Apostle's Creed - I Believe in Jesus (Part 2)
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, May 21, 2017
“The Apostle’s Creed - I Believe in Jesus Pt II”
Romans 3: 21-26
John 12: 44-50
Florence Chadwick is a name which I am sure all of you recognize. But, for those of you who do not know who she is, she was the first woman to attempt the swim from Catalina Island to the main shore of California in the 1950s. The swim is about 26 miles in the open water of the Pacific Ocean. She was accompanied by two boats. One boat held her mother and her swim coach. The other boat held men armed with guns. The guns were fired occasionally during Ms. Chadwick’s swim to ward off the sharks who swam to close to her as she made her way through the water. As she began her swim in July of 1952 the water was colder than she thought it would be, but she trudged on. For fourteen hours she swam toward the California coastline in the cold water and soon she began to lose strength and stamina. As, her body grew weary, fog rolled in over the water making it nearly impossible to see. Her muscles ached and her fatigue took her over, and she asked to be pulled from the water after 15 hours of continuous swimming. She was shocked to discover as they traveled to the shore through the fog that she was less than a mile from her destination. In an interview she was asked why she stopped, her reply was, “Although I am not one for excuses, if I only could have seen the shore than I would have made it.”
Last week we talked a little bit about what it means to believe in Jesus. I think we concentrated more on the emotional connection and the understanding that Jesus can mean something a little different to each one of us. We are unique in our lives and our experiences, so the way we interpret the love, the grace, and the mercy of Christ’s salvation can be quite personal as well. But, that experience or understanding of salvation, must come from the understanding of salvation itself. So, the question we must ask, how did Jesus save us from our sin? What does a Christian believe that Jesus did? What is our understanding of the theology of Christ, or our Christology?
We can go pretty deep with Christology. But, there are some great points made by Adam Hamilton in his Creed study that help us create a solid baseline for the discussion. First, we hear it said often that Jesus is referred to as the “Messiah” or as “Christ”. It is good to understand that these words, one Hebrew and the other Greek, are similar in meaning as “anointed one”. Both words signify that Jesus is God’s chosen King.
As being God’s chosen King, Jesus had a mission to deliver people from sin. We have talked about sin numerous times as being those things which separate us from God. But, sin can also be those things which separate us from one another. Remember the two commandments that Jesus left us with? Above all things love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Would it surprise you if I said that if you walked out these doors and proclaimed these factual statements to most skeptics about religion that they would not balk at your comments. They would actually declare what you have stated is true. There is too much evidence in place for an educated skeptic to deny that Jesus ever existed. There is also too much historical evidence available for a skeptic to argue that the statement that Jesus was believed to be God’s chosen King and he was sent to deliver Israel from the sins of their lifetime. The person of Jesus cannot be a myth and the purpose of Jesus is generally conceded. That should help bolster your faith or peek your interest if you are someone who has some doubt, I would say.
So, where do things change. Where does the skeptic get off the train? Well, it is in the nuts and the bolts of the Christology. It is in the understanding of how Jesus accomplished what He set out to do, and how He is truly related to God.
Born of the Virgin Mary
The virgin birth is told every year around Christmas time. When we say the words, “The Virgin Mary”, they come with quiet reverence and awe in that she so humbly accepted what God asked of her, knowing the difficulty and hardship it would bring to her own life and the complication it would add to her marriage. It is our understanding that the baby Jesus was conceived by no mortal man but a result of the Holy Spirit taking residence in the Mary’s womb. Nowadays, we could get into various degrees of discussion concerning the DNA or the genetic makeup of the child Mary carried, but that knowledge was not present in the Biblical era. It was simply that God was the father, Mary was the mother, and Jesus was the begotten son of God brought forth into the world wholly human and wholly divine.
