The Apostles Creed | Part 1

The first historical reference to the Apostles’ Creed, is by a man named Rufinus in 390 A.D. He relates the story that each of the twelve apostles, including Matthias who replaced Judas, gave one of the affirmations in the creed. There really is no proof for that theory. There is virtually no evidence that the apostles were involved at all. It was however written by those who stated the essence of what the apostles taught. By 200 AD, Tertullian refers to what is called the Old Roman Creed which is almost identical to the Apostle’s Creed. Baptismal candidates were asked questions from the creed; “Do you believe? Do you believe?” The word creed comes from the Latin, Credo (I believe). One of the earliest creeds found in the NT is the simple affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3). This was in direct response to the first century Roman authorities requiring emperor worship. Each year Roman citizens had to declare “Caesar is Lord.” Christians could not do this and faithfully insisted “Jesus is Lord.” In Philippians 2:6-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16 we can read early creedal hymns.

“I BELIEVE IN GOD” – READ HEBREWS 11:1-6
The sum total of many people’s religion, including some churchgoers, is expressed in the words “I believe in God.” But what kind of God is He? It is quite common for people to respond; “it does not really matter what you believe about God so long as you are sincere.” However, if what you believe is wrong the consequences can be disastrous. For example, you can get up in the middle of the night, and go to your medicine cabinet and in all sincerity take a bottle that you think will help you. But what if you make a mistake and it turns out to be poison? Do you say, “It does not matter so long as you are sincere?” No! Of course it matters.
In our text this morning we are introduced to Enoch who along with Elijah was taken to heaven without experiencing death. Vrs 5 ends by saying; for before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. The question we should be asking ourselves is: How can I please God? The answer to this question is found in vrs 6 and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. This verse defines genuine faith by making two statements.

1) We must believe that God exists. Belief in the existence of God lies at the root of faith. There are strange ideas about faith circulating today. Many suspect that faith means believing without any evidence. They suggest it is taking a giant leap into the dark. That is not biblical faith! Biblical faith is always allied to evidence which confirms what we believe. We believe that Jesus is the Messiah because of the teaching in the gospels that prove he is the Messiah. We believe that he rose from the dead because the historical evidence clearly says that the tomb was empty. How could Christians believe that he was risen if a simple visit to the tomb would prove otherwise (Acts 1:3). Belief in God is allied to evidence. In Romans 1:19, 20 we are pointed to creation as a signpost to God. Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Furthermore in Romans 1:32; 2:14, 15 Paul also points to our conscience. Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. Our conscience is a loud internal echo chamber of the voice of God.

2) Intellectual assent to the existence of God is not the sum total of biblical faith. We could justifiably assert that to say “I believe in God” puts us on exactly the same level as the Devil!! In James 2:19 we read; you believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that –and shudder. The demons go beyond many church members; they believe and actually tremble. They tremble, but they do not bow! Faith is more than mere intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. In Acts 8:1 we read about Simon Magus. He “believed” when Philip preached the good news. His belief however did not transform him. He was not changed. In Acts 8:21 Peter tells him; “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.” When we speak about biblical faith it is not just believing certain truths about God but it is committing ourselves in trust and obedience to Him. The demons don’t do that and nor do merely religious people. Hebrews 11:6 does not just say that faith believes that God exists but that true faith earnestly seeks him. Lack of desire is not a sign of a healthy faith. We cannot be content with merely pitching up to church, reading a few verses of Scripture and offering up a few words in prayer. If the letters to the seven churches in Revelation is anything to go by Christ is not impressed by a lukewarm faith.

Lastly Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards those who earnestly seek him. In Psalm 27:8 we read my heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. In Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. God rewards the faith that earnestly seeks Him out. What is that reward? When we seek God our reward is God Himself.

The Apostles Creed | Part 2

The Apostles’ Creed appeared in various forms during the early centuries of the church. But it was standardized by about A.D. 700 in Latin. A popular modern English translation reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

As can be seen from the highlighted portions above the Creed is divided into three parts. It is structured around the belief that God exists in Trinity. Each part begins with the statement “I believe.” Not all ancient versions of the creed include the words “I believe” before the statements concerning Jesus Christ. In their place, many simply use the word “and,” which carries the same force as the words “I believe.” The first section speaks of belief in God the Father. The second section contains seven affirmations that deal with the person and work of God the Son. The third section contains four affirmations, beginning with God the Holy Spirit and then moving to the church, salvation, and the Christian’s hope.

I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH – READ ACTS 17:16-28
Our text records Paul’s visit to Athens. He was distressed to see in vrs 16 that the city was full of idols. The religion of the Greeks was polytheistic. They had no sense of a God who controlled all things. Rather they had a god of war, a god of the forest, a god of the sea, a god of storm, a goddess of vegetation, a god of vegetation, a goddess of home and domestic life etc. In vrs 19 he is brought to a meeting of the Areopagus (Mars Hill) and in vrs 22, 23 says; “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” The Apostles Creed affirms three things about the one God Paul proceeded to teach about.

