Exploring the Apostles Creed
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Part 3: ‘... and in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord’

by Rev. Robert Griffith
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Before there was any Apostles Creed, before there was any other Christian creed or confession, the first thing that the earliest followers of Jesus confessed, was that Jesus is Lord. This line of the Apostles Creed that we're exploring today, “ .. we believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord ...”really brings us right to the heart of the Christian faith – which is our confession that Jesus Christ is our Lord. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says it as clearly as anyone ever has:

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

“... no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

This is not saying that these are magic words, that if you say ‘Jesus is Lord’ you'll get certain results. The idea rather is that to confess ‘Jesus is Lord,’ to actually pledge allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; to attach yourself in absolute loyalty and trust to the person of Jesus is impossible, except by the power of the Holy Spirit. When you make that confession, attaching your life in complete loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ, then you prove that you are saved. When you are attached to the Saviour, you are participating in the very life of God that is at work in Jesus. So if you confess that Jesus is Lord you are saved, not because it's a formula, but because it demonstrates that your whole life has been placed in relation to the person of Jesus. So the first thing to say about this confession that Jesus is Lord, is that it’s about our personal attachment to Jesus Christ. It's about our personal loyalty, our personal allegiance.
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Now you might assume that if you're going to draw up a creed, that it’s going to contain a list of propositions that we assent to - all the doctrines that we affirm and confess. So it's very striking that the first thing we hear about Jesus in this Creed; the first thing we say about Jesus in the Creed is not an idea, a theory or a theological concept, but a statement of personal attachment. He is ourLord. He's mine. He's yours. He's ours. We belong to Him.
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I don't know if you've ever read any of the early Protestant confessions. The Heidelberg Catechism is one of these great early Protestant confessional texts and it starts by asking, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” And the answer is then given, “My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” You see, that's what it means to confess, Jesus is Lord. My whole life is now located in relationship to Jesus. He is mine, I am His, He is my Lord. A relationship of personal trust, personal loyalty, the truest thing about me now is that Jesus is Lord.
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But there's another side to this confession of the Lordship of Jesus. We all know and love those great words from the letter to the Philippians that assure us of that day when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess the same thing. What will every tongue confess? That Jesus Christ is Lord. There's a strange balancing act here. In the New Testament, on the one hand, to confess Jesus is Lord is deeply personal. On the other hand, to confess that Jesus is Lord is to make a universal claim. We are not just saying Jesus is myLord. We are not just saying Jesus isourLord. We are saying Jesus is the Lord and that means that one day, every knee will bow and everyone will recognize Him as Lord. Every tongue will join us one day in this confession. So in the Apostles Creed when we say we believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, we are making a statement about ourselves and our own hearts, about where our own loyalties are located. But we are also making a claim about all people everywhere. All people who have ever lived through all of human history, the very universe itself - we're saying the hidden truth of every human life is that Jesus Christ is Lord. The hidden truth of human history is that Jesus Christ is Lord. The hidden truth of the very cosmos that we inhabit, is that Jesus Christ is Lord.
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Now, there's a rumour going around in the Church these days that this is a rather oppressive and backward looking thing to believe. It’s fine to say that Jesus is ourLord, but we don't want to impose those views on anybody else, right? We don't want to be so insensitive as to imagine that just the fact that Jesus is important to us, makes Him important to anybody else. I have been in Church gatherings where I have heard Ministers and Pastors, supposed preachers of the Word, say that we should come up with a better word than Lordto describe Jesus. They assert that this is a very unenlightened way of talking about Jesus. Surely Jesus is a friend to us. Surely Jesus is a teacher of great wisdom who is important for our lives. But you can't make universal claims about Jesus. Don't you realize there are other religions out there? Don’t you realize that not everyone confesses that Jesus is Lord?
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What do you think about this? Do you think it is somehow implicitly oppressive to confess that Jesus is not only our Lord, but the Lord of all? Well let me have a go at responding to that concern. Psalm 97 begins with these words, “The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice.” This notion of Lordship, this language of Lordship in the Christian faith comes straight out of Israel’s scriptures. Israel uses ‘the Lord’ as a kind of name for God. You're not meant to pronounce God's name in the Jewish faith. So wherever the name of God appears in Scripture, the Israelites reverentially substitute Adonai, ‘Lord’ as a title that stands in the place of a name. A bit like if you might call your spouse darling, it's a word which is functioning as a name, you are sort of naming them without actually saying their name. Well that's how the Old Testament speaks of God. “The Lord is King, Let the earth rejoice.”
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The amazing thing about ancient Israel is that its belief in the absolute kingship, the absolute sovereignty, the absolute lordship of God meant that you never have to take worldly authorities too seriously. You never have to treat worldly authorities like they really deserve your absolute respect, your absolute loyalty. In fact, in First Samuel when Israel demands a king, they've looked around at all the other nations and realized, hang on, all these other tribes around us have their own kings, we want one. So come on Prophet Sam, give us a king. Now God's first response is, “What kind of faithlessness is this? Don't you realize I am your king? Why would you want a puny, insignificant, earthly King, when you can have God Himself as your king?” But God accommodates them anyway and says, “Very well, I'll give you a king, but you will regret it.”
