We are in the second week of a four-week sermon series on The Apostle’s Creed. Last week we explored the
first statement in the creed focusing on God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Many of you
told me after the service that there was a lot packed into that first sermon. And I would agree, there is much
to be said about God. What I didn’t say last week is that I think it’s fairly easy to believe in God. Muslims,
Hindus, Jews and the vast majority of the world’s population believe there is a God (or gods). What sets
Christianity apart from these other faiths is its specific beliefs about Jesus. And those beliefs about Jesus
can be hard to accept, partly because of what we know about human beings. Jesus’ divinity sets Him apart
in some critical ways from the rest of us. I will also say that there is much to be said about this section of
the Apostles Creed that I won’t be addressing today. I will be focusing on two points that have challenged
me the most. This week, most of the sermon is taken from Adam Hamilton’s book Creed.
The second and longest part of the Apostles Creed states:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born
of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the
third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and
will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The earliest and most extensive information we have concerning Jesus comes from the twenty-seven documents
of the New Testament, nearly all of which were written between AD 50 and 95, including the four Gospels;
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These Gospels, written by Jesus’ followers and drawing upon material from
a variety of sources, offer a great deal of information about Jesus. The Gospels were written by people who
come to believe that Jesus was the Christ, God’s Son and their Lord – that is written by Christians and for Christians
or for those open to becoming Christians. They paint a remarkably consistent account of Jesus’ life, death and
resurrection. The earliest New Testament documents are not the Gospels, but the letters of Paul written to small
Christian communities across the Roman Empire. The first of these letters were written just 20 years after Jesus’
There is additional corroborating historic evidence that Jesus existed, so believing that Jesus lived is not the question.
According to Bart Ehrman, an agnostic professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, who devoted
an entire book to examining the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not”.
The Apostle’s Creed doesn’t mention Jesus’s ministry, miracles or relationships. Those are found in the Bible. The Apostle’s
Creed focuses on the divinity of Jesus while recognizing his humanity.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the
Let’s consider these words conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. This idea is beyond belief to many.
If you are the father of more than a couple children, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody has said to you, when you
announce that your wife is pregnant, again, “You know what causes that don’t you?”
Everything we know about human procreation is contrary to a woman conceiving spontaneously. Of the gospel
writers, only Matthew and Luke include the virgin birth. The virgin birth is not emphasized in the Bible, and I believe
it is possible to be a Christian and not believe in the virgin birth, but it is also something that, although contrary to
science, can be incredibly easy to believe in if you believe in the God that created heaven and earth. That God could
easily figure out a way to fertilize an egg.
Is it possible, in a world where gods were thought to procreate with women, that God might use this very idea,
accepted by the pagans, to be the means by which he would bring forth his son? Is it possible that the virginal
conception and birth was considered by God to be a beautiful means of expressing deeper mysteries of the incarnation?
Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah – “Look, a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”
(which means “God with us”).
The reason Matthew includes this story may be because he understands the virginal conception of Jesus as a way
of conveying the deep theological truth that, in Jesus, God has come to be with us, by becoming one of us – Jesus is
How, precisely, was Jesus God? I’ve seen movies where God took on the appearance of a human, maybe you have,
too. In the 1977 film, Oh, God!, God took on the appearance of George Burns, and in the 2003 film Bruce Almighty
God took on the appearance of Morgan Freeman. Did God really just take on human form? The mainstream of
Christian faith has rejected this idea, saying that God did not merely appear in human form, but that in Jesus, God
truly entered into our humanity. Jesus became one of us. Jesus was fully human. But then how was he also God? Did
God descend on him at baptism? Or was he filled with the Spirit, as happened with the Hebrew prophets? Or was Jesus
both somehow God and human from his birth?
If you struggle to explain or make sense of the Incarnation or the deity of Christ, you are in good company. The church
wrestled with these questions for nearly three hundred years until finally, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, they settled
on language clarifying what the majority of the church believed. There, in the Nicene Creed, the Council affirmed that
Jesus Christ was
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from true God,
Begotten not made,
Of one being with the Father.
To me, these statements are reflective of today’s scripture reading, although the imagery and words are different.
John 1:1-5, 14
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the
Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through
the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light…
…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the
glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
There are many words used to reflect the divinity and purpose of Jesus, and the Creed uses three – Jesus,
Christ and Lord.
The name Jesus is from the Greek form of Yeshua, a common name in the first century that is sometimes
translated as “deliverer” or “savior”. According to Matthew 1:21, the angel told Joseph, “You will call him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
The Greek word for sin used most often in the New Testament is hamartia, and it means “to miss the mark”. This
word points to the fact that there is a “mark” we are meant to hit – a path we’re meant to follow, a way we’re meant
to live. Most of us get this. We’re meant to be loving, compassionate, just, merciful, giving, honest. As Jesus expressed
it, we’re created with two overriding aims in life: to love God with all that is within us and to love our neighbor as we
love ourselves. So sin is anything we do in thought, word, or deed that is inconsistent with loving God or neighbor.
Who wouldn’t agree that most of the world’s pain is because people and societies miss the mark or stray from the
right path – because they fail to practice love?
Proof of the human struggle with hamartia – missing the mark – is readily available to any who observe humanity.
And which of us has not at times failed to say or do something we should have done to help someone else?
If Jesus was born to save us from our sins, he clearly has a huge mission. His saving us from our sins is not
just about forgiving our sins but affecting those of us who believe in him so deeply that we are changed. It
involves a spiritual transformation that shows us a better way and gives us the ability to pursue it.
I don’t merely want to be forgiven over and over again. I want to hit the mark. I want to be a loving, compassionate,
merciful human being who does the right thing more often than not. I don’t want to be blind to the ways I hurt
others; I want to see them for who they are and find the strength to act differently myself.
Jesus came to save us from our sins. He does this by showing us God, by calling us to follow him, by modeling what
it means to be authentically human, by demonstrating sacrificial love, and by working to change our hearts. He
seeks to reorient our lives from the inside out, and in so doing to save us from being self-centered, self-absorbed,
narcissistic creatures and to make us people who truly do love God and neighbor.
The Creed also refers to Jesus as the “Christ”. Christ is from the Greek word for “anointed one” the word drawn
from the Hebrew that has the same meaning as Messiah. Part of the ancient coronation ceremony by which an
individual became king over people of God was having a particular preparation of oil poured or smeared on one’s
head by the high priest. This act signified that the individual was set apart for God’s purposes and belonged to God.
It also signified that the person was chosen by God to reign on God’s behalf.
Lord is the most frequently used title for Jesus in the New Testament. It appears 537 times. In Greek, the word is
Kyrios, and it means master, ruler or sovereign, and it can also mean king. The term signified the highest authority
in a particular area of influence. In the patriarchal society of ancient times, the husband or father was typically the
lord of the house. The leader of a city was lord of the city. The king was lord of his kingdom. The title used for Augustus
Caesar was lord of lords, signifying the highest authority in the empire.
When the Old Testament was being translated from Hebrew to Greek and the translators were trying to find the right
Greek word for the holy proper name frequently used of God in the Old Testament – Yahweh – they settled on the Greek
word Kyrios, or Lord. So when Christians in the New Testament beginning with the earliest document in the New
Testament, speak of Jesus, the title they most frequently use for him is Lord; and they don’t refer to Jesus as “A” lord but
“The” Lord, the same title used for God’s proper name throughout the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament.
The point of all this is to emphasize that Christians from the earliest times were associating Jesus with God.
The creed continues:
…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the
living and the dead.
Virtually no one doubts that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate sometime around AD 30. Likewise, it’s widely
accepted that he was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, and that a large stone was rolled over the mouth of the tomb.
The Gospel accounts are consistent with first-century burial practices. But the earliest Christians made an outrageous
claim as to what happened next. They said that early on Sunday morning, roughly 36 hours after he was buried, some
of the women who followed Jesus returned to the tomb. The stone had been rolled away and the grave was open. His
body was gone. Soon Jesus appeared to the women, his disciples and others.
It was Paul who gave the earliest written account of the Resurrection. He noted that, in all, Jesus appeared to more than
five hundred people, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians (about AD 50 –
20 years after Jesus’ death).
NT Wright notes that “It is extremely difficult to explain the rise of Christianity, as a historical phenomenon, without
saying something solid about Jesus’s resurrection.”
After explaining why some of the theories providing alternatives to the resurrection aren’t probable or possible,
he states that “The best explanation by far for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a
battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost but as a living bodily human being.” And I really like the following part.
“But the body was somehow different. The gospel stories are, at this point, unlike anything before or since. As one
leading scholar has put it, it seems that the gospel writers were trying to explain something for which they didn’t
have a precise vocabulary. Jesus’ risen body had many of the same properties as an ordinary body (it could talk,
eat and drink, be touched and so on) but it had others, too. It could appear and disappear, and pass through locked
doors. Nothing in Jewish literature or imagination had prepared people for a portrait like this. If the gospel writers
had made something up to fit a preconceived notion, the one thing they would certainly have done is describe the
risen Jesus shining like a star. According to Daniel 12:3 this was how the righteous would appear at the resurrection.
But Jesus didn’t. His body seems to have been transformed in a way for which there was neither precedent nor
prophecy, and of which there remains no second example.”
The disciples were radically changed by their experiences with Jesus following his resurrection. These men, who had
fled when Jesus was arrested and had been hiding behind locked doors the day after his death, became bold and
courageous, risking their own lives to proclaim what they had seen.
It was the witness of these disciples, along with the empty tomb, that led hundreds and then thousands in Jerusalem
to believe. Those who came to believe in the risen Jesus found their own lives changed by their faith, and many of them
had their own personal spiritual encounters with him, which led them to accept that he indeed was with them always.
In Jesus, God showed that he cared about those who are lost and those who are made to feel small. He showed us
compassion for the sick. He showed us how to love, to forgive, to give, to serve. In Jesus’ death on the cross, God
showed us the depth of his love and the costliness of grace. And in Jesus’ resurrection, God defeated evil, hate, sin
When I finished reading this sermon to my Mother yesterday, she responded with Jesus loves me, this I know, for
the Bible tells me so. If you remember nothing else, remember that Jesus loves you. It’s true! Jesus loves me and
Jesus loves you.