Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. 21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” — Matthew 16:13-28
The Largest Section of the Apostles’ Creed
We’re continuing our look at the Apostles’ Creed, using this ancient confession of faith as our outline for the great teachings, or doctrines, of the Christian faith. Last week we looked at the opening statement of The Creed — “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” That brief line put us in good company.
First, for those who confess faith in God, we identify ourselves as theists, those who believe in a god; as opposed to atheists, those who do not believe in a god. But, that line also affirms that we believe not just in a god, but in the God who is Almighty, unequalled, unparalleled by any other so-called gods. We believe in God, who is Almighty, and who is the one Creator of all that exists.
But at this point we have merely joined the ranks of other theists who acknowledge a personal, powerful God. And so Christianity joins Islam, and Judaism as representatives of the world’s great monotheistic religions.
But with our declaration that we also believe “…in Jesus Christ, His only son our Lord…” we have now parted company with both Judaism and Islam. We as Christians now stand alone, unique in all the world’s religions. We believe that God has a son whose name is Jesus.
This line of the Apostles’ Creed is attributed to Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. As we have noted before, this legend is more fable than fact, but perhaps Andrew gets the credit for this line because he was among the first to recognize who Jesus was, and then Andrew brought his own brother, Peter, to meet the Lord.
Most likely the Apostles’ Creed has three major sections — I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe in the Holy Spirit — because the creed was usually said at the baptism of a new convert. Matthew records the instruction of Jesus that we are to “make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The creed was probably part of the baptismal ceremony, recited one line at a time by the baptismal candidate when asked the three questions —
— Do you believe in God? I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
— Do you believe in Jesus Christ? I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord.
— Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? I believe in the Holy Spirit.
With that the candidate was baptized into the faith, and his or her confession of faith was called the “faith delivered” or “the symbol” of the faith.
Peter’s Confession of Faith
All of that brings us to our text today, found in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew presents the scene of Jesus and the disciples traveling through the countryside. They reach Caesarea Philippi, the home of the shrine to the pagan god, Pan.
In this pagan setting, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” By “people” we presume that Jesus means his fellows Jews because he has just had a confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees who asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. It is obvious that religious leaders do not think Jesus is any one special because they ask him to prove his divine connection with some type of indication from God.
After warning the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Jesus asks them, not for their own opinion of him, but the opinion of others. The answers seem to come effortlessly because these 12 men have undoubtedly heard people talking about their Teacher, their rabbi.
The disciples respond — “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” We can gather a couple of things about these answers. The good news is that most people seem to think that Jesus is special. They liken him to John the Baptist, now dead. Perhaps he is John come back from the dead. Others say Jesus is Elijah. This is even more special because Elijah is the expected guest at every passover meal. An empty place at the table is reserved for Elijah, just as the widow made a place in her home for the prophet. Elijah, they thought, would come before the Messiah of God, so his coming was an important sign for the Jews. If Jesus was Elijah, then God had not forgotten his people in the midst of Roman occupation and persecution.
Others said that Jesus was Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Probably they thought this because Jeremiah railed against the corrupt religious figures of his day, just as Jesus had pronounced condemnation on the Pharisees and Sadducees in his day.
What Do People Say About Jesus Today?
All of these answers remind us of what many people say about Jesus today. Many will say that Jesus was a great teacher. Or that Jesus was a great ethicist who gave us new ways of relating to one another with his admonition to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, repay evil with good, and forgive one another. Even some Christian scholars have described Jesus as a mystic, a seer, and a spiritual pioneer.
None of the apostles ever described Jesus in those terms. While Jesus certainly was a great teacher, a moral ethicist who broke new ground in human relations, and one who had a mysterious relationship with God, none of the apostles ever described Jesus in those terms. The Jesus Seminar is the latest attempt by serious theologians to separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus they believe has become hidden by time and myth. The Jesus Seminar, and the other attempts to find the historical Jesus, do not come to Jesus in the manner of the apostles, however.
Our attempts to “explain” Jesus to the rational western mind betray our own limitations, rather than discover who Jesus really is and was.
Who Do You Say I Am?
