God, the Redeemer – Third Sermon on the Creed

The second article of the creed deals with God the Son—“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” The confession goes on to enumerate various statements about Jesus’ life, going from his birth, to his death, his exultation, and his promised return. Historically, this article was articulated the way it is to combat the notion that Jesus wasn’t both fully human and fully divine, that somehow his identity was somehow split between these two essences. Such a belief is heresy, or false teaching, and was condemned by early Christians—and for good reason. The whole point of the incarnation is that God becomes human, truly human, and as a human being does for us what we can’t do for ourselves—namely, restore us in our broken relationships with creation, each other, and God back to good relationship.

This is redemption in a nutshell, and it’s the thrust of the second article of the creed. When we confess that we in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, we are confessing that we believe that God was born a human being, suffered and died, and was raised to life again—and this was done for us and for our salvation, not of our own doing. And so as we go along deeper into this exploration of the creed, and in particular today consider our redemption, I challenge you to consider anew what it Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean for you. What difference do they actually make in your life?

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

There are all sorts of expressions of popular wisdom that people use in their day-to-day lives that they think come from the Bible but don’t. Take for example, the popular expression, “God works in mysterious ways.” This is nowhere to be found in Scripture. The sentiment can be found in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where he writes, at chapter 11 verse 34, “for who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Here Paul is indirectly referring to the Prophet Isaiah, as he likes to do, and he, like Isaiah, are referring to the sometimes strange ways that God chooses to act, but the popular expression “God works in mysterious ways” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. In fact, it’s the opening line of a poem called “Light Shining Out of Darkness” by William Cowper, an English poet and hymnwriter from the 1800s.

Another tidbit of popular wisdom that sounds like it should be in Scripture but isn’t is, “This too shall pass.” People will often resort to uttering this when things are going rough as a means to tell themselves that whatever they’re going through will eventually pass. I like to say it might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. Scripture is replete with the idea of the transience of earthly existence, such as when the psalmist sings, “as for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” This impermanence is often contrasted with God’s faithfulness, but the expression “This too shall pass” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. It’s actually an ancient Persian proverb, and was even a favorite adage of President Abraham Lincoln. He probably found a degree of comfort in it given the ongoing civil war when he was president.

And we can’t forget on of the most quoted pieces of popular wisdom that people think is from the Bible but in fact isn’t. “God helps those who help themselves.” Nowhere in the pages of Scripture can you find this expression. This quote sounds inspirational, but it isn’t biblical, not whatsoever. If anything, the Bible says exactly the opposite in many places. The whole arc of history, especially for God’s chosen people, especially for us, is a story of how God has helped us precisely when we couldn’t help ourselves.

Long after Joseph, the one who had the technicolor dream coat made for him by his father Jacob, later renamed Israel after he had wrestled with God—long after Joseph had died, Joseph’s descendants, the Hebrews, were enslaved in Egypt. During their captivity, a Hebrew child was born, and his mother put in a basket and set it afloat on the river—only to have it taken out by the pharaoh’s daughter herself. This is the renowned Moses, whose name means “to bring out.” Moses was raised in the family of pharaoh, but later escaped after murdering an Egyptian taskmaster he witnessed beating a Hebrew slave. Moses took residence in Midian for many years, until God called upon him to bring the Hebrew people out of slavery into the Promised Land. And Moses, whose name means, “to bring out,” did just that—he brought the Hebrew people out captivity. He became the great deliverer, the redeemer of God’s people in the history of the Jewish people. It’s this redemption story, the deliverance from captivity in Egypt when Moses brought them out of slavery—this is the story that the Jewish people remember every year at Passover.

