Friday, September 26, 2008

The Ascension

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty

The ascension is the glory of our Lord. He did not rise only to die again. He rose all the way to heaven. When He arrived there, He was seated at the right hand of the Father- the place of all authority and honor.

The ascension is the final step in our salvation. Having conquered death and risen to life, our Lord then ascended to His rightful place. He came from heaven and to heaven He returned. His work is complete. He sits down because, as He said, "It is finished."

There is more. It is through the death, resurrection, and ascension that we find salvation. We are finally and completely reconciled to God.

In the waters of baptism, we are made one with Christ. We are dead and buried with Him and we rise with Him to newness of life. We die to our old way of life and are born again, a brand new creature in Christ. We are meshed together. We are in Christ and He is in us. In His ascension, we are raised with Him to be seated in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). In Christ we are seated with God, the Father, from whom we had been estranged in sin, but now are brought back again through the work of Christ, our Lord.

If this is true, and it is, then we are able to come before our God and Father and make our requests known in our time of need. We are able to feel the nearness of His presence. We are able, as it were, to look into His face. Of course, these awesome realities will not be completely ours until our own resurrection at the end of the ages (we will discuss this ina later post). But for now, we may indeed experience heaven on earth.

This is particularly important to remember because this life is often filled with tragedy and turmoil. It is our faith that enables us, not only to endure, but to overcome the obstacles we face now. This world is permeated by sin, and therefore, by death. But our Lord has come that we might have life- and that in great abundance (Jn. 10:10). His ascension is the means by which we know this life is available and also the means by which we are able to experience it.

There was a time when Christians had their eyes on heaven and were thought of as too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Today, too many Christians have become very comfortable in this world and look for their rewards here and now. While some former Christians obviously ignored some of the realities of our duties here, a recovery of the heavenly perspective would be a very good thing. The result will be that the the more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we will be.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Resurrection

The third day he arose again from the dead.

As soon as we confess our faith in the crucifixion of Jesus, we also speak of His resurrection. The two are intricately linked. Jesus conquered death at the cross. But the proof of that is His resurrection from the dead. Dying He destroyed our death; rising He restored our life. In Christ, we who have been baptized participate in His death and resurrection. With Him we die to our old life. With Him we rise to a new life.

It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved from sin, rescued from death, and made fit for eternal life. We could not pay this price ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid it for us. Now we who live by faith in Him are called to walk in the reality of this new life He has given us.

Christianity is not a religion of the dead, but of the living. That is to say that it is not a matter of dead letters on a page, or laws written in stone. It is the living reality of the risen Christ living His life through His faithful. It is a living relationship with the living God. It is the full restoration of everything that was lost through sin. We were created for life and it is to life we are restored.

Today, many people speak of living life to the fullest. But that is impossible apart from Christ. As the author of life, only He knows how it is to be fully lived. As the restorer to life, He alone is capable of giving it. Living life to the fullest is more than fun or pleasure. It is to know the purpose for which we were made and to know the One for whom we were made. In this alone is fullness of life; and this life lasts, not merely for a lifetime, but forever.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Cross

"Jesus... Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried"

The next line of the Creed affirms the historical truth that Jesus was indeed crucified. He truly died, and He was buried. There are those who theorize otherwise. They would say that Jesus only appeared to die. Some would try to deny the event altogether. But it is historically verifiable. He was crucified. Romans were masters at this cruel means of execution. To propose that on this occasion they botched the job would be miraculous in itself. But, they did not botch the job. Jesus was attested to be dead before He was removed from the cross. Then He was buried. There were a number of eyewitnesses as to where the tomb was. They would return to it on the third day after His crucifixion to find He was gone. But, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself.

What does Jesus' death mean to us? It means we have been set free from sin and death.

Death came into the world because of sin. God warned our first parents in the Garden to refrain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "For in the day you eat of it, you will surely die." Death was not a punishment for disobedience, it was the natural consequence of it. It is the same as if we warn our children not to drink poison, play in traffic, or play with fire. The natural consequences are not punishment. They follow as a matter of course. It is the very reason we warn them against it- because we love them. So God loved those whom He had made in His own image and warned them accordingly so they would not die. But they chose sin over God and death over life. Since then, sin, and death, have reigned over all humanity.

But then our Lord Jesus Christ came. He stood strong and stalwart against every kind of temptation that assails all people. He never wavered. He came through completely victorious. The last enemy to be faced was death. But when death seemingly claimed our Lord, He rose victorious again to live forevermore. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the cross, our Lord took upon Himself the just penalty due to us as sinners. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And by His stripes we are healed." In addition, it was by dying that He destroyed our death. Through death, He conquered death. On the cross, God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him." The cross was the great exchange. He took what we deserved and gave us grace and life in return.

The cross is the pivotal moment in the life of Christ and in the history of the world. Now for all who believe there is an escape from sin and death and an entrance into the eternal life of the kingdom of God.

