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I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD

March 11, 2018

Hebrews 1:3

 

            If you were here four weeks ago you may recall that I preached from Mt. 7:13-14, where Jesus contrasted a narrow gate and a wide gate, a narrow road and a broad road.  Jesus encouraged us to enter through the narrow gate.  The narrow gate is actually Jesus, and we enter it when we place our faith in Him and trust in Him as our Savior.  Then we travel on the narrow road, which is the way of following Jesus.  Jesus encouraged us to choose this option because this is what leads to life – the fullness of life now and eternal life in the world to come.

            On the other hand, the wide gate and broad road lead to destruction.  This is the way of rejecting Jesus to choose our own way of believing or the temporary values of this world.

In that sermon four weeks ago, I mentioned a television game show I watched growing up in the US – “Let’s Make a Deal.”  In that show, contestants win and trade prizes, which are sometimes of greater value than the ones they had, and sometimes are of lesser value.

            At the conclusion of the show, one contestant, who by then would have won perhaps around $5,000 worth of prizes, can play for the grand prize.  They must give up what they have already won and choose door #1, door #2, or door #3.  The grand prize, worth perhaps $25,000 or $30,000 is behind one of the doors.  Another door may have a prize worth a couple thousand dollars, and behind one door would be a prize worth maybe only $100 or so, such as some household cleaning supplies.

            Before the contestant would choose one of the doors, to build the suspense, the show would of course take a commercial break.  So the cameras would cut away for about two minutes.  Now this would never happen, for it would demonstrate that the show was rigged.  But imagine that the host of the show sensed that the contestant was in a desperate financial situation and really needed help.  Feeling sympathy for the contestant, during the commercial break, the host of the show whispered to the contestant, “Choose door #3. 

            The commercials end, the program returns, and the host asks the contestant, “Which of the three doors do you choose?”  The contestant responds, “I choose door #2.  Surprised, the hosts asks, “Are you sure you want door #2?  The contestant replies, “Yes, I want door #2.”  The curtain is pulled back and the contestant has traded $5,000 worth of prizes for $100 worth of household cleaning supplies.

            The show ends, the cameras are turned off, and the contestant, visibly upset, barks at the host, “This isn’t fair!  I should have won the grand prize.”  The host, confused both because the contestant chose door #2 and that now the contestant is upset, says to the contestant, “Why are you upset?  I told you to choose door #3.  That’s where the grand prize was.”

            And the contestant responds, “Yes, I know you told me door #3, but I wanted door #2.  Two has always been my favorite number, and I think the grand prize should have been behind door #2.”

            The contestant on the show is free to choose whichever door they want, but they are not free to choose what is behind the door.  And if the host actually told them which door to choose, but they chose a different one, they really have no right to be upset that they did not win the grand prize.  Keep that in mind for a few minutes; we’ll come back to it.

            For the past three weeks we have been examining the basics of the Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as our guide.  So far, we have considered the opening statement, which reads, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”  While as Christians we obviously affirm that statement, the fact is that people who adhere to other religious beliefs could also profess those words, or something close to them, for they are very general in nature.  There is nothing uniquely Christian about this statement.

            Now, however, with the next statement the Creed gets into what is distinctly Christian: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”  Now a separation is made between Christian belief and the beliefs of other religions.  For beginning with this statement, the Creed is no longer speaking of God in a general sense but what specifically we believe as Christians and what, therefore, separates the faith of those who are Christians from those who are not Christians.  Now we really get into the heart of the Christian faith, and, of course, it all has to do with Jesus.

            This really is the focus of the Creed – the identity and relevance of Jesus Christ, as well as our response to Him.  It’s insightful that there are 112 words in the whole Creed, and 73 of those words are found in this middle section dealing specifically with Jesus Christ.  That’s 65%, or basically 2/3 of the Creed.  And rightly so, for the key to knowing God is knowing Jesus Christ, who as God the Son reveals to us the fullness of God.

            Jesus Christ is the focus of the Creed because He is the focus of the Christian faith.  The core of the Christian faith is not a set of abstract beliefs, philosophical ideals, or theological principles.  Of course, we affirm what Jesus taught, but more importantly we believe in the person Jesus Christ.

            The reason we pay attention to and surrender to the message of Jesus is not simply that we are drawn to His message or that His words seem to ring true.  No, the real reason we listen to and strive to abide by the words of Jesus is because of who we recognize Jesus to be – the revelation of God and the path to God, for He is God the Son.  That’s what gives His message its authority.  That’s why we believe it to be true; it because of who Jesus is.

            So, it’s important that we have the right understanding of Jesus.  But it’s not only so our theology will be correct.

            More importantly, it’s so our way of living will be based on truth.  For if Jesus really is God the Son, then we know His words are true and deserving of our full allegiance.  If that’s who Jesus is, obedience is the only proper response.

            But it’s not only obedience that’s at stake; it also affects our daily experience of and walk with God.  It is easy to slip into the trap of letting the circumstances of life determine the nature and quality of our relationship with God.  If things are going well, or if an important prayer was answered favorably, then we feel close to God and encouraged in our faith.

            But if we are struggling through times of difficulty, or our prayers are not answered as we had hoped, then we may feel distant from God or even angry at God.  We may be discouraged in our faith and doubts might overwhelm us.

            But if our faith is rooted in the truth of who God is, what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, and how God has proved His faithfulness over and over, then our faith will remain solid.  Our relationship with God will be vital and growing, and we will be able to face all the circumstances of life with the assurance of God’s love and faithfulness.

            For if as God the Son, Jesus truly is the Savior through His sacrificial death on the cross, then we see the fullness of God’s love for us in Jesus.  We won’t have to guess about God’s love for us, or merely hope that God loves us, for in Jesus and His death for us God demonstrated the full measure of His love – if indeed Jesus is God the Son.

            Furthermore, if this is who Jesus is, then we can have the assurance of our eternal salvation.  If Jesus were only a religious teacher, a moral example, or even an inspired prophet, His death would mean nothing for us.  But if Jesus was God the Son, He is the source of our salvation.  And being convinced of that can only result in our lives being be marked by deep gratitude and abounding joy.

            And if Jesus’ identity as the Son of God calls forth our allegiance, and if His saving work leads to gratitude and joy, then our way of living will be one of living under His lordship.  Our deep desire will be to surrender to His rule in our lives so we grow in Christ-like character and glad-hearted obedience.  In response to God and what He has done for us in Jesus, we will desire to honor the Lord as the Lord of our lives.  So let’s look at this statement: “I believe…in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”

            Who really is this Jesus Christ in whom we believe?  That is the ultimate question.  At one point in His earthly ministry Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  And Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

            “Who do you say that I am?”  That is the question Jesus asks each of us.  That is the ultimate question we all must answer.  That’s the question the early church had to wrestle with, and that’s one of the main reasons the Apostles’ Creed was written.  They were trying to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” because again, the Christian faith really centers on Jesus.  So as I said, with this part of the Creed we encounter a point of separation, what it is that distinguishes us from other religions.

            As we know some people find this separation offensive, for it means we reject the notion that all religions are equally valid and all lead people to God, a belief that is fairly popular today.

            But the message of Scripture is that the only way we can be in right relationship with God is through Jesus.  Acts 4:12 states, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  And Jesus proclaimed in Jn. 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”  That is just not a very popular message in today’s world. 

            Now maybe some of us here today are asking, “Why is Jesus the only way?”  Well, we must be careful as followers of Jesus that we never give the impression that our attitude is simply we’re right and others are wrong, or that our religion is better than others.  It’s not that at all.

            But Jesus is the only way because this is the way God has acted to draw us to Himself.  For our problem is not just that we need to become more enlightened, better informed, or more religious.  If that were the case then God could have sent a variety of prophets and teachers to instruct us and show us how to be better people, more religious people, and so forth.

            But that is not our problem.  Our problem is that we have sinned against God.  We have rejected God our Maker and His rightful rule over our lives to go our own way instead.  So ultimately what we need to be right with God is not enlightenment, not instruction, not even holier living, but forgiveness.  And there is only one way God could forgive us while at the same time upholding his perfect justice.

            That was for God Himself to come to us.  Jesus, God the Son, who lived a perfect, holy, sinless life, bore our sin on the cross.  He is the remedy that we all need.  Through His death He removed the barrier between sinful people and a holy God.  Thus, the claims of Jesus are exclusive not because we think this way is right but because this is how God chose to act to forgive our sin against Him.

            That Jesus is the way to God is the Good News that God loves each one of us so much that He humbled Himself, came to us in Jesus Christ, and endured the rejection of the world all the while He was dying for the world.  He went all the way to the cross to forgive our sin.

            And the invitation is open to all people.  So yes, the claims of Jesus are exclusive because He said He is the only way to the Father.  But the message is also very inclusive because the invitation to be reconciled to God through Jesus is offered to everyone, and God, in His love for us, made it possible for everyone to be made right with Him.  But we must choose.

            It’s like the example I gave a few moments ago.  It’s as if the host of the game show told the contestant which door led to the grand prize.  If the host did this, the contestant has no right to be upset for not winning the grand prize if they chose a different door than what the host had told them.

            God has revealed to us the door that leads to eternal life.  It’s through Jesus, God the Son, who alone removed our sin which separated us from God.

