The Ascension

he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father

 

In our study through the Apostles’ Creed, we have now covered the work of Jesus up to His resurrection. The miraculous incarnation set the foundations for the redemptive work of Christ. It provided the platform by which God the Son became a man and lived a sinless life. The crucifixion was the means through which redemption would come. Because Jesus did live a sinless life without blemish, He is the only human in history not deserving of death. Yet because of His great love for us, Christ died in our place, making atonement and propitiation for our sins. However, this atoning sacrifice would not have been proven effective if the resurrection did not happen. Paul is correct in saying that without the resurrection we should be most pitied of all men.[1]

Indeed, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, I believe that we often leave out one more step in the redemptive work of Christ: His ascension. Rarely have I heard sermons explicitly expounding upon the significance of the ascension of Christ. Too often we view the ascension as simply a historical fact for why Jesus is not on the earth right now, and we fail to see the significant theological implications and effects of Christ’s ascension to into glory. But the creed sets forth Christ’s ascension as an essential tenant of the faith; my aim, therefore, will be to give an account of the effects and the implications of the ascension of Christ upon the lives of His followers.

THE ACCOUNT OF THE ASCENSION

Our primary text from which we will springboard into other sections of Scripture will be Acts 1, verses one through eleven. This section of Scripture provides us with the clearest description of the actual act of Christ’s ascension; therefore, we will first look at some important aspects from this text before launching into the effects and implications of the ascension.

First, verse 3 tells us that there was a forty-day period of time between the resurrection and ascension, and during that time period, Christ spoke to them about the kingdom of God. It is important to note the patient love of Christ being reflected in this statement. We know from other Scriptures, which we will discuss later, that Christ was not fully glorified until He ascended. If we couple that fact with the severity of the humiliation received by Christ on the cross, one would imagine Him wanting to receive His full glory as quickly as possible. However, Jesus does not operate as we do; He was continuously selfless even after His resurrection. He stayed upon the earth another forty days, teaching and instructing His friends and disciples about the kingdom of God. Accounts such as Jesus’ teaching of two disciples while on the road to Emmaus give us an idea of what Christ’s post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry must have looked like: revealing to them the great plan of salvation as fulfilled through Him.

Second, in verse 6 we see that the disciples, even after forty extra days of learning from Jesus, still did not understand fully the work that Jesus had done and was still going to do. Though Jesus taught them for forty days about the kingdom of God, they still could not stop focusing upon the kingdom of Israel. They longed to see the day that God would fully establish Israel as the chief nation upon the earth, with Christ as their king. However, this was not the intent of Jesus, at least for that time. Christ’s focus was, instead, upon the kingdom of God that would not only impact Israel but also Samaria and the ends of the earth. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Christ will one day return as a ruling king to bring all of the earth under His submission, but such was not the plan during the days of the disciples.

Third, verse 9 describes the literal ascension of Christ into the heavens. Though some people today may find difficulty with this account of Jesus ascending into the clouds and vanishing, we cannot ignore that the gospel writers portray this event as concrete fact. Granted, there is a level of mystery to this verse. For instance, what exactly does it mean that a cloud took Him out of their sight? Since we know now that beyond our atmosphere is a massive cosmos, we assume that He did not physically ascend beyond the atmosphere but rather was taken supernaturally into the heavenly realm, which is beyond human sight. Nevertheless, since the ascension clearly involved the supernatural working of God, it is mysterious but true. We must take the ascension as clear, historical fact, just as Luke does here.

I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU

There is no doubt that Christ’s ascension would have naturally caused worry and sorrow among the disciples. We see some evidence of that fact in verse 10, where it appears that the disciples are awestruck because of having just witnessed the ascension of their Lord into heaven. Though of course, we read at the end of Luke that the disciples left the ascension rejoicing and worshipping Jesus. How are we to explain the reason for their joy, when obviously it was difficult for them to lose the physical presence of Jesus?

We receive part the answer in the first verses of John 14. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about His departure from them.  Apparently, this disheartened them because Jesus begins chapter 14 by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He then proceeds to tell them that He will be going to His Father to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Throughout history, the Father’s house has been most commonly seen to be a reference to heaven, and I see no reason why it would not be so. Thus, Jesus is indicating that He would be leaving them prepare a place for them in heaven.

Now, we must be careful with this text because some might take it to mean that the reason for Jesus’ 2000-year delay is because He hasn’t finished preparing all of the rooms in heaven. That seems to be a ridiculously interpretation of this text. Instead, Jesus is using imagery of Jewish matrimony to describe His relationship with the disciples. At that time, it was common for the bridegroom to return to his father’s house following the couple’s engagement, where he would prepare an addition onto the house where he and his bride will live. Thus, Jesus is using this imagery to describe something of the result of His ascension into heaven: Jesus’ ascension into heaven prepared the way for us also to enter into heaven.

Too often, we read this text and are too focused upon what Jesus might be describing heaven to be like. In fact, I heard many people, on multiple occasions, declare that they cannot wait for their mansion in heaven. The problem is that they placed their focus upon the wrong part of the text. Jesus’ point here is that because He is going before the disciples, He will also return for the disciples. The emphasis is not about what heaven is like but rather that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a guarantee of His bringing us into heaven. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection, so His ascension guarantees our eternal home with Him.

But how did the ascension accomplish this? Hebrews 1 verse 3 seems to give us some indication. It claims that the act of ascension was Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This means that the very act of Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father was symbolizing the completion of His atoning work on our behalf. Praise God for the ascension, confirming the accomplishment of the cross and resurrection!

THE PRIESTLY INTERCESSION OF CHRIST

Having seen that Christ’s ascension serves as our guarantee of heaven with Him, we now turn to the second reason for the importance of the ascension: the priestly intercession of Christ. The task of explaining this role of Christ is far too great for this short sermon, but I will try to cover the overarching purpose for it. The priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of the book of Hebrews so I strongly suggest rereading the entire book for a better understanding of this matter.

However, there are two great texts within Hebrews for viewing this matter. First, Hebrew 9:11-12 tells us that Christ, our high priest, entered into the very presence of God (not simply the man-made Holy of Holies, found within the temple), bringing before God the sacrifice of His very blood to make propitiation for our sins. The weight of this sacrifice was so great that He only needed to make one ascension into the holy place and only needed to offer that one sacrifice in order to secure “an eternal redemption.” This is the significance of speaking of only one act of Jesus ascending, He did not need to do so repeatedly. There was no need for Christ to repeatedly enter into the holy place. His sacrifice was sufficient.

Still the high priestly work of Christ does not end there. Though obviously there is major and primary significance in the mediatorial work of Christ through the presenting of His blood on our behalf, such does not completely encapsulate the intercession of Christ for us. The final two verses of Hebrews 2 also gives us insight into the continuous high priestly work of Christ. There, the writer of Hebrews portrays Christ as being a high priest that relates to us and is merciful upon us. Since Jesus is fully man as well as fully God, He is able to be a sympathetic high priest. This means that Jesus’ work is also to continuously aid in our sanctification by petitioning the Father on our behalf.

THE GLORIFICATION OF CHRIST

The third effect of the ascension that we will consider is the glorification of Christ. We know, especially from texts such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, that the end result of Christ’s humility unto death was the exaltation and the glorification of Christ; however, we rarely view the ascension as having such an integral role in the glorification of Jesus. Verses 20-22 of the first chapter of Ephesians provided a clear link to these two concepts. Paul states here that following the resurrection Christ was seated at the “right hand in heavenly places” (the ascension) and that from this seat He is far above all powers and authority. The act of Christ ascending to the right hand of the Father is the very act of placing all other things under His feet. The ascension proclaims that Christ is Lord and that all things are in subjection to Him.

However, with this discussion also comes the question of why do things appear to be outside of the control of Christ. After all, if Jesus is truly as exalted as the New Testament describes, why does everyone not yet proclaim Him Lord over everything? The answer is simply within the word “yet”. Things do not always appear to be under Christ sovereign rule for now, but there will come a day when we will finally see every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Thus, the ascension of Christ is both the proclamation of His present glorification at the right hand of the Father and also of His future glorification as every creature in existence declares Him to be Lord.

THE SENDING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

For the final effect of the ascension, we turn our attention once more to the main text of our study: Acts 1. The ESV divides these first eleven verses of chapter one into three paragraphs. Found within each of those paragraphs is a concept that is key not only to understanding the significance of Christ’s ascension but also for understanding the nature of the Christian life as a whole: the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the mentioned often in this text because He is of absolute importance.

The first paragraph tells us that the power through which Jesus accomplished His entire earthly ministry was through the Holy Spirit, and since that is the case, the next two paragraphs are utterly astonishing. In verses 5 and 8, Jesus confirms to His disciples His previous promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them. This means that the disciples were ordered to wait for the very same power that empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke goes so far as to imply that, through the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles in Acts would be the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ! This should give us an entirely new depth of meaning when we call the church the body of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are meant to be the physical presence of Jesus in the world, even today.

Jesus gives emphasis to the importance of the Holy Spirit whenever He tells the disciples that it was better for them that He was departing from them because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them.[2] This is an incredible statement. Surely, there are times when each of us would love to be able to speak to Jesus face to face, to be able personally to be His disciple, yet Jesus Himself tells us that having the Holy Spirit is better.

Why is this so?

It is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit is God Himself inhabiting our bodies just as the presence of God once occupied the temple in Jerusalem. This should be an incredible thought for any believer that God would choose to dwell within us! This Spirit within us is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[3] He is the One by whom we are able to call God our Father. We also learn from Romans 8 that He makes prayers on our behalf to the Father, since we often do not know how to pray as we ought. In short, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the life of the believer. We simply cannot live the Christian walk without Him.

CONCLUSION

Finally, brothers, after we have seen the astounding effects of the ascension of Christ, upon both Jesus Himself and every believer in His name, we must give question to how they shape and mold our everyday lives. First, if we claim that Christ is the glorious treasure of our lives, do our hearts show to be with Him? Are our hearts within Him in His heavenly realm, where He has prepared the way for us to go?

Second, if He has truly ascended into heaven in order that we might forever dwell with Him, do we long for such? Do we long to be eternally with the infinitely glorious Christ in never ending worship of His supremacy and majesty?

Third, or perhaps do we look too longingly for the His return? Are we like the disciples who stood looking at the sky, seemingly in wait for His immediate return? Or will we in true obedience serve the Lord and make Him known since His return can come at any time?

Fourthly, since we are given the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, how seriously are we taking that work? Are we faithfully going to the ends of the earth to carry the name of the Jesus, the ascended and glorified Christ?

Finally, if we have seen that the ascension is evidence of Christ’s completed work, do we trust in that completed work? Do we have full reliance in Jesus for our salvation, knowing that our greatest works are worth nothing at all?

We believe in the risen Christ, who ascended into heaven and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father as our ruling King and merciful High Priest.

Do you believe?

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] John 16:7

[3] Ephesians 1:14

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The Resurrection

On the third day he rose again

 

Having now addressed Jesus as the eternal Son of God who became flesh and was crucified for our sins, we now come to His resurrection. For Jesus’ first disciples, this event was significant enough to shift their weekly worship from Saturday (the Sabbath Day) to Sunday (which they then called the Lord’s Day). Indeed, we continue today to gather every Sunday morning to celebrate and worship Jesus as our risen Savior and Lord.

Like the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus fixes itself as a central matter of the Gospels. All four give an account of His rising to life. Why is this? Why is the resurrection an essential doctrine of Christianity? If His death atoned for our sins, why must we also believe that Jesus rose to life?

To quote Augustine, “He [Jesus] showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope.” No better word exists to describe the glories of the resurrection than hope, an eager and expectant faith in what is still to come. In this study, we will see that the resurrection is our trustworthy, living, and eternal hope.

OUR TRUSTWORTHY HOPE

First, we must see that the resurrection vindicates Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus made audacious claims about Himself.

He declared Himself to be the Son of God, which the Jews clearly understood to be a claim of being equal with God (John 5:18).

He claimed that He was eternally existing with the Father (John 17:5).

He used God’s holy name for Himself. One of the most notable examples of this occurs at the end of John 8 after the Jews question how Jesus could claim to have seen Abraham. Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Such a statement was a direct reference to the God’s self-declaration to Moses in Exodus 3.

He claimed the authority to forgive sins. Once again, this was a claim of divinity since all sin is a direct offense against God and must, therefore, be ultimately forgiven by God.

He called Himself the Son of Man in direct reference to the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

He stated that He would destroy and rebuild the temple (which was dwelling place of God’s presence among His people) in three days.

He claimed that Moses, the prophets, and the Scriptures all pointed to and centered around Him. In John 5:39-40, Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Then in verse 46, He claimed: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”

Given all these claims, Lewis made the argument that Jesus could only be one of three things:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. …Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

The resurrection is perhaps our greatest confirmation that Jesus was who He said He was. In addition to these many claims, Jesus also prophesied repeatedly about His death and resurrection. He warned His disciples beforehand what would occur in order that they would remember His words later and believe.

And that is exactly what happened.

Upon His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples scattered, fleeing for their lives. Yet after He rose from the grave, they each suffered horrific deaths because they would not cease proclaiming Jesus to be their risen Lord. The force and authority of these Galileans to reshape the Roman Empire could have been easily stopped if a body could have been found by the Roman authorities. Yet they could not.

But, you may ask, couldn’t the disciples have just hidden or burned Jesus’ body in order to say that He had risen? For what purpose and gain would the disciples have created such an elaborate hoax? For the vast sums of wealth that they received from those who converted to Christianity? Indeed, there is little indication that the Apostles were ever shown much more than suffering, rejection, and poverty throughout the remainder of their lives.

Furthermore, what influence or power would lying about Jesus’ rising have given them? Like Jesus Himself, they also became despised and rejected by men, the refuse of the world.

And how would they have bribed the more than five hundred people who claimed to have also seen the resurrected Jesus?

Indeed, the best and most reasonable assumption would be that these disciples saw the reality of Jesus as the Christ, as the Lamb that was slain and yet lives now and forevermore. The resurrection, more than the volumes that could have been written on the miracles and signs of Jesus, was and still is the greatest proof that Jesus was everything that He claimed to be, that He was the only Son of God. This is our trustworthy hope.

OUR LIVING HOPE

Second, the resurrection is essential because it presents to us a living Savior. Jesus not only died for our sins; He also now lives to forgive our sins. He did not simply shed His blood; He lives still to apply it for our redemption.

Too often, we can subtly begin to view Jesus as an especially important historical figure. We may affirm His resurrection, but subconsciously we don’t think of Him as being still alive today. Perhaps we consider Him as more of a purely spiritual being who returned to heaven and listens to our prayers. While it is true that the Father and the Spirit are spirit and not flesh, Jesus has eternally incarnated Himself. His resurrection did not, therefore, undo the incarnation. His body came back to life in a glorified state. He was certainly different as His interactions with the disciples reveal, but He is still flesh and blood. He ate with His disciples and allowed Thomas to touch His wounds. And He is still physically alive today. He is alive and in the flesh at the Father’s right hand.

Upon this living hope hangs our justification. After all, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection is proof of our justification since it verifies Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sins upon the cross. It is our tangible evidence of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Indeed, so necessary is Christ’s resurrection to our redemption that Paul declared:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)

Without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in sin. Without Jesus’ triumph over death, the atonement is incomplete. Returning to our point about Jesus’ vindication, if Jesus stayed dead, we are then lying about God and His works. We are claiming that God has offered redemption when He has not. To lie about the resurrection would be adding misrepresenting God to our ever-growing stack of unforgiven sins.

But Jesus did not stay dead. He rose on the third, living now to be “the mediator of a new covenant” with His own “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Recall that Abel’s blood called out to God for vengeance upon Cain, and rightfully so. Jesus had even more right than Abel to call for vengeance, since He was slain not by His own brother but by those whom He created, and yet His blood cries out for forgiveness instead. In fact, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, is now our living high priest who forever lives to usher us into the most holy place by His blood. Through Christ, we can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This is glorious news! With Christ as our living high priest and mediator, we have unhindered access to the Father’s throne to receive mercy and grace from His hand. Indeed, the only hinderance we face is our own pride. The hymn speaks truly when it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit / Oh what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer.” To our own harm, we pridefully remain prayerless, choosing instead to handle our own problems. May we come to understand the hope and confidence that we have in Christ so that we would revel in the joy of being able to speak to God as our Father. Let prayer never be a religious duty upon our backs but rather a marvelous privilege granted to us by our Lord.

Furthermore, let us obey the summons of Paul in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Our minds must also enter into the holy place of God. We do this by meditating upon the Word of God, by pondering it day and night.

These two actions form the means of our communion with God, which has now been renewed by the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, let us speak to God in prayer, and let us listen to Him speak through His Word.

OUR ETERNAL HOPE

Third, by the resurrection sealing our redemption, it reveals the hope of our own resurrection. Paul’s treatment on the necessity of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is directly bound to the importance of our resurrection. In fact, Paul’s argument is that one necessitates the other. Without the resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. If Christ was not resurrected, then we are without redemption. Our bodily resurrection is the capstone of our redemption; without it, our redemption is incomplete. And without our resurrection, as Paul says, “then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:18-19).

There is a growing trend to make Christianity an exclusively earthly religion. Somewhat mistaking the Christian faith for secular humanism, they argue that we must focus solely upon this life and leave whatever may then come to God. Such a view is as profoundly unbiblical as the gnostic rejection of the physical. Do not allow valid differing theories of how the end will come to dissuade you from the reality that it will come. We will be resurrected like Jesus was resurrected.

This resurrection will differ from Lazarus’ rising, since he died again. Our resurrection will be, instead, to eternal life. We will be given new life, forever to live in a new creation. Such a re-creation is necessary since the Fall broke the cosmos. All of creation has been groaning for new life, to be remade.

And Jesus is the first fruit of that coming joy. His resurrection is a constant reminder that we too will be resurrected. Just as Jesus’ perishable body was raised into an imperishable one, so too will ours be. This is the swallowing up of death in victory, the destruction of its sting.

Interestingly, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 15 with verse 58, which says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Biblical hope is never purely futuristic. It always provides fuel for present obedience. Such must the resurrection be for us. Since the resurrection of Christ has already sealed our resurrection, since the end of our story has already been written, therefore we must be unyielding in our work for Christ in this life.

What is the work of the Lord? More than anything else, it is the final command He left to His people: to make disciples. Indeed, such joy overflowed from the Apostles upon seeing their risen Lord that they could do nothing else. They could not cease speaking of the wondrous reality that had occurred before their very eyes. God Himself had taken on flesh, died in their place, and risen to life that they might live as well. How could they contain such good news within themselves! Likewise, the glorious reality of the resurrection must propel our evangelism and discipleship.

In doing so, we must guard ourselves from treating Christ as just another preference among many available. This is the temptation of our secular age, as Alan Noble warns. We can so easily begin to view Christianity as merely one of many valid ways of seeing the world. Of course, we may not consciously declare other beliefs to be legitimate, but practically that is how we live. Ever so subtly, we have begun to take the secularism bait of making belief systems a choice of the individual alone, and the result is that we live as though following Jesus is merely one path to life and fulfillment.

But the reality of Jesus’ resurrection destroys that thinking. If the Gospels are true and Jesus is who He says He is, then Jesus is truth. Not a truth. Not one of many. He is truth itself, and there is no other. This must be the nature of our work in proclaiming Christ. The only option that Jesus gives is to either follow Him or reject Him. His call through us is to take up a cross, to live a crucified life, to die daily, but also to know Him who is eternal life.

This labor will not be in vain. Jesus has already risen in victory, and one day we will be raised with Him. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Until that day, we proclaim, steadfast and immovable, that the risen Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus rose to life on the third day? Do you believe in the reality of His resurrection? Do you believe that Jesus is alive today as the mediator between you and the Father? Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees your resurrection, and are you joyfully sharing this eternal hope with others?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God, who rose to life on the third day, triumphing once and for all over sin, death, and the grave for our redemption.

Do you believe?

The Crucifixion

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.

 

Bruce Shelley opens his account of church history with this statement: “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” Indeed, it is no small fact that all four Gospels give extensive time and detail to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. If the Gospels, therefore, provide the very center of the biblical narrative and if the passion of Jesus Christ is the central event of the Gospels, then those dark days must be the most significant in all the Bible (and, thus, all of history). Paul affirms this by calling the word (or message) of the cross the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and claiming to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST

We must remind ourselves regularly of the death of Christ for our sins, yet we must never glance over the fact that Jesus suffered either. His death via crucifixion was not a pleasant or peaceful one. It was bloody, vicious, and sickening. Jesus suffered. He anguished and agonized.

Rome maintained its vast empire by having roads to quicken travel and by using the cross to discourage rebellion. The cross perfected wholistic torture. The body suspended upon raised planks of wood by nails driven through the person’s hands and feet. The scourging preceding crucifixion would rip skin and flesh to shreds, causing the condemned to lose enough blood to induce hypovolemic shock as their heart strained to provide enough blood to the vital organs, which would begin to ache with the strain of maintaining life. This trauma would cause fluid to build up in the lungs so that breathing could only be done by pushing against the nails in the feet. Between the constant lack of oxygen, the splinters digging into open wounds, and nails grinding against nerves, the cross punished more than the body; it broke the mind, the spirit, and the soul. After being suspended naked for all to see, the dead body would be thrown into the landfill, reminding everyone that this person had become nothing more than garage to be disposed of.

This was the suffering, the passion, of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

The addition of suffering under Pontius Pilate into the Apostles’ Creed is significant. Pilate was the Roman prefect who governed over the province of Judaea from 26-36 AD. This subtly reminds us of the historical reality of what we believe. Jesus is not a myth. He is not a fanciful tale in line with the work of the Brothers Grimm. Jesus lived. He existed. He walked this earth two thousand years ago. He was executed by the command of Rome, the empire that continues to influence us today. The historical reality of Jesus is clear. The Gospels are themselves historical records of Jesus’ life. This Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Next, the creed tells us that Jesus descended to the dead or, as many translations read, to hell. There are three primary views as to what is described here. First, it can be viewed as adding emphasis to what was already stated, that Jesus really died. He did not swoon or sleep; His body lay in the grave lifeless. Second, we could read it as Jesus descending into the holding place of the dead, a kind of limbo. This is typically coupled with the belief that Jesus went to liberate the Old Testament saints from their place in Abraham’s Bosom and bring them into the presence of the Father. Third, it can be viewed as Jesus descending into hell, the place of torment for our sake.

1 Peter 3:19 is a text that inspires this phrase, which states that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Also Psalm 16:10 reads, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption”, which Peter explicitly applies to Jesus in Acts 2:31. Sheol, it should be noted, is the Hebrew equivalent of Hades, since both can mean the grave in abstract and the holding place of the dead.

Which then is the correct understanding? We can’t say. Such things will remain a mystery to us in this life. While none of the interpretations are heretical[1], I would encourage us to hold to the first. It is crucial to Christian orthodoxy that we believe that Jesus really died, and anything beyond that can too easily dive into dangerous speculation.

THE NECESSITY OF ATONEMENT

Now that we’ve addressed what the creed says about Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we must now ask the question: Why? Was the cross really necessary? Behind this question lies the necessity of atonement, which is the idea of repairing or satisfying a wrong that has been committed. While church history has produced numerous theories for how Christ’s suffering and death atoned for our sins, all Christians must agree that Jesus did atone for our sins by His crucifixion.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3). The death of Jesus as reparation for our sins is of “first importance” to the Christian faith. This truth cannot be negotiated or removed without the entire message of Christianity collapsing into pieces. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Without faith in the atoning death of Christ, one cannot truly be a Christian.

What then does it mean to believe in the atoning death of Christ?

First, a proper understanding of sin is required. Many branches of Christianity debate the extent of sin’s corruption, yet every Christian must acknowledge that our sin has severed our communion with God beyond repair. Our active choice to disobey the Most High removes us from His presence and eternal life in Him.

Further, we must also affirm our own inability to undo the effects of sin. We reject Christ’s death as being merely an example for pointing us down the path for reuniting with God. Such a stance views Jesus as nothing more than a spiritual guru showing us the way. It forces Christianity to become Western Buddhism. But Jesus did not come to make us enlightened; He came to restore our lost communion with the Father. We were utterly incapable of crossing the chasm between us and God caused by our sin, but Jesus did that very thing for us. Therefore, every Christian must recognize that “Christ died for ours sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The theory of penal substitution, I believe, gives the most encompassing view of how the Scriptures present Jesus’ payment of sin[2]. For instance, Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest teachings on the crucifixion, even though Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ. Verses 4-6 could almost serve as a definition of penal substitution:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Our sin is an act of cosmic treason against God. Therefore, each sin requires a just retribution by God. To do anything else would make God unjust. Jesus, however, gives Himself in substitution for us. This is what is meant by penal substitution. Jesus took the penalty of our sins upon Himself, satisfying the justice of God.

Or we could simply quote the words of Isaiah once more, “he was crushed for our iniquities.”

Unfortunately, some argue that this view of the atonement is nothing more than divine child abuse. Indeed “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (v. 10), but the Father did not send Jesus as an unwilling sacrifice. As said already, Jesus came to give Himself as a ransom for us. Furthermore, Jesus claimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:11; 18). The plan to rescue us from our sins was a deliberate and loving act of the Triune God.

Why then did Jesus suffer the humiliating death on a cross?

To offer Himself as a substitute for us, to save us from our sins.

Second, we must also believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Multiple times, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus died once for all of our sins, often contrasting the crucifixion with the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament. Unlike those sacrifices that needed to be made constantly, Jesus’ blood fully and completely paid the penalty of sin. If you are a follower of Christ, this means that He has already pardoned every sin that you have committed, are committing, or will ever commit. He cleansed it all in one horrific sacrifice upon the cross. This means that our best efforts to work off any guilt over our sin is, in reality, an act of scorning the cross. To attempt covering up sin on our own is effectively a declaration that Jesus’ death was not enough. It reflects a false view of the gospel.

A CALL TO COME AND DIE

How then are we to respond to the crucifixion of Christ?

In Matthew 16, after telling His disciples that He must suffer and die, Jesus then teaches them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). Notice that this is a blanket proclamation for all of His disciples, even us today. Whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny himself, grab a cross, and follow Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously summarized this by saying, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He goes on to explain that while some followers of Christ may be called to a martyr’s death, every Christian is called to die to self. Following Christ means the denial of self, the crucifixion of self. Yet from this death comes new life in Christ. As Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). The Christian life, therefore, is very much a new birth, a death and resurrection. Our new lives are now marked by following Christ.

But how are we to follow Christ? What does being His disciple look like? More than any other factor, I would argue that a disciple of Christ is in love with His Word. Donald Whitney affirms this by stating, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture” (22). Indeed, this is because Bible is the inspired and collected writings of God Himself to us. It is the Bible that prophesied the coming of Christ and presents Him to us, crucified for our sins. The Bible gives to the teachings and commands of Jesus our Lord. In order to follow Jesus and deny ourselves, we must know what He has commanded of us. We must know the Scriptures. We must be saturated in them. To know and submit to the Word is the context for every step we take as we follow Jesus. We must daily crucify our wisdom and passions in order to abide in the wisdom and passion of Jesus our Redeemer. Many Christians will not suffer as martyrs, yet we are all called to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ through following Christ instead of self.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus died for your sins? Are you following Christ? Are you denying yourself, crucifying yourself with Christ daily? Is your confidence entirely in Jesus’ finished work on the cross?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the God-man, who, suffered, was crucified, died, and buried as a substitute for us, paying the penalty of our sins. We, therefore, can never stop speaking of the wondrous cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you believe?


[1] Some may shirk to hear me claim that the view that Jesus descended hell as a place of suffering is not heretical. Word of Faith teachers have recently made this understanding so uncomfortable by explicitly claiming that Jesus needed to suffer in hell for our sins. This, of course, takes the focus away from the cross and is incredibly dangerous. However, the traditional understanding for this view by theologians like John Calvin is that descended into hell to “fight hand to hand the powers of hell and the terror of everlasting death” (Institutes, 251). This falls in line with one of the most popular theories of atonement: Christus Victor.

[2] This does not mean that the other theories of atonement are without biblical validity. Indeed, we should always strive to speak holistically about Christ’s atoning work. Just as Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, He is also our ransom from sin and the victor over sin.

When Technology Replaces the Holy Spirit

Leaving pieces behind, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of sermon preparation. Yet for the sake of clarity and precision, some must be left on the cutting room floor. The following is one of those.

While preparing to preach on the incarnation, I wanted to show how God becoming flesh proves that our physical bodies are important and not innately evil. Two threads emerged from this general idea. One addressed the need to both enjoy the pleasures of our physical existence and to discipline ourselves against abusing those same enjoyments. The other targeted how, like the people of Babel, we use technology to try to transcend our bodies. Ultimately, the first felt more cohesive to the rest of the sermon, so the second one was scrapped. Yet the idea of technology replacing the role of the Spirit in our lives is worth sharing (and considering), so here it is.


To have a physical body means being limited. The people of Babel understood this all too well. After learning how to form strong and durable bricks, they began to use this new technology to build a tower. This proto-skyscraper was meant to ascend into the heavens; it was to be their stairway to the throne of God, a means of making a name for themselves. They not only wrongly believed that they could transcend their earthly limitations; they also believed that God was small enough to be reached by human effort. God, of course, displays their tininess by stooping down to disassemble their tower and scatter them across the earth.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Babel has never left us. Today, more than ever, we continue to use technology with the hope of breaking free from our fleshly limitations. We keep creating towers to the heavens, attempting to transcend any need of our Creator, while also trying to stay united together in the midst of a world broken by sin.

Consider a few examples.

Electric lights break us free from the tyranny of day and night. For millennia, our bodies were guided by the patterns of our Circadian Rhythm, but now we create our own schedules. We dictate the best time to sleep and stay awake.

Cars and planes liberate us from the confines of distance. Being able to drive across town at any moment or fly across country (and even oceans) within 24 hours has expanded our village of family and friends onto a much wider area. Unfortunately, the actual village lifestyle of the past is vanishing into a memory. Although we may be able to drive to one another’s home at any time, it’s quite a different practice than “just dropping by to say hi” while on a walk through the neighborhood.

Phones and social media guard us against solitude and seclusion. They ensure that we are never truly alone, yet they also ensure that a significant portion of our communications happen through a buffer. Face-to-face conversation was once called simply conversation, but we now speak to one another primarily without all the nonverbals of facial expressions and body posture, which thankfully were never very important for conversation anyway (side note: since you can’t see my face… yes, that is sarcasm).

Modern medicine protects us from the pain and discomfort of symptoms. Unfortunately, the prevalence of pain medication seems to ignore the reality that pain is warning signal for something that has gone wrong. We treat headaches and stomach pains without much consideration as to what our body is trying to tell us. We snuff out cold and flu symptoms without pondering why our immune system was weak enough to allow such pathogens to survive so long.

Grocery stores assure us that food is plentiful and easily accessible. This appearance is by design, since we are more likely to buy produce if the display is fully stocked. Of course, this leads to grocery stores forming 10% of the 133 billion pounds of food (or 1/3 of all that is produced) that we throw away. All of this is to say nothing about our consumption without all the mess of having to grow or kill whatever we eat.

The list could go on.

Our modern lifestyle gives us greater comfort and luxury than any ancient royalty could ever possess. We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement in history. And none of these things are wrong or sinful in and of themselves. Having too much food is certainly a better problem than not having enough. Even two decades ago, medicine would not have been advanced enough to save my dad’s life after his accident. Electricity, transportation, and communications have made our vast network of civilization possible. But neither was the development of brickmaking the sin of Babel; their sin was attempting to be gods, trying to transcend free from their physical limitations. Similarly, whenever we use technology to sedate the hungers and needs of our flesh entirely, we end up rejecting God as our Provider and Creator. Our gadgets help us perpetuate the lie that we can save ourselves.

But God alone offers us both the sustenance and transcendence that we crave. In fact, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 plays out like an anti-Babel. The tower was an attempt to reach the heavens, but the indwelling Spirit truly carries our prayers to the very throne of God. The people of Babel were united by a common language, but the Spirit forms us into a new people from every nation, tribe, and language on earth. The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, but the Spirit enables us to joyously glorify the Triune God. Also, by the Spirit, we are reminded that we will one day be given glorified bodies as we dwell with God and His new creation for all eternity.
Through the Spirit, we both transcend this present reality while simultaneously becoming more firmly embodied in it. In fact, we could simply say that by the ordaining of the Father, through the work of Christ, and by the empowering of the Spirit, we are entering back into reality itself, communion with God, which then empowers us to be united with one another. The Spirit connects us and gives deeper meaning to our lives than technology ever can.

Sadly, technology will continue to be used as a substitute for the Holy Spirit to break us free from the limitations of our bodies. But, as Christ’s followers, we must reject this and keep technology within its place. We must use it to cultivate and subdue both the earth and ourselves, but it cannot save us. It cannot bridge the hostility caused by our sin. It cannot take us beyond the limits of our flesh.

Use technology to serve you, not save you.

And embrace the limits of your body. They are displaying your need for the Creator.

The Incarnation

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary

 

Our journey through the Apostles’ Creed brings us now into a multipart study of the life and work of Jesus, which, of course, begins at His birth. The virgin birth, which Lewis called the Grand Miracle, has long been given the rightful attention of theologians. As we will see, without this opening act of God, the gospel is undone. The incarnation of Christ and His virgin birth is not a belief to be negotiated; it is the wonder of all wonders. It is our hope and our redemption.

THE DOCTRINE

Far more can be said about Christ’s birth than what we have time for here; we will, therefore, paint with broad strokes, attempting to cover the basics of this doctrine. In doing so, let us begin with the title given for this event by which we still divide all of human history: the incarnation. Incarnation means the taking on of flesh, of a body. A central text from which we can center this study is John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This Word was both distinct from God, while also being God (1:1). This Word was the means by which God created all things, such that nothing created was created without Him (which can only mean that He, like God, was not created). This Word is Jesus, as is made clear in verse 17. He has brought life to men, shining light into our darkness. God the Son, the eternal Word, has displayed His glory to the world that He made, such glory that could only radiate from the Son as He comes from the Father. How did He reveal to us His gracious and true glory? He became flesh and dwelt among us. God the Son became human. This is the incarnation of Christ.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the incarnation with two phrases: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. The two are inseparably linked to one another. Without the conception by the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth is impossible. Without the virgin birth, the conception by the Holy Spirit rendered false. We cannot affirm one without the other; we must accept or reject them together.

But why were such things necessary? Let us begin with why a virgin birth was necessary. The virgin birth is not simply a silly myth for describing Jesus’ origin as a great teacher. It is a historical reality that is also a crucial component to the message of the gospel. In fact, the first promise of the gospel also prophesies the virgin birth. In Genesis 3:15, after humanity fell into sin, God pronounced this curse upon the Serpent: “I will put an enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The curse must have given comfort to Eve. She was deceived and led into sin by the Serpent, but one of her offspring would destroy the Serpent. Through a woman, Adam plunged humanity into sin, but through a woman would also come humanity’s Savior. The incarnation of Jesus only deepens this symmetry by revealing that the Serpent-Crusher was not just born of woman, but He was exclusively born of a woman since she was impregnated by no man.

Many theologians have pointed to the virgin birth, therefore, as the catalyst for Jesus coming into the world as the second Adam (that is, without inheriting sin). Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, Jesus was born free from the cycle of sin, which, of course, made it possible for Him to live a sinless life. Without the virgin birth, Jesus could not rightly be called the second Adam, and He could not give His life as payment for our sins. The virgin birth, therefore, is necessary for the gospel.

Furthermore, the two statements also point us toward the two natures of Christ. As being conceived by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that Jesus was sent by the Father to earth. He did not begin existing with His conception because He was eternally existing as God the Son. He is, therefore, divine. He is God the Son sent by God the Father.

But He was also born of Mary the virgin. He was born. Think about it. He was born. Nine months of developing in the womb and the whole shebang. He came into the world like we all came into the world: by the body of our mother. Jesus, therefore, is human. While His birth was not the beginning of His existence, it was His incarnation, His becoming flesh, a human.

This stands beside the Trinity as one of the great mysteries of Christianity. Jesus is one person, yet He bears two natures, God and man. He is fully human and fully God. He is not a glorified man who looks kind of divine, as the Arians believe. Neither is He God who only appeared to look like a man, as Docetism teaches. He is not a demigod, who is part God and part man, nor is He sometimes God and sometimes man. The Chalcedonian Creed (or the Definition of Chalcedon) gives us very specific language for affirming this reality:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

APPLICATION

Having now addressed some of the basics for understanding the incarnation, we now will look at how this doctrine applies to us. While the applications for the incarnation are numerous, I will discuss three: 1) by becoming human while retaining His deity, Jesus is able to mediate between God and man, 2) since Jesus became flesh, our bodies are not evil, and 3) by condescending to us, Jesus is the supreme model of humility for us.

Jesus as Mediator

Paul wrote these words to his disciple, Timothy: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Jesus is only mediator between us and God. But why do we need a mediator at all?

Adam and Eve needed no mediator. They were free to bathe in the presence of God and to enjoy the world that He had given them to rule. But they rejected their communion with God in a feeble attempt to seize power. Their disobedience opened a chasm between them and their Creator. As a symbol of this separation, they were exiled from Eden, cast away from God’s presence. God gives the judgment, but the damage is self-inflicted. When we sin, we follow the footsteps of our ancestors and keep the path clear for our descendants to tread behind. We reject God, and there remains nothing for us except a gulf between us.

In His mercy, God repeatedly crossed the chasm to reveal Himself to His people. He spoke to them through prophets. He gave His Spirit to their kings. He established priests to pray and sacrifice on their behalf. Yet these were all messages from afar, letters to exiles to remind us that we were not forgotten nor unloved. But the abyss remained uncrossed.

Enter Jesus, who bridged the gulf. As a man, Jesus was able to be truly human, as we were designed to be. He became like us in every respect, except better, as we should have been. He became the second Adam, resisting the pull of sin that the first Adam fell into. When offered the forbidden fruit from Eve, Adam ate. He should have rejected the opportunity to sin. More than that, he should have offered himself to take the judgment of Eve’s rebellion. Instead of correcting and then dying for her, he chose to follow and then blame his wife. Jesus, however, never yielded to sin and died in our place to rescue His Bride.

Yet Jesus’ death would have been insufficient unless He was also God. How can one man’s physical death cover the eternal spiritual death that was the consequence of sin? Only the Infinite Himself could pay our infinite debt. Since God was sinned against, only God could also redeem. As God, the death of Jesus was the death of God. The Holy One died to make us holy, to bridge the chasm and restore our communion with Him.

Without both Jesus’ divinity and humanity, He could not be our mediator. Yet He, the God-man, is. He is the way that has been made across the divide, and there is no other. How could there be? To claim another path to God makes a mockery of the cross. Further, it makes a mockery of God humbling Himself to become a man. Jesus has not left other options open. We must either accept Him or reject Him, but we cannot view Him half-heartedly as one of many roads to God.

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”

The Flesh

Gnosticism was one of the first heresies to rise up against Christianity. Gnostics primarily believed that Jesus had given to some individual a secret knowledge that was hidden from the others. Who this individual was varied between different teachers (Thomas, Judas, Peter, Philip, Mary, etc.), which is why there are so many Gnostic Gospels. Yet most Gnostics shared the idea that this secret knowledge would free them from the physical world and enable them to transcend into the spiritual world. They longed for this because they believed all things physical to be evil and all things spiritual to be good. This view led to two extreme applications. First, some Gnostics would give themselves fully to ascetism, punishing their bodies and denying themselves any earthly pleasure. Second, others would yield entirely to self-indulgence, reasoning that the body could only do evil since it was evil so why try to stop it? Both were drastic attempts to be liberated from our flesh and from the material world. Doesn’t that sound spiritual?

This swaying between extremes is still present today. While Western culture has predominately been hedonistic (as consumerism must be), society almost always fights extremes with extremes; thus, when the American dream leaves us empty, many turn to an ascetic lifestyle. The flashy steam of dopamine that is social media is only fueling this division at an even quicker pace. Social media feeds are inherently hedonistic by design. The blend of having screens as buffers between us and others, endless information novelty, personalized news feeds, and vast social connectivity has created a kind of cognitive candy. We should not be surprised then to find the disillusioned turning to Buddhism and Stoicism (often condensed into the idea of mindfulness), both of which emphasize the primary importance of disciplining our desires and impulses. Islam fits this narrative as well by requiring physical acts of daily prayer and an extended time of fasting each year. They are appealing as ascetic alternatives to the Internet-driven hedonism. They appear to give an answer for what we are to do with our bodies. Feed them relentlessly, or starve them into submission?

Christianity reaches toward both with the truth as revealed in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection blasts a hole in the Gnostic logic of asceticism. God chose to dwell in flesh; therefore, flesh itself cannot be an inherent evil. Jesus comes to redeem our bodies, not destroy them. This will occur through the death of our current bodies, but when Christ comes again, He will resurrect us into new, glorified bodies. Our flesh is not evil, just broken. This means that the life of a Christian must embrace the shades of truth that mark both hedonism and stoicism. We must recognize that God purposely made us with taste buds. He also created chocolate with a different flavor than strawberries, and He made both of those flavors wonderful to combine. As His children, God delights whenever we enjoy the gifts that He has given to us. Yet because our flesh is marred by sin, we constantly valuing God’s gifts more than God as the Giver. We must, therefore, discipline our bodies so we are not consumed by the lure of more.

We see this balance imaged in marriage. Proverbs commends us to delight ourselves physically with our spouse. Properly understood, enjoying the body of one’s spouse is taking pleasure in a gift that they have given exclusively to you. Delight is statement of love, a declaration that their body and their self is satisfying and sufficient for you. Failing to enjoy your spouse can, therefore, rightfully be seen as being unsatisfied with them and their gift, while an obsession with your spouse’s body makes them into an object to used. Both extremes are unloving and ultimately destroy the pleasure itself.

The same can be said of every gift that the Father gives to us. To reject His gifts is a rejection of His gracious love toward us, but to be consumed by His gifts is an idolatrous rejection of Him. May we, therefore, as followers of One who is both God and man be the most satisfied in our enjoyment in our enjoyment of the earthly pleasures that the Father as given us, while also being the most disciplined against letting our desires and longings consume us.

Humility

Finally, the incarnation of Jesus teaches us by example what true humility looks like. Simply stated, Jesus becoming a human is only rivaled by His crucifixion as the greatest act of humility ever committed. Consider the reality of it. God became one of His creations, like a potter choosing to become a jar. The Infinite One became finite. He clothed Himself in the limitations of a body. He willing submitted Himself to hunger, thirst, and pain. He became like us in every respect yet without sin.

Indeed, Jesus was more human than us because of His freedom from sin. As Chesterton argues, sin deadens the senses, leading to a kind of spiritual and emotional paralysis or vegetation. Yet Jesus’ heart was not dulled by sin. His spirit was not deadened to the brokenness around Him. We flinch and distract ourselves from thinking too long or hard about the present reality of atrocities like the child trafficking for organ-harvesting or systemic rape in countries like Myanmar or Libya. Yet Jesus saw every single sin as the act of cosmic treason that it is. We, therefore, cannot even begin to fathom the depth of suffering that even viewing our “small” sins would have caused Him. Yet Jesus chose this life. He willingly descended from heaven to take on flesh and blood and to ultimately have that flesh and blood broken and spilled in our place for our sins.

We must follow His example of humility in at least two ways.

First, since Jesus humbled Himself to become flesh and came not to be served but to serve us, no one is too lowly for us to serve. As our Lord, Jesus modeled how we must live by serving. If we are not greater than Him, how then can we do anything but serve as He served?

But it’s not just the act of serving that Jesus has modeled for us, but also the heart of serving. If we are not guarded, too often serving others can actually build up our pride. We can subtly develop a pharisaical mentality where we believe ourselves to be superior to others precisely because of how selfless we believe ourselves to be. Indeed, this can also limit how we serve others. By believing that we are doing others a favor by serving them, we can view our acts of service with a kind of take-it-or-leave-it mindset, which is not an act of genuinely seeking their good. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant to conform our hearts to the likeness of Jesus, who served out of selfless and humble love for others.

Second, as we studied last week, a failure to embrace Jesus as Lord is an obstinate declaration of our own supremacy, while bowing to Jesus as Lord is a humble act of submission to Him. Embracing Jesus as our Savior and Lord means dying to self and killing our pride. Yet this act of humility pales in comparison to Jesus’ descension into the flesh. When Jesus commands us to follow Him, He is not making a demand of us that He has not exceeded Himself. He humbled Himself to rescue us; therefore, we must also humble ourselves to receive Him.

Indeed, John Flavel writes a warning in vein of the author of Hebrews about pridefully neglecting “such a great salvation”:

Does he [Jesus] veil his insupportable glory under flesh, that he may treat the more familiarly and yet do you refuse him, and shut your heart against him? Then hear one word, and let thine ears tingle at the sound of it: thy sin is thereby aggravated beyond the sin of devils, who never sinned against a mediator in their own nature; who never despised, or refused, because, indeed, they were never offered terms of mercy, as you are. And I doubt not but the devils themselves who now tempt you to reject, will, to all eternity, upbraid your folly for rejecting this great salvation, which in this excellent way is brought down even to your own doors. (59)

Do you, therefore, embrace the incarnation of Jesus? Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine? Do you believe that Jesus is the only mediator between God and men? Do you believe that He is your mediator? Are you caring for your body in reflection of the good gifts that God has given? Are you following Jesus’ example of humility? Have you humbled yourself to receive salvation from His hand?

We believe in Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who, by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin, becoming a fully human, while still retaining His divinity, so that He could stand as the only mediator between God and us. To embrace these things is to take hold joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Do you believe?

God the Son

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

 

The admiration of Jesus as teacher and philosopher is highly prominent within our increasingly pluralistic context. Even among those whose detestation for Christianity can barely be contained, many still maintain a respect for Jesus as a speaker of love and giver of mercy.

Sadly, this mentality is ever more bleeding into Christians’ understanding as well. Many today claim to follow and love Jesus, while rejecting any talk of doctrine or religion. Doctrine, they contend, divides, but Jesus unifies. Both statements are true, but not all divisions are sinful. Indeed, some unity simply cannot exist. To affirm Jesus as God means that we cannot be unified with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such divisions are necessary and even biblically commanded.

The stark reality is that Jesus was a teacher, and, since doctrine simply means teaching, Jesus taught doctrine. Teachers can only teach doctrine; it’s what makes them teachers. Jesus cannot be divorced from doctrine, and if we fail to view Jesus as He presented Himself, we will find ourselves following after an imaginary Jesus who often acts conveniently like we’d like Him to act.

As with the other doctrines, the Apostles’ Creed aims to condense the apostolic, biblical teaching of Jesus into a few easy-to-memorize phrases. Half of the creed will be spent upon the person and work of Jesus because He is the core of Christianity. As with our study of God the Father, we will address here the three statements made about Jesus within the first line of Article 2.

JESUS CHRIST

Christ is not Jesus’ last name; it is His title. It is the Greek version of the Hebrew derived title, Messiah. Both mean anointed one, so I will use them interchangeably. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s servants would be anointed with oil for particular tasks (i.e. David’s being anointed as king). The oil was a physical symbol of God’s Spirit being given to them in order to accomplish their purpose. In this way, David, as the anointed king of Israel, was a christ, a messiah.

Yet the Old Testament is also littered with prophesies that spoke of a coming king from David’s lineage. By the first century, this promised king was referred to as the Christ. The people of Israel awaited the Messiah, this Son of David, with great anticipation. In fact, Jesus (or Joshua, meaning the LORD saves) became a popular name by which the Jews expressed their hope and longing for God’s rescue from their oppressors.

Like in the first century, most Jews today still reject Jesus as being the Messiah because He did not accomplish the political revolution that they excepted. Yet the Gospels firmly assert that Jesus is the Christ. Mark’s Gospel begins by plainly declaring: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). In chapter eight, the center event of Mark comes when Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is. Peter responds by saying that He is the Christ (8:29). Jesus affirms Himself to be the Messiah in John 4 during His conversation with the Samaritan woman. Acts and the epistles declare this belief too by repeatedly referring to Jesus as either Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ.

But if Jesus’ disciples still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t Jesus overthrow Rome and the other governments of the world? Although Jesus has promised to return again and establish His physical kingdom, His first coming was to free His people from a much greater threat than Rome. As the Christ, Jesus is the redeemer of humanity that was first promised in Genesis 3:15. He is the Serpent-Crusher who would destroy the power of sin in the world and free us from the curse of death. He came as the suffering servant, God incarnate, who died for the forgiveness of our sins (Isaiah 53) and to inaugurate the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31). To call Jesus the Christ, therefore, is to declare Him as the Savior, the defeater of sin and the mediator between God and man.

Thus, no one can believe in Jesus Christ without also believing in Jesus as Christ. Jesus cannot be received as a mere teacher whenever He explicitly claimed to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As the Christ, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to rescue us from our sins. Believing in Jesus Christ means looking to Him for salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins that we could never earn.

Yet there is also an implied belief in the Scriptures that is also necessary for believing that Jesus is the Christ. The Messiah, after all, was foretold by the prophets of old as recorded in the Scriptures; therefore, the very significance of the Jesus being the Messiah hinges upon God’s revealed Word. The Gospel of Matthew, particularly, structures itself as a direct continuation of the Old Testament narrative, and its many citations all show that is the promised Savior. Therefore, just as Jesus cannot be separated from His role as Savior, neither can we divorce Jesus from the Bible. He was affirmed by the Scriptures, and He affirmed them as well. To accept Jesus as the embodied Word means also accepting the Bible as the written Word.

GOD’S ONLY SON

Next, Jesus is called God’s only Son. Having studied God the Father last week, we already somewhat addressed Jesus as the Son. The same rationale applies here too. Since Jesus revealed Himself to be the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus’ sonship is a core component of His identity. Hebrews 1:1-3 affirms this with undeniable clarity:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds all things by the word of his power.

As the Son, Jesus was the Word through whom the Father created the world, He is the visible and radiant display of God’s eternal glory, and He continues to uphold the cosmos with the sheer authority of His word. When Jesus is called the Son of God, these are the attributes to which the New Testament writers are pointing. Indeed, the Son is, as the Nicene Creed affirms with greater clarity, “the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”

Jesus has eternally been God the Son, and He will forever be God the Son, which, of course, means that we cannot know Jesus as the Son without also knowing the Father. Furthermore, Paul states that no one can confess Jesus as their Lord without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Believing in Jesus, therefore, requires belief in the Trinity. It is not enough to believe solely in Jesus. Any who fail to believe in the triune nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit do not believe in Christ.

But believing in Jesus as God’s only Son has another glorious dimension for us as well. As the Nicene Creed clarified, we believe that Jesus is the begotten Son of God. He is the Son of the Father by being of the same essence as the Father. He is the Son by right, by the very nature of His being. Yet Hebrews goes on to describe the work of Jesus on the earth as “bringing many sons to glory” (2:10). By His suffering, Jesus brings His people to the Father as sons and as His brothers.

Consider the weight of this truth for a moment.

We were originally created to display God’s likeness. Although less glorious than the angels, we were given dominion over the earth and its animals. We were crowned with glory and honor by the Creator Himself, yet we threw His gifts back in His face. Like impulsive children, we broke God’s command, believing God to be a malicious and controlling dictator rather than a loving and selfless Father. When looking at the God’s fence of rules, we only saw our freedom being limited, not the busy highway on the other side.

But even when we learned evil by firsthand experience, we continued to sin, the Serpent’s lie still ringing in our ears, fueling our god complex. We, therefore, deserved death. We deserved judgment, the same that Satan and his angels received, condemnation without mercy. God, instead, chose to save us. To maintain His justice and righteousness, our sin required retribution, an eternal consequence since the sin was against the Eternal One. Rather than dooming all of humanity to damnation, God took our place. The Son, through whom the world was made, entered the world as a man. His sinless life ended on a cross, where He freely gave Himself to the grave in payment for our sins. Three days later, He rose back to life to triumph over sin and to give life to all those who believe in His name for salvation. We will spend the next five weeks walking through these elements of Jesus’ work because they are the very apex of all of history. Nothing else is more important than the truth that God died to save us. How could anything even come close?

The glory of this gospel is only magnified when we understand that God is not merely restoring us back to Eden, He is making things even better. In the garden, we were God’s stewards over the earth, His image. But now, in Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. God is not only the Father of Jesus the Son; He is also now our Father, since we have been made into co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This, in no way, negates the truth of Jesus being God’s only Son, since He is still the only begotten Son. We, instead, are adopted, brought into God’s family, chosen by the Father before time began.

In Christ and as God’s children, we are also being made into “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This, of course, does not mean that we become gods, but it does mean that we are able to experience the eternal and glorious love of the Triune God, that we are given the very essence of joy and peace.

Believing in Jesus as the Son of God, therefore, means believing that He has made us into sons of God by His death and resurrection.

OUR LORD

Ben Myers writes:

Even before the ancient baptismal confession had taken shape, perhaps the earliest Christian confession consisted of just two words: Kyrios Iesous, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). That early statement remains the spiritual heartbeat of the baptismal creed. Everything else in the creed radiates like the spokes of a wheel from that hub: personal attachment to Jesus; total allegiance to him.

This confession was not a frivolous thing. It was, for the early Christians, a matter of life and death. Beginning with Caesar Augustus, who called himself the son of god, Romans began to worship the emperor as another one of their gods. Temples and statues for emperor worship were quickly established throughout the Roman Empire. Given that nearly everyone in the ancient world already worshipped many gods, adding another to their collection was no great burden. Christians, on the other hand, refused to worship anyone but Triune God. Nick Needham describes the consequence of this collision:

The authorities saw this as a serious political offence. Worshipping the emperor was a sign of loyalty to the Empire; to refuse was to be a traitor. The chief test of whether someone accused of being a Christian was a real Christian, was for the magistrates to order him to worship a statue of the emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord”—that is, Caesar is a divine figure, a god. A faithful Christian would refuse, because for him or her, “Jesus is Lord”, not Caesar. One could not worship both Caesar and Christ. (84-85)

To declare that Jesus is Lord is an affirmation of His deity. It is a declaration of His authority, His supremacy, His glory. If Jesus is Lord, no one else is (at least not ultimately), not even Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, we owe Him our allegiance and our very lives. To be a Christian means submitting to the will of Jesus. It means becoming His slave.

The lordship of Jesus has never been easily received by the world, and today is no exception. Individual autonomy has never been valued more highly (with the notable exception, of course, of beliefs that are believed to be inherently hateful towards others). We glimpse it clearly in the abortion debate, where many who call themselves “pro-choice” are beginning to give the honest acknowledgement that babies in the womb are alive. Yet they still hold to abortion as a right because the mother’s choice overrides any right to life that her unborn child might have. The mother’s lordship over her own body stands as an infallible doctrine or, rather, as one of the dogmatic hydra heads of the religion of self.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis argues through the mouth of George MacDonald that every person who rejects Christ essentially declares the words that Milton gave to Satan: better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven (71). We are, he claims, like children who choose to miss playing with our friends because we obstinately refuse to apologize. We are each locked in constant battle for lordship; we must either choose Jesus or self.

To declare ourselves as Lord is a rejection of Jesus and of joy. We maintain our claim of supremacy, but we do so at the expense of our enjoyment and satisfaction. We do not diminish the glory of God, only our ability to bask in it with Him. Giving all glory as Lord to Jesus furthers our joy because it images the Trinity. We are most like God whenever we give ourselves selflessly to Him and His people. This is how the last are made first, and the first made last. Clinging to our life only guarantees that we will lose it. In the sacrificial shedding of our life, we find true life in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us. To empty yourself is to be like Christ, who emptied Himself for us and suffered the humiliation of death on the cross.

This is the way of Jesus, the narrow path of His kingdom. Humble yourself before Him and be exalted with Him, or exalt yourself before Him and be humbled by Him. There is no other way. The road forks here in two, and we each must choose. Jesus or self. Life or death. Wisdom or folly. Joy or misery.

To be a Christian is to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord”, to surrender ourselves fully into His hand. What we do, what we say, what we see, what we hear, what we taste, what we touch must all be done for the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Nothing less will do. C. T. Studd, who left his life of wealth and privilege to “run a rescue shop within a yard of hell” by going to unreached places with the gospel, summarizes the entire message of this study well: “If Jesus is God and He died for me, no sacrifice I could make would be too great.”

Do you, therefore, believe in Jesus as Lord? Have you surrendered your life fully over to His lordship? Do believe in Jesus as God’s Son? Are you adopted by the Father through the substitutional death of the Son? Do you believe in Jesus as the Christ? Is your full confidence in Jesus as the defeater of sin and death?

All Christians believe in Jesus, who is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and the rightful Lord of all.

Do you believe?

God the Father

I believe in God the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

 

The Apostles’ Creed properly begins, where all things must begin, with the doctrine of God, and, although its statement on the first person of the Trinity may be short, it does not leave us with a belief in God as some sort of ambiguous and ethereal force. Instead, with clarity and precision, it affirms that God is the Father, almighty, and creator of heaven and earth. As we examine these titles and attributes from the Scriptures, we come to see that God is not an energy to be acknowledged but a Person to be known.

Entire libraries can be filled with books written about God the Father, and even then, the surface of His immensity has yet to be scratched. For simplicity and clarity, we will devote our attention to the three descriptions given in the creed: Father, almighty, and creator. We will begin by testing these attributes to validate that they are presented and taught in the Scriptures, and we will then move into how the truths of God’s nature apply to us.

CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH

We will begin in reverse since this description of God is the first attribute of Him found in the Bible. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The phrase the heavens and the earth, both here and in the creed, is a merism that refers to the entire cosmos. Everything that exists came into existence because of God. He is the Creator and the only uncreated being. He gives matter itself its beginning, yet He has no beginning. Before the beginning ever began, He was. This means that, as Creator, God is also holy. He is uniquely distinguished from all other things in existence. Black holes, dandelions, quarks, ocelots, and humans all share the common trait that we were made. We were designed, and God is the designer. He is other, outside of creation. He is holy.

Also, as Creator, God maintains ownership over all things. In Psalm 50:10-12, God declares, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” Similarly, Psalm 8:3 calls the heavens the work of God’s fingers and that He put the moon and stars into place. As the creator of heaven and earth, the universe itself is His possession.

What then does it mean to believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth? Or perhaps more to the point, how do we know that we believe that statement? If He is the Creator, then we are not of supreme importance; He is. As the author of life, all living creatures owe Him their very being, including us. Believing this must, therefore, result in a life of active and willing obedience, a life modeled after Him. After all, when the Creator commands something of His creation, it would be best for us to obey. As the supreme being above all others, we should obey Him, if for no other reason, out of fear. That’s why Proverbs calls the fear of God the beginning of wisdom; it points us down His patterned path. Yet He is also a good God who wants what is best for His creatures, so we can trust that obedience will always be in our best interest. Our obedience to His commands displays our belief that He is the Creator who is worth obeying, while on the contrary, disobeying God is a declaration of our independence from Him.

