“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace….”
An old gripe says that history is boring. In some circles today anything that did not transpire or originate in the last fifty years is suspect as to value or meaning for our “advanced” day and age.
One flyer we received not long ago quoted the Christian church historian Philip Schaff as saying: “…Next to God’s Word history is…the richest foundation of wisdom, and the surest guide….” The flyer spoke of “a glaring presence of an absence. That absence is the lack of awareness of our great heritage of faith and the amazing saga of how God has worked through His people over the ages.”
It should not be hard to see why our text is a recommended selection for the Reformation season. On the one hand, we are exhorted to remember our Christian forebears. On the other hand, we are warned against the promoters of false doctrine. And the glue which holds these exhortations together is the unchangeableness of Jesus Christ (“…the same yesterday, today, and forever”).
How so? Well, remembering the experiences of those who came before us in confessing the true faith in Jesus and His Word will help us be better prepared to ward off the competing cross-currents of false doctrine all around us in our own day.
The opening chapter of this letter to the Hebrew Christians is a clarion call for readers to see how Jesus Christ was the same in all the yesterdays of history—in fact, predating all recorded human history! Jesus is called the eternal Son of God. He is called “the brightness of [God’s] glory” and “the express image of [God’s] person” (1:3). He is spoken of as the Creator of the Earth and the heavens which “shall perish,” while He Himself remains ever “the same, and [His] years shall not fail” (1:12).
And then following the tragedy of the Fall into sin in the garden of Eden, God acted in space-time history to provide otherwise hopelessly doomed sinners a rescue—and a Rescuer, His Savior-Son.
With that, it is impossible to over-emphasize that everything that happened to bring about the eternal rescue of sinners took place in God’s yesterday. It is tremendously significant to remember that biblical Christianity is a continual living on the basis of what happened in the past. Indeed, the basis for the good news of the gospel is that it is the record of the objective historical facts of what God, in Christ, did for the world of sinners centuries ago.
So then, how acquainted are you with “yesterday” in the church?
Our Christian Creeds
A religious cartoon depicted an angel in heaven saying to God: “It’s a little monotonous actually—history keeps repeating itself.” The joke is really on the devil.
Church history is truly deja vu all over again. It is the record of the repeated triumphs of God, His people, and His Truth over their enemies. It is the record, as says the poet, of “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne; Yet above the grim unknown, God stands watching o’er His own” (J. R. Lowell).
Martin Luther was well aware of what we speak. In one of his Table Talks the Reformer said: “I know nothing about the Lord Christ that the devil has failed to attack; that is why he must now start again from the beginning and bring out the old errors and heresies.” One of the heresies Luther was referring to was first settled with the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325). Originally written against the heretic Arius, this creed confesses Jesus Christ as…
“…very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven….”
Notice the historical/past verb forms! Fourth century Christian confessors reclaimed for themselves and proclaimed for every future generation the fact that salvation took place on the basis of what the unchanging Christ accomplished “yesterday”!
Later came the Athanasian Creed (A.D. 450) which Luther called the grandest production of the church since the time of the apostles. In it Christians confess that God is triune and that within that Trinity Jesus Christ is God and man in one person who “suffered for our salvation,” rose again and ascended to heaven. The last paragraph reads: “This is the catholic [universal, Christian] faith which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
Still today we confess—and more and more we are alone in this, dear friends!—that sinners can be saved in no other way. Why? Because, again, Jesus Christ remains the same in the fifteen hundred years since the Athanasian Creed as He was in the four millennia preceding it.
The centuries before the sixteenth century Lutheran Reformation are termed the Dark Ages. Just how dark is clear from Luther’s childhood memories of Christ not as Savior but as merciless Judge. Behold how Satan had used the Roman church (!) as promoter of the heresy that Christ was not “the same” as confessed “yesterday” in each of the three universal Creeds of Christendom.
But the Spirit of God opened the heart of the young monk to reclaim and proclaim the blessed truth of the Scriptures. The Reformer’s explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed remains an unparalleled testimony to the objective historical fact that…
“[Christ] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death….”
Our Lutheran Confessions
After the Dark Ages came the Age of Orthodoxy, ushered in with the publication of the nine Confessions assembled in the Lutheran Book of Concord of 1580. (Besides the three Creeds, the other six are Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms , the Augsburg Confession , the Apology , the Smalcald Articles , and the Formula of Concord .)
The authors of these Confessions and their supporters saw them as a defense of the objective historical fact of the gospel of justification by faith—faith in Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and risen again. Ever since, true heirs of the Reformation have seen these Confessions the same way.
And what a treasure those Confessions are, as they help unify all Bible teachings around the doctrine of justification!
As the Lutheran Church in general, and our CLC in particular, look forward to observing the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (1517—the 95 Theses; 1521—The Diet of Worms etc.), what a glorious opportunity to review the most significant events which impacted the birth and early growth of the Lutheran Church.
Doubtless, besides the stated Creeds and Confessions, the best and most reliable historical record of God’s dealings with mankind is the infallible history which is the Bible itself.
During the Reformation season and always may we thank and bless our God for preserving to us the “magnificent monotony” of the sizzling saga of Jesus Christ, ever the same in all mankind’s and the church’s history. Repetitious indeed, but never boring!
Dear friends, get into God’s “holy history.” You, your children, your children’s children—and your church!—will be the richer for it.