Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 9

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 8

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated at The Right Hand of The Father

Early Believers proclaimed a Gospel of Yeshua’s bodily incarnation, bodily suffering, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the ancient Kehillah was not about spiritual escape but about the redemption and transfiguration of human life in its fullness, including the life of the body. As Irenaeus said in the second century, the Son of God“did not reject human nature or exalt himself above it,” but united Himself with our nature in order to unite us to God.

When the Brit Hadashah writers speak of the ascension, they are not describing Yeshua’s absence but his sovereign presence throughout creation. He has not gone away but has become even more fully present. His ascent to the right hand of the Father is His public enthronement over all worldly power. No scriptural passage is quoted so often in the Brit Hadashah as Adonai says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ~ Psalm 110:1 (CJB).

The earliest Believers proclaimed that Yeshua had been enthroned as the universal Lord and Messiah. The exalted Messiah has entered His glory (Luke 24:26; 1 Tim 3:16). From now on, all things are subject to His authority (Phil 3:21; Heb 2:8). Because He is ascended, His life is universally available. His loving authority extends over the whole creation and is present wherever Believers assemble (Eph 1:20-23). He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Pet 3:22).

So, the ascension is not meant to make us wonder where Yeshua has gone. Instead, it ought to elicit the psalmist’s question: Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? ~ Ps 139:7.

And through our union with Yeshua, we share also in His ascension. When Yeshua ascends to the Father, He takes our humanity with Him. To quote Irenaeus again, because Yeshua has ascended we also “ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father.” In Yeshua, our nature has taken up residence in the presence of God.

He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and The Dead

To judge is to discriminate, to separate one thing from another. The Gospel of John portrays Yeshua as the light of the world. The same light shines on everyone, but there are different ways of responding to it. Some walk gladly into the light while others screw their eyes shut and remain in darkness. Now, this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light. Why? Because their actions were wicked. (John 3:19). That is what it means for Yeshua to bring judgment. It is not that He is gracious to some and angry toward others. Yeshua is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The judgment that Yeshua brings, moreover, is not just a division between two kinds of people. When Believer’s light shines into our lives, it creates a division within ourselves. None of us is entirely good or entirely bad. Each of us is a mixture. The bad grows up in our lives like weeds among the wheat, and the two are so closely entwined that in this life we cannot easily tell the difference (see Matt 13:24-30). Sometimes our worst mistakes turn out to produce good fruit. And sometimes we discover that our virtues have produced unforeseen collateral damage. Our lives are not transparent to ourselves. We cannot easily tell where the bad ends and the good begins.

So, it is a comfort to know that one day someone will come and lovingly separate the good from the bad in our lives. The confession that Yeshua will come as the judge is not an expression of terror and doom. It is part of the good news of the gospel. It is a joy to know that there is someone who understands all the complexities and ambiguities of our lives. It is a joy to know that this one – the only one who is truly competent to judge – is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He comes to save, not to destroy, and He saves us by His judgment.

Yeshua will come to judge the living and the dead. That will be the best thing that ever happens to us. On that day, the weeds in each of us will be separated from the wheat. It will hurt – no doubt it will hurt – when our self-deceptions are burned away. But the pain of truth heals; it does not destroy. On our judgment day, we will be able for the first time to see the truth of our lives when we see ourselves as loved. [1]

In my next post, we will begin to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 8

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 7

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” ~ Psalm 139:8 (CJB). [1] The message of the Bible is that death is not the end. Death does not defeat God’s promise. Death is not separation from God. In Yeshua, God has dwelt among the dead. The Living has embraced the dead. Death has been incorporated into life.

Several of the Brit Hadashah authors describe Yeshua’s death as a descent into the world of the dead.

This is why it says, “After he went up into the heights, he led captivity captive, and he gave gifts to mankind.” Now this phrase, “he went up,” what can it mean if not that he first went down into the lower parts, that is, the earth?~ Ephesians. 4:8–9.

18 For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; 19 and in this form, he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. ~ 1 Kefa 3:18–19.

Therefore, God raised Him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:9–11 (emphasis added).

