June 3, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…. But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believes the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.” Those are the two key statements from the Athanasian Creed, the confession of faith that we in the Western Church make concerning God. The point of the statements is clear: salvation is found through belief in who God is and what He has done.
While the statements from the Athanasian Creed are from the Sixth Century, what they confess is as old as the nascent days of the Church. The Creed repeats the same message that the Twelve Apostles proclaimed on Pentecost Day, the same message handed to them from Jesus Himself. Such proclamation is what you heard in this morning’s Gospel Reading and the Second Reading.
Jesus’ words to Nicodemus speak about His identity and work. Conversing with the Pharisee, Jesus tells of what His purpose is in the world. Nicodemus is correct in his assessment about Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” But there is more to Jesus’ identity than that. The more is what Nicodemus—and all—need to know. That is why Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus moves into a discussion about what is needed to enter the kingdom of God: being “born of water and the Spirit.” Even more, Jesus’ words reveal His purpose: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
But just who is this Son of Man? What is known about Him? Why is His identity unique? The answer is found in what the Gospel Writer explains: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” The link is made. The Son of Man who must be lifted up is the Son of God who has been sent into the world. Not any faith will do; belief in Him is necessary for eternal life. This is the point the Athanasian Creed puts forward: “Therefore, it is right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.”
The necessity of right faith in this Jesus is also the point of Peter’s proclamation in Jerusalem. Empowered by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the Twelve Apostles begin their witness about Jesus. They bear witness to the mighty works of God that Jesus had done. They bear witness to His being lifted up in crucifixion. And they bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
What you heard from Peter’s mouth, just as the Pentecost Pilgrims heard, records that witness: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” This testimony that Peter gives ties into Jesus’ self-identification statements spoken to Nicodemus. Peter echoes Jesus’ words: “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” He confirms the truth behind this act: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Peter’s proclamation concludes with the confession of the right faith. What must his audience believe? What must they know for salvation? “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That is right faith to be believed. It is the basis for the statements made in the Athanasian Creed that not only declare the necessity of having right faith, but which also confess it: “For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ, who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
This knowledge and confession was not kept concealed or secret, but has been made public. It is the Triune God’s desire, so that the sinful be forgiven, the unclean be made pure, the unrighteous be made holy. It is the reason for Jesus’ appearance and work. His being lifted up in crucifixion and being raised from death are done so that “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” So Peter speaks publicly about it: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” That is the proclamation that carries the words of life to those mortally wounded by their own sin.
But this speaking is not just a First Century event. No, it went on for centuries before the events of Pentecost and has continued for nearly two millennia since. For what the Apostles did in Jerusalem is the continuation of what the Prophets of the Old Testament performed. Both spoke so that the Lord would give salvation to those who are undone because they have unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. The unclean mouths of the Prophets and Apostles are purified, so that they may speak the life-giving testimony concerning Jesus. Unclean ears hear and believe, so that their guilt is taken away and their sin is atoned for. Salvation is granted because of the divine action that has been done for them. That is the content of the right faith.
By the outpouring of the Spirit on Prophets and Apostles, they have made public this testimony concerning the Godhead. So you have been made to hear it. The same proclamation has come to your midst, so that you know the identity and work of Jesus. The same confession of faith has been entrusted to you, so that you worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. It is the Divine Will that you have this given to you, so that you are born from above and can see the kingdom of heaven. It is the Divine Will that you are born of water and the Spirit, connected to the Crucified and Risen Jesus in Holy Baptism, so that you enter the kingdom of heaven. The love that the Father has shown to the world in the sending of His Son is not meant for one people, but for all. You are recipients of that work which the Son of God performed, so that the world might be saved through Him.
What you yourselves see and hear today is the fulfilling of that Divine Will. You have been summoned to gather before the Lord. But your gathering is not meant solely for the purpose of giving adoration to Him. That is what the seraphim and the other angelic beings do, as the Psalmist exhorts: “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” Instead, you have been gathered to hear what this glorious, strong, and holy Lord has done for you. You are called to be taken from woe to salvation, from iniquity to atonement. For that is the way the enthroned Lord bestows His favor to you: “May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!”
Summoned to receive divine favor, you are gathered to receive the benefits that the Crucified and Risen Jesus bestows to you because of His Father’s love for the world. Hearing the testimony of what Jesus has done, you have the salvation He accomplished. Through His absolving words, you have the forgiveness He has won. Born of the Spirit, you have the life that He has brought into this world of death and decay. Why is this done? Because it is the definite plan and foreknowledge of God for you. It is the effect that His divine love shown to the world through the sending of His Son has accomplished for you.
And what is necessary for you to receive all these benefits? To hold the right faith, the right belief in God and what He has done: “And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…. It is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.” That is the testimony given to you about God, His Person and Work. It is what Jesus made His sent ones to understand and proclaim. Receive it, believing the heavenly things done for your salvation: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…. Therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.