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!
A few years ago I blogged about the Apostles’ Creed as discussed in the wonderful little book, This We Believe!, by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, president of Asbury Seminary. The creed is a brilliant encapsulation of the Christian faith through the centuries. I claim it as my faith statement along with a great cloud of witnesses.
When I read the book in 2011, I wrote twelve short blogs summarizing Tennent’s twelve commentaries on the twelve declarations of the creed. Below is the first one, from December 16, 2011.
I just received a wonderful little book called This We Believe! by Tim Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary. It takes a close look at one of the church’s oldest creeds, the Apostles’ Creed. There are 12 phrases, and each one warrants a chapter. I recommend the book to anyone, but I plan to blog about each chapter for each of the next 12 days. Join me in this meditation on a comprehensive statement of faith.
Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Acts 14:15 and Hebrews 11:3.
Tennent highlights the inclusion of the word ‘father’ in this first statement of belief. He points out that without this word, the affirmation could be said by Muslims or Jews, but the inclusion of the word Father makes it distinctly Christian. God is a person, and in relationship, both with His son Jesus and with us.
The creed then affirms God’s power with the word ‘almighty.’ Isn’t it wonderful to contemplate that our God is not only all-powerful, but also personal and protective, like a father.
And this Father Almighty has created something: the heavens and the earth. It is fitting, Tennant explains, that this first phrase of the creed echoes the first verse in all scripture, Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
And the Psalms repeat again and again praise to this God, Creator of the Universe. Read Psalm 102:25-26, Psalm 8:3-4, and others.
And the writer of Hebrews puts it beautifully when he declares in Heb 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Tennent makes these strong points for us as Christians:
“It is truly amazing that God has taken us, lumps of clay that we are, and has lifted us up as the stewards of His glorious creation and, ultimately, to rule and reign with Him through all eternity.”
“We are called to creation care, which is living our entire lives in the presence of God and humbly making choices that remember that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.”
“Set your faith on this God who is the Lord and King of the Universe. Make sure you are trusting in Him who spoke His Word, and the moon and stars and planets took their place in obedience to His Word. …Set your faith on the Lord, the King of the Universe who created man and woman in His own image, breathed into us the breath of life, and called us into relationship with Himself and with one another.”
Paul writes of joy in a letter to the Philippian church while he is imprisoned. He mentions joy or some form of the word 15 times. Paul, perhaps more than any other Bible character, understands joy. Joy is deeper than happiness; it is far more than feeling good; it brings a smile to your face and a sense of peace. When asked recently what is my favorite emotion, I answered: joy.
Music transcends the physical. I love jazz, blues, praise music, classical music, piano music. I notice that when a tune is playing over and over in my head, I am generally happier. Music crowds out other noises and thoughts. No wonder so many teenagers keep their earplugs in and iPods turned up. Singing adds another dimension of joy, no matter how untrained your voice. So turn on some music or get out the instrument you used to play. Sing along to the radio.
When Paul was in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, he and Silas were singing and praising God. Singing through pain proved to be a tremendous witness to the rest of the prisoners and staff.
I have invested time in leading small groups of teens in Bible study. Getting to know middle school kids is easy and rewarding. They are full of energy and they are willing to share their ideas, some of which are pretty wild. They are eager to understand human relationships and there is no better source for good material than the Bible. This is joy: walking into church on Sunday only to be surrounded in a group hug by a bunch of smiling middle schoolers. True joy.
Paul loved his church plant in Philippi. He no doubt remembered the parties at the home of the jailer (Acts 16:34) and the hospitality of Lydia (Acts 16:40) He loved those people. So while jotting his letter to them, he couldn’t help talking about rejoicing. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4: 4)
Joy is found in thanksgiving. Literally. The Greek word for joy is smack in the middle of the Greek word for thanksgiving. Chara. Eucharistia. It is so very true. No blessing should be taken for granted. This morning I was thankful as I washed my hair in a clean hot shower, probably using more than the American average of 17 gallons. As I sit here writing in my New Orleans cottage, I am thankful for the way the sun falls through our trees, and for the birdsong before dawn. I slept well last night partly because my son called yesterday. I love to hear from our children. Find ordinary things that make you smile. Write them down. Counting your blessings can be a wonderful joy-building exercise.
