Our text for this morning comes from our reading from the Gospel of Mark, the first chapter: In
those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as
he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove
on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
When Zion’s staff (I like how that sounds—“Zion Staff”) met the other day to plan today’s
worship, I told Clinton and Ryan my theme for this morning’s message was “Jesus.” I hope
they didn’t need more detail. Last week I started a short series focused on cursory look at the
two main creeds of our church, the Apostles’ and Nicene, with the hope of encouraging us to
not simply and mindlessly recite these words week after week, but to seek to draw meaning from
them. And after considering the First Article, with the emphasis on God as Creator/Owner, and
as our Abba Father, we now move on to Article Two, which is, of course, all about… Jesus.
As you’ve heard, I believe the whole Bible is, in a very important sense, all about Jesus, or as
the folks at the Bible Project like to say, “The Bible is a unified story which leads to Jesus.”
And not only that, but our lives ought also to be increasingly all about Jesus, about experiencing
His grace which covers our deep and significant sinful woundedness and His desire to restore us
into God’s image as children of God. Ultimately, what I’m saying is: Jesus is why we are here.
Remember… our English word creed is drawn from the Latin credo, which simply means, “I
believe.” Week after week we stand as one and confess as one our common belief in “Jesus
Christ.” Right up front I want to emphasize that it is important for us to do more than merely
believe in Jesus. You know who really believes in Jesus? Satan. As a matter of fact, Satan
does not merely believe but knows for a fact that Jesus is the Christ, God’s only Son.
We must come to do more than merely believe in Jesus. Yes, I know, John 3:16 states in those
well-known words that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” But it is clear that Jesus did not come
on a mission to simply create a movement of believers. Jesus came on an extraordinary mission
to win our salvation... and Jesus came to call His fellow children of God to become followers,
not merely fans. Jesus came to not only save us, but to change and restore us.
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it… especially after the events of this past week: If
there is any real hope to bring about the kind of healing our nation needs, Christians must come
to understand the need to be committed followers of Jesus. We must come together and model
what living in the way of Jesus, the way of radical love, compassion, and generosity, looks like.
And we must also demonstrate that it is both possible and necessary for people to learn how to
disagree without seeing one another as enemies. The attacking, violent rhetoric must stop. We
must all understand none of us are right about everything. A little humility will go a long way.
Now… to the creeds. Perhaps the Second Article ought to say something like: “I believe and
follow Jesus Christ, His only Son, as Lord.” The name Jesus means “one who saves.” The title
Christ means the anointed one, or Messiah. And to confess Jesus as our Lord means that we are
committed to following His lead. The Lord of our life is the one we follow.
As I’m sure many of you have noticed, the Nicene Creed seems to have a lot more to say about
Jesus than the Apostles’ Creed. The reason is that the Nicene Creed was developed to address a
controversy over whether Jesus was truly divine, or merely human, or vice versa, or both. That
is why it goes into more detail.
But have you noticed that both creeds are missing some vitally important details? The Apostles’
Creed says that Jesus was “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…… suffered
under Pontius Pilate”?! The Nicene Creed summarizes it this way: “Was incarnate by the Holy
Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man…… and was crucified also for us under Pontius
Pilate”?! What?! What about all that happened in between? Jesus wasn’t merely born and then
died and rose again. Jesus lived a life of extraordinary loving, gracious, and compassionate
service, filled with signs and miracles, and vitally important teaching.
This is a glaring weakness of the creeds, one which reflects a major problem with the focus of
the Church throughout these many generations. Jesus did not merely come to be born and then
to die so that when we die we go to heaven. And all we need to do is believe that and we are
good to go. No… Jesus came to begin the process of restoring the kingdom of God here on
earth as it is in heaven (familiar words?), a process which will culminate when He returns.
Faith does not merely save us; faith also changes and restores us.
So I urge us to be intentional about our worship. There may be some value in going through the
motions of going to church, singing the songs, following the liturgy, saying our prayers, and
listening to sermons we hope to find interesting. I guess these are at least some good habits.
But they must become more than that! We gather here to encounter God together, to learn and
to grow, and to come together to support and encourage and celebrate with one another. We
gather to respond to our calling to be involved in our collective mission and ministry, engaged
in the wonderful honor of serving as instruments through whom God continues to carry out His
mission. We are here for the purpose of engaging in the meaningful work of strengthening and
extending the Kingdom of God.
Just a couple more things related to the second article of the creeds. First, Pilate takes way too
much of the blame. Jesus was arrested and suffered at the hands of the leaders of His very own
people and religion, who pushed for Him to be executed by crucifixion. And we believe that
Jesus’ suffering and death and blood are on us. He died, willingly, in our place.
Finally… there is a problematic statement in the Apostles’ Creed which truly doesn’t belong
there, one which has created more confusion than clarification. It’s the line which reads: “He
descended into hell.” For something to be part of our core doctrine and teaching—which is
what creeds are supposed to summarize— it must be based on at least three clear passages from
the scriptures. That particular concept is based on one rather obscure passage from 1 Peter 3. It
is better to render this phrase—as some liturgies do—to say that Jesus descended to the dead,
and just leave it at that mysterious point.
Of course, there is much more that could be said, but my goal in the short series is simply to
help us pay attention and to understand what we are confessing. We must spend our whole life
learning what this all means. Next week, we’ll close this out with a look at the Third Article.