Worship From Home – From Service of Prayer and Preaching (Page 260 – hymnal)
Readings from Holy Scripture:
Small Catechism: 2nd Article (page 322)
I Believe In Jesus Christ – II
Sermon – Mid-Week Lent – 3 (Apostles Creed, 2nd Article – II)
One day while walking with His disciples, Jesus asked them what may well be THE MOST IMPORTANT question that has ever been asked. Knowing the correct answer to this question is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
If we could take a poll of the people of this country and ask them just this one question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” I wonder how many different answers we would get and what they might be. And I also wonder how surprised or disappointed we might be at those responses. I also wonder, if we were to ask the same question just of the members of this congregation, what kind of responses would we get? So how about you? Who do you say Jesus is?
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mat.16:13-17)
The question concerning who Jesus is has been the central question that those who call themselves ‘Christians’ strive to answer correctly ever since He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. While sitting at table with the Pharisees, Jesus forgave the sins of the woman who washed his feet with expensive perfume and the Pharisees said, “Who is this who forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49). When He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the whole city was stirred up saying, “Who is this?” (Mat. 21:10). How do we answer those questions?
What makes Jesus such an enigma is that fact that He sure does appear to be a human being just like us. And yet He does things that no human being can do, in fact that only God can do. So, which is it then? Is He God or is He man? Is He divine or is He human? And the only correct answer to that question is ‘yes’ to both, and not some mixture of the two.
He is fully divine AND fully human – fully God and fully man all wrapped up in the one ‘PERSON,’ who’s name is Jesus, who lived in the Middle East, in the region called Galilee and Judea during the 1st Century A.D.
But even that doesn’t say nearly enough about who this Jesus is. We need to properly understand how these two ‘natures’ work together in the one person. Did God ‘POSSESS’ a man named Jesus, like men and women have been possessed by demons, but in this case it’s a good possession? Or did God ‘BECOME’ man? There’s a big difference between those two choices and a lot depends on getting the answer right.
And if God ‘BECAME’ man, what then happens to His divinity? And what kind of man is this? Is Jesus some kind of HYBRID God or HYBRID man – half God and half Man? Or is He ‘FULLY God and FULLY man?’ And if He is ‘fully God’ and ‘fully man,’ how do these two natures work together in the one person whose name is Jesus? A lot depends on getting this right?
So, please don’t think that these are the kinds of questions that theologians think up just to keep themselves employed? No, these are the VERY questions that everyone must be able to correctly answer so that they may correctly answer the most important question of all time, “who do you say Jesus is?”
As John puts it in the Prologue to his gospel, the 2nd person of the Trinity is ‘the Word’ who, “was with God and who was God.” God is eternal, without beginning and without end. This eternally divine Word took on our humanity WITHOUT SETTING ASIDE or losing any of His divinity. Not only has “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” says John, but the Word never ceases to be fully God. Even while He is “in the flesh,” John recalls the Transfiguration of Jesus and writes, “And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The true and awesome mystery of Jesus is this – in Him, the human nature that is entirely in common with our human nature except for sin, shares completely in the majesty and glory of God, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, the majesty and the glory of God shares entirely in the lowliness and limitations and even the death that our sin has brought onto all human beings.
That’s really important so let me repeat that. In Jesus, the human nature that is entirely in common with our human nature except for sin, shares completely in the majesty and glory of God, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, the majesty and the glory of God shares completely in the lowliness and limitations and even the death that our sin has brought onto all human beings.
Jesus’ DIVINE NATURE is never something ‘separate’ from His HUMAN NATURE, as though maybe His divinity is too holy and far removed to have anything to do with His humanity and His humanity is too lowly, too limited to have any connection to His majesty and glory.
The indescribable beauty of Jesus, that as St. Paul declares will one day cause every knee to bow, in heaven and on earth and even under the earth in wonder and amazement, is that the holy, holy, holy God BECAME man and took the form of a servant whose limitations and weaknesses made Him one of us men, even unto death, even death on a cross. In Jesus, we can rightly say that God so loved the world that He died for us and for our redemption.
