“And in Jesus Christ, Our Lord – Pt. II”

Text: The Second Article

Today we continue our Lenten study of the Apostles’ Creed. So far we’ve learned from the First Article about God the Father. We’ve learned that He has made us and all creatures, and has given us all we need to support this body and life. And, He still continues to take care of us. He guards and defends us against all evil. We don’t deserve any of these things; God does them because He is love. And, because God is love, the Father sent forth His only-begotten into the flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

Two weeks ago we looked at the words of the Second Article up to our Lord’s death and burial. For us and for our salvation, Christ our Lord stepped down from His throne on high. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He became both fully God and fully man – but not by changing from one into the other; instead, by taking our humanity upon Himself. For our salvation, He became subject to God’s Law and kept it perfectly. As payment for our transgressions, Christ offered Himself up on the cross and breathed His last. The Son of God did truly die and was buried.

This week we pick up with what happened next. After Jesus died and was buried, He was made alive again. After He had risen from the dead, but before leaving the tomb, Christ descended to hell. He didn’t go there to suffer, nor to release anyone, but to proclaim His victory over death and the devil. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples and others for forty days. He did many things to prove He was alive and taught His disciples about the kingdom of God. After the forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, where He rules all things for our benefit. On the Last Day He will come again to judge both the living and the dead.

I.

In our last look at the Creed we learned that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. In theological talk this idea is called, “The Two Natures of Christ.” It means that Jesus, fully and at the same time possesses, both divine and human natures. In Christ these natures are so united that we can’t separate them without doing great harm to the faith expressed in the Scriptures. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God because the Scriptures clearly call Him God, they describe His divine attributes, and they show Him doing things only God can do. We confess that Jesus is man because the Scriptures also clearly call Him a man, describe His human characteristics, and show Him doing and suffering things as humans do. Only as man could He take our place, suffer and die. Only as God could His death atone for the sins of the whole world. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is both God and Man, or that He possesses two natures.

Today we’re going to learn another idea. It’s called, “The Two States of Christ,” which are the Humiliation and the Exaltation. All the things we’ve talked about so far have been part of Christ’s humiliation. His humiliation is the time, beginning with His conception, when Christ did not always and not fully use His divine powers. He did use His powers when it was appropriate to His work, but in His humiliation He refrained from the full and total use of His power. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Christ’s state of humiliation is the time when He did not fully use His divine power. It began with His conception and ended with His death. His exaltation is the time – now – when He always and fully uses His divine power. His exaltation began with His descent into hell, continued in His resurrection and ascension, and still is going today as Christ cares and watches over us from the right hand of God the Father. St. Paul wrote, “[Christ] humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death…therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

II.

The first event of Christ’s exaltation is, as we confess in the Creed, “He descended into hell.” The reason why we believe that His descent is not part of His suffering is because of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished.” Jesus meant that His work of atoning for our sins was complete with His death. Therefore, anything which comes after that is not part of His suffering, but His exaltation. This is how St. Peter frames it, “Christ also suffered once for sins…that He might bring us to God, [having been] put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” The word “proclaimed” is understood by its context to mean that Christ descended to hell neither to suffer, nor to offer a second chance to those who were there, but to proclaim to the devil and the souls of the unbelievers that He had conquered. The when of Christ’s descent is after His resurrection but before leaving the tomb. As for the how, we will have to leave that to when we know more in the new creation.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. That is the chief confession of our faith. We can leave the narrative of Easter to when we celebrate it again in few weeks. The Scriptures teach that after Christ rose from the grave, He remained on earth for forty days. Scripture gives two reasons for His appearances after the resurrection. It says in Acts 1, “He presented Himself alive to [the disciples] after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God.” Jesus appeared to the women, to Peter, to the rest of the disciples, to the five hundred brothers at the same time, to James, and to Paul. He allowed them to touch Him and even ate to prove to them that He was alive. Then, as St. Luke writes, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

III.

When the forty days were complete, Jesus led His disciples as far as Bethany and, as the Creed says, “ascended into heaven.” We learn from Scripture that this was a true and literal ascension. Jesus was visibly lifted up into the clouds before the disciples’ eyes. After ascending into heaven, Christ resumed His position at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Right Hand of God is not one literal location, but it extends everywhere and every place. The Right Hand of God means that Christ now rules and fills all things.

He can now be in all places at all times, which is a particular comfort for us in our suffering. Because Christ has ascended into heaven and no longer refrains from using His power, He can be and truly is with us at all times and in all places. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[God the Father] raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Finally, in the Creed we confess, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Scripture says, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We believe that on the Last Day – God the Father alone knows the date – Jesus will return. When He returns He will raise the bodies of all the dead and, as our Lord Himself says, “will sit on His glorious throne,” to judge the world in His righteousness. Those who rejected Him and His Word will return, in both body and soul, to eternal torment. Those who believed in Him and His Word will enter into the eternal joy of the new creation.

Now, how may all of this be a comfort to us? We confess that Jesus Christ suffered once for the sins of the whole world. By suffering in our place, He who is both God and Man, secured for us the forgiveness of our sins and the joy of eternal life. When He had risen from the dead, He descended into hell to proclaim His victory. This comforts us because Christ truly has defeated death and the devil; they no longer have any claim over those who are in Christ. He proved throughout those forty days that He was alive. So, too, will those who believe in Him rise from the dead in glorified bodies. By His ascension to the right hand of the Father, Christ continues to be with us at all times and in all places. He is able to comfort us in all distress and provide us with His own body and blood in His Supper. When He returns, He will gather us together with all the faithful to Himself to live in eternal peace and happiness.

Next week we will finish our Lenten devotion by studying the words of the Third Article.

Peace Be With You

Text: John 20:19-31

Peace be with you,” Jesus spoke to the Disciples. These were the first words they would hear from the mouth of their teacher since He rose from the grave. They were so important that He repeated them three times. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. This peace is the new reality that is in play since Christ has suffered, died, and risen triumphant from the grave. Peace here means that the enmity, the separation, between God and us since the Fall into is now removed. Through Christ all things have now been made as they should be.

After the crucifixion Jesus no longer limited the use of His divine powers. Before, men taunted Him to come down from the cross – if He really were the Son of God. But, it’s a good thing He didn’t. Now, Jesus does use all of His power all the time. Today we see this happening. Twice the Disciples were behind locked doors, and twice Jesus immediately appears in their midst. They had all fallen away and were in hiding. Jesus could’ve angrily grabbed an axe and broken down the door; He could’ve turned them all to ash for betraying Him. Instead, appearing in their midst, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Amidst their fear, doubt, and unbelief Jesus appeared to preach peace to the Disciples – the peace we share through His resurrection from the dead.

I.

We find the Disciples on Sunday evening, the same day Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”[1] Usually how the flow of the Easter season goes is that we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. That’s a great day: we have choirs and brass, and then everyone goes home and puts on their comfortable eating clothes. The next week we come back to church fresh from that celebration and we begin scolding St. Thomas for His doubting. It happens every year on the Sunday after Easter.

Part of it is because a name like, “Doubting Thomas,” is such a catchy name that you can’t not use it in a sermon. But when we spend all the time focusing on Thomas, we don’t do justice to the fact that all the Disciples were doubting at this point. It’s the first day of the week, three days after Jesus’ death. He had told them explicitly that He would rise from the dead after three days. Instead of looking for and expecting that, all of them are hiding behind locked doors. Of course the persecution that the Jewish authorities were threating against Jesus’ followers was now becoming real, but instead of trusting in God for the strength in that situation and the words to speak, they hid.

They were not just fearful in their hiding. After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to Mary Magdalene. Having seen the Lord she went and told His Disciples. Mark says that they were mourning and weeping. When they heard from her that He was alive, instead of rejoicing, “they would not believe it.”[2] Luke says that the words of the women seemed to them, “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[3] They weren’t just hiding for fear of the Jews, they weren’t just doubting, but they were actually not believing.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them and stood in their midst. “’Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”[4] Before there was a vast chasm of sin and death separating the Disciples and God. When Jesus was crucified, they forsook their faith and feared death. Instead of appearing to them to judge and condemn them, Jesus appeared to speak peace. Christ stood in their midst to forgive their sin and call them out of darkness. Because of His resurrection they are now at peace with God.

II.

We said earlier that it’s bad to pile on Thomas when all the Disciples were equally doubting and unbelieving, but we will return to him. By doing so, we also see ourselves. The Gospel says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’”[5] I think maybe a better name for Thomas is “Thomas the Scientist,” or “Thomas the Enlightened,” or “Thomas the Intelligent.” I mean, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared, and so like the other Disciples he didn’t believe. Unless He saw it for himself, unless there was verifiable empirical evidence, by default he would not believe it.

By the world’s standards Thomas is completely in the right. Unless there is evidence that you can measure with your five senses, there is absolutely no grounds to believe in anything. This line of thinking came as result of the Enlightenment and has infected even the church and has further robbed us of our innocence in this matter. We are all now little Thomases. Now, despite the fact that Thomas didn’t believe it, Jesus was alive. The Gospel could’ve ended with the words of Thomas. It could’ve ended with Jesus smacking him upside the head. But instead, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”[6]

Though it was sinful for Thomas to demand evidence, Jesus didn’t destroy him. Jesus saw that he demanded proof, and in His grace, gave more than Thomas could ever need. The very body and blood of Jesus given for the sins of the world stood before him, alive. Rightly, Thomas was humbled, “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed. Here Jesus pulls Thomas and us into the same boat, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”[7] This gets us on both accounts. First, not all people have been privileged to see Jesus. And so, our temptation is, like Thomas to demand signs and proof from God before we believe. The answer to Thomas and us is the same: Jesus the crucified and risen one.

As with the Disciples and Thomas who doubted and were unbelieving, Jesus the Risen One comes into our midst, into our doubt and despair, not to condemn us, but to forgive us and give us the peace that He won by His resurrection from the dead. This peace comes not from within us, but from outside ourselves. This peace He gives through the pastoral office, whereby He sends men to stand in His stead and forgive our sins. Christ stands in our midst in the words of Holy Absolution and in the feast of His own body and blood. In the words of the Benediction we hear His words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us. None of us has seen Jesus in the flesh yet, and yet we believe. For that purpose that Gospel was written, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing we have life in His name. By His resurrection Jesus has destroyed the powers of sin, death and hell. Though we are often times caught in doubt and despair, in impatience and fear, Jesus comes to us with His peace. This peace is that the guilt of our sin is removed from us by His death. May the Lord continue to send us His Holy Spirit to speak peace to us, that even without seeing, we may believe and have life in His name.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 20:19.

[2] Mk. 16:11.

[3] Lk. 24:11.

[4] Jn. 20:19–23.

[5] Jn. 20:24–25.

[6] Jn. 20:26–27.

[7] Jn. 20:29.