This article is the last in a series on the Apostles’ Creed. Sinclair Ferguson discusses the meaning and significance of the word ‘Amen’, looking at 2 Corinthians 1:15-22.

2017. 4 pages. Transcribed by Delia Nicholson. Transcription started at 7:26 and stopped at 25:44.

Apostolic Confession - Amen

Read 2 Corinthians 1:15-22

What does amen mean? What do we mean when, for example, at the end of the Apostles' Creed we say “Amen”? Or in some of our churches at the end of a hymn we sing “Amen”, or when we come to the end of a prayer we say “Amen”. Is it a kind of spiritual version of that marvellous punctuation thing that Victor Borge did, [making noises so that] the punctuation marks would become sounds? Is it just something trivial? Well, it certainly can become something trivial. And actually, I have noticed in the coming generation that amen is being said less and less. If you are with people praying and they pray around in a circle, I am struck by the difference between my teens and my middle years, when at the end of prayer everybody would say, “Amen”, and now at the end of prayer nobody says, “Amen”. And I suppose part of the reason for that is that the now generation regards that simply as a matter of meaningless tradition. And yet, the word amen appears in the Bible about 150 times. I want to say just a little today about what it means, how it was used and why it is such an immensely significant word.

What Does Amen Mean?🔗

What does it mean? The word amen comes from the Hebrew word ’ā·mên, which means ‘to be found reliable’, ‘to be found secure’. And in fact, in the Old Testament's Scriptures (which are almost all written in the Hebrew language), that is the verb that is used for the word ‘believe’. The idea of believing in God in the Old Testament Scriptures is that as God reveals Himself in His majesty and in His grace, to believe in Him means that you are able to say, "I find this God to be absolutely reliable. I find Him to be everything He has said He will be. And because of that, I am prepared to commit myself to everything that He has said He will do." To believe in the Old Testament means to be willing to place the entire weight of your life upon the absolute reliability of God. So usually in the Old Testament Scriptures, when the word amen is said, what that word means is: This is reliable, and I commit myself to it absolutely and utterly.

So in the Old Testament Scriptures you will find, if you read through the whole of the Old Testament, that almost every single instance of the use of the word amen occurs when the people respond to some great solemn statement of their covenant God. There is a marvellous illustration of this in the book of Joshua (Joshua 8). When the people had entered into the Promised Land, they did what God had commanded them to do in the books of the Law. He said, "When you get there, I want you to gather, and my Word will be read to you." And they gathered at mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, and the covenant of God was read to them with all its blessings and its curses. And the people in unison would respond to this covenant of God by together saying, “Amen! Amen!” Then when the people were settled in the land and had produced their own hymn book in the Psalms, each section of the psalter (the four sections of the Psalter that lead to the concluding book of the book of Psalms) all ended with a doxology, to which the people of God would respond in their liturgy with a mighty resounding, “Amen”.

That is very interesting, for this reason: In most instances in the Old Testament Scriptures, amen was not something somebody shouted out in the middle of a sermon. It was something all of the community said together in a faithful response to their faithful God. Sometimes, if I am not mistaken, when people shout out “Amen!” in the middle of a sermon, all they mean is, “Now you are agreeing with me." It isn't because they have well understood how the amen was said in the Scriptures. They have picked it up somewhere or another and thought, “That it is a good thing to shout out.” Well, it may be a good thing to shout out, but that is not quite the way amen was used in the Old Testament Scriptures. It was the whole people of God, with one resounding voice in their worship, cheering one another on to say "Yes!" to everything God was saying to them or everything that they were saying together about God.

I remember a friend telling me when I was a teenager that he had studied in London and he had gone to the church where the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the minister. He was sitting there one Sunday, and Lloyd-Jones was preaching on the difference between living by the letter and living in the power of the Spirit. And he said in the middle of the sermon, "It is lovely to see people taking notes. That is very encouraging for a preacher. But sometimes I think you miss the spirit of the thing." And somebody just in front of my friend shouted out, "Amen!" Dr Lloyd-Jones looked over his half-moon spectacles at this man, with 2000 pairs of eyes now focused on him, and said, "That sounded like a rather self-righteous amen to me.” I don't know whether the man was back for the evening service or not, but I am sure it was the last amen that he shouted! And I suppose it is partly because of that culturally that many of us become a little uncomfortable. But what a glorious thing it is among the people of God when, at the end of singing or at the end of praying, we are caught up in all the glories of our God and the wonders of His Word and the privileges of being His people, to say it together resoundingly: "Amen! Amen!"

