Jesus is Lord
Mark 12:13-17, Psalm 2:1-8, Revelation 1:9-20
“I believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord”
Four things are said about Jesus in the second line of the creed.
- His name is Jesus.
- He is the Christ, i.e. the Messiah – the one who rescues us
- He is the Son of God: the best photograph of what God is really like and what humanity should be like.
- and now we examine the fourth phrase. He is “Our Lord.”
“He is Lord.” This title is given to Jesus in the pages of the New Testament about 600 times. It will become part of his name “The Lord Jesus, or The Lord Jesus Christ.” “Jesus Christ our Lord” “Christ the Lord.” But again, it is not his name; it is the title he earned.
1. “The Lord” in a Jewish Mind
When the early church began to claim that “Jesus is Lord”, how did the Jewish audience understand it? For centuries they had used that word for God Himself. They called God “The Lord.”
This had become their way to avoid saying the name of God. Jewish people had become very leery of saying the true name of God, lest they find themselves taking the name of God in vain. They figured that if we never say it, we couldn’t abuse it! The true name of God became known as the “tetragrammaton” – the four letters הוהי. (YAHWEH or Jehovah.)
So instead of pronouncing the tetragrammaton, the Jewish communities used the word “Adonai” as a replacement. Adonai means “THE LORD” (Capitalized in some of our translations to indicate it is used instead of YHWH.)
Now the word was also used in a variety of ways in the Jewish Community.
- It was used as a polite reference like our word “Sir!”
- It was used to refer to the nobility of the nation, such as is used in Great Britain in the House of Lords.
- It was used to mean “master” in employee relations, (Yes Sir, Yes Sir, 3 bags full!)
- It could even be used by a wife to refer to a husband (Sarah called Abraham, My Lord”.)
But when the church used that title Judaism knew that they were using it not simply as a title of respect. The church called Jesus, “The Lord”, not simply “A” Lord. Thomas had flagged that new meaning very early after the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead when he said, “My Lord and My God.”
When the early church begins using this word about Jesus, most of Judaism would have reacted. That was perceived as blasphemy!
2. “The Lord” in a Gentile Mind
But the word “Lord” in the Greek and Roman world had a somewhat different meaning. It was the word primarily given to those in authority over another. It was the word for “Master”. The one who had a right to command another.
Those early audiences knew exactly what the word “LORD” meant. They lived in a world of slave and owner, servant and master, king and subject. In our world of attempted democracy where all persons are considered equal members of society, the concept of Lordship is more difficult to grasp. But not for those ancient people.
Late in the first century the issue of Lordship came to a head. There was a fight in the Roman Empire. Who is King of the Castle? Who has the authority to command all others? Who is the Supreme Ruler of the world? Who deserves absolute obedience from all others?
This great controversy came to a head in the book of the Revelation of St. John. The time is around 90 to 95 A.D. It is a very difficult time to be a Christian. The Roman Empire has turned nasty. The Emperor Domitian has ascended to the throne of the Roman Empire. He is a madman! Just like Nero, and Caligula before him. He is a man who believes he is a God. And not just a god, but the slogan of his realm read. “Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.” Lord over every other lord, and King over every other king. He thought himself to be the supreme deity. Across the Roman Empire he demanded that all persons worship him as god. Each citizen was to approach the altar of incense and offer a sacrifice and say the words of allegiance, “Kaisar Kurios!” Caesar is Lord.
But no Christian could say that. The very first Christian creed is reputed to have been two simple words. “Christos Kurios” – Christ is Lord. To no other person or power could a Christian give ultimate allegiance, than to Jesus Christ. Christ is Lord, not Caesar! And certainly not Domitian the Dominator.
Let me read part of a letter written a few years after Domitian’s reign ended. It was written by a man called Pliny the Younger to the emperor Trajan. Pliny is the new magistrate of a province in Asia Minor. He writes:
“This is the course I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it, I repeat the question a second and then a third time, threatening them with capital punishment. If they persist I sentence them to death… Some I sent to Rome (to be tried), since they were Roman citizens.
All who denied that they were or had been Christians, I considered should be discharged because they called upon the gods at my dictation and did reverence, with incense and wine, to your image along with the statues of the deities, and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing, which it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do.
Others first said they were Christians, and then denied it; declaring that they had been, but were so no longer. These too worshiped your image and the statues of the gods and cursed Christ.”
To be a Christian in that ancient world was a rather threatening experience. But the church knew that at the heart of the matter, it was a controversy over Lordship. Shall the church say Kaisar Kurios (Caesar is Lord) or will it say Christos Kurios (Christ is Lord)? The church was prepared to put its life on the line and declare that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is Lord!
But Jesus looks like a loser. He died on a cross. He left behind a small group of followers who had suffered terribly. By this time Paul had been beheaded. Peter had been crucified upside down. All the original apostles had lost their lives except perhaps for John. And now he was an elderly man exiled to a prison colony on the Island of Patmos out in the Aegean Sea.
But John is aware, as he receives a revelation of who Jesus is, that the truth is different than the perception. Jesus is Lord. Caesar and his empire will come crashing down. The kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Jesus is already the Glorious Lord of the Heavens. He is already Lord of His Church, and when the rest of the story is told He will be proven to be the Lord of History.
But be careful. When the church insists that Jesus is Lord, it is not a contest between two vain rulers who both want to be called “King of the Castle”. It is a contest as to whom will we obey? From whom will we accept our marching orders? If push comes to shove, to whom do we render affection and allegiance?
When the wishes of the state and the wishes of the Kingdom of God collide, whom will the Christian obey? When the government declares a thing legal or moral, will we agree if Jesus our Lord has declared it wrong and immoral? That is the nature of the age long contest over who has ultimate authority in our lives.
Whatever guides the world in its actions and attitudes, we who are Christians have agreed to let Jesus Christ guide us. No other authority has precedence over his. Allegiance to Him is primary.
Mark’s Gospel tells us of the day when the religious leaders tested Jesus with a question about taxes. Jesus called for a coin. He held it up before them and asked the question, “Whose image and inscription does it bear?” They responded “Caesar’s“. He retorted, “then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but render to God the things that are God’s.”
I would lift up your life and my life and ask the very same question, “Whose image and inscription do we bear?” The answer comes resounding back to us from those early chapters of Genesis. “We were made in the image and likeness of God.” We are His by creation. And in the moments of our redemption, we belonged no more to the world or sin or flesh or the devil, but instead we heard the words, “You are no longer your own, you were bought with a price.” The name of the Lord Jesus Christ was emblazoned on our lives. We are now called “Christians” and we bear his name, and come under his command.
Which brings me to a word we have not yet covered, and it is important. Notice the creed again. It says “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, OUR Lord. The word is “Our”. It is a word of personal commitment and allegiance. It is a word that says, “He is my Lord too!”
He may not be “Lord” to the world, or Lord in our current culture, but for the Church of Jesus Christ, there is no question and no equivocation. Here at least He is Lord and has the right to rule us in our life as his people.
He is Lord of each congregation. It is why we must be always asking the question, “Lord, what would You have us do.”
And if we are Christians, then in our personal lives we also must every day be asking the question, “Lord, what would you have me do?”
And this is what it actually means to be a Christian. It does not mean that we have had a religious experience at sometime in our past when we “got saved.” It is not sufficient that I have had a “once in a life time” experience. Being a Christian means that I have sworn allegiance to Jesus & his community that is lived out in a “long obedience” day by day. Jesus is our lord!