This is why Luther has the head of the household teach his family the meaning of the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed by saying “I believe that Jesus Christ, TRUE GOD, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also TRUE MAN, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…”
Those who came shortly after Luther would put it like this: “We believe, teach, and confess that it was not a mere man who suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and was raised to God’s majesty and almighty power for us. But it was a man whose human nature has such a profoundly close, indescribable union and communion with God’s Son that it is one person with Him.” (FC Ep VIII:8)
This personal union of God and man makes the WONDERFUL MYSTERY OF JESUS even deeper and more sublime in a way that we struggle to comprehend and eventually end up simply saying, “I believe it because the bible tells me so.”
In Jesus, we see the mystery of the divine and the human at work AT THE SAME TIME. He who is eternal without beginning or end has a birthday that we celebrate and a day He died that we mourn. He who knows all things, grows in wisdom and stature. The entire world depends upon Him for its very existence, and yet, as an infant he is totally dependent on the virgin Mary to feed Him and Joseph to protect Him. According to His divine nature, Jesus fills all things, and yet during His 33 years of life on earth He is confined to one place at a time.
Of course the logical question that we want to put to Jesus in response to all of this is ‘why’? ‘Why did you, O God of gods and King of kings and Lord of lords, deign to humble yourself to BECOME man, and not even a ‘superman, but you emptied yourself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, you humbled yourself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:7-9) “Why?”
And the only answer is – “to redeem me, a lost and condemned person, to purchase and win me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil…” For the truth about Jesus is nothing less than this, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us…” but counting them against Himself. (2 Cor. 5:19).
It is with all of this foundation firmly laid that we are now ready to confess with understanding the most significant details that describe HOW God did all of this.
How did God become man? “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” This is how God became man. This is how the union of the divine and the human happened. Mary is the faithful servant of the Lord, whose unique service was to carry her Lord in her womb for nine months and then to push really hard when the contractions got to be about two or three minutes apart. That we are given Mary’s name and include it in our confession about Jesus, is not meant to be a special tribute to Mary so much as it is a way to say that this is not a symbolic or fictional story, but an actual, historical event that happened through a particular woman who lived in the village of Nazareth and who was betrothed to a man named Joseph and whose name was Mary.
What follows next are the ACTUAL, HISTORICAL EVENTS that lead to the cross of Christ and Him crucified – the very heart and soul of the gospel that is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate,” who is named in this creed to anchor it in actual reality when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. “He was crucified, died and was buried.”
This is the portion of the 2nd Article that we call the “HUMILIATION” of Jesus. A good understanding of what we mean by His ‘HUMILIATION’ only heightens our appreciation of His love for us.
When we speak of His suffering, death and burial as His ‘HUMILIATION,’ we do NOT mean to say that this is something to be ashamed of. Nor do we mean that there were times when His divine nature was INACCESSIBLE to Him, or that maybe He never actually possessed these divine attributes to begin with.
No, by speaking of His suffering, death and burial as His ‘HUMILIATION,’ we are saying that He purposefully and intentionally did not exercise what was rightfully His and fully available to Him AS HE COULD HAVE. He could have saved Himself and come down from the cross as the hecklers taunted Him to do. But for our sake – for our redemption, He did not. He paid the price for the sin of the world IN FULL, as only He who is fully God and fully Man could do by NOT using His divine power as He certainly could have done.
If however that were as far as God’s love for us in Jesus had gone, we would still be lost and, as Paul says, “of all people the most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19). And so we also confess, “He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.”
We call this His ‘EXALTATION.’ These events highlight the whole truth – that the same Jesus who suffered, was crucified died and was buried, has been ‘highly exalted’ by the Father. Now, as the One who bears our humanity in Himself, He proclaims His victory over Satan in hell and WE SHARE IN THAT VICTORY. He resolves the curse of sin by conquering death and the grave – AND WE REAP THE SPOILS OF HIS VICTORY. He takes our humanity in His divinity to the right hand of the throne of the Father where He constantly intercedes for us even while He sends us the Holy Spirit – AND WE RECEIVE HIS BLESSED CARE AND PROTECTION AND THE GIFT OF FAITH THAT GIVES US HIS PEACE – until He comes again to bring this bring us to heaven.
“Who do you say that I am?” Here is the most important question that everyone will one day have to give an answer to. How blessed we are to have the right answer given to us in the simple words of the Apostles Creed.