I Believe | In Jesus Christ
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to attend a lot of different church conferences and conventions. And whenever I meet other ministers at these events, one of the first things we say to each other is, “Tell me about your church.” Now, most of the time when you ask a minister to tell you about their church they’ll tell you how many people attend their services. But every so often, you run into someone who has a completely unique answer to that question.
That happened to me a couple of years ago when I was attending a conference called Exponential in Chicago. While I was there, I met a pastor who described her church as a “theological rainbow.” It’s made up of liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, charismatics and social justice advocates. She happily reported that they all attended the same Sunday School classes, they all worked side by side on Habitat for Humanity houses, they all loved and took care of each other. And she finished by saying something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. She said, “We differ on so many things, but we all get together around Jesus.”
We all get together around Jesus.
Now, I think that’s a pretty great description of a church. Amen? But I also think it’s more than just a description of a church. It also summarizes one of the most important beliefs of the church. A belief that truly makes us Christians.
And that’s what we’re spending our time together talking about at Melbourne Heights right now. We’re talking about what Christians believe and why these beliefs matter. And to help us along the way, we’re looking at a creed - or a statement of beliefs - that many people in the church have used to explain what we, as Christians, believe for almost 1600 years.
And the creed we’re looking at is called the Apostles’ Creed. But we don’t call it the Apostles’ Creed because it was written by Jesus’ first followers, the same people that Jesus himself sent out to spread the good news about him, because it wasn’t. It’s actually called the Apostles’ Creed because this statement of beliefs is an accurate summary of what the apostles taught us about Jesus.
So, let’s take a look at what this creed actually says. It says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
Now, I said this last week, but it’s worth repeating today. Although this creed does a good job of summarizing the things that the Apostles taught us about God and our faith, there is no creed that could ever fully capture exactly what we, as Christians, believe. And that’s because the essence of our faith is belief in a person, Jesus Christ, and not simply a system of ideas. But the Apostles’ Creed gives us a good starting point to talk about what it is that we believe.
And, last week, we spent our time together exploring the first part of this creed - the part about believing in God, the Father Almighty. But this week, I want us to move on to the second part - the part about Jesus. Because, like my colleague in ministry put it: We all get together around Jesus.
And that’s why the Apostles’ Creed has so much to say about Jesus. When you take a closer look, you’ll see that the Apostles’ Creed is made up of 107 words. Of these 107 words, nine of them are about God the Father. Three of them are about the Holy Spirit. Eight of them have to do with the church. Twelve of them are about theological concepts. But sixty-five of them are about Jesus.
So just over 60% of the Apostles’ Creed is focused on what we, as Christians, believe about Jesus. Now, I’ve only got about twenty minutes or so left in this sermon, so I don’t have time to go into everything that the Apostles’ Creed says about Jesus. Instead, what I want to do today is to focus on just a couple of those words. I want to focus on the words: I believe in Jesus Christ.
And I want to focus on these words because this is the most basic confession of our faith. As a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ.
I believe in Jesus Christ.
Why don’t you say that with me? Ready? I believe in Jesus Christ.
But this begs the question: who is Jesus Christ? Now, you may occasionally run into a skeptic who will try to convince you that Jesus has more in common with the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy than he does with you and me. But the truth is that Jesus is a real person who walked this earth about 2,000 years ago. Bart Ehrman, who is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina and an agnostic, has spent his career examining the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. And he has summarized his own research by saying, “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.”
So there are a few things that just about everyone can agree on when it comes to Jesus. Like we know that Jesus was born to a young woman named Mary sometime before 4 B.C. in the Roman province of Judea, which was ruled over by King Herod the Great at the time. We know that shortly after Jesus’ birth that his family moved to a small town called Nazareth where he would grow up.
