A Life and Death Situation Luke 1:26-38 / Mark 15:25-34 Luke 24:1-8 / Acts 1:9-11

We are now in week 3 of our five-week look at the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty: I believe – we stand and say what we, the church, believe; I believe in God the Father – “Father” indicates the personal relationship we have with God, because of Christ; Almighty – no sentimentality here, God is almighty!

Maker of Heaven and Earth: God made everything in heaven, and on the earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord: Jesus is a real historic person; Christ is a title, not a last name; Jesus is God’s only Son, and Jesus is our Lord, not just our Savior.

This week, we are going thru the major portion of the Creed – it is what the church believes about the

  • Birth
  • Life
  • Suffering
  • Death
  • Resurrection
  • And return of Christ.

who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,

Let’s get to our first reading, Luke 1:26-38: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

This well-known account is called the Annunciation – the angel Gabriel visits a young girl named Mary and gives her some amazing news.

Let me ask you – do you believe this particular event happened? Many folks who call themselves Christians don’t believe in the virgin birth – they don’t believe the virgin birth is one of the so-called essentials of the faith.

How about you? Is belief in the virgin birth essential to the Christian faith?

So often with our 21st century way of looking at things, we look at science and decide we can explain away so many things in the Bible. I mean, it IS 2014, and we are rather sophisticated, right? Who would buy such nonsense?

On the other hand, do you believe the accounts of…

  • The crossing of the Red Sea?
  • The healings?
  • The loaves and fishes?
  • Other miracles?
  • The resurrection?

If we believe that God is able to do such things, then we must believe in the virgin birth. Oh, and one more thing – want to talk about another miracle? We’re going to heaven!

suffered under Pontius Pilate: Did you notice something? We just skipped over the entire life of Christ – over 30 years just flashed by.

Every wonder why the life and ministry of Christ are not mentioned in the Creed? As far as the church is concerned, it’s quite enough, thank you very much, to talk about his birth to a virgin. Also, let us be reminded that our salvation is not based on the miracles and all the other things Jesus did – it’s because of his suffering under Pontius Pilate.

All four gospel accounts discuss the trial, torture, and execution of Jesus, under the authority of Pilate.

Two points need to be made about the suffering of Jesus:

First, this event actually happened – as we have already said, the Bible is a historical document; Jesus is a historical figure; there are other non-biblical records of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Second, like it or not, we need to consider, focus on, and be struck down by the suffering of our Savior and Lord, God himself, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate – why? Every so often, we need to stop and ask ourselves, do we have any idea WHO Christ is, and WHY it was necessary for him to DO what he did? That, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is why we are even here, why we are even alive, today.

was crucified…

Mark 15:25-34: It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.  29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

The gospel writers don’t spend too much time describing the crucifixion – first-century readers knew EXACTLY what they were talking about. Crucifixion was a terrible form of execution. Under Jewish law, crucifixion was the most offensive way to be executed: Deuteronomy 21:22-23: If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23 you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

Here is an amazing point I came across as I was preparing this sermon: “Imagine – if Jesus had stopped before the cross, this would mean there is some point, beyond which God will not go – and yet, Jesus did go – he went further than any human, before or since, has gone – because of his love for us.”

When we stand and recite the Creed, we acknowledge and affirm the terrible execution of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ – an act of loving obedience, for us.

dead and buried: As I just said, the gospel writers don’t spend much time on the crucifixion – only two gospels describe the birth of Jesus. But all four talk about his death and burial, and in great detail; the writers of the NT letters do so as well. My friends, Jesus was dead, and he was buried.

As a pastor, I am privileged to participate in some of the most important events in a person’s life:

  • Birth
  • Baptism
  • Marriage
  • Giving one’s life to Christ

But I have also been privileged to be there when people die – when they cross over from life to life – I suppose we could call it the ultimate human experience.

Luke 23:46: Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. My brothers and sisters, Jesus was executed and died – he was dead. Later on that same day, two men asked Pilate for the body and buried him – you can look it up in a very popular historical book.

He descended into hell” The Creed continues, focusing on the death of Jesus.

These four words might be the most misunderstood or neglected words in the Creed. Some denominations consider it optional or refuse to include it at all.

As might be expected, there are various theories on what these words mean:

In Scripture, the word is not actually hell, but Hades or Sheol – the words are sometimes translated the grave, or the pit, which are more correct. These two words mean the collective abode of the dead, divided into Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) – the state of God-fearing souls – and Gehenna, the state of ungodly souls.

The descent into hell may suggest that the Son of God carried the sins of the world to hell. Or the Son of God carried Good News of deliverance to the godly dead such as Lazarus the beggar and the repentant thief.

Still others believe Jesus went to the place of the dead to rescue the Old Testament saints, like Abraham or David.

To some, the descent into hell represents the physical agony of death upon the Cross. It was hellish in its pain.

Finally, and perhaps most important, hell is often described as being totally absent and forsaken by God. Remember Jesus’ words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There are still others who say he never went to hell, and many denominations or congregations simply leave these words out.

Regardless, these words tell us Jesus was dead!

the third day He rose again from the dead:

Luke 24:1-8: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’  Then they remembered his words.

This, my brothers and sisters, is the most amazing event in human history – history period, for that matter, and it’s one thing upon which all Christians agree. Although it says “he has risen,” it was God who did the raising – remember, Jesus was dead, buried, and he descended into hell – we just covered that. It was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.

My friends, because of the resurrection of Christ, we can claim power over death – we have the promise of eternal life. The resurrected Jesus was seen by the eleven, and by over 500 others. The very existence of the church today is proof positive of the resurrection. Again, Jesus did not rise from the dead, he was raised from the dead.

He ascended into Heaven:

Acts 1:9: After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. The ascension of Jesus provides a dramatic and fitting end to the earthly life of Jesus. He just didn’t ride off into the sunset – he ascended. The Ascension marks the solemn close of the post-Resurrection appearances, and signifies the rule of Christ in the present time. Many churches celebrate the day of the Ascension, since this signifies that Christ has ascended, and is in heaven!

and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

Psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”The Old Testament makes common references to being on the right hand – it signifies a position of power and authority. In Acts 7, just before he is martyred, Stephen has a vision of Jesus standing at God’s right hand. One commentary I read suggested that Jesus got up from his throne and received Stephen as he crossed over from this life to the next. The New Testament letters are full of references to Christ sitting at God’s right hand. Sitting at the right hand of God – the place of supreme honor.

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead

Acts 1:10-11: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.”

Some folks have said the Bible can be divided into three sections:

  1. Jesus is coming
  2. Jesus is here
  3. Jesus is coming again

Jesus will return, and he will judge both the living and the dead – this is what we believe

Without question, we could spend the rest of our lives on these sixty-one words:

  • The full deity of Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit
  • The full humanity of Christ, born of a virgin
  • The suffering of Christ
  • The absolute, absolute death of Christ
  • The resurrection of Christ, raised from the grave by the power of God the Father Almighty
  • The ascension of Christ, to heaven, where he now sits on God’s right hand
  • The eventual return of Christ, to judge both the living and the dead

This, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is what we believe. What should our response be to these points?

Wow! Thanks!

Or perhaps it’s “God, I’m afraid that I’m not going to be ready for your return – I’ve not yet received you into my heart – what if Jesus comes again, and I’m not ready?”

Jesus, come into my heart this very moment…