We believe as all believers have
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried.”
Joel D. Otto
The original Nicene Creed was written at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The ensuing decades saw more controversies related to the person of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so another council, the Council of Constantinople, met in A.D. 381 to settle the doctrinal debates. What we call “The Nicene Creed” today is the expanded and amended version from the Council of Constantinople. The wording about the two natures of Christ was clarified, and the article on the Holy Spirit was greatly expanded.
Several other key phrases were also added. The original Nicene Creed simply stated, “He suffered death.” The expanded Nicene Creed confessed, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried.” The additions give a more complete confession of what the gospel accounts relate.
But the most important addition is the three words (two in Greek) “for our sake.” These three little words convey why Jesus suffered so horribly. It was not merely a matter of injustice under the auspices of a weak ruler. He was not simply a victim of circumstances beyond his control. “For our sake” he endured unspeakable horrors.
The little phrase “for our sake” has several nuances of meaning. He was crucified and suffered death “for our sake,” in our place (1 Peter 3:18). We deserved the cross. But in love for us God gave up his Son into death instead of punishing us (Romans 8:32).
His suffering and death were done for our sins, as the just payment that our sins earned. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system illustrated that a payment in blood was needed for sin. The blood of animals sacrificed by priests, however, was not sufficient. That only pointed ahead to the sacrifice of the promised Lamb of God. He is the true High Priest who offered himself for our sins (Hebrews 7:26,27; 9:12-14).
He endured suffering, death, and the judgment of hell for our benefit. He became sin in our place so that we are declared righteous in God’s sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). He suffered the curse of sin so that we are set free from the curse and condemnation of our sins (Galatians 3:13). He gave himself into death for us so that through baptism we are holy, cleansed, and forgiven (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Lent and Holy Week remind us of these truths each year. The truth that “for our sake, Jesus, was crucified under Pontius Pilate” is the beating heart of the gospel and the sure hope onto which our faith holds for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is what Christians have been confessing since the day of Pentecost.
When you confess the Nicene Creed, may the little words “for our sake” bring joy and comfort to your heart.
EXPLORING THE WORD
1. Read Romans 8:31,32. How does Paul connect Jesus’ death for us with the ongoing challenges we face each day?
In sending his own Son to be our Savior and sacrificing him on the cross for us God has demonstrated that he “is for us.” He loves us. He has our best interests in mind. If God has done this for our biggest problem—rescuing us from sin and hell—then we can be confident that God “is for us” as we face the ongoing challenges of life each day. We may not always see that as clearly as we would like to or in the way we would like to. But even in the troubles we face, we can be sure that the God who gave us his Son for our salvation will also provide us with what he knows we need in the face of our troubles and challenges.
2. Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Jesus’ suffering and death for the sake of all people is an objective truth. Why is this objectivity comforting for us when we are troubled by our sin and guilt?
The objectivity of Jesus’ suffering and death for the sake of and for the benefit of all people means that what he accomplished was done outside of all people. It doesn’t have to be completed by something I need to do. It wasn’t done in view of something I would do or not do. The fact that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting the world’s sins against us, is comforting because I know I am included in “the world.” The fact that it is accomplished completely outside of me is comforting because I know I don’t have to do anything to finish the work. In fact, I can’t. My sin and guilt prevents that. But that’s precisely what Jesus came to remove because God made Jesus guilty of my sins in my place and so now, despite my ongoing sinfulness, God has made me righteous in his sight. He has declared me innocent.
3. How does the objective nature of Christ’s saving work for the world inform the mission of the church?
Since Christ’s saving work for the world is an accomplished fact for the world, the world needs to hear about it. Everyone in the world needs this good news because everyone is a sinner. It is meant for everyone in the world because Jesus died for everyone. It applies to everyone in the world because in Christ God has not counted the world’s sins against the world (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Therefore, no one is outside of the scope of the church’s mission work. So the church’s mission is to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). The Holy Spirit uses the good news to turn hearts from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith.
Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.
This is the sixth article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after April 5.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015
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