From there, we don’t know much about Jesus’ life on this earth until he was about 30 years old. It was at that point that Jesus began his public ministry, which was focused in an area called Galilee. The Gospel of Matthew - or Matthew’s biography of Jesus - gives a pretty good summary of what Jesus’ ministry was like in Matthew 9:35-38, when it says:
35 Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:35-38 (Common English Bible)
And this is the part of Jesus’ identity that just about everyone can agree on. It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, an agnostic, or if you practice a religion besides Christianity; people have no problem admitting that Jesus was a great teacher who walked this earth 2,000 years ago. You will even find people who have no problem calling Jesus a prophet, or even admitting that he was some sort of miracle worker.
But we, as Christians, believe that Jesus was more than just a great teacher, or prophet or miracle worker. So, what do we believe about Jesus?
Well, I think one of the best ways for us to understand who Jesus is is to dig deeper into the name he’s called in the Apostles’ Creed. So let’s dig a little deeper into the name Jesus Christ and see what it can teach us about what we believe.
Let’s start with the name Jesus. Now, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us that an angel revealed to Mary and Joseph separately that the son Mary was carrying was to be named Jesus. So the name Jesus wasn’t a name that Mary and Joseph picked out of a baby book. It wasn’t a family name that they wanted to give their son to honor a beloved parent or grandparent. No, based on what Matthew and Luke tell us, God was the one who picked out Jesus’ name.
And Matthew explains why God chose this name for his son in Matthew 1:21. It says:
You will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21 (Common English Bible)
So, as Christians, we believe that Jesus came to save us from our sins. Now, typically when we talk about this in church we’ll say things like Jesus came to forgive our sins or that Jesus died for our sins. And of course, Jesus offers us forgiveness and mercy...but there is more to saving us from our sins than just forgiveness. Because when Jesus saves us, he doesn’t just forgive us. When Jesus saves us he changes us and shows us a better way to live our lives than by sinning.
And to help us better understand how Jesus changes our lives when he saves us from our sins, it helps to understand what the word sin really means. Now, the Greek word that we translate as sin is the word hamartia. And the word hamartia literally means to miss the mark...which should make you think of archery.
In archery, you’ve got the bullseye that you’re aiming for when you shoot your arrow. But when you miss the bullseye, you hamartia or you sin. And in Matthew 22, Jesus tells us the bullseyes that we’re supposed to be aiming for when he’s asked what the greatest commandment is. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us:
37b You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Matthew 22:37-39 (Common English Bible)
So what Jesus is telling us is that we miss the mark, or that we sin, whenever we do anything in word, thought, or deed that is inconsistent with loving God and loving our neighbors. And Jesus has come to save us from our sins by first forgiving us, and then by helping us correct our aim so that we are aiming to love God and love others instead of ourselves.
So, as Christians, we believe that Jesus was not only a great teacher that lived 2,000 years ago, we believe that Jesus is our savior.
We believe that Jesus is our savior.
But that’s not all that we believe about Jesus. We also believe that Jesus is the Christ.
But to fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, we need to talk about someone else who was thought of as the Christ. This man’s name was Octavian. And under his rule, Rome entered into its golden era. Under his rule, neglected temples and houses of worship would be restored. Rome's divisiveness and self-destruction would be replaced with order and a renewed sense of mission in the world. There would be public festivals and cultural celebrations. He would even restore the senate as the governing body of Rome...making it a republic once again.
Under Octavian the Roman Empire unified it's army, and supported one of the best trained standing armies in history. The Empire also expanded its territory reaching further into the European continent in places like Spain and Germania, and into Africa and Asia Minor. Octavian brought food and water to the people of Rome, and even began a fire brigade and police force. He worked diligently to rebuild the entire nation, focusing on important landmarks and political places.
Under Octavian the Roman Empire was thriving once again. And Octavian deserved all of the credit for it. And credit was exactly what Octavian received when the senate honored him with the name Augustus – which means “Illustrious One”.
In the eyes of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus was more than just their king. He was more than just their ruler. He was more than the man who saved their Empire. In their minds Caesar Augustus was a god.