And so it goes throughout the history of God’s people. There are many stories that recount how God raises up someone to deliver his chosen people from difficult times. Throughout it all, God is faithful, and it’s this faithfulness that continually undergirds the hope that God’s people have that though they face difficulty, either by their own doing or through no fault of their own, God will come to their aid—even when they have every reason to be hopeless. God delivered them once, and God has done it over and over again. God so will do it yet again. God is faithful and doesn’t abandon his beloved…

In Jesus, God once more remains faithful to those he has chosen. But unlike Moses, or the others God raised up throughout history to deliver his people from their distress, in Jesus God chooses to become part of history himself. The One who is timeless, who isn’t confined by mortality or weakness—that one decides to become one of us in Jesus, Emanuel—God with us. And as one of us, Jesus delivers us from everything and anything that would rob us of full and abundant life as God intends. Before he was born, when Joseph had a dream, the angel told him to name him “Jesus,“ because he will save his people from their sins. That’s what Jesus means, “God saves.” Jesus delivers us from sin—he saves us from whatever it is that would destroy the very goodness of creation that God has made—be it something of our own doing or through no fault of our own. Jesus, I remind you, whose very name means “God saves,” does just that. He saves us from whatever it is that we can’t save ourselves from—be it pride, anxiety, shame, conceit, or some other situation that robs us or others of full and abundant life. “I came that you may have life,” Jesus says, “and have it abundantly.

Jesus is the very embodiment of God with us—the one who delivers us from brokenness to wholeness, from death to life, from hate to love. And God does this for us, not because we are strong or deserving or worked hard enough or didn’t do too many bad things, but God does this for us as a pure, pure gift. Nothing less than a complete, total, unmerited outpouring of love for us as his beloved children, created in his image, in need of help. In Jesus, God comes to our aid—not because we earn it, but because God simply chooses to.

This is a hard truth for many to accept.

It might be hard even for you to accept.

It’s so counter the wisdom of the world. Many of us, perhaps all of us at some point or another, are like the Jews and the Gentiles of Corinth when Paul wrote them. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,” he writes.

How often do we want surefire proof, a solid sign that our life is safe and secure? A checking account with a cushion. A clean blood panel from the lab. A family and friends to surround ourselves with to assure ourselves we aren’t alone. Or how often have we demanded that we have a plan in place to make sure that things go smoothly? Putting some money into your IRA each month is a smart thing to do as far as the world is concerned to insure smooth sailing in retirement.

And to be sure, these things in and of themselves aren’t bad, but they’re not what fulfills our life, a true, full, abundant life ready to face life’s challenges—these things aren’t what fulfills the promise we seek that our life is safe and secure. Checking accounts can run dry. Sickness can crop up. Friends and family die. We die…but God’s promises life is stronger than death, that goodness is stronger than badness. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,” Paul writes, “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called”—that is, those chosen and called beloved by God—the cross is “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In the cross of Christ, God chooses to undo everything of this world that tempts us to rely on ourselves, but instead to look outside ourselves. This is redemption—when we no longer see ourselves as the means to life, but recognize that life comes to us, not through us. Our life is Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” the one who willingly gives his life that we might share life with him. That is to say, share his life, not conformed to the wisdom of the world, but life that looks outside itself and finds there fullness and abundance. Your life isn’t isolated in itself, but is lived out in relationship with creation, with other people, and with God. When we see that our own lives are intimately woven together with the whole life of creation, we live differently. We live with our eyes open in thanksgiving for God’s many blessings to us, but also open to the places where God’s blessings still sorely are wanting, not because God withholds it, but because sin, in its many and various forms, has corrupted God’s goodness. In those places and at those times, God reminds us that we, who live and move and have our being in Jesus, are called to live lives like his—lives lived in devotion not to ourselves, but for the sake of salvation for others and the whole creation that God has made.

Jesus on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for us who know God’s love it makes perfect sense. God turns popular wisdom on its head and exposes the conventional, so-called truth of the world as destined for failure, disappointment, division, and death.

For Jesus on the cross reveals to us that God does work in ways that seem strange—in ways that require us to give up in order to gain, to shed our notions of power and wisdom to learn a better way. Jesus on the cross reveals to us that whatever seems so permanent, so pressing, so all-consuming in this world is only fleeting when compared with the ways of God—for though all things pass away, God is faithful and his love for us is boundless, without beginning and without end. And Jesus on the cross shows us that God’s lovingkindess toward us doesn’t depend on us, but is given us purely, freely, and completely out love for us.

Jesus on the cross shows us that God helps those who can’t help themselves.

Jesus on the cross shows us that God helps us who we can’t help ourselves.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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