We are studying the main ideas behind the Apostles' Creed. Why are they important? This compact little creed is chock full of deep insight into the nature of everything--of reality. We explored faith, God as a concept, the Christian God as Father, and then we began to investigate who Jesus is--how he is the agent through whom all things were created. We also delved into how Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.
Then we get to this line: He suffered under Pontius Pilate. Why is that there? Who cares who was in charge at the time Jesus suffered and died? Is this really important? Well, it turns out that this information is drastically important for three reasons:
1. It testifies to the historical accuracy of Jesus' life. We live in a time where people deny the existence of Christ completely. We once used to dispute the details, but now we dispute everything. Thanks to the enlightenment we begin truth with ourselves instead of God. Most of the time, we never even reach God in our important knowledge. Pontius Pilate is someone who existed outside of the framework of the Bible (Jesus was mentioned only a couple times outside the Bible at that point in history). Pontius Pilate has artifacts and documentation of his existence. He helps our modern minds transition from his life to the life of Jesus.
2. Pilate testifies to the historical accuracy of Jesus' death. It's one thing to believe that Jesus lived, but it's another thing to believe in Jesus' death, and the kind of death that he had. The information about Jesus outside the Bible at the time revolved around his death and resurrection. More about this below.
3. Finally, Pilate's existence in the creed testifies to something crucial about our relationship with Christ. Let's look at certain parts of our Gospel reading:
Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him.
Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:1-15)
Pilate finds no guilt in him. He scourges him. He is afraid of the Jews. He wants to release Jesus. He doesn't want to have anything to do with this situation! In another Gospel, his wife has a dream that this Jesus guy is bad news and they need to get out of the situation. Up to the very end, Pilate doesn't want to do this, but he is terrified of Jesus, of the Jews, of everything. He gives the order out of political pressure.
What is so important about these details? It confirms this: Pilate is US. We are this way, too: wishy-washy, never able to make a definitive decision in life, always turning on the tide of random thought. Getting scared of situations, trying to back out of deals at the last second. Generally FREAKING OUT. We are Pilate. This is important because now we can read the creed with our own names in Pilate's place: suffered under Fred Barrett, and it will be true. Jesus DID and DOES suffer under us.
Let's go back to the second point, about Jesus' death. His particular death of Crucifixion has a lot to do with our relationship with our Lord, too, in the same way that we can identify with Pilate. We can identify with crucifixion, too. How? Let's look at our Pauline Epistle:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
Crucifixion affects each and every person on this earth in this way: to the Jew it is a stumbling block, and to the Gentile it is folly. Why a stumbling block to the Jew? Because according to Jewish Law, anyone hung on a tree is CURSED. Jews cannot worship a cursed God. It goes against their religion. They stumble at this fact. Why folly to the Gentile? For two reasons: first, gods don't die. Look at the Greek and Roman pantheon. These are indestructible beings. These are powerful figures, like superheroes. Our gods don't die! Secondly, crucifixion was reserved for criminals. Not only do our gods not die, but they NEVER die as a criminal would. What a foolish god to die in such a way. We cannot worship this.
So where do we fit in? Where does our relationship with the Lord come into this? Well, Jews and Gentiles comprise EVERYONE on earth. For us to not stumble at the crucifixion, for us to not think the idea foolish, we are connected to the creed once again, as the true recipients of the creed. The creed is not meant to be understood or spoken aloud by Jews NOR Gentiles, but only by us who are being saved. The creed is for us. If you can say this creed and not stumble or laugh, call yourself blessed indeed. If your God dies by being hung on a cross, and you accept that, welcome to the world of salvation.
Christ suffered under us. He was crucified, died, and was buried. Do you believe that? Then say the creed.