Why Does the Apostle's Creed Profess Faith in Pontius Pilate? — Luke 1:1-4
Reverend Anthony R. Locke
June 27th, 2010 at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Luke 1:1-4 Apostle’s Creed Series 10 English Standard Version
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
When the early church pieced together the Apostle’s Creed, they were using the baptismal formulas previously in use by the actual Apostles. We don’t know which Apostle coined each phrase of the Apostle’s Creed, but one of the twelve was baptizing converts in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered under Pontius Pilate.
Which begs the question, “why are we confessing anything about a secular Roman governor?” This morning I am going to explain why Pilate’s name is in the creed, and I am going to suggest that it is necessary for a sound faith.
During this time period in Rome there were mystical religions that taught a variety of strange ideas. These false religions didn’t claim their teachings were real in a historic or scientific sense, but their teachings were spiritually real.
Lots of Christians understand their own faith within this context. My sermon will try to convince you otherwise.
Let me illustrate this with a true experience of mine. I visited a seminary in the late 1990’s where I considered enrolling. Before I enrolled I wanted to discern what kind of an education I would receive so I asked a professor this question. “Do you think the virgin birth really happened historically or is it just spiritually real?” The teacher knew what I was asking. I wasn’t being a smart-aleck. I was trying to size up the orthodoxy of the school.
Here was his dilemma. If he said the virgin birth was true historically then he could be ridiculed by the science department. If he said the virgin birth was not true then he might be black balled by the religion department. I wanted the guy to shoot straight with me. He didn’t. He danced a little side step. He spoke politician. He spoke double talk and Baloney was on the menu.
This is what I remember him saying. He said, “well, I think the virgin birth is necessary to believe if you want to believe the Bible. Truly the doctrines of redemption hang on the vicarious life and death of the Second Adam, the Son of God who becomes the Son of Man to die for the sins of His people. The Messiah must be virgin born if He is to be holy and take the place of us who are not holy. A virgin birth is the only way to not receive Adam’s fallen nature, so yes, the virgin birth is necessary if you want to believe the claims in the biblical record. But, there are some scientific reasons this can’t happen. Lots of young girls claim they got pregnant without the help of their guy friend. You gotta remember Mary was engaged. So maybe it wasn’t a virgin birth in a scientific way, but as a matter of faith, Jesus was virgin born.”
I suspect your head is spinning like mine was. Did he believe in the virgin birth? Not as a matter of historic truth. To give him credit, he did encourage me to believe it as a matter of faith so that I could embrace the teachings of the Bible. But what kind of a fake faith is that!
Here is a great problem within Evangelical Christianity in America today. Many ministers and college professors teach the doctrines of the Bible but do not think those doctrines are historically true. They teach the history of the Bible and yet assume the Bible was a little off on some historical points. Their mode of operation is, “if an archeologist hasn’t affirmed the Bible then the Bible is probably wrong.” These unbelieving “christians” teach what the Bible says and then discount that same message with skepticism. They are experts at explaining the Bible and then they are also experts at explaining the Bible away.
2 Pet 1:16, the Apostle’s did not follow cleverly invented stories when (they told us) about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but they were eyewitnesses of his majesty. What majesty would be worth worshipping if He allowed His disciples to tell rumors and lies about his person and glory to enhance and enlarge the story? If the Bible is filled with spiritual truths that are not also real, if the history is faulty, if the genealogies are not reliable, then the Bible is not something we should use to hang our hopes of eternal life.
The Apostle John said in 1 John 1:1, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched– this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
If this book isn’t true then the words of this book are not words of life. They are dead words. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 1:11-12, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
This book is special revelation by which we get to know God Almighty. Anything less is to diminish God, the glory of Jesus and the work of the Spirit.
1 Peter 1:20-21 says, Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
They authors didn’t take dictation from God, but they wrote as the Spirit of God used their own vocabulary and their own writing style to write the word of God. Every word the Holy Spirit led the authors to choose is perfect. God is the true author of the Bible.
And God has never gotten confused when writing the history of humanity. God was there when the heavens were made. Science cannot speak to the origins of the universe. It can only speak to the laws of the universe as currently established. To speak to the origins of the universe is to be a philosopher. When God speaks of the beginning of all things He speaks as an eyewitness.
God was there when He created this planet. He is the only one who can tell us how it happened. Adam and Eve were created by the very hand of God. God breathed into Adam and he became an eternal living soul.
God knows exactly when and where things happened. Listen to 2 Kings 25:27, In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month.
Does that sound like someone who is confused about the facts? Liars never give too many details because it opens them up to scrutiny. The Bible is the perfect record of all God wants us to know for life and godliness. We search it like we are looking for hidden treasure. We read it for in it are the words of eternal life.
Listen again to our opening verses in Luke Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us. A narrative is a Gospel account. An epistle is more of a letter and usually doctrinally oriented. Luke is saying that many people were trying to write summary Gospel narratives. Matthew and Mark were inspired by the Holy Spirit and their works were ratified by the early church to be included in our scriptures. Others who tried to write a narrative were not uniquely led by the Spirit of God so they had errors and the early church flagged those works as unreliable. These extra books outside our Bible are interesting, but not authoritative scripture.