But Caesar Augustus isn't the god that any of us came to church to hear about. But we have to understand who Caesar Augustus was to fully appreciate what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. And this will make a little more sense as we take a look at the first time that Jesus is called the Christ. We find this story in Matthew 16, where we’ll start reading in verse 13. It says:
13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi...
Now, I know this is going to be a bit weird, but let's pause here for a minute. So, in this story Matthew tells us that Jesus is in the area of Caesarea Philippi, so what do you know about Caesarea Philippi? Chances are you don't know much. Sadly, like the name of most towns that we run across, Caesarea Philippi is just the name of another ancient city and it doesn't mean much to us. But when Matthew was writing his gospel, this name meant something.
Think about it this way, what images come to your mind if I mention New York City? Although you may have never been to the Big Apple there are still things that pop into your mind. You may think of your favorite TV...shows like Friends, Seinfeld, or Law & Order...that take place there. You might think of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or Time Square. You might think about the Yankees, the Knicks, or the Giants. It doesn't really matter what you think about, you just know something about New York City.
Well, the same thing is true in biblical times. When an author – like Matthew – wrote the name of a town – like Caesarea Philippi – people knew something about it. And when it came to Caesarea Philippi there was one thing everyone would have known about it. About ten years before this story takes place, there was a major temple built in Caesarea Philippi. Now, usually when we hear the word temple, we think of God, but this wasn't a temple of God – this was a temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus, the most powerful ruler in Roman history.
So, when Jesus showed up in Caesarea Philippi he showed up in a town that was worshiping Caesar, believing that Caesar was the Christ - which literally means “the anointed one” or the one chosen by God. So keep that in mind as we keep reading.
So let’s pick back up at the beginning of Matthew 16:13. It says:
13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.
Matthew 16:13-18 (Common English Bible)
You can almost hear Peter just blurting these words out without even thinking about what they mean when you read this passage. When he says, “You are the Christ”, Peter makes one of the most basic confessions of our faith. In this short sentence, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the king. But that's not all Peter does.
Remember what I told you about Caesarea Philippi earlier? This area had a temple where people quite literally showed up to worship the emperor of Rome. This isn't like us showing up at the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. We show up to pay our respects, to honor people who were instrumental in our nation's history, or just because it's a pretty cool place to visit. But when people showed up at Caesar's temple, they showed up to worship Caesar. In their minds Caesar was a god, and as a god Caesar deserved to be worshiped.
And, as I already told you, Caesar had done a lot of stuff to make people feel that way about him. Caesar had built roads joining the Roman Empire, he had fought wars that expanded the Roman world, he built armies that protected people from outside enemies. He brought about the golden age of Rome. To put it simply, Caesar was a great ruler.
But not in Peter's mind. When Peter boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ”, Peter declared that Jesus was the king of kings and lord of lords. And if Jesus was the king of kings and lord of lords then Caesar was not.
So, as Christians, we believe that Jesus is our Savior and we believe that Jesus is our one and only king.
We believe that Jesus is our one and only king.
And our king came down to us. Our king lived like us. Our king was born to an ordinary family struggling to make ends meet. Our king experienced all of our joy and sorrow, love and hate, pain and death. Our king ate, he wept, he bled, and he died. Our king walked a mile in our shoes...but he did so much more than that. Our king became one of us to show us who our God is and to show us what God’s will is for our lives and for our world.
And all of this matters to us because when God sent his son, Jesus Christ, into our world God showed us how much we matter to him and how much God loves us all.
This is why Karl Barth, who was one of the greatest theologians of the last century summed up his work the way that he did. Karl Barth authored something called Church Dogmatics, which is a fourteen-volume set where Barth writes about what I’m trying to cover in a six-week series of sermons. He writes about what we, as Christians, believe.
But even though he wrote fourteen volumes on our beliefs, when Barth was asked by a student if he could summarize all of his work in one sentence, he responded with a few simple words that just about all of us are familiar with. He said: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
As Christians, this is the Jesus that we believe in. A Jesus who is our Savior and our King, and a Jesus who loves you and me.