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Showing posts from January, 2015

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

"Ecce Homo" by Antonio Ciseri Who was Pontius Pilate under whose authority Jesus was crucified? This Pilate was the same man who, when he went to build an aqueduct, misappropriated Jewish money in order to do it. When some of the Jews complained, Pilate had them executed in the Temple and had their blood mixed with the blood of the Temple sacrifice. Understandably, the Jews hated Pilate for this. Yet, when some of the Jewish leaders wanted to execute Jesus they had to appeal to Pilate so that the deed could be done, because under Roman law they could not carry out the execution without Pilate's permission as governor of Judea. What did Jesus suffer under Pontius Pilate? We know from the Gospel accounts (such as Matthew 27:11-31) that Jesus suffered injustice, flogging, mocking, a crown of thorns, spitting, beating, insult, misunderstanding, rejection, and eventually, crucifixion. Stuart Briscoe has written, One of my most vivid recollections of childhood in w

I Believe in Christ Crucified

Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier once wrote, We are nearly always longing for an easy religion, easy to understand and easy to follow, a religion with no mystery, no insoluble problems, no snags, a religion that would allow us to escape from our miserable human condition, a religion in which contact with God spares us all strife, all uncertainty, all suffering and doubt, in short, a religion without the cross. Today we come in our study of The Apostles' Creed to the very centre of our faith: the cross of Christ. It is the crux of Christianity. However, there is a great temptation to go around it, to have a religion merely of positive thinking, a religion where we can pull ourselves up by our own moral boot-straps and better ourselves, not a religion that involves the cross, not a religion that requires a suffering saviour to pay the ultimate price for us. That is the temptation, but we dare not give into it. T. F. Torrance once wrote that we should not "try to sneak arou

The Missing Piece of The Apostles' Creed

The Apostles' Creed, in Latin, reads as follows: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen. Thus, the Creed moves directly from "born of the Virgin Mary" to "suffered under Pontius Pilate". The Creed says nothing of Jesus' life in between his birth and his death. As far as the Creed is concerned, we do not seem to need what the Gospels take a significant amount of space to recount: Jesus' life from birth to approximately age thirty-three. This is a ra

Some Final Thoughts on the Virgin Birth

In an earlier post we saw why Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit is important. For one thing, it affirms Jesus' divinity. Jesus' birth by the Virgin Mary, by contrast, affirms his humanity. Because Jesus was and is fully human we have a Saviour who can empathise with our weaknesses. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin." Because of Jesus we can never say that God does not understand our situation. As C. S. Lewis notes in his book, Miracles , Jesus has come all the way down.... In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goe

Isaiah and the Virgin Birth

The context of this verse is that when Ahaz was King of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah, son of Remaliah, King of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem. These men were trying unsuccessfully to persuade Ahaz to join a coalition against Assyria which had strong designs on lands to the west. (See the NIV Study Bible.) The Lord sent Isaiah to Ahaz to keep Ahaz from forming a counter-alliance with Assyria. Isaiah brought Ahaz a message from the Lord telling Ahaz not to worry and to stand firm in his faith. Furthermore, the Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign so that he could be assured that the prophecy would come true. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, but the Lord gave him a sign anyway. And the sign was this, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.... But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:14-16) Many scholars have pointed o

Born of the Virgin Mary

"Madonna & Child with St. Anne" by Caravaggio This part of The Apostles' Creed has two distinct but related statements: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit Born of the Virgin Mary Having considered Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit, we must now look more closely at his birth from the Virgin Mary. For centuries, if not millennia, Christian theologians have seen the first hint of the Virgin Birth, a prophecy if you will, in Genesis 3:15. This verse has been called the protoevangelion, or first announcement of the gospel.  In cursing the serpent for his part in the fall, God says to him: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. The Hebrew word translated as "offspring" here literally means "seed". This is the only place in the Bible that talks about the seed of the woman. Seed normally refers to male seed and its par

