Mark 10:32-40, Hosea 11:1-10, I Peter 2:18-25,
“He Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was Crucified, Dead & Buried.”
The Apostle’s creed is a marvelous document. The more I read it, the more I am moved by it.
It begins in majesty. I believe in GOD, THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. It begins in glory and greatness. It resonates with grandeur and honor. God is so very good and so very great.
Then it moves to words equally grand as it proclaims our belief in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. Jesus is the Messianic king. He is the Son of the Living God. He is the Lord of earth and heaven.
And it retains this glorious solemnity as it declares the miraculous coming of Jesus to our world. HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY — a child of miracle. The creed by the way does not tell us about mangers and stables. Its concern is not to paint His birth in those colours. It wants to let us know that He who came to share our life was Divine and human, from heaven and of earth, and that Jesus Christ is one worthy of our full allegiance.
But it is all this that makes the next line incredible and unbelievable to an ancient audience! After the glorious beginning to the creed it moves on to words that are inglorious. HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, WAS CRUCIFIED, DEAD, AND BURIED.
What a contrast! From the heights of majesty to the depths of death and worse. He suffered — he was crucified — he was dead — he was buried.
If you had been around in the world of that day, and had never heard the Christian story before, the story would have shocked you. It would have been seen as a contradiction to all that you had ever presumed.
1. The Mythologies.
For throughout the history of the human race there had been countless stories of the gods coming down from the heavens into our world. The mythologies of the world, from Scandinavia to Greece, from Rome to Babylon, from Persia to Egypt, are full of accounts of the coming of the gods. Those stories tell us that the gods came for many different and varied reasons, and rarely was it for the good of humanity.
There is one story, the story of Prometheus, that is different from the others. Prometheus came to help the human race with the gift of fire. But that act was seen as evil by the other gods who did not appear to wish the world well. So in their fury, they punish Prometheus for coming to the world with kindness on his mind. They chained him to a rock for all eternity. And then they unleashed on humanity Pandora’s box of evils, hard work and disease.
For when the gods came from their lofty habitations they came to seduce fair maidens, or to coerce people to their own purposes. They shifted the fortunes of war, played pranks, practiced deceit, and always for their own ends. When the gods came down, so the legends tell us, humanity inevitably paid a high price.
Genesis chapter 6 tells such a story when the sons of gods come down to the daughters of men near the dawn of history. They came with seduction on their minds. No one knows for sure what that ancient story means, but it is placed at the depth of the moral decline of the earth that led to the great flood. The world is full of stories of the times when the gods came down, and in coming tyrannized and terrorized humanity. They played god at our expense.
Dorothy Sayers says mythology is full of such stories, and on the other hand she says, the literature of the world is also full of stories of the times when people terrorized one another. The literature tells countless sordid stories of how the strong brutalized the weak, How large nations tyrannized smaller nations, and how evil persons bullied those who were good.
2. The History
But Dorothy Sayers tells us that there is One Story that breaks rank with all other stories in all of the world’s literature. It is not the story of how the gods terrorized humans, or a story of how the strong brutalized the weak, but it is a story of how men beat up on God, killed him, buried him, and consigned him to hell. But gods do not suffer, do not die, do not take to the grave. They ascend to heaven, they do not descend into damnation. What strange teaching is this? It is the teaching of the earliest days of the Christian church.
The official story goes like this: God saw us in our great need, and decided to enter into our world as one of us, to help us. He chose to come as a baby, born into the home of a peasant family. But when he came, even before he was safely out of the womb, Herod came hunting and massacring the innocent children of Bethlehem in an attempt to eradicate the child of promise. Herod did not get him, but his successors did 30 years later. Annas & Caiphas and Herod and Pilate, banding together, hurried him off to trial at night, beat him repeatedly, hung him on a tree until he was dead. Then buried him, consigning him to the nether world!