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But even when Israel has kings and rulers, they are never viewed the way that other nations viewed their kings. Think of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. It's not just that this is one person who for matters of administrative convenience has been set aside to help govern the nation. This person is a God to be worshipped. This person is absolutely distinct from the rest of the people. This person, the Pharaoh, is a King who deserves absolute loyalty, absolute obedience even unto death. You don't disobey the Pharaoh, ever. This is the presence of the Divine in the midst of a human community. Well, for all their faults, Israel never viewed their worldly kings that way. If the Kings were doing the wrong thing, the same God who put them there can topple them and give us a better one. That's Israel's attitude. That’s why we see this confession in Psalm 97 that the Lord is king. It speaks of righteousness and justice as the foundation of God's throne. You can't expect absolute righteousness, you can't expect absolute justice from any worldly power. But we look to God for that. And we look to God as the One Who ultimately will put all worldly power in their place. The Psalm goes on to say in verse 9, “You Oh Lord, most high over all the earth, you are exalted far above all gods.” The confession that God is the Lord means that the days of any earthly tyrant are numbered. The days of any other god that tries to oppress people and enslave them are numbered, because the Lord is King.
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This is why Psalm 97 does not begin by saying, “The Lord is King! Let the people of Israel rejoice.” It says, “The Lord is King! Let the earth rejoice.” One day war will cease, because the Lord is King. Wherever there is injustice, one day, the rod will be broken, because the Lord is King. Wherever there is oppression and fear, one day there will be love and peace, because the Lord is king. Wherever worldly power exalts itself over other humans, one day, the mighty will be cast down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up, because the Lord is King. For ancient Israel, the message of the absolute sovereignty of God, the absolute kingship of God, is a message of liberation and joy for all people everywhere. This is the spirit that comes through in the followers of Jesus. When Jesus is confessed as Lord, when Jesus is confessed as King, when Jesus is confessed as the one sovereign person to whom we ought to attach our loyalty, what that means for the early Christians is you don't have to be afraid of worldly power anymore. The whole book of Acts showcases this attitude. When Peter is commanded to stop preaching in Jesus name, what does he say? “We have to obey God rather than human authorities. Sorry turkeys, we are going to obey the Lord, not just a lord, we're going to obey the one true God.” If Jesus is Lord, then it means we don't need to be afraid of worldly power. It's because the early Christians confessed that Jesus is Lord that so many martyrs went to their death with the name of Jesus on their lips, simply for refusing to bend the knee to human authority. In the early centuries of Christianity you were still allowed to be a Christian but you were asked to burn just one stick of incense to Caesar, that's all you've got to do, and you can live. Thousands of early Christians refused to give any allegiance to anyone but Christ. “Because Jesus is Lord and we're not going to bend the knee, we're not going to put His Lordship alongside the lordship of Caesar, as if they were somehow on the same level. We're not going to let Jesus become one of the gods alongside other gods.”
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In the ancient world, there was no greater tyrant than Caesar. To bend the knee to Caesar was to come back under a culture of oppression and injustice. People criticize modern colonialism but the colonialism of ancient Rome was monumental. These were a vicious, warlike, colonizing, brutal people who squeezed the life out of their colonies in order to send taxes back into Rome. The idea that somehow Caesar and Jesus are on the same level was preposterous to the early Christians. Their confession of Jesus had gotten right into their blood, into their bones and they didn't know any more how to bend the knee to any worldly power. That resolve cost many of them their lives.
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I think it's in this spirit that in 1934, when Germany had absolute totalitarian rule, a little group of Christians produced the Barmen Declaration.Another confession. How does it start? Well it sounds a lot like the Apostles Creed. It sounds a lot like the Heidelberg Catechism that I mentioned earlier. It starts by saying,“Jesus Christ, as He is attested in Holy Scripture, is the one word of God that we have to hear, the only word of God that we have to trust and obey, in life and in death.”Here we have a group of people in circumstances where worldly power has grown so strong that to resist it would mean death. In those circumstances, a group of Christians gather and say, “Jesus is our Lord and we don't need to be afraid.” There is nothing in human history more liberating, more empowering, than the thought that the world has only one true Lord, that crucified and risen One Who sets you free. That means you don't have to be afraid. That means whatever respect and allegiance you owe in this world is provisional, relative and temporary. One day, they too, will confess the same thing we confessed when we were baptized, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
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Let me make one more point. There's another side to the way the Lordship of Jesus liberates us. In the New Testament, very early on in the Christian movement, we can see that this confession of Jesus as Lord had an amazing unifying affect on society. All of a sudden, you've got a community where slaves and their masters would come together to the waters of baptism, and both would say the same thing. “Jesus is Lord.” Men and women in a radically hierarchical, patriarchal society would come side by side to the waters of baptism and say, “Jesus is Lord.” Jews and Gentiles, people from different ethnic groups would come to the same waters and say, “Jesus is Lord.” In Galatians, chapter three, Paul sums this up:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” ( Galatians 3:27-28 )

