This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith part 2

Standard

We trust in Jesus Christ,
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.

This paragraph of the statement is really four sections–each sentence conveys a whole set of theological ideas in itself. We have who Jesus is: fully human, fully God. We have what he did: proclaimed, preached, taught, healed, ate, forgave, called. We have what happened to him: unjustly condemned, crucified, suffering, giving his life. We have what God did next: raised, vindicated, broke, delivered.

Phew–that’s a lot to cover in such a small number of words!

So where did we get all this stuff?

Fully human, fully God: this doctrine arose in the 5th century, and was codified in the Nicene Creed in response to a group of people insisting that Jesus had to be one or the other, either human but very close to God, or God pretending to be human. The issue seems to have been two-fold. 1. God can’t suffer and die. 2. God can’t pollute God’s self by getting mixed up with flesh. The response to the idea that Jesus was just a great teacher who had a close relationship with God, and that he could teach us the secrets to having that kind of relationship ourselves, became known as gnosticism, a theology founded on secret knowledge. The idea that God can’t suffer and so Jesus must be just a house, a costume, for the divine spark, which vacated his corrupt body at the first hint of pain, was also unacceptable. Ultimately this group became known as monophysite–one nature–because they could not accept the Nicene creed’s statement that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.

How this mystery of incarnation works, we have no idea. What we do know is that the second person of the Trinity became enfleshed (the meaning of “incarnate”–carna being Latin for flesh) and lived among us. The human and the divine were completely together and one in Jesus…but at the same time, we say they were not “mingled” or mixed up, nor is he half human, half divine (as with the other god-men of the ancient world). Somehow, much like the Trinity is Three in One, Jesus is Two in One.

Proclaimed, Preached, Taught, Healed, Ate, Forgave, Called.

Yep, that pretty well sums up what we might read in the gospels! Jesus himself proclaims his mission in Luke chapter 4, using words from Isaiah 61. He uses the same words again when the disciples of John come to ask him if he is the Messiah. We know he told stories, he healed people, he restored them to community, he ate with people both desirable and undesirable in terms of their social status, he called followers (and continues to call followers today!), he forgave even when that’s not what people thought they asked for, he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is here among us. He also prayed, for the world, for his disciples, for his people.

One of the things we proclaim as Christians is that in Jesus we can most clearly see God. Another way I like to say it is that we can see what a life lived fully with God looks like when we look at the life of Jesus in the gospels. When we think about the things Jesus did and said, we can see and hear what God most cares about, and what kind of relationship God desires with us, and how we are to live.

unjustly condemned, crucified, suffering, giving his life

I love the way this statement of faith puts it: Jesus was unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition. Notice he wasn’t crucified by the religious authorities, he was put to death by the civil authorities, by the state of Rome. He was accused of putting himself in the place of the emperor (who was considered a god, and whose titles included “Lord of Lords” and “prince of peace”). He was accused of subverting the system of the empire by doing things like healing people, welcoming those who were outcast, feeding people who would normally have been dependent on Rome’s bread dole system, and gathering crowds to teach about what life could be like if they chose a different empire. He told subversive stories. He was dangerous, in part because these ideas are difficult to quell, and in part because Rome is a jealous mistress. The state condemned him and the sentence was the death penalty–and not just any old death, but the most embarrassing death possible, the one reserved for the worst criminals that we wanted wiped from public record and from memory. People did not talk about friends or relatives who had been crucified–it was too shameful. Most people crucified took days to die (the ultimate cause of death is suffocation), and their bodies were left there to be eaten by birds and dogs–they weren’t buried, they weren’t remembered. They were wiped out. This is the kind of painful horror Jesus (and his disciples and family) went through. This is the depths of human suffering–not just physical pain, but emotional trauma and spiritual desolation. God has been there–whatever we go through, God has been there, experiencing pain and loss and tears and desperation and complete aloneness. (this is about the only good news to be found in this horrible story of pain and suffering and death.) Jesus didn’t just give his physical life, he gave everything. The only reason we have a record of Jesus’ death is because of what happened next.

raised, vindicated, broke, delivered

Suffering, death, horror, shame, desolation are NOT the end of God’s story. God has plenty more chapters to go. And the first chapter when we turn the page is one that is almost unbelievable, it’s so good. God raised Jesus from the dead–Jesus didn’t just walk out of the tomb alone, remember he’s the incarnation of one person of the Trinity, so he’s got the two other persons (Creator and Spirit) there too. That may mean (some people say) that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, was in fact dead for those three days, and the other two persons of the Trinity were grieving just like the family and friends of Jesus were–in those days, God experienced loss and grief. But on the third day: raised! This is where the story gets good, because when that tomb broke open, the power of sin and death was smashed as well. The power the empire held over people, the fear of doing the wrong thing and offending God, the shame of death…all that was broken. The power reigning in the world is not fear but love, not hate but goodness, not darkness but light. Because of that, we have the privilege of living an eternal life–which does not mean just a life after death, but a life that begins now in a completely new world. Eternal Life is about living Jesus’ way, with God forever.

Trust

This is the Jesus in whom we put our trust. Trust is a synonym for faith, another aspect of faith besides “belief.” In our culture, “belief” has come to mean an intellectual understanding and assent. That is not what faith is–faith is much more visceral than that, much more incarnate than that. This is one reason the statement does not say “we believe in Jesus” but instead “we TRUST in Jesus.” That may be a big leap for some of us, but is a key to living our faith rather than just thinking about it.

What do you think? How do you trust in Jesus? What questions do you have about this section? How do you see this trust lived out?

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