A summary study of the Second Article
(2nd section) of the Apostles’ Creed,
Luther’s Small Catechism in New Clothes
by Robert W. Christman
This will require the use of a Bible, the English Standard Version recommended.
The second section of the Creed is about (I) the Redeemer, who he is. It is also about (II) his work, which is called redemption.
I. Who is Jesus Christ our blessed Redeemer?
a. He is man. One of the old meanings of “man,” used here and still acceptable English, is “human.”
b. Though without a human father, his mother was truly human; and so is he. He is “true man,” as we traditionally put it.
c. The Holy Ghost, taking the place of a man, “overshadowed” the Virgin so that she could bear him (Luke 1,2, Christmas). Thus we can also call him our brother.
d. Still harder to understand, but at least as important, he is, and always was, true God. He is “begotten of the Father from eternity,” something that no one fully understands, yet Scripture clearly teaches.
e. Indeed, there are many passages in the Bible that teach this. One is John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is positively identified as “the Word” 13 verses later.
f. Very important is the fact that already in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit made it clear that the Savior-to-come would be the Son of God (that is, true God). One passage in particular meant a lot to the holy writers of the New Testament. They found it in Second Psalm, written by the prophet David under the influence of holy inspiration.
i. The Savior there says, “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” (Psalm 2:7). The entire Gospel revolves around this.
ii. By the Holy Spirit, St. Paul understood this psalm well. He saw that in its fullness it applies to Jesus and him alone. Note the following words from his sermon in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13): “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus [and in this way presenting him to the Jews and to the world as his Son], as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” In the first words of his Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 1:1-4), Paul says that that with the Lord’s resurrection, he was, by the Father, declared “to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” He was upon his resurrection declared publicly to be what he always had been.
iii. The term, “today,” in this passage, in “today I have begotten you,” refers to the eternal day, that is, eternity’s constant “right now and always.”
iv. Going back to the sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, we see that after proving that Jesus is God’s Son, as made clear to everyone by his resurrection, Paul goes on to cite a different passage to show that the resurrection itself was predicted (prophesied): “And as to the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’” Sometimes for “blessings” the translation offered is “mercies.” “Sure” here means not flimsy, never to be worn out, broken, or cancelled, never to be halted by death. In Christ, the believer’s heritage is flawless, eternal blessing.
v. In Hebrews 5:5, furthermore, the claim is made that Jesus did not assign to himself the task of dying for the sins of the world and rising again. In support of this, Psalm 2:7 is once again cited: “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest [that is, to offer himself as the great sacrifice for the sins of the world], but was appointed by him who said to him [the Father, of course], ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” The Father, who called him his Son, gave Jesus the task.
vi. Also at his baptism (Matthew 3:17), when Jesus began his ministry, and again on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), as his ministry was entering its final days, he was told from heaven that he was the Son of God, in whom the heavenly Speaker, his Father, was well pleased.
II. What, now, is the redemption this Person with Two Natures brought about, and what does it mean to us? We will take up both questions at the same time.
a. Redemption is a simple concept. It means getting someone out of a “tight spot” from which he cannot extricate himself, and setting him free in a wide-open spot that is pleasant and right. The following passages show this, but they have to be carefully considered. Though they are quoted here at length, at some point they should be studied from the Bible with their context. The first one is too long to quote, so at this point we must read from our Bible without delay.
b. Telling passages:
i. Turn to Ruth 4:1-10. Read it with keen attention. We have here the “secular” use of the term redeemer. A next-of-kin (brother, usually) was to play the part of the redeemer and take over for his relative, who has died without leaving an heir. He was to marry this relative’s widow, in this case the young lady, Ruth. He was also to take over the property that had belonged to Ruth’s deceased husband (women seldom owned land), and in doing so was to keep it from being blended into someone else’s estate, that is, “swallowed up” and lost. The first son she would bear to her new husband (the redeemer) would be considered the son of her deceased first husband. When the child was grown, he would take over his “father’s” property; and the family would be saved from extinction and would continue to hold a place in the community. They would continue, not because the man Ruth married in the first place had done his part to extend his family another generation, but because, when he was unable, his relative (brother) had played the role of the redeemer and had taken care of an important matter that he had no way of taking care of himself. This is an example of a secular redemption and an explanation of the basic idea of redemption in earthly life in biblical times.