The dead are not lost forever. They are not condemned to silence. In Yeshua, the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. ~ John 5:25. Because of Him, the emptiness of death has been filled with God’s fullness.

The Son ofGod has taken our nature to Himself. He allows our fallen nature to drag Him down. He descends to the very abyss of the human condition. He traces our plight right back to the root and takes hold of us there. He embraces our humanity at the point of its total collapse into nothingness.

Because He shares our nature, He can fall with us into death; because He is the Son of God, he can fill death with his presence so that the grave becomes a source of life. In Yeshua, the dead are united to God and are alive in the strength of that union. The resurrection is not just an isolated miracle that happens to Yeshua. It happens to us – to Adam and Eve, to me, to the human family. As Yeshua rises, the whole of humanity rises with Him.

In the ancient church, the message of Yeshua’s triumph over death produced some peculiar attitudes toward the dead. Believers would assemble for prayer in tombs. They would worship Yeshua among the bones of the dead. Believers would raise the bodies of martyrs in the air and parade them through the streets like trophies. At funerals, they would gaze lovingly on the dead and sing psalms of praise over their bodies. Such behavior shocked their pagan neighbors. According to Roman law, the dead had to be buried miles away from the city not to be contaminated. But Believers placed the dead right at the center of their public gatherings. The earliest church buildings were just big mausoleums erected over the remains of the martyrs. In the words of John Chrysostom, “tombs with life, tombs that give voice.”

When new Believers were preparing for Baptism, they would gather in the presence of the dead, and there they would receive instruction in the ancient catechism. Even today, the Apostles’ Creed makes the most sense when you imagine the words echoing among the bones of the catacombs. The creed is marked everywhere by a courageous acceptance of the facts of human mortality, coupled with straightforward confidence in the ultimate triumph of life – a triumph that has already happened once and for all in the person of Yeshua.

Where others see only defeat, Yeshua’s followers see a paradoxical victory. Where others see only contamination, we see the sanctification of human nature. Where others see only darkness and despair, we see broken gates. Where others see an end, we see new beginnings. Death is serious: but not as severe as life. It has been placed in the broader context of meaning. We bury our dead under the sign of the cross. We lay our bones to rest not in horror but peace. The dominant sound at a Believer’s funeral is not mourning but the singing of praise.

Death is no longer the ultimate power in this world. In the ancient church, the martyrs were seen as extraordinary proof of that. In the death and resurrection of Yeshua, death itself was altered.

By nature, we are all on the way from birth to death. But by grace, we are traveling in the opposite direction. The Believer’s life is a mystery that moves from death to birth. In the beginning, we are baptized into Yeshua’s death; and at the end, we are born into the resurrection life. We are born as though dying; we die as those who are being born. [2]

Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
~ 1 Cor. 15:55 (CJB)

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1]  All scripture quotations are from the Complete Jewish Bible.

[2]  The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 7

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 6

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN YESHUA CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried
.

He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the
Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Until now, you would think the creed was describing a perfect world. It has spoken of the God who creates the world and then enters into that world through a woman’s womb. So far, there is no hint that anything is wrong. The Apostles’ Creed makes no mention of the fall or original sin. But now we hear ourselves confessing the word suffered, and with a painful jolt, we realize all is not well.

When God comes into the world in the person of Yeshua, God is met with violent resistance. The creatures have turned against their Creator. The loving Creator of the world has been pushed out. The judge of the earth has come among us: we have judged Him and put Him on the cross. He came to his own homeland, yet his own people did not receive him. ~ John 1:11 (CJB). There is room in our world, it seems, for everything – except God.

Among Messianic scholars today, one of the main criticisms of the Apostles’ Creed is that it contains no account of the life and ministry of Yeshua. The reading of the Gospel stories has always been central to the life of the Messianic community. The creed was never intended as a substitute for the four Gospels but only as a guide to the faithful reading of them. Whenever we read Yeshua’s story, we are to keep in mind that He was born of a woman, that He was a flesh-and-blood human being. And when we read His story, we are to keep in mind that He was not just another human being, but was God’s only Son, our Lord, the living self-expression of God’s will. That is what the creed offers: some general guidelines for the faithful reading of the Gospels. The creed does not include all the details but only to remind us of the larger narrative and focus our attention on Yeshua’s identity as divine and human, the Son of God and Miryam’s son.