1) The Creed declares “I believe in God, the Father . . .” The fact that we confess God the Father reminds us that God is the Father of the Only Begotten Son who lives eternally with the Son in the Communion of the Holy Spirit. While the analogy between God our Father and human fathers isn’t perfect, there are some helpful similarities. God cares for his children in the same way that a good human father cares for his (Matt. 7:9–11). Children bear some resemblance to their fathers, and so we are told in Genesis 1:26–27 that man is made in the image of God. In vrs 26 Paul affirms this truth by reminding the Athenians that God determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. Furthermore he proceeds to declare in vrs 28; for in him we live and move and have our being. Of course God is not the Father of all men in the sense that all will be saved. The Father sent His only Son as the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14; John 3:16) and it is only once we embrace Christ that we receive the full rights of adopted sons (Galatians 4:4, 5). Once we are adopted sons it is customary for us to address God as father when we pray (Matthew 6:9).

2) The Creed proceeds to affirms our belief in the Father Almighty. In his Address to the Areopagus Paul proceeds in vrs 24-26 to declare; The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth. The gods and goddesses of Greece had control over one area of activity but the one God of the Bible is “Almighty”. He controls all things.

3) The Creed concludes by declaring our belief that God is the maker of heaven and earth. This is what Paul says in vrs 24; The God who made the world and everything in it. In contrast to the Corinthian polytheism in 1 Corinthians 8:5, Paul insists in vrs 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. This verse highlights a tension. While God the Father is acknowledges as the creative source of all things (Acts 4:24f), elsewhere creation is attributed to the Son (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2) and also the Holy Spirit (Job 26:13: 33:4, Psalm 33:6; 104:30). Irenaeus the second century church father used to speak of the Son and the Holy Spirit as the two hands by which the Father carries out his creative work. The universe didn’t come into being by random chance, but by the word of God’s power. We are living in a day when many people try to rule God out of creation, and the creed reminds us that this is not an option for us. Isaac Newton was not only a great scientist but a committed Christian. He had a replica of our solar system made in miniature. At its centre was a golden ball which represented the sun, and revolving around it were smaller spheres attached at the ends of rods of varying lengths. They represented the planets. They were all geared together by cogs and belts to make them move around the sun in perfect harmony. One day as Newton was studying the model a friend who did not believe in God arrived. He marvelled at the model and enquired; “who made this for you?” Newton replied; “Nobody! All these cogs and belts and gears just happened to come together and wonder of wonders they just happened to begin revolving in their set orbits and with perfect timing.” His unbelieving friend got the gist of what Newton was trying to teach. It takes more faith to believe in no creator than it does to believe that all things were created by God.

The Apostles Creed | Part 3

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Yesterday we examined how Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus and rebuked them for their idolatry. In Acts 17:30 he said; in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. It has become quite common over the last 150 years for all evangelism to end with an invitation (an appeal). When Paul addressed the Athenians he argued quite differently. He did not invite them to believe. He issued a command. When we receive an invitation to a wedding it comes with a RSVP. Our response is optional and we can decline the invitation but when something is commanded of us we have no option. In Acts 17:31 Paul proceeded to say; for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Who is that man? It is God’s Son. Yesterday we noticed how the Apostles Creed is structured in a Trinitarian manner. Today we move from the first person of the Trinity to the second.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD – READ MARK 1:1-13
Our text today is helpful in that it addresses each of the aspects highlighted in the Creed.

1) I BELIEVE IN JESUS
In Mark 1:1, Mark gets straight to the point, the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah. Of course Jesus is his human name and affirms that he is a man of history. The Creed will go on to say that he was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate. He was a flesh and blood individual who existed in space and time. A man lived, suffered, died and rose again in real earthly history. These are facts of history.

2) I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST
When Mark says in vrs 1 the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah he is of course referring to the fact that Jesus is the Christ. Christ is not his surname! His surname would have been Bar Joseph. The word Christ refers to Jesus’ title. He is the anointed one, or as the Old Testament says – the Messiah. In vrs 9-13 of our text Jesus’ baptism is recorded. All three persons of the Trinity are present. The Father speaks, the Spirit descends and the Son is baptised. We could say that the Father anoints, the Son is anointed and the Spirit is the anointing. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit to empower him for his life’s work. Luke 4 records Jesus preaching at a synagogue in Nazareth. In vrs 18, 19 he quotes from Isaiah 61 to explain what the people were witnessing. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” In the Old Testament three groups of people were anointed – prophets, priests and kings. You could have a king who was also a prophet (David for instance) and you could have a prophet who was also a priest (Ezekiel). But no one could be a king and a priest. No one could occupy all three offices. Until Jesus! He is prophet because he reveals God to us. He is priest in that he justifies us and makes us acceptable to God. But he is also king in sense that he changes us. Our anointed Saviour addresses our three biggest needs – our ignorance, guilt and unholiness.