The Virgin Birth, Divinity & Humanity

Orthodox icons of Jesus emphasize humanity and divinity in one person. Notice how the face is asymmetrical (like most human faces). But in Jesus' case, he is purposely portrayed this way by the iconographer to emphasize divinity and humanity. Notice how Jesus' left eye is slightly larger than his right eye and his left eyebrow slightly higher than his right. That is because the left side of his face is intended to depict his divinity and the right side his humanity. A second reason why Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit is important is because it calls attention to Jesus' divinity. The two things are not synonymous. Just because Jesus was born of a virgin that does not necessarily make him divine. And I suppose that Jesus could have been divine without being born of a virgin. But if Matthew and Luke are correct, then this is the manner in which God chose to take on our human flesh. There is a certain appropriateness to the divine Son of God being born in this man

Is the Virgin Birth important?

Is Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit an important doctrine? Yes, I believe so, for at least three reasons. First, it calls our attention to Jesus' sinlessness. Numerous verses in the New Testament attest to the sinlessness of Jesus. Allow me to quote just two of them. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes of Jesus, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." And in Hebrews 4:15 we read, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin." According to these verses, and a number of others, Jesus was without sin. And the way in which he was kept from original sin may be traced back to the Virgin Birth. How was Jesus kept from original sin through the Virgin Birth? Augustine's theory was that original sin is passed down from parents to children through the sexual act itself.

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

"The Annunciation" by Caravaggio "...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit..." That's what we confess in The Apostles' Creed, that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but where does it come from in Scripture? The first place is Matthew 1:20 where we read, "But after he [Joseph] had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." The second place is in Luke 1:35 where we read about an angel saying something similar to Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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." Some people reject the Virgin Birth arguing that, since the story is told in only these two places in Matthew and Luke, we can very well do without it. In one sense this may have a bit of truth to it

The Virgin Birth

"Virgin & Child" by Simon Vouet Today we come to examine the second part of the second article of The Apostles' Creed. "I believe in Jesus Christ...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary..." Belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus is denied by many today. It is often denied by at least two different groups of people. The first group of people deny the Virgin Birth because they deny miracles altogether. They are naturalists. They believe that we live in a closed universe. "What you see is what you get." "Nature is all there is." Statements such as these are part of their credo. Thus, as a natural consequence, they do not accept miracles of any kind. If they are interested in the Bible at all then they explain away the miracles of the Bible on naturalistic/materialistic grounds. However, if you believe that there may be more to the universe than what can be seen, or what can be explained by science, especially i

Theology is like a Map

It occurred to me in writing yesterday's post, that in this discussion of The Apostles' Creed, we might be missing the most important thing, namely, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is one thing to know the teachings of the Church about Jesus; it is quite another thing to know Jesus and follow him in a personal way. C. S. Lewis was sensitive to this important distinction. That is why he wrote at the beginning of the fourth book in Mere Christianity.... In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, "I've no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know  there's a God. I've felt  Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem

Jesus is Lord

The final thing that we confess in the second article of The Apostles' Creed is that Jesus is our Lord. "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord." "Jesus is Lord" was the earliest confession of the Christian Church. We find it embedded in Romans 10:9. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." What does it mean to confess Jesus as our Lord? The Greek word for "Lord" in the New Testament is transliterated as "kurios". The same word is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to translate the Hebrew word "adonai". "Adonai" was used to refer to God. The Jews used this title to refer to God instead of pronouncing God's name, Yahweh, because they considered God's personal name to be too holy to utter. Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century AD tells us that the Jews refused t

God's Only Begotten Son

"Bearded Slave," an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo A third major thing we confess in the second article of The Apostles' Creed is that Jesus is God's only Son. Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life." When we confess that Jesus is God's only begotten Son, one thing we are saying is that there has never been a time when Jesus did not exist. If God the Father is eternal, then perhaps we can at least begin to understand how he might have an eternally begotten Son. The begetting of the Son of God is not a momentary event in time because God is outside of time. When we confess Jesus as the Son of God we are in effect saying that he is God. In John 1:18 we read, "No one has ever seen God, but God the only begotten one, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." This i

Our Great High Priest

In The Apostles' Creed, when we confess our faith in Jesus as the Christ, we are saying, in part, that Jesus is our great high priest. In Hebrews 7:23-27 we read, Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.   For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. When we confess Jesus as our great high priest we are confessing that he is the only mediator between us and God. As prophet, Jesus brings God to us; as priest, he brings

King Jesus

"The Light of the World" by William Holman Hunt As we saw yesterday, when in the second article of The Apostles' Creed we call Jesus the "Christ," we are calling him the anointed one, our great prophet, priest, and king.  I want to take a few moments today to focus on Jesus' kingship. When Jesus was on trial under Pontius Pilate, Jesus confessed to him: "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (John 18:33b-37) In this confession before Pilate Jesus made it clear that he came not as a worldly king to rule over a political kingdom, but he came as a spiritual king to rule in and through the hearts of his people. I remember when I was ten years old and I was taken by my parents to see the crown jewels in the well-guarded Crown Room of the Tower of London. There I saw all the diadems of the British monarc

Christ is not his Last Name

The Anointing of David Veronese, 1555 The second thing we confess in the second article of The Apostles' Creed is that Jesus is the Christ. Of course, Christ is not Jesus' last name, it is a title. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ in Mark 8:27-29.... Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." The following graffiti was found on the wall of St. John's University.... Jesus said unto them: "Who do you say I am?" And they replied: "You are the eschatalogical manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." And Jesus said, "What?" Th

I Believe in Jesus Christ

In the second article of The Apostles' Creed as Christians we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord. These simple words make four very important statements about the person and work of Jesus. First, he is our savior. The name Jesus  comes from the Hebrew Joshua  which means Yahweh saves . As the angel said to Joseph concerning Mary's child, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The Greek verb for save  means "to save or preserve someone from eternal death, from judgment, and from all that might lead to such death, e.g. sin." Stuart Briscoe says that salvation means to free up, give room, space, opportunity for growth. The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins. Sin means to miss the mark . God has created us to live a fulfilling life in relationship to him and to other human beings. However, because

There's No Conflict

Sheldon Vanauken Before leaving the topic of evolution and creation, I thought I would share a brief article sent to me by Sheldon Vanauken back in 1996. The article originally appeared in The Lynchburg News & Advance  on Saturday, 3 February, 1996. An essay like it also was published in Vanauken's last book, The Little Lost Marion and other Mercies .... Creationists and Evolutionists continue to damn and deny each other's beliefs. The Creationists place their faith in a literal reading of the seven-day creation in Genesis (a day means 24 hours) and sneer at fossils. The Evolutionists stress the fossil record and place their faith--it is no more than faith--in chance mutation and scorn biblical creation. There are genuine weaknesses in both positions; and each side has perhaps not only too narrow a view of the other side but too narrow a view of itself. The creationists believe there is no way but theirs to believe in divine creation; and the evolutionists believe

Evolution, Evolutionism & The Next Step

Here is more about C. S. Lewis' thinking on creation and evolution from my book, Mere Theology.... As we have already seen, Lewis believed that certain parts of evolutionary theory might be correct, and in the strictly scientific theory of evolution he saw no conflict with the Bible.   However, Lewis strongly held that evolution ism , the belief that life on earth is getting better and better, was a myth.   And by myth, in this instance, he means a picture of reality which results from imagination. [1]   Lewis considers this myth to be a wonderful story, but not one which is true to reality.   He points out that an illegitimate transition is often made from the Darwinian theory in biology to the modern myth of evolutionism, developmentalism, or progress in general.   Lewis documents how the myth arose earlier than Darwin’s theory, in advance of all evidence.   He notes two great works that embody an idea of a universe where the “higher” always supersedes the “lower.”   One