"I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord"
Describe 1960's music without referencing The Beatles of The Rolling Stones. Explain world events in the first part of the twenty-first century without mentioning 9/11. Or how about writing a history of English literature without talking about Shakespeare. Difficult isn't it?
That's because these figures and events are not just examples par excellence of their respective fields they are the very definitions of them. They have become walking embodiments of these particular areas, essential to understanding them. One could easily make a case that it is impossible to understand world events in the early twenty-first century without taking 9/11 into account.
In the second line of the Apostles Creed which we are taking a closer look at tonight we meet the walking embodiment of our faith: Jesus Christ. It says:
"I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord."
And whilst it may be true to say that Shakespeare largely defines English literature or that we are required to acknowledge the events of September 11th in order to understand our own times they do not define things in the same way that Jesus Christ defines and redefines everything. We're only in the second week of this series, the second line of this creed but I think we can put an early claim in for it being one of, if not THE, most important ten words in the whole creed. In the first 'Christian' sermon the Apostle Peter concludes by saying:
36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
Jesus is Lord and Messiah (Christ), King and Saviour. That's the essence of Christianity. You cannot understand Christianity without knowing Jesus. I mean that categorically, you could describe 1960s music without referencing The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, it might be lacking but it is possible. However it is not possible to know God without acknowledging his Son Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Jesus Christ is the one who both reveals God truly to us and who makes it possible for us to relate to God. Jesus is Christianity.
So as we look over the next few weeks at these lines concerning Jesus' identity, perhaps the easiest lines for us to repeat each week I hope we will see what is at stake here. If we do not proclaim clearly Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord then there is very little point us being here. No strike that, there is no point in us being here. We need to understand these statements which we proclaim, what they mean. But more than that we need to believe them, they need to be at the centre of what we do together as a church and they need to accurately reflect the passions of our hearts and the foundations of the lives we build. So before we take a closer look at this section and at our text John 1.1-18 let's ask for God's help to do that.
Heavenly Father we ask for your help tonight as we read your word. Please make us into people and into a church who both confess with our lips and who believe deep in our hearts that Jesus is Lord.
I have three headings to take us through this short line which I think works as an equation. So first we'll see that this Jesus is God's promised Saviour, second in addition we'll then see that Jesus is God and therefore thirdly that Jesus must be our Lord. So first: 'Jesus is God's promised Saviour'...
1. Jesus is God's promised Saviour
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
Last week Rich explained that we don't believe in God generically as an intellectual concept or category. Rather we believe specifically in the God of the Bible who is both almighty and relates to us as our Father. Now the scope narrows again: we believe in Jesus, a man, who lived 2,000 years ago inIsrael. Who was born inBethlehem, who trained as a carpenter and then who spent three years in public ministry before being executed.
The Christian faith is an historical faith; it is based on events which happened in history, events which were observed and witnessed to. When we proclaim: 'I believe in Jesus Christ' we are deliberately attaching our belief to real history. That's massive because we're now not just saying here is a philosophy or way of looking at the world that seems to make sense that is helpful. Or here is a way in which we like to think of God. No, we're saying something very different; we're saying that something very definite has happened and therefore we must draw these conclusions. Specifically we are saying that because this identifiable individual: Jesus Christ has lived, died and risen to life again certain things about us and about God have been publicly demonstrated as being objectively true.
The claim being made in the first part of this sentence is that this man: Jesus is in fact the Christ, or in Hebrew: The Messiah, God's long-promised, anointed king who would come to save his people. This Jesus whose very name means 'God is Saviour' is this long-awaited Saviour. This is the one whom John the Baptist is bearing witness to in John 1, look at v1ff:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Light has come into the world we are told. This light comes in the form of a person who brings true knowledge, making it possible for those who would receive him to become children of God; the Father Almighty. Verse 6 and 7 tell us that John testified to this light but that John himself, however, is not this light, Rather, John places himself in the role of fore-runner applying our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 40:3, to himself in v23:
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.''
John's role he says is to prepare the way for the promised Messiah, the promised Saviour. If we were in any doubt as to who John is referring to a few verses later in v29 he says of Jesus; 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world'.
So John tells us that Jesus is the Saviour: he is the 'Lamb of God' who will take away the sins of the world. He is the one Isaiah and the prophets foretold the servant king who would suffer on behalf of his people for their redemption. Additionally Jesus is the light who gives light and life to everyone in the world bringing true knowledge of God and making it possible for v12:
'...all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Jesus is the Christ, he holds the office of Messiah; God's chosen, promised, saving king. Jesus is the one whom the whole of the Old Testament has been pointing forward to. Right from Genesis 3 where God promises that a descendant of Adam will come to crush the serpent (Satan) through God's promise to King David to make one of his descendants the everlasting king. All the promises that God has made to his people are now caught up in this one man: Jesus or as Paul will later write in 2 Corinthians 1:
20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.
By calling Jesus - 'The Christ' we are in shorthand loading his identity with meaning. We are agreeing with Jesus claim about himself, recorded in John 5:38 that the Scriptures are about him. We'll see in more detail over the coming weeks how Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection bear out this claim to be God's promised Saviour.
But already we can see how by calling Jesus - 'The Christ' we are marking Christianity out as something very different to other faiths or philosophies: Jesus is not just the lead proponent of or greatest teacher of Christianity. He is our Saviour. It is his life, death and resurrection which achieve our salvation not our efforts or understanding. That stands in contrast to religions such as Islam or Buddhism which require a certain level of moral effort or spiritual understanding.