It is so easy to forget what the Messianic faith is really about. We might slip into the assumption that it is a kind of philosophy, a comprehensive view of life and the world. Debates with atheists are often carried out on this level. We give the impression that our faith has to be cleverer than atheism if it is to be true. Or we might assume that the Messianic faith is essentially a religious doctrine, a set of accurate beliefs about God. Scholars and students are especially vulnerable to this assumption. We start out trying to get a clearer understanding of our beliefs. Before long, we have come to feel that those beliefs must be flawlessly integrated into a theological system if they are to be accurate.

The Apostles’ Creed is concerned with doctrine. The ancient catechism was meant to help Believers get a clear outline of the teaching of Scripture. There are some underlying doctrinal patterns in the creed: belief in God as Father, Son, and Ruach HaKodesh; and belief in creation’s goodness, its redemption, and its final glorification. Still, it is essential to notice that the creed isn’t a list of concepts and ideas. At the center of the creed is a story, or at least the summary of a story. We are meant to take our bearings not just from doctrine but from history: from a sequence of events that occurred in a particular time and place.

The baptismal confession centers on a name: the name of Yeshua. And in case we start to think that Yeshua HaMashiach is a theoretical concept, the creed adds a second name: Yeshuathe one who suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is there to remind us that God has acted at a particular moment in human history. The salvation of the world can be dated. Certain people were there when it happened.

The heart of our belief is not an idea but a brute fact. Not a theory but a particular human life. Not a general principle but a person with a name: Yeshua, who suffered under Pontius Pilate.

Was Crucified, Died, And Was Buried

In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was not only about death. It was about public disgrace. The problem with getting yourself crucified was not just that it would kill you but that it would humiliate you at the same time. Modern readers of the Brit Hadashah might assume that the worst thing about crucifixion was the physical suffering. But in a culture of honor and shame, the pain of the soul – humiliation – can be even worse than the body’s pain.

The psalms of Isra’el often lament over the experience of humiliation. Psalm 79 describes the sack of Jerusalem by a neighboring army. Asaf writes in verse 4: We suffer the taunts of our neighbors, we are mocked and scorned by those around us. We are familiar with Yeshua quoting the first verse of Psalm 22: My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me? But verses 6-7 speak of humiliation. But I am a worm, not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me jeer at me; they sneer and shake their heads.

To be crucified was to be cast out of the human community, rejected by God and the world. It was a fate worse than death.

The humiliation of Yeshua’s death made a deep impression on His early followers. Quoting an early Messianic hymn, Sha’ul describes the whole life of Yeshua as a descent into humiliation and disgrace. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…He humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death – death on a stake as a criminal! ~ Phil. 2:7–8 (CJB). Yeshua descended to the lowest rung on the social ladder. He became a slave and died a slave’s death. Though he possessed the highest honor, he embraced the worst disgrace. Yeshua’s shame saved the world: that is the scandalous message of the cross.

Yeshua’s followers were the first people in the history of the world to describe humility as a virtue. Sha’ul reminds the Philippian believers that they ought to have the same attitude as Yeshua (Phil. 2:5), renouncing honor and becoming like slaves in service to one another. In ancient Roman culture, the whole purpose of life was to acquire honor and shun whatever might diminish one’s reputation. To be humble was the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Yet, the earliest Messianics scorned pride and elevated humility. Sha’ul calls himself a slave of the Messiah Yeshua (Rom 1:1) as if such slavery were the highest honor in the world. The message of a humble Lord was a shocking thing to hear in the ancient world. Yet today, if anyone is asked whether it is better to devote one’s life to self-aggrandizement or service, most would admit that a life of service is better. The message of the cross has inverted the ancient values of honor and shame. Yeshua’s shocking claim that it is better to serve than to be served is accepted today as if it were plain common sense.