3) I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON
In the very first verse of his gospel Mark says; the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The name Jesus anchors him in history but the words “his only Son” refers to Jesus’ divine nature. Earthly rulers are sometimes described as “sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6) and so are angels (Job 1:6). However when the title “sons of God” is used of creatures, it is always used in the plural. When the title is used of the second Person of the Trinity it is used in the singular. He is the unique Son of God (only begotten Son John 3:16). He is not the Son of His Father in the sense that he had a beginning. There has never been a time in eternity when God has not been the Father and Jesus has not been the Son. The Jews understood that the title Son of God had divine implications. In Matthew 26:63 the authorities asked Jesus, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. When Jesus replied in vrs 64; yes, it is as you say he was immediately accused of blasphemy. Why? They understood that the title Son of God was a divine title. A man once argued against the deity of Christ by saying “if it was true, it would have been stated in the clearest terms possible.” His Christian friend replied “what words do you think should be used to express it?” The man replied “I would say that Jesus Christ is the true God.” His friend replied by saying; “you have hit upon the very words of Scripture.” The apostle John, speaking about the Son says in 1 John 5:20 and we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

4) I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD
Of course this is one of the most frequent titles for Jesus in the New Testament. Notice that in Mark 1:2, 3 two passages are quoted from the Old Testament. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” – a voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” The first verse is a quote from Malachi 3:1 and the second is a quote from Isaiah 40:3. Mark simply follows an ancient convention to introduce citations from two sources with the most important source. In the East, a forerunner often went ahead of a very important dignitary. It was his job to smooth the road so that the dignitary would a smooth ride. The messenger in Mark 1 is of course John the Baptist and the one following him according to Isaiah 40 is the Lord himself. The Hebrew word used is YHWH, God’s covenant name. The implication is quite revolutionary. Who is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? He is God – YHWH.

The Apostles Creed | Part 4

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Yesterday we started to explore what the Creed has to teach concerning the person of Jesus Christ. The next clause of the creed explains how he came into the world. Although we frequently speak about the Virgin birth of Christ it would be more accurate to speak about his Virgin conception. There is nothing miraculous about his birth (he was born in the same way that you and I are). There is however everything miraculous about his conception. When I was still a student at Wits University I recall reading a letter in a Scientific Journal. The author ranted on about the scientific impossibility of the virgin conception. He argued “we are all aware that the laws of genetics require that two sets of chromosomes are needed for the conception of any child. One set from the father’s sperm and one from the mother’s egg. Now in the case of the virgin conception it is clear that there are only one set of chromosomes, Mary’s. Clearly, the bible is wrong and there is no virgin conception.” Out of curiosity I read the letters in reply to this scientist’s comments in the next edition of the journal. One correspondent argued that the factualness of the virgin conception cannot be proven or disproven by means of science. When we are dealing with the supernatural we are dealing with a God who is omnipotent and who is not bound by the laws of science. Whereas the virgin conception may be a scientific possibility, as the angel Gabriel says in Luke 1:37 nothing is impossible with God.

WHO WAS CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY – READ LUKE 1:26-38
The name Mary is the Greek form of the Hebrew Miriam which means “exalted one.” Mary certainly lived up to her name. She truly was an exalted person. No woman has ever been as highly honoured as the mother of our Lord. In Luke 1:42 Elizabeth filled with the Spirit declares to Mary; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary was privileged indeed.

We must however be careful not to make too much of Mary. Over the centuries many unbiblical doctrines have arisen that exalt Mary beyond the clear teaching of scripture.
i) In the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church declared the perpetual virginity of Mary to be official Catholic dogma. This is the teaching that Mary remained a virgin. Quite clearly this is at odds with the clear teaching of the scriptures (Mark 3:31; 6:3) where Jesus is quite explicitly said to have had brothers.
ii) In 1854 the Immaculate Conception of Mary was declared to be official Catholic dogma. This is the teaching that Mary, like Jesus was born sinless. This is clearly at odds with Mary’s own words in Luke 1:46 a section known as the Magnificat. There she declares; “my soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” In acknowledging the Lord to be her Saviour, Mary is acknowledging that she was a sinner like any other person.
iii) In 1950 the Assumption of Mary was made official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the teaching that, after Mary died she was resurrected, glorified, and taken bodily to heaven. There is no Scripture to support this idea.

The last reference to Mary is in Acts 1:14. Jesus had just ascended into heaven. The disciples returned to their house in Jerusalem. What did they do there? “They all joined constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.” The last picture we have of Mary is her fulfilling her responsibilities as a normal church member at a church prayer meeting.

If we must not make the mistake of making too much of Mary we must not go to the other extreme of making too little of her. Elizabeth was right to say in Luke 1:42 blessed are you among women. In Luke 1:35, 36 Gabriel teaches Mary that; the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Why is the doctrine of the virgin conception of Jesus so essential?

i) The virgin conception points us powerfully to the person of Jesus Christ. He was fully man and fully God. It would have been possible for God to create Jesus as a complete human being in heaven and send him to descend from heaven to earth without the benefit of any human parent. But then it would have been very hard for us to see how Jesus could be fully human as we are. To save the human race he had to belong to it. For him to act as our kinsman redeemer it was necessary that he be flesh of our flesh. On the other hand, it probably would have been possible for God to have Jesus come into the world with two human parents, both a father and a mother, and with his full divine nature miraculously united to his human nature at some point early in his life. But then it would have been hard for us to understand how Jesus was fully God, since his origin was like ours in every way. When we think of these two other possibilities, it helps us to understand how God, in his wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ. With a human mother his full humanity would be obvious to us and since he was conceived in Mary’s womb by the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit his full deity would be made abundantly clear.
ii) Without the virgin conception of Jesus, there can be no guarantee of his
sinlessness. The descendants of Adam are sinners, because Adam sinned (Romans 5:12-19). In Psalm 51:5 David says that when there was just one cell that adhered to his mother’s uterus, sin was already mysteriously there. The work of the Holy Spirit in Mary must have prevented not only the transmission of sin from Joseph (for Jesus had no human father) but also, in a miraculous way, the transmission of sin from Mary. As Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:35; The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Those people who deny the virgin birth are on dangerous ground because Jesus’ supernatural conception and sinlessness are inextricably linked.