Jesus follows up his first question — Who do people say I am? — with a logical next question: “But who do you say that I am?” This question puts us on the spot, and that was Jesus’ intent. It is not enough to repeat what others have said about Jesus, we must come to our own belief about who this carpenter from Nazareth is.
Simon Peter speaks first, which is neither unusual nor a surprise. Saying more than he knows in his head, Peter’s mouth responds —
“You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Jesus quickly tells Peter he is blessed because he has not made that confession because of others, or because of his own intellect, but because God has revealed it to him.
But what did Peter actually say? First, Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ. In our reading of this text and others where the name Jesus Christ appears, we might mistakenly get the impression that Christ is Jesus second name, like Chuck Warnock, or John Smith.
But Christ is the Greek word that means Messiah, or the Anointed One. The big deal about that is the Messiah, or God’s Anointed, is the one the Jews were looking for. They were looking for the Messiah to come and save them. And, their idea of being saved is less spiritual and more political.
The Roman army occupies the land of the Jews in the first century. Antonio’s Fortress, the Roman garrison, shares a common wall with the most sacred site in Jerusalem for Jews, the Temple. The Jews consider themselves exiles in their own land, captives to an empire which allows them to practice their religion as long as it does not interfere with the goals or peace of the empire.
Their civil and religious leaders are puppets of the Roman regime, and the Roman eagle parades with impunity in the streets of the city of David. This is an outrage for the Jews, and they look to God to deliver them. The Jews believe their current bondage is no different from the 400 years they spent in slavery in Egypt; and no different than the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity.
Already many self-proclaimed messiahs have come and gone. Most gathered small bands of insurrectionists, and all were defeated before their plots could hatch.
Now Peter has identified Jesus as God’s Messiah. The Anointed of God, the One who will save God’s people from their sins, not to mention the Roman empire.
I Believe in Jesus Christ
So, when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” we are pronouncing our faith in both the historical figure, the carpenter from Nazareth, and in the fact that Jesus is God’s Anointed. Paul would say later that God has made him “both Lord and Christ.”
To believe in Jesus the man, the carpenter from Nazareth, means that we believe in a real person, who lived a real life, in a real first century world. But we’re making that confession 2,000 years later. The amazing thing is that the followers of Jesus, the apostles, believed in this Jesus during and after his death and resurrection. They were eye witnesses to the historical events of his teaching, his miracles, his compassion, his praying, his companionship, and his friendship. They lived with this man, ate with him, walked dusty roads together with him for three years. For them, he was real.
John as he begins his first letter says,
1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our[a] joy complete.
So, this Jesus was not a figment of their imaginations, nor a figure so lost in the recesses of time that he no longer bore any resemblance to a man. He was real, they had seen him, and now they were telling the story. But they also recognized him as the Messiah. Certainly in the day of his confession, Peter said more than he knew. But on the day of Pentecost, Peter stands and boldly declares —
22″Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But 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. — Acts 2:22-24 NIV
The book of Acts tells us that they were “cut to the heart” and 3,000 of those who heard Peter acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, too.
His Only Son
But, the creed, and the story, don’t stop there. John will proclaim that God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whosoever believes in him might be saved. Jesus is not just “a” son of God, he is the only son of God. Now we don’t even have time to begin today to unpack all the meaning in that phrase. Peter said Jesus was not only the Messiah, but “the son of the living God.”
Now there is a sense in which all of us are sons and daughters of God. At creation, God breathed into mankind the breath of life, made us in God’s own image, and stood us up in fellowship with Him.
But Jesus is different. Jesus is God’s only son. God has lots of children, but only one son, and his name is Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there.
The Bible says that this only son of God is also God himself. Paul in that great hymn to Jesus in Philippians 2 wrote:
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.
The phrase the NIV translates “being in very nature God” is more directly translated, “Who being in the very form of God,” In other words, this Jesus, whose name means “God is our salvation” is God Himself.
He is God’s only Son, co-equal with God the Father and God the Spirit. Now, if that hurts your head, don’t worry. You join a long line of folks who have been puzzled by the Trinity — the Three-in-One. We’re going to talk more about that later in this series, so hold those thoughts for another Sunday.
The point is — Jesus Christ is God’s unique revelation of himself to all humanity.
Jesus is unique in his beginning — he doesn’t have one.
