We Believe in the Holy Spirit

A story is told of a minister who was training a catechism class for a public recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. The first boy would say the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” the second boy the next phrase and so on down the line until completion.

On this particular day they were well into the recitation when there was an awkward pause. Finally the silence was broken when a little voice piped up and said, “Excuse me sir, but the boy who believes in the Holy Ghost is missing today.”

Could it be in our lives today that those who believe in the Holy Spirit are missing? As we look at the Apostles’ Creed there are ten statements regarding Christ and yet only one regarding the Holy Spirit. That’s a ratio of ten to one. Samuel Chadwick, a Methodist minister of seventy years ago, said, “about represents the interest in the doctrine of the Spirit in the history of the church.”

As we saw over the last two weeks, the Creeds were fashioned primarily over the Jesus controversy. The church fathers haggled over His virgin birth, His Incarnation, the meaning of His death, and how He was present in Communion. Of the first ten controversies in the church, only one concerned itself with the identity of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the history of the church, discussion of the Holy Spirit has always taken second place to other issues. What does it matter? When we determine our views on the Holy Spirit, everything else comes into view. What do I mean? Consider these questions and the Holy Spirit’s role in them:

· How is the Scripture inspired, and to what extent?

· Is it possible to be saved without knowing how?

· How are evil people converted at all?

· What is the role of the church?

· Who are its prophets?

Give me your doctrine on the Holy Spirit and I can give you your doctrine on the above matters.

Even today, even in our holiness churches, the Holy Spirit is forgotten. He’s become the forgotten middle child – He’s somewhat loved but forgotten in the day-to-day operations of the church. This morning, we specifically selected songs that dealt with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Many of our hymns are full of references to God and to Jesus, but they are lacking mention of the Holy Spirit. Although, some of the choruses mention the Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit, I appreciate you.) Up until a few years ago, many holiness churches didn’t even acknowledge Pentecost Sunday. That seems a little strange to me, considering that’s when the Holy Spirit came upon the church and it began its spread around the world. Part of the issue is that we feel that we are no more qualified to discuss the Holy Spirit than the second law of thermodynamics. Steve DeNeff writes, “that we, as a struggling church, labor incessantly to provide for ourselves the very things we are told He would give us, is evidence that while we strive to be Christians, we fully intend to be so without the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a look at what Jesus said in John 16:7-16 concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in believers lives.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you now can bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.

Of the four Gospel writers, John is the most direct about his witness to the Holy Spirit. There are twelve references to the Holy Spirit. Six outline the work of the Spirit in the life if Jesus. A second group of six tells how the Holy Spirit will help us, since we are the sequel to Jesus’ earthly ministry. That is what we must see! The Holy Spirit is the Presence of Christ in our lives today. He has come, in us, to finish what Jesus began.

Jesus’ disciples had an advantage over us in that they had Jesus walking with them. When they had questions, they could ask Him. But as the time of His death approached He made sure they knew that He was leaving, and then He reassures them that they won’t be alone when He leaves them, because He will be sending someone (the counselor, the Holy Spirit) in His place. According to John there are two very important things that Jesus promised the Spirit would do. These are conviction and counsel.

Let’s take a look at the first. In John 16:8, Jesus said, “He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.”

Steve DeNeff once compiled a list of silly, outrageous ways in which the church has tried to win people to Christ. Finally, he quit, realizing that there is no end to the depths to which the church will stoop in order to “win” one more soul. He tells of reading an advertisement for a computer that will call the new residents of your city for you. The ad proclaimed that “it knock on doors while you win souls.” What are some of the other methods? How about fake twenty-dollar bills, mock parking tickets, silly e-mail advising us to “forward this message if you love Jesus,” bait-and-switch door prizes, and slick television commercials about Jesus, “the perfect guy.” Social critic Neil Postman argues that “Christianity is a demanding and serious religion, and when it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

Is it any wonder that the world doesn’t take us seriously? Jesus said the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin. Another way to say this is that the Holy Spirit will expose the guilt of the world. As we look at the scriptures, the New Testament normally speaks of the Holy Spirit working in the life of the believer. As we consider this, we have to ask the question, “Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit has come with power in our lives?” The church today seems so paralyzed when it come to sin in the world. Could it be that we don’t have the Spirit in our lives? Could it be that we don’t believe in the power the Spirit gives us as believers? Where is the conviction of sin in people’s lives? Believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit ought to be exposing the guilt because that is what the Holy Spirit does. Apart from the Spirit’s convicting work, people can never see themselves as sinners.