Because, today, the virtue of humility is taken for granted, we no longer feel the original scandal of the gospel.

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 6

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 5

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary
,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Who Was Conceived By The Holy Spirit

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the angel visits Miryam and tells her that: The Ruach HaKodesh will come over you, the power of Ha‘Elyon will cover you. Therefore, the holy child born to you will be called the Son of God ~ Luke 1:35 (CJB). This opening act of Yeshua’s story is meant to remind us of the creation story in Genesis 1, which we reviewed in The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3.

So, when the Ruach covers Miryam, we see a picture of God’s creative work happening all over again. Yeshua is brought into being by the creative breath of God’s Ruach.

In the third century, the Origen of Alexandria, widely regarded as one of the most important Messianic theologians in the third century, came up with a striking image to illustrate how Yeshua’s humanity was united to the eternal Son of God. He pictured a piece of iron placed in a fire until it is glowing with heat. This iron, he says, has become wholly fire since nothing else is discerned in it except fire; and if anyone were to attempt to touch or handle it, he would feel the power of that fire. In this way, Yeshua’s human soul is like the iron in the fire.

Yeshua is genuinely human: nothing but iron. He is truly divine: nothing but fire. Yeshua is so permeated by the divine presence that every part of His humanity is filled with divine energy. He is born of a woman. The Ruach HaKodesh conceives Him. He is human: He is divine.

This way of thinking about Yeshua’s humanity and divinity is just an attempt to make sense of the complex things that are said about Yeshua in the Gospels. The Gospels portray Yeshua as someone whose life is drawn directly from the source of God’s creative energy. Even in His mother’s womb, He is already the bearer of the Ruach. In Luke’s Gospel, the same Ruach that brooded over Miryam’s womb is constantly flashing out and touching the lives of those who come into contact with Yeshua. When Miryam greets her cousin Elisheva, the baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps for joy, and Elisheva is filled with the Ruach (Luke 1:41).

The same Ruach who rested on Yeshua in His mother’s womb now rests on the whole company of Yeshua’s followers.

Born of the Virgin Mary

There are Believers that the idea of the virgin birth is a relic of bygone days when people were more straightforward and found it easier to believe in impossible things. They can handle the rest of the creed, but the virgin birth stretches credulity too far. To understand the virgin birth, we need to see how it fits into the whole story of Scripture – a story in which miraculous births play a starring role.

Isra’el’s story begins with a promise to Avraham and Sarah (Gen 12–17). A couple who cannot conceive are chosen by God and told that they would have a family. Sarah laughs at the promise. But later, when she has given birth in her old age, the child is named Laughter (Isaac ~ Hebrew: Yitz’chak) because of the astonished joy of his parents. Sarah can hardly believe her own body: and yet it is true. She has given birth to the promise.

The next great turning point in Isra’el’s story is the arrival of Moshe (Ex. 2:1–10). Although Moshe’s conception is not a miracle, his infancy is marked by a miraculous escape from danger. He is snatched away from the murdering hand of Pharaoh. He is placed in a basket and set adrift on the river, where he is found and adopted by a member of the royal household, an Egyptian princess. She then appoints the baby’s biological mother to be his nursing maid. The whole story portrays a unique providential design by which Moshe is spared and, as it were, smuggled right into the heart of Egyptian power. All this is meant to anticipate the great miracle to come when God delivers the people of Isra’el from slavery.

When Isra’el has come to the promised land, God raises up judges to lead the people before the establishment of the monarchy. The greatest of the judges is Shimshon (Samson), and his story begins with another miraculous birth (Judges 13:1–25). Shimshon’s mother is unable to conceive. But she is visited by an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will triumph over the P’lishtim (Philistines).

That is how it goes in the Tanakh: at the great turning points of history, we find a woman, pregnant, and an infant child brought into the world by the powerful promise of God. Isra’el’s story is a story of miraculous births.

