Daniel 2:44 In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
One Easter Sunday the Reverend Jones announced to his congregation, ‘My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons- a $100 sermon that lasts five minutes, a $50 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes and a $20 sermon that lasts a full hour. Now, let’s take the collection and see which sermon I’ll deliver!”
Today we continue our current sermon series- Creed. We are spending the 7 weeks leading to Easter walking through one of the foundational pieces of the Christian faith- The Apostle’s Creed. What we now know as the Apostles’ Creed seems to be a “fleshing out” of a piece known as the Old Roman Creed. The first known occurrence of the Apostles’ Creed, in a form that we recognize, was in the early eighth century. It gained acceptance throughout France and Germany, was officially recognized by King Charlemagne in the early ninth century, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Church of Rome. This long-standing statement of belief in many ways encapsulates what Christians believe. We will look at a small part of it each week. But we will recite the entire Creed each week as well. Would you join me?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
So, on Week 1, we started with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth“. Week 2, we moved forward as we looked at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord” Last week, we stepped deeper into the Creed and looked at, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried“. Today, we take the next step with, “the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
There’s a LOT to look at today. First- “the third day He rose from the dead” Third day. I don’t know how YOU count days, but if it’s 9PM Sunday evening and something is happening at 9AM Tuesday morning, I would describe it as a day and a half away- 36 hours. Well, Jesus died somewhere in the neighborhood of late morning/early afternoon on Good Friday- let’s call it noon, for the sake of argument. OK- so noon Friday to noon Saturday would be one day- 24 hours. He arose at dawn on Sunday- let’s say 6AM. That’s another 18 hours. 24 + 18 = 42 hours- 6 hours shy of 2 days. But we’re told that on the THIRD day…He rose from the dead. So what’s what with you know what?
It was the custom of the day to call each portion of a day…a day. So, He died on Friday- Day 1. He was still dead on Saturday- Day 2. And He rose from the dead on Sunday- Day 3. On the THIRD day..He rose again.
Next- “He ascended into heaven,” The ascension story, found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, is one of my favorites. Jesus takes the disciples out to mountain, gives them their marching orders (“Go forth and make disciples of ALL nations”) and then, right before their very eyes…whatever “very eyes” are…He rose to Heaven.
What the Creed doesn’t touch on here is that He didn’t rise from the dead on Easter morning and immediately take the disciples out to the mountain and ascend to Heaven. Instead, He was on Earth for 40 days after Easter morning. And that is not an arbitrary number. The number 40 in the Bible is symbolic of a period of testing. Noah’s faith was tested with 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews were tested in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus’ fasted and temptation in the wilderness lasted 40 days. And now, He spends 40 post-resurrection days testing the faith of others. He appeared to hundreds of people during those forty days. And then…He ascended to Heaven.
Next- “and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” First of all, you can hear the “King James”-ish influence in the language- “sitteth”. You, of course, won’t hear that word much in everyday conversation. “Methinkest I shall sitteth upon yon chair!” But obviously…sit. He SITS at the right hand of God.
But why the RIGHT hand? It really is as simple as the right hand was seen as the hand of power while the left hand was seen as evil. My wife’s grandpa had his left hand tied behind his back when he was little to MAKE him be a right hander. So to sit at the right hand of an earthly king was a place of honor, showing a special trust from and relationship with the king. Sitting at the right hand of the King meant you acted with his authority. Those who came to you would treat you with respect and obedience- as if you WERE the king. He sits at God’s mighty right hand.
Then we get one of the more challenging parts of the Creed. “from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” First off- “thence”. NOT a word that gets a lot of use today. What in the WORLD does it mean? It means “from a place or source previously mentioned”. So, “from thence” simply means “from there”.
Then you’ve got “come to judge the quick and the dead”. That part of the Creed tends to produce negative responses. And they tend to grow out of the idea of judgment. But I wonder if, instead of negativity, this section should produce a sense of comfort, even joy. Think about it- it makes it clear that Jesus isn’t done with His work yet. It makes it clear that, one day, He WILL come back. It confirms the promise He made before He ascended into Heaven after the resurrection. And John 3:17 tells us that He DIDN’T come to condemn us…but to SAVE us.
Okay- but what about “the quick”? I mean, “the dead” I get. NOT hard to understand. But “the quick”? Does that mean that really fast people- Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, like that- will be judged separately? Not even a little bit!
“Quick” is an old-school word that simply means “the living”. In fact, when a woman was in the neighborhood of 4½ months pregnant and began to feel the baby move, she was described as experiencing “quickening”. So “quick” means “life”.
Jesus rose from the dead, three days after His crucifixion. He made several appearances to hundreds of people over 40 days. He then ascended to Heaven. Once there, He took His place at the right hand- the seat of power- of God. And then- there is the promise. One day- we don’t know the day, we don’t know the time- He will return. His work is NOT done. He will come back for the living AND the dead. He will come back to, once and for all, unite all believers in His holy city- the New Jerusalem- come down from Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
1Peter 3:15a But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
One last thought- ONE day He will come back. ONE day. Not some SPECIFIC day but ONE day. Why doesn’t God just say, “Tomorrow- Monday, March 27, 2017, at 8AM- Jesus is coming back!” Wouldn’t that be SO much easier? Well…yes it WOULD be. And that’s EXACTLY why God doesn’t do that!
Think about it- if we knew the exact day and time Jesus was coming back, we would do whatever we want ahead of that day. It would be like what that great theologian Prince said, “2,000, zero, zero, party over! Oops! Out of time. So tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999!” We would live any old way we wanted to, doing any old thing we wanted to do. And then, RIGHT before He was to show up, we would jump on the straight and narrow, asking God for forgiveness and wiping the proverbial slate clean. You know- “death bed confession” and all. But since we DON’T know the day and time, we are instead called to live each day to the fullest, to live each day the way God wants us to live. Live according to the Golden Rule- “do unto others…” Live according to United Methodist founder John Wesley’s 3 Rules- 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good, 3. Love God. Imagine if we all lived our lives that way? He IS coming back and I want to be ready. I believe.