Not only does the Holy Spirit convict us of sin, but he also reveals to us God’s righteousness. This is the righteousness brought about by Christ’s sacrificial death. No one but the Holy Spirit can reveal to a person that a righteous status before God does not depend on good works but on Christ’s death on a cross.

Not only does the Holy Sprit convict us of sin, and righteousness, but also comes in regard to judgment. The cross was God’s judgment on the world. John 12:31 states, “Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’” The cross would seem to be Satan’s triumph; instead the cross was defeat, especially in light of Christ’s resurrection. Out of Christ’s death on the cross the greatest good would come into the world.

When God’s people are not filled with the Holy Spirit we are powerless. We are powerless to do anything about sin in our own lives. We are powerless to be righteous in God’s eyes. We are powerless to do anything about sin in the lives of our family, our friends, and other people. Without the Spirit in our lives we are powerless to do acts of service. Jesus Christ said the Holy Spirit would come into our lives so that we (as believers and as the church) would make a difference in the world. Without the Holy Spirit’s power even this preachers words are useless. Every week as I prepare, I pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives that are going to be hear each Sunday. I ask for the Spirit’s guidance as I prepare the worship. Sometimes, we view preparation as a quenching of the Spirit, but the Spirit can work as much in our planning as He can work on the spur of the moment.

Where the Spirit is, “He will convict men of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” Perhaps you’ve seen any number of courtroom dramas on television. The clever attorney comes at the witness with all kinds of questions, until the witness, who is the real culprit, admits, “I did it! It did it!” This is the meaning of Christ’s word convict. Where the Spirit is active, there is no way out. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would fall upon our church. If he did, we would never be the same.

The Holy Spirit not only comes to convict, but He comes to give us wise counsel. Jesus even said that if I don’t go the Counselor will not come. What is a counselor? Jesus tells us in verse 13 that, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” In essence and in action the Spirit is characterized by truth. The Spirit brings all people to the truth of God. Just as Jesus came to earth to personify God the Father, the Spirit is placed in our lives to guide us to the truth of God.

For a few years now, you may have heard the saying, “What would Jesus do?” For a while there was all kinds of merchandise asking that question. We are not supposed to wonder about what Jesus would do. But we are supposed to know by instinct. Former president Bill Clinton would walk around the White House while mulling over a decision and ask himself the question, “What would Abe Lincoln do?” Without the Holy Spirit in our lives we can wonder what we should do, but we will never know. Let’s take a look at what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 and 16. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak…words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words…we have the mind of Christ.” It is through the Spirit that we can know God and his truth. It is through the Spirit that we can know Jesus Christ. This morning we can look around and see the story of Jesus through the stained glass windows of our church. But I challenge you to go outside and see what they look like. You can still get a feel for the pictures but they are dim. It’s only when you are on the inside that you see the story in full glorious light. This is what the Spirit does in our life. Without the Spirit we can hear the story but it seems dull and lifeless. With the Spirit the whole story comes alive.

Through the Spirit we can know Christ. Let me illustrate it this way. For several years, Pam and I wrote to Chaplain Ritchie and his family. We had some pictures so we could what he looked like and get to know him and his family better. It wasn’t until they came to visit us last November that we could really get to know them. That is what the Spirit does in our life. When we have the Spirit in our life, we can be with Christ and get to know Him. He becomes more than a picture. Without the Spirit the gospels are a script, but with the Spirit they are a complete play. When the Spirit is with us, Christ possesses us. Christ will speak for us. He will raise our children. He will spend our income. He will be our employer. We will live the life of Christ. But this is not possible except for the Holy Spirit.

It was the day of the final exam. The students of the first year chemistry class filed in for the exam. As a way to motivate her students to study, the teacher had promised that every student could bring to the test a single sheet of paper with as much information as they could fit onto it. Of course, most students wrote their notes tediously and very small. Others drew diagrams and formulas. Still others had written outlines that labeled everything they had crammed into their heads. Everyone had a different way of filling up his or her sheet. Everyone, that is, except a single student who confidently sat down and waited for the test to begin. As the exam was distributed, the student reached into his backpack and lifted out a blank sheet of paper. What was he going to do with that, the students wondered. Had he forgotten the assignment? But in a flash, he wafted the paper onto the floor next to his desk and motioned toward the door. Very gently, the door opened and a graduate student in chemistry walked over to the desk, placed one foot squarely on the blank sheet of paper, leaned over the freshman’s desk and prepared to take the exam with him.

