Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ

Moving on in my series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to the second article, about the Lord Jesus Christ. I will split the second on Christ into three parts to give every statement its due. The first part:

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord

So can we learn anything from these simple statements? As Paul might say, much in every way!

I believe in Jesus – This should surprise us, but we are quite used to it by now. Yet, immediately after declaring belief in God the Father, the Creed moves to affirming belief in someone named Jesus, a human name. Here a human being is given a priority of belief with God Himself. And unless we are to violate the Jewish creed from wich Christianity was born, that God is one and alone is to be worshipped and trusted for all things, then we must realize that even by putting Jesus here it implies that this man, Jesus, is to be included in the worship of God Almighty. Jesus must be God, in at least some way, shape, or form.

Christ – “Christ” means “anointed,” and specifically translates in Greek the Hebrew “Messiah.” Jesus is here identified as the Messiah, the anointed king God promised to Israel from the line of David. This means that Jesus is, for one, irreducibly Jewish. He is a man of Israel, indeed Himself the true Israel in whom Israel’s destiny always was determined. He cannot be separated from these roots. Everything this article will say is said about a Jew specifically. And this Jew is the true Jew, the one man for whom Israel existed from the beginning, who fulfilled Israel’s destiny in His own life. This part of the Creed announces that the God whom we worship in worshipping Jesus is no other than the God of Israel, and thus the story of His relationship with Israel in the Old Testament is inseparable from who He is for us in Jesus and how we are supposed to understand Him. This undercuts all efforts to suggest that maybe we don’t really need the Old Testament or that Jesus and God of Israel can be set against each other in any way. He is Yahweh’s anointed.

His only Son – There is a dual significance to this phrase. On the one hand, “son of God” originated as a description of Israel (Exod. 4:22, Hos. 11:1) and Israel’s king (Ps. 2:7), and this is essential to the Messianic meaning of the first part of this line. Israel became a rebellious son before God, but Jesus fulfilled their calling as the faithful Son, the true Israelite. On the other hand, in the New Testament is has become clear that the Sonship of Jesus is something greater and deeper than the sonship of Israel. Jesus is a unique Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father. He is homoousios, of one being or nature, with His Father. The Father and the Son are one and the same being. Jesus is the exact expression of the nature of God by virtue of being the Son who bears in every way His Father’s likeness and image. When we see Jesus, we see the Father. There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. Everything Jesus does and says is the very act and word of God Himself.

Our Lord – This one title could perhaps be called the Gospel itself. To call Jesus “Lord” is to blaspheme all rivals. This man rules the world and no one else. All other authorities exist only because He as their Lord allows them to do so. In the end they are accountable to Him, as are all men. The claim of Jesus’ Lordship has unique meaning both in its Jewish and Gentile origins. On the Jewish side, to claim the title of Lord is necessarily put one in a special relationship with God, as God alone has any true authority. If anyone is to be Lord, it must be by God’s designation. Yet in Scripture this was taken even further. The word “Lord” was used in the Old Testament to translate Yahweh, the covenant name of God, and on more than one occasion Old Testament verses which orignally referred to God as Lord are now referred to Jesus. Jesus is Lord means not only that He is the ruler and king, but that He is the God over all rulers and kings, the one God of Israel who rules the whole earth. On the Gentile side, the title “lord” was chiefly for Caesar. He considered and even worshipped as the lord of the world. To call anyone else “lord” was a challenge to him, and this was especially so for the early Christians. Unlike all others, no Caesar could force the Christians to bow to him as lord, for his only power was the tyrant’s power, death, a power to which the Christians refused to yield. Even today, Jesus remains this Lord. He stands over and against all human powers and authorities, whether American or Russian or Iranian or Chinese. They are all subject to Him and will all give an account to Him, and none of them should be able to control us (*cough* for example, by forcing us to endorse people like Trump or Hillary *cough*) when we recognize His absolute Lordship.

Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ

Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd

A brief new series of mine: Psalm 23. It’s just a little devotional series, designed to be used precisely as that: a devotional. In particular, this shall be a weekly one, taking the psalm one line at a time.

The Lord is my shepherd

Psalm 23 starts off with a familiar and beloved beginning. God, Yahweh, is my shepherd. Such a lovely and peaceful image.

Mostly, that is. There is more to God as shepherd than meets the eye. In Bible times, shepherds were not imagined as young boys playing with sheep. Instead, they were, well, like David. The sheep were huge financial investments, and very vulnerable ones. So the shepherds had to work in the elements to physically protect the sheep at all costs. It was not a coincidence that David the shepherd boy was already in great shape to be a warrior when he joined the army, for his duties had previously involved killing a lion and a bear with his bare hands to protect the sheep.

In fact, this that part is the main Biblical meaning to shepherding. The shepherd protects his sheep from all the terrifying and violent dangers which would kill them. He even uses violence himself to do so. The shepherd fights for the flock, even to the point of death.

This is, of course, exactly what God has done as our shepherd. He has fought and continues to fight for us. “He protects the lives of His godly ones; He rescues them from the power of the wicked”1, and “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen2. Just as the shepherds like David did, God is our valiant protector. He even gave us His life to protect us, as Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”3.

And this is the beauty of it. Our Shepherd died for us, and now lives again, to never cease protecting us. With God as our shepherd, we never need to fear, for, as Paul says:

If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Romans 8:31b-39

Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not

“Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.” This quote from N. T. Wright (among others) reflects what he sees as a major subversive political message throughout the Gospels and the New Testament in its entirety. The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead despite the agreement of Jewish and Roman political leaders to kill Him means that the authorities of this world have no real power. The greatest power of tyrants is death, and Jesus undid death. This reality of resurrection is a threat to all world powers. Christ’s people are therefore free to live as citizens of the kingdom to come and not the kingdoms of this world.

Of course, this sounds rather irrelevant to modern life for the most part, at least in the Western world and America. We don’t live in a dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy, or a police state, or any recognizable kind of political tyranny. Instead we pride ourselves on being a free country. So the significance of “Jesus is Lord, [insert political power here] is not” can be lost on us. 

But at the same time, there is something slightly subversive even now in saying, “My allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not the United States of America. My country is from above, and in this nation I live as a foreigner. The President, Congress, and the courts can say what they like, but if I obey them it is to better serve Christ, and not for their sake.” After all, we look to the government to affirm right and wrong, do something about our national problems, and maintain order among the people. So a statement like this grounded in Jesus risen Lordship can’t help but strike lots of people as at least a bit rebellious and dangerous.

But what brings me to this topic? I know this will get me a facepalm from my more liberal friends (both politically and theologically), but it’s of course about a certain Supreme Court case. Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you probably know that Obergefell v. Hodges is set to determine the future of gay marriage in all 50 states. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for 50 years, you can probably guess how this will turn out. Given the status of public opinion on gay marriage, and the spirit of the age, it seems likely enough that this case will result in the determination of a “Constitutional right” to gay marriage in the entire nation.

Obviously, the mere existence of gay marriage won’t hurt me or others who oppose it, but the real issue comes in the affect unanimous government approval of gay marriage would have on churches and Christian schools. As it stands, most churches can choose to only hire straight pastors and other staff members and to only marry straight couples. Generally, Christian schools are not obligated to hire gay teachers or enroll students in gay marriages. We have moral standards based on traditionally solid readings of the Holy Scriptures, and we can for the most part honor those beliefs in how we run schools and churches.

This may very well not continue following the Supreme Court’s ruling. If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you may have seen the comment by Solicitor General Donald Verrili in the case arguments. Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked him about the tax exempt status of religious schools who oppose gay marriage. Bob Jones University was previously stripped of their tax exempt status for banning interracial relationships, and the Chief Justice asked if the same would happen to places with policies against homosexuality. The response:

You know, I—I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I—I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is—it is going to be an issue.

So we have from the mouth of an important political official that there will be some kind of problem with the ability of Christian colleges to oppose gay marriage if the ruling enforces its recognition. That is dangerous to Christians, since here we have the legitimate possibility of the government wielding taxation as a weapon to make believers conform to the mindset of the world at large. If this happens, it will be the declaration, “We are Lord, your Jesus is not.”

This problem can also be seen in the statements of various politicians around the nation. Most recently Hillary Clinton comes to mind. Here’s what she said about abortion “rights”:

Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced…Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper…Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.

There’s no trick or quote mining here. Hillary’s record on these matters speaks for itself. For Hillary Clinton, one of the foremost representatives of the Democratic Party and half the country, religious convictions are an obstacle to be overcome so that people can have abortions. Disagreement cannot be tolerated. The law must spite religious belief and move the people towards liberalism’s goals. 

Unfortunately, beliefs like these are all to common and seem to be the trajectory of the government. Soon Christian schools and churches are likely to be faced with a choice: obey Christ or country. Let your judge be God or government. And of course if you choose to believe that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, there will be consequences. They’ll likely start out purely within the economic sphere (taxes and fines), but do not be surprised if they move on from there. Christian schools could potentially lose accreditation. Churches could lose their buildings. And there’s always the possibility of more “hate speech” laws leading to jail time for Christian pastors, professors, and bloggers.

Of course, I’m not here simply to scare anyone or complain about the victories of some conspiratorial liberal elite. I’m simply making the point that our government is reaching a point where it considers itself the “father” of church. Religions are like rambunctious children who must be corrected and disciplined so that they will do what their parents want. The state is to keep the church in line, not the other way around. This is dangerous and points ever so subtly towards an innocent-looking, nearly accepted totalitarianism. 

We know, however, that Jesus is Lord and the U.S. government is not. Whatever they say, we must continue to follow Christ. For we don’t obey the laws of this world for their own sake, as though they had any real authority. We obey them for the Gospel, so that by submitting to the institutions God has given power for the sake of maintaining order we may live quiet, respectful, and peaceful lives which witness to God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ.

This means that when it comes down to it on issues like abortion and gay marriage, or anything else which comes up, we will not waver but follow the faith we have received. We trust that whatever the fallout, we will be vindicated and restored by our Father, if not in this life then in the resurrection. But this also means that we should not go out of our way to cause trouble. While we should stand our ground, we should avoid being feisty, aggressive, or rebellious. These are not Christian virtues and will only unnecessarily hinder our respectable witness. 

I suppose I’ve rambled a bit, so here’s my main point: the U.S. government is coming to a place where it thinks it can control the Christian religion. But it cannot. Whatever authority it presumes to have is undermined by the victory of Jesus. So if they try to oppose us in whatever ways, we are already on the winning side. Because of Christ, we need not fear or get feisty, but can be bold, brave, and also respectably self-controlled. For Jesus is Lord, and the U.S. government is not.

Jesus Is Lord, the U.S. Government Is Not