Verse 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us. Only a small group of people were from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. And they were what? Eyewitnesses and ministers of the WORD. We understand the meaning of an eyewitness, but do we understand the word minister? The early Apostle’s knew they held in their hands the Holy Word of God even before the ink dried on the paper on which they were writing. The Apostle’s knew there was a supernatural dynamic and they were ministers now of that same word. We need to bring some holy reverence back into our 21st century perspective of this holy book and handle these words very carefully.
Verse 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus. We might say Luke scrapbooked about the Jesus phenomenon. He saved newspaper clippings. He followed all the stories closely and captured the events as they happened, researching the missing details from people whose testimony could stand up in a court of law. Eyewitnesses. He was vigilant to collected the information as it happened and write it down. In today’s language we would call Luke a blogger.
Verse 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Back to the main theme of the sermon. What good is truth that isn’t true! What good are prophesies that don’t provide certainty concerning eternal issues? 1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
God didn’t give us the eternal word so that we could spiritually believe things. That’s double talk. That’s a lie hidden in sophistry. It’s mumbo-jumbo and yet it is the most common explanation by the intellectual elite for how to understand the Bible. This faithlessness will not give you assurance that you are heaven bound. It will make you weak and unwilling to stand up for the truth.
Who amongst us is fortified enough in our faith to stand up for God’s word in a public classroom that is teaching evolution? Would you be willing to testify that man didn’t evolve but was rather made by the very hands of God?
Why not? Is the Bible only spiritually true to help our faith? Are we really no better than the first century mystery cults? Are there things in the Bible that we believe as people of faith but we do not believe them as educated people? How would you respond to the comment, “keep your faith out of the classroom!” Are we going to suspend our certainty of the first few chapters in Genesis until science validates the creation account? Can we even call ourselves believers!?
We must profess that the Bible IS the word of God. Saying that we believe the Bible CONTAINS the word of God is no faith at all. That is not a faith I would be proud to hold. It is not a faith that will intrigue a lost world. It isn’t a faith that is a light on a hill. It is a weak and sickly faith. Maybe that’s why American Evangelical Christianity is slowly dying. We are sickly and yet we think we are so smart.
When we say the Bible is true, and teach it to our children as the moral mandates of God, and then tell them later it might not be true, we diminish their faith. It is like our handling of Santa Claus. We tell them it is true, and later they find out we were kidding. If we as parents tell our teenagers that secular humanism and evolution are more scientifically true than the stories in the Bible then we diminish their faith and promote dead-beat Christianity.
Luke was so confident his data was accurate that he asked them to validate it from their own memories. Acts 10:37-38 You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. Previous generations held these facts without wavering. We must too.
Jesus lived an amazing life. He was born in Bethlehem. He fled to Egypt with His parents as a toddler. He really walked the streets of Jerusalem. He really sailed the waters of Galilee. He actually worked as a stone mason and carpenter around Nazareth.
And what historic tidbit about the life of Jesus gets included in a universal creed for the Christian Church? The name of a secular man. A man who is easy to despise. We confess that Jesus suffered under a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate.
Why? Because the faith of true believers is rooted in the history of humanity. The Bible wasn’t written to teach science or history, but when it speaks to these topics it is trustworthy. The Bible is more than just spiritually real, yet historically suspect. The Bible is God’s inerrant word.
The second reason Pilate’s name is there is to help unbelievers. If you are an unbeliever seeking the reliability of the Gospel account then you are provided in the Apostle’s Creed a place to start your secular research. Open your encyclopedia to the letter P and read about a real man named Pilate. Archeology and other antiquities will verify this man’s historic authenticity and his presiding over the suffering of Jesus.
Pilate is as real as Stone Hedge, the sinking of the Titanic and the killing of six million Jews at the hand of Hitler’s henchmen. Maybe the city of Atlantis is a hoax, but Pilate is real. Maybe Eldorado, the city of solid gold is a hoax, but Pilate is real. Saying any part of the Bible is not true is like saying the holocaust didn’t happen. Those who argue with the history of the Bible look foolish.
Pilate is real. This conclusion will help you realize that the sufferings of Jesus are also real. The story of Jesus isn’t nice to believe like Santa Claus: good for a kid, but foolish for adults. No. The suffering of Jesus for our sin was real.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The Bible doesn’t provide facts so that we can be proud of what we know. The Bible leads us into absolute truth so that we can be humbled in whom we know.
Do you believe on the name of the only begotten Son of God? Then you have eternal life. Those who do not believe do not have life but the wrath of God abides upon them.
Jesus knows that confessing the truths revealed in this Bible will get you in trouble in this world. The secular mind has no room for the absolute truths of God. There is an offense to repeating the claims of scripture. Jesus suffered more than any man has ever suffered for opening His mouth and confirming the truth that He and the Father are one. He told the truth. The Bible always tells the truth. God never lies. The Bible is good history. No doubt about it.
Believing that the Bible is good history is a good thing. Believing in Jesus is better.
May God bless you with an ever increasing faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.