ii. We now turn to Galatians 4:1-5 ready to build on what we just learned, and so come to an understanding of how Jesus, our Redeemer, redeemed us. The passage is about Jesus and each one of us, and this is the core of it: “But when the fullness of time had come [the time for God to make his move], God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Note that the “problem” is that we were all “under the law.” This means that we were under the tyranny of its impossible demands. Thus we occupied the position of a slave. This did not allow us to be sons (children and heirs), for a slave is totally different from a son, and a son is totally different from a slave. As slaves, to put it another way, we were condemned to a position outside God’s family, a position that in the end means death. (Harsh as this may seem, a slave that died is buried with dignity ((hopefully)), and replaced by another slave. That was it.) This was our lot as sinners before God. But being redeemed by Jesus Christ, our position has changed to become a happy one. He redeemed us out of the grip of sin, out of the choke hold of death, and out of the evil entanglement of the devil’s power. At the same time he redeemed us into the arms of a loving God and Father, where we enjoy full sonship. Our names are now written in heaven’s book of life everlasting. This is redemption. This is the salvation work of Jesus, our Redeemer.
iii. Now look up Ephesians 1:7,8. It reads like this: “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” Again, we want to identify clearly redemption’s “from what” as well as its “to what.” We also want to see how, that is, with what, he redeemed us. Answer? It is all a matter of his blood, the blood he shed on the cross. With his holy, precious blood, he got us out of the miserable world of trespasses un-forgiven, and into the beauty and safety of sins remembered no more: out of doom into God’s love. When God’s love is trained on sinners, it is often called “grace.” Among the gifts of grace are deep wisdom and insight. One delights in great things he or she never knew before. “Oh,” we say, “God is love, and he loves me. His grace is produced inside him without any help from anyone, including me. He creates it in connection with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, with whom he is ‘one.’”
iv. In the Catechism, Luther explains redemption in two ways: A person is “won,” and he or she is “bought.” It seems he learned this from St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6. Look it up, please. The apostle refers to redemption as “ransom”—the words are virtually interchangeable. This is what he says: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all….” “For all” means for everyone’s benefit. A mediator is a person who goes between two parties that are at odds in an effort to patch things up between them. The Lord Jesus Christ had to perform this mediation as a man rather than as God (he is both, you know), because God cannot plead with God! But as the perfect man, he could mediate between sinners and a holy God! He was especially qualified for this, because he was a ransom. A ransom is something (or someone) of value that is laid down (on the table) as compensation for the deficiency (and delinquency) that is found in the party that is the cause of the problem. In the Catechism we say that he bought me with his holy precious blood. Again, redemption is a matter of out and in: out of rejection, into the bond of acceptance.
v. Please open to Hebrews 9:12-14. The emphasis here is on the second part of redemption, on the good that the redeemed person is ushered into. Standing in back of this passage is the Old Testament practice of offering animal sacrifices (bloody ones, to be sure) in the Holy of holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple. This is what we read: “He [Christ, my Lord] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify [establish as holy to God] for the purification of the flesh [“flesh” means that back then it was an outward matter: the person could continue to function as a member of the nation of Israel], how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience [our deepest self] from dead works [works not performed joyfully in God’s service] to serve the living God, [the highest and only proper calling a creature can have]. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant [think New Testament], so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” The “from” and the “to” are defilement and the cleansing of the new covenant, which is called justification (full acceptance). We are moved from the horror and wretchedness of intolerable filthiness, to the peace and joy of purity in the eyes of our holy God and Father.
vi. Finally, please look up 1 Peter 1:18-21, which again uses “ransom” instead of redemption with no change in meaning. It is pretty obvious that Martin Luther drew on this passage, too, when he wrote the Catechism. Here it is: “[You know] that you were ransomed from the futile ways of your forefathers, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown [lovingly hailed] before the foundation [founding] of the world but was made manifest [“see-able”] in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God.” What a fine thing it is to be ransomed and redeemed. Now our faith and hope can look where it should, to God, author of all goodness. Now we can live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.
As all this finds a place in your mind as well as your heart, go back to the Catechism. Pay attention to every word of the second section (Second Article) of Apostles’ Creed and of the “Please Explain” explanation. Also plan to work through this study again in the near future. You may wish to read it over and over. You can, if you wish, write notes in the margins. And do not forget to pray your heavenly Father to keep you in his grace forever for Jesus’ sake. He will hear your prayer.