We're starting this new sermon series tonight all about the Apostles' Creed. Over the coming weeks in the run-up to Christmas we'll tackle the creed one idea at a time, digging into the meaning and importance of each idea. This should be great whether you've been a Christian for a long time or you're just looking into what Christians believe. We're going to cover a lot of good ground this term.
The Apostles' Creed kicks off with the line 'I believe in God'. The Creed wasn't composed in English and the original is more literally translated as 'I am believing into God'. I'm buying in, I'm investing. We're saying that this means something very significant to us. Now, many people believe in God. Christians, Jews, Muslims and more. In the creed we stand and proclaim 'I am believing into God', but who is God? Who is the God of the Apostles' Creed? That's the first big question of the creed and it's our big question for tonight: Who is God?
But before we get into that, since we're starting this new sermon series on the Apostles' Creed we should first ask 'What is the creed?' Where does it come from?
Well, it's just 114 words long, comparing favourably to this sermon (pushing 4000) and to the bible, which is apparently around the million-word mark, although I haven't checked that myself. It wasn't written by the Apostles, despite the name, but was developed later in church history, over the first few centuries AD. We can think about the creed by remembering that oath taken by witnesses in court: I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Firstly, the creed is the truth. The creed is a collection of some of the core historical facts that are at the heart of the Christian gospel. But it's more than facts. It's more than truth. It's a declaration. There are three paragraphs and each starts with 'I believe'. The word 'creed' means 'belief'. It's related to words like 'credible'. The creed helps us to pin up these core historical facts, and then it helps us to say 'I believe that.' And believing is more than just agreeing that something is true. When we say 'I believe', we're nailing our colours to the mast. We're buying in, we're investing. If we're the witness on the stand, this is our testimony. When we say the creed we stand up to be counted as people who believe what it says.
Secondly, and the analogy flips over briefly here, the creed is not the whole truth. What I mean is, there's more that you'd want to say to explain the gospel. The creed doesn't say anything about the Bible, or about how Jesus' death relates to forgiveness or how his resurrection relates to eternal life, or who the Holy Spirit is and what he does. There's more to say: the creed is the truth, but it's not the whole truth.
Lastly, the creed is nothing but the truth. The ancient creeds were written to clarify gospel truth in the face of the most dangerous errors of the day. Around the first few centuries AD there were people called Gnostics who believed that the physical world is evil and the spiritual world alone is good and pure. So the Apostles' Creed emphasises that God did make the world, and that in Jesus he really did become a real physical human being who had a real birth and a real death. So while the creeds summarise key Christian truths, they also emphasise some of them to combat particular false teaching. And although we don't have many Gnostics around today, we do have plenty of people, including church leaders, who will deny some element of the creed, like the virgin birth, or the resurrection, or future judgment. We can't be faithful to the gospel while denying the elements of the creed. The creed is a safeguard.
So the creed is the truth, not the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Maybe that's helpful!
Tonight we're taking on the first sentence of the creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Now if you think that in the next twenty five minutes you're going to hear everything there is to hear about God the Father, I'm afraid that in about twenty five minutes' time you're going to be disappointed. But hopefully that's because of God, not because I decided to work on something other than this sermon this week. Just in case, I'm planning to tell you about some options for further reading later on.
Tonight we're going to take the two headlines of the creed, the creed's two answers to the question 'Who is God?' as our two points.
1) God is the Father almighty
Isaiah was a prophet, a messenger of God to his people at the time they were known as Judah, the kingdom of Judah. God had allowed Judah to be overrun by Babylon and the people were carried off into exile, far from home, no cohesion, no nation, no power, no hope. Isaiah had predicted this years before and now it had come. This was a dark, dark time.
What was the point of trusting in their God any more? God had let this happen. Where was God now? Well listen to Isaiah's message in chapter 40. Look at v9:
9You who bring good tidings toZion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings toJerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns ofJudah,
"Here is your God!"
