Today’s Reading: “I believe in God, The Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”
What in the world were the early church fathers thinking when they chose to include the name of a rather obscure 1stcentury Roman governor as they were composing what we now call The Apostles’ Creed?
Isn’t it enough to know that Jesus of Nazareth lived His life to the full in the ancient land of Israel, was persecuted and crucified for His work, and raised from the dead? Why was it important that future generations of Christ-followers remember the name, Pontius Pilate?
Interestingly enough, all four Gospel writers include, as well, Pilate in their accounts about Jesus and His persecution in Jerusalem. Which might explain why the early church fathers felt the need to include it in their Creed. But, quite honestly, that still doesn’t satisfy the curious inclusion of this Roman leader, of which historical records say he served, under Emperor Tiberius, as the fifth prefect (governor) of the province of Judaea from AD 26-36.
But now that I think about it, that last sentence is my answer!
You see, when it comes to mankind’s fascination with religion, myth and fantasies often overshadow the actual facts. Every world religion must deal, with in some way, this ever-consuming drive within the human spirit for adventurous stories and outlandish tales. If you don’t believe this, just look our present generation and our insatiable drive for entertainment. Literally, billions of dollars are spent annually on television and movies that feed our never-ending hunger for great story-telling, whether those tales are true or not!
So, in the midst of telling the world’s greatest story, the earliest generation of Christ-followers realized this great importance in distinguishing myth from fact. As I see it, that’s one of the main reasons we have four Gospel accounts, rather than just one. And it was this drive to get the story both truthful and right, that served as a primary motivator for Luke, the good doctor, and companion of Paul, to take it upon himself, making sure of the certainty of the story that was being conveyed about Jesus (see Luke 1: 1-4).
Thus, the inclusion of the name of Pontius Pilate insures for all future generations of Christ-followers that we’re not believing in some made-up, once-upon-a-time fairy tale. With the marker of Pontius Pilate in the Jesus-story, both believers and scoffers now have a true fact-checker that assures us we are not reading fake news, but an account of what actually happened and when it happened!
You see, if the Gospel message of Jesus is going to be truly life-changing, it must be more than a good fairy tale. It must be a fact. I don’t have the time or space here to go over all the details, but I do recommend, for your reading pleasure, Lee Strobel’s excellent book, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Here’s the fascinating story of a Chicago Tribune journalist, a self-proclaimed atheist, who took it upon himself to thoroughly sort through the Gospel accounts, treating the Jesus story like it was a criminal investigation. By the end of his journey, Strobel became so convinced that the accounts are true that he chose to give his life to this same Jesus of Nazareth he was investigating!
You see, if the Christian faith is to have any permanent impact in the life of an individual, the core beliefs must be factual, not a myth. Again, the earliest Christ-followers knew this to be true, so when others, in later generations, proposed a variety of writings about the life of Jesus to be included in what we now call the New Testament, those who were called by God to keep the faith on track, actually rejected many more Jesus-stories than they kept! Only the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had the ring of authenticity while others like the Gospel of Thomas, Marcion, Mary, Judas, etc. were set aside.
So, as we close, let’s go back to these important historical words about Jesus of Nazareth…
(He) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
Case investigated. Case closed.
My prayer: Jesus, I’m so thankful that Your earliest followers didn’t allow for fantasy and myth to enter in and disrupt the amazing story of Your life, Your persecution, Your death, burial, and resurrection. I’m thankful, as well, that over the last two thousand years, the Holy Spirit has helped us keep the Gospel truth front-n-center, so that every generation can weigh it for themselves. May this continue to be true in our generation. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to consider: How might I be guilty of exaggeration or false claims when it comes to spreading the Gospel story of Jesus? Knowing that honesty and correctness is vital in conveying truth, how might I become fully self-disclosing as I present my Jesus-story to others?
So, what are you experiencing today as we are Contemplating The Creed?
Over a seven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Apostles Creed. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Creed home page for ease of use.
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