Christ calls all who would be His disciples to "deny yourself, take up a cross, and follow Me." It was the way of the Master, and it is the way of all true disciples. There is no other way. The way of the cross is the way of death, which is the way to eternal life. As His death led to life, so our dying to self and sin leads to eternal life in Christ. To all who read these words, heed the words of our Lord and Savior. Take up a cross and come, follow Jesus!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Incarnation

"He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary"

Coming to the article of the Creed dealing with faith in Jesus, we begin to see a more in-depth description. It's because this is the core of our faith. Who and what Jesus is has been the topic of discussion from the inception of the Church. Early on there were those who taught things that departed from the historic faith. Normally their teachings centered on certain aspects of Christ. They typically denied His full deity, or His full humanity. The Church in its wisdom, and guided by the Holy Spirit who was given to lead them into all truth, established the firm teaching that we find contained in the Creed.

"He was conceived by the Holy Spirit". Our Lord's entrance into our world did not come through the normal channels. He had no earthly father. Rather the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and conceived our Lord within her womb. This was not sexual. It was supernatural. It was completely other.

It had to be this way. From the fall into sin in the Garden, man has been tainted with sin. As the psalmist says, "In sin was I conceived." For our Lord to remain pure from this taint of sin, He could not have a human father.

But this also means that His mother could not pass on sin to Him either. Surely, we know that He took His humanity, that is, His flesh, from the Virgin Mary. The Church stresses that Mary was always a Virgin. She is designated by that title. It is because in her conception, she became a holy vessel. As the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament contained the Word of God, so Mary also contained the Word of God. She could not be "touched" by a husband after this event. As surely as God struck down Uzzah for touching the Ark, He would have likely done the same to anyone who touched the Ark containing His only beloved Son.

In order to preserve our Lord from the taint of sin received from Mary, the Church teaches that her own conception was immaculate, that is to say, without sin. By a special grace of God in lieu of the work that Christ was to accomplish, Mary was saved from the taint of original sin. This is how it is that she refers to God as her Savior. She was saved by His grace from ever experiencing sin, rather than, as it is for all the rest of us, being rescued from the midst of sin.

So how is it that our Lord is truly human when He had these special circumstances preserving Him from sin? Well, believe it or not, sin is not native to being human. Remember that God created the first humans immaculate- without sin. Yet, they fell to temptation and chose sin. So it was with our Lord and our Lady. As the new Adam and Eve, they still could have chosen sin, but they did not. Their victory over sin has become the means of our own. That is, that all who believe in Jesus are baptized and enter into His own death and resurrection. In Him, we are made what people once were, and were created to be- holy. Our Lord's opportunity to do this for us was made possible by Mary's steadfast faithfulness throughout her life and in giving her consent to be the vessel to bring Christ into the world.

What does this mean for us? It means that we do not need to be subject to sin any longer. We can come to Jesus to be healed and restored. We can be delivered from sin. We can return to our original holiness for which we were created. We can do this through our Lord Jesus Christ. He who came to earth under such extraordinary circumstances has made it possible for us all to be made like Him and to live with Him forever.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Believe In Jesus

"I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord"

In the previous article we professed faith in one God. Here we confess Jesus to be Lord. What's the difference between God and Lord? Absolutely none! We believe that God Himself became a man. This man is Jesus.

This introduces us to two central concepts of the Christian Faith: 1) the trinity, and 2) the incarnation. The trinity refers to the teaching that while there is only one God as we have previously stated, He exists in an eternal relationship within Himself of 3 persons in one God. These 3 persons are known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Virtually everything that Christians believe comes back to this central tenet of our faith.

God is eternal and God is love. Love needs an object to love and desires to be loved in return. From eternity past, before God created anything, this love relationship existed in the Godhead Himself. God's revelation of this truth has been progressive. He first revealed Himself as one God. Then, in the appointed time, He came to us in the person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As our Lord was completing His mission on earth, He introduced us to the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, and promised to send Him to guide the Church into all truth.

The incarnation refers to the belief that God became flesh as mentioned above. Jesus is truly and fully God as is made more evident from the Church's more complete statement of faith: the Nicene Creed. There we are taught that Jesus is "God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father."

In becoming man, Jesus showed us the way back to God, and He Himself was the way back to God. Since we had become separated from God by sin, we were in need of someone capable of reconciling us back to God. Only God Himself could do this as we were lost and bound in sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ, by giving Himself in pure sacrifice became the means of our salvation. Through His death, resurrection, and ascension, He has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and restored to right relationship with God.

The key to the transaction is faith. Jesus promised that if we believe in Him we would not die, but have eternal life. However, if we remain in our unbelief, then there is no other hope for us. As Jesus also said, "He who does not believe is condemned already," (Jn. 3:18).