This is why we must declare; I believe in Jesus Christ who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

The Apostles Creed | Part 5

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;

[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

A few days ago we saw that the word creed comes from the Latin Credo (I believe). In the second century Tertullian says that he would question baptismal candidates. “Do you believe in God the Father . . . . in Jesus Christ . . . .in the Holy Spirit?” Each time the candidate responded by saying “I believe” and was immersed in water. Acts 8 records the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. If you are reading an NIV or ESV you will notice that they quite correctly jump from vrs 36 to vrs 38. The reason for this is clear. All the reliable older Greek manuscripts do not have vrs 37. Vrs 37 does however reflect the early church’s baptismal practice. In response to the eunuch’s question why shouldn’t I be baptised Philip responded in vrs 37; ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may’. The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.’ The early church did emphasise creedal formulas.

HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED, AND WAS BURIED
It is interesting to note that the Creed jumps straight from Christ’s birth to his death, straight from the Manger at Bethlehem to the cross at Calvary. There is nothing said about his life. This is obviously not because the intervening years are unimportant. Our Saviour’s active righteousness (perfect life) is as essential to our salvation as his passive righteousness (death). However by moving straight from Christ’s birth to his death the drafters of the creed were emphasising the centrality of his death. He was born to die. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 we read; for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. When we read modern biographies a page or two is devoted to the subjects death. But when it comes to Jesus one third of each of the gospels is devoted to his death. Christians cannot stop talking about his death on the cross. We preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23).

  1. SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE
    Pontius Pilate’s inclusion in the creed places Christ’s death firmly in world history. Who was Pontius Pilate? He was a native of Seville in Spain. He was an ambitious opportunist, quite brutal, politically inept, and an anti-Semite. He joined the Roman legion and ended up marrying Claudia Procula the grand-daughter of Caesar Augustus. It was through her that he got his job as governor of Judea. Pilate served in this capacity between AD 26-36. In Acts 4:27, 28 we read, indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Interestingly, in 1961 in an archaeological dig around Caesarea a stone was unearthed that revealed Pilate’s name proving the historicity of Pilate. As 2 Peter 1:16 say; we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. WAS CRUCIFIED
    Crucifixion was a barbaric form of capital punishment invented by the Romans. It entailed the victim being nailed to a plank of wood and hung up to die a long, lingering death by asphyxiation. The emphasis of Scripture is on Christ’s spiritual sufferings rather than his physical ones. RC Sproul relates the story of a friend who said “I hear Christians speaking a great deal about the blood of Christ. Suppose Jesus came to earth and scratched his finger on a nail so that he bled would that have been sufficient?” Of course the answer is NO! When the NT speaks about the blood of Christ it follows the Hebrew thinking that the life was in the blood. The shorthand expression of the blood of Christ really pointed to his death. In Deuteronomy 21:23 we are reminded anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. In Galatians 3:13 Paul interprets this verse for us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Paul means that Christ was cursed by God that we might be blessed. He was punished by God that the believer might be pardoned by God. In Isaiah 53:5 we are told he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. At the cross Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath to spare us that ordeal.
  3. DIED AND WAS BURIED
    As we have seen from 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried. On that first Easter Saturday the Son of God was a dead man in the tomb. About a century ago there was a theory that did the rounds which suggested that Jesus did not really die on the cross. He fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought he was dead but they were mistaken. Later in the cool of the tomb he was resuscitated. The disciples merely mistook his appearance as a resurrection. The theory was very quickly debunked even by sceptics. How a half-dead man could have moved the stone (a ton or so) and weakened from his wounds and in desperate need of medical attention, could have convinced the disciples that he had conquered death and the grave would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself. According to Matthew 27:59 Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This was also a fulfilment of prophecy. In Isaiah 53:9 we are told that he was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

This clause of the creed reminds us that Christ suffered under a pagan ruler, that the manner of his death was by crucifixion and that he really died and was buried.

The Apostles Creed | Part 6

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Today we turn our attention to the most contentious clause in the Creed. You may have wondered why I placed the clause he descended into hell in brackets above. The oldest extant version of the creed comes from Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra and it does not contain this clause about descending into hell. Apparently the clause first appeared in AD 359. Furthermore, we must note that there is no Scripture that clearly teaches that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus preached to souls imprisoned in hell or Hades. For these historical and biblical reasons it would seem best to me to omit the clause from our reciting of the Apostles Creed. However since the clause has occasioned much speculation as well as confusion I think it is necessary to give an understanding of the text of Scripture on which the teaching is most commonly based.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL –
In 1 Peter 3:19-21 we read; He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are many erroneous doctrines both ancient and modern that emerge from an inadequate understanding of these verses.

