September, 2015

The Apostles’ Creed: ‘I Believe in Jesus Christ’

One of my professors in seminary told us the story about taking his son to a Star Wars convention. As a counseling professor with a PhD in psychology, this convention was field day for him. There were thousands of grown, middle-aged adults dressed up like their favorite Star Wars characters. Some had obviously spent countless hours and dollars crafting the perfect costume; dressing up like Jabba the Hutt or Princess Leia. Some tried hard to dress like Princess Leia but ended up looking like Jabba the Hutt. My professor told us of a conversation he overheard. Two men were arguing about whether the starship Enterprise from Star Trek could outrun the Millennium Falcon. It was a heated exchange in which both were adamant about his rightness. My professor was astonished. He wanted to step into the conversation and say, “You know that neither of these ships are real.” To my professor, the most amazing thing about that convention was that so many of people had bought into the smaller story. There was real life happening all around them. There is the sweeping narrative that God is writing in our very midst. And they were caught up in little stories which are only good because they give us glimpses of the bigger story.

This is largely where Israel found itself at the time of Jesus. They had bought into a smaller story. Their story revolved around their identity as a nation. They had the Law. They had their identity as God’s People. The Law which was meant to point the people to the Messiah had become the goal. They were satisfied with the sign instead of what it signified. And they were self-righteously sure about this.

They had the Law, so they weren’t looking for a Messiah who was a prophet. They were self-righteous, so they weren’t looking for a Messiah who was a priest. All they needed was to overthrow the Roman rulers and restore Israel to its grandeur. They only wanted a Messiah who was a political revolutionary. They had bought into a smaller story. This wasn’t the Messiah God was sending, and the bigger story was about to pass them by.

When Jesus encounters the two traveling on the road to Emmaus, they are downcast because Jesus didn’t fit their smaller story. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). Jesus wasn’t who they expected him to be. But the truth is that he is so much more. The bigger story God is writing through the Scriptures is more than just the nation-state of Israel. God is writing a story about the redemption and re-creation of the Cosmos; a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). This the hope of the world, not just a little slice of Mediterranean real estate.

Though Israel had been wrapped up in the smaller story, the Scriptures had always envisioned a bigger and more grand story for God’s Messiah. The title “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew word meshiach which means “anointed.” Bruce Waltke notes that “the one ‘anointed’ is designated and appointed publicly for divine status with divine authority and consecrated as God’s property. This entails his invincibility and divine protection and his being qualified and equipped for tasks by I AM’s spirit.”[1] Those who were anointed in the Scriptures were prophets, priests, and kings.

God spoke through Moses in Deuteronomy 18 and promised that a prophet would be raised up. And Jesus fulfilled this promise in Luke 4:18-21 when he stood up in the synagogue and read Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to proclaim…the year of the Lord’s favor. Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The author of Hebrews echoes this by declaring “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). As a prophet Jesus shows the way of redemption.

The redemption must not only be proclaimed, but it must be procured. Salvation requires a priest. Priests were also anointed. The commands of Exodus 30 regarding the construction of God’s tabernacle included, “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priest” (Ex 30:30). The priest offered sacrifices for the people. He interceded on behalf of the people. And he blessed the people. The author of Hebrews shows that Jesus does these priestly duties, only better than any other priest (cf. Heb 3, 7, 9). As priest Jesus accomplishes our redemption.

It was well-known and widely believed that the Messiah would be from the line of David. He would be anointed as The King just like David (2 Sam 2:4). As king he would govern the land, judge according to the Law, and rule and defend the people. As king Jesus preserves us in redemption.

The Greek word for anointed is christos. This is where we get the title “Christ.” To say “Jesus Christ” is to say “Jesus is the Christ,” or “Jesus is the Messiah.” And to say that is to declare that Jesus is the Prophet, Priest, and King of our redemption. Jesus through these three offices cures our ignorance and blindness, expiates the guilt of our sins, and perfects his strength in our weaknesses. But to delight in this redemption requires us to delight in the bigger story of redemption, not just our little pet stories, for “he is wholly enjoyed, or wholly lost.”[2]

 

[1] Bruce K Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 887.

[2] Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 290.

The Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ

What’s in a name? In Scripture the name of something or someone carried great meaning. It served as an expression of some reality. It was the expression of the core of the being or the essential characteristics of a concept. When Moses encountered God in a burning bush (Ex 3) he was instructed by the Lord to rescue his people. Moses then asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex 3:13). The name of this almighty God was going to be important in leading the people. They needed to know with whom they were dealing. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” (Ex 3:14). Tell them “I AM” sent you. I AM the LORD. Names are important.

The Apostles’ Creed spends more time discussing the Second Person of the Trinity than the other two persons of the Godhead combined. That is because in the earliest days of the Church, as in modern times, the greatest misunderstandings in the Church revolved around Christology. Christology is the study of the person, nature, and work of Jesus. I remember meeting students in college who knew nothing about Christianity and were often embarrassed to find out that “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name (and sometimes they were surprised to learn that he didn’t have a middle initial!). Christ is a title. He is Jesus the Christ. He would have been known around town as Jesus bar Joseph, Jesus the son of Joseph. But the name Jesus was not just something chosen by Mary and Joseph because they thought it was cool when they saw it in a baby name book while having coffee at Barnes and Noble.

An angel of the Lord came to Joseph and said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The child was to have a divinely given name because he had a divinely given task. Geerhardus Vos comments, “this name-giving had a twofold purpose: (1) The name had already been borne by certain persons in the old dispensation (i.e. the Old Testament) and so already had a history in back of it as a type. (2) The derivation of the name provided insight into the work of the Mediator.” [1] The name Jesus was full of great meaning and importance because it pointed back to the history of redemption that would be fulfilled in him and pointed forward to the goal of that redemption in the salvation of God’s people.

The name Jesus is derived from the Greek transliteration of Hebrew name Yeshua which occurs in reference to Joshua son of Nun (Ex 17:9, passim) and Joshua the high priest, son of Jozdak (Hag 1:1, passim). Moses gave this name to the son of Nun, changing his name from Hosea (Num 13:16). Joshua would be a type of Savior as he led Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. The high priest Joshua in Zechariah 3 was a picture of atonement with his filthy garments removed and replaced with clean ones. This name was borne by those who had a history of salvation and redemption.

The name Jesus evokes the story of redemption. Beyond the allusions to the Old Testament the name itself is derived from the work of a Mediator. There was great debate in the past among Hebrew scholars about the etymology of Jesus. But Herman Bavinck helpfully summarized the debate in his Reformed Dogmatics, “However [the debate] may be, from ancient times the name was related to the verb yesha, ‘to help, to save.’”[2] The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew phrase, “Yahweh (I AM) is salvation.”[3] It is by the name of Jesus that we are saved (Acts 4:12). We are not saved from low self-esteem, singleness, or a crummy job.[4] We are saved from our sins (Matt 1:21). Our “salvation is freedom from evil and participation in good.”[5] The Good News we find in the name of Jesus is that we are redeemed from our sin and we are thus given space to enjoy the freedom and happiness of life under the rule of our good God.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Christology, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 6.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2008), 3.362.

[3] Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 7.

[4] Kevin L. DeYoung and Jerry Bridges, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, New Edition edition (Moody Publishers, 2010), 64.

[5] Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 190.

The Apostles’ Creed: ‘Maker of Heaven and Earth’

Growing up in the South, my grandfather would introduce himself to my friends by asking a question, “Who is your daddy?” Modern pro sports has turned this question into a taunt, but my grandfather asked it as a way of learning where someone was from. Usually, my grandfather knew my friend’s dad or at least his family. And then my grandfather knew something about who my friend was. Knowing where you are from can tell us a great deal about where you are, and where you are going.

Where did we come from? Are we the result of a cosmic crapshoot wherein some amino acids landed in a warm vat of goo and happened to collide in the right way to form life? Are we the result of some lucky germ beating all his competition and climbing out of the primordial ooze? Or are we the result of something more than a cosmic accident; the work of a Divine Creator? The answer to this question has profound implications.

As Rationalism and Enlightenment ideas pushed God to an impotent and distant deistic position, this question was examined as if there was no Creator. Charles Darwin began hypothesizing the origin of the species apart from divine creation. Philosophers like Frederick Nietzsche declared the “death of God” (not that he believed in God, but that he saw society living as if God was irrelevant) and threw himself into nihilism or nothingness. Martin Heidegger reasoned that we had no knowledge of either our beginning or our end. With no knowledge of our beginning or our end, life is a chaotic experience of “throwness.” All there is the experience of our existence, or Dasein. These and others tapped into the existentialist milieu of the age. Existentialism casts off any true meaning to life except what we give to it ourselves. There are no real values except save what we create for ourselves. This philosophy has actually served us well by showing clearly that when there is no Creator there is no value or human dignity. There is no order, only chaos.

The opening words of Genesis reveal a different view. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses this biblical truth in this way, “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good” (WCF 4.1). Chad Van Dixhoorn comments that, “Creation points to a Creator, but only the Bible tells us about the beginning – that moment when the God of eternity created time itself, and this world out of nothing.”[1]

If God is the Creator then life is not some cosmic accident. There is order and purpose. There is value and dignity. And there is a power that rules over the chaos that sin attempts to impose on God’s creation. The Lord’s speech in Job 38-41 is a brilliant retort to Job’s faltering faith. Who was it, Job, who told the sea, “Thus far shall you come, and no father, and here shall your proud waves be stayed”? The LORD was the one who made all of earth and who sustains it. The wild beasts of earth, Behemoth and Leviathan, are untamed and wild to man. They are symbols of chaos. Yet the Creator God stands authoritative over them. Everything that exists that is not God was made by God out of nothing. Everything that exists that is not God ultimately submits to God’s authority. Everything that exists that is not God was made for the purpose of God’s glory. All of creation is endued with God’s order and purpose. God as Creator rules over even the chaotic effects of sin in creation, such that our lives are not marked by quiet screams of existential desperation but by dignity and value and meaning.

Our duty, therefore, to the “Maker of Heaven and Earth” is to revel in the beauty of our Creator. Herman Witsius’ commentary on the Creed quotes Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian Fathers:

Let us glorify the adorable Author of nature, who has formed all things with consummate wisdom and skill. From the beauty of the things that are seen, let us learn his transcendent beauty; and from the magnitude of these sensible and limited bodies, let us infer the infinite and immeasurable extent of his greatness and power, which no created understanding is able to comprehend. [2]

As we affirm our belief in God as our Maker, we also ought to continually honor God with our praises. We should rejoice that we are God’s. When asked, “Who is your daddy?” we can confidently reply, “I belong to God the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

[1] Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Banner of Truth, 2014), 60.

[2] Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 225–226.

The Apostles’ Creed: ‘God the Father’

One of the beautiful aspects of the Apostles’ Creed is the Trinitarian structure of it. There is a clear flow from God the Father to God the Son to God the Spirit. Herman Bavinck said that while the word Trinity is not found on any page of the Scripture, you cannot read a page of Scripture without seeing the Trinity. This is imminently important and the very structure and outline of the Apostles’ Creed bears this out.

In the first clause of the Apostles’ Creed we affirm a belief in “God the Father.” What does it mean that God is “Father”? In reference to God, the term “Father” can be taken either essentially or personally. By essence, Scripture speaks of God the “Father” in a way that is not particular to any one person of the Trinity. Malachi 2:10 speaks of “one Father” but in reference to the “one God” who created us all. When the author of Hebrews speaks of the “Father of spirits” in 12:9, his expression is no less applicable to the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity than to the First. So it can be used in reference to the whole Godhead, but typically, when we use the term “Father” we are denoting particularly the First Person of the Godhead.

What does the designation of the Father as the “First Person” of the Godhead mean? Perhaps it is best to first look at what “First” does not mean. With this designation the Father is not thought of as first in a temporal sense. To think of the Father as first in a temporal sense binds God by time and forces the Son and Spirit to be created beings. This is the heresy of the Arians. All the persons of the Godhead are eternal, that is, without a time in which they were not. Neither is the Father first in dignity or excellence. The 17th Century theologian Herman Witsius noted that, “Infinite and supreme excellence is an essential attribute of Deity: and if any person were possessed of greater excellence and dignity than the Son or the Holy Spirit, neither of these persons could be the Most High God. These three are ‘one,’ in essence, and in all essential attributes; equal in dignity, and equal in glory.”[1]

The Father, however, is first in nature or substance. The Son is called the “exact imprint of [the Father’s] nature” (Heb 1:3). The Son is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Theologians describe the Father as the archetype and the Son as the resemblance. But we must remember that we aren’t speaking in temporal terms here. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The Father is first in the economy or the work of the Trinity. Jesus works at the behest of the Father, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). As a man, Jesus did nothing without the leading and command of the Father. “The essence, the power, and the will of both are one and the same; yet the Father takes the lead in the order of operation…[the Son] knows intimately, approves, and executes with perfect exactness the Father’s counsels and decrees, which are at the same time his own.”[2] The Father is the First Person of the Godhead.

Fathers are fathers because they have children. So who are the children of God? By nature, Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. But in a broad sense all of mankind can look to God as Father. All people are made in the image of God. But this broad sense is insufficient for salvation. By God’s grace, though, some are adopted and made sons and daughters of God through Christ (Eph 1:5). These children of God bear his image, but also resemble their Father in their character. They have a true and sincere love of God. They live lives of repentance and obedience. They love their brothers. God as Father means children who resemble their Father.

Children receive an inheritance from their Father. They are promised the world. The promise to Abraham was that his children would be “heir of the world” (Rom 4:13). This is much bigger promise than just a sliver of land on the Mediterranean. Jesus affirms this in the Great Commission, “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me…” Given by whom? The Father gave the authority over earth to Jesus. And then Jesus instructs his disciples to go out to all the nations and make disciples. This mirrors the command given in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

Second, the children of God are promised a spiritual kingdom. This kingdom includes triumph over spiritual forces of darkness. It is victory over sin and the lusts of the flesh. The child of God is given spiritual gifts and made rich though they are poor. And they are given “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

Finally, the children of God are given God himself. Paul says we are “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17). Witsius adds, “What will not God give those to whom he give himself?”[3] The Father gives himself such that we call him “mine.” And when we affirm God as Father we have all we could ever want: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps 73:25).

[1] Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 149.

[2] Ibid., 150.

[3] Ibid., 173.