To believe is more than assenting to theological facts. It is to allow Christ to reshape our lives to be fashioned into His image. This is true salvation; to regain the image of God lost through sin. This is to know God and be known by God. This is to love God and be loved by God. This is the answer to the questions that continually plague us. This is the only solution that truly satisfies.

Today there are many who profess to believe in God. There are even many who say they believe in Jesus. But there are fewer who truly allow Jesus to do His transforming work in their lives. To say, "I believe in Jesus," in the Creed is to assent to these truths and commit to these actions.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Believe in God

The Creed begins at the beginning- with God. God is beyond our comprehension. He has always existed. He is uncreated. He is immortal, all-wise, all-knowing, and ever-present. He is in complete control of every single thing in all of creation. He brought it into being, He sustains it, and He has determined when and how it will end. There is nothing too grand as to be beyond Him and nothing too small to escape His notice.

Christians have come to know this God as Father. This is not merely a warm, fuzzy title. It reflects our relationship. For at the core, our Faith is about relationship; it is about love. God is Father because He created us. He is Father because He has redeemed us. He is Father because He has adopted us. He is Father in that He knows we are children, utterly helpless without Him, and He provides for us all things necessary for our eternal life.

The story of our Faith is the story of how our Father brought us into being so that He could love us. God is love, and love needs someone to love. So we were created that God might love us, but also so that we might love Him. For love desires reciprocation.

In sinful folly, our first parents cut themselves off from this love. But God could not be outdone by human sinfulness or demonic cunning. Long before there was the need, He had provided a means of salvation. Seen in germ in the Old Testament, it came to fruition through the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having provided a means of reconciliation, our Father now reaches out to us, beckoning us back home into His loving embrace. He is the creator of everything. No one knows better how it all works. He truly does know what's best for us. He is Almighty. He is stronger than everything and everyone. Nothing can thwart His plans. So nothing can keep us from Him if we really want to know Him.

This is our Faith, and this is our Father.

Today, many wander in endless confusion. How did it all start? Well, God made it. What is the meaning of my life? He wants to love you, and be loved by you. Where will it end? God hopes it ends with your eternal life.

To say one believes in God is to embrace all of these things. Even if you can't understand it all, or it's a struggle to believe, faith is to take God at His word, no matter what.

The first thing the Christian confesses is that God is Father. He says this not as much from intellectual certitude as he does from personal experience. He knows that once God was far away and an enemy of sorts. But now he belongs to God's family. He knows that there is one God who is the Father, the Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I Believe

"I believe..."

That's how the Creed begins. Our life in Christ begins in faith. This is more than merely acknowledging certain theological truths. It is to surrender one's life to these truths. "Faith without works is dead," (Jms. 2:26). Therefore true faith cannot be merely intellectual. It has to find its way into the heart. It must lead one to a radical break with the old life of sin and a new life in Christ. It must lead to love; love of God, first and foremost, and love of neighbor.

Faith typically comes in stages. It is more often a progression, not an event. This typically begins with inquiry. One begins to sense his need for God. This usually begins with an understanding that something is not right and there needs to be a change. We typically try to make that change in a variety of ways: a change in diet, exercise, routine, or in more extreme cases, a job, or significant relationship. But the true problem lies deep within us. When we finally realize that, we are ready for more.

Our period of inquiry then leads to the seeking of God. At first, this may come in the form of seeking the answers to the deep questions of life: "Who am I?" "How did it all begin?" Why am I here?" What is the meaning of life?" Why is there suffering?" "Where will it end?" "What happens when we die?" As we explore these questions, we are led inevitably to God. This is where the Creed comes in. It tells us who God is and how we are able to get to know Him.

The next step in our progression is repentance. As we come to understand who God is, we see that we fall terribly short of His standard. This shortcoming is called sin. It is innately in us from birth and manifests itself in various ways. Some people do things that are considered very bad such as drink too much, live sexually immoral lives, steal, lie, or even kill. Others live apparently good lives but are consumed with their own pride and self-seeking. Either way, until they come to know God, they are ruled by sin.

Repentance is to turn away from sin and turn towards God. It is to change our mind and to change our lives. It is to think entirely different. Whereas we used to indulge our sins, thinking this would give us true happiness, we now realize that sin is destroying us and any chance we have at true happiness. We see God and His ways as the only way to freedom- and joy. Therefore, we learn to hate the things we once loved (sin), and we now love the One we had been fleeing before (God).

At this point, we have already begun to exercise faith. It's beginnings are subtle, but we can identify it in our actions. When we begin this work of repentance, faith has already gripped us. Otherwise we would not believe there to be a need for change. As we continue in faith, we learn to know God. We come to love Him, and we pursue a life of obedience to Him as a result.

This is what it means to say, "I believe." It means we have personally appropriated the things that come afterward in the Creed. It means that we have come to know God and we continue to allow God to do the ongoing work of transformation necessary to make us holy just like Him.