Today’s post is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership, continuing his series on The Apostles’ Creed. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter ( @BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.drbrianmattson.com).
…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…”
Outside of the anomaly of Latino and Hispanic communities, there are not a lot of boys running around with the name “Jesus.” While I have no explanation whatsoever for the use of the name in those particular communities, I suspect that its absence among other cultural groups signals a lingering sense of reverence for the name. Somehow in the Western world people have named their children after dozens of biblical characters, yet “Jesus” is a name usually reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. To see that this is unique, one only has to ask how popular “Mohammed” is among Muslims.
Ironically, some parents would never dream of naming their child “Jesus,” and settle instead for “Joshua,” not realizing that they are the same name! Jesus is simply the Greek version of “Yeshua,” or “Joshua,” and it means “God saves.” And there we find the reason the name is so reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. There were lots of little “Joshuas” running around in Jesus’ time, but none of them wore the name the way Jesus did. For Jesus was, in the truest sense possible, “God saves.” He is the perfect embodiment of God’s saving action in the world. He is the Anointed One, the One by Whom God would rescue and save his people. The word for “Anointed One” is messiah or “Christ.” “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is his office. It is the role he fulfills. He is anointed to be the one who would mediate between God and humanity. He is Immanuel, “God with us.”
And that is what the Apostles’ Creed confesses. After telling us the identity of the one in whom we believe, “Jesus Christ,” the creed tells us two relationships Jesus has. First, Jesus is “his only Son.” He is his Father’s Son. He has a unique relationship on the divine side of things. But this Jesus Christ is also “our Lord.” He has a unique relationship on the creaturely side of things, as well, a relationship with us. We are really confessing what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” A mediator is somebody who stands “between” two parties. And in order to bring about a reconciliation between two parties, he must have a relationship with the two parties. And this is expressed for us in the creed by declaring that Jesus is God’s “only Son”—that is his relationship to His Father—and “our Lord”—his relationship to us.
What is being expressed in the creed by “His only Son” is Jesus’ preexistent relationship to His Father. He did not begin to exist at his incarnation and birth, but rather eternally existed with his Father. The language of “only” Son is taken from the Apostle John, in whose gospel we find the language of “only begotten Son” repeatedly. Not least in the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). John emphasizes Jesus’ identity as God, but also his distinction from his Father. There is essential identity (“and the Word was God”) and personal distinction (“the Word was with God”). What a mystery! Later Trinitarian thought settled on saying that Father, Son, and Spirit share in one, unified essence, but are distinguished as three persons.
The bottom line is that when we confess, “His only Son,” we are declaring Jesus’ essential deity. Jesus is God. It is no wonder we hesitate to name our children after him! And it also explains why Muslims have no such hesitation about the name “Mohammed,” for no such claim is ever made of him!
The creed goes on to say that he is “our Lord.” In a sense, the rest of this section of the creed will be expanding on exactly what that means, but let me note a few things. First, this is one of the earliest Christian confessions: Christos Kurios, “Jesus is Lord.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” One day, the early Christian community confesses, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
What is means is that Jesus is the Head, and we are the body. Jesus is our representative before God, to reconcile us to him. Jesus is our master, whose yoke is easy and burden light. He is our ruler, who protects and shelters us. He is our husband, lover of our souls, who sacrificed himself for us; we are his grateful bride. He is our King, who reigns over all in righteousness and peace. He truly, as David foretold, sits at the right hand of the Father until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. He is all this, we declare to ourselves and the world, for us! He is Jesus Christ, his Father’s Son, fully God, and our Lord, fully man!
Blessed are those who put their trust in him!