Matters of Creed VII: Jesus’ Suffering and Death
…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried…
The bulk of the Apostles’ Creed focuses on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Triune God. In fact, half of the affirmations in the Apostles’ Creed are statements about Jesus. This fact helps us understand that the focus of the teaching of the early church was upon Jesus’ conception, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In last week’s Pastor’s Corner, Dr. Jan Davis focused on affirmation that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. This week the focus is upon Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death. But first, let me say something about Jesus’ life.
We notice that the Apostles’ Creed says nothing about the life of Jesus. Does that mean that Jesus’ teaching, healings, exorcisms, miracles, and overall life and ministry hold no significance? Commenting on this observation Timothy C. Tennant writes,
… the Apostles’ Creed merely frames the great events of God in Jesus Christ, realizing the Church has much more to proclaim, teach and preach than the Apostles’ Creed. The Church’s message is much more than the Apostles’ Creed. The point of the Creed is to remind us, however, that the Church’s message can never be less than the Creed. This is the irreducible heart of the Christian message.
Jesus’ life matters in many ways, not the least that he lived a life in constant communion with God the Father and in full obedience to the will of the Father. If Jesus had not lived the life he did, his death would not have fulfilled the purposes of God. The translation of Hebrews 10:14 by Eugene Peterson gets to the heart of the matter: It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people (The Message Translation). Jesus was able to offer the perfect sacrifice because he lived the perfect life. He did so, not by following strict rules, but by living in constant, loving relationship with the Father. Because of the unique, loving relationship between the Father and the Son, Jesus desires to please the Father in all things and was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice.
Why did Jesus need to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross? In the cross we see God’s holy love at work. God’s holiness requires that a price be paid for sin. I am reminded of a story from the life of G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton, along with other writers and thinkers of his day, was asked by the London Times, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton sent in the succinct response, “Dear sirs, I am.” Chesterton understood that his own sin was an affront to God’s holiness and contributed to the evil and destruction in the world. Maxie Dunnam says, “We have been rebels against God’s design, hostile, and self-centered, thus experiencing all the misery that such rebellion, hostility, and self-centeredness bring. It’s futile to deny this. Someone has sharply put: ‘The heart of our problems is the problem of our hearts.’”
However, God’s love for the world provided that God himself would pay the price for our sin in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2:9 states that Christ “suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (NIV). While we have been found guilty for which the punishment is death (see Romans 6:23), Christ has taken our place. In theological terms this is known as “substitutionary atonement.”
The action God takes in Christ to free us from sin, guilt, and death is called “redemption.” Dunnam observes that among some Christians in Africa the word “redemption” is translated “God took our heads out.” Admittedly, the phrasing is awkward, yet the imagery is quite powerful. During the horrors of the slave trade in England and the United States, African men, women, and children were torn from their villages into the injustice of slavery. The slaves would be chained together by an iron collar buckled around each of their necks and put aboard slave trading ships bound for England or America.
Sometimes when the slaves would arrive, a relative or friend would recognize one of the slaves as they made their way on shore. The relative or friend would pay a ransom to have the collar removed and free the slave. Thus, the saying: “God took our heads out” and its translation from the word redemption.
Why did Christ die? Ultimately to pay the price to “take our heads out” that we may be set free from being chained to a life of sin, guilt, and death. Thanks be to God!
 Timothy C. Tennant. This We Believe! Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. (Wilmore, KY: Asbury Seminary, 2011), 40.
 Maxie Dunnam. This is Christianity. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 57-58.
 Dunnam 49.