Paul is sometimes accused of being rather backward looking and unenlightened. I encourage you to take a look sometime at that little letter to Philemon, just slipped in there, like an afterthought, towards the end of the New Testament. In that letter, Paul writes to a slave owner who's become a Christian, and he says, “One of your slaves ran away and he's become a Christian. And as an active Christian, he now wants to come back come back into your service.”And Paul says, “I urge you please receive him, not as a slave, but as a dearly beloved brother.” Now slavery didn't vanish all at once when Jesus died and rose from the dead. The community that gathered around Christ and confessed Jesus is Lord was a community in which slavery's days were numbered, in which all of the social divisions that had been used to organize their lives were numbered. Nowhere else in the ancient world do we ever hear of a thing like this: ‘receive the slave as a not as a slave but as a dearly beloved brother.’ Nowhere else in the ancient world do we hear a thing like this, that men and women now are all one: slave and free, Jew and Greek, all one in Christ, all of them together, confessing the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So suddenly there's no distinction that's meaningful anymore, between slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, old and young.
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By the fourth century, there's a text from one of the early Greek theologians explicitly denouncing slavery and it's very interesting. Gregory of Nyssa is the writer and he says that all people are free and therefore slavery doesn't make sense. What I find more interesting is his other argument where he denounces slavery as an institution which divides human beings into two groups, you've got slaves, you've got free people. He says that in Christ, that division of society doesn't make any sense. Whatever it is, that we use to divide the world up into the important people and the unimportant, the haves and the have nots, those divisions are dissolved in the waters of baptism. We are baptized into Christ together, we confess Christ's Lordship and whatever it is that we use to divide the world up into parts, it's days are numbered.
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It was this confession of Christ's Lordship and the unity it brings that had gotten into the blood and into the bones of Martin Luther King, the great civil rights activist in America. That’s why he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C on 28th August 1963, in front of 250,000 people and delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. Let me read his closing words:

“(I have a dream)... that one day, all God's children, black men, white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestant and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

When the early Church confessed that Jesus is Lord, the tectonic plates beneath human society shifted and a slow revolution began. Brothers and sisters when we came to the waters of baptism, and took the name of Jesus on our lips, the tectonic plates in our lives shifted and the slow revolution has begun. May we embrace it as we gladly embrace Jesus as Lord. Amen.

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FEEDBACK: robert@gunnedahbaptist.org.au
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