1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true (1 John 1:1-6, New Revised Standard Version)
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34, New Revised Standard Version)
Charles Templeton was a close friend and preaching associate of Billy Graham in the 1940s. He effectively preached the gospel to large crowds in major arenas. However, intellectual doubts began to nag at him. He questioned the truth of Scripture and the core Christian beliefs. He finally abandoned his faith and made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Billy Graham to do the same. He felt sorry for Billy, saying, “He committed
intellectual suicide by closing his mind.” Templeton resigned from the ministry and became a novelist and news commentator. He also wrote a critique of the Christian faith titled Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
Interviewed when he was eighty-three years of age, Templeton talked about some of the reasons he left the faith: “I started considering the plagues that sweep across parts of the planet and indiscriminately kill – more often than not, painfully – all kinds of people, he ordinary, the decent, and the rotten. And it just became crystal clear to me that it is not possible for an intelligent person to believe there is a deity who loves.”
When asked what he thought of Jesus Christ, Templeton would not acknowledge him as God. Rather, he responded: “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. He’s the most important thing in my life. I know it may sound strange, but I have to say I adore him!
Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He .is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss him.” Templeton’s eyes filled with tears, he wept freely and refused to say anything more.
In this interview, Charles Templeton doesn’t seem to have any difficulty with the humanity of Jesus. Where is has a problem is with the divinity of Jesus. He is far from alone. I have talked with many atheists over the years who have little difficulty with the historical Jesus. They don’t lend any credence to the Jesus in the Bible. They don’t buy into the miracles Jesus performed. But, the idea of a good man who had much to say and teach about love and loving one another and who lived in the very early years of the A.D. period, or as they would call it, the CE or Common Era period of history.
If you were to sit down and talk with a faithful Muslim, not one of the people we hear about on the evening news committing some act of terror, but a really faithful Muslim person and ask them about Jesus you would likely get a very interesting answer. Most learned Muslims would say Jesus was a prophet, one of a number of prophets of old, who proceeded Muhammad, the last and greatest prophet. They easily could have gotten that answer my reading the Triumphal Entry narrative in Matthew’s Gospel, by the end of the story the people were asking who Jesus was and someone says, “It is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
As for Jews, many see Jesus as a latter day prophet but others, probably greater numbers of others are closer to Rabbi Harold Kushner, most famous in the non-Jewish world for his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, when interviewed for a different book, Questions of Faith said, Jesus was a very good man. He taught and lived a life of love. For my Christian friends he is the Son of God, the Redeemer who died to save them from their sins. For them, he is the Messiah.
This morning we are continuing the series we began last week where we are looking at the Apostle’s Creed. For most of us, it is our favorite of all the creeds. In many congregations it is the only creed they ever say. Most of us know it so well we never have to look at the words. That is the reason we like it so well. It is the creed we grew up saying.
It is the one we are most familiar with. It is like eating comfort food. It makes us feel good because we know it so well.
And, therein lies the problem. We have said it so much, gotten to know it so well, we just say it without really thinking about what the words really mean to us. It is a well practiced habit.
In recent years I have started picking out something different, particularly during Advent and Lent, seasons of the year where we are preparing our hearts for even bigger events, Christmas and Easter respectively. Yet we are reciting something by rote, without thought to what it means, can we really be preparing our hearts? So I have tried to do something about it.
This year I decided on yet a different line of thought and that I would preach the theology behind The Apostle’s Creed. We began last week with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth….” and we talked about how difficult it is to describe creation without the presence of God in what we describing. How could all this have just happened by chance?
This week we are moving on the longest section of the creed, “…and in Jesus
Christ His only Son our Lord. Who was conceived by the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day He rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
We can’t possibly talk about all of this today. There is just too much here and some of us have Bible study tonight at 6:00. We already talk about the virgin birth every year at Christmas time. We talk about Pontius Pilot, Jesus’ suffering, His crucifixion, and His death every year during Holy week. And, we talk about His resurrection every year on Easter. So, today we are just going to center in on the pieces that say, “Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
For me, at least, when I read this section of the creed it points to the doctrine of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. The specific words “fully human and fully divine” are never mentioned specifically in Scripture. While I didn’t check out every single version of Scripture I did check in enough translations to know it isn’t there. It isn’t part of Scripture, it is part of Christian tradition that dates back to the earliest days of the faith. This doctrine was debated for many years by Christian scholars of those days before it became a generally accepted part of Christian doctrine.
