By Sherree Funk
note: This blog was written on New Year’s Eve, 2011.
Here we are on the final day of 2011 talking about forgiveness of sins. How appropriate. Everyone wants to start a new year with a clean slate. And forgiveness of sins is the most complete cleansing we could hope for.
Tennent’s book, This We Believe!, is really wonderful on this phrase in the Apostle’s Creed. For one thing, he emphasizes that Jesus’ work on the cross is the one and only event in history which brought about forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 10:4 says it plainly: It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Tennent stresses that the Old Testament procedures for handling sin – carefully administrated sacrifices of animals on certain days, by certain people – were merely a ‘promissory note’ on a future complete sin removal. Thus, those who trusted in those ancient sacrifices would have their sins completely forgiven only after Jesus paid the price in full. So Jesus’ sacrifice “worked simultaneously back through time as well as forward through time.”
Tennent makes three great points about this:
Read some of these scriptures highlighted by Tennent in this chapter: Matthew 26:28, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 26:18, Colossians 1:13-14. Each time we take communion, we hear these words of Jesus: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
It is a great feeling of freedom to realize that all our sins have been washed away, as far as the east is from the west. We can really start fresh after accepting this gift from God. But there is one thing that can keep us from a full realization of that freedom: unforgiveness toward others.
Tennent says, “We demonstrate that we have been forgiven by becoming forgivers ourselves.” Ephesians 4:32 says “Forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” And the Lord’s prayer reminds us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This can be very difficult. Listen to this wonderful Matthew West song: Forgiveness.
What better way to start the New Year than by forgiving? Forgive those who have hurt you. Forgive those close to you, those far away, those who have already died, and even yourself. Wipe clean the slate. Then ask God to forgive you, once again. Let your new year begin with an open clean heart.
Happy New Year!!!
By Sherree Funk
The mention of the church in this creed is significant. With this phrase, we lift the church “from being a mere human organization with certain functions, such as preaching, discipling, or feeding the hungry.” “The Church is what God is building in the world,” says Tennent, in his book, This We Believe!
All of us have been in churches that were less than perfect. They are often inefficient. Sometimes theologically askew. Sometimes spiritually dead. And yet, the church, even with its shortcomings, is the divine work God is doing in the world. The process of bringing the church into Christlikeness is ongoing and involves us.
The terms used in the Creed to define the Church, “holy” and “catholic,” are important and often misunderstood. Holy means set apart. The church is to be set apart for holiness, for righteousness, godliness, and beauty. Thus when certain things take place in church, we are horrified. The church is to be something set apart, something more righteous than the world as a whole. And we in the church are called to be holy as well. This requires an intention to put off our old sinful ways and become more Christlike. How often do we consider our holiness? Is this why the church is often indistinguishable from the rest of the world?
The term catholic used here is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. Many have been baffled by this phrase. The term catholic – small c – simply means universal. It speaks of the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide and throughout time. It unites all believers, regardless of denominational differences. Reciting the Apostle’s Creed, we stand together with the global Body of Christ throughout history. This creed is ecumenical.
“The Communion of Saints” unites us spiritually with that same global group through history. As Tennent puts it, “To be ‘in communion’ with someone means to be spiritually connected with a shared fellowship under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Three things Tennent highlights concerning the communion of saints.
I love this part of the creed for making me feel part of something much bigger than my local church. I can recall great pastors I have loved and learned from, who are now in heaven. I can think of my mother and grandmother. I can imagine Christians in Africa, Asia and elsewhere reciting the same creed. It speaks of the invisible bond we have through space and time with all other believers. Thank you, apostles, for including me in your creed.
By Sherree Funk |first published December 27, 2011
After seven meaty affirmations about the person of Jesus Christ, the Apostle’s Creed now turns to the third person of the Trinity. This affirmation plainly places the Trinity in the center of Christian belief. The creed earlier declared that the Holy Spirit conceived the child Jesus in Mary’s womb. We have affirmed the relational aspects of God, the father, and Jesus, the son, and we now state simply that we believe in the Holy Spirit.
In This We Believe!, Tennent stresses that the Holy Spirit is crucial to reconciling ‘twin truths’ about God: God is both high, holy and unapproachable and, at the same time, compassionate, tender, loving and merciful.
Two scriptures speak of this paradox:
Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
Isaian 57: 15: “God dwells in two places: in the high and holy place, and also in the place of humbleness and humility.”
Tennent strongly believes that the Trinity is the highest conception of God. Churches must hold fast to the awe-inspiring mystery of the Trinity in order to keep a proper idea of God. Any imbalance in this understanding leads to oversimplification and trivializing each part of the Trinity.
Three things the Holy Spirit gives to the church are:
The Holy Spirit is very real, not just something we mention in passing. It is in a sense, the substance that gives us access to God the Father and His Son. It is the communication system God uses to speak to our hearts. It is indispensible in a full understanding in the Triune God. Pray to be filled with this Spirit and your life will begin to take on the character of Christ. You will be His witness.
By Sherree Funk | first published December 23, 2011
This may not be the most encouraging piece of the Apostle’s Creed. Many of us would rather not dwell on the subject of judgment. I know I am uneasy. It is easy to be joyful about being saved and loved, but judged?
Start at the beginning: He Shall Come.
This we can rejoice over. As Tim Tennent reminds us, Jesus said, “at that time the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky, with great power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30. And 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 also tells us, “For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Which part do you look forward to? For me it’s the trumpet sound. Each year during the Christmas season I love to hear Handel’s Messiah…. “The trumpet shall sound!!! The dead shall be raised, incorruptible!!!”
But when Christ returns, we will stand before Him. Romans 14:10 says, “For we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God.”
In his book, This We Believe!, Tennent gives us three things to ponder about Judgment Day.
Lord, help us to do works in obedience to you, out of a desire to serve, not to be rewarded. And help us to trust you completely, so we need not fear Judgment Day.
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!
By Sherree Funk | Originally published December 22, 2011
Ephesians 4:10 says, He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.
Jesus’ ascension is more than just another reference to his resurrection. He ascended all the way back to the heaven he left at the incarnation. And his position in heaven is “at the right hand of God,” the position of any honored guest. But Tennent cautions us not to think of Jesus in a passive role in heaven, sitting in a great throne next to God’s, watching as things unfold in the universe. No, Jesus has three major roles as the victorious second person of the Trinity: Prophet, Priest, and King. The book of Hebrews clarifies much of this activity of the ascended Jesus.
The prophets of the Old Testament delivered God’s word, and then waited to see what effect it had on the listeners. They waited for repentence, for judgment, for prophesied events to unfold. Similarly, Jesus waits. Hebrews 10:12b-13 says, “He sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool.” Just like the prophets of old, Jesus delivered the WORD, (himself) and now waits for the world to recognize its truth. One day “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
This is his priestly role. The priests of the Hebrew people were to intercede for the people by performing carefully designed sacrifices on a particular schedule. They were chosen by family heritage only,their priesthood was temporary, and the sacrifices were performed in an earthly temple, a mere shadow of the heavenly one. Jesus perfectly fulfills the role of priest: “Now there were many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:23-25. I love the thought that Jesus himself is always interceding on our behalf and has been doing this for 2000 years.
This is his kingly role. He reigns. When Jesus spoke to his disciples before his ascension, he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” “And surely I am with you, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18, 20. Jesus is in heaven and on earth with full authority. And he is both at the right hand of God and with us always. Wow. A truly divine King. He is omnipresent and available to all, everywhere.
This declaration of the Apostles’ Creed marks our belief in Jesus’ present and continuing authority in heaven. He is seated as God’s most honored guest. How blessed we are to have a friend such as Jesus in a position equal with God Almighty. To remember this is to be amazed and wonderfully grateful. Thank you, Lord.
By Sherree Funk | originally published on December 21, 2011
Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! The central proclamation of the Christian church is this: Jesus Christ rose from the dead and He lives!
Tim Tennent rejects any attempt by the church to shift its central proclamation to anything else. The ethic of Jesus, His exemplary life, His teachings, while important, cannot be the central defining belief of the church without weakening it tremendously.
Tennent says it best:
“Without the Resurrection, the Christian gospel is not really that different from Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. We would be just another human religion struggling with the transcendence of God, but the difference is that the Christian faith is not merely an human religion. … The great proclamation of the Gospel is about who God is and what He has done. Buddha is in the grave. Mohammad is in the grave. Confucius is in the grave. Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord.”
With this amazing powerful resurrection, Christ demonstrates complete victory over sin, death, and hell. “To believe in Jesus is not simply to believe that he lived, or was a great teacher, or that he could perform miracles. Most Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists would also believe those things.” The Christian’s distinct belief is that Jesus is the Risen, Living Lord.
With His resurrection, Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection of all believers. Tennent reminds us that God is not simply saving our souls, nor will we be simply resuscitated after we die. In the first notion, our souls are somehow separate from the rest of us – our minds, our bodies, our emotions. Not true, says Tennent. “God redeems the whole person.”
Likewise we are not simply going to return to this body with its human frailties. Jesus did indeed ‘raise’ individuals who had died. Like Lazarus. Like Jairus’s daughter. But those people eventually died. When Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new resurrection body. With this, we have the assurance that one day we will also be given a new resurrection body in which our ‘person’ will dwell.
I stand on Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 42-43. The day I die, I’m going to be with Him. My favorite Easter Hymn is also the most traditional, but my favorite verses are these two:
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where O Death is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Allelulia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Allelulia!
Following our exalted Head, Allelula!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
Thank you, Charles Wesley, for your marvelous lyrics of Christian affirmation. And thank you, Lord, for the resurrection power that raised Jesus and conquered all evil for all time. Hallelujah!!!!
By Sherree Funk | first published on December 20, 2011
Now we slow the boat. This phrase of the Apostle’s Creed represents the activity of Christ on what we call Holy Saturday. Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, risen and seen by many on Sunday, and the day between is known as Holy Saturday. It was the Sabbath, and all the disciples were laying low, in part because it was the Sabbath.
But Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and he had work to do.
This phrase in the creed has been omitted by some. Yet Tennent makes clear, in his wonderful book, This We Believe!, that no piece of this creed should be tampered with. Creeds are “historic statements affirmed by Christians all across time and they apply to all churches everywhere.” Specific denominations may have Statements of Faith which include distinct views on subjects like baptism, tongues, church governance and other points.
Sheol is the Jewish name for the place of the dead. I like to meditate on Psalm 139:7-8, which says, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” Jesus left no one out. And he can find you anywhere.
This passage in 1Peter 3:18-20 describes what Jesus was doing on Holy Saturday.
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
After his death, Jesus went and preached to all the dead who knew nothing of him. By his presence in this place, Jesus displays his power over all the forces of evil and over all death.
And finally, “Jesus unites himself with the saints from all time in his glorious ascencion,” writes Tennent. Ephesians 4:8 declares,“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train, and gave gifts to men.” This reference is to those who had been captive in death, who were now ascending to heaven with Christ.
Wow. These are not the kind of things we hear much about on Sunday mornings. Tennent emphasizes again and again in his book that the words of the creed were all carefully chosen. This phrase again emphasizes the cosmic importance of Jesus’ death.
The time dimension seems to be no challenge for our Lord. What an awesome God we have!
By Sherree Funk | Originally published December 19, 2011
The Apostle’s Creed seems to leap quickly from Jesus’ birth to his death. This is not to say that all his teachings and miracles were of no importance, but that his greatest work, his essential work, the thing that we believe above all other things is this: Jesus – fully God, fully man – died a humiliating death by crucifixion at a particular point in history. That he really died is a key point. And this begs the question: Why did the eternal Son of God have to die?
Tennent, in his book, This We Believe!, points us to three reasons taken from Hebrews 2.
In a sense, Christ’s death proved that he lived.
In death Jesus faced the one thing that Satan thought he had over us. And then he triumphed over it.
Jesus did not live avoiding the evil in the world. He faced it head on without ever succumbing to temptation, without being conquered by evil. He was killed in a most evil way. No one will ever die a more unjust, humiliating, painful death. He tasted human death for us all.
I guess I always wondered why old Pontius Pilate got his name in this creed. It seems like he shouldn’t have gotten so much free press. But Tennent points out that this anchors the life and death of Jesus to a particular identifiable point in history. By mentioning Pilate’s name, a person who is well-known in history, whose name has been identified on a stone in Caesarea Maritima, the creed dispels any notions that this is just an abstract set of beliefs that may never have happened. While the crucifixion is not solely the fault of Pilate, he was a part of the evil plan to destroy Jesus. Satan was behind it all, but God had a bigger plan.
The previous phrase of the creed reminded us of Mary’s humble obedience while this one reminds us how we, like Pilate, often make wrong choices, and thus work into Satan’s evil plans. It is worth pondering this human condition, humbly confessing our sins, and earnestly seeking to obey.
Luke 23:23-35; John 19:18-20; Acts 4:10; 1Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 2:5-18
A verse in Charles Wesley’s hymn, Amazing Love captures our gratitude:
He left His father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace;
emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race;
Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God it found out me –
Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me!
Perhaps it makes Christmas even sweeter when we remember what love prompted His birth, knowing that it would lead to His suffering and death.
Originally published December 18, 2011.
When I was young, the sounds of Christmas came from our hi-fi stereo as we played Firestone Christmas Albums non-stop. I can still hear the clear voice of Julie Andrews singing my favorite Christmas hymns and carols. Her lovely accent made Hark! The Herald Angels Sing unique. I memorized all the verses to most of these hymns just from hearing Julie sing them over and over.
Today’s declaration of the Apostle’s Creed is the beloved Christmas event. It is the incarnation of God in the flesh. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. Tennent points us first of all to Charles Wesley’s beautifully poetic and theologically rich hymn lyrics.
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see! Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!
The fact that God wanted to come to earth and be with us in the flesh is truly awesome. The way he chose to accomplish this is more stunning still.
When the apostle Paul thought about it, he wrote this: “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, But emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself…” Philippians 2:5-8.
Tennent gives a wonderful illustration as he summarizes Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper. The book is about the son of King Henry VIII who met a ragged beggar and noticed they were quite similar in appearance except for the clothes. They traded places and changed clothes. The heir to the throne then walked the streets unrecognized, ill-treated, pushed aside, and ignored. In the same way, Tennent says, “The eternal Son of God clothed himself in our humanity and walked among us and most did not recognize Him.” John 1:10 says, He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
Mary is the only person of faith mentioned in this creed. Her simple obedience to the will of God is exemplary. That God would entrust himself to be born and raised by one of us in this way is a sign of his great love. And it is more than that: He shows that he wants to accomplish his work of redemption in cooperation with us, His people, ordinary people.
Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. His conception was from God, by God, by the Holy Spirit, but within the human womb of Mary. And he was born as we all are. In order to become the perfect sinless sacrifice God intended, he had to be fully divine, free of the inherited sin of Adam. In order to be truly our Emmanuel, to sympathize with our weaknesses, he had to be fully human. He was both. It is a mystery. A paradox. The incarnation is a divine event worthy of our worship and praise.
Luke 1:26-38 describes the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It is from this scripture that the apostles took the words of this affirmation. Nothing in the creed is carelessly tossed in.
It is never to early to prepare for Christmas. Allow God in Christ to use you in His work. Be His humble servant as Mary was. Embrace the mystery. Glory to the newborn King.
This blog was originally posted December 17, 2011 by Sherree G. Funk (The artwork is Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, by Ford Madox Brown, 1852)
The second line in the Apostles’ Creed is simple yet profound. It is a non-negotiable affirmation of the Christian faith. You cannot claim to be a Christian without a basic understanding of who Jesus is. So here it is laid out for us: Jesus Christ is God the Father’s only son, and he is Lord.
The relational language is very important. Some churches want to change the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to “Creator”, “Redeemer”, “Sustainer” or “Sanctifier”. However, it is this relational language that is the essence of who God is, and who we are. Without it, God could be just a “clockmaker” or “commander” or “dictator of his will.” The Trinity is above all else a relational entity.
Tennent says, “If we lose the relational language that lies at the heart of the Church’s language about the triune God, then we are left only with the abstract God of the philosophers, or Allah (the God of Islam), who has no interest in revealing himself, only declaring his will.”
Hebrews 1:1 says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.”
Our Lord: This Jesus, this only Son of the Father, is NOT a created being. He is not one of an infinite number of gods. And he is more than a mere human teacher with extraordinary goodness. He IS the full revelation of God in the flesh. Read Colossians 1:16. Also Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodliy form.”
At Christmas we read the words of the angels in Luke 2:11: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then remember the words of Jesus himself while speaking to Nicodemus in John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And the words of Thomas, the doubting one, when seeing the risen Christ for the first time: “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is Lord not only because Thomas said so. His actions are the actions of God when he declares, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is showing his deity when he forgives the sins of the paralytic and the leaders ask,”Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And when he is worshiped – Tennent lists the following scriptures: Matt. 2:11, 14, 33, 28, 9, 17; Luke 24:52, John 9:38, and Hebrews 1:6 – he is none other than the unique representation of God himself.
And take a minute to absorb again the words of Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”
As Tennent emphasizes in his book, This We Believe!, the words of the Apostle’s Creed are taken from Holy Scripture, deriving power from God’s Word.
I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD!