Summary: Jesus' Exaltation is both a warning and encouragement for believers.
When’s the last time you dreamed about being famous? Perhaps it’s a reoccurring dream. Whenever you play an instrument or step on to the playing field you envision a packed concert hall or stadium eager to see what you will do. I’ve had those dreams but not as often anymore. I’ve come to realize that being famous has definite drawbacks. Famous people might have a lot of money and influence but because of a large fan base they can’t walk down to the local coffee shop without having to stop every few minutes to sign autographs. Wouldn’t that get old pretty quickly? And then there would be the pressure to remain famous. A writer would always have to be scribbling down the next hit novel. A musician would have to keep working on her fingering and learning new songs. So do you know what I’ve started dreaming about now? I dream about a close family member becoming famous. Let them do the hard work and handle the pressure of being famous; I’ll just enjoy the benefits of being related to someone who has lots of money and influence.
Do you realize that you’re already related to someone like that? That’s what we confess at the end of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. When we say “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…who descended into hell…rose again from the dead…ascended into heaven, and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty…[and] will come again to judge the living and the dead,” we’re declaring: “My big brother is in charge!” As we continue to work at guarding the good deposit of Christian teaching summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, we’ll see how the truth of Jesus’ exaltation brings us daily comfort.
This is the third of our sermons on the Apostles’ Creed and so you’ve perhaps noticed by now that the texts for this series are from the Apostle Paul’s life and writings. Today’s text describes Paul’s conversion to Christianity. This was a time in his life when Paul, who was also called Saul, thought that he was in charge of his life…and the lives of others. Paul had taken it upon himself to destroy Christianity. He had believers in Jerusalem thrown into prison and then asked the high priests for the authority to travel 215 km north to Damascus to arrest Christians there. Paul would have been successful too had Jesus not intervened. Do you remember how that happened? As Paul neared Damascus a bright light pulsed through the air, forcing Paul to his knees. Then Jesus spoke: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Paul was not in charge after all. Jesus was.
There’s both a warning and a comfort in these beginning details about Paul’s conversion. Let’s start with the warning. Paul thought he had his life’s purpose figured out: “Get rid of Christians!” He was certain that he was doing God’s will in this, as his approval of Stephen’s murder made clear. Are you likewise holding onto a belief or are you steering a course of action in your life that is dead wrong? Is there, for example, a Bible teaching you have chosen to ignore because it seems foolish or inconvenient? Maybe it’s the teaching about a six-day creation, or the teaching about how God wants us to worship with only like-minded believers, or how God wants us to forgive. You may not feel any angst over ignoring these teachings just as you don’t feel guilty for not putting your hands at the two and ten o’clock position on the steering wheel as you were taught, but holding on to pure teaching is a big deal. If we start to pick and choose what we want to believe from the Bible, we put our salvation in jeopardy just as a quarterback who picks and chooses which plays he wants to learn will put his playing time in jeopardy. God has given us his Word for our good! That’s why we want to continue to compare our thoughts, our attitudes, and our belief system with God’s never-changing Word. And that’s the whole point of this sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed.
But there’s also something quite comforting in the beginning details of Paul’s conversion. Did you notice how Jesus asked: “Why are you persecuting me?” Paul hadn’t of course succeeded in arresting Jesus or laying a finger on him. But whenever he hurt a Christian he might as well have lashed out against Jesus himself, for believers are the body of Christ. That was a truth that Paul himself would write a lot about after he became a Christian!
The next time you are suffering because you’re a Christian – perhaps because you refuse to lie for a co-worker, or you said no to a friend who wanted you to do something you knew was wrong, think of this text. Jesus feels your pain and your rejection. He takes it personally. But not only that, he can do something about it because he is the ascended Lord. Jesus is in charge of what goes on in the world and he’s our brother. That’s the truth we confess in the Second Article of the Creed and it’s a truth illustrated at Paul’s conversion. Let’s learn more.