************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 11, 2012
Nicene Creed 16
1 Corinthians 15:42-49
"We Look Forward"
I We Look Forward
A "We believe." That is how the Nicene Creed starts. "We believe." We believe God the Father is the almighty Maker of heaven and earth. We believe that for us and our salvation Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, that He suffered and died and rose from the grave, that He will come again as Judge. We believe that the Spirit is fully God and is the Lord and Giver of life. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. All of this – and more – we believe.
"We affirm" is the language used by the Creed in the second last article. We looked at this last time – that "we affirm" one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
"We look forward." This is what the Nicene Creed says for its last statement of faith. "We look forward."
In the original Greek of the Creed, the word means "expect, anticipate." As Christians, we look forward. As Christians, we are future oriented. As Christians, we live in anticipation. We are like children at Christmas.
One of our boys used to mark off each day on his calendar so he could see progress towards Christmas and his birthday. He would get more and more excited as the time got closer and closer.Like children at Christmas, "we look forward."
In its final line, the Nicene Creed uses the exact same Greek word as John the Baptist. When John the Baptist heard about the ministry of Jesus, he sent two of his disciples to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Lk 7:19). Did you hear that word "expect"? As I said, Nicea uses the same Greek word.
John the Baptist, and all of Israel, lived in the expectation of the Messiah. They looked for, prayed for, waited for the coming one. They expected His appearance. They looked forward to His appearance.
B "We look forward." We expect. We anticipate. This says something about the Christian life. The Christian life is filled with hope. We have hope for the future. We are not filled with despair about the future.
After Obama's victory this past Tuesday, many Republicans are filled with despair about their future.By way of contrast, Christians are filled with hope. We have hope for the future. We look forward to the future. We anticipate the future. Life is not on a downward spiral. Things are not going to get steadily worse.
Those who worry about climate change despair about the future of this earth.
Those who monitor Iran's development of nuclear weapons despair about the future of the Middle-East.
Those who want regime change in Syria despair about the future of that land.
Those who were filled with hope about the Arab Spring, are filled with despair as they see what has taken the place of former dictators.
"We look forward." We expect. We anticipate. Telling us what? Telling us hope is an essential ingredient of the Christian life; to be Christian is to hope.
Title: Kept Alive by Hope
A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University carried on an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape possible for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning.
The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common conclusion. We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life."
-- Bruster & Dale, How to Encourage Others.
C "We look forward." We expect. We anticipate.
We are not like the Sadducees, the Jewish sect at the time of Jesus, that denied the resurrection of the dead and the future life. We are not like the Sadducees who live with no hope. To them, and people like them, Jesus said,
(Jn 5:25-29) I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live ... a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice (29) and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
According to Jesus, the problem with the Sadducees is that they understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Mk 12:24).
D "We look forward." We expect. We anticipate.
Why? Why do we have this hope? Because of Christ. Our hope and expectation for the future rests on Christ and Christ alone. Not on technology. Not on government. Not on medical science. Not on inter-planetary contact. Our hope rests on Christ.
Why? Because Christ arose from the grave. Because He is the ascended Lord. Because He "will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." Because "His kingdom will never end." Because of Christ we "look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come."
Paul, in particular, connects what happened to Jesus to what is happening and will happen to believers. In 2 Timothy and Romans, Paul expresses the connection this way:
(2Tim 2:11-12) Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; (12) if we endure, we will also reign with him.What happened to Christ also happens to believers because of Christ.
(Rom 6:5,8) If we have been united with him ... in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection ... (8) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
II We Look Forward to the Resurrection
A According to Nicea, we look forward to two things. First, "We look forward to the resurrection of the dead."
This belief in the resurrection goes back to the Old Testament. Remember the words of Job?
(Job 19:25) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.The Psalmist says,
(Ps 118:17) I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.Remember, too, the resurrection miracles of Elijah and Elisha – miracles that point forward to the future resurrection!
A favorite resurrection story among the Jews comes from the time of the Maccabees. A Jewish mother and her seven sons were commanded by King Antiochus IV to eat pork in violation of God's Law. When they refused they were executed in the most grisly fashion, from the oldest son to the youngest, while the mother was forced to watch. Each of the young men declared the conviction that enabled him to endure such tortures. As the eldest said,
(2 Maccabees 7:9) You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.Do you hear the reason for their confidence? Their hope in the resurrection.
In Deuteronomy, God promises that obedience to the Law would lead to long life in the land (Duet 6:1,2). Yet, these young men died at the hand of foreign oppressors precisely because of their obedience to the Law. So, what has happened to God's promise? God's promise is understood not in terms of length of years on earth, but in terms of eternal life with God in resurrected bodies. Justice is not denied, but only delayed. The reward for faithfulness is not now, but later. At the resurrection!
B "We look forward to the resurrection of the dead." The same power that raised Jesus from the grave will also raise God's people from the grave.
Because of Jesus, the Christian has no reason to fear death. Death may scare those outside of Christ's covenant community, but it should not scare the Christian. Death, as you know, stands as a dark shadow over every man. The shadow of death cannot be outrun or tricked. Death is truly the "grim reaper." Death's certain grip on the throat of all men also grips men's souls with fear. But death has no grip on the Christian and therefore the Christian doesn't live life with fear, but with hope. The hope of the resurrection dispels the fear of death.
Though he or she may limp through life crippled and badly wounded, the Christian has a bright hope. Our physical bodies are battered by sin. Our physical frames waste away. We don't get physically stronger and fitter as we age. As more than one elderly person has said to me, "It is not easy getting old." Or, as a bumper sticker puts it, "Old age is not for sissies." To the contrary, the effects of death not only linger with us but press more and more into our lives with every passing year.
We cannot escape death, but we can overcome it in Christ.
C "We look forward to the resurrection of the dead." In our Scripture reading, Paul describes the resurrection body. Listen, again, to the description:
(1Cor 15:42-44) The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; (43) it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (44) it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.When this great work of resurrection is done "we bear the likeness of the man from heaven" (1 Cor 15:49).
We look forward to this as our bodies waste away. We look forward to this as we face trials and persecutions. We look forward to this as life becomes a grind. We look forward to this as every day becomes an agony.
No matter what happens to me and my present body, I have a sure and certain hope in the resurrection of Jesus.
III We Look Forward to Life in the World to Come
A According to Nicea, the second part of what we look forward to is "life in the world to come."
I've said before that the Bible does not describe this future life. Rather, the Bible describes what this future life will not be like: no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain, no more night (cf Rev 21:4; 22:5).
I asked one of my Catechism classes to list what this means for us today. Their list was quite exhaustive: no more illness, no more cancer, no more hunger, no more thirst, no more brokenness, no more want. I asked what occupations will not be found in the future life: no more doctors, no more police, no more prison guards, no more nurses, no more medical technicians, no more parole officers.
B "We look forward ... to life in the world to come." Because this is our hope, we can live a certain way today. Because this is our hope, we can do what otherwise would be extremely foolish.
I mentioned earlier the Jewish mother and her seven martyred sons. Why can faithful believers of any age stand up to corruption, tyranny, and idolatry? Because they know this life is not all there is. Because they know there is life in the world to come.
Our society, as you know, is sex-crazed. Advertisers use sex to sell everything from cars to computers to tobacco to alcohol. College students hook-up without a thought to the morality of what they are doing. Young girls get pregnant outside of marriage so they can go on government support and live outside of the parental home. Husbands and wives easily hop from bed to bed and marriage to marriage. Christians are able to live a life of virginity or purity because they know this life is not all there is. Because they know there is life in the world to come.
A life of service to the needs of others makes little sense if we go around only once and this life is all the life we can ever have. But if we have been caught up in the life of God, we know there is a future life for which we earn treasure in the present life.
However, if there is no future life, we are to be pitied more than all men. Because we are missing out on the fun (1 Cor 15:19). Because in a life where everyone eats, drinks, and makes merry, we are giving ourselves needless pain.
The Nicene Creed ends with the ancient Hebrew word "Amen." Which means, "It is sure to be." Which means we say "Yes" with Christ (2 Cor 1:18f).
By ending with "Amen" we are saying we agree with all of the Creed. We are saying its words are our words, its beliefs are our beliefs, its affirmations are our affirmations, what it looks forward to is what we look forward to.
Amen. May we agree with these words in our minds. May we accept these words in our hearts. May we live these words in our lives. Amen.
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