That is a picture of how the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, to come along side of us and take life’s exam with us. We are glad for the notes God has given us – the Bible – but even more grateful that he comes and takes our tests with us.

We have the Spirit to thank for this. Let’s honor him by paying Him our attention, by giving Him our praise, by following His intuition, and submitting to His control.

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Jesus Was a Man, So What?

Last week we took a look at a critical question. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” We took a long hard look at Jesus Christ and that he is fully God. We saw that there was and still is a great controversy regarding this Jesus. This morning we want to go the other way. We want to explore that not only is Jesus fully God, but Jesus was fully human while he was on earth.

You’ve already heard some of the opinions on Jesus and we’ve already learned that the identity of Jesus is the most debated point of the Christian faith. As we have been reciting the Apostle’s Creed each week, we see that that the creed says more about Jesus than either of the other two other persons of the Trinity.

The Creed states:

I believe 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; and descended into Hades. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

With these words the Creed speaks boldly, affirming without reservation the deity of Jesus and it speaks just as boldly about the humanity of Jesus.

The debate over Jesus comes to us from both sides. One side asks, “Is Jesus God?” The other side asks, “Was Jesus fully human?” Other religions see him as a prophet or a good man who taught good things and we touched on that last week. But none of those religions address Jesus as God. The eastern religions teach that God is in Christ because God is in all things. He is not unique. He is not different. He is just another human being in whom God dwells. As we will see, Christianity approaches it from a different stand point.

In the early centuries of the church, great controversies raged related to his humanity. Some argued that matter is evil and spirit is good. The two can never interact together because the evil would defile the spirit. This means that Jesus could be God but not human. These would deny the reality of the Incarnation. They cannot believe that God could ever dirty his hands by becoming involved with sinful humanity or by entering the world through the normal means of human birth. John the Evangelist addresses this in several of his writings; as we have been discovering on Wednesday evenings.

It’s into this theological landscape that the early church fathers developed the creeds. Some scholars believe that the words, “born of the Virgin Mary” were included in the Apostle’s Creed not so much to emphasize the word virgin, though it is important, but to emphasize the word born. They wanted to clearly proclaim that at the heart of our faith is the truth that Jesus is both God and a normal, living, breathing human being.

But the question remains – why is the humanity of Jesus central to the creed? Why is belief in the humanity of Jesus so vital – so important? His humanity has tremendous implications for our faith. Let’s read what the Gospel of John says about Jesus in John 1:1-18.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. (So Jesus is fully God.)

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him (Jesus) all men might believe. 8He (John the Baptist) himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light (Jesus). 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Here’s what we want to concentrate on.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Jesus Became Human to Personify the Nature of the Father

As we take a look at this scripture, we are first told that God and Jesus are one. Jesus is fully divine and yet as we begin to look at verse 14, we see that the Word (or Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. In verse 18, John goes on to tell us that no one has ever seen God, but because we can know the father because of his son, because God has made Jesus known to us.

A few weeks ago we took a look at the concept that some of us have of the Father God. We often have a misunderstanding of who God is. We often see God as a taskmaster, especially if that is how our earthly father treated us. On the other hand we may see him as the kindly grandfather who winks at our sins. Neither of these images is correct of our heavenly father, because neither takes into the account of his great love for us. This is something that the children of Israel in the Old Testament. We can know God our father because Jesus personifies God. Jesus came to dwell among us so that we know what the father is like.

A story is told of a artist who was trying to illustrate the parable of the prodigal son. In his picture, the father was standing on the porch with his arms crossed, with a stern scowl on his face with an “I told you so” look. Someone asked the artist about the painting. He asked him why he painted the father that way. The artist said, “That’s the way a father should act around a wayward son.” The artist was challenged to look at the story of the prodigal son again. The parable tells us the father ran out to meet the son and wrapped his arms around him.

The artist went back to his studio and reworked the picture. This time you could see the love in the father’s eyes as he ran full tilt toward his son. On his feet was a mismatched pair of shoes. Again the artist was questioned about this.

