The apostolic doctrine, the gospel went beyond the fact and significance of the cross and resurrection to their basic purpose. Rom. 14:9: Christ died and lived again so he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
One of the earliest, shortest, simplest Christian creeds is "Jesus Christ is Lord." Those who acknowledged this Lordship were baptized and became part of the Christian community. Rom. 10:9, to confess that Jesus is Lord demands obedience and submission. 1 Cor. 12:3, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord is ultimately available only through the Holy Spirit.
Can the declaration that Jesus is Lord be a satisfactory basis for identifying and welcoming someone as a genuine Christian? That is our initial question today.
This brief phrase, a minimal Christian confession, when properly understood, is pregnant with meaning. It carries enormous implications for the Christian faith and Christian life. It expresses a profound theological conviction about the historic Jesus, a radical personal commitment to him as a consequence. It is this conviction and commitment that we shall affirm are adequate, when properly understood, to identify one who is genuinely Christian.
I. Two Convictions
Conviction #1 — Jesus is God.
Consider Phil. 2:9-11, the Song of Christ, the carmen Christi. Is this an early Christian hymn? Shall we give it apostolicity? It affirms that Christ shared God's nature, enjoyed equality with God, yet emptied himself of the divine glory, humbled himself to serve, obeyed even to death on the cross.
Paul gave Jesus a God-title. Kurios. Lord. When Jesus' disciples use it in reference to him, kurios is more than polite Mr. or Sir. The Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ.
When LXX translated this word, devout Jewish scholars did not know what to do with the sacred name. Too reticent to pronounce it, not even free to translate it or transliterate it, they substituted the Lord, which is why in most English versions, Yahweh or Jehovah is still the LORD. 6156 times in LXX.
Followers of Jesus knew this connection. Kurios was the traditional title for Yahweh, Creator of universe and convenanter with Israel. Yet Paul did not scruple to apply this same title to Jesus, he did not see any inconsistency in doing so. Jesus is God.
Paul transferred to Jesus a God-test. Read Isa. 45:23. Paul had the audacity to lift this text from Isaiah and apply it to Jesus. The implication is unavoidable. The homage which the prophet says is due Yahweh is now due Christ. Every knee, every tongue is universal.
In the same way, consider the NT use of Joel 2:32. Call on name of Lord to be saved, yet Peter reapplied this promise to Jesus, Acts 2:21,38; Rom. 10:12-13. The saving power of Yahweh to Israel has become the saving power of Jesus to spiritual Israel — both Jew and Gentile believer alike.
Paul demanded for Jesus God--worship. However you understand the confession with the tongue, the bowing of the knee is worship. Prayer is regularly addressed to Jesus in the NT, 1 Thess. 1:1; 3:11; 2 Thess. 1:2, 12; 2:16. Even God's angels worship Jesus, Heb. 1:6.
The NT writers do not argue the rightness of making this daring declaration, identifying Jesus as God, for there is no need for them to do so. Paul defended gospel of justification by grace through faith because it was challenged. But this fact that Jesus is Lord, divine, deity, was apparently not being disputed, Col. 2:9.
Conviction #2 — Jesus is Savior.
Some would distinguish the statement Jesus is Savior from the statement Jesus is Lord, as this would allow a conversion that involves trusting him as Savior without surrendering to him as Lord. The motive may be good--to avoid any hint of works-righteousness, but the position is biblical indefensible. Jesus is always Lord before he is Savior. They are one, indivisible. Lordship implies salvation, announces salvation. Here is the symbol of victory over all forces of evil. Salvation is possible because of this victory, because of his Lordship. There is no salvation without Lordship. The idea that Jesus is Lord and the idea that Jesus saves are virtually synonymous. Hosanna.
II. Radical Commitment
In the first century, kurios could be a merely respectful designation attributed to landowners. Possession carried full control and right of disposal. Thus Paul, Peter, and James begin letters by saying "a slave of Jesus Christ." He bought them with his life blood, they belonged to him, were entirely at his disposal and discretion in his service.
This personal ownership, commitment to Christ, penetrates every part of a disciple's life. Notice with me some of its dimensions.
