I Believe in Jesus Christ

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 16:13-20

A lot of people today approach their religious faith the way an adventurous cook operates in the kitchen – with a strong desire to experiment and come up with a unique personal recipe. But Christians are not free to make up their own beliefs. We have a creed. We confess a faith that is held in common by all true Christians of all times and places. David Bast explores this common faith in a series of programs based on the Apostles’ Creed entitled “What We Believe.”

A lot of people believe in God, by far the majority of the world’s population, in fact. And, of course, so do Christians. But as Christians we believe in a God who is unique, a God who is one yet also three, a trinity of persons within a single God-head. And so, immediately after declaring that we believe “in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,” in the opening line of the Apostles’ Creed, we go on to proclaim, “and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” This is our confession of faith: we believe in God; we believe also in Jesus. But what exactly do Christians mean by affirming their faith in Jesus Christ? What are we saying we believe when we say we believe in him?

“Jesus”

I think the best way to answer that question may be by thinking about the meaning of his name. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and both those names mean the same thing: “Savior.” In the account of Jesus’ birth found in Matthew chapter 1 an angel gives this instruction concerning the child Mary is to bear: “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Christians believe that Jesus came, first and foremost, to be the Savior. He brought good news to a world in deep trouble and hope to people living in hopeless conditions. Jesus came into a world of desperate need and terrible suffering.

Society was filled with antagonism and division: racial divisions between Jews and Gentiles and between Romans and non-Romans, class divisions between masters and slaves, gender divisions between men and women. It was a time of moral corruption and gross evil.

Life was cheap and individual persons had little meaning or value. The abandonment and killing of babies and small children was common. Suicide was a popular option. And the family had nearly disintegrated, as divorce grew ever more common. Throughout it all sexual perversion of every kind flourished in society. So it was a time of pessimism and despair.

Freedom was an alien concept for most: in the first-century Roman world more than half the population were slaves. People had grown cynical about the future course of history, fatalistic about the world and its chances. Believing disaster and destruction were inevitable, people had grown tired of living, and yet were afraid of dying.

And if all that sounds too familiar, it may be because our world is in many ways similar. There are outward changes, of course. Our slavery today tends to be more spiritual than physical. Our entertainment spectacles of sex and violence are no longer played out in Roman arenas, but are broadcast in living color on television into everybody’s home. There’s progress for you!

And just like the world into which Jesus came, our’s is also a time of great longing, of hunger for hope, of a quest for spirituality. People are looking for good news in the midst of all the bad. People are looking for some better reality behind the visible one that they see every day. Everywhere men and women are searching for salvation, for knowledge of the true God and hope of life beyond the grave.

And Jesus’ coming into the world announces the end of that search. His very name proclaims it. Salvation and hope are now present, and are found in him. Jesus himself explained his mission in these simple terms: “I came to seek and to save the lost.” The gospel’s good news is that by his life, death and resurrection Jesus delivers all those who trust in him from sin, evil, despair and death.What do we believe when we say, “We believe in Jesus Christ”? That’s what we believe – that he is the Savior.

The Christ

What then of the second part of Jesus’ name? What do we believe when we say we believe in Jesus Christ? The first thing to note is that “Christ” is not a name at all. It isn’t as though Jesus’ first name was Jesus and his last name was Christ, even though that’s the way we often treat it. No, the word Christ is a title; and it means “Messiah” or the “Anointed One.”

In Matthew chapter 16 we find Jesus traveling with his disciples in a place called Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has taken his friends outside Jewish territory to an area in the foothills north of the Sea of Galilee where they can have an uninterrupted conversation on a very important topic. He is finally ready to tell them his true identity and reveal the real purpose of his life and mission.

It has taken Jesus a long time to reach this point. In chapter 16 we are more than halfway through the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has already spent probably two years living with his disciples, allowing them to watch him in ministry, spending time teaching them. Isn’t it interesting how patient he is? Jesus did not burst on the scene shouting, “Hey, everybody, look at me! I’m the Messiah!” Rather, he introduced himself slowly, letting his actions speak for him, allowing people the time and space to get to know him before pressing the issue of his real identity. But now that time has come, as Matthew tells us.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16

Even now Jesus doesn’t start right out with a big declaration. He doesn’t say, “OK, now I’m going to reveal my great secret to you.” Instead he proceeds inductively, beginning with a question. “What are people saying about me?” And his disciples answer. “Some are saying that you’re John the Baptist, risen from the dead; others think you’re Elijah come back from heaven to inaugurate the end times, or maybe Jeremiah or another of the ancient prophets brought back to life as a sign from God.”

“But what do you think?” Jesus asks them. As usual, Peter answers for the group. “You are the Messiah,” he says dramatically, then adding, “the Son of the Living God.”

“You are the Messiah, the Christ.” This most important of all Jewish titles referred to the coming Deliverer whom all devout Jews believed would be sent by God into the world at the end of time to restore the kingdom and set all to rights. The Messiah was the Champion, the Savior, the Promised One, the King. As commentator F. Dale Bruner observes, you could paraphrase the title Messiah as “The Answer.” Jesus is ultimately the answer. Whatever question you have, whatever problem you wrestle with, the Messiah is your answer.

Prophet, Priest and King

But there’s also a more specific meaning to the title Messiah as well. Both the Hebrew word masiach and its Greek translation christos mean “The Anointed One.” In the Old Testament the ritual by which one would be set apart for special service to God would include anointing with oil as a symbol of God’s choosing this person and his outpouring of the Spirit to equip the indivual for his office.

Examples abound throughout the Bible: for example, Moses anointing and ordaining his brother Aaron to the office of High Priest (Leviticus 8); Samuel anointing young David with a horn of oil to mark him as king (1 Samuel 16:13); or Elijah commanded by God to anoint Elisha as his successor in the role of prophet (1 Kings 19:16,19ff.). These, in fact, were the three great offices for which people were anointed under the old covenant. God chose and called prophets, priests, and kings.

And Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, is all three of those things. He was anointed, not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit himself on the occasion of his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. As Jesus left the water, the Bible says “the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him,” as a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17).

Years later Peter, preaching the gospel in the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, told “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). So Jesus is the reality to which the best of the Old Testament “messiahs” point. As the true prophet of God, he doesn’t just teach us about God; he shows us what God is like. God now has a human face, and it is the face of Jesus the Christ.

As our great high priest, Christ offers himself once-for-all, as the letter to the Hebrews says (Heb. 7:27), for the sin of the world. He is both priest and victim, the one who offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself, for only his death can fully pay for all our sins and set us free from the tyranny of the devil. And Jesus is the King who governs, guards and keeps us always. He reigns eternally at the right hand of God, and one day he will return in triumph and glory to finish our deliverance and allow us to reign along with him. That’s what we believe when we say, “We believe in Jesus Christ.”

There’s an old story about an 18th century rabbi from a village in Eastern Europe who sent one of his young disciples out to the edge of the village. He gave him the job of standing there to watch for the Messiah’s coming. After many days the young man came back discouraged because nothing ever happened. “Don’t complain,” the rabbi told him, “at least it’s steady work.” We too long for the Messiah’s coming. We look out on a troubled world, on lives full of pain, and we wonder where he is. But we wait and watch in hope for this reason: we already know who the Messiah is and we know his name. It’s Jesus. He has already come once and when he comes again, we will recognize him and be waiting for him.