Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jesus Has Come to Deliver

Midweek in Advent2
December 12, 2012
As we continue with our Advent preparations we see that the purpose of the Catechism is to direct us to our Lord. It is to show us our Lord’s work in how He comes to us and why He comes to us. That is because that is what the purpose of the Word of God is. God has given us His Word so that we may know His Son. His Son is, in fact, the Word made flesh. That is how God has comes to us. In the flesh. In the Person of Jesus. He came at Bethlehem and He will come again. He comes to us often in Word and Sacrament.

The Ten Commandments show us our need. They show us why Jesus needed to come. They direct us to our sin and call us to repentance. Here is where we see our Lord. We see that He has become a curse for us. Though He fulfilled the Law He was placed under the wrath of God against sinners so that we sinners may be saved. The Creed clearly lays out the essential actions Jesus did to bring about this salvation. The Creed is what we hold to. It’s what we believe and what we confess. It’s the declaration of faith Christians down through the centuries have put forth because it clearly and simply enunciates the Gospel.

This is the kind of thing Paul was getting at in 1Corinthians 15 when he said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” [ESV] He doesn’t just state the facts as if he’s delivering them to them out of the blue. He says he is delivering to them what has been delivered to him. This has been handed down, and that’s what we do with the Creed. We are taught. It is delivered and handed down to us and then we do the same with successive generations.

Paul is very specific in what he is delivering. It is in accordance with the Scriptures, he says. It is the very details of salvation. Christ died, He was buried, He was raised on the third day, and then He appeared to the apostles. He goes on to say in succeeding verses that Jesus appeared also to more people. These facts he is delivering are very Creed-like. In fact, when the Church set out to formulate the Creeds one of the things it did was go to the Scriptures and see how the Scriptures themselves laid out the details of how salvation was actually accomplished. Was it because Jesus spoke of it? Was it because He prayed to His Heavenly Father about it? Was it because the apostles got on board with the whole plan? What Paul writes is very clear: it’s all Jesus and it’s all His actions of dying, being buried, and being raised. This is the Gospel Paul proclaimed and it’s the Gospel the Church continues to proclaim.

The Creed doesn’t add anything to the Scriptures, but simply, and succinctly, sets forth what the Scriptures teach. We saw last week how one of the things Jesus did for us wasn’t simply to take our place in being punished for our failure to keep God’s Law, but also to fulfill that Law. His life is of vital importance. Jesus lived a life fully in concert with His Heavenly Father’s will. Upon doing this He then suffered and died for the sins of the world.

The Church has taught this across the ages and will continue to do so. At the heart, though, of salvation, is the cross. Without the cross every doctrine, every thing Jesus did, the whole Christian faith, is a house of cards that comes crashing down. The Creed ultimately confesses and hones in on the cross. In Advent, when we are preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of our Lord’s coming at Bethlehem, the point is brought home of why we celebrate that event, of Jesus being born; of God becoming a man, and that by being born as a baby. The reason? The cross. Jesus was born in order to die.

See how the Creed teaches this. A mere comma separates the Creed’s confession that He was born of the Virgin Mary and that of His suffering and death. This is how it reads and how we confess it: “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” In the Creed we confess that He was born of the Virgin Mary and in the next breath that He suffered and died. This is remarkable. A whole lot of stuff happened between that happy day Mary cuddled Him in her arms and the day the soldiers affixed Him to a cross. There were the miracles, the teaching, the acts of compassion, and as we saw last week, an entire life of living in perfect harmony with God’s will and fulfilling His will as it is laid out in the Ten Commandments. Jesus did in fact come to do all that stuff and it’s all His work of accomplishing salvation for us, but it must always be remembered and always proclaimed and confessed and taught that it is all centered in the cross. He was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

If we learned from the Commandments that Jesus has come to fulfill we learn from the Creed that He has come to deliver. He fulfilled what we were unable to, He delivers what we are unable to accomplish on our own. He fulfills the Law and delivers to us salvation. We having received this salvation now deliver the Gospel on to each generation. The first reading this evening captures this nicely:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [ESV]

We confess and then we teach. As Paul’s words in 1Corinthians were very Creed-like, so are the words of the first reading—the declaration that the Lord is one God. The Scriptures beautifully show who this one true God is, He is the Triune God. The One in Three and Three in One. Not three gods or three parts of one God. One God, three Persons. Three Persons, one God. Father, Son, Holy Spirit; all fully God. Notice what the Scripture passages we heard do—they lay out the doctrine. They state the facts of who God is and how He has accomplished salvation. There is no explanation of how God is triune. There is no logical positing of how God became a man; of how Jesus, who is fully God, could die. There’s just the pure unadulterated laying forth of the facts of salvation. The Triune God has acted in such a way as to save us. He has done it by the Second Person of the Trinity becoming man and suffering, dying, and rising.

Notice, then, what the Creed does—the same thing. It states it succinctly. There is no explanation. No attempt at proving anything. No appealing going on. Simply confession. The faith is confessed and we confess it as our own. God the Father, the Creator, God the Son, the Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, are all perfectly in concert in bringing us life, redemption, and sanctification.

This is all concentrated in the work of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s why Paul makes the beautiful confession of faith he does in our second reading:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [ESV]

He has come, He will come again, and He comes to us even now in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Because, after all, Jesus has come to deliver. Amen.


No comments: