************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 10, 2012
Nicene Creed 06
"The Only Son of God"
I Jesus is Begotten
A In our text, John says four things about Jesus. First, Jesus is "the Word [Who] became flesh and made his dwelling among us." This is the same Word Who was with God in the beginning and was God (cf Jn 1:1).
Second, we see the word "glory." In the Old Testament that word "glory" is always associated with the presence of God. For instance, the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai; to the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain (Ex 24:16-17). That same glory was shown to Moses when God passed in front of him (Ex 33:18-22). It was the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle and, later, the temple (Ex 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). Glory is what God shows when He dwells with His people, when He leads His people, when He comforts His people. John says he sees the same glory – the glory of God – in Jesus. And, notice, this Jesus – like God – "made his dwelling among us." In the original Greek, the word for "dwelling" is the word for "tent" – a clear reference to the tent of meeting in the wilderness, the same tent that was filled with God's glory.
Third, Jesus is called "the One and Only." A couple of footnotes at the bottom of our pew Bible indicates that another translation is "the Only Begotten" (Jn 1:14,18). [We find the same footnote in John 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5.]
Jesus is the "Only Begotten." John asserts the simple truth that Christ came from and returned to God in a way that no other human has or will or could. The term "begotten" speaks of Jesus' unique relationship with the Father. Not only is Jesus the Son but He is God's only Son. Jesus is Son in a way no one else is.
Fourth, we see the phrase "grace and truth." Jesus is full of "grace and truth." In the Bible, God is a gracious God. Over and over again, we see this characteristic applied to God (Ex 34:6; Num 6:25; 2 Kings 13:23; Ezra 8:22; Ps 86:15; 103:8; etc). And, God – and His Word – are truth (Ps 51:6; 52:3; 119; Is 45:19; Jer 5:3; etc). What is said about God is now applied to Jesus. Jesus, like God, is full of "grace and truth."
What is John's point? That Jesus is divine. That Jesus was not created. That Jesus, like God, did not have a beginning. That Jesus shares fully in the life of God. That Jesus not only is like God but is God in every way.
B The Nicene Creed uses the same language as John. Jesus is "the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages" and "begotten, not made."
Remember, the Creed was written against Arius and his followers who reduced the Son to the level of a creature – not God, not man, but a third kind of being. Furthermore, there were also those at the time the Creed was being composed who argued that Jesus was God's Son simply by adoption, in the same way that we who believe in Jesus are adopted sons of God (cf Rom 8:14-17). In response to both heresies, the Creed designated Jesus as the "only" and "begotten" "Son of God." He is not a third kind of being. He is not the adopted Son of God. He is God's Son in a unique way. He is God's Son in a way that no one else is God's Son. He is the "Only Begotten" Son of God.
What does the Creed mean by "begotten"? It does not mean that Jesus had a beginning. Do you remember the long list of names in Genesis 5. Over and over again we hear the phrase "became the father of, became the father of, became the father of." Or, as other translations put it, "beget, beget, beget." Adam beget Seth. Seth beget Enosh. Enosh beget Kenan. Kenan beget Mahalalel. Mahalalel beget Jared. Jared beget Enoch. Each one of these people was begotten.
Jesus is "the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages" and "begotten, not made." The Creed is not talking about the physical birth of Jesus as a human. Nor is the Creed talking about a making by God. Rather, the Creed is talking of something that takes place within the life of God. It is talking about a sharing by the Father out of Himself.
Jesus is "the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages" and "begotten, not made." We are to understand that the Son is not something made by the Father as part of creation, but is rather an extension or expansion of the Father's own existence. Think of our children. Children are not something we make. They are not our possessions. They are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. They are "out of us" and share our substance, and are often our "spitting image."
At lunch today we were eating corn on the cob. There are three ways to eat corn on the cob. You can eat it in nice little circles, going round and round. You can go back and forth like a typewriter. Or, like a mouse you can eat a bit here and a bit there. David mentioned that he eats corn just like his father. And, he keeps his money in his wallet just like his father. And, he keeps his paperwork nice and neat like his father.Likewise, Jesus is in His Father's image.
But Jesus is also unlike our children. Our children are born helpless and dependent. They are less than we are. They are subordinate. They need to grow and mature. Jesus is the eternally Begotten Son without beginning or end. Jesus is "the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages" and "begotten, not made."
The Creed wants to make the same point as John in his Gospel: That Jesus is divine. That Jesus was not created. That Jesus, like God, did not have a beginning. That Jesus shares fully in the life of God. That Jesus not only is like God but is God in every way.
II God From God, Light from Light ...
In the next lines of the Creed we hear three phrases: "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God."
Jesus is "Light from Light." Light is the first thing created by God's word of command (Gen 1:3-5). The Lord's presence was a light for the people of Israel during the wilderness journey (Exod 13:21). In the Psalms, light is consistently associated with God: "The Lord is my light," says Psalm 27:1, and "in your light we see light" says Psalm 36:9. Isaiah invites the House of Jacob to "walk in the light of the Lord" (Isa 2:5), and declares that the "people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned" (Is 9:2).
In the New Testament, light is also associated with the divine presence. Paul says that God "lives in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). Peter declares the chosen have been called by God "out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Pet 2:9). "God is light," says John (1 Jn 1:5).
Now, along comes the Creed and declares Jesus to be "Light from Light."
Jesus is also "God from God," and "true God from true God." A title that the Old Testament and most of the New Testament restricts to God the Father is applied by the Creed to Jesus Christ.
Now, put this all together: "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." Put them all together. And what do you get? What conclusion do you reach? Our "Lord Jesus Christ" is divine. He is God. He is part of the eternal Godhead. Nicene wants to make the point that in talking about Jesus it is talking about God!
III Of the Same Substance as the Father
What follows is the most pivotal word used by the Nicene Creed. Our English simply says, "of the same essence as the Father." "Of the same essence" is one word in the Greek. It is the most famous word in the history of theology.
There are two words in the Greek that are separated by one little letter. There is the word homoousios – of the same essence. And, there is the word homoiousios – of like or similar essence. Do you hear the difference one little letter makes? Is Jesus of the same essence as the Father or is Jesus of similar essence to the Father? Is Jesus the same as God or is He only like God?
Arius was willing to say Jesus was like God. And, he was willing to say Jesus was like man. But He was not willing to say Jesus was the same as God and Jesus was the same as man.
Nicene says Jesus is "of the same essence as the Father." God the Father and God the Son are of the same essence or being. They are both equally God.
IV Through Him All Things Were Made
The fathers of Nicene complete their statement about the Christ Who existed from eternity by asserting that "through him all things were made."
In its first line, the Creed asserts that God the Father is the "maker of heaven and earth." But now it declares that the One Who was "begotten, not made" to be the One through Whom God made "all things."
Four times the New Testament bears witness to the Son's role in creation. It starts with our Bible reading from John:
(Jn 1:3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.The Creed adopted John's language and its insistence on the Son's role in Creation.
The second witness is found in Paul's first letter to Corinth. Paul says,
(1Cor 8:6) yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
The third witness is found in Paul's letter to the Colossians. Talking about the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says,
(Col 1:15-16) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (16) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
The fourth and final witness is found in the opening verses of Hebrews. There we read,
(Heb 1:2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
The Creed echoes this testimony of the New Testament. "Through him all things were made."
The Father is the Maker. The Son is the Maker. Telling us what? Telling us the Son, like the Father, is God. Telling us the Son, like the Father, has creative powers. Telling us the Son, like the Father, is almighty.
V For Us and For Our Salvation
A You might wonder, why does Nicene keep saying the same thing – that Jesus is God? Why does it keep hammering home the same point in line after line and phrase after phrase?
This reminds me of the last time I traveled. The same announcement kept coming over and over again over the airport's sound system. Something about being welcome and security.In the same way, Nicene keeps pounding home the same message.
Why? Two reasons. First, don't forget, we are sinners. We are prone to forget. We are always tempted to reduce Jesus or lessen Jesus. So, the Creed hammers home the basic point that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is God.
No heresy about Jesus makes Him into more than He is. Every heresy takes away from Him. Every heresy brings Him down. Every heresy about Christ makes Him into something less than He really is.
B But there is also a second reason. The Creed wants to emphasize the divinity of Christ but it keeps something firmly in view, something important in view, something vital in view.
Let's go back to Arius and his followers. Arianism taught that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. But, if Jesus was not fully divine, then how could He accomplish His work of salvation? If Jesus was not fully divine, that He would not have been able to save mankind from the wrath of God against sin. Keep in mind that only God is able to save us from the wrath of God against our sin. So, to deny the divinity of Christ, then, is to strike at the very heart of the Gospel.
Arius could not be correct. Arius must not be correct. Because God tells us in His word that Jesus came down from heaven "for us and for our salvation." It is this phrase that kept the fathers of Nicea on track. "For us and for our salvation." "For us and our salvation." "For us and for our salvation."
The fathers of Nicea kept their eyes focused on the Gospel. They focused on the teachings of Scripture regarding the saving work of Jesus. If Jesus was sent to save sinners, then He had to be fully divine in order to accomplish this salvation.
The fundamental error made by Arius and the Jehovah's Witnesses and other heresies is that they all forgot why Jesus came. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," says Paul (1 Tim 1:15). As long as you keep that in mind, then you have to end at the same point as Nicene: that Jesus is God!
What do 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.
We believe this because at stake is our salvation.
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