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Apostles' Creed  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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I Believe --- God The Son --- Highly Exalted
Acts 1:1-11 & Philippians 2:5-11
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9
Over the past several weeks we have been looking at the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed was an early statement of faith the early followers of Jesus wrote down in order to proclaim what they believed. The Apostles’ Creed was called “The Rule of Faith.” In the early church, “The Apostles’ Creed” had two main functions. First, The Apostles’ Creed was a part of their teaching and their catechism—a series of fixed answers and questions about what their faith believed. Those who wanted to join the church had to memorize the creed. Second, the creed was sacramental, a sacred moment. When a person wanted to join the church, they were baptized. They would repeat the creed as they went under the water as they proclaimed their faith in “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.” 1. The creed was a tool used to teach those who came after them. 2, The creed was used in the sacrament of baptism.
The question the Holy Spirit impresses on my heart is, “What do I believe?” What do we believe about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit? What do we believe as the church, the body of Christ.
What do you believe?
The Apostles’ Creed teaches us who God is and what God has done in creation and what God is doing and what God will do. God is the Father, the creator and sustainer of all creation. There is so much doctrine and theology in this short teaching.
Which of the following events is the most important? The incarnation? The crucifixion? The resurrection? The ascension? The Second Coming? Judgement? The Creed is stating that ALL of these events are interrelated! Jesus, God the Son, became flesh and dwelt among us … that’s the incarnation. Jesus, God the Son, suffered, and died—that’s the crucifixion. Jesus, God the Son, was buried and rose on the third day and then ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God the Father to judge the living and dead. Jesus, God the Son, will come again in the clouds to judge the living and the dead.
Many have asked questions of me over the past few weeks.
What does it mean that Jesus descended into hell?
Some scholars want to put an asterisk by this line and other scholars have left it out completely. The Roman Catholic understanding of this line is that Christ’s descent into hell was a mission of victory and liberation. Their understanding is that Jesus literally visited hell. John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, and a prolific writer and theologian views the descent into hell as the spiritual reality of Jesus’ soul while He hung on the cross and was rejected by His Father. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” One scholar wrote that Jesus’ descent into hell was because this is where we have fallen completely into sin. Jesus descended into the very abyss of the human condition. Hell represents total separation from God. God cannot be a part of sin. And so, on the very same day Jesus descended into hell, Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Athanasius, an early Christian father, writes, “We no longer die as those condemned but as those who will arise.” Jesus descended into the very pit of hell where we are separated from God because of our sin—and Jesus overcame it all by paying our debt: Death on the cross. Debt paid in full. Our sin is done, our chains are broken. We are free to live again.
What does the “quick and the dead” mean?
The Old English word for “living” was “quick.” Simply translated, Jesus will come again to judge both the living and dead.
What does it mean “holy catholic church?”
The word “catholic” means universal—a concept of general application no matter where you are in the universe. When we say we believe in the holy catholic church, we are stating that we believe in the holy, universal Christian church. We are not saying that we believe in the Roman Catholic church. The difference is in the creed: the word “catholic” is with a small “c’ which would mean universal. We affirm our belief in the universal Christian church.
If you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to come and ask. Just stop and think for minute, the early followers of Jesus gave up their lives, their families, their fortunes and their futures in order to proclaim what they believed about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Think about the history of the Jews—think about the first half of the Bible. All that the Jewish people believed was written down. The early believers of Christ felt the urgency to also write down what they believed.
Join with me and repeat the Apostles Creed:
The Apostles’ Creed
1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;
2. and in Jesus Christ, His only (begotten) Son, our Lord;
3. who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried;
He descended into hell;
5. the third day he rose again from the dead;
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
7. from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and the life everlasting. Amen.[i]
Our reading comes from the New Testament. The first comes from Dr. Luke who wrote the book of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke was the Apostle Paul’s personal doctor. I would have loved that job! What we have in the first eleven verses of the book of Acts is a recorded event of the ascension of Jesus.
The question that I would like to reflect on this morning is, “Why is the ascension important?”
First, the ascension is important because it tells us that Jesus’ earthly ministry is completed and that Jesus has gone to be with God the Father to begin His heavenly ministry of interceding for us (that’s a powerful thought. Jesus ascended into heaven and prays for us.) Second, the ascension is important because Jesus’ earthly ministry has now been delegated, given, to us.
Let us listen for God’s Word.
Acts 1:1-11
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”[ii]
Ascension --- Witnesses
Luke wrote both of his books (the book of Luke and the book of Acts) to a person named “Theophilus,” a name which is translated “friend of God.” Whether Theophilus is a real individual person or whether Theophilus is any “friend of God” is open to debate, but clearly Luke is writing to a community who are eager for more detailed and accurate information concerning the origin, history and meaning of the Christian faith. At the beginning of his gospel, the Gospel of Luke, Luke tells us he intends “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (1:3-4). In Acts, Luke jumps right into the action and says, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (1:1-2).
In his gospel, Luke wants Theophilus (friend of God) to “know the truth,” and in Acts he begins by making a strong connection between the life of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, two different but closely-connected chapters in the story of God’s saving work.
As the book of Acts begins, an important transition takes place. During Jesus’ earthly ministry all of the work of preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God was done by Christ alone. Jesus spent three years training, preparing, instructing and teaching the disciples for the calling to be “martures”--the Greek word for “witnesses.” Jesus’ great work of providing redemption for us through His life, death and resurrection is now finished.
But, Christ’s work of ministry and proclamation is not finished. The reason Luke is writing is to tell us to finish Christ’s work! Are we? Are we finishing the work Jesus started? Are we loving God and loving others as we love ourselves?
George Whitefield, a famous English pastor, was getting the people of Edinburgh out of their beds at 5 o’clock in the morning in order to hear his preaching. One morning a man who was on his way to the church met David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and skeptic. Surprised at seeing him on his way to hear Whitefield, the man said, “I thought you did not believe in the gospel.” Hume replied, “I do not, but he does.”[iii] Ah. Perhaps we, too, are here to be a witness to the skeptics? Love God. Love others.
Would others follow you because of your belief in Jesus? Do the others in your life even know that you believe in Jesus and desire to follow Him? I will tell you that this is one reason that I wear my cross on the outside of my shirts. I want people to know that I’m a Christian. Wearing my cross on the outside of my shirts also helps me to LOVE GOD and to LOVE OTHERS.
The early followers of Jesus knew Jesus and they wanted to tell others that they had seen and lived with Jesus. They wanted others to follow Jesus’ teaching: love God, love others.
Dr. Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to many people over those forty days, the number of days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. Of course, the number forty is important. The number reflects the number of years the Jewish people were in the wilderness, the number of days Moses spent on Mount Saini getting the 10 Commandments, the period of time the prophet Elijah spent wandering to Mount Horeb, and the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that Jesus appeared even to him on the road to Damascus. Paul was Saul and Saul’s job was to round up the believers and to persecute them. Dr. Luke is hearing the truth from Paul, about how God changed his life from Saul to Paul. This is how Paul puts it … “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (I Corinthians 15:3-8)
Sounds a little like the Apostles’ Creed. Paul followed Jesus because he had seen him. The early disciples and followers followed Jesus because they had seen Jesus. The reality of the resurrection is what gave the disciples the faith they needed to live and die for what they believed. Paul gives us a powerful presentation of the reality of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:3-8.
The ascension is important because it is the transition of Jesus’ earthly ministry to His heavenly ministry.
Assignment --- Witnesses
Dr. Gardner Taylor, a pastor in New York City and a professor at Harvard Divinity School, told a story in one of his lectures. He was preaching in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country, and Taylor was out in a rural church that had one, little light bulb hanging down from the ceiling to light up the entire sanctuary. He was preaching away, and in the middle of his sermon, the electricity went out. The building went pitch black. Dr. Taylor didn't know what to say or do. He stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, "Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark!"[iv]
Sometimes that's the only time we can see him—in the dark. And the good news of the gospel is that whether we can see him in the dark or not, Christ can see us in the dark because He has ascended (he has risen up) into Heaven and sits at the right hand of GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY.