This is a story unique in all of humanity’s store of tales. But it is not just a story, like so many other stories that creative imaginations have dreamed up. This is not a story from an ancient edition of the Twilight Zone or a Stephen King novel. It has been noted that other ancient myths will often begin with the phrase: “Once upon a time, in a land far far away…” Those stories belonged to no real time or place. But this story includes a phrase that locks us into real time and real history. The creed reads: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” We know Pilate. Even if we have never read the Bible we know Pilate. We know when he ruled. We know where he ruled. We know how he ruled. He served as governor of the Roman Province of Syria. We know this from the official records of the Roman Government. And his name is lodged forever in the story as a historical marker, to remind us that our story is not one from the dawn of time set in a non-existent place. This story is no fiction; this is history. These are the facts.
And so the story tells us that when he came, we tried him, beat him, crucified him, and killed him and then disposed of the body. This is why the creed should shocks our senses.
The Son of God the Almighty One – suffered.
The Creator of life – gave up his life and died.
The Lord of heaven – made his bed in hell.
An amazing story! Too strange to be invented. Too bizarre to be the figment of the imagination of a dozen men.
3. The Parable.
But, it needs to be noted, that the story just noted is more than history. It does tell us what happened once upon a time, 2000 years ago, but it also informs us as to what has been happening every day of human history.
For we have always mistrusted God. This misunderstanding is made clear whenever we invent stories about God. We always had Him displaying his powers. We painted him coming in judgment. We presumed that when he came, he would come to arrest us for our misbehavior. So we did not trust him. I suspect that God got tired of being mis-cast and decided to straighten out the record.
And if that be true, then the Gospel Story of Jesus Christ tells me not only something about what Jesus did and what we did to him, but it also tells us what God is really like and what we have always done to him.
And what is God like? The story of the life and death of Jesus helps fill in the blanks.
- · Jesus came in humility. So does God.
- · Jesus was a friend of sinners. publicans, prostitutes. So is God.
- · Jesus forgave sin and lifted the fallen. So does God.
- · Jesus went about doing good. So does God.
- · Jesus bent down to wash the dirty feet of his followers. So does God.
- · Jesus was crucified by his own people. And so is God.
And dare we say it? If Christ was God with us, if God was in Christ while he was reconciling the world unto himself, then at the cross not only was Jesus crucified, but so was God. It is incorrect to presume that Jesus suffered, but the Father was unmoved or unaffected. Oh no. God suffered and was crucified in the death of His own son.
And this was not the first time that God had been crucified.
- God was crucified in the garden of Eden. There He was despised and rejected of men.
- He was crucified in Abel’s death at his brother’s hand. Even there he was a God of sorrows and acquainted with griefs. Even there we hid our faces from him.
- We did away with him in Joseph and murmured against him in the wilderness.
- We chose a golden calf instead of him, and went on to say “we have no King but Caesar.”
- When the prophets came we ignored and ridiculed them or persecuted them and killed them, wounding the heart of God in the process.
- And so throughout the human story we crucified God again and again.
Now it is true that the crucifixion of God took place only once in the middle of human history. But that event is not merely story and not merely history. It is also a parable, which tells us of the way we have always treated God. It describes for us vividly, what sinful humanity has perpetrated against God at every turn. But it also tells us how God has treated us in spite of our wickedness.
The Suffering, the Crucifixion, the Death and the Burial of Jesus tells us so much about the kind of God we serve. God does not play God. He takes on, far more frequently, the role of suffering servant. The life of Jesus and his death lets us know that the acts of God are acts of self-giving sacrifice. And that – in spite of our denials, betrayals, and defections.
How do we respond to this God who suffered for us and suffers with us?
One person has insisted, “After Calvary, God has a right to be trusted.”
C.T. Studd has said it well: “If He died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for him.”
David Livingstone felt that way. He had come to the end of his strength. He is close to death, but he is not despondent. It is his birthday. His final one. In a few weeks he will be found by his guides, kneeling beside his cot in prayer and in death. But on this his last birthday he has been reflecting upon God’s graciousness over the past years. He takes up his pen and writes in his diary these words. “My Jesus, my King, my life, my all. I dedicate my whole self to Thee!” He had done that time and again over the years, but once more dedicates himself to God.
That is the only adequate response to the words of the Creed, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.”