At church last Sunday, we continued our journey through the Apostle’s Creed. The theme was the part that says “in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord.” Here are some items:
A. The youth pastor asked what the son of a cat is. A cat. How about the son of a chicken? A rooster. His poin was that the son of someone is of the same kind as that someone. Jesus, as Son of God, is therefore God. That is a formidable point. Does it entirely work, though? Israel is God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and the Davidic king is God’s son (II Samuel 7:14), yet they are not God. Luke 3:38 calls Adam the son of God, yet Adam was not God. In the New Testament, believers are called children of God (i.e., John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17). Armstrongites maintain that believers will become divine beings as part of the God-family, as God’s goal is to reproduce God-self after God’s own kind, but most Christians do not believe that. What does it mean to be God’s child? One could say that calling someone God’s child says more about God than the nature of the child, as it conveys that God is a father who creates and nurtures people. In a sense, though, to be God’s child is to be like God. Israel was to be holy, as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). The Davidic king ruled on God’s behalf, exercising justice and judgment, as God does, and he possessed the divine ability to distinguish good from evil (II Samuel 14:17; cp. Genesis 3:5). Adam ruled on God’s behalf and was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27-28). Believers, like God, possess immortality. The youth pastor’s point may work more with the Johannine Christology, which refers to Jesus as God’s only begotten Son (i.e., John 3:16). Jesus is God’s son in a way that others are not. In a similar vein, Hebrews 1:3 refers to Jesus as the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s nature.
B. Both the youth pastor and the pastor were unraveling the meaning of calling Jesus “Lord.” The youth pastor said that Jesus is Lord in the sense that he is master of creation, since Jesus is the one who created all things. The pastor was saying that Jesus is the boss over the lives of believers. Believers are to obey Jesus’s marching orders: to love God and neighbor, and to witness to others. Affirming Jesus as Lord also challenges the prevalent worldviews of today. It repudiates the notion that there are many ways to heaven, or that there is no God at all. It rejects materialism, the idea that whoever dies with the most toys wins. The pastor even said that it contradicts liberalism, and he referred to James Dobson’s criticism of Jesse Jackson for leaving behind his pro-life stance in order to achieve a place of influence in the Democratic Party; to add balance, the pastor remarked that the G.O.P., too, has items one must accept to attain influence in its ranks. The pastor also showed a picture of Jesus’s hand with a washrag on the world, as Jesus cleans up the world. A lot of this made me feel uncomfortable when I was hearing it, since I struggle with Christian exclusivity and also to obey what Christians define as God’s commands: to love others, to try to convince others with a straight face to believe a certain way, etc. Writing out this item, though, the concept of Jesus’s lordship is more edifying to me: Jesus’s lordship means that Jesus’s way will be the norm, notwithstanding the immorality and selfishness that exists in the world today.
C. The pastor told stories about Martin Luther that tied into Luther’s understanding of the Gospel. Luther had a stern father. When Luther officiated his first communion as a monk and botched things up because he was afraid of the holy elements, his father did not offer him reassurance or encouragement, like “You’ll do better next time.” Rather, his father berated Martin, telling him that he made a mess and chose the wrong profession! Luther may have projected that sort of image on God, before his awakening to the Gospel of grace. In Luther’s time, the pastor also noted, a person could be kidnapped, and the prince would ransom him and set him free. Luther himself was kidnapped at some point. Luther’s context may have enhanced his appreciation for Christ’s ransoming of him from the penalty of sin. After the service, someone was talking with me about his own difficulty getting enthusiastic about his faith. He compares himself with the born-again types he knows, who are excited about their faith. He, by contrast, has been a Lutheran for his entire life. He is a good person, a kind person, a faithful person, one who actively serves the church whenever there is a need. But he has difficulty feeling the same level of excitement that born again types have about their own faith. Some of their excitement may be due to the newness of their faith for them. Some of it may be because the life they are leaving behind, one of aimlessness and immorality, is still fresh for them in their minds and they relish the contrast that their newfound Christian walk provides. Perhaps, also, they feel that they have a real, intimate relationship with God, and that gives them joy. I have my own ways to stay interested or engaged with whatever faith I have, and that includes reading, listening to sermons and podcasts, and writing. I have to admit, though, that my faith lacks intense feelings about God’s love or being ransomed.