As United Methodists, we seek truth first and foremost from the pages of the Bible but it is not the only place we look. The great SMU theologian, the late Dr. Albert Outler coined a term that has become our accepted as our way of studying and looking at matters of theological importance. Outler called it “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” The quadrilateral, having four sides, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is no different. The four sides are, Scripture, which is most important, tradition, experience and reason.
We can talk about experience and reason another time. What is important for us today is, because of long-standing Christian tradition, we accept the doctrine of fully human-fully divine.
Jesus was 100% human. He was as human as you and I. I was born an earthly birth, it was a little different because of a virgin mother, but it was an earthly birth. His life was most likely one of poverty, he probably suffered through the same childhood diseases our kids go through. He learned a trade. Until one of brothers was old enough to take care of the family carpentry business, he probably worked as a carpenter to feed his family.
When Jesus was arrested and convicted, he was beaten. The beating hurt him just as it would hurt one of us. His skin was cut and he bled just like one of us. When his hands and feet were nailed to a cross it was painful just as it would be for one of us. When he hung on the cross and died, he died just like one of us. Jesus was 100% a human man.
But, because of that virgin birth, because of the miracles he performed, not one but many, because he rose from the dead we see the power of God and we know Jesus to be 100% divine. Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son element of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” three persons, one God. In our lesson from John’s Gospel this morning, John the Baptist sees Jesus and points to him and says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Any good Jew knew the only one who could forgive sins was God. The Pharisees say as much when Jesus heals the paralytic in Mark’s Gospel, he first forgives is sins. The Pharisees blew a gasket over it saying, “Only God can forgive sin.” As good Jews, John the author of our lesson this morning and John the Baptist would have known that. John the Baptist obviously believes Jesus to be fully God because only God can forgive sins and he says Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. And, we know the story because John the Disciple, another good Jew shares this story with us. It is apparent to me that John accepted Jesus as fully human by the time he wrote his gospel.
The late Lew Wallace, one time governor of New Mexico and ambassador to
Turkey claimed to have always been an agnostic and denied Christianity. Robert Ingersoll, a rather famous agnostic was one of Wallace’s closest friends. Ingersoll challenged Wallace to gather the material and write a book to prove all ideas about Jesus Christ were false, that no such man had ever lived, much less was he the author of the teachings found in the New Testament. “Such a book,” Ingersoll claimed, “would make
you famous. It would be a masterpiece, and a way of putting an end to the foolishness
about the so-called Christ.”
Wallace went home and told his wife about the project. She was a member of the
then Methodist Church, this was before the word “United” was added to our name, and
she didn’t like the idea. Still, Wallace began to collect material from libraries all over the
world that covered the period in which Jesus Christ should have lived. He did that for
several years and then began writing. He was four chapters into the book, he says, when
it became clear to him that Jesus Christ was just as real a personality as Socrates, Plato,
or Caesar. “The conviction became a certainty,” Wallace said. “I knew that Jesus Christ
had lived because of the facts connected with the period in which he lived.”
So Wallace asked himself candidly, “If he was a real person, we he not then also
the Son of God and the Savior of the world?” Gradually Wallace realized that since Jesus Christ was a real person, he probably was the one he claimed to be.
“I fell on my knees to pray for the first time in my life, and I asked God to reveal himself to me, forgive my sins, and help me to become a follower of Christ. Toward morning the light broke in my soul,” said Wallace. “I went to my bedroom, woke my wife, and told her I had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“’O Lew,’ she said, ‘I have prayed for this ever since you told me of your purpose to write this book, that you would find him while you wrote it!’”
Wallace went on to write a famous book. Every time I watch the epic film Ben Hur, based on that book, I wonder at how it was written by a man who wanted to disprove Jesus ever existed and instead became convinced he was the greatest man who ever lived.
I have told you before I am not very good at math. That being said, I don’t believe it is mathematically possible to add 100% and 100% and getting 200%. Perhaps I am wrong but I do know, for we humans, we are 100% human and 0% God. For better or worse, here it is for all the world to see.
We are all fully human. I can’t explain to you how it works, but from my study of the Scriptures and from the traditions of the Church, from my own experience I have come to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ does what none of us can, Jesus was fully human, like all of us, but I also know Jesus, the Son of God is fully divine. What is impossible for us I know is true, in Jesus, 100% + 100% = 200%.
We are about to come to the Lord’s Table. In the meal we are about to receive we can see again Jesus as fully human and fully divine. The man Jesus took the bread and broke and spoke the words of the divine, “This is my body of broken for you.” Then the man took the cup and spoke the words of the divine, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sin.”
As we come to the table this morning, let us renew our part of the covenant because we believe in the One who is both fully human and fully divine. “We believe…in Jesus Christ our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sittith at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead…