1 Corinthians 12:3
Last week, as we began this series, Back to the Basics: Revisiting the Catechism, we took a 30,000-foot view of the Ten Commandments through the prism of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.
Tonight, we move into the Catechism’s second part, the Apostles’ Creed.
In The Large Catechism, which he wrote for adult disciples and pastors, Luther explained the rationale for starting with the commandments, then moving to the Creed: “So far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine. We have seen all that God wants us to do or not to do. Now there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God...the Creed teaches us to know [God] fully…” He then writes: “...the Ten Commandments are set so high that all human ability is far too feeble and weak to keep them…”
In other words, when the proud delusion of our goodness, righteousness, and worthiness of life with God, of life beyond the grave, is punctured by God’s Law, then we are ready to meet the God Whose fondest hope is to give new and righteous lives to the dead and dying sinners the commandments show us to be.
If the Ten Commandments show us the chasm between the pure and omnipotent God of the universe and us unrighteous and powerless human beings, the Creed shows us that this same God cares about us so much that He creates (and re-creates) us, redeems us (or buys us back from sin and death) through Christ, and sanctifies us (makes us holy, set apart, fit for everlasting life with Him).
The Apostles’ Creed, of course, can’t be found in the Bible and wasn’t written by the apostles themselves.
But it does summarize what the apostles, Jesus’ designated first teachers of His gospel word, taught, and is accepted by every major Christian tradition in the world.
In the Creed, we see that God bridges the chasm between God and us, allowing us to know Him personally and eternally. So, let’s come into God’s presence again tonight through the doorway of the Creed.
The Creed is divided into three parts, each corresponding to the three Persons of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The first article is almost deceptively simple: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” It goes by so quickly that we may miss something. The Old Testament rarely referred to the Creator of the universe as Father. It’s Jesus Who teaches those who have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Him to address God as, “our Father.” “This, then, is how you should pray,” Jesus tells His Church, “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:9)
In the first words of the Creed then--I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, we see that God is both infinite, eternal, and almighty on the one hand, and loving, accessible, and our Father on the other.
The catechism emphasizes that God didn’t just create the universe with its stars and planets, suns and black holes. He also made us and He’s still in the creating business: “I believe that God has created me and all that exists [isn’t it interesting that Luther starts by talking about how God created me and then mentions “all that exists”?], that He has given me and still preserves my body and soul, eyes and ears,” etc.
And then, Luther explains, “He does this purely out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it.” And then Luther says in a burst of joyful worship, “Therefore I ought to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true!”
The Creed then shifts to the second article, dealing with the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jesus the Christ (or, Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed King). It summarizes the basics about Jesus:
- that He was born of a virgin, not because the normal way of human conception and birth are wrong, but because if God was going to create a new human race, He couldn’t do so through an ordinary human being inheriting the sins of his or her parents;
- that He suffered, died, was buried;
- that He rose again from the dead;
- that He is now on the right hand of the Father in heaven, interceding for those who dare to believe in Him; and
- that He will come back to this world to finally and fully, make all things right, ushering those who have believed in Him into eternity with God and consigning all who have rejected Him to the condemnation in hell they have chosen.
There were some in the early centuries of the Church who misunderstood the nature of the Trinity, the Biblical teaching that we worship one God Who is in three Persons. But the Creed, Luther says, summarizes what we see in the gospels, that Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, [was] born of the virgin Mary--is [just like the Father] my Lord.”
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God Who was with God the Father and was one with God before the creation.
The New Testament book of Colossians tells us that everything created by God is created through God the Son and for Him.
Jesus says of Himself, “I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30)
And, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
Jesus has revealed the Father’s heart for the fallen human race and from this great love, gives Himself on the cross for us so that all who believe in Him everlasting life with God.
But how can people born in sin, inclined to worship ourselves, or other people, or the things of this world we see rather than the God Who, right now, we can’t see?
How can people for whom the basic psychological developmental conflict from birth is trust versus mistrust, trust in Who God is and what He has done for us in Christ?
This is where God the Holy Spirit, subject of the Third Article of the Creed, comes in. He is the One Who makes it possible for us to believe.
In the Small Catechism, Luther writes of Him: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified me [that is, set me apart for God] and preserved me in the true faith.”
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3: “...no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.”
It’s the Holy Spirit speaking the Word of the Gospel to us through the pages of Scripture, the proclamation of the Gospel, the witness of other Christians, and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, Who makes it possible for us to have saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The Creed reminds us that God, perfect in righteousness, hates the rift between Himself and the children He creates, redeems, and to whom He seeks to give ever-new life. He hates all the death and suffering that our sin condition unleashes on us in this life. And He seeks to give us new life.
This is the gracious God we know in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Next week, we begin a discussion of three ways that this perfect God strengthens His relationship with us, as well as our faith in Him.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]