Summary: Jesus entered the flow of history, to bring a pure stream of life into the flow.
APOSTLES’ CREED: Born, Suffered, Died, Arose for Us
I want you to imagine with me a dream. In your dream, you are floating down a river, on an inflatable tube. The river is the flow of life, and you are in it. If the river is like the world we live in, what is the river like?
As you float down the river, you recognize that it is polluted, sometimes very polluted. There are snags and obstacles, eddies and rapids, and peaceful spots. There are dangers on the river: crocodiles, bandits, and bullies. There is suffering all around: people are emaciated from disease, drinking polluted water, and crying out for something to eat. And yes, there is an occasional dead body in the water or along the bank.
As you float downstream, you pass several religious gods and gurus, standing on the banks of the river. One suggests that the best way to handle the stress of the river is mindfulness or meditation. Another says, “Just go with the flow. Your goal is the ocean, where the stress of the river will be forgotten.” Another tells you to join up with others on the river, to support each other, and attack evil forces that might threaten you all. Another tells you that the situation is bound to get better, with so many good people on the river, who will doubtlessly be able to solve the problems you face. Still another tells you that good and evil are two sides of the same coin: The crocodiles have to eat, the bandits are happy pirates, and the suffering and death on the river are simply nature’s way.
But there is one God on the bank who seems to outshine the rest. You take your eyes off him for a moment, and then you are shocked to see him swimming in the river! What is he going to do there? How will he react to the people and dangers he will face? Will he get sick from the polluted water? Might this God bring a new stream of fresh water into the pollution of the river? Could it be that by following him the polluted river will give way to a life-giving stream, with no more suffering or evil?
That God, of course, is the God of the Bible. In the Apostles’ Creed, as we noted last week, we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” We believe that Jesus, the Christ/Messiah, fulfilled the messianic promises of the Old Testament, that he is the Son of God, and that he is our Lord as well as our Savior.
Yet if the words are familiar to us, we might miss what God did to make them true. He couldn’t simply wave his hand, or write some words on a scroll or stone, or make a proclamation in his deep God-voice. God could not remain on the sidelines; he had to enter the flow of human history, to become the Christ, the Savior and Lord for us.
For that reason, the Apostles’ Creed gets physical and graphic: “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” Out of all events of life of Jesus, only these are included; there is no mention of his miracles, his teaching, his compassionate touch, or his pure character. Those are part of the story too, but the creed focuses on how God entered the flow of human history, and how his death and resurrection forever changed the flow for us.
“HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY.”
Mary was not, as some think, “forever virgin.” In Mark 6:3, the people say of Jesus, “Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"
The most remarkable thing is not that Mary was a virgin. Even the Koran teaches that the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, saying that anything is possible for God. The most amazing thing is that God (the Holy Spirit) entered the womb of a human woman, who bore a human Son. God entered into the flow of history! As John says, “The Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The Son of God laid aside his infinite glory, to enter the world as a son of Adam.
Why did he do that? Why did the Son of God grow up with bullies, get callouses on his hands, walk dusty roads, and sleep under the stars?
I was thinking about that, when I picked up CT Magazine a few years ago (August 29, 2013). On the cover was a striking picture of a city slum, and the cover article said that worldwide, 860 million people live in places like that. The reality of that figure struck me, because each of those people is known and loved by God. I don’t know them. Maybe I care a little bit about them, or maybe I care a lot. Maybe I’d like to do something, and maybe I can give some money, or sponsor a child. The cover story was about a different kind of caring, however. It was about people who give up their comfortable, affluent lifestyle, to move into those slums and spread the love of God.