First Article Kids Get Little Books The Little Book of Instruction
Since 2004 I've told you the same two things regarding creeds. Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas was so troubled on his deathbed that finally he clutched a Bible to his chest and said, "'I believe what is written in this book.'" Luther said, "'May God by all means keep us from such a faith'" (Walther, Form, 101). And I've told you a 19th century study surveyed 53 American denominations and found "no creed but the Bible" was the distinctive feature of American religion (Democratization of Am. Chris., 166).
"I believe the Bible" is no confession of faith let alone a saving one. "I Believe the Bible says this" is a confession and depending on what it confesses may be saving. So, what do you believe the Bible teaches? If you're stumped, if you hem and haw, you have a problem, and it's a lot bigger than flunking a confirmation quiz. The solution? The Apostles' Creed. What Luther called der Kinder Glaube, the Children's Creed. Be a kid again. Kids get little books. Start with the First Article of the Creed. Luther said this article was first A Little Book of Instruction.
The First Article instructs you on who the true God is. First, He is Father. This might be a problem for you. It is for Sioux Indians. So many of them came from homes broken by alcoholic fathers that Christians didn't speak of God as father but as grandfather (Healing Hurts, 66). Notice that almost always when speaking of God as father I say "a loving father." No matter the father you had, you're to believe the Bible teaches God is a loving Father.
God is not only Father but Almighty. That's omnipotent. There's nothing that God your Father can't do. Even if you have a loving father, don't limit God to what he can do. You believe the Bible teaches God the Father can: create out of nothing, heal anything, and forgive everything. What does Gabriel say to the Virgin Mary right after she conceives the Christ-Child by the power of the Most High God? "With God, nothing shall be impossible." Whatever you thought just now, even that.
The Little Book of Instruction says you are to believe that God is Father, Almighty, and Maker. "Maker' is probably what you're most tempted to not confess. Our world permits you to believe that God is Father and even Almighty, but not Maker. He's omnipotent but He couldn't have created all things in 6 days. Bur the Bible clearly teaches that God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them in 6 days. And those 6 days were no longer or shorter than the Sabbath Day He gave the O.T. Church.
Be a kid again. Take this Little Book of Instruction that is the First Article of the Apostles' Creed and learn not only who the True God is but what He does. No surprise here the One who is Maker, makes or creates. You are not the product of a chance process happening over billions of years. The Bible tells you that God made Adam and Eve by hand. All the rest of creation He called forth by His words and all animal life He created in groups. Not Adam and Eve and not you. Psalm 139 says God knit you together in your mother's womb.
God the Father Almighty didn't only make you but the Bible says and we confess that "God made me and all creatures." True this world is fallen. True Scripture says Satan is the god of this world, but he rules as a usurper. This is still your Father's world. Unbelievers are blind to this fact. They think evil rules or at best randomness and chance do. You believe the Bible teaches that every dead sparrow and every hair on your pillow preach that this is still your Father's creation.
You believe the Bible teaches that God the Father Maker of heaven and earth made you and all creatures "and still takes care of them." We confess in the Large Catechism: "He causes all created things to serve for the use and necessities of life" (II, 14). Because our Father God still takes care of us, we go on to confess, "that none of us owns himself, nor can preserve his life." Yes, food and drink are called necessities. But the Bible teaches you to believe these are means used by God to provide for you not absolute necessities. If they were, then neither Moses nor Jesus could have lived 40 days and nights without food and water. It is in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, that all things hold together. Hebrews more specifically says "The Son...sustains all things by His powerful Word."
That means the reason your heart is still beating is the Son says, "Beat." If the sun rises tomorrow, it's because the Son says, "Rise." If there is a freeze, it's because God breathes the word, "Frost." Whatever comes into your life sickness, sadness, joy or gladness; health, happiness, or headache is not by happenstance, not by circumstance, but by your Almighty Father's gracious will expressed by His Word made flesh.
