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Jesus – Alive and Reigning as King

In the continuation of my look at the Apostles’ Creed, today we turn to the victorious announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and his ongoing reign over all the earth.

The third day he rose again

Do you know the three most thrilling words in the whole Bible? “He is not here; he has risen!(Luke 24:6). Victory! Three days after Jesus, God himself, was crucified, he rose from the dead.  Paul exclaims excitedly, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  From the depths of the dead, Jesus is alive! The great hope of the Scriptures, of the Apostles’ Creed, and of our lives is that Jesus rose from the dead and will now live forever and ever.

Ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-10).  From the depths of the grave, Jesus rose, returning to the glory that was his before the world began. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, ruling over the world.

He shall come again

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.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Jesus is coming again! The first time, he came as a humble babe in Bethlehem. This next time it will be as the triumphant King, riding on the clouds and announced by the trumpets. And the great promise is that when he comes, he will take us to be with him. The Creed does anticipate judgment for those who reject Jesus as King and therefore provides us the impetus and challenge to share the grace and hope of Christ. But it also assures us that we will get to share in the Father’s blessings, dwelling in his very presence.

Interact: Is Jesus’ return a point of hope or a point of fear in your life? Why?

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Jesus – Birth and Death

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

Justo Gonzalez, a noted church historian, highlights two important facets of this phrase of the Creed in his book, The Apostles’ Creed for Today. First, it was a special birth. Consider the miraculous births that the Scriptures record from the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, to the birth of Samuel to Hannah, to the birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth. All of these miracle births anticipate the miracle birth of Jesus. Just as God had a special plan laid out for each of those miracle babies, so also God had a special plan for the baby born to Mary.

Second, notes Gonzalez, Jesus was born. It was a special birth…but it was also a real birth. Jesus was a real baby born to a real mother in a real place and at a real time in history. As we saw previously, there were some, including Marcion, who taught that Jesus had not really been born. The emphasis on his birth in the Creed serves to emphasize his humanity, for it was that little baby who would grow to be the man who would save us from our sins. Yes, Jesus was fully God. And yes, he was also fully man (Gonzalez, 2007).

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried

Just as the Apostles’ Creed is very explicit to make sure we do not miss the humanity of Jesus as demonstrated by his birth, so also the Creed ensures that we do not miss the death of Jesus. At the hands of Pilate, he was beaten, spat upon, humiliated and then, ultimately, crucified. This is not a good religious myth about a deity rising from death, but the factual, historical account of the death of God. Truly, this is a strange thing for a religion to claim the death of its own deity. As Paul writes of Jesus, “He humbled himself and become obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Descended into hell

As if, again to make sure that the point of his death does not escape us, the Creed goes on to say that Jesus descended into hell. Now, much can be made of what, exactly, this means. Did Jesus really go into hell? Though an interesting question, it is not really the primary concern of this phrase.  Instead, this phrase intends to reaffirm that Jesus was really dead. Ok, so Jesus really was crucified on a cross. He really died. They really stabbed him in the side to make sure he was dead. Then, they really pulled down his dead body and buried him. Get it? That is the point. Jesus was dead. Really, really dead!

What was God doing on the cross?

Alister McGrath wrote a book with precisely that provocative title. The simple answer is: dying. The much more complex issue is why? Why would the God of all the universe allow himself to be die. And not just die, but die a painful, humiliating death. Pulling from a list compiled by my friend, John Karraker, on the meaning of the atonement.

  • Covenant
    • God established a “covenant of blood” with Israel that certified that they were indeed His people. In the same way a new covenant has been established in Christ. (See Genesis 15)
    • Exodus 24:8 – “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
    • Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
  • Sacrifice
    • Christ’s death was a sacrifice that purchased “eternal redemption.” The unique feature of Christ’s sacrifice is that He is both victim and priest who offers it.
    • Isaiah 53:5 – “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.”
  • Redemption
    • Webster’s says, “To buy back, to liberate by payment.” The Scripture records several incidents of this kind of liberation. (Book of Ruth)
    • Hebrews 9: 12 – “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
  • Reconciliation
    • The death of Christ brings to an end the enmity and estrangement that exist between God and man.
    • Romans 5:11 – “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
    • 2 Corinthians 5:19 – “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
    • Colossians 1:20 – “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.”
  • Propitiation
    • Christ died to appease God’s wrath.
    • Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
    • 1 John 2:2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
    • 1 John 4:10 – “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (KJV).
  • Substitution
    • Numerous passages assert that Christ died in our place as our substitute. This substitution is individual and personal. (See Genesis 22:7, 8)
    • Galatians 3:13 – “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. II
  • Justification
    • “Justification is God’s action pronouncing sinners righteous in His sight. It is a matter of our being forgiven and declared to have fulfilled all that God’s law requires of us.” (Erickson, p. 954) Faith is the principle that applies the benefits of Christ’s work to the sinner.
    • Romans 5:1 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
    • Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Conclusion: We must be sure we preach “Christ and Him crucified,” trusting that His Word will be met with faith in the heart of the unbelievers we meet.

Interact: Which aspect of the atonement from the above list is most captivating to you? Why?

A Good Friday Reflection

I came across this song, What Have We Done, out of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The lyrics are stunning. Listen to it here.

Oh my soul, oh my Jesus
Judas sold you for thirty, I’d have done it for less
Oh my soul, oh my Savior
Peter denied you three times, I have denied you more

As the nails went in, I was standing right there
As you breathed your last, I shook my head and I cried

Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son
Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son

Oh my soul, oh my Jesus
Judas sold you for thirty, I’d have done it for less
Oh my soul, oh my Savior
Peter denied you three times, I have denied you more

And the blood ran down, I was standing right there
And the water pored, I shook my head and I cried

Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son
Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son
Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son
Oh my God, what have we done, we have destroyed your Son

Wow. We often give Peter a hard time for some of the dumb things he said and did and we are certainly quick to condemn Judas for his betrayal. They, at least, didn’t quite get it yet. We, on the other hand, have no such excuses as we look back on the cross. We know how the story goes. And yet, there we are, quick to deny Christ and to betray him for far less than 30 pieces of silver. We have destroyed the Son of God.

It is right that, at that point in history, that the might refrain of Tony Campolo speaks boldly, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” Praise God. It does not stay Friday, but Sunday – Easter Sunday – comes with victory! We destroyed the Son of God, but he was the Anointed One – God’s Chosen – and not even death could contain him. He has conquered death forever. Amen!