He replied, “The father was so happy about his sons return, that he found the first two shoes he could find so that he could immediately go out and meet his son.”

That is a wonderful picture of the way God the Father sent the son for us. We just like the prodigal son didn’t deserve the father’s love, but he comes running to us. It doesn’t matter because the lost has been made found.

Jesus Became Human to Reveal the Depths of God’s Love for Us

The Word became flesh. The Word that was, is, and is to be eternal, became. Jesus Christ came into history and lived among us.

Think about that the creator came into the world that he created. He was born of a human woman. Here the creator of the universe was now subject to the authority of his own creation. He was now counting on the very creation he created to sustain him. The Bread of Life ate in order to exist. The Living Water drank to sustain life. Jesus existed on this earth with all the limitations of the human body. He subjected himself to infections, scraped knees, sickness, aches and pains. He endured harsh treatment by his own people. And in spite of this, people still rejected Him, ignored Him, hated Him, and eventually crucified Him.

Another ancient hymn proclaims this. “Though he was God, he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

An old parable of the last Judgment proposes that at the end of time, all the people who have ever lived were brought before the throne of God to be judged. But instead of submitting to God, they had complaints to make.

One group was made up of Jews who had suffered great persecution. Some died in gas chambers and concentration camps. How can God judge them? What could He know of their suffering? “Who is God, that He should be our judge?” they cried.

Another group was of slaves who had suffered all kinds of indignities. There were homeless people with no place to lay their heads. And there were poor folk—workers who were never able to make ends meet. There were sick ones and sufferers of all kinds, each with a complaint against God!

“How can God judge us?” they thought. How lucky God is, to live in heaven where all is goodness and light—no tears, no worries, no fears, no hunger, no inhumanities.

So a commission was appointed to draw up the case against God! They concluded that before God could judge them, He must first endure what they have endured. So they sentenced God to live on earth as a human being, to submit to the painful, agonizing, troublesome realities of life. As the tension mounted they shouted out: “Let Him be born a Jew!” “Let Him be born poor!” “Let Him be rejected by His people!” “Let Him have friends who hold Him in contempt!” “Let Him be betrayed by one of His friends!” “Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge!” “Let Him be abandoned by His friends!” “Let Him be tortured!” “Let Him be lonely!” “Let Him die at the hands of His enemies!”

As each group announced its sentence upon God, the crowd cheered in approval. Then suddenly, there was silence. No one moved. No one uttered a word or made a sound. For everyone realized that God already had served this sentence!

God is willing to prove His love to us. And when we face the difficult circumstances of life; when we are overwhelmed by injustice and pain and grief and loss, we may turn to God and see not only one who says that He loves us, but one who has proven that He does. As John wrote in his first letter, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:10).

Jesus Became Human to be the Way of Salvation

Jesus tells us in John 10:10, that “I thief comes to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus came so that we may have life. If Jesus hadn’t come to earth, we would still be under the Old Covenant of bulls and goats and rams. We would still have to sacrifice animals every time we sinned. I believe that the priests in the Old Testament had a full time job taking care of the people and their sins. But Jesus has come to save us from our sins. He came to break the bondage of sin in our life. Jesus didn’t just come so that we could have a ticket to heaven. He tells us in John 10:10 that I came so that you might have life to the full. That is not a life that is bound in sin. Jesus came to give us life and as we’ve already seen he has paid the penalty. He cares about us and knows what we have gone through. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and fine grace to help us in our time of need.”

Louis Cassels wrote a modern parable describing a man who didn’t believe in the Incarnation and consequently thought Christmas was “a lot of humbug.” He was a nice man; he just didn’t understand the claim that God became human. One Christmas Eve his wife and children went to the midnight service, but he chose to stay at home. Soon after they left, it began to snow, and he settled into a chair by the fire to read.

After several minutes, he was startled from his reading by a thud at the window. There quickly followed another thud, and then another. Thinking someone must have been throwing snowballs at the window, he went outside to investigate. What he saw was a flock of birds huddled in the snow. In an attempt to find shelter from the storm, they had tried to fly through his window. Wondering how he could help the birds, he remembered the barn. It would make a good shelter. So he bundled up and headed to the barn. First he turned on a light, but the birds didn’t budge. Then he sprinkled a path of breadcrumbs leading into the barn, but the birds did not notice. Finally he tried shooing them into the barn, but they scattered in every direction except the barn.