  1. Some modern prosperity preachers have taught that Jesus’ death at the cross
    was only the beginning of Christ’s work of redemption. One prosperity preacher has gone to the blasphemous extreme of saying; “do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God . . . Satan and all the demons thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence.” There is a word for this – HERESY! When Christ uttered the word tetelestai (it is finished!) from the cross he meant that no further debt remained. These prosperity teachers downplay the cross, by exchanging Christ’s conquest over Satan, into merely the first stage in a war. What does the apostle Paul say in Colossians 2:15 and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
  2. Other church groups would find warrant in this clause of the Creed for an offer of salvation to those who have already died. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 we are clearly taught for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Would people repent and believe if given a second chance? The bible says they would not because people’s hearts are not changed simply because they die. In Luke 16:19-31 we have the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. If ever someone should have repented when given a second chance to see the truth clearly, it was the rich man. Although he was in torment in hell, he only asked that Abraham send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers so they didn’t have to suffer the same fate. There was no repentance in his heart. No second, third, or fourth chances would be enough to turn the heart of stone into a heart of flesh. The Scriptures speak quite emphatically in Hebrews 9:27. Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.
  3. John Calvin understood this phrase in the Apostles Creed a little differently. He argued that Christ’s descent into hell did not involve a literal descent. Rather on the cross he suffered not just bodily pain but all the torments that a soul in hell, cut off from God’s presence would experience. Calvin believed that the clause “he descended into hell” referred to Christ experiencing the full wrath of His Father being directed at our sin. We would have no problem affirming such an understanding.
  4. How then should we interpret 1 Peter 3:19-21? He is saying that the Spirit of Christ raised the body of Christ from the grave. This much is clear. However what is meant by saying that through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built? The one who does the proclaiming of verse 19 is not the risen Jesus. It is Jesus who preaches, but it is not during the window between his death and ascension. It’s during the lifetime of Noah. When Peter wrote this letter those disobedient people were dead. This is why Peter refers to them as spirits in prison. But they were not in prison when Christ preached to them in history through Noah. We should not be surprised to read that the spirit of Christ was preaching in the OT. In 1 Peter 1:10-11 we read; concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. The Spirit of Christ was in the OT prophets who predicted his coming. Now we see from vrs 19 that the spirit of Christ was in Noah preaching to the people of Noah’s day. They remained disobedient and in the end they were drowned and their spirits were cast into hell which is called prison. If Peter meant that Christ went and preached in hell between his death and resurrection why would he only liberate people from the days of Noah – and not from every generation!

It is because there is not a single clear and unambiguous text of Scripture which points to Jesus’ descent into hell, that I concur with others who suggest that we omit it when we recite the Apostles Creed. The encouragement from 1 Peter 3 for us today, is that the same spirit of Christ that was present in Noah’s preaching, is with us as we share the gospel.

The Apostles Creed | Part 7

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

As Christians we rightfully make much of the incarnation of God the Son every Christmas. We also joyfully celebrate Easter every year – Good Friday followed by Resurrection Sunday. It is quite baffling why we don’t celebrate Ascension Day with the same degree of enthusiasm. We should! In the past as South Africans we had a public holiday every Ascension Day but how many churches celebrated it as we should have? Very few! If we truly grasped the deep significance of the Ascension we would make a great deal more about Christ’s Ascension than we do. Perhaps if the current lockdown measures ease to the extent of permitting social gatherings we ought to set aside the evening of Ascension Day to worship our ascended Christ?

READ ACTS 1:1-11

  1. THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD
    In vrs 1 Luke reminds us that in his gospel he had already spoken at length about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven. In vrs 3 he goes on to say; after his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. We have recently devoted an entire week of devotions to exploring this theme. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 the apostle Paul says; for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. He does not just say that Christ died and rose again but both times insists that this was according to the Scriptures. What Scriptures? The Old Testament of course! In that great Messianic chapter, Isaiah 53 after declaring in vrs 10 the Lord’s will to make his life a guilt offering we read; he will see his offspring and prolong his days. This is a clear reference to the fact that Christ would live forever. However the most important Old Testament text that the apostles used to prove Christ’s resurrection from the Old Testament was Psalm 16. Notice how Peter approaches the resurrection of Christ on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:23, 24 we read; this man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Then in vrs 25-28 Peter quotes from Psalm 16 to prove to the crowds that this was indeed what they should have expected; because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. When the apostle Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch on the first missionary he took exactly the same approach (Acts 13:27-38) by quoting Psalm 16 to prove to the Jews that the OT prepared them for the resurrection.
  2. HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY
    When Christ ascended to heaven he received glory, honour and authority that he had not enjoyed on earth. In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter said in Acts 2:33 33 that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God. When we say that Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father we often use the word session. What is the doctrinal significance of Christ’s ascension?

i) It declares CHRIST’S COMPLETED WORK. Christ’s ascension powerfully points to the completion of Christ’s work of redemption. In Hebrews 10:11-14 the work of OT priests is compared to Christ our Great High Priest. Whereas the priests never sat down (their work was never over) Christ after his once for all sacrifice of himself at the cross sat down. In Hebrews 7:24, 25 we are given this tremendous encouragement; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. What a joy to know that we have a High Priest in heaven who always intercedes on our behalf before the Father.

ii) The ascension also proclaims CHRIST’S KINGLY RULE. The OT had predicted that the Messiah would sit at the right hand of God. Christ ascends to heaven for his coronation as king. The psalm that is more often quoted in the NT than any other is Psalm 110. In vrs 1 of that psalm we read; The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” In 1 Peter 3:22 we read that Christ has gone into heaven with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

iii) According to Acts 1 the ascension is also a reminder to us of CHRIST’S GLORIOUS RETURN. In Acts 1:10, 11 we are memorably pointed in this direction. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

It is this glorious prospect that is discussed in the next clause of the Apostles Creed and will occupy our attention tomorrow.

The Apostles Creed | Part 8

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Someone once did a calculation and said that there is at least one reference to the second coming of Jesus in every 13 verses in the NT. Lord Shaftsbury one of the prime social movers in Britain in the 19th century said; “I do not think that in the last forty years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of the return of Jesus Christ.” This thought absolutely gripped him. He embossed all his envelopes with the Greek text of Revelation 22:20 (Even so come Lord Jesus). He would frequently say; “Why do we not plead for it every time we hear the clock strike.”

READ – 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18

We will tackle this subject of our Lord’s return under four headings.

  1. RETURN – We see this at the beginning of vrs 16; for the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. Make no mistake this coming of the Lord is going to be something to behold. It will be
    a) Personal – Notice vrs 16 says for the Lord himself. The Greek word for come down is parousia. This word is used for the visit of a leader or royal dignitary.
    b) Visible – In Revelation 1:7 we read; Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. When we in the Southern hemisphere look up at the night sky we see very different stars to what people in the northern hemisphere see. But when the Lord Jesus Christ returns it will be so spectacular that every eye will see him. Quite how this will be so I don’t know but remember his coming will be like nothing ever seen before. Because every eye will witness the same event at the same time.
    c) Glorious – In vrs 16 we read; for the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. Titus 2:13 refers to the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
  2. RESURRECTION – Vrs 16 ends with the glorious expectation; and the dead in Christ will rise first. When a believer dies there spirit enters into the immediate presence of Christ and those who have died in the Lord. Their bodies however are said to sleep in the ground waiting that day when they will be raised by the command of the returning Christ. This will be the moment when believers receive their new bodies, resurrection bodies, patterned after the Lord’s own resurrection bodies. Bodies that fit us for heaven itself. How encouraging this must have been for the Thessalonian believers who were grieving the loss of loved ones who had died in Christ. Remember in John 11 when Jesus was called to the home of Lazarus who had died. When he went to the tomb we read in vrs 43; when he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Even though Lazarus had been in the grave for four days and the body was starting to putrefy he obeyed that shout of authority. The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Earlier in John’s gospel in 5:25, 28 Jesus said; I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live . . . do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. I suggest that this loud command that the returning Christ utters will be that which raises the bodies of those believers whose spirits are already returning with Jesus.
  3. RAPTURE – In vrs 17 we read; after that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. In certain church circles it has become quite popular to think of a secret rapture of the church where Christ comes secretly to rapture his church leaving the rest of human beings to endure a period of great tribulation (usually 7 years) after which the Lord will return with his church. Interestingly enough this word rapture is not found anywhere in the book of the Revelation. The only unambiguous reference to the rapture when it concerns the return of Jesus Christ is found in our text. How does Paul understand this rapture? Does he think of it as being secret? No! There will be dramatic visual and auditory manifestations. Nothing secret about it at all. Furthermore this business about the raptured church being spared a seven year tribulation period is also hard to establish from our text. Look again at vrs 17. Living believers will be raptured to join departed believers to meet the Lord in the air. The Greek word translated meet (apantesis) is a very interesting word indeed. When an important visiting dignitary came to a city the leading citizens (mayor and town council) would go outside of the city to meet him. What did they do next? They returned to the city with the important dignitary. The word (apantesis) is used in Acts 28:15, 16 to refer to believers in Rome coming out to meet Paul on his way to Rome. What did they do next? Spend seven years in secret safety? No! They escorted Paul into Rome. If words have meaning at all then when living believers are said to be raptured and to meet the Lord in the air it is with a view to accompanying him on the last leg of his journey to earth where he will set up his throne of judgment.
  4. REUNION – Vrs 17, 18 end by saying and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. If the returning Lord Jesus Christ will be accompanied with a cocophony of sound can you imagine how the decibels will be raised even more when the living Christians are raptured to meet those who have gone before in the clouds. The joyful reunions will be something to cherish. On earth we get tired of saying goodbye. But there will come the day when we will no longer have to say cheerio. We will be reunited with our loved ones forever. But of course the thing that thrills us most is not reunion with our loved ones but being with the Lord forever. This is what makes heaven, heaven.

