Martin Luther said there are three things every Christian should know: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. These are the starting points for a study of the Christian faith and Luther made them the first three parts of his Small Catechism.
Tonight we continue our Lenten series on Luther’s Small Catechism as we look at the second chief part of the Catechism – the Apostle’s Creed.
First, what is a creed? It is simply a statement in which you summarize what you believe. In fact, the word “creed” comes from a Latin word meaning “I believe”. The three main creeds that we use are the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian.
No matter which creed we use, it will always tell others what we believe. As a result, a creed will always join us to those who confess the same thing and separate us from those who confess differently.
The Apostles’ Creed, which is the most widely used creed, has been used for almost 19 centuries. It was not written by the Apostles, but accurately describes what they taught. For many years in the Christian church the Apostles Creed was recited by adult converts to Christianity before they were baptized.
We see the need we have for a creed as we look at Peter’s words in the Gospel of Mark chapter 14, beginning at verse 27:
27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” 30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.”
Did you notice how Peter focuses on himself? “Even if all fall away, I will not” and “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” He trusted in his own strength to stick with Jesus and so was focused on himself instead of Jesus.
If only Peter had remembered his own earlier confession when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). It would have served as his creed – the summary of his faith. He would have realized, “If this is the Son of God then what he says will come true and I need to be quiet.” He would have stayed focused on his Savior.
You and I have the same problem. If left on our own, we quickly focus on ourselves. The Apostles’ Creed is a tool for keeping us focused on Christ. As a summary of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit works through this Creed to strengthen faith and protect us from harmful distractions.
The Creed reminds us of basic Bible teachings about our salvation. We need this constant reminder. As we say “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord” we know that we did not always have this relationship with Jesus. At one time our masters were sin, death, and the devil, but Jesus has purchased us – he has redeemed us – and has made us children of God.
We know how this story with Peter continues. Eventually Peter denied his Lord and the guilt drove him to tears. We also know guilt. We know what God commands – we looked at the Ten Commandments last week. We realize that the Ten Commandments cannot save us. We are not capable of keeping them and it just begs the question, “How can I be saved?”
The Apostles’ Creed answers this question. The Apostles’ Creed tells us everything God has done for us – exactly what God did so that you and I could have eternal life with him.
Imagine the comfort Peter must have felt when he realized what it meant that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” – that this “Christ” came to take away his sin. When guilt overwhelms us, what a comfort it is to remember that Christ was “crucified, died and was buried and on the third day rose again” and because of that we can also say “I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins”
Now as we live in this world we have opportunity to tell others about our Savior. This same Peter would eventually write, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) The Apostles’ Creed can help us be prepared. It gives us the basics. It tells us God created us; that Jesus purchased us by suffering and dying on the cross for us; that he will return on the Last day. God has also sent his Holy Spirit to gather his church where we hear about our forgiveness. One day we will rise from the dead and spend eternity with our Savior. It’s all there.
The Apostles’ Creed strengthens, protects, comforts, and prepares. It is truly something precious that we want in our minds and in our hearts.