Jesus is unique in his end — he doesn’t have one of those either.
Jesus is unique in his sovereignty — he is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus is unique in his sacrifice — he died so that you and I might live.
Jesus is unique in his resurrection from the dead — God raised him first, so that we might follow.
Jesus is unique in his place in history — we mark time from before and after his birth. And even scholastic attempts to take Jesus out of history by substituting BCE and CE for BC and AD, even those markers revolve around his place in history.
We could go on to talk about the uniqueness of his love, and of his coming again, but we’ll deal with those later in this series. But now we move on the the part of the confession that makes all the rest of it real — “our Lord.”
I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord
The confession of Peter that day was that Jesus was God’s Messiah, that Jesus was the Son of the Living God. But read the rest of this passage, for it betrays Peter’s heart. Listen to the words from Matthew’s gospel:
21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Peter was quite willing to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, for that meant God was going to save his people. And, Peter was quite willing to recognize that Jesus was the unique, one and only Son of God. After all, Peter has seen Jesus heal people, feed people, and even raise some from the dead.
But, Peter struggled with acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Peter could not bear the thoughts of Jesus’ suffering and death. And he had little understanding at all of what Jesus meant when he said he would be raised to life on the third day. Peter was determined that none of those things would happen to his friend, his teacher, and so he objected to Jesus. “Never, Lord,” Peter said.
And right there is the problem. Those two words — never and Lord — cannot go in the same sentence. The only response we can make to Jesus is “Yes, Lord.”
So, Jesus went on to explain that anyone who followed him must take up his cross, give up his life, and deny himself and follow Jesus. That’s what Lord means. A life devoted to serving the Master in whatever ways we can serve him. Sometimes we make the Lordship of Christ about us — our obedience, our choices, our lives. But Jesus is Lord, our only choice is to make him our Lord.
When my brother died on Monday, July 27, I was at home sitting in our den. Our granddaughters had just gone to bed, and the phone rang. The person on the other end identified herself as an investigator with the Fulton County Coroner’s Office. She told me that my brother had been found deceased that evening. I asked as many questions as I could think of, then hung up and called my father. I told him that Dana had died, and shared the few details I knew.
It was a call I knew would come some time, we just didn’t know when. As we made preparations for his funeral, we wondered what had taken his life. The autopsy results were “inconclusive” they said, and toxicology and histology tests had been ordered. My first thoughts were that he died of an overdose of something because he had come close to death several other times from overdoses.
I talked with Dana’s roommate by phone, and he promised to be at Dana’s funeral on Sunday afternoon, August 3. My father’s Sunday School class had prepared lunch for the family, just like we do here. Relatives from both my mother’s family and my father’s gathered in the fellowship hall for lunch. Dana’s roommate, Kip had made the drive from Atlanta, arriving just in time for lunch.
During the hour we had for lunch, Kip told us about Dana’s life in those last days. He and Dana enjoyed each other’s company, but Dana continued to go out on the streets of Atlanta at night. We all knew he was looking for some type of drugs, and Kip said he would ask Dana, “What are you looking for our there, Dana?”
But then Kip shared another story that confirmed our hope in Dana’s faith. Kip said that he had grown up in the church, had sung in the youth choir, and later the adult choir. But he said, he had never made a profession of faith in Christ in all those years. Kip talked about how he and Dana discussed history and the Bible on many occasions. Dana graduated from Mercer University with a BA in history, and from Southwestern Seminary, with a Masters in Religious Education.
But Kip also said that Dana talked to him about his faith, about his love for God. Kip said that it was after those long discussions with Dana, that he himself became a follower of Jesus, professing his faith in Christ for the first time.
Kip’s story was a great comfort to us because it confirmed for us that in the midst of his own struggles and despair, Dana still believed in God, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord. His inability to conquer his own personal demons did not prevent his faith in God.
At the funeral, Dana’s daughters had several verses of scripture printed and handed out. They were translations from a child’s edition of the Bible, which belongs to my great niece, Dana’s granddaughter. The first verse said — “You don’t have to be good at being good for God to love you.”
That is the God we believe in, the God who loves us, the God who in Jesus saves us, the God who reaches out to us when we are not capable of reaching back. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Amen.