Adam and Eve did that very thing. They rejected God as their authority, as their designer, and they asserted themselves into His place. All sin follows this same pattern. Every act of disobedience is an act of idolatry because we elevate ourselves above the Creator.

Consider an example. Viewing porn is a rejection of God’s pattern for sexuality. It is a declaration that the instant gratification of ones’ desires is better than sex within the institution of marriage. The same can then be said for every sin. Sin itself is an act of defiance against God as the Creator.

Do you believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth? If so, obey Him. Read His Word in order to hear and understand how He has designed the cosmos to function, and then conform your life to His pattern. Be holy as He is holy. If you are not actively attempting to shape, order, and structure your life around God’s revealed patterns and designs, I would challenge that you do not yet believe that God is the Creator. Sin will, of course, never be overcome fully in this life, yet our lives must reflect a steady growth in being conformed to the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

ALMIGHTY

What exactly is meant by describing God as almighty? Might, of course, is synonyms with force, power, and strength is being modified by the word all. So, almighty means that God possesses all might. He is all powerful, omnipotent, sovereign. The Bible makes this point very clear. Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 103:19 is similar: “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Or consider a few examples from Proverbs. “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (16:4). “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (16:9). “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (16:33). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (19:21). “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (21:1).

This attribute of God naturally flows from the first. If God is the Creator, it would stand to reason that He is the only being worthy of being called almighty. David affirms this connectivity in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, where he prays: “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”

Our God, indeed, is almighty, and there is none like Him.

But again, we must now ask: what does it mean to believe that God is almighty? First, if God is almighty, then we are not. While nearly everyone would admit the hard reality of our non-omnipotence, our lives often reflect a different view within our hearts. Our culture’s not-so-secret, love-hate relationship with busyness is one evidence of this. Many of us like the rush of being busy because it makes us feel in control, like we can order things how we like, and, since we are governing things, we cannot cease without everything collapsing into chaos. Our lives then proclaim the belief that we are almighty.

Yet our rejection of God’s omnipotence is most often seen in a subtler, but just as insidious, form: prayerlessness. The very essence of prayer is calling upon God, particularly to accomplish what we are unable to complete. Failing to pray, on the other hand, reflects a belief that we are all-sufficient and, therefore, do not need God’s aid. Prayerlessness is the rooted habit of a prideful heart, and it effectively amounts to a denial of, or at least rejection of, God’s supreme might. Prayer, however, is the opposite. It is a joyously freeing affirmation of the omnipotent God.

Do you believe that God is almighty? If so, do your prayers reflect that belief?

FATHER

Now we come to the third title of God within the Apostles’ Creed: Father. The burden of explaining the fatherhood of God here is lightened slightly by my plan to return to this doctrine in both the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Hopefully the three sermons across these three series will form a sort of trilogy around this fundamental teaching.

God as Father is a concept that is rooted in the Old Testament. Isaiah, when viewing the horror of his sin in comparison to God’s holiness, cried out, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Or again the prophet wrote, “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (63:16).

While there are other occasions in the Old Testament where God is described as fatherly toward His people and His creation, the New Testament takes this concept much further. Jesus, of course, teaches us to pray to God, calling Him our Father (Matthew 6:9). This is astounding since Jesus repeatedly refers to God as His Father throughout the Gospels. Indeed, particularly in the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John, the apostle labors to make Jesus’ distinct and unified relationship with the Father known to us. Jesus is God’s only Son, the one who has eternally existed alongside the Father. In fact, Jesus states in John 17:24 that the Father was loving Him before the foundations of the world were established.

Jesus’ revelation of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is beyond significant. Both God as creator and almighty are attributes that can be discerned, to at least some degree, without special revelation. We can study creation and conclude the necessity of a creator, and, from the immensity and complexity of creation, we could also come to the assumption that the creator is also almighty. While we could then view the creator as having a fatherly relationship with his creation, it would be presumptuous to make that metaphorical picture into his defining quality. Indeed, to refer to God the almighty creator primarily as Father requires special revelation, which is what Jesus did.

Jesus displayed to us an attribute of God that transcends even His designation as creator. Even though God first reveals Himself as the Creator, He became the Creator whenever He created. Therefore, if being the Creator is the primary aspect of His character, then God needed to create in order to be what He is. He needed us. But Jesus reveals that the central attribute of God is His fatherhood because He has eternally been the Father of the Son, Jesus. In Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves walks through how this eternal relationship is necessary for the statement “God is love” to be true. Just as the Father is eternally with the Son, He has also eternally loved the Son. To say that God the Father is love is an eternally true statement because He has always and will always be the Father to the Son and He is eternally loving the Son. God cannot, therefore, be love without also being Trinity.

We also depend upon the Trinity to know God as the Father and as love. Of course, we’ve already said that Jesus revealed the eternal nature of God the Father alongside His eternal nature as God the Son. But Jesus further clarifies that the Father cannot be known apart from the Son: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It is impossible to know God as He is (that is, as the Father) without also knowing the Son because Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). The Father can only be known through the Son who is the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).

But we still could not know the Father or the Son fully without the Spirit. Considers Jesus’ words to His disciples:

John 16:12-15 | I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

These roles are further deepened when we recall the gospel. Our rejection of the eternal Creator bore upon us an eternal judgment. We separated ourselves from His love, choosing instead His justice and wrath.[1] But thankfully, “for God [that is, the Father] so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus, the Son of God, accomplished this exchange of death for life by taking death upon Himself. He substituted Himself for us, transferring the eternal debt of our sin into His account. In this way, Jesus fixed the problem of sin. He bridged the chasm that separated us from the Father.

Yet the Holy Spirit also has an essential role in our redemption. In John 16:7, Jesus tells His disciples that His ascension back into heaven is for their benefit. How can this be? His ascension fulfilled the work of the gospel, which the Holy Spirit was then sent to teach and bring to remembrance everything that Jesus had told them (John 14:26). Indeed, the Spirit instructs each believer in the gospel by indwelling them and teaching them to glorify the Father and the Son. In fact, twice Paul emphasizes that without the Spirit interceding in our prayers we could not call God our Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

How then do we know that we believe in God the Father?

First, to believe in God the Father requires belief in the Son and the Holy Spirit. No one can reject the Trinity and still cling to Christianity. To deny the Trinity is to reject the God of the Scriptures. Indeed, Jesus says about Himself, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Therefore, our belief in God the Father is proven to be valid by our belief in the Son and the Spirit.

Such a statement may sound counterintuitive, but that impulse only reveals how much the Fall has alienated us from God’s ways. As Trinity, God is utterly selfless. The Father is constantly glorifying the Son and Spirit, just as the Son is always glorifying the Father and the Spirit and the Spirit is always glorifying the Father and the Son. They are eternally giving, which is why it truly is better to give than to receive. Giving imitates God. Likewise, in Philippians 2:3-5, Paul called for the Philippians to count others as more significant than themselves by being rooted in the mind of Christ. The sinful, human impulse is to seek and claim glory for self, while God (the only truly glorious being) is constantly pouring His glory upon others, particularly upon the Son and the Spirit.

Second, to believe in God the Father means trusting His love us. John Owen writes, “The chief way by which the saints have communion with the Father is love—free, undeserved, eternal love… Have no fears or doubts about his love for you. The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you” (12-13).

In contrast to Owen, the common view today is that God the Father is angry and vengeful, while Jesus is loving and gracious. But it was the Father who blessed us with Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). It is the Father who is called by Paul “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). It was the Father’s love that sent Jesus for us (John 3:16). When John states that “God is love,” the Father is particularly in view (1 John 4:16). And in the trinitarian benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, grace is attributed to Jesus, fellowship to the Spirit, and love to the Father.

Michael Reeves ties all of this together in how it beautifies the gospel:

And therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

Do you, therefore, believe in God the Father? Do you believe in His Son that He sent to die for you? Do you believe in His Spirit that He has sent to guide in you in all truth? Do you believe in His vast love for you?

This is the God all Christians believe: the holy, Triune, almighty Creator who is also our loving and merciful Father.

Do you believe?


[1] Despite what many proclaim, His justice and wrath are essential to His fatherhood and love. The work of a father is to discipline his children, to shape them into men and women of character and integrity, which often requires a strong, firm hand. Fatherhood should also invoke a certain degree of wrath as necessary for defending children from insidious threats. Likewise, God cannot look upon sin without His justice and wrath. Sin is not only a blight against His goodness; it is also a corrosive plague that consumes us from the inside out. If God did not hate our sin, He would not be our Father.