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The Author of Perfect Happiness

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 19 Feb 2018

In our Lent series, Lee Gatiss looks at the next line of the Apostles’ Creed, and the central confession of Christianity: I believe in Jesus Christ.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

To say, “I believe” is a radical thing to do in our world. And that is especially so when the things we believe in cannot be seen. To say “I believe in Jesus Christ” means several things here in the Creed. For a start, it means we believe he exists, even though we can’t now see him. It also means we believe what he says, in a world that is not certain what is true and what is fake news. And finally, it means we entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ, as well as to God the Father Almighty.

The existence of Jesus
To believe in Jesus means at the very least that we believe in his existence. When we talk about Jesus, it is not make believe, a game. He is not a fictional character. Fictional characters can be inspiring — like Princess Leia or Spiderman or Wonder Woman or Frodo Baggins. But sane and sensible people don’t “believe in” those people, the way Christians believe in Jesus Christ.

To say we believe in Jesus is saying that we believe in a specific, real person who actually existed (in fact, he actually still exists, and is alive — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!). Jesus was born a Jewish man, living in Israel at a time of Roman occupation over 2000 years ago. The Gospels — that is, the biographies of him in the Bible — give us detailed genealogies so we can locate him in time and space as part of a particular nation, a particular tribe, a particular family.

Those Gospels also give us his context and backstory, and an amazing amount of detail about his life and work. As Peter, one of his closest companions, once said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:38-39).

Because of these things that he did, and especially because of his death and resurrection, his early followers came to believe that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah. What does that mean? Christ is a title (not a surname) and it means “anointed one”, a special, chosen king. It means, as the theologian John Calvin once put it, that “he had been promised in the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, as the Mediator between God and people, the Father’s highest Ambassador, the only Restorer of the world, and the Author of perfect happiness.”

Listening to Jesus
There is more to it than simply believing that Jesus exists. No serious historian ever doubted his existence! When we say “I believe you”, we tend to assume the other person’s existence. What we mean by it is that we believe what the other person is saying. It is the same with Jesus. To say that we believe in Jesus Christ means that we give him credence. We give him credit. It means we listen to him.

You may believe in a cause, a particular politician or party, or in the truthfulness of the BBC or a specific newspaper — though in our cynical age it is not always easy to trust in such things. This means that we think they are credible and convincing. But to say “I believe in Jesus Christ” means that above all the other voices which call out for my attention and approval and action today, I give priority to his. We consider his claims and his teaching to be true and worthy of our acceptance.

Trusting in Jesus
To say “I believe in Jesus Christ” puts Jesus on the same level in the Creed as the Father and the Holy Spirit. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty… and in Jesus Christ… and I believe in the Holy Spirit.” This is staggering, and we will think more about it later.

But to say we believe in him means more than that we believe he exists or that we will listen to him. We don’t simply click “Follow”, to be entertained or amused or occasionally inspired by him as we might be by others on social media perhaps. We are declaring our eternal confidence in Jesus. We rest our very lives on him, so that we no longer trust in our wealth or our ability to see us through this life.

This is not just an academic opinion — it is a profound life choice, with drastic implications now and forever. Because as the apostle John (another of Jesus’s closest friends) says, the Gospels were written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Questions for reflection:
1. Why are many people today resistant to actually reading the Gospels about Jesus, which are far shorter than most modern novels?
2. Which voices (apart from Jesus’s) do your friends tend to listen to and respect the most, and what impact does that have on their lives?
3. Jesus is the Christ, “the Author of perfect happiness”, but what else do your friends look to, to make them perfectly happy?

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, who came to this earth that we may have life and have it in abundance:  grant us grace to believe and trust in you so that by believing in your words of promise and truth we may have everlasting life. Amen.

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

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