Summary: Phrase two of the Creed, "And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord."
JESUS, THE SON
TEXT: Matt. 3:13-17; 2 Sam. 7:11b - 16
For those of you just tuning in, we have begun a look at one of the ancient maps of the Christian faith, the Apostles’ Creed. I think it’s fair to say that every line of this creed has been questioned and debated from the very beginning. Jesus did not put out a doctrinal statement, either about himself, the world, God, or anything else. Jesus lived a life, taught in metaphors and parables, and told his disciples that they ought to pay attention. It has been the Church, throughout history, that has come to some sort of common understanding of what all of that means, writing that into creeds and doctrines that are taught to those who come into the Christian faith.
After last week, when we discussed the first line, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” someone said to me, “Well, now we’re past the only line of the Creed I don’t have a problem with!” And indeed, to keep with the metaphor of the ancient sea chart, the area where we now move might be labeled “Here there be dragons.”
The first line, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” unites us with at least two other religions: Judaism and Islam. We all are in basic agreement at the beginning. But as soon as we move to the second line, “and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,” we begin to move into the territory of what sets us apart as Christians. Remember that the initial followers of Jesus were Jews, as was Jesus himself. But as the disciples of Jesus began to define who they really believed Jesus to be, there was no longer room for them within Judaism and the faith of Jews and the faith of Christians pulled apart. Painfully.
Volumes have been written and are still being written on the nature of Jesus. It has been debated from the time that some astrologers saw a bright star over Bethlehem onward, both in private and in public. But let’s start with a couple of areas of common agreement. First of all, he existed. Jesus is a historical figure that we can place in a particular place at a particular time in history. There are a scant few who claim that is untrue, just like there are some who say the Holocaust never happened or that the earth is flat. They are not given a serious place at the discussion table. There is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than for Napoleon or many other historical figures with whom we have no quarrel. So that is thing one. Jesus existed...making the question of who he really was one of importance.
Thing two is to recognize that he had a cataclysmic impact on the world, which is tremendously odd, given his life and death. Think about it...the calendar of today’s civilized world is oriented around the birth of Jesus. Jesus was not born to power and influence, as was the Buddha. Jesus did not write a large religious volume to pass along as the direct word of God, as did Mohammed. Jesus was not a king of a nation with a tradition of divine kingship like the Pharaohs of Egypt or the Emperors of Japan.
Jesus was the son of a carpenter. We can tell his family was poor because of the sacrifice they bring to the Temple at the time of Jesus’ circumcision. They bring a pair of doves, the sacrifice prescribed for the poor who cannot afford sheep or goats or bulls. We know almost nothing of his life before age 30 at which time he becomes a sensation, working miracles and becoming a populist teacher wandering the hillsides of Palestine without any real place to call home. After just three years of teaching and miracles, he has made the religious authorities so mad that they arrange for his execution as a criminal, at which point his disciples either go into hiding or return to their former trades.
We’ll come back to this point when we talk about the Resurrection, but for now I just want it to sink in that there is no reason for a human being with Jesus’ biography to be at the foundation of Christianity as we know it today. Maybe he could have been at the center of a sect that endured for 50 or a hundred years. But 2,000 years as one of the major religions of the world and all of time oriented around him? That takes some historical gymnastics that are hard to pull off with a mere human being who was executed in shame.
The Christian claim is two-fold. First, our belief is that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews had been expecting. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” both of which mean in English, “anointed one.” It was the practice of the ancient Israelite prophets to anoint the kings of Israel, indicating God’s choice of this person for special work on behalf of the nation. Because of Biblical prophecies, the Jews came to expect that there would be a very special anointed one...Messiah with a capital M...that would rise up from their midst and be a savior for them in the way that Moses had been. Especially as Israel experienced almost constant occupation by foreign powers, they looked to God to send a liberator, a leader like Moses, a King like David, who would beat off their enemies and bring peace, prosperity and self-rule. The Jews were not looking for God in the flesh...the Messiah they were expecting was human, not divine. It was the function that was important...to free the people.