Later the people of Isra’el were taken from the promised land and led away into Babylonian captivity. It was the darkest hour of their history. Out of the depths of despair, the promise of God was heard again through the prophet Isaiah. The prophet compared the coming deliverance to the joy of a miraculous pregnancy in Isaiah 54:1–3, 13.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise to find Isra’el’s Mashiach entering the world through a miraculous birth.

The confession that Yeshua was born of a virgin is not a random miracle story. It is a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Isra’el’s story and Isra’el’s Scriptures. The coming of the Savior was not just a new thing. It was the culmination of the whole incredible story of God’s loving faithfulness to the people of Isra’el. When we confess that Yeshua is born of the Virgin Mary,” we see Him silhouetted against the backdrop of God’s promise to Avraham, the exodus from Egypt, the rule of the judges, the coming of the prophets, and the promised deliverance from exile. [1]

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 5

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 4

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD

We tend to think of creeds as cold moralistic summaries of doctrine. But the real centerpiece of the Apostles’ Creed is not a doctrine but a name.

Even before the ancient baptismal confession had taken shape, perhaps the earliest Messianic confession consisted of just three words: Yeshua Is Adonai (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). That early statement remains the spiritual heartbeat of the baptismal creed. Everything else in the creed radiates like the spokes of a wheel from that hub: personal attachment to Yeshua; total allegiance to him.

At the center of the Messianic faith is not an idea or a theory or even a vision of life but the name of a person, Yeshua HaMashiach. Our faith centers on personal attachment to Him.

Attachment to Yeshua is personal, but that is not to say that it is a private matter. Sha’ul reminds the Philippians that one day all worldly powers and authorities will speak the name of Yeshua and will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai (Lord) (Phil 2:9–11). To confess Yeshua as Adonai means to acknowledge him as the one who shares the identity of Israel’s God. In the Tanakh, God is named YHWH, transliterated as Adonai (Lord); and in the Brit Hadashah, Yeshua is revealed as the one who bears that name. So, to confess Yeshua as Adonai is to set Him above all other loyalties. It is to make a universal claim. If Yeshua truly shares the identity of YHWH, then He is the hidden truth of creation, history, and every human life (Col 1:15–17).

I confess Him as my Adonai only because I recognize him as the Adonai.

Such a universal claim might sound insensitive or even oppressive to modern pluralistic ears. And Messianics have indeed at times used the universality of the gospel to justify oppression and injustice. Rightly understood, however, the message of Yeshua’s lordship is a word of comfort and hope for all people.

In the ancient church, the confession of Yeshua’s lordship began to change the way Messianics thought about slavery. Societies were rigidly stratified and hierarchical. There were marked distinctions between men and women, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. But the Messianic community did not accept that those social distinctions defined people. All came to the same baptismal waters and confessed the same Adonai. When they entered naked into the waters of baptism, no one could tell the difference between rich and poor, slave and free. So even when the Messianic movement had barely begun, we find Sha’ul urging a believer to regard his Messianic slave as no longer a slave … but a dear brother (Philemon 16).

Because Yeshua is the universal Adonai, all worldly power is limited and provisional. Because He is Adonai, social distinctions are relativized and will ultimately be set aside altogether. All people owe their allegiance, not to any other person but Yeshua. Before Him, they can recognize one another as sisters and brothers. And so, the logic of universal lordship gives rise to a classless society.

The ancient institution of slavery did not vanish all at once. But when slaves and free persons stood side by side and confessed that Yeshua is Adonai, the days of slavery were numbered. When early believers entered the waters and took the name of Yeshua on their lips, the tectonic plates shifted. The slow revolution had begun. [1]

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 4

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“ALMIGHTY”

Almighty is a powerful word that is part of God’s character of being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

This is not like the power of the pagan gods who might intervene in the world from time to time. God’s might is everywhere present in creation. It is the underlying mystery of everything that exists. It is not just a solution to problems in this world. It is the reason there is a world at all.

We could not trust in God if God’s power were limited, sporadic, or unpredictable. A god who exercised that kind of power would be a pagan god: not the world’s sustainer but its invader, or perhaps a distant ruler whose wishes have to be imposed by force.

