************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 3, 2012

Nicene Creed 05
Matthew 16:13-20
"We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ"

If someone were to ask you "Who do you say you are?" what kind of answer would you give? There are a large variety of answers that I could give, depending on the person asking and the situation. I am a husband to my wife, a father to my children, a son to my parents, a brother to my brother and sisters, a pastor to the congregation. In other situations I could say I am a cyclist, a friend, a Rotarian, a home-owner, a computer-repair guy. The list is almost endless.

Today, we want to ask this question about Jesus. "Who is Jesus?" Or, as Jesus asked Peter, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Mt 16:13) and "Who do you say I am?" (Mt 16:15). Like Peter, we need to answer the question from a distinctly Christian point-of-view.

I Who Is Jesus?
A "Who is Jesus?" I suspect the first person to ask this question was Mary, the mother of Jesus. "Who is Jesus?" Now, consider her situation. She, a young woman, is engaged to be married. Then all of a sudden heaven breaks in and an angel tells her she is going to be pregnant by someone other than her husband! And then he says, "Do not be afraid" (Lk 1:30). And then the angel launches into an explanation of who is Jesus. "Who is Jesus?" Here is the angel's answer:
(Lk 1:32-33) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
What an answer! What a mind-boggling answer! What a totally unexpected answer!

B "Who is Jesus?" I suspect that the shepherds had the exact same question as Mary. Consider their situation. They were watching sheep. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them. The angel starts with the exact same words as he did with Mary, "Do not be afraid" (Lk 2:10). He then announces the coming of Jesus. But, "who is Jesus?" Here is the angel's answer to the shepherds:
(Lk 2:11-12) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

"Who is Jesus?" Especially after they had seen and heard a great choir of angels, I am sure the shepherds had in mind the popular image of the Messiah the image of a great and mighty warrior thundering into town with his legions of soldiers. Instead, they meet a baby born to a virgin. God sure has a way of messing with our images.

In my mind, I imagine the shepherds running all over town and finally ducking into the shed or cave with the manger. They have to take a moment to adjust their eyes to the dark space. There in the midst of the hay lays a little baby. He is nothing remarkable. There are no cherubim flying around him. There is no great beam of light shining down from heaven. No angel choir is singing. There is just this little baby.

C "Who is Jesus?" Martha was forced to ask this question as well. Do you remember the sad scene? Her brother Lazarus had died. Martha had hoped that Jesus would come before Lazarus died, because she knew that Jesus could heal her brother. She knew it because she had seen Jesus do this for others. But, now, Lazarus lay dead in the tomb. All hope seemed to be lost. As Martha talked with Jesus about this it becomes obvious that she knew a lot about God and hope and the resurrection of the last day. She knew her religion. What she did not know yet was her Lord. "Who is Jesus?" Up to this point in time, Martha knew Jesus as a friend and Rabbi. But now she is given another answer:
(Jn 11:25-26) I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; (26) and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

D "Who is Jesus?" In our Scripture reading we hear Peter being confronted with the same question. For almost three years Peter had been walking by Jesus' side. Peter heard people saying all kinds of things about Jesus. Some were saying Jesus was Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist returned from the dead; back then, hardly anyone else was greater than these three. Imagine 200 years from now someone saying that Billy Graham has come back to preach; that was the kind of thing being said about Jesus. "Who is Jesus?" Peter suddenly is given the faith to see there is more lots more to Jesus than first thought:
(Mt 16:16) You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

II Who Is Jesus - Nicene's Answer
A "Who is Jesus?" The early church was forced to ask this question as well. Here is the first part of Nicene's answer:
We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made.
I want you to notice that this part of the answer describes Jesus' relationship to God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth. The language in this part of the Creed is highly technical and, for most Christians today, almost incomprehensible. Many of those reciting these words every Sunday do not have a clue what the words mean. However, we need to understand that this is the Creed's answer to the question of "Who is Jesus?" And, "What is His relationship to God?"

It is fair to say that during Jesus' earthly ministry no one fully understood His unique relationship with God that He was of the exact same essence as the Father. This was true for His followers and it certainly was also true of His enemies and opponents.

Consider Jesus' opponents. Jesus' public behavior scandalized them (cf Lk 5:27-6:5; 7:31-8:3; 15:1-2). So, they resisted Him and rejected Him and sought His death (cf Mt 9:1-17; 12:1-14; 13:53-58; 15:1-14; 21:23-46). They would never have done this if they believed Him to be the eternal Son of God, of the same essence as the Father.

As for Jesus' disciples, consider their actions. Judas betrayed Him (Mk 14:10-11), Peter denied Him (Mk 14:54-72), and the rest of the disciples abandoned Him (Mk 14:50-52). The disciples were doubtful and confused and even disbelieved (Mk 16:8,14; Mt 28:17; Lk 24:4,11; Jn 20:14-15,25). They, too, did not comprehend Jesus' as being one with the Father.

Neither Jesus' opponents nor His followers fully grasped Who He was during His earthly ministry. So how did the disciples begin to grasp Who Jesus was? It was only after Easter's resurrection and the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost that the disciples began to understand Jesus' unique relationship with God. As Paul puts it in Romans, through the Spirit of holiness Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4).