D. The pastor asked if we would be able to tell that God is love from nature or from life. He referred to a person in a congregation he pastored who had leukemia and was so weak that he had to crawl to his car to get his medication. The pastor’s point was that Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins is the ultimate revelation of God’s love, for it shows the depths that God went for us. Life offers no such assurance, though we may find ourselves wrongly concluding that God is punishing us when things are going badly, or is smiling on us when things are going well. What provides assurance is what Jesus did on the cross. A lot can be said here. Nature, I agree, is not a perfect revelation of God’s heart, but it does convey things about God, such as God’s benevolence and love for beauty. God in the Bible does give people good things and bad things, and they can be contingent on people’s obedience to God or lack thereof; one cannot be overly dogmatic about God’s heart in good times or bad times, though, because Job’s friends thought Job was being punished for being a sinner, when that was not the case.
E. In Matthew 16:13-14, Jesus asks his disciples who people say the Son of Man is. They reply with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. What do these people have in common? One thing they have in common is that they are dead, and the people apparently thought that Jesus was one of these figures raised from the dead. The pastor said there may be some foreshadowing here of Jesus’s resurrection. I wondered about Jewish conceptions back then about the possibility of a prophet coming back from the dead. I found D.A. Hagner’s comments in the Word Biblical Commentary to be helpful:
The disciples report that the people hold a variety of opinions about Jesus. Common to the three names and the more general “one of the prophets” is the idea of one who appears in connection with the coming of the end times, but as a precursor or attendant figure rather than the promised one himself. John the Baptist seemed clearly to be such a figure, who indeed portrayed his ministry as one of preparation for an imminent end and just for this reason caused such a sensation. Some apparently were of the opinion that Jesus was the martyred John resurrected to life (see especially 14:2 for the articulation of this view by Herod). Others thought of Jesus as Elijah, a prophet who in the OT was assigned the preparatory role of forerunner to the Messiah (cf. Mal 3:1; 4:5–6) and who for just this reason became identified with the work of John the Baptist (by Jesus already in 11:9–10, 14; cf. 17:12–13). Matthew’s addition of the name Jeremiah (which in the NT occurs only in Matthew; cf. also 2:17; 27:9) suggests that Jeremiah was thought by some to be a key OT figure who would play a role in the coming of the eschaton (on Jeremiah in the intertestamental period, see 2 Macc 15:13–16 and esp. 2 Esdr 2:18, which refers to an eschatological appearance of Jeremiah with Isaiah [but the date of this reference is debatable]). There are, furthermore, a number of obvious parallels between Jesus and Jeremiah, such as the preaching of judgment against the people and the temple, and especially in suffering and martyrdom (see Menken). The general phrase ἢ ἕνα τῶν προφητῶν, “or one of the prophets,” points to the widespread view that the greatest figures of the OT would return in a preparatory role just before the end of this age (cf. the importance of Enoch in the intertestamental literature and Melchizedek at Qumran). We have no evidence of Jeremiah being named explicitly in such a connection, and it may be that Jeremiah is named as representative of the prophetic corpus (Jeremiah appears first in a rabbinic list of prophets; cf. the baraita in b.& B. Bat. 14b). Special OT men who had not died, e.g., Enoch and Elijah, were ideal candidates for returning in the time just prior to the eschatological era. There is no record of the death of Jeremiah in the Bible. On the other hand, others, such as the prophets, could well be raised from the dead in order to participate in the events of the end (cf. Luke 9:19). The crowds also identify Jesus as a “prophet” in 21:11. Exalted as these evaluations of Jesus are, placing him as an important figure connected with the coming of the eschatological age, they are inadequate, although partially true.