The man realized that they saw him as only a strange and terrifying creature. He wondered how in the world he could communicate that he was trying to help them and that they could trust him. He thought, “If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety.”

At just that moment, the bells of the church began to ring. He stood silently for a few moments, and then sank to his knees in the snow, realizing what he had missed all those years.

The humanity of Jesus is not just a theological tenet, but real life and death, transformational, eternal truth. The humanity of Jesus places before us a powerful truth and a vital question: God loves you enough to send His one and only Son. Seeing all that Christ has done for you, you can bow in adoration and worship––submitting your life to Him and finding all that you long for, or you can ignore Him in apathy and indifference––condemning yourself to eternal separation from Him.

How are you going to respond?

We Believe in Jesus, God’s Only Son

Today, we continue taking a look at the foundations of our Christian faith. How are we doing that? We are taking a look at an ancient creed called, “The Apostle’s Creed.” Remember that this creed came into play during the 4th century to combat heresy (or false teachings) about Christianity. So while it was not written by the apostles, it contains the very core of their teachings.

Last week I said there are seven core values listed in the creed, however upon closer examination, there are just six. Five of the statements are quick one line statements, and one of the statements has ten sub-statements to it. The Apostle’s Creed has ten statements regarding Jesus Christ. For many in the early church, this was the most controversial part of Christianity. Therefore, several councils were held to hammer out these doctrines. This is one of the reasons that the Nicene Creed is similar but has an even longer section on Jesus Christ.

The controversy about Jesus did not end in the early five centuries of Christianity. The fact that there is so much controversy, points out to us that Jesus must be important. So, who is Jesus?

Over the centuries there have been a myriad of responses to that question, and precious little agreement. Ask any two people who Jesus is and you’re likely to get three responses.

  • Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “the word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding—in reality there has been only one Christian and He died on the Cross” (The Anti-Christ, 39).
  • Camille Paglia called Jesus “a brilliant Jewish stand-up comedian, a phenomenal improviser,” and said, “His parables are great one-liners” (Harper’s magazine, March 1991).
  • American poet Ezra Pound called Jesus “a heroic figure not wholly to blame for the religion that’s been foisted on Him” (quoted by Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character, part 2, chapter 13).
  • Mohandas Gandhi called Jesus “a man who was completely innocent,” and referred to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross as “a perfect act” (Non-Violence in Peace and War, vol. 2, chapter 166).
  • Former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev said “Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind” (London Daily Telegraph, June 16, 1992).
  • Former Beatle John Lennon said, “Jesus was all right, but His disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me” (London Evening Standard, March 4, 1966).

Whatever one’s opinion about Jesus, it would be difficult to disagree with novelist H. G. Wells, who said, “Jesus Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write the history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to this penniless teacher of Nazareth.”

Indeed, he is correct. Our measurement of time is divided by this Jesus. The time before he existed is marked as BC and the time after is marked as AD.

With this I ask you this question, “Who is this Jesus?” As we’ve already seen, this question has baffled men and women for centuries. How you deal with it makes all the difference.

Our look at who Jesus is will span two weeks. Today we want to look at his divinity (or Jesus is fully God.) Next week we will look at the rest of the statement which includes his humanity (Jesus was fully human while here on earth.) To help us understand this more, let’s go to Matthew chapter 16:13-18.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

You see, that that controversy over who Jesus is and was is nothing new. Even while He was here on earth people didn’t know who he was. Jesus was called many things while on earth: Lamb of God, Son of God, King of Israel, Rabbi, Teacher, Beelzebub, Christ, Friend of sinners, demon-possessed, a prophet, a glutton , and a blasphemer. Here the disciples even offer a few more words. “Some say you’re Elijah, some say John the Baptist and some say your Jeremiah the prophet. Jesus wasn’t satisfied at their answers. He asks, “Who do you say I am?” It’s important to note the location of where Jesus asks this question. They were in the city of Caesarea Philippi about twenty five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The population was not Jewish and they prone to pagan worship practices. Caesar worship permeated the city which was also the home of fourteen temples of Baal. The most revered god in this region was Pan, the universal god. It was here at the crossroads of pagan worship that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It’s an important question because men and women have been asking the question for centuries. It’s a perennial question.