When we were in Zambia in 2015, we went to worship at the Jesus Army Church on a Sunday morning. The electricity would come on and go off during the worship. It never stopped the worship team from singing and playing. If the electricity went off, they just kept on singing. I’ve thought a lot about that. THIS is exactly what we are called to do. No matter what, we are called to keep witnessing and sharing the hope and power of the resurrection with everyone we meet.
So What?
When you try to go to another world, there is incredible danger.
In January of 1967, there was a launch pad test of Apollo 1, which was to be the first flight of a three-man Apollo capsule into Earth's orbit. Somewhere in the capsule's 31 miles of wiring, a wire had been stripped of its insulation. The bare wire happened to be near a cooling line, and there was a violent chemical reaction between the silver in the wire and the ethylene glycol. Within seconds, flames spread across the cabin ceiling. At 6:31 p.m., astronaut Roger Chaffee reported, "We've got fire in the cockpit." A few seconds later, the transmission ended with a cry of pain. All three astronauts died. Two years later, Apollo 11 got ready to carry human beings to the moon. President Nixon asked William Safire to write a speech entitled, "In Event of Moon Disaster." If anything went wrong on the moon mission, Nixon would read the speech on TV, the radio communications with the moon would be cut off, the astronauts would be left alone to die, and a minister would commend their souls to "the deepest of the deep." But that's not what happened. On July 20, 1969, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left, the lunar module landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and Commander Neil A. Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the gray, powdery surface of the moon. It was the first time a human had ever gone to another celestial body. After their return to earth, the astronauts had parades and dinners held in their honor and in Washington D.C., President Nixon gave each astronaut the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What a celebration! The human race had just accomplished its greatest technological achievement of all time.[v]
When Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest act of love and redemption of all time—when he went through the clouds and splashed down on heaven's shores—what a celebration he started! He had done it! Jesus had just completed the most dangerous and most important mission of all time. He had conquered the deepest of the deep. He had faced every temptation that we do as human beings but He never gave into sin. He stood up to the intense hatred of people with only truth and love. He could have called legions of angels to rescue him, but he willingly obeyed God and fulfilled his mission: give up his life as a sacrifice in order to bring people back to God. He defeated the Devil. He destroyed death. Now he's returned in victory. The Father has welcomed Jesus home and has seated him at his right hand, the place of highest honor. God the Father gives all authority to Jesus, who forever intercedes—negotiates, intervenes, arbitrates, steps in, pleads, and petitions--for us.
Why do we celebrate the Ascension? Because all heaven celebrates the victorious return of the Son, the Lamb who was slain, the Lion who conquered, the one who says in joy and power: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Friends, there is no DEEPEST OF THE DEEP any longer. There’s a bridge built from our earthly existence to our heavenly existence! That bridge is the CROSS. Christ gave his life so that you and I, so that all who believe—can carry out the ministry of loving God and loving others.
As we face the week ahead, this is your homework. To live as though the ministry depends on you. We may not be called to save the world but maybe we are called to love those we live with. Maybe we are called to love those we work with. Maybe we are called to love all the people we come into contact with—on the highway, in Target, at the grocery.
If you need a little help, remember this: Jesus is at the highest spot in heaven and he is praying for you to love God and to love others as you love yourself. This past week, I saw TOY STORY 4. We loved it. We’ve talked about it now for a week. “Who are you like in the movie?” has been the question of the week. Friends, we are in a TOY STORY of our own making. We are an action figure for Jesus Christ and for His ministry on earth. Let me pray for you:
God, you are our Father Almighty. You are the maker of heaven and earth. Thank you for sending us your ONLY SON who accomplished what we could never could: redemption for the human race. Through the power of God the HOLY SPIRIT—empower us to complete our own personal mission of loving YOU and loving others as only we can. We ask this in the powerful name of Jesus—the one who sits at your right hand and prays for us. And all of God’s people say, AMEN!
The Seed Christian Fellowship
Rancho Cucamonga, California 91701
July 14, 2019
Pastor Dave Peters
[i] Historic Creeds and Confessions. (1997). (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Lexham Press.
[ii] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ac 1:1–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[iii] Clarence Edward Macartney, Preaching Without Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1946), p. 183.
[iv] Timothy George’s sermon, “Unseen Footprints” Preaching Today Audio, Issue 290
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