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

Life Is about the Trinity

In the wake of recent Trinitarian controversies on the Christian blogosphere, I’ve been given to some very interesting study on the topic of the Trinity. (If such controversy interests you, Alastair Roberts has been working on a round-up of the debate at Reformation 21.) I’m not going to bore you with much of it, even if I don’t find this boring at all, but I would like to offer some thoughts.

In my studies about the Trinity recently, I have been reminded of one crucial fact. This is ultimately what life is all about. By that I don’t refer to technical debates about the finer details of orthodox Trinitarianism. Rather, I mean coming to know God. And the true God is Trinity. As St. Gregory Nazianzen once said, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Yet this God who is Triune is the only God, the God who loves us, the God who created us, the God who saves us, and the God for whom and from whom and to whom are all things, including our lives.

This is the subject which I have been thinking about lately. Life is about the Trinity. Life is about God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son. It is about the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life. In all things, then, our faith calls us to bear in mind not just that there is a God, but that this God is Father-Son-Spirit. 

The struggle, however, is to see this not as a detail of Christian dogmatics. We must instead recall that this is the living reality of the God to whom we pray and whom we serve on a daily basis. In our devotion, in our prayers, in our walks before God and man we somehow must live out a Trinitarian reality. This can’t be merely abstract, of course. We must recognize in their individual ways the works and persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We must live and worship accordingly.

But what does this look like practically? How do we will all of our life with the recognition that knowing the Triune God is the meaning of it? Ultimately, it requires intense training, constant reminders to ourselves of who God is. This is why Scripture leads the way for us by teaching us to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), by blessing us with the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13), by imploring us through Christ and the Spirit’s love to pray to the Father (Rom. 15:30). It is why in our churches many of sing a doxology which concludes with “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Many songs and hymns reflect such a structure. The Apostles’ Creed, which many churches recite each Sunday, is ordered around God the Father almighty, Jesus Christ His only Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In our personal lives, we would do well to consume as much of this as we can. Read Scripture and see the shape of the Father-Son-Spirit works and relations. Pray to the Father in the name of the Son in the Spirit. Acknowledge each of the members of the Godhead in your prayer and devotion every day.

Of course, one might still wonder. Can this really matter that much? But the truth is that it can. It does. For life is all about the Triune God, about knowing and worshiping Him. In fact, this vision of Father, Son, and Spirit is eternity, the destiny of the universe. Everything is from Him and to Him and for Him forever. Amen.

Life Is about the Trinity

Jesus the Apocalypse: The Messiah Appears

To continue my Mark Bible study (which began in this post), I’ll move on to the very first verse:

This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

What the Bible Says

Let’s not miss the significance of this. Mark has the simplest introduction of any of the Gospels. No genealogy (Matthew), preface (Luke), or poetic allusions to creation (John). He just says, “this is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” By the next verse, he’ll be introducing John the Baptist. So let’s take a closer look at this first verse.

Good News – The words “good news” here come from the Greek word euaggelion, which is usually translated “gospel” and from which we get our word “evangelize.” It was primarily used in particular of politically-relevant military victories, especially if the emperor was involved. This kind of good news would be along the lines, “Good news! We’ve won the battle!” or “Good news! A new emperor has been crowned!” The theme of royal victory was most likely a common connotation. Keep that thought in your back pocket for now.

Jesus Christ – The name “Jesus” doesn’t really warrant much explanation, though an interesting tidbit is that “Jesus” is the English way of saying the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Yehôshua.” That name, if translated straight to English instead of to Greek first, is “Joshua.” So you can tell all your friends that Jesus’ name was Joshua. More important is the “Christ” part. What does that mean? The word “Christ” essentially means “anointed one,” or the same as “Messiah” from Hebrew. By saying “Jesus Christ,” Mark is saying, “Jesus the Messiah.”