Paul expressed his thanks to the Philippians for their generous monetary support. He also talked about being thankful that people were talking about Jesus Christ, whether or not their motives were selfless. He was thankful for the service of Epaphoroditus, who came from Philippi, but fell ill. He also bragged on Timothy and his work in sharing the gospel. Paul was content no matter the circumstances; he had learned how to be thankful in the little things. (Phil 4:11-13)
Big things like knowing Jesus. There is always more to learn about God and his love for us. But I KNOW whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him until the end of time. Big things like knowing my life is eternal and that I will see my mother again in heaven. It makes me smile to know that God works all things together for good. It is a settled feeling of joy. This assurance of God’s love and power and grace produces joy that cannot be shaken, even amid frightening circumstances. If you are not certain of your salvation, talk with someone. Ask questions.
Paul had this kind of assurance. Philippians 1:21 says, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And Philippians 3: 20-21 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When your eternal fate is secure, why not be joyful?
Laughter is good for the soul. I have a group of friends who met on the tennis courts. We play less tennis these days as our knees and hips scream at us insistently. We have supported one another through cancer and illnesses of our children and deaths of parents. But we really know how to laugh. Smiles make life’s drudgery much more pleasant. Sharing your music, your love, your thankfulness, your assurance is a way of making more joy. Tell someone. Post your smiling pictures on facebook, call a friend or family member, write someone a letter or email.
Paul knew how to share his joy. He wrote about it in his many letters. He praised and thanked others for their prayers and gifts. He sang. He laughed. He ended all his letters similarly: Grace and Peace. What makes you joyful? Please share in a comment.
Teachers usually teach in their own learning style. This is natural because we think: “it worked for me, and it should work for them.” Teens learn more if lessons appeal to their own learning style, and this fact challenges the Bible study leader to find creative ways to present material. Below you will find a few ways to approach certain recurring Biblical themes when they come up in your studies.
Hand out a small stone, about an inch or two across, when students come together. Let them wonder why you gave it to them. They can hold it while you speak. Remembering what God has done for us, and telling someone else about it is foundational. The entire Bible is the result of faithful believers telling what they have seen and heard. Joshua had a representative from each of Israel’s 12 tribes pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River. Then he directed them to stack the stones in a prominent location. The structure would remind Israel, every time they saw it, of God’s provision as they crossed into the Promised Land. Later in life, Joshua erected a “standing stone” at Shechem for similar reasons. What is an Ebenezer? It is a stone set up in remembrance. Direct students to place stones at their lunch or dinner table and when asked, share what great thing God has done for them. This kind of hands-on element helps tactile/visual learners to assimilate the material. This also appeals to the active learners who need to know how to use what they have learned. They will remember the feel of that stone, and will associate the goodness of God with that stone. And they will use it to stimulate discussion. These activities work well when studying Joshua: Strong and Courageous.
When possible, hold a group meeting beside a creek or river. Just getting away from the usual meeting spot is refreshing, and so many Bible stories take place beside a river. Lydia heard the gospel beside the river in Philippi. (Acts 16) Once while leading a group through Lydia of Philippi, Believer in the Lord, I had a friend show up in Biblical garb while our group met by the river. He acted like Paul and told us the Good News, and we acted out how Lydia wanted to be baptized right away. Acting out Bible stories appeals to kinetic learners.
Much of Christian discipleship seems abstract to young teens. When possible, plan an activity that demonstrates understanding of Christ’s ministry to the poor, the lost, and the heartbroken. Such activities as serving a meal to the homeless or visiting children in a hospital or elderly in a nursing home stimulate compassion. If studying Ruth, try gleaning for your local food bank. These kinds of life applications are meaningful to active learners who are always wondering: So what?
Music speaks to a deep place in our souls. Listen to the music your teens listen to. Christian songs, both new and old, retell Bible stories, use scripture verses or concepts, and relate to human problems and failings. When addressing the problem of depression or guilt, listen to You Are More, by Tenth Avenue North. When considering Jesus as he collected his disciples, listen to We Will follow, by Jars of Clay. When facing tough problems, listen to Praise you Through the Storm, by Casting Crowns. Or when studying the Transfiguration, meditate on Sufjan Stevens’ The Transfiguration. Each chapter of Peter Rock Star from Galilee begins with a list of 5-6 songs which carry the theme of that week. These songs help remind students of the lessons learned. Enjoy diverse styles that might appeal to a variety of student tastes. Think outside the box and find new ways to make the Bible stories memorable. The more learning styles you engage, the more your teaching will impact the next generation.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:4
What’s in your toolbox?
When working with teens, you don’t have time to dig through a huge selection of tools that might fit the situation. But you need a few basics that have a great chance of working. A handyman would not be without a basic set of tools for tackling most home problems. His list of basic carpenter’s tools is a metaphor for the basic toolkit you need in Teen Bible Study.
