Isaiah 11:2-3 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord- and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.
It was Christmas time and the Sunday School teacher was teaching her class about the life of Jesus. They talked about His birth and the events surrounding the stable, the angels and the shepherds, about Joseph taking the family to Egypt, about Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 and on down the line. The teacher then asked the children to draw a picture of something they had learned. She then had each student show their picture to the class. One kid drew a picture of the angel coming to Mary to tell her she would have a baby. Another kid drew a picture of Jesus teaching the rabbis in the temple when He was 12. It was then little Timmy’s turn to show his picture. The teacher was more than a little surprised and more than a little puzzled by Timmy’s drawing. It showed what clearly seemed to be a passenger jet! And standing next to the jet was a pilot with 3 people who were obviously the Holy Family standing nearby. The teacher asked Timmy, “I don’t really understand your picture, Timmy. I don’t remember there being an airplane in the Bible!” Timmy frowned and said, “Sure you do! Don’t you remember? That guy is Pontius the Pilot and this is the flight to Egypt!”
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“. Last week, we moved forward as we looked at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord” Today we step deeper into the Creed and look at these words, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried“.
Let’s walk through today’s portion of the Creed a bit at a time. We start with, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Let’s unpack a key word from that phrase- “conceive”. According to dictionary.com, it has several meanings and, in their own way, they all pertain to today’s discussion. It means:
1. To form an idea or purpose of- to imagine
2. To hold as an opinion- to believe
3. To express
4. To beget
So, “beget”- by defining ONE word, we find another one we need to define! “Beget” is a very Old Testament word that may, or may not, make a lot of sense in today’s world. Here’s what it means:
1. To procreate or generate offspring, especially from a male parent
2. To cause or produce as an effect
So, God formed an idea, a purpose- He imagined a new and better way for His people. He believed in His people and wanted to develop a more personal relationship with them…us. So, He set out to express that desire- put the plan into motion. And so, He beget His only Son. And more than generating offspring from the male parent, He produced an effect- Jesus- that continues to have a profound impact on the world 2,000+ years later.
And how did that happen? Test tube baby? In vitro? Parthenogenesis (reproduction without a male)? How about…the greatest story ever told? Admittedly, that title is a bit “After School Special” in its tone. But that doesn’t make it any less true- or amazing. God had planted all the seeds in the Old Testament. Then there was 400 years of waiting. And then, it was time. God came down to earth, in the form of His Holy Spirit, to put in motion the plan…THE plan that would forever change…everything. The Creator came to Earth as the Redeemer, made human through the efforts of the Sustainer. Father. Son, Holy Spirit. Conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Then what? Well, He was “born of the Virgin Mary”. Obviously, the word that catches everybody’s attention in that phrase is “virgin”. We know what it means…and it makes us uncomfortable to talk about in places like church- or home- or the car- or…! It’s helpful to look at the languages that produced the written forms of the Bible to help us better understand that word. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek or Aramaic. The Hebrew word for “virgin” is “almah” and the Greek word is “parthenos”. IN both cases, they absolutely refer to a woman who has not been with a man. But in both cases, they also mean “a maiden”. A young woman. A girl. And that is an important distinction to make here. It doesn’t negate or cheapen the primary understanding of that word that we all have. Instead, it enhances it. This woman- Mary…Mother Mary…was young- by our standards, a girl. She was, it is thought, around 14 years old. Jesus was born of a girl- young, pure and clearly not only very well-briefed in Old Testament Scripture but also in possession of an incredibly deep and abiding faith in God. Let it be so.
What’s next? “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. OK- we KNOW he’s NOT Pontius the Pilot and we KNOW he did pilot Jesus’ Flight to Egypt! But who WAS he? There was a title used by the Romans- Prefect. A Prefect was a Roman official who served as the Roman Empire’s representative ruler in a specific area. Pilate was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, which included Jerusalem. He was Prefect of Judaea from AD 26–36, serving under Roman Emperor Tiberius. In all four Gospels, Pilate lobbies for Jesus to be spared crucifixion, giving in only when the crowd refuses to back off. In Matthew’s Gospel, he even ceremonially washes his hands to show that he’s not responsible. Some use those passages to show that he wasn’t a bad guy, but in the end, he caved to public opinion and allowed it to happen.
Todays’ portion of the Creed ends with, “He was crucified, dead and buried.” Crucifixion was a favorite of the Romans- cruel and unbelievably painful, it was designed to keep the people in their place. Roads would sometimes be lined…LINED with people hanging on crosses. No one wanted to be one of those people. And that fear and intimidation brought about the unholy environment the Romans sought all along. They called it Pax Romana…Roman Peace.
In the end, after suffering terribly, He died. No one TOOK His life from him. When the time was just right, He willingly laid down His life for us. “It is finished.” And then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (the Pharisee known as the Teacher’s Teacher who came to Jesus at night to find out more) came, took His body down off the cross and, gently and lovingly, laid in Joseph’s tomb. He was crucified, dead and buried.
A key part of this section of the Creed is that it is intended to remind us that Jesus’ life and death were all fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 2:7 says, “He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” “Conceived by the Holy Spirit“. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.” “Born of the virgin Mary“. Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” “Suffered under Pontius Pilate“. Isaiah 53:12 says, “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great because He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” And Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.” “He was crucified, dead and buried“.
So there are two key parts to today’s reading. One is the “formal” introduction of the Holy Spirit- the last part of the Trinity. The Great Three in One. God is the unmade Maker of all things. He chose to come down to earth in human form- Jesus- to live among us, experience what we experience. And when that time was complete, and not a moment before, He went back to Heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit behind to live within us- guiding, leading, protecting. God is the Creator. Jesus is the Redeemer. And the Holy Spirit is the Sustainer.
John 14:26-27 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The other key part is the emphasis on the nature of Jesus. He is fully God. In the beginning was the Word. The Was with God and the Word WAS God. He is the only begotten Son of God- Emmanuel…God with us. But He is also fully human. Born of a woman. Physically suffered at the heads of a despotic ruler. Was crucified. Suffered horribly. Died. Laid in a borrowed tomb.
Jesus is fully God…but He is also fully Man. He created all things because He was there in the beginning. He was born into our world as a helpless infant. He lived like we lived…and He died like we died. And He was laid in a tomb, a stone rolled over the mouth to make sure that was the end of the story. But it was NOT the end of the story. I believe.