That is the problem with trying to place any limitations on God’s power. If God’s power were just one power among others – if God were “mighty” but not “almighty” – then divine power would end up being another form of manipulation or control. Only a totally free and sovereign God can relate to the world with unconditional love, patience, and generosity. There is power elsewhere in creation: each living thing has its unique power and energy. But God does not have to compete with these other powers. God’s power is their source, the reason why they exist at all. God’s power is what sustains and nourishes the power of creatures.

True power is not the ability to control. Controlling behavior is a sign of weakness and insecurity. True power is the ability to love and enable without reserve. Like the power of a good parent or teacher, God’s power is the capacity to nourish other people and help their freedom to grow. Without the sovereignty of a good parent, children have a diminished sense of worth. In the same way, God’s sovereignty is what secures human freedom, not what threatens it.

In the creed, we confess the three great movements of God’s power: God lovingly brought the world into existence; God lovingly entered the womb and became part of the world as Yeshua HaMashiach; and God the Ruach HaKodesh who is lovingly transfiguring the world in the lives of the saints.

The world lives because of this gentle but all-embracing power, and we are free because of it.

“CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH”

In Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 reads B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. בָּרָא bara is a verb meaning to create. Only God is the subject of this verb. It is used for His creating: heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1); humanity (Gen. 1:27); the heavenly host (Isa. 40:26); the ends of the earth (Isa. 40:28); north and south (Ps. 89:12); righteousness; salvation (Isa. 45:8); darkness (Isa. 45:7). David asked God to “create” in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). Isaiah promised that God would create a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17). [1]

Belief in the truth of this one simple yet utterly profound verse hangs all the validity of the entire Bible and serves as the basis for a belief in creationism. If we cannot believe this one simple truth, then nothing else is relevant. If we cannot believe the veracity of this one simple statement, then the entire rest of the Bible is merely words with no lasting meaning. B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Henry Morris, President of the Institute of Creation Research, writes, “This simple declarative statement can only have come by divine revelation. Its scope is comprehensively universal, embracing all space (heaven), all time (beginning), and all matter (earth) in our space/time/matter cosmos. B’resheet 1:1 speaks of creation ex nihilo (Latin for “from or out of nothing”); only God could originate such a concept, and only an infinite, omnipotent God could create the universe.” [2]

Yet, in the second century, Messianic teachers struggled to define their beliefs and commitments in opposition to popular rival teachings. The prevailing cultural mood was one of deep spiritual pessimism. Members of the educated class took it for granted that the physical world was inherently evil and irredeemable. They yearned to escape from the world of the flesh and to experience spiritual enlightenment.

The Messianic baptismal confession developed, in part, in response to such world-denying doctrines and the broader culture of despair that had engendered them. Right from the start, Messianics were marked by their positive stance toward creation. John’s Gospel begins by retelling the creation story: “In the beginning …” (John 1:1; Gen 1:1). The followers of Yeshua believed that in Him, they had encountered the enabling source of creation. They had come to know the One through whom all things came to be (John 1:3). Looking into the face of Yeshua, they had seen the blueprint of reality and had come to understand God’s good plan for the whole creation.

It is often said that creeds are narrow and intolerant. But in the ancient world, the truth was precisely the opposite. It was the Messianic creed that took a stand on behalf of creation. It was the creed that said No to those doctrines that condemned creation, disparaged the body, and sought escape from the world of the flesh.[3]

As a side note, my wife’s small group got into a discussion of the word “heavens” in Genesis 1:1. So I did some research in my digital library (Logos) and found some interesting stuff. I have attached the PDF version of the one document that was the most comprehensive here if you are interested.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament.

[2] Scientific Creationism by Henry M. Morris, Institute of Creation Research, Masters Books

[3] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Pesach and Hag HaMatzah ~ 20211

(Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread)
God’s Appointed Times

We return to God’s Appointed Times from the Tanakh.  Both Pesach (Passover) and Hag HaMatzah are tied to the remembrance of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The principle Scriptural reference for Pesach is in B’midbar (Exodus) 12:1-13 and Hag HaMatzah in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-8.  In 2021, Pesach starts on the eve of March 27th  and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of March 28th.   This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 4th.

For Believers in Yeshua, this time can be a great time to reflect not only on the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and death of the first-born by the shedding of the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; but also on the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross.  His death and resurrection paid for our sins and purchased for us eternal salvation.

I’ve included a great video from Friends of Israel which takes you through the Pesach Seder.

I have attached a PDF version of an explanation of the traditional Pesach Seder provided by Chosen People Ministries.  Click here.

However, for those of you who want to have a Scriptural-based observation of Pesach, I highly recommend Kevin Geoffrey’s “Behold the Lamb and Preparation Guide.”  Click here to order.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 3

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 2

This post will begin to take a closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“I”

The first word is perhaps the strangest part of the whole Apostles’ Creed: “I.” Who is this I? Whose voice is speaking in the creed. I remember in the late ‘60s, the Episcopal Church was in the process of updating the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. One of the changes that was proposed was changing the “I” to “We.” I did not like that idea at all! I knew what I believed, but I was not so certain about the others in the service.

In the past, one of the things that made a wedding special was the fact that you got to say exactly the same words that everybody else said. When a couple said their vows, they were not just expressing their own feelings. They did not use their own words; they used the same words that their parents and their ancestors had spoken, and they made those words their own.

But today we are skeptical about the past. We are skeptical about anything that is merely handed down to us. We assume that the truest thing we could ever say would be something we had made up ourselves.

In the same way, Believers today are often suspicious of creeds. Many churches are more comfortable with mission statements than with creeds. The thing about a Mission or What We Believe Statement is you always get to make it up for yourself. It is like writing your own wedding vows.

I believe. Who is the “I” that speaks when we make this confession? It is the body of the Messiah. It is a community stretched out across history. The whole company of Messiah’s followers go down into the waters of Baptism, crying out the threefold “I believe!” In Baptism nobody is invited to come up with their own personal statement of belief. All are invited to be immersed into a reality beyond themselves and to join their individual voices to a communal voice that transcends them all. The truest and most important things we can ever say are not individual words but communal words.

“Believe”

When politicians make promises, we do not really expect them to keep their word. We understand that promises are motivated by self-interest, that words are tactics to achieve other aims. And we are not just cynical about other people’s promises. We lack confidence in our own words too.

Nevertheless, when we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are reminded that life itself is founded on trust. Believers in the ancient church went naked to the waters of Baptism. The second birth is like the first. We are totally dependent. We bring nothing with us except life. The birth cry of Baptism is the threefold “I believe” of the Creed, a cry of total trust in the Triune God.

The creed is full of mysterious things. It speaks of things that I cannot immediately observe or verify for myself. I believe in God, the Creator. I believe in Yeshua HaMashiach, God incarnate. I believe in the Ruach HaKodesh, God invisibly transfiguring creation from within. How could I prove the truth of these statements? How could I know for sure? When I take the first step, I start to see the whole world through the eyes of God’s promise. I start to live in an environment of trust. And then I learn from experience that God is good.

“In God the Father”

What do we believe about God? Right away the creed uses the language of Scripture: God is Father. It is an echo of revelation when Christians use this word. It is not an idea based on speculation or philosophical reasoning. Yeshua reveals God as his Father. He relates to God as his own Father and invites his followers to share in the same relationship.

Yeshua’s relationship to God is unique but also inclusive. His followers stand on the inside of Yeshua’s unique relationship with God. Yeshua calls God “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36), and His followers are empowered by the Ruach to pray in the same way (Rom 8:15–16). That is what it means to be baptized into the TriuneGod. By the Ruach, we are immersed into the life of Yeshua so that we come to share in His position before God.

We speak to God, and God listens to us as if we were Yeshua. Yeshua is God’s child by nature, and we become God’s children by grace. Yeshua is born of God; we are adopted. So, when we confess that God is Father,” it is not a theological idea but a confession of the defining relationship of our lives. We call God Father because that is what Yeshua calls God and because Yeshua has invited us to relate to God in the same way. In other words, we call GodFather because of revelation.

If the word Father refers to a relation of origin within God, then we can draw one important conclusion: God is not only Father but also Son. These words, Father and “Son,” are relational terms. Neither would make sense without the other. Writing in the second century, Tertullian was the first to develop this simple but important insight: Father makes son, and son makes father.… A father must have a son to be a father, and a son must have a father to be a son.” When we confess that God is eternally Father, we always have in mind as well the eternal reality of the Son.[1]

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 2

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 1 [1]

In this post, we will take our first look at the entire Apostles’ Creed and learn some background information. In further posts, we will parse it to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The ancient Kehillah was founded on basic biblical teachings and practices like the Ten Commandments, Baptism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Supper, the Disciple’s Prayer, and corporate worship. These basics of the Christian life have sustained and nurtured every generation of the faithful – from the Emissaries (Apostles) to today. They apply equally to old and young, men and women, pastors, and Kehillah members. For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness ~ Galatians 3:26 (CJB)

The Messianic faith is mysterious not because it is so complicated but because it is so simple. A person does not start with Baptism and then advance to higher mysteries. In Baptism, each Believer already possesses the faith in its fullness. The whole of life is encompassed in the mystery of Baptism: dying with Yeshua and rising with him through the Ruach to the glory of God.

The Apostles’ Creed comes from Baptism. It is a pledge of allegiance to the God of the gospel – a God who is revealed as Father, Son, and Ruach; a God who is present to us in the real world of human flesh, creating, redeeming, and sanctifying us for good works.

It is often said that creeds are political documents, the cunning invention of bishops and councils trying to enforce their understanding of orthodoxy. In the case of the Apostles’ Creed, nothing could be further from the truth. A council did not create it. It was not part of any deliberate theological strategy. It was a grassroots confession of faith. It was an indigenous form of the ancient Kehillah’s response to the risen Messiah, who commanded His Emissaries to “go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh ~ Matt 28:19 (CJB).

Later generations of believers sometimes said that each of the twelve Emissaries had written one line of the creed – hence the name “Apostles’ Creed.” It is a charming legend that conveys a profound truth: that the baptismal confession is rooted in the faith of the Emissaries and ultimately in the word of the risen Christ himself. [2]

Click here for the PDF version.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

[1] Because it is so familiar to me, I am using the creed that I learned as a child.

[2] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 1

Introduction

As indicated in my last post, I feel led to do a brief survey on the Creeds of the Kehillah. As some of you already know, kehillah is Hebrew for “community.” I prefer that term to “church” in describing the gathering of Believers of the faith. We are not a building!

As stated in my About the Author page, my mom always took me to church as far back as I can remember. We were Episcopalians, and I developed a deep sense of respect for the church. I loved the liturgy and always asked to stay in the big people’s service rather than Sunday School. Consequently, I became very familiar with reciting the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer services and the Nicene Creed at Holy Eucharist (Communion) services.

No longer attending those services and doing some “church-shopping” whenever we have moved has led me to believe that not many current Believers are even familiar with the ancient creeds. It seems that most Kelillahs are now content with posting Mission Statements or What We Believe position papers on their websites.

So, what is a creed? It has been defined as the written body of teachings of a religious group that that group generally accepts. Creeds are intentionally catholic. [1] They may bear the marks of their particularity and a specific perspective and place. However, the primary intention is to state the faith of a partisan group and the one holy catholic church.[2]

The following is a list of the ancient creeds and confessions of faith. This series will only explore the creeds because the confessions are generally tied to specific denominations.

Historic Creeds

The Apostles’ Creed

The Nicene Creed

The Symbol of Chalcedon

The Athanasian Creed

Historic Confessions and Statements of Faith

The Belgic Confession

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Canons of Dordt

In my next post, we will begin to examine the Apostles’ Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Remember that lower case “catholic” means universal and not Roman.

[2] Leith, J. H. (1992). Creeds, Early Christian. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 1204). New York: Doubleday.