The Apostles Creed | Part 9

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

The British theologian Alister McGrath once identified the Holy Spirit as “the Cinderella of the Trinity.” “The other two sisters,” he said, “may have gone to the theological ball; the Holy Spirit got left behind every time” A book was released some years ago on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It was called The Forgotten God. In John 13-17 we have a record of one long conversation that Jesus had with his disciples. He had much to teach them about the Holy Spirit.

READ JOHN 14:15-31; 15:26-16:16

  1. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON
    In 16:7 Jesus says it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Who exactly is the Holy Spirit? He is a person. The third Person of the Trinity. To emphasise this point Jesus breaks the rules of Greek grammar. In Greek you have nouns which are masculine, feminine or neuter. If a Greek noun is masculine then the pronoun attached to it must be masculine. Now the word spirit is neuter in Greek and therefore the pronoun attached to it should also be neuter. But to emphasise that the Spirit is a person Jesus deliberately breaks the rules and attaches a masculine pronoun (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14). Why do I stress this? Because many cults reduce the Holy Spirit to a mere force. He is a person. Even Christians have this annoying habit of referring to the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’. He is a he!! In Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together. To suggest we are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and electricity, assaults our common sense. But that is not all we are told about the Holy Spirit. He is not just a person. He is a divine person. In Acts 5:3 Peter accuses Ananias of having lied to the Holy Spirit. In the very next verse Peter goes on to say; you have not lied to men but to God. To lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God.
  2. THE HOLY SPIRIT AND SCRIPTURE
    We all know that the Holy Spirit and the Bible go together. In Ephesians 6 the apostle Paul describes the bible as the sword of the Spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus says; but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Not only would the Holy Spirit remind the disciples of everything Jesus said but He would also inspire their writing. In 2 Peter 1:21 we read; for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul can say; all Scripture is God-breathed. The Holy Spirit is equally responsible for inspiring the OT. Hebrews 3:7 introduces a quote from Psalm 95 by saying so as the Holy Spirit says.
  3. THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE ONGOING MINISTRY OF JESUS
    In John 14:16-20 Jesus tells his disciples that although he was going away they would not be abandoned as helpless orphans to fend for themselves. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” In John 16:7 Jesus says it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. In John 14:28 Jesus repeats himself; you heard me say, I am going away and I am coming back to you. How does Jesus come back to us? Through the Spirit (John 14:18). This is important. In John 14:23 Jesus says; if anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Why will the indwelling Spirit be even better than having the physical presence of Christ? In John 14:12 we read; I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. What could Jesus possibly have meant? Have you ever raised someone from the dead? Walked on water? Multiplied a Wimpy Burger and fed Muldersdrift? No! So what could Jesus have meant? Leon Morris highlights two things. Firstly, there are incidents of miracles of healing in Acts but the emphasis is on the mighty works of conversion. On the Day of Pentecost more believers were added to the church than throughout Christ’s entire earthly life. Here is a literal fulfilment of the greater works Jesus is speaking about. Being instrumental in leading someone to faith in Christ is a greater work than making a lame person walk. The latter is only temporary but the former has eternal benefits. Secondly, think about it. If Jesus was physically here he would be in one place at any given time. If we wanted to see him we would have to take a plane to Israel (if that was where he was), disembark and go to the town where he was. Presumably there would be a long queue waiting to speak with him. It would be very difficult. But now the Holy Spirit is with us the ongoing ministry of Christ is not limited by space and time. He indwells believers in Moscow, London, Washington, Pretoria and Krugersdorp. He is also at work all over the world convicting people of their need for Jesus.

Now that Jesus is in us his power is wherever we are. This is why Acts 1:1 starts the way it does. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. It’s not that Jesus worked while he was here and now the church works in his absence. Jesus worked then through his incarnation and he works now through His church. What the Holy Spirit did through Jesus in the Gospels He continues to do through the church.

The Apostles Creed | Part 10

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

We come this morning to a very misunderstood clause in the creed. It has been my experience that whenever I have encouraged a recital of the Apostles Creed many people find the phrase “The holy catholic church” to be a hurdle at which they stumble and refuse to jump. If we understood the words we would have no such problem. When we say I believe in the holy catholic church we do not mean the Roman Catholic Church (the architects of the creed certainly did not understand it that way). The Greek word catholicos simply means “universal” or “throughout the world.” The phrase refers to the church universal. When it comes to the church we could speak at great length as to how it is governed (elders and deacons). We could speak about the purpose of the church in worship, evangelism and the building up of the saints. We could also speak about the church as the body of Christ and that each member has a role to play as we exercise our spiritual gifts. However we must be content to highlight three subjects.

