We looked last week at the first of the two Christological New Testament terms which the Apostles’ Creed uses to refer to Jesus – Son of God. It is a term which carries connotations of closeness, of affection, of a familial relationship between God the Father and God the Son. This week we turn to the other Christological term, one which seems in a way more formal, perhaps more distant at first – our Lord.
Last week, we saw how the designation, Son of God, was not unique to Christianity, and noted how it was used in Judaism, and in ancient Egyptian religion and in Greek thought. Similarly, the term Lord is shared among many different religions, then as now. It was used by Greek rulers and Roman emperors, by Assyrian kings and great landowners.
So what is a Palestinian peasant doing being called Lord?
The term Lord is prominent in the Old Testament. For us, who read it in translation, it is the word which is used most commonly where the original text uses the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. So it is not surprising that it occurs frequently in the New Testament too. But it is, perhaps, still surprising that the Lord of the New Testament should turn out to be a Palestinian peasant.
It is widely, but not universally, thought that Paul’s letters are among the oldest texts in the New Testament. Some of the credit, though not all, for recognising the Lordship of Jesus goes to him. He wrote to the church in Rome: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For our purposes, this is a crucial text. In the midst of our exploration of the Apostles’ Creed, we note that this is about confession of faith, about saying with the mouth what is believed I the heart. It has been argued that these words – Jesus is Lord – is the earliest expression of Christian faith.
Though probably later in composition, the Gospels record people uttering this confession. We have read how, a week after the resurrection, Thomas sees the risen Christ for the first time and confessed – My Lord and my God. He says is tin front of Jesus, looking him in the face. What is clear is that calling Jesus ‘Lord’ is connected with the events of Easter. It is his resurrection that transforms understanding of him from peasant, from teacher, from holy man to Lord. Peter, explaining the Good News on the Day of Pentecost, says, “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Peter, Paul and Thomas all confessed Jesus as Lord. But this is a fundamental confession of faith for all Christians. So what is going on when we make this confession? Though we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” looking forward to a future event, when we say Jesus is Lord, we are also seeing something about the present – not that Jesus will be Lord, but that he already is Lord. The lordship of Christ fundamentally affects our life, as we live it day by day.
But it goes beyond us. Paul asserts that Jesus is “the name that is above every name” and that Christ exercises lordship over all the powers in heaven and on earth. Clearly this is a claim of cosmic significance.
So, understanding Jesus as Lord derives from Easter, affects our daily lives and relates to Christ’s place over the whole created order. His lordship is about his dominion over the whole of reality.
And that means that those who confess that Jesus is Lord must bear witness to his lordship in every area of life. And of particular importance as we consider this is the field of politics, how people interact with one another, treat one another, order the society we share. When we say, Jesus is Lord, we are asserting that all other powers and authorities must be subservient to Jesus. He is supreme. It is for this reason that Christianity and Christians were so viciously persecuted in the early centuries of the faith. They posed a threat to those who wanted to exercise supreme power themselves. Perhaps we need to ask if we are still a threat, whether our confession that Jesus is Lord still has the power to unsettle and upset, and, if it doesn’t, if Christianity has become something regarded as a harmless eccentricity, then we need to ask where we’ve gone wrong.
But what is it that gives validity to this claim of Christ’s supreme lordship? For that we need to turn to the verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians which Jean read a little earlier. It is one of the key passages of the whole Bible. It speaks of how the Son of God, the Lord of lords, left behind equality with God to become the servant of humanity. This Lord does not rule as other lords attempt to rule – as an authoritarian despot. For all their apparent powers, they are not and never will be the real Lord. The true Lord of all is the servant of all. And the way he chose, and the way he directs us to choose, depends upon, not the love of power, but the power of love. We follow Christ and bear witness to his lordship only if we are prepared radically to love.
And that’s all about choices. It’s about choosing to give our allegiance to Christ and not to any of the other competing entities which demand our loyalty – like nation, race, party, or property. It means choosing to affirm one another, to cherish difference, to hold as important what people are rather than what they have. It means choosing love, and all of the vulnerability which comes with that. It means choosing justice, with all the cost that can entail. It means choosing life over death, virtue over sin, forgiveness over guilt. This is the ways of Christ. These are the marks of his lordship over the church, the world, the cosmos. And these are the authentic marks of the life we choose when we confess – Jesus is Lord.