Jesus is God's promised Saviour and so we look to him rather than to a set of ideals or rules or personal achievements for salvation. Therefore Christianity is at the most fundamental level about Christ and not about us.
2. Jesus is God
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
'his only Son' him being God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth from the previous line. Three of the most debated words one could imagine. Our claim expands massively here we say not only is Jesus the long awaited Messiah, The Christ but Jesus is the Son of God he is God himself come down to earth. We claim that God himself has become our Saviour, he has become a man; the God-Man Jesus Christ. God has intervened in our world in the most direct way possible by personally invading it. God has walked the earth, in physical, observable time and space.
To say Jesus is God'S Son is a monumental claim. In Mark 2 Jesus equates himself with God by claiming to be able to forgive sin - a task that only God could perform. The religious elite write Jesus off as a blasphemer. If Jesus were not God then we would be a church of blasphemers. However if Jesus is God then the implications are incredible. We can know God truly. We can know what God is like because he has walked among us and we can know God relationally as individually loved and rescued sinners who God has given his own Son up for. God has died for us.
So is Jesus God? Well that is undeniably the claim of John 1, look again at v1ff:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made....
So what do these verse tell us about Jesus?
1 First, Jesus is called the Word, logos in the Greek. The term means the ultimate reason; the thing within which everything else finds it's meaning. We are already hinting at divinity here. How could someone other than God function as the underlying reason for the whole cosmos?
2 Second, this Word was there at the beginning. When creation was formed this Word was already pre-existent. More than that v3 tells us that this Word was co-Creator of the universe: 'without him nothing was made that has been made'. Jesus is creator not creature: 'begotten not made' as the Nicene Creed puts it. John is explicit the Word: 'was with God and the Word was God'.
There we have it in black and white this Word who v14 tells us has been made flesh and has walked among us, is God. Jesus Christ existed before the world began, he was with God in fact he was God, without him nothing that exists now would've existed. The title 'creator of heaven and earth' belongs to him also. Jesus is God.
Why is this so critical? Why does John speak so precisely of Jesus' divinity? After all it leaves us with some difficulties: the Bible says repeatedly that God is one but he is also three. That is difficult to grasp. Why does it matter that Jesus was God and not just an incredibly obedient, spirit-filled man or angel? Well there is so much that we could say but let's limit ourselves to two things.
The first from comes from the last few verse of our text John 1:14-18:
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, 'This is the one I spoke about when I said, "He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me."') 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Jesus has made God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, known. Because the Word has become flesh and lived on earth as the God-Man Jesus Christ we have seen God's glory. The full weight of God's radiant holiness and goodness has been set before man. 1 Corinthians 1:19 says that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus. John says in v18 that no one has seen God but Jesus God's only begotten Son has made him known.John will later state in 1 John 2:23 that:
23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
Note the negative and the positive there: without acknowledging the Son: Jesus it is impossible to know God the Father. But conversely, whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. If Jesus really is God, if he has stepped into human history to live, die and rise again then we can know God truly. Not abstractly, philosophically, doubtfully but specifically, personally and definitely.
That is a quantum leap from any world religion or philosophy. We can know God not guess about him because he has chosen to make himself known in the most spectacular way by becoming flesh and walking this earth. God is knowable and invites us to know him objectively, historically in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
The second thing that follows from Jesus being God's only Son is our third and final point: 'Jesus must be your Lord'.
3. Jesus must be your Lord
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord
We are not just right to worship the name of Jesus, we are required to. God has made himself known through creation, through the Scriptures but most supremely he has made himself known through his Son who is the ultimate subject of both those things: by him all creation was made and holds together and the Scriptures are those that testify about him. Everything is about and for Jesus. Therefore we are right to lift up his name, to sing his praises to call ourselves Christ - ians, followers of Jesus. Because Jesus is God, he must be Lord also.
If you'll turn to p832 you get to Colossians 1;15-20 where Paul writes of Jesus' supreme Lordship like this:
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 is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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.
If Jesus is both God and Christ then he must be Lord. He is worthy of all adoration, of all respect and honour and glory. He must be recognised and praised as Lord as a matter of justice by all creation and especially by his church. That is true generally, universally as Paul states: 'all things have been created through him and for him' but it is also true individually. We are required to acknowledge Jesus as both Lord and Christ. That's what Peter urged so passionately in that first 'Christian' sermon:
36 'Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.'
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'
38 Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
It's the first thing that Paul that persecutor of Jesus' church appeals for after meeting the risen Lord Jesus in Acts 9:
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn't he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?'22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
Recognising Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as the Messiah, the Christ, God's promised Saviour is the primary requirement placed upon any and all human being. I said earlier that everything is about Jesus that includes you. You find your meaning, your hope, your life only in as much as you recognise the God-Man Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You have life in as much as you have united yourself to Jesus. What you make of Jesus of Nazareth is always the key question.
1 Can you call him Saviour?
The one by whom you may know God and be accepted by him. The one whose life, death and resurrection you hope in for your life, to handle your death and to guarantee your resurrection.
2 Are you treating him as Lord?
The whole universe revolves around and finds it's meaning in Jesus Christ - does yours? Is he the first and deepest love in your heart? Are his commands the compass by which you live? Is your posture towards him one of praise and worship or of grudging respect?
If Jesus is God's Son and if he has willingly become man, taken on flesh, lived, died and risen again to become your Saviour then he must be your Lord also.