This commitment has an intellectual dimension. Our mind, so central to personality, effectively rules our lives. Yet it is often the last stronghold to capitulate to the lordship of Jesus. We elevate our own thoughts and venerate our own opinions. But Jesus Christ claims authority over our minds, Mt. 11:29. In 2 Cor. 10:5, we find the suggestion that the biblical mind refers to our resolve. A disciple is a learner, as the teacher is the master.
As anxious as we may be to respond sensitively to the challenge of the modern world, we must not jettison the authority of Jesus Christ. We have no liberty to disagree with the divine teacher. There is no place for wild, weird speculations. What we believe about God, mankind, sin, salvation, life and death, duty and destiny, logic and living, Scripture and judgment is determined by what we learn from Jesus, God's Word.
Bonhoeffer said, "Only the person who follows the command of Jesus without reserve, and submits unresistingly to his yoke, find his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy and the burden is light."
This commitment has a moral/ethical dimension. In our world, moral standards slip all about us, and people are confused about whether there are any moral absolutes left. Relativism and pluralism threaten us on every hand. But Paul is quite clear about it--the atoning work of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit are with a view to our obedience to the law of Christ. We thereby meet the righteous requirements of the law, as we live according to the Spirit, Rom. 8:3-4. God's spirit in our hearts indicates his ability to write his law there.
Jesus Christ calls us to obedience, John 14:21; 15:14; 14:15. We do not prove our love by loud protestations of loyalty, nor by singing sentimental ditties. The test of love to Christ is obedience to his will, as the test of love to our brother is obedience to his will. This kind of obedience is not selective but total. I will do all that Jesus Christ commands.
This commitment has a vocational/vocative dimension. It includes, and verily is, our life work. God calls us, Eph. 4:1-3. To say Jesus is Lord commits us to a lifetime of service. All Christians are ministers, this is our calling, vocation, ultimate purpose.
This commitment has an already/not yet dimension. To say Jesus is Lord is to confess him as Lord of society, even of those segments of society that do not acknowledge his Lordship. He dethrones principalities and powers and triumphs over them in the cross, he is exalted, he has all authority. Yet we struggle with principalities and powers who though defeated and deprived of power are still active, influential, and unscrupulous. John declares the whole world under the control of the evil one (1:5:19). The Messiah both reigns and waits for the ultimate overthrow of his enemies. Here one must distinguish what is de jure (by right) and what is de facto (in fact or reality). De facto, Satan has not yet conceded defeat and thus rules for his destruction is not yet complete. De jure, Jesus is Lord.
Our discipleship cannot acquiesce in any situation. We never speak or live to deny Jesus' lordship. We long that he should be acknowledged as Lord--that is the task of evangelism. We hurt when we fail to live as though he is our Lord--that is the challenge of discipleship and spiritual growth and nurturing. We declare his lordship in worship and we declare our mutual subjection to the king of kings in his kingdom. We care about those he cares about.
Finally, this commitment has a global dimension. Jesus Christ is Lord of all or Lord of nothing. To affirm Jesus is Lord is to affirm his universal Lordship, even where he does not appear to be in control. He has been superexalted, hyperypsoo, Phil. 2:9, a hapax legomena, perhaps coined by Paul raised to the loftiest heights. God's purpose in that action is the bowed knee and confessing tongue, evidences that all are under the umbrella of the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). If it God's desire that all acknowledge Jesus, that must be our desire also. Only Jesus is Lord. No Lord Krishna, no Lord Buddha.
There is no greater incentive to world missions than the lordship of Jesus, no greater motivation for evangelism. Neither is an impertinent interference in other people's private lives, neither is an dispensable option which Christians may choose or reject. Both are unavoidable deductions, arising from the Lordship Jesus Christ.
You perhaps thought the two word affirmation in Greek--Kurios Iesous--sounded pretty harmless. But here is the summary of our conviction and commitment. I frankly tell you that all who shared that conviction and commitment were considered Christians in the first century. None of this believing one thing and doing another. The disciples do what the teacher says.
I suggest today that at the very heart of the celebration we share in the Supper, the celebration of the word around us at Easter, is this foundational truth. This is the Easter story, this is the ultimate purpose of the risen Lord. Our lives are based in conviction, and commitment. This personal conviction leads to personal commitment, we become like him, we are his.
Return to Sermon Index