            Scripture affirms that God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4).  To make that possible, God paid un unbelievable cost, sending Jesus to die for our sins.  And Jesus said, “I am the door.  I am the way and the truth and the life.”  Jesus is the only way because Jesus is the only One who died for our sins, reconciling us to God.  God has made the way of salvation clear; all we have to do is place our faith there.

            So when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” we are really emphasizing the saving work of Jesus, that we believe Jesus to be our Savior.  The word “Savior” is not used here or anywhere else in the Creed.  At first that may strike us as odd, maybe even troubling.  But it was not necessary to use the word “Savior” for the truth of Jesus being the Savior is included in the name “Jesus.”

            Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua, or Joshua.  The meaning of the name is: God is salvation.”  In Mt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and said Mary would supernaturally conceive and bear a son.  Then the angel commanded Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

            That was the whole purpose of Jesus coming to us – to take care of our greatest need.  Jesus removed the barrier that separated us from God, that being our sin.  In saving us from our sins, Jesus saved us from the consequences of our sins.  And so Rom. 8:1 assures us, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Rather than experiencing condemnation and judgment, through Christ we experience forgiveness and reconciliation.  Eternal life is ours through Jesus, whose very name means that He is the Savior.

            Then the Creed declares that Jesus Christ is “God’s only Son.”  Now what does it mean to say Jesus is the Son of God?  Well, it’s not that as the Son of God, Jesus is the offspring of the Father.  That would mean that Jesus was created, not eternal.  Therefore, to worship Jesus would be to worship a creature, a created being, and that would be idolatry.

            In the Gospel of John Jesus is given the title “the Word.”  Jn. 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was with God, which implies being distinct from, and the Word was God, meaning Jesus also is God.

            Referring to God with the names Father and Son, as well as Holy Spirit, gets to the heart of the Trinity, which we will never fully understand.  There is one God who exists eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Their names indicate that there is relationship and communion within the one God.  And as God has always existed as Father, so He must have existed as Son or there would have been a time when God was not the Father.

            Jn. 5:18 says, “(Jesus) was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”  Biblically, the Father/Son relationship did not mean inferiority for the Son but equality of the Son with the Father. 

            It is the Son who enables us to know God, for as Heb. 1:3 proclaims, Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Because Jesus is God the Son, but God in human form, we can know what God is truly like.  In Jesus we see the true heart, character, and nature of God.  And because as the sinless One He died for our sins we can know God as our Heavenly Father – a relationship that will last for all eternity.

            Now how can we be sure that Jesus really was and is God the Son and not merely a prophet or religious teacher?  Rom. 1:4 affirms that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”  If it were not for the resurrection, we would be foolish to believe Jesus is the Son of God.  We would be completely misguided if we placed our faith in Him and trusted Him for our salvation.  It’s the resurrection that sets Jesus apart from all others.  That is what proved His identity as God the Son and the Savior of the world. 

            No one else died for our sins.  No one else rose from the dead.  That is why Jesus is the only way.

            How then do we respond to this One who as fully human and fully divine saves us?  We surrender to Him, for He is the Lord, as the last part of this statement from the Creed affirms.  In Acts 2:36 Peter declares, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

            Everyone has some kind of lord.  A lord is one who rules, and our lord is whoever or whatever rules our lives.  For some people it is their ego; it’s their self-centered desires that rule their lives.  Others are ruled by the drive for success financially or in their career.  Pleasure is the lord of many people.  For others it may be a dream or goal.  Another person can be one’s lord.  Our lord is what more than anything else defines us and determines our way of living.

            But only Jesus is worthy of being our Lord.  Jesus is the Lord by nature of who He is.  But as the Creed affirms, He is to be our Lord.  And so as Christians we surrender to His lordship, obeying His instructions for our lives and seeking to do His will.  We not only pay lip-service to Christ, honoring Him with our words, but we live a life that honors Him through our joyful obedience.

            And the reason can surrender joyfully, not out of duty or obligation, is that this One who is Lord is also Jesus, the One who in His measureless love for us saves us from our sins.  At the cross He proved that He desires what is truly for our good.  And because He is God, perfect in love and wisdom, we can trust His good purposes for our lives as we live under His lordship.

            To say, “(I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” means we not only believe intellectually that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world.  But because He is God the Son and thus perfect in His wisdom, and who confirmed His love for us when He died for us, we trust Him fully with our lives.  That means we are committed to Him and His purposes for our lives.

            And so we must proclaim, “(I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” not only with our words as we gather in a worship service.  We proclaim it with our lives as we live in the joy of God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and as we gladly live under His wise and loving rule, inviting Him to direct our lives, for He is the Lord and our Lord.

 

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