Sunday, March 13, 2016

I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord

There are some events in this world that come on suddenly (unexpectedly) and change everything. When developing nuclear weapons, one must acquire a large quantity of “heavy water” (or Deuterium Oxide). I learned recently that this element is used to produce isotopes for nuclear weapons. A fertilizer plant in Norway had been producing heavy water since 1934, at a rate of 12 tons per year. The reason this is important: German scientists were trying to create a nuclear weapon, so, Allied special forces alerted Norwegian resistance groups in 1940. They encouraged them to destroy those facilities. Despite a number of failed attempts, rebel groups managed to destroy the German supply of heavy water in 1943. In 1944, a single Norwegian commando managed to sneak onto a ferry carrying the remaining supply of heavy water. He single-handedly sunk that ship. This single event undermined Germany’s plan to acquire nuclear weapons. Germany had the scientific ability to generate a nuclear weapon, but they lacked the materials. Had it not been for that one moment in history, Germany may well have been able to create an atomic bomb. That would have altered WWII and it would have changed world history.

In 1918, just a few years earlier, the world rejoiced at the end of WWI. Unfortunately, a far more sinister form of death was beginning to take lives: the Spanish flu! In two short years, this virus killed between 50 million and 100 million people. To put that number in perspective, the Spanish flu killed more people in 25 weeks than AIDS has killed in 25 years! In one single year, the Spanish flu killed more people than the Bubonic Plague killed in one century! But, that outbreak gave scientists the first true close look at an epidemic and it paved the way for great advances in medicine. The massive influx of patients also led to a boom in the medical field, increased the pay for doctors and encouraged many more people to enter the medical field as a profession. That one event changed the course of medical history.

In the early 1600s, Catholic missionaries in Japan converted a number of powerful feudal lords to Catholicism. The Japanese were becoming Christian at an alarming rate! In 1639, Shogun Tokugawa Lemitsu expelled all Christians from the island, in fear of the growing Catholic population. Had Tokugawa not expelled the Christians, it is likely that, with time, a Catholic Shogun would have risen to power. Much like what eventually happened in Rome. An allegiance to the Pope may also have fostered an alliance with France and Spain (Catholic countries). And had Japan been on the side of France and Spain during the Seven Years’ War with England, it is likely Britain would have been defeated. Such a defeat would have made the colonization of America by Britain highly unlikely. That one event, the expulsion of Christians from Japan in 1639, radically reshaped the world as we know it.

I bet you didn’t know any of that history! But enough of the history lessons. Sometimes events a little closer to home change everything. Almost 65 years ago, a group of Christians at West Erwin Church of Christ decided to plant a church in far south Tyler. In 1951, a dream that was born in the 1940s finally came true. The first worship service of this congregation took place on July 1, 1951. Originally located on Glenwood Boulevard in a fast-growing neighborhood, this church moved here in 1997. Because of that single decision to plant this congregation, there are children (now adults) in this community who heard about Jesus first through Little People’s School. Last year, PATH paid nearly $100,000 in emergency utility assistance, provided basic medical services to over 1,000 individuals, prepared over 400 tax returns, and assisted over 7,000 area households with food. And that is just this past year! This church was there in the beginning, helping to establish PATH, which has blessed this community in immeasurable ways for over 30 years! Or, what about Christian Homes and Family Services. Thousands of birth mothers have been shown the grace of Jesus. Hundreds of foster children have been placed with families who extend God’s love to them, and so many of those children and parents are in this room! And Christian Homes and Family Services began here in Tyler under its former name (Christian Services of East Texas) in 1975, started by this church to provide foster care for children rescued from neglect and abuse. That one event, the decision to start this congregation, has changed the trajectory of literally tens of thousands of lives in this community and around the world.

Let me tell you about another event that changed the world. And like most world-changing events, it was completely unexpected. For centuries, the Jewish people expected a Messiah to come. The Messiah would reclaim the throne of King David. He would kick the Romans out of Israel. He would restore Israel to its rightful place as a world power. But when the Messiah finally came, He was not what they expected at all. In fact, He was so unrecognizable, they had him arrested and killed. There is one moment in Jesus’ life that gets to the heart of how and why He was rejected.
Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
“So you are a king?” Pilate said.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:33–38a CEB)
What is the truth? For the Jewish people living at the time, “truth” meant that God would come and make Israel a world power again! But for Jesus, “truth” meant something entirely different. He came preaching about a new kind of Kingdom and His way of life was not centered on power at all. Instead, His way of life was all about service and giving and even dying! You know, this led to a strong disagreement among Jews in the first century. Was Jesus the Messiah or not? Because if Jesus was the Messiah, they had completely misunderstood this title for centuries. Remember, I told you that as Christians were trying to describe the heart of their faith they developed a series of “I believe statements.” We’ve already talked about one of them: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth." When asked to define the heart of their faith, that was the first statement they wrote down. And here is the second:
I believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord...
This may sound pretty straight forward to you, but every part of this statement was poured over and debated. And every part of this statement is packed with meaning. For example, there is a reason Christians have latched onto the phrase Jesus Christ instead of Jesus Messiah. Eventually, Christians favored the Greek title “Christ” over the Jewish title “Messiah.” Because in Jewish understanding, there is no hint of the Messiah being divine. The Messiah would be king, but the Messiah was not God! Early Christians, however, believed Jesus was human and divine. So, they used the term Jesus Christ. “Jesus” highlights Jesus’ humanity and the Greek term, “Christ,” highlights His divinity. Most Christians stopped using the term “Messiah” altogether, because it lacked the connotation that Jesus was divine. Now, we could get pretty detailed here but I don’t want to put you to sleep! Church leaders would work out the implications of this statement over the next few hundred years. What does it mean that Jesus is human and divine? What is the relationship between God the Son and God the Father? These are such important questions. When this statement was first made, the phrase “Jesus Christ” may have separated Christians from Jews, but the phrase “Jesus Christ” is not really what got the Christians in trouble. Can you guess which part of the statement caused the most trouble? “Our Lord”—a political term. In the Roman Empire, Caesar was lord! But not for Christians. For Christians, Jesus Christ was lord of everything, the entire world. The life of Jesus Christ, that one event, changed everything.

The fact that Jesus Christ is Lord—well, I don’t think we can overestimate that way that one reality changes everything. In the first centuries of the church, that one reality pushed Christians away from the Roman authorities. It separated them from the rest of the known world.

So here is my question: how has that one reality changed you?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord. If that “I believe statement” is at the heart of our faith, how does that change anything in our world?

Is anyone else tired of all the election drama? My goodness; it’s only March! We have eight more months of this and I don’t think I can take one more debate! In my more spiritual moments, I remind myself that I should not get all that worked up about it. The statement: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord” reminds me that whoever wins this or any other election is not lord of my life or even America. Jesus is Lord. Period. But sometimes we, sometimes I, allow my priorities to get mixed up.

But politics is not the only area of our lives where Jesus’ lordship finds competition.

If Jesus really is my Lord, my checking account will reflect that allegiance.

If Jesus really is my Lord, I will search for ways in this broken world to bring separated people back together again.

If Jesus really is my Lord, I will assume the very best of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

If Jesus really is my Lord, I will not engage in gossip and slander, even if those around me do.

If Jesus really is my Lord, I will teach my children not only to come to church, but also to have great concern for the poor.

If Jesus really is my Lord, I will devote my life to the things Jesus devoted His life to.

That one event, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—it continues to change everything in our world. And this statement reminds me that it should also change my world. When it does, there is the gospel! Because a life under the lordship of Jesus Christ brings us salvation. Not only in the world to come, but also here and now. We are saved from that fallen human longing for more and more. We are saved from that fallen human impulse to have the last word. We are saved from that fallen human tendency to have our way all of the time. Because those under the lordship of Jesus Christ are freed from the selfish impulses of this world and we are empowered by the love of God to graciously help a fallen world stand up again. There is great freedom and salvation in that kind of life.

Will you say these words?
I believe in God, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth
I believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord
May God give us all eyes to see how these "I believe statements" call us to live differently in our world, and may God give us the strength and courage to do it.

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