Last week, I started the message by talking about what a disciple is. We hope we are one, but do we really know exactly what a disciple is and what they do? To recap briefly, a disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. A disciple is a follower or a learner, someone who takes up the ways of someone else. They are completely devoted to a teacher. But the relationship goes way beyond just a student or an apprentice. They don’t simply master a trade or a subject, they literally learn to imitate their teacher’s life. So applied to Jesus Christ, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him, to take on Jesus’ words and Jesus’ ways.
Over the next several months, we are going to explore the different aspects of what a disciple is and what a disciple does. Things like daily devotion, prayer, sacrificial generosity, worship, serving, and sharing your story. It’s called a Disciple’s Path, and my hope and prayer is that it will take each of us to the next step in our walk with Jesus.
But before we start down the Disciple’s Path, we got to do something first. I feel led to take us back to our foundation, kind of back to the basics. What is it that we, as Christians, believe? Because look, if you are going to imitate and learn to live like someone, to be a disciple, you better know, not only who exactly it is you are following, but what they believe and why, and why it all matters.
So we’re first working through a series called “What Christians Believe.” And in this series, we’ll talk about what Christians actually believe, why they believe it, and why it even matters.
To help us break it all down, we’re taking a closer look at the Apostle’s Creed that we recited in the being of our worship today. We’ll recite it each week as we go through the series to help reiterate what we’re learning. But let’s start by talking about what a creed is.
A creed is a formal statement of Christian beliefs, and affirmation of our faith. From the earliest of times, Christians made attempts to summarize their essential beliefs by writing creeds. This helped new believers understand the faith, it helped separate the Christian faith from other faiths, and helped to hold Christians accountable to what they believe. Our hymnal has several creeds listed in the back of it. But the most enduring of them all, still used today, is the Apostle’s Creed that took it’s currant formed in the early 400’s. So it’s been used for a really long time.
Last week, we looked at the first line of the Apostle’s Creed.…I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Meaning, Christians believe that God is the creative source, the power from which everything exist. Christians believe God to be a divine god, but also a personal god who allows us to call Him father, and us His children. Everything and everyone you see around you shows God’s existence.
But beyond the simple and wonderful fact of existence, there are other things that lead us to believe there is One who is greater than the universe, and at the same time closer than the very air we breathe.
Christians believe in God because of moments in prayer, Scripture reading, and times when we’ve felt the presence of God in our very mist offering us comfort, assurance, guidance, and grace. Something within us just needs to trust, to give thanks, to praise, to worship the One who is greater than ourselves. We believe there is One for whom we were made, whose intent in creating humanity was that we might be in relationship with Him.
The vast majority of the world believes there is a God. (Hindus, Muslims, Jews). But what sets Christianity apart from other faiths is its specific beliefs about Jesus Christ. Today, we’re looking at What Christians believe about Jesus, Why they believe it, and Why it matters.
Some of the world’s religions affirm that Jesus was a profit, an important teacher, or religious reformer. Even among atheist there is a general agreement that Jesus did exist and was a great moral teacher. Christianity confirms that Jesus was a profit, a religious reformer, and a great moral teacher, but the Christian faith says He was also so much more. Let’s just look at what the Apostle’s Creed says about Jesus.
THE APOSTLE’S CREED
I believe…And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Let’s begin with a brief word about how we know what we know about Jesus. The earliest and most extensive information we have concerning Jesus comes from the 27 documents of the New Testament, nearly all which were written between the years 50 and 95. Included in these documents are the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These Gospels were written by Jesus’ followers who pulled material from a variety of sources and offer a huge amount of information about Jesus.
For instance, Luke starts his book off saying not only why he wrote it, but how.
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
The gospels aren’t necessarily biographies of Jesus’ life, although they do tell us about things He did and said. Instead, the Gospels were written by people who believed that Jesus was the Christ, God’s Son and their Lord. They were written by Christians for Christians and those who are open to becoming Christians. And they paint a remarkably consistent account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
However, the earliest New Testament documents are actually not the Gospels, but instead the letters that Paul wrote to small Christian communities across the Roman Empire. The earliest of these, likely his letter to the Galatians or perhaps his first letter to the Thessalonians, was written just 20 years after Jesus’ death.
In Galatians, Paul describes his own conversion to the Christian faith which likely occurred within a year or two after Jesus death, which makes Paul a remarkably early source of testimony about the Christian faith.
All these documents not only affirm that Jesus existed, but show that we have a number of sources telling us about who Jesus is and describing what His earliest followers believed about Him.
Occasionally, a skeptic will try to argue that Jesus was completely made up by the early church, but the evidence for His existence is overwhelming! So I don’t believe the question about Jesus is whether He existed or not, nor whether He did most of the things these 27 books tell us He did. Aside from the miracles and the resurrection, most skeptics agree that Jesus existed.
But again, we Christians believe that Jesus did more than just exist. Like the New Testament authors, we see Him as a Savior, as Christ, as the Messiah, and as God’s only Son, our Lord. So today, I want to examine some of these titles and names found throughout the New Testament and that are also included in the Apostles Creed, but first let’s consider the great affirmation that Jesus was who He was.
Born of the Virgin Mary
Both Matthew and Luke tell us about this miraculous birth where Mary apart from any man, became pregnant by the Holy Spirit’s intervention. Both Gospel writers, writing in different places and for different reasons, each know of this miraculous birth, even though they don’t share the same perspective. Matthew emphasizes the story from Joseph’s viewpoint and Luke from Mary’s.
And they both tell us how an angel told each, Mary and Joseph in separate occasions, that they are to name the child Jesus because He will save His people from their sins and be called the Son of the Most High. (Matthew 1:21-23; Luke 1:31-32)
THE NAME JESUS
Let’s start with the name Jesus, which means Savior. The Greek word for sin used most often in the New Testament, means to “miss the mark.” And it doesn’t just mean to miss slightly, like you were aiming and just didn’t quite hit the bullseye. No, it means you weren’t even pointing in the right direction, like 180 degrees off. This word points to the fact that there is a mark meant to hit, a path we’re meant to follow, a way we’re meant to live. Most of us get this.
We’re meant to be loving, compassionate, merciful, giving, honest. As Jesus expressed it, were created with two main goals in life: to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So sin, the opposite of what we are supposed to do, is anything that we do in thought, word, or deed that is inconsistent with loving God or our neighbor or yourself.
Who wouldn’t agree that most of the world’s pain is because people and societies miss the mark? They stray from the right path because they fail to practice love. The evening news is a testament to the fact that human beings struggle with sin.
So if Jesus was born to save us from our sins, He clearly has a huge mission. But His saving us from our sins is not just about forgiving our sins. Of course Jesus offers forgiveness, redemption, and mercy to those who repent and seek it. And yes, forgiveness gives us right standing with God, but saving humanity from sin involves far more than just forgiveness.
It involves change. For those of us who believe in Him so deeply, we are changed are we not?
I don’t just want to be forgiven over and over again. I want to actually aim at the target and “hit the mark.” I want to be a loving, compassionate, a merciful human being who does the right thing more often than not. I don’t want to be blind to the ways I hurt others. I want to see them for what they are and find the strength to act differently.
I’m forever grateful that Jesus came to save us from our sins, to deliver us from the power and lure of sin, to show us God, to call us to follow Him, to model what it means to be authentically human, to demonstrate sacrificial love, and to work to change our hearts, to make us people who truly do love God, neighbor, and ourselves.
We need to be saved. Ever been in a situation where you wish God would just do something? Where you see the world in such chaos and just wish God would do something? Well He did. He brought Jesus who is God’s response to the human condition, and God’s answer to the questions we wrestle with and the struggles we face. (And He also made you to get that word out there and make a difference showing God to the world and teaching the Good News.)
John’s Gospel begins by referring to Jesus as the “Word made flesh.” Jesus is God’s Word for us. This Word has power. It’s a message about God and about humanity that was wrapped in a person named Jesus Christ. It is a Word that diagnosed our problems and at the same time provides the solution.
In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, He revealed who God is and who we are. He revealed our sin and God’s suffering in order to deliver us from it. And through all of that, He demonstrated the love of God in His endless mercy.
Another name the Creed and New Testament gives Jesus is Christ.
In the first Century, most people had one name followed by a second name that offered another piece of identifying information. The information could be drawn from an important relationship such as “John the son of Zebedee” or “Elizabeth wife of Zachariah”. Or it could be a word that identified you by your job such as “Levi the tax collector.” Or by your actions such as “John the Baptist.”
Now “Christ” is not Jesus’ middle or last name like you and I have middle and last names, but instead it is the title describing a particular role He came to fulfill. “Christ” is from the Greek word meaning “anointed one” which is drawn from Hebrew that has the same meaning as Messiah. So in other words, Christ means Messiah, anointed one.
GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD
God’s only son, our Lord is the next line in the creed. What does the creed mean by affirming that Jesus is God’s only son? Doesn’t the Bible teach that human beings are also God’s sons and daughters? Yes, it does. But to speak of Jesus in this way is to speak of a special and unique relationship that Jesus has with God.
Jesus is not just a son of God, but the Son of God. The point of saying that Jesus is God’s only Son is just short for saying it goes much deeper.
Just think about when Jesus called His first disciples and how they felt compelled to leave whatever they were doing, leave their families, jobs, everything and follow Him. They were drawn to Him. They knew there was something special about Him.
Jesus taught with an authority the other religious leaders did not demonstrate. When Jesus spoke, many people felt they had heard the very words of God. When Jesus touched people, they felt they had been touched by God. When they answer His call, they felt they were answering God’s call.
Jesus did things that ordinary people could not do. So in the book of Mark, when the disciples were “overcome with awe” that Jesus calmed the winds and the waves they asked, “who is this guy that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
So much of what Jesus did were things that according to Scripture, only God can do, like commanding the winds and the waves, forgiving sins, and raising the dead. Seeing Jesus do these things, the early Christians came to believe that in some sense God had come to the human race through Jesus. There was something extremely special about Him.
And I get it, this is not an easy thing to explain. If you struggle to explain or make sense of the Trinity, you are in good company. Many have wrestled with trying to explain this.
In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul tries to explain it by quoting a hymn from the early Christian church:
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Paul also quoted another early church hymn in Colossians 1:15-17 in order to explain it:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He existed before all things, and in him all things are held together.
These two hymns show that very early on, the church was coming to understand that somehow the Son of God was really God in flesh, God in human form.
John continuously points the idea that Jesus somehow is God.
John 1:1-5, 14
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
14 “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.”
We hear it in Jesus’ repeated use of “I Am” (what we talked about last week which was the name God used to reveal Himself to Moses signifying that He is the source of everything).
We hear it when Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. We see it in the way Jesus repeatedly does things we would expect only God can do. And we see it in the end of John’s Gospel when after the resurrection, Thomas encounters the resurrected Jesus and cries out “My Lord and my God”.
Did you know that, “Lord” is the most frequently used name for Jesus in the New Testament? It appears 537 times. In Greek it means master, ruler, or sovereign, and it can also mean King. The term signified the highest authority.
And check this out, Lord was the name that was used in the Old Testament to describe God. So when Christians in the New Testament speak of Jesus, and the title they use most frequently is Lord….and they don’t refer to Jesus as a lord, but THE LORD….that tells us something.
What a remarkable idea that the God who rules the universe would come to us, like one of us, born to a peasant family with an animal feeding trough as His first bed, that He would choose to experience what it means to be human, that He would know joy and sorrow, love and hate, pain and death. He ate, He wept, He bled, and He died.
But the incarnation (God coming in human form) was not simply to have God walk in our shoes. It was to allow God, literally, to meet us on our own ground, to become one of us in order to reveal Himself to us in terms that we could understand. Showing us what He is like and what His will is for our lives and for the world.
One last phrase of the Apostle’s Creed I want to briefly touch on today is…“on the third day.”
Virtually no one doubts that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. But the earliest Christian’s made an outrageous claim as to what happen next.
They said that early on Sunday morning, roughly 36 hours after He was buried, some of the women who followed Jesus returned to the tomb and found him gone. Soon Jesus began appearing to his disciples and others. Paul even notes that Jesus appear to more than 500 people, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.
No doubt the disciples and all these people were radically changed by their experiences with Jesus following the resurrection. The disciples who had fled when Jesus was arrested and had been in hiding behind locked doors the day after His death, all of a sudden became bold and courageous risking their own lives to proclaim what they had seen.
It was the witness of these disciples, along with the empty tomb, that then lead thousands in Jerusalem to believe. And those who came to believe in the Risen Jesus found their own lives changed forever.
That’s the case in my own life. And I get it. When an unbeliever or even a new Christian reads these Gospels, it’s a little hard to swallow and completely understand and believe. But if Christ was not raised, then evil, hate, sin, and death had a final word on that Friday when Jesus was crucified.
But Jesus’ resurrection was God’s dramatic way of making clear that none of those things have the final word. It’s an ever present sign of God’s victory and the trial of good over evil, love over hate, and life over death. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes how we live our lives and how we face death…our own and that of others.
The resurrection is central to our faith! And if Jesus’ life had ended with His burial, Christianity would not exist today, but yet it does.
Why belief in Jesus matters
This is our defining story. Jesus demonstrates who God is, what God is like, and what God’s will is for our lives. His life and ministry, His death, and resurrection shapes how we see ourselves and how we see the world. It helps us to see we were born with a purpose, our lives have meaning, and when this mortal body dies, we’ve only have just begun to live.
When God sought to communicate His love for us, He sent Jesus. It was in His son that God’s message, God’s word came to us and became our defining story. Through Jesus, God was saying: I Am. And you matter to me. And I love you.