However, it wasn't until the third and fourth centuries, the period of time when the Nicene Creed was developed and officially approved, that the church in response to heresy actually defined the core truths about Jesus' relationship to God.

B "Who is Jesus?" There is also a second part to Nicene's answer, the part that sounds familiar, because it contains many of the same thoughts as the Apostles' Creed.
We believe ... For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again ... (and so on).
I want you to notice that this part of the answer narrates Jesus' involvement with humanity, from His incarnation to His second coming.

C So, according to Nicene, Who is Jesus? First, He is part of the eternal Godhead. And, second, He is man like you and me. We must take care not to turn this distinction into a division. Focusing first on His "divinity" and then on His "humanity" should not lead us to separate Christ's two natures, for the Creed asserts both things about Jesus simultaneously: He is at once both fully human and fully divine.

III Jesus is Divine
A "Who is Jesus?" Many were scandalized about the claim that Jesus is divine.

This scandal is the root reason for the formation of the Nicene Creed. In the early part of the 4th century, a priest by the name of Arius argued that God's essence cannot be shared. Jesus, therefore, cannot be fully God but must be a creature that God formed. According to Arius, God existed, without beginning, before the Son. In a letter to a friend, Arius complained "We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning ..."

I should mention that the Jehovah's Witnesses subscribe to the same heresy as Arius. They do not want to say Jesus is fully divine, of the same essence as the Father. One of the easiest ways to identify heresy is to ask the question, "Who is Jesus?" Unless the answer clearly identifies Jesus as fully divine, you know you are dealing with an heretic.

B Today many continue to be scandalized that the church professes Jesus to be divine. Because, there are many today who subscribe to a modern form of Arianism. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, they deny the full divinity of Christ.

Have you heard of the "Jesus Seminar"? This is a quest for the real Jesus as revealed by history. This Jesus is not divine; rather, He is just another person like you and me. This Jesus does not do miracles; He is just another person like you and me. This Jesus is not omniscient and omnipresent; He is just another person like you and me. Or, if Jesus is anything special, He is just another powerful Jewish prophet of the first century.

Do you understand what is at stake? If Jesus is simply like us, or if He is merely a powerful prophet of the past, why should He have any claim on us? Why should we follow Him rather than Socrates or Confucius or Buddha or Mohammed? If Jesus is not God, devoting one's life to Him is truly foolish.

IV One Lord Jesus Christ
A "Who is Jesus?" Nicene's confession starts with the phrase, "one Lord Jesus Christ."

First, He is "one." As I already mentioned, Jesus is divine and Jesus is human. But this does not make Jesus two. Rather, He is one. At one and the same time Jesus is fully divine and fully human.

Jesus is "one" though Jesus is divine and human. But He has not always been this way. It started when the eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature. Through the working of the Holy Spirit from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, He became like us in every way, except for sin; yet, He is and remained true and eternal God.

B The second term I want to cover is "Jesus." "We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ."

The name "Jesus" translates the Hebrew name "Joshua." This, in turn, derives from Yaheshua, meaning "the Lord saves." The angel Gabriel assigns the name and gives the interpretation: "you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). The name Jesus introduces everything in the Creed that distinguishes Christianity from the Jewish and Moslem faith: namely, as the eternal Son of God, Jesus is our Savior.

C The third term is "Christ." "We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ." Christ, as you should know, means "anointed one." In the Greek translation of the Old Testament this word is used to translate "Messiah" (cf 1 Sam 2:10; 24:7; 26:16; 2 Sam 19:21; Ps 2:2; 17:50; 19:6; 27:8; 83:9; 88:38; 104:15; 131:10). Jesus is God's anointed. God has anointed Him with the Holy Spirit, in order that He might proclaim the good news of God (Luke 4:18-19).

D The fourth term is "Lord." "We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ." The designation of Jesus as "Lord" is pivotal; we can hardly overestimate the importance of this title. We need to go back again to the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It translates "Yahweh," the proper name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:2-15), by the Greek term "Lord." Meaning what? Meaning that the name of the God Who is the Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen, is also the name given to Jesus Christ.

For the earliest Christians to say "Jesus is Lord" (cf Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11) because of His resurrection means He is God and has the power and authority of God, the Creator of heaven and earth. He is, as Revelation says, "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16), that is, supreme over all (cf Phil 2:10-11).

"We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ." When we say these words of the Creed we declare that Jesus is our Lord, meaning that we recognize Him as Lord of all and that we acknowledge His authority over our hearts. We owe Him the same worship and obedience we owe God.

To pay this obedience and worship to Jesus is to deny it to any other creature. As Lord, Jesus exercises absolute authority over our lives. No created being or thing can be before Him. Thus, when Rome demanded a choice between Christ and Caesar, Christians understood that if they chose Christ as Lord, they might die in their mortal bodies as a result, but they would live forever with Christ in the presence of God.

"Who is Jesus?" With the church of all ages, we say He is fully God and fully man. With the church of all ages, we say He is Savior. With the church of all ages, we say He is Messiah. And, with the church of all ages, we say He is Lord.

What do we believe? "We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ."
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