And so it seems to have been in the New Testament. This is what Paul is speaking about here, when he writes to the Corinthians. He says, “It is because of what God has done in Jesus Christ that we utter our Amen, to the glory of God" (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Interestingly, Paul had spoken to the Corinthians about this in 1 Corinthians 14, when he had been speaking about those in the congregation who were able to speak in other tongues. He said, “You shouldn't be doing this unless what you are saying can be interpreted/translated into a tongue everybody can understand. Because if people can't understand what you are saying, how are they going to be able to respond together with a hearty Amen?" It was pretty clear in the life of the New Testament church that saying the amen was not a sign of disorder and not a sign of, “I happen to agree with what is being said” or “I am individually excited about what is being said”. It was the response of the whole congregation. It was like the whole team standing up and saying, "Yes!" to God.

Jesus and the Amen🔗

And the reason they were able to do this (as Paul explains so marvellously in this passage) is because “the Son of God, Jesus Christ…was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). What is the relationship between Jesus and the amen? Those of you who are old enough [will] remember using the King James Version of the Bible and some of the older translations, where a couple of dozen times in John's Gospel Jesus begins a statement by saying, "Verily, verily" – or "Amen, amen". It is this word. The fascinating thing about that is that, as far as I know, there is one single instance in the whole of antiquity of anybody prefacing a statement by saying “Amen”. Jesus uniquely prefaces His statements by saying, "Amen, amen". And of course, in the Hebrew mind-set, [since] they couldn't underline things and they couldn't use red letters or punctuation marks, when they really wanted to emphasize something they simply repeated the word. It is not that some things Jesus said are not true; it is that these things where He prefaces His statements by, “Amen, amen” are things of such extraordinary importance that we all need to pay the closest attention to them. So Jesus Himself used the amen.

But the more important thing is that the New Testament tells us that Jesus Himself is the Amen. Indeed, He is called that in Revelation 3:14. At the beginning of the letter that He dictates to John to send to the church of Laodicea He says, "These are ‘the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness’ (Revelation 3:14)." And Paul says here, He is the Amen because all of the promises of God are Yes in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). I love that line in the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem (1868): “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The hopes of all the years – what does that mean? Paul says it means that every promise that God had given since the beginning of Scripture that He would sent Somebody to be our Saviour – every single one of these promises, in all their different forms, at all their different times – is fulfilled (finds its Yes) in the Person of the Lord Jesus.

He is the seed of the woman who was promised to Adam and Eve. He is the seed of Abraham who was promised to Abraham and Sarah. He is the true Melchizedek Priest. He is the true Prophet that God promised to Moses He would raise up. He is the King that He promised to David would sit upon his throne. He is the Son of Man that Daniel envisaged. He is the suffering Servant about whom Isaiah spoke. He is the Root out of Jesse whom [Isaiah] also prophesied. Every single line of promise that we find in the Old Testament Scriptures – the hopes of all the years – meet in Jesus. Which means this: If I want to know the promises of God fulfilled in my life, the place I need to go to begin to experience these promises coming to pass is to Jesus, in whom all of the promises of God are Yes.

The hopes and fears of all the years – what might the fears of all the years be? The hopes of all the years would be that God had promised to send a Saviour. The fears of all the years would be that I might come under the judgement and curse of God rather than experience the salvation and blessing of God. And the whole meaning of the birth of the Baby is this: That the One in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen is the One who brings to our lives the blessings of God's promise, because He was willing on the cross to accept in our place the curses and the judgements of God's promise to those who turned away from Him.

And so, says Paul, the wonder of the gospel is this: That in the fullness of time, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…” (Galatians 4:4). And how did He do this? He had already explained in Galatians 3: He came in order to bear the curse for us, that through Him the blessing promised to Abraham might be experienced even by the Gentiles (verse 13-14).

That is what so (can I use the word in the best sense?) magical about Christmas. We think of what He has come to do for us – this little baby is the Son of God, in whom all God's promises are Yes. And right from the very beginning of His life a dark shadow falls over His cradle. Outcast. Stranger. Rejected. Pursued. It is as that dark shadow becomes total darkness 33 years later that the cry goes out from His heart, "Father, in the midst of this darkness under your judgement, for their sakes I commit my spirit into your hands", that He says, "Yes, send the judgement to me, and yes, send the blessing to them." That is why the very simplest way to describe what it means to begin to be a Christian is that I understand that by nature I am full of the fear of God's judgement, I know I need a Saviour and with all my heart I want to say, "Yes" to the Lord Jesus, with everything that implies for a life of discipleship. It is wonderful! I wonder if you have said "Yes" yet? 

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