It’s not only a perennial question, it is a personal question. Everyone seems to have an opinion of who Jesus is. As Jesus asked the questions to his disciples that day, he wasn’t only interested in the crowd’s opinion, he really wanted to know what His disciples thought. Jesus needed to know. He needed to know because these disciples were the future of the new church Jesus was about to establish. There is no room for middle ground. Jesus said that he who is not with Him is against Him and no one can serve two masters.

There are really only four answers to this question of who Jesus is. To say that Jesus was a great man, a prophet even, is to admit you have never read His words. What are the four possibilities?

Jesus was a Legend. First, you may conclude that Jesus was a legend. There was never really any such person as Jesus. It’s just something folks made up, and the legend has been going on for centuries. If you take this position, you are probably in a very small group today, because there is more evidence, more historical record, more textual proof, and more data for the existence of Jesus Christ than for almost any other person in history.

Jesus was a Liar. Second, you might conclude that Jesus was a liar. Jesus was deceiving people left and right, you may say. He had this incredible ability to completely fool thousands of people in His day through crazy antics and impressive (but not real) healings. The greatest lie was His supposed resurrection. Quite imaginative, even if it is not true. Even more impressive is the fact that all but two of His twelve disciples were killed for following Him. Would you die for a lie? Really now, Jesus could not have been a liar.

Jesus was a Lunatic. But maybe Jesus was a lunatic. Only a madman would say the things Jesus said about Himself. Only a lunatic would be genius enough to fool so many people. But isn’t that an even harder argument to accept than to believe what He said about Himself? How will you explain the miracles, the words of love, and the empty tomb? No, Jesus wasn’t crazy. He was not a liar, nor was He only a mirage or a legend.

Jesus is Lord. The forth conclusion is all that is left: Jesus is Lord. When you come down to this as the only viable option, it becomes very personal, doesn’t it? As Jesus looked around that little band of men for an answer, He caught Peter’s eye just as Peter began to answer, “You are the Christ.” At that moment, Peter made a declaration that would follow him for the rest of his life. The answer to this question would define Peter’s reactions in hundreds of situations yet to come. Peter’s answer would even help to settle the question of where he would spend eternity.

And so this perennial, personal question comes to a point. Who do you say Jesus is? Can you say as Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Even now there are those who want to play down the Christ portion of the declaration.

On Keith Drury’s website, there is a wonderful article entitled, “I’ll take Jesus, Hold the Christ.” Here’s what he says,

The Jesus story presents a wandering peasant teaching profound lessons in how to live life meaningfully. This Jesus showed love and acceptance to all kinds of people and was a perfect example of tolerance and compassion. This Jesus worked the fringes of society and spent most of his time with the outcasts. He was eventually killed by none other than the leaders of organized religion, who are the bad guys in this story. This Jesus story is both a romance and a tragedy—he was a really good man we all liked who was framed by the people with power. The bad guys in this story are religious and the heroes are all rebels and outsiders led by the radical religion-hating Jesus. The lessons are about how to treat others and live a meaningful life. The Jesus story gives a model or example to follow in the genre of WWJD.”

There’s something terribly tragic if this is how we view Jesus. Jesus Christ was not just a man who told neat stories and modeled a life for us to live. (These are true) But He is also the Christ, fully God, fully Divine. “…He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was crucified, dead, and buried; he ascended into Hades and on the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where he will judge the living and the dead.” We cannot forget that Jesus Christ, the son of God, humbled himself to a human form and died a cruel death on a cross by his own creation. He shed his blood and his body was broken for the redemption of humankind, the very ones who killed him. He died and most importantly, He rose again. No other figure in human history has risen from the dead.

You have an important question in front of you this morning. Who is Jesus? What you do with that question makes all the difference. Can you say as Peter did? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If you can say that, have you surrendered your life to Jesus, placed your life in his hands. The answer determines your eternity. If you haven’t surrendered your life to him, perhaps today is the day to confess your sins, repent, believe and receive him today. It will make all the difference.