10See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
God sends a message of comfort! How on earth can they be comforted in this dead end exile scenario? Isn't it all over for God's people? Well, no. God says 'Take comfort in me. Take comfort in my character. Take comfort in who I am. I am the Sovereign Lord. Your desperate situation is not in the least bit outside my control. I am all-powerful. And not only am I powerful, I'm good. I am caring for you like a shepherd. I will carry you like helpless lambs, in my arms, close to my heart, gently leading. Right now, when you have no hope and no power and nothing to offer to save yourselves… this is when you will see most clearly my sovereign power and my loving tender care.' God is both Father and almighty. He is the almighty Sovereign Lord, and he is the loving shepherd, the Father. Limitless power and limitless love. Look at v27:
27Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
'You think I have forgotten you? You think I have abandoned you? Nothing could be further from the truth. Don't you know that I am the everlasting God? You are spread across Babylon, with no hope of returning home, but don't you know that I am the creator of Babylon? You feel so far from home that it's as if you've been spread to the ends of the earth, but I'm the Creator of the ends of the earth. I don't grow weary, I don't lose strength, I don't fade. You can't let out a depth line from your ship a find how deep my understanding and wisdom goes. My understanding goes deeper than any measurement; it can't be fathomed. I am almighty.'
'And I am also Father. What do the weary need? Strength, and I give it. What do the weak need? Power, and I give it. Put your hope in me. You feel trodden into the ground but hope in me and you will soar like and eagle. You feel stuck in thick mud but hope in me and you will run without weariness, without fainting. I am your Father and in my time, at the right time, I supply the right needs of my children.'
God is the Father almighty. This is a big deal for God's people and it's a big deal for us too. We have God almighty as our Father. Muslims think of Allah as almighty. To them Allah has sovereign power. But they don't know him as Father, they don't relate to him intimately. For them Allah is a distant, all-powerful figure, almighty but not Father. Others consider God to be a benevolent Father Christmas figure – good and loving and kind but ineffective. He wants the best for us but doesn't have the wherewithal to make a difference to our circumstances. He's Father but not almighty.
But we know that God is the one true almighty God and that we can know him intimately as our Father through faith in Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In fact God has been Father almighty a lot longer than he's had us for his children. There's a sense in which he is the Father to all people because he has created everyone. That doesn't mean that all people are saved but that all people are obliged to worship and obey him. But he's been Father even before creation. The bible shows that God is one God but also three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, as the three paragraphs of the Apostles' Creed hint, distinct and yet one. Not three, not one but three and one, three in one. And for all eternity inside the Trinity there has been a Father-Son relationship. This relationship is the eternal model of God's relationship to his people. It's the eternal model and source of all parent-child relationships in all the history of every people group in the world ever.
And yet we know God as our own saving Father. He has adopted us into his family through faith in the death of his only son, Jesus, in our place. His almighty, sovereign power, his incomparably great power is now for us, achieving his purpose for us. What is that purpose? That we would be restored, brought through this life to share in everything our elder brother Jesus now enjoys in glory at the Father's side. Paul uses the word 'heirs'. We have been written in to the inheritance of God the Father and his almighty power is now at work in his children to bring about everything he has in store for us. God is our Father almighty. If we're following Jesus we are his adopted children. He cares for us, not just like a father but as our father. And in his might he has power and authority over every circumstance.
So who better to turn to for comfort in the dark times of our lives, when we're feeling like Judah, utterly defeated, utterly without hope or strength or future. Who better to turn to when we're wearied by our own sin or by the pressure of an unbelieving world, or by the sufferings and shocks and disappointments of this life, wearied to the point of wondering whether we can even keep going as Christians. He calls us to cast all of this on him. He calls us to get our perspective right by looking to just who he is. He calls us to look to look to our Father almighty, and to heaven, our ultimate homecoming, to believe it to be our future, and to live it out trusting in his unchanging character and incomparably great power. And getting stuck into passages like Isaiah 40 is a great way to start that.
So, in the creed I say I believe in God. I am believing into God. But who is God? The first headline answer of the Apostles' Creed is that God is the Father almighty. The second answer of the Apostles' Creed is this:
2) God is the Creator of heaven and earth
We've had a little taste of this already from v28: The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Look at some of the poetic language Isaiah uses to firmly encourage or maybe even gently rebuke the exiles, stopping them in their tracks to consider who God is. Look from v12:
12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
It's as if the world was a sandcastle, or as if the world was made of Lego bricks. Look at the world around you. Who do you think designed and made all of this? V13:
13Who has understood the mind of the Lord,
or instructed him as his counsellor?
14Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?
Where did God go to get his degrees in astrophysics and engineering and sociology and psychology? Who was his tutor at college? V15:
15Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
You think Babylon is something? How did I get on when Egypt stood against me? How did I get on when Assyria stood against me? Where are they now? You've got some serious issues of perspective!
God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He existed forever and he will exist forever. He formed everything out of nothing with a word. He created a world designed specifically for life to flourish. He made humanity to bear his image and bring him glory. He revealed himself to his human creatures and befriended them. He acted in everything in full knowledge so that by creation history he might rightly and more fully glorify himself because he is worthy of all praise and honour and adoration. He is independent; he is unchangeable; he is in every time; he is in every place; he is all knowing; he is all wise; he is all powerful; he is truthful; he is good; he is love; he is holy; he is righteous; he is pure; he is free; he is one yet he is three; he is just yet he is merciful; he is invisible yet he is beautiful; he is unfathomable yet he is knowable. He is the one true and living God, creator of all things, sustainer of all things and owner of all things. He has absolute authority over everything he has made. He owns it all. It's his. You're his, whether you accept that or not.
And that's the most important thing you can know about yourself. You were made so you are owned. You belong to God. He made you in his image, which means it's your job from before you were born to represent God in God's world by relating to him as your God, giving worship and honour to him and obeying him.
I've told the story before about the dog we had in the family when I was growing up. Occasionally on walks she would find some dead animal or something vile in the woods and she'd roll in it and come out all stained and stinking. But that wasn't appropriate. She belonged to us and lived at our house. She was owned, and she was not free to stink.
The trouble is that's what we do. What do I mean? Instead of relating rightly to the one true Creator God who is worthy of all praise, we ignore him and try to replace him with just about anything we can. Look at v18:
18To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
19As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.
We seem to think nowadays that atheism vs faith is the key struggle in the battle for people's hearts. Will they go with atheism, or can we persuade them towards faith? But the Bible's ongoing war through all the ages and stages of the Bible is worshipping idols vs serving the one true God, the God who made us and owns us. Romans 1 says that we exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. If we're not worshipping the creator, then we're worshipping creation. Those are the only two categories of stuff that's out there to worship. Creator or created.
Now this takes all manner of forms. In many parts of the world people worship physical idols, whether it's Krishna or the Virgin Mary or the latest Apple product. For others it's humanity, or celebrity or luxury. Lives are devoted to pursuing these gods. If I can only get another promotion, if I can only get my Dad to says he's proud of me, if I can just get a yes from the X-Factor judges, if I can only meet the right person to love then my problems will go away. Well to anyone from Judah who was thinking about how to get the problem of exile in Babylon to go away Isaiah says this (look at v21):
21Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
26Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
There is not an atom in this universe that God does not know and whose path God does not direct and you want to worship something else? Idols are nothing. God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is the one true and living God, creator of all things, sustainer of all things and owner of all things. So worship the Creator, not idols.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. There's a lot packed into that first line of the creed isn't there? We need to stop soon for time's sake. Let me make a couple of suggestions for taking this further.
First, why not go to the HTG website, click through to 10ofthose.com and buy the book we're recommending for this series? It's Jim Packer's Affirming the Apostles' Creed. It's only 150 pages and with a stylish amount of white space around and amongst the text, so it's not long, but it's packed with detail, helpful bible references and questions to think about. You can browse a sample copy in the foyer, and since this is an evening service crowd I might as well mention that 10ofthose sells a Kindle version too…
Second, God has revealed himself in several ways or at several levels. The pinnacle of his self-revelation is Jesus Christ. Now by following the Apostles' Creed we're going to spend the next six weeks thinking about Jesus in these evening services, so why not resolve to come back for those, especially if you're on the outside of the Christian faith, looking in to things for yourself.
Third, and similarly, our next Christianity Explored course is about to start looking at who Jesus is and what his life was all about. That's here in this room on Thursday night, 8pm.
Lastly, and perhaps I should have said this earlier, why not listen to each of the sermons in this series, catch up online if you can't come along, and jot down in a journal or a diary or notebook or inside your bible some of the key thoughts from each chunk of the creed. Read and review them and the meaning and usefulness of saying the creed together here on Sundays will rocket.