There is some debate as to whether someone can be Christian if they do not believe in the virgin birth. Honestly, I know of a couple of people who have struggled with their faith over this one concept. The skeptic will argue that the virgin birth is a story of Jesus written to provide acceptance among the Pagan gentiles as early Christianity spread. Many origin stories of Pagan deities began with virgin births, so the Christian deity origin story should be no different. Other skeptics might claim that such an incarnation of God is beneath God. That the God who presides over all and above all would never demean godself to become flesh and blood, especially in the form of a baby.
But, isn’t this the basis of our faith, isn’t this part of the crux of our understanding. In the book of Isaiah we are told that Jesus shall be called Emmanuel. What does that mean? It means, “God with Us”. There is no way for God to save us, unless God is with us, therefore God must be made flesh to be with us in a way we can relate and understand. It is beneath God, but God humbled godself out of mercy to offer us grace.
With regards to the relational idea of Pagan understanding to the virgin birth, Adam Hamilton states that it might have been in God’s prerogative to use an understand religious belief by Pagan practitioners to bring God’ plan to fruition. He also goes on to discuss the scientific ability of the body to reproduce asexually. He furthermore states that it can be construed as a deep theological understanding rather than a literal understanding, thus allowing for the concept of “God with us” in a natural way.
But, to me, the story of the virgin birth is not anecdotal and it is not to be taken through interpretation of the theology behind the idea. To say that the virgin birth could not have occurred limits the abilities of a God who is limitless in abilities. I have already stated that I believe in God, the Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, so why should it be hard for me to imagine that this same God became incarnate through conception within a virgin womb. To me, we learn a lesson in this statement of our belief, and that is we should not disbelieve because we do not understand or it seems difficult to comprehend. This is the difference between us who believe and the skeptics. For just because something cannot be tested does not render it an automatic declaration of being false. Faith overrides that accusation and allows us to move forward to the truth.
Let’s look at one more idea of Jesus’ Christology this morning. Jesus was born to be our savior. We say that in many different ways. Often, most of those ways will include the term, “the forgiveness of our sins.” That is what Jesus did, he took on all the sins of the world. Those that were before, present during, and occurred after His life on earth. But, saving us from sins means much more than forgiveness. Adam Hamilton writes, and you have heard me say it before, that it is impossible to meet Jesus and to not be changed forever. The salvation that comes from Jesus is not merely forgiveness it is a life changing charge of grace and mercy on our lives that changes our hearts and our path in this world forever.
We are created to be a specific image of God. We are to live our lives in hitting a mark, as Adam Hamilton states, that God has provided for us. That mark is to live in obedience of God and in love of all creation. Yet, every day we miss the mark. We fall short in many different degrees of being who God created us to be. However, it is not good enough, for us to be forgiven everyday for missing that mark, only to get up the next day and miss it again. The change that we find in ourselves because we know the glory of Jesus’ salvation is that we no longer are okay missing the mark. We are changed in the way we approach life and are strong in our desire to be more like the model Christ put before us each day.
Florence Chadwick threw her hands up in the air and asked to be pulled out of the water because she could not see her destination. She was disappointed to find that she was so close to the shore. But, less than a year later she got back in the water, this time with a clear mental picture of the shoreline on the other side. When the fog rolled in and her body became fatigued, she fought through the fear and concentrated on the destination in front of her. She ended up setting the world record for the swim for both men and women at 13 hours. She just needed to know where she was going.
Jesus was born and became flesh to offer us that mental picture. His life and His work cannot be taken from us, most scholars will not dispute the facts of His life. But, we must understand that our religion is not all about having the perfect answers wrapped up in a tiny little bow. We must glorify the divine powers of God while praising the human presence of Jesus. We must understand that the two natures of the incarnate God come together to offer us salvation. That salvation is not just forgiveness for our inadequacies but also a seizure of our soul to fulfill our created purpose. To know Jesus is to be changed. To be saved is to be different and unyielding in our love of God and our love of one another. Salvation in the person of Jesus Christ was the removal of the bonds of the flesh to open us all to the understanding and presence of the divine.