The most ancient confession of Christian faith was to say, “Jesus is Lord.” When the early Christians said this, they meant that Jesus has sovereign authority over the world. The One who had been arrested, beaten, crucified and buried demonstrated his power over all things by rising from the dead and ascending the “right hand” of God.
In the ancient world, the confession that “Jesus is Lord” was heard in contrast with the confession that “Caesar is Lord.” The various Caesars claimed for themselves the titles “Son of God” and “Savior of the world.” They demanded obedience of their subjects and expected the people to trust them for security and well-being. The confession that “Jesus is Lord” was a direct threat to the claims of Caesar. This is why many Christians were killed for their faith. Either Jesus was the world’s true Lord and Savior or Caesar was. Neither church nor state allowed its citizens to make the contrary confession.
In the contemporary world, the confession that “Jesus is Lord” doesn’t always carry the same weight. We tend to view such confessions as personal opinions rather than claims about the nature of the world. To say, “Jesus is Lord” often carries the meaning that Jesus is Lord for me, without any sense that my confession has implications for anyone else. This reflects the perspective of our times that there is no ultimate truth. Therefore, each is entitled to his or her own.
This is highlighted by the question asked by some evangelists: “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” While this is meant to emphasize the personal decision to follow Jesus, it implies that what Jesus is for me he may not necessarily be for the whole world. He may be my personal savior is the same way I have a personal assistant or a personal trainer. Each has a certain authority and competence, but all are subject to my personal willingness to let them work in my life.
This accounts, to a significant degree, for why the witness of the church is not particularly powerful in our time in the western world. The Lord Jesus is presented as one who may help us manage life, as one who may be called upon in time of crisis, as one who may comfort us in times of need. But he is not always confessed and followed as Son of God and Savior of the World.
It is an interesting meditation to consider what would happen if life threatening persecution broke out in America. How many of us would be willing to die for the confession that Jesus is Lord? However, in reality, our challenge is different. The devil attacks our faith in more subtle ways. The chief way our faith is attacked is by the tendency to separate faith from the real activities of life. The Lord Jesus is not denied. Rather, faith in him is rendered innocuous.
This dualism may have been institutionalized by a former president who comforted our Protestant nation by assuring the people that his Romans Catholic faith would not in any way influence the way he ran the country. The assurance carried the implication that his faith would have just the same influence as the people’s Protestant faith had on their real lives–not much. Thus, faith becomes a private thing that is not allowed to touch what we actually do.
This separation of faith from real life is a patent rejection of the Ascension–not to mention the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection. For if the Lord Jesus ascended in order to “fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10); if “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18); if he was given “dominion, glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14) then no part of life be separated from the confession that “Jesus is Lord.”
We may never be dragged before the magistrate and asked to burn incense to an image of a king. However, we confess or deny that Jesus is Lord all the time by what we do or fail to do. As Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We confess or deny Jesus is Lord by our presence or absence in his church on the Lord’s Day. We confess or deny that Jesus is Lord by tithing or failing to tithe. We confess or deny that Jesus is Lord by our commitment to or neglect of the life of prayer. We confess or deny that Jesus is Lord by our treatment of the least of his brethren. We confess that Jesus is Lord by doing what we do as business people, teachers, lawyers, accountants, artists, laborers, mothers and fathers as unto the Lord and not unto men, seeking first the kingdom, not merely temporal rewards. We confess that Jesus is Lord by obeying his commandments, especially when obedience is costly. The confession or denial of the truth that Jesus is Lord cannot be kept as a private thing. The evidence is there for all to see.
Of course, there is a major challenge to our confession that Jesus is Lord. There is injustice, oppression and the killing of innocent people. There are tornadoes, floods, natural disasters and tragedies. Indeed, the world seems to be falling apart. How we can say that Jesus is Lord? How can we say that Jesus is in control?
In fact, Christian faith provides the most reasonable way to understand what is happening. The ascended Lord Jesus was himself subjected to the injustice and tragedy of life in this fallen world. The life of Jesus reveals that God is able to save his chosen through the real pain of life. The cross was the raw material for the Resurrection. This teaches us that our pain is part of the process by which we are being remade into the image of Christ. Jesus is Lord precisely because he is able to bring order and beauty out of the chaos and disorder of this fallen world. What looks to the world like the pain of death is, in reality, the birth pangs of God’s new creation. Jesus really is in control, working in all things for good for those who love him and are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Jesus is Lord. He is not merely our private or personal Lord and Savior. He is the Lord and Savior of the World. “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). The two angels at the ascension said, “This same Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” For, “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Jesus is Lord. He calls each of us to be faithful servants, in thought, word and deed, in everything that we do, as we wait for him to come again, renew the creation and raise us from the dead–“according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all unto himself” (Philippians 3:21).