Tape Measure: “Measure twice, cut once.” That is every carpenter’s first rule. Take a good listen to your group. Measure their interests and their abilities. Find out what problems they face, and see if some Bible characters have similar issues.
Carpenter’s Square: This tool measures a good 90 degree angle, like between the vertical and the horizontal in a structure. Remember that students need to look both ways in Bible study – upwards toward God and on a level with their neighbors. Teach them to love both God and others.
Plumb Line: The plumb line is used to measure a straight vertical. Amos the prophet used the plumb line in his teachings to show people how far they had strayed from the truth. Don’t give students a watered down version of the Bible. Keep God’s word straight.
Level: Stay on the level with your teens. They will know if you are looking down on them. They will know if you aren’t being honest with them. Keep it real.
Saw: Cut out the extra stuff. Some points are just fluff. You don’t have to share every theological thought you have ever had about a subject. And don’t let your discussions stray so far from the topic that you can’t find a way back. Stick to the main message.
Drill: Dig. Create holes. Allow the water of the Word to flow through them. Make a space with your questions that can only be filled with the truth of God’s Word.
Sandpaper: Every group has one or more people with rough edges. Let them ‘sand’ one another, by learning tolerance and kindness in the group.
Pliers: Hold tight to a lesson until it sticks. Use your teaching to bend minds and hearts to be pliable in the hands of the Father.
Screwdrivers: Use good questions to remove barriers and to tighten good insights.
Hammer: Use only in emergencies. But occasionally, hit the nail on the head.
What’s in your toolbox?
Too often Christians neglect the Old Testament, thinking it outdated, obsolete or replaced by the New Testament.
Not true. The entire Bible, all of scripture, “is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness,” according to 2 Timothy 3:16. And Jesus himself said, “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” -Matthew 5:17.
Many themes are prevalent throughout the Bible, despite its multitude of authors and cross-generational composition. Things like grace, blessing, forgiveness, rebellion, idolatry, persecution, salvation, God’s presence. Threads of each of these can be identified in most books. Specific prophets, kings, and other characters are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, and the historical context often sheds light on the usage. Old Testament prophecies are often fulfilled before Christ or in Jesus himself. Many New Testament events are foreshadowed in the Old and many echoes of the OT are found in the New.
Without years of study or seminary training, leaders may throw up their hands and plead ignorance. Feelings of inadequacy cause many to shy away from leading teen Bible studies. So how can the average Bible study leader integrate the old and the new? Here are four easy ways to begin.
Most Bibles, even without the “Study Bible” label have marginal cross references to other books and verses in the Bible. Start using these. Some cross-references are just about word usage. Others will give you a link to a passage that will shed light on what you are reading. Some teachers call it the “secret code” to unlocking the scripture. It is no secret, just rarely used, and the letters are exceedingly small. Get out your magnifier and start sleuthing.
Key words are listed alphabetically in the concordance, a very useful appendix in most Bibles. The concordance lists most if not all the occurrences of a given word. These can be useful for integrating Old and New Testaments. I love a concordance to help me find a verse I recall, but can’t quote the chapter and verse. I also love being reminded of other verses with the same words. Bible Gateway and other internet apps can help in this regard as well. If you remember just a portion of a verse, type it into your search engine, and you will probably find the rest of the verse.
In the classic Zondervan NIV Study Bible, great introductions precede every book and extensive, helpful notes fill the bottom of every single page. Many of these notes give historical context. Some offer archaeological findings, and many give Hebrew and Greek word derivations and meanings. The notes often give references to related passages, and these can be very helpful as well. Study notes should not replace listening to the Holy Spirit speaking directly from the scripture, but they should enhance your understanding.
Or use your favorite search engine. If your lesson is on God’s love, for example, you will be directed to Psalms, Gospels, Prophets, Paul’s letters and more.
The three books most quoted by Jesus are Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Psalms. For New Testament books with lots of OT references, look at Matthew and Hebrews. Check out Hebrews 11 or Acts 7 for wonderful summaries of huge chunks of early history. The prophet Isaiah spoke many Messianic prophecies.
Old Testament characters are often talked about in the New Testament. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David get a lot of press, but even Jonah, Rahab, and Enoch get nods in the New Testament. As such their stories and characters are given greater weight.
Have fun incorporating the old in the new. The WHOLE Bible is there for you.
Get a good look at the entire book.