(Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/nAVgYnwgRJE)
[Jesus said,] ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’* 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know* my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
8Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me* for anything, I will do it.
As rich as these lessons from John and 1 Peter and Acts are, we’re going to use our time together this morning to instead dig further into Luther’s catechism teachings. Recall that we have dedicated the 2nd Sunday of these months leading up the 500th celebration of the Reformation at the end of October to the exploration of Luther’s teachings on the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Communion and other topics in his seminal catechism. We spread his thoughts on the Commandments over the first 2 months and this month we’re committed to what he said about the Apostles’ Creed. Although we occasionally use a couple different creeds (Nicene and Athanasian) in our worship, Luther felt the Apostles’ Creed was the essential creed for establishing and maintaining faith. Its three-part structure not only reinforces the belief in our Triune God but it also reveals the very love of God that undergirds other key components of Christian faith, i.e. the Ten Commandments and sacraments. We’ll hear more about this as we hear from Luther himself.
We must first ask ourselves the simple question: why do we, as Lutherans, have creeds at all? Not all denominations use them in regular worship. Indeed, most denominations don’t use them at all. So why have we, Lutherans, chosen to incorporate them into our regular worship? At the very least, they provide a nice, neat order for confessing what we believe. They lay out in brief sentences and paragraphs what we believe to be true about our God. If someone was to come up to us and ask us what we believe about God, we could simply recite any one of the creeds. The creeds say it all. They help explain who God is and what He does in very straightforward, easily understood words. Want to know who God is? Then listen to or recite a creed, it’s as easy as that. Of course, defining who God is and what He does through words is not really that easy. The massiveness of God, the vastness of God, is not easily captured by words but the creeds do a pretty good job of explaining who the Triune God is and the Triune God is foundational to Christian faith.
Of the three creeds, the Apostles’ Creed is the most straightforward in explaining the three persons of the Triune God. It is broken into 3 parts or articles, each explaining the different persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each article opens with similar confessional statements: “I believe in God, the Father almighty,” “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son,” and “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Luther points out that the Father represents creation, the Son represents redemption, and the Holy Spirit represents being made holy. Each person serves a unique purpose in our relationship with God. As Luther notes, the whole Creed could be condensed to these few words: “I believe in God the Father, who created me; I believe in God the Son, who has redeemed me; and I believe in the Holy Spirit, who makes me holy.” We need to be created so we need the Father. We need to be redeemed from our sinful nature so we need the Son. We need to be made right for the Father so we need the Holy Spirit. Each person serves its own unique purpose for establishing and maintaining a relationship with God. We need three persons if we’re going to have any type of relationship at all!
The first article helps us confess our understanding of God as a creator. God the Father is a creator. We are God’s creatures. God has created each one of us. Not our mother or our father but God alone has created us. It is important to confess this belief because it establishes a necessary hierarchy. God is supreme. God is more important than anything else because He is the one that brought us into existence. Without God, we would be nothing…we would not exist! We need to recognize and acknowledge this reality if we are to begin understanding our relationship with God. I like how Luther fully explains just how much God is involved in creating us. He says when we confess God as Father and creator, we are confessing,
I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that he has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants house and farm, etc. Besides, he makes all creation help provide the benefits and necessities of life—sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; day and night; air, fire, water, the earth and all that it yields and brings forth; birds, fish, animals, grain, and all sorts of produce. Moreover, he gives all physical and temporal blessings—good government, peace, and security…Moreover, we also confess that God the Father has given us not only all that we have and what we see before our eyes, but also that he daily guards and defends us against every evil and misfortune, warding off all sorts of danger and disaster. All this he does out of pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a kind father who cares for us so that no evil may befall us.
We would have nothing, we would be nothing, if it weren’t for the creativeness of our God. We confess our utter dependence on God’s creativity through this first article.
In the second article, we confess who Jesus was and is because even though the Father created us to be good, we are still subject to sin and death. We are not God’s perfect creation. We are arguably God’s best creation but we are by no means a perfect creation. We are sinful creatures. We are dying creatures. If we were perfect, we would never sin and never die. That said, we don’t have to be slaves to sin and death. We don’t have to fear sin and death because the Son came into our world and saved us from our slavery to such fear. He showed us we can live without fear of sinning and death. We can live without fear of God’s wrath for our sin for the Son has redeemed us. Because of this, we confess the Son’s lordship over our lives. Luther clarifies, “that little word ‘Lord’ simply means the same as Redeemer, that is, he who has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and keeps us there.” The Son helps us become a better creation, a creation that is pleasing to the Father.
Finally, the third article of the Creed enables us to confess our understanding of who the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit serves the very important purpose of making us holy…of making us presentable to the Father. How does the Spirit do this? By bringing us to the Son. By teaching us about the Son. By bringing us into relationship with the Son, the great Redeemer. Once we are in relationship with the Son, we are acceptable to the Father. God no longer looks at our imperfection. God only sees his Son. As Luther notes, “Therefore being made holy is nothing else than bringing us to the Lord Christ to receive this blessing, to which we could not have come by ourselves.” We deserve God’s wrath yet we receive His love. Why? Because of the Son and what he did on the cross for us. How do we come to the Son? Through the Holy Spirit who teaches us and guides us into relationship with the Son.
The Apostles’ Creed not only helps us confess what we believe about our God but it also helps us understand how God works in our lives. God uses three persons to establish and maintain a relationship with us. Just as the three persons are in relationship with each other, so, too, are they in relationship with us, each in their own unique way. We give thanks for the church’s Creed and its use as both a confessional and a teaching. I’ll leave you with Luther’s summarizing thoughts:
For in all three articles God himself has revealed and opened to us the most profound depths of his fatherly heart and his pure, unutterable love. For this very purpose he created us, so that he might redeem us and make us holy, and, moreover, having granted and bestowed upon us everything in heaven and on earth, he has also given us his Son and his Holy Spirit, through whom he brings us to himself…we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not be revealed by the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.