What do you believe the Bible says? You believe it says that the True God "defends me against all danger, and guards and protects me from all evil." Really? Luther himself said about this article of confession "how few people believe this article" (LC, II, 20). If we just didn't confess the "all," we would be alright. Can't you believe that God defends you from some or even most danger? Can't you believe that God guards and protects you from the worst evil? But all? You've got to be kidding?
The issue is not what we can believe but what does the Bible say? The Bible says that "all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose." And God's purpose is that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The Bible says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all my days." "The very hairs on your head are all numbered." And the Lord "heals all your diseases." And we confessed again tonight the even greater truth that "He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
Now we're getting somewhere. Now we're going where no man on his own dare go. Now we're going where few churches do. The First Article of the Creed not only instructs on what the Bible teaches about who the True God is and what the True God does but why He does all this. We believe the Bible says "All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me." Not even Santa rises to this level, does he? He checks on whose been naughty or nice before assigning toys. He gives toys according to "merit or worthiness." Not the true God.
The true God acts out of fatherly goodness and mercy. Here belongs the Christ of Christmas. Apart from Him, no one can know God the Father as good and merciful. Apart from the Christ of Christmas says the Bible, you have a God who dwells in light unapproachable and is a fire unquenchable. Apart from the Man Jesus you have a God hidden behind tragedy, disaster, judgment, pain. Apart from God the Son you can't know God the Father, but with Jesus as your Brother you do know God as Father.
After rising from the dead, after paying for all the wrong you could never, ever pay for, after doing all the right you could never, ever, do, what does He tell the women to tell His faithless disciples? "Goto my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" With Jesus as your brother, put no limits on God's fatherly goodness and mercy because Jesus' goodness covers you and because in Jesus the mercy of God endures forever. Luther said that the word father' in our confession of faith tells us "'about where we belong and where we are supposed to end up'" (Peters, 78). Where we will end up with God as our Father is in the same place Jesus says in John 1:18 that He dwells. In the bosom or lap of His Father. "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."
We believe that the Bible says God's goodness and mercy is not only fatherly but divine. Don't skip over this word. Divine' explains why we are so often perplexed by the Father's goodness and mercy. Even in Christ, it's not human goodness and mercy. In fact, the most common charge against God, the surest proof against His existence, is that a good, merciful God would not tolerate such bad things as childhood cancer and such merciless things as famine and tsunamis. But divine mercy and goodness are from the God whose thoughts are not our thoughts, whose ways are not our ways. Both are as far above human things as heaven is from earth.
Divine goodness and mercy are farther beyond human goodness and mercy then adult things are beyond child things. Try explaining to a child the good of vaccines, dental visits, or putting a pet to sleep. He won't get it, and we aren't amazed at that. Yet we think God should be able to explain His divine ways to us not only human but sinful beings. It was divine goodness and mercy that nailed His only beloved Son to the cross and sent Him to hell for the sake of sinful humans who could care less. It was divine goodness and mercy that wept over a Jerusalem that rejected Him. It is divine goodness and mercy that seeks us when we seek Him not.
Fatherly divine goodness and mercy are out of this world, and we believe the Bible teaches that they are ours "without any merit or worthiness." So as often as the Devil stands on your doorstep demanding you prove you deserve God's fatherly divine goodness or mercy, you say, "I don't; it comes to me without any merit or worthiness." As often as your conscience pricks you with your lack of merit and worthiness for any of God the Father's gifts, you admit you don't merit them and are unworthy of them. As often as someone else points out how wholly lacking you are of meriting or being worthy of God's goodness and mercy, you confess, "You're right; I am."
This Little Book of Instruction instructs me to believe the Bible says differently than the Christmas legends. Unlike the drummer boy or the Poinsettia boy who wept because they had nothing to give the Christ-child, we are to believe that we have everything the Christ-child wants from us: our sins and sinfulness and that we have everything the Christ-child wants to give us: All His merit, all His worthiness. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek I (20161130); First Article of Apostles' Creed