suffering, our grief.
He walks with us into the darkness of sin and the grave,
He leads us out into new, resurrection life.
He shows us what it means to be a child of God.
I believe in Jesus – Yeheshua, the saviour.
I believe in Jesus Christ – the anointed one, the one set apart by God.
And then thirdly – I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord.
Lord – it is yet another word that illuminates the particularity of Jesus. And with the word Jesus and the word Christ we ask concerning the meaning of the word Lord.
Looking back again to the narrative of the gospels, we notice that Jesus is sometimes referred to as Lord, or master. In fact this is a relatively common designation for a teacher or leader in that time. Jesus was a travelling teacher – his disciples sat under his authority and referred to him with the appropriate designation of master or Lord.
Yet in the resurrection of Jesus, and in the encounter of the first Christians with the risen one, the use of the term Lord undergoes a significant transformation. To understand this transformation what is decisively important is that word ‘Lord’ carries with it the weight of divinity. ‘Lord’ is a word used to describe God throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament – God is identified there as Lord of the world and Lord of human life.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, God is described as kyrios, which is the word Lord. And with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead what we find is that this word kyrios is attached to his person. Thus we find the earliest Christians declaring Jesus is kyrios – Jesus is Lord. Which is to say:
He has the authority of God.
He has the power of God.
He shares the grace of God.
Jesus is Lord.
Thus, Jesus is not only a saviour, in the tradition of Joshua – Yeheshua.
And Jesus is not only an anointed one, in the tradition of David – the Christ.
He is also revealed as the Lord – as having a decisive share in the divine.
We owe him the worship that we offer to God.
We owe him the obedience we offer to God.
We owe him the service that we offer to God.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord.
There are many different directions we could take our reflections from here as we work toward a conclusion. But I would like to simply say a few more words about the Lordship of Jesus.
I said a moment ago that the word ‘master’ or ‘lord’ is sometimes applied to Jesus by his disciples in the gospel narratives. And I pointed out that with his resurrection, with the manifestation of his glory, the language of lordship takes on a new significance and weight – the weight of the divine.
Yet we cannot divorce the weight of the divine Lordship of Jesus from his life and ministry. For the one who walked the dusty paths of Galilee – this particular one – is the one we now confess as risen Lord. This means that if we want to know what his Lordship means for our lives and our world, if we want to know what his Lordship looks like, we must look at the narrative of his life. Doing so we are reminded that
his lordship is not the arbitrary exercise of power for the sake of power;
his lordship is not the uncaring justice of some heavenly potentate;
his lordship is not expressed in the aloofness of splendour.
Under his lordship the hungry are fed.
Under his lordship sin is forgiven.
Under his lordship the comfortable are upended.
Under his lordship the marginalized are embraced.
Under his lordship the power-hungry are cast down.
Under his lordship men and women are invited to reconciliation.
Under his lordship servanthood is given first place.
Under his lordship there is delight in the gifts of God.
Where is the deep meaning of life? How do we move beyond insignificance and superficiality of daily existence? What might lift us out of the mundane?
Jesus, Yeheshua – the one who saves.
Jesus Christ, the anointed one sent of God.
Jesus Christ our Lord – whose lordship, bearing the weight of divinity, is
goodness, mercy, and truth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Amen.