************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 22-23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 12, 2010
Q & A 22-23
"The Gospel Summary"
This Lord's Supper evening we start our study of the most popular creed within the Reformed family of churches: the Apostles' Creed. Within our churches you hear this creed more often than any other creed. It is this creed that we recite most Sunday evenings. It is this creed that we recite before we take the Lord's Supper. Wherever you go, you should be able to find a church that confesses this creed; because, it is "confessed throughout the world."
This does not mean the Apostles' Creed is the most widely accepted creed in the world. That honor belongs to the Nicene Creed.
Last time, if you remember, we said that we need true faith to be saved, to join the church, and to partake of the Lord's Supper. True faith, we also said, has content; and, we don't get to pick the content. Rather, the content of true faith is to be found in the Bible and summarized in the Apostles' Creed.
I The Fullness and the Core of the Gospel
A Did you notice what the Catechism says about the creed in the second line of Answer 22? We are told the Apostles' Creed is the summary of the gospel.
When we recited the creed together a few moments ago, we were actually reciting a summary of the gospel. Do you realize the implications of saying this? What we confess about God the Father is part of the gospel. What we confess about our creation is part of the gospel. What we confess about God the Spirit is part of the gospel. What we confess about the holy catholic church is part of the gospel. What we confess about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting is part of the gospel.
The gospel is far broader and far wider and far greater than we normally make it to be. The gospel has far more breadth and depth than we normally attribute to it.
Why do I say this? Because, far too often I hear the gospel presented in terms of Christ and only in terms of Christ. In fact, some Christians don't think they hear the gospel unless they hear Christ, cross, and crucifixion. And, some ministers don't think they are preaching the gospel unless they mention Christ, cross, and crucifixion. These Christians and these pastors are shortchanging the depth and breadth of the gospel.
Keep in mind that though the cross was central to Paul, Paul also says that everything hinges on Christ's resurrection:
-(1 Cor 15:14) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
-(1 Cor 15:17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
In Romans 4, Paul ties the cross to the grave, the crucifixion to the resurrection:
-(Rom 4:25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
And, when we look at Paul's sermon in Athens, it was mostly centered on the resurrection (Acts 17:31ff).
I repeat, the gospel has way more depth and breadth than just the cross of Christ.
B However, when we look at the Apostles' Creed, we cannot help but notice that Jesus Christ receives far more attention than either the Father or the Spirit. The creed is Christ-centered because the gospel is Christ-centered. It directs our attention especially to what God has done for us in Christ. The early church believed very strongly that this was core or the kernel of the gospel.
The creed is like the Bible, for Christ and His cross dominates the New Testament. Notice how naturally the cross is referred to as summing up the content of Christianity:
-(1 Cor 1:18) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
-(1 Cor 1:23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
-(1 Cor 2:2) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
-(Gal 6:14) May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ...
What are we doing this evening? We are remembering Christ's death – as He commanded us to do. However, nowhere do we find a command to remember His birth or His resurrection or His ascension.
A good test of any theology, ancient or modern, is to ask what it does with the cross of Jesus Christ.
To sum up, in the Apostles' Creed as a whole we have the fullness of the gospel. In the middle section of the Apostles' Creed we have what the Bible considers to be the core of the gospel.
C A quick glance at the creed tells us that it has a trinitarian structure. So God the Father is mentioned, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Notice who is not mentioned in this structure? Man. The summary of the gospel is all about God and not about man. This will be confirmed as we go through the Catechism's treatment of the Apostles' Creed. But, then, the salvation of the gospel is all of God and not of man either. The gospel focuses on God first of all. It is not a man-centered gospel. The gospel does not focus on me and my wants and my needs. Rather, the gospel focuses on God: His anger against my sin, His holiness, the appeasement of His wrath, the satisfaction of His justice, the removal of my sin from His sight.
D The Gospel as a whole is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Gospel at its core is about God the Son. Now, I want you to take note of what is said about God the Son: His conception and birth; His suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and descent into hell; His resurrection, ascension, and being seated at God's right hand; His return as judge.
Now, take note of what is NOT said about God the Son: we are told nothing about His baptism, His miracles, His teachings, or His transfiguration.
What the creed mentions is significant and what it doesn't mention is significant. So, we are faced with the question of why: why are some events mentioned and others omitted; what is the basis for the selection?
The answer is found in our Scripture reading from Philippians 2. In these verses we find an early Christian creed put to music and sung as a song. This song has two stanzas.
Do you see the word "humbled" in verse 8? Christ "humbled himself." That word "humbled" expresses the theme of stanza one – it is all about the humiliation of Christ. Stanza one of the Song of Christ starts with the deity of Christ – "being in very nature God" (Phil 2:6). This means that belonging to Christ is the power of God, the wisdom of God, and the glory of God. For our sakes, Christ was willing to empty Himself of this – He "made himself nothing" (Phil 2:7). How did He do this? How did He empty Himself? By taking the "very nature of a servant" (Phil 2:7), "being made in human likeness" (Phil 2:7), and, by being "obedient to death – even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).
Do you see the word "exalted" in verse 9? God "exalted" Christ. That word "exalted" expresses the theme of stanza two – it is all about the exaltation of Christ. How was Christ exalted? God "exalted him to the highest place" (Phil 2:9), God "gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil 2:9), "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil 2:10), and "every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:10).
Humiliation. Exaltation. Humiliation. Exaltation. That is the pattern laid down by the Song of Christ in Philippians 2. And, that is the pattern that is followed by the Apostles' Creed – first of all humiliation, and then exaltation.
At the core of the gospel lies Christ. And, at the core of Christ lies His humiliation and exaltation. It is this core that we remember and celebrate tonight in the Lord's Supper.
II We Must Believe the Gospel
A I want you to take note of three words in Q & A 22.
First, the word "believe." Question 22 asks what a Christian must believe. Three times, as you know, the creed itself says, "I believe." In the Latin, the word is "credo" – the root of our word for "creed." "I believe." Not, "I think." Not, "I feel." Not, "It is my opinion." Rather, "I believe."
Saying "I believe," is like saying "I do" at a wedding. It means you are making a commitment. It means you are swearing an oath and giving a promise. This is something worth living for; and, something worth dying for.
B Second, Question 22 also uses the word "confessed" in talking about the Apostles' Creed: we are told the creed is "confessed" throughout the world. The word "confessed" expresses something negative to most people today. In popular language, it means to admit one has committed a crime or is at fault in some way. Confession is something done reluctantly, typically because one feels slightly ashamed or embarrassed. Among Roman Catholics, confession is the formal admission of one's sins to a priest. In using the word "confessed," the Catechism has something much more positive in mind. That is, it is something said with other Christians. And, it is something said to the world.
C Third, I want you to notice the use of the word "doubt." The Apostles' Creed is "a creed beyond doubt." To doubt is to be unsure, to lack confidence, to be uncertain, to question the truth or factuality. When we say "I believe," there is no room for doubt. We have no questions about whether it is fact. We are certain it is the truth. We have confidence in what is being confessed.
In today's world, so many people are uncertain about what they believe. Like a wave of the sea, they are blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6). They go from religion to religion and from belief to belief: channeling, new age, transcendental meditation, healing crystals, Scientology, Mormonism, and so on.
The Christian with true faith is not mixed up and confused at all. He or she knows the gospel. He or she knows Christ Who lies at the core of the gospel.
Tonight, we celebrate the core of our faith in the Lord's Supper. As we do so, we have no doubt about Christ Who was humiliated and Christ Who was exalted.
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