We Believe in God

Many look at the church today and see a church fractured along denominational lines. We have the Baptists, the Wesleyans, the United Methodists, the Church of the Nazarenes, the Free Methodists, the Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Disciples of Christ and I could go on. We often distinguish ourselves by what we believe differently. However, for the next seven weeks we are going to take a look at an ancient creed, The Apostles Creed. If there is one universal declaration of the Christian faith, it is this one. Whether you are from the Reformed/Calvinist tradition or from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, we can embrace the statements of this creed and recognize it as containing the heart of Christianity. On our website, we have a page that describes who the Wesleyans are. As part of that page, I’ve placed two universal Christian creeds to help people understand that the Wesleyan Church is part of the larger catholic (universal) church of Christ (or body of Christ). We are part of orthodox Christianity. The Apostle’s creed did not take its current form until the eighth century. It came by this name as early as 390 AD. These creeds were put in place by the early church to combat heresy. It defines in precise terms the Church’s belief about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a clear construction of the Church’s belief on the great essentials of the faith. For the next seven weeks we are going to concentrate on those basic foundations, so that we have A Place to Stand.

The first declaration in the creed is, “I Believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” When individuals declare that they believe in God, they assume a certain understanding of Him and what He’s like. The description that the early church fathers used to describe God is as a Father. John the Evangelist writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

The same God who created the heavens and the earth is also, my Father. Let’s take a look at this marvelous thought. This is a radical concept of God especially when we consider the Old Testament. The children of Israel thought of God as the Father of a nation. Deuteronomy 32:6 gives us a hint of this. “Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? Or perhaps Jeremiah 31:9 – “They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back, I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” In either case, the children of Israel thought of God as the Father of creation or the Father of Israel or a nation, but their concept did not include being a Father of an individual.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He prayed a radical prayer, “Our Father, in heaven…” In this chapter, Jesus refers to God as Father ten times. That’s more than the rest of entire New Testament.

However because of our culture, we also have difficulty with the concept of God as Father. For some, father is not a positive term. Fathers are not usually portrayed in a positive light on television or in the movies. The word father stirs up memories of an unhappy childhood. Perhaps it arouses fear, anger, guilt, and frustration, because some fathers make life very difficult. Maybe you’re one of those who didn’t have a positive role model in your earthly father. As we’ve seen Jesus’ model prayer for the disciples began, “Our Father, in heaven…” Jesus wants us to know that in heaven things are perfect, just as God is perfect. We know all too well that things are not perfect here on planet earth. Your earthly father will be imperfect no matter how good he may be. Your heavenly Father is a perfect father.

God is a caring Father. All children need to know that they are loved. Even adults need to know that they are loved. David writes in Psalm 103, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” God knows who we are and he cares for us.

Does God care about your house payment? Does God care about your family situation? Does God care about whether I’m a success in life or not? Does God care about my employment situation? Does God care how I feel this morning? In 1 Peter, we are told to “cast all our cares on Him.” Why? Because he cares for us. God says, “You bet I care. I’m a caring Father and you matter to me!”

As if we needed one more reminder, let’s go back to chapter 6 of Matthew. Jesus tells us, “don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans, who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs and He will give you all you need from day to day (IF) you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” I know it sounds incredible, but there’s nothing about you that doesn’t concern God.

God is also a consistent Father. We can count on Him. He is dependable. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows. Some fathers are unpredictable. You never know what might set them off. God is consistent. He never has a bad day. 2 Timothy 2:13 reads, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for he cannot disown Himself.” Even if we don’t believe in Him and doubt his love, God will remain faithful. Not many earthly fathers have that to their credit. God loves us no matter how we feel about Him.

God is also a close father. Paul, who suffered many things for the cause of God, writes to the people of Athens that God doesn’t live in a man-made temple but that he lives everywhere. In Acts 17:27 Paul writes, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” Here are three things to remember about this close God.

One, God is never too busy for me. How many of us as fathers have told our children, “I’m too busy right now to help you.” No wonder we have this image of our heavenly Father. God never says that to his children.

Two, God wants to meet my need. Jesus tells us how God answers prayer in Matthew chapter 6. He says, “Which one of you fathers would give your child a snake instead of a fish? Or a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If earthly fathers, who are evil, can give good things to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven, who is good, give good things to you? Can you imagine if praying to God was like calling some companies? Thank you for calling heaven. Your call is very important to us. Please continue to hold for the next available God representative. God is never too busy. He’s never moody and he’s never annoyed at your request.

Most of you would know the name of Madeline Murray O’Hare. She was a famous atheist who disappeared a few years ago. While someone was going through her diaries they found these words several times: “Somebody, somewhere love me.” The truth is somebody, somewhere did love her and yet she refused to acknowledge God.

Third, God is sympathetic to our hurts. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

When you hurt, God hurts. When you grieve, God grieves. You are never closer to God than when you are in pain. He cares and wants to meet your needs.

So God is a caring, consistent, close Father. What else? Our God is a capable father. Luke tells us “nothing is impossible with God.” Jeremiah the prophet writes, “I am the Lord, the God of all man kind. Is anything too hard for me?” It’s almost as if God is laying down a challenge. I dare you. I dare you to think up a problem that I can’t handle.

We fathers, when we are in a good mood, like to try to fix things for our children. Sometimes we’re mechanical and we can fix broken toys or broken bikes or other broken objects our children bring to us. Sometimes they like to ask for our advice. Sometimes they want us to fix things at school and relationships. However, I am still an imperfect father and I don’t always help in these matters as well as I should. But God says, “I’m a heavenly Father, and I’m capable of meeting your needs. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Can you imagine, God can meet all your needs. God is unlimited in his resources.

All of this brings us to a very important question. Jesus says, “Our Father who is in heaven.” There’s a certain ring to that phrase. But here is the question. Is everyone a child of God? Is God everybody’s Father? Scripture tells us that God is the creator of all. However, that does not make us children of the heavenly Father, or children of the Kingdom of God. Jesus replied to Nicodemus in John chapter 3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” We can only be children of the heavenly father if we are born again. What does that mean? A little further in the passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God desires for us to be his children, but we can only be his children if we receive and believe Jesus. Only those who are in Christ are truly the children of God. Again in Romans 8 Paul writes, “And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Only those in Christ stand in intimate relationship with God. If you don’t know Christ you are outside this relationship. They remain dead in their sins and have none of the privileges of son ship. All of us once were. Here is the amazing thing; “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” Through the blood of Jesus he has made us part of his family.

How do we get into a relationship like this? Through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus reminds us, “Whoever believes in Him, will not perish…” You can’t be born physically into God’s family. You must be born spiritually into his family. God adopts all those who believe in Jesus and place their faith in him. This adoption gives us full rights to become children of God. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” That is an awesome thought. Not only must we believe, but we must receive him. That’s when we become a part of God’s family and He becomes our heavenly Father.

Do you feel close enough to God to call him your heavenly Father? Have you established a personal relationship with God? I encourage you right here and right now to begin a new walk with God this morning. Wednesday night many of our children had a similar opportunity. I want to give you that opportunity this morning.

Perhaps you already are a child of God, but you’ve never really thought about this God as Father, because you own childhood was painful. This morning I want to encourage you to trust in God more fully. Maybe you need to sense his love more. I invite you to pray this prayer with me. Father, help me to realize that You are consistent and to thank You for loving me just as much on the days when I don’t feel close to You as on the days when I do. Lord, I thank You that You are close. Help me this week to sense that You are with me and in me. Thank you that You are capable. There is no situation in my life now or in the future that You cannot handle. I turn my life over to You. I say yes to You, Father, Abba Father.”

Remember – A Service for Ash Wednesday

The full text of this service can be found here.  Since this was done for our student ministry, we chose different songs — which I have included here.

Order of Service

  • Song of Worship – Because We Believe
  • Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5, 8)
  • Song of Worship  – Forever
  • Invocation
  • God Remembered Noah (Genesis 7:15-19, 21, 23, 8:1-3, 9:12-15)
  • God Remembered Abraham (Genesis 19:24-29)
  • God Remembered Rachel (Genesis 30:1-2, 22-24)
  • God Remembered Israel (Exodus 1:8-11, 13-14, 2:23-25, 3:7-8)
  • God’s People Called to Remember (Exodus 12:51, 13:3-5, 8; Deut 15:15)
  • God’s People Forget (Jeremiah 3:19, 2:31-32, 3:21-22)
  • Yet God Remembers, and Forgets! (Hebrews 8:8-12)
  • Litany of Confession (Psalm 106)
  • Song of Worship “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”
  • Reminder of our Sin
  • Invitation to Eucharist
  • Hymn “The Wonderful Cross”
  • Sacrament of Communion
  • Prayer of Response
  • Song of Worship: The Lord’s Prayer