This makes sense in connection with the theme of royal victory behind the term “Good News.” After all, there is nothing many of the Jews of Jesus’ day, of whom He was a part, wanted more than a Messiah who would rescue them from Rome in a military victory, and be crowned the true king under God. An unsuspecting reader from Mark’s world would at this point probably have in the mind the picture of a king like David, who would defeat God’s enemies and be acknowledged as God’s chosen ruler. The difference of the Messiah would be that He is the final king, whose victory and reign would be permanent and through whom God Himself would rule.

the Son of God – This is a particularly interesting title. See, before the early church did some serious study of what Jesus said about Himself, the term “son of God” had not been used to say someone had a divine nature, or was God. The most popular use of “son of God” when Mark was written would have been as more or less a synonym for “Messiah,” but with special emphasis on the royal aspect. In the Old Testament, the king of Israel, and Israel as a whole, was often spoken of as God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23, 2 Sam. 7:14, 1 Chr. 17:14, 22:10, 28:6, Ps. 2:6-7, 89:20-26, Ezek. 21:9-10, Hos. 11:1). This is important. God called Israel to be His child, and the king was especially so as God’s anointed representative of the whole nation. By Jesus’ day, these connections developed in many concepts of the Messiah, and the two phrases were practically synonyms (Matt. 16:16, 26:63, Mk. 14:61, John 1:49, 11:27).

So Mark here is again claiming Jesus as Messiah, only this time the emphasis is even more on His role as the King who represents all Israel in Himself. What He does is relevant for the whole nation. (Note that none of this is to say that Jesus wasn’t God’s son in another, more unique and divine, way as well. That’s simply not the original focus of the title “son of God.” Part of the reason this changed is because of who Jesus revealed Himself to be.)

The Theology Part

Putting these pieces we’ve just looked at together, we can start to see the startling scene Mark is trying to show us. Out of nowhere, Jesus appears. Like an unexpected scene in a dream, the Messiah has shown up. This is the beginning of the apocalyptic vision Mark has written his Gospel as. To dramatize it: “Good news!” he yells to his readers out of the fog. “Your Messiah has come!” The fog then parts to reveal the silhouette of Jesus.

We should remember that, for Mark’s readers, God has seemingly been silent and unhelpful to the Jews for many years. Even though they came back from Babylon way back when, many still believed that the Exile was still going on in some sense. They may be back in their land, but they’re still under pagan rule (the Romans this time), their king (Herod) is a corrupt puppet, and God has yet to do anything to show that He has returned to Jerusalem to dwell in His temple like He promised.

With this gloomy backdrop, the sudden appearance of the Messiah clearly has significance. Jesus has come to fix this situation, lead Israel out of exile, and win the final victory of God. This is indeed “Good News!” Yet whatever expectations may have been created in this first verse, the rest of the Gospel will end up confusing them.

For us, on the other side of these events, we know what has been accomplished. Jesus, the Messiah, who is God’s Son not only as King but as the eternal Word of God Himself, has defeated Satan and dealt with our sin on the Cross, then rose again. Now He is reigning on high, exalted above all. For us, the Jewish Messiah has already completed His mission, fulfilled the destiny of Israel, and brought us, the Gentiles who didn’t belong, in on the blessings. We now stand as one body, saved by Jesus alone, and acknowledge Him as the Son of God whose sudden appearance in history was the day of salvation for all people!

What to Do about It

So how are we to respond to what Mark 1:1? What changes can even this little verse make in our lives? I can think of a couple possible applications.

  • Just like Jesus suddenly appeared in the middle of Israel’s suffering to save His people, we now wait for Him to suddenly return. When He does, we have hope that He will implement His victory once and for all. In the mean time, we must work and prepare, telling the whole world about what Christ has done for us. One day time will run out, and just like Jerusalem was destroyed after it missed its chance with the Savior, so next time the whole world will fall if we do not prepare them for the return of the King.
  • God is always faithful, and we can trust Him. It had been 400 years since the Old Testament was written, and the Jews were wondering where God had gone. When would He help them again? Yet He did return to His people in Jesus just as He swore, and today we can trust that He will fulfill all of His promises to us. This means we can live boldly and without fear, doing whatever God calls us to, because we know He will do what He has promised.
  • We should never lose hope. Like I said, 400 years had gone by. No word from God in this time. Even after the Jews’ victory in the Maccabean revolt (study here if you’re interested), little progress was made and all the authorities were still corrupt. Pagan rule hadn’t stopped. Even in the midst of this bleak situation, though, God suddenly made His move for His people. So we can wait patiently, but also eagerly, because God might act at any moment to help us in whatever we need, or to rescue us from any of our sufferings. He could change your life whenever, so never lose heart.
Jesus the Apocalypse: The Messiah Appears