  1. VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE
    When we attend a local church we join with a great number of people. We cannot claim to know the true spiritual condition of each individual. We might see outward evidence of inward change but we cannot claim to see into people’s hearts. In 2 Timothy 2:19 we read; “The Lord knows those who are his.” In every local church only God knows who are true believers with absolute certainty. The visible church is the church as we see it. The invisible church is the church as God truly sees it. In Acts 20:29, 30 when Paul addressed the Ephesian elders he said; I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. At that moment in time the church at Ephesus might struggle to identify them but in time they would be revealed. They were already known to God but would only be revealed to the church in due course. Augustine recognised the division between the church invisible and visible by saying; “many sheep are without and many wolves are within.”
  2. LOCAL AND UNIVERSAL
    In the New Testament the word church can be used to refer to a local church or the church throughout the world. For instance a church that meets in someone’s home (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:9) is called a church. The church in an entire city is also called a church (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1). In Acts 9:31 the church in a region is referred to as “the church.” Finally the church throughout the world can be referred to as “the church.” When Paul says in Ephesians 5:25 that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her and in 1 Corinthians 12:28 in the church God has appointed first of all apostles the reference is clearly universal. The community of God’s people considered at any level can rightly be called a church. Interestingly the Nicene Creed which was adopted at the Council of Nicea in AD325 adds one word to the Apostolic Creed. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. By adding that simple word “apostolic” they were saying that the mark of a true church is one which is faithful to apostolic teaching. During the 16th century the reformers added the correct use of the ordinances and church discipline as further marks of a true church.
  3. MILITANT AND TRIUMPHANT
    The church on earth is referred to as the church militant and is distinguished from the church Triumphant in heaven. Put the two together and you have the full communion of the saints. I know that there are many people who say yes to Jesus but a loud No! to the church. Ephesians 3:21 highlights where God desires to be supremely glorified. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. God longs to be glorified in his Son and he longs to be glorified in his church. In Ephesians 3:10, 11 we have one of the most revolutionary verses in the bible concerning the church. His intent was that now, through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. The church is so precious to God that he chooses to use us (imperfect though we are) to serve as an audio-visual display to cosmic powers to demonstrate his wisdom. This is very humbling. Those who have no concern to join a local church are robbing God of his glory. He wants the church to demonstrate his wisdom to the heavenly authorities and they say – “I couldn’t be bothered!” The church is precious to God and should be precious to us.

The Apostles Creed | Part 11

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
[He descended into hell.]
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

We end our study in the Apostles Creed today by relishing the prospect of the life that is yet to come. The resurrection of the righteous will be followed by the resurrection of the unrighteous. In the same way the counterpart to the believers confident expectation of heavenly glory will be unbelievers expectation of eternal misery. We will focus only on what believers can confidently expect. One of the great Puritans was Richard Baxter. He lived to the ripe old age of 76. When he was 31 he fell so sick that his doctors gave up all hope of recovery. During the months of his recuperation he meditated greatly upon heaven. He recovered and for the remaining 45 years of his life he practiced the habit of thinking about heaven for 30 minutes a day. His practice does suggest that the more we think about heaven the greater our earthly service becomes.

READ 2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-5:10

I BELIEVE IN THE LIFE EVERLASTING
Think about a man with a beautiful home and a happy family. He leaves them for a while to go on a business trip and he stays in a hotel. He is only supposed to stay there for a week but the room that he is in is very comfortable, the view from the window is striking, the food is very good and the other residents are very interesting. By the end of the week he decides to remain in the hotel instead of returning to his home and family. What would you think of him? Would you not think that he had lost his mind? The hotel is not his permanent residence – his home is. In the same way we are only temporary residents on earth. Our life here consists of a mere few years which will be followed by eternity. In Hebrews 11:10 we read that Abraham was able to live by faith for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Later in that same chapter (vrs 16) we are told that the heroes of the faith were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. This glorious prospect should challenge the way that we live.

  1. We should value the spiritual over the physical. In vrs 16 we read; therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. He knew that his body, the internal parts and the functioning of his brain was decaying. Notice that Paul uses the present tense in vrs 16 we are wasting away. He is talking about the normal process of aging which we are all experiencing aren’t we? In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read; and we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. We get our English word metamorphosis from this word transform. This is the process of a caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly.
  2. We should value the future over the present. We see this in vrs 17; for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. The picture Paul has in mind is a set of scales. If we view our troubles from an earthly perspective the one side of the scale will be weighed down. On the other side of the scale is the glory to be revealed. Don’t think for one minute that meditating on the glory to come will merely counterbalance the affliction. It doesn’t. The side with the weight of heavenly glory falls like a lead balloon. Our present troubles are made to look as light as a feather. This is why when Martyn Lloyd Jones was dying from throat cancer he decided to suspend further treatments. He requested his family not to pray for healing: “Do not hold me back from the glory.”

A few weeks ago I was reading about the life and poetry of John Donne (1572-1631) which was made more meaningful to me because of the current coronavirus pandemic. John Donne came to faith after some misspent early years. He was appointed as the Dean of St Paul’s cathedral, London’s largest church. Then the plague struck – in fact there were three waves of the bubonic plague. The third wave alone killed 40000 people in London. In total one third of the citizens of London died. Eventually in 1623 John Donne fell ill himself and as he lay on his sick bed he wrote a number of poems on death. One of his most famous is titled, “Death be not proud.” It is worth reading the whole poem but I will quote the beginning and the end. Listen to how he articulated his faith in the midst of the pandemic of his day.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so . . . .
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die.

I believe in the life everlasting. AMEN!

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