In 2019, our church started a congregation on the West side of Chicago. Since the Gospel is a message for all humanity, the pastor who leads that work has a wonderful vision to minister to a diverse group of people. The ethnic variety in Chicago is significant, but he’s also committed to demographic and socio-economic diversity. For example, there are a good number of college students involved. He also mentors some men from Pacific Garden Mission on Canal Street.
I recently drove by Pacific Garden Mission and was reminded of why it’s such a privilege for our church to play a small part in the lives of their guests. In addition to over a century and a half of compassionate service to the homeless, the organization is so bold about the Gospel. I love their signage. They have one that says, “Christ died for our sins.” My favorite, though, is their iconic cross. Have you seen it? It has the word ‘Jesus’ on the horizontal beam and the word ‘Saves’ on the vertical beam starting from the middle ‘s’ in Jesus. Everyone who drives by that bright neon sign gets the message. Jesus saves. That is a key part of the Gospel and probably what is most often associated with Jesus, even by many non-Christians. He is the Savior.
As much as I like that sign though, the Bible indicates that the word we should most associate with Jesus is not Savior, but Lord. Jesus is the Savior. That’s true. We should certainly believe that and teach that and celebrate that. No doubt about it. Pacific Garden Mission should be admired for proclaiming it 24 hours each day. Yet, according to the Scriptures, the word that we should prioritize in our description of him–like if we had to choose just one word–is the word Lord.
In our modern language, if we want to prioritize a word, we use punctuation like an exclamation point, change the format of the text to italics or all caps, or simply underline it. In the days that the Bible was written, those tools weren’t available to the authors. So, they used repetition. If you wanted to emphasize a word, one way you could do that was to repeat it.
Did you know the word Lord is the most frequently repeated noun and the 14th most frequently repeated word in the entire Bible – almost 8000 times? That is a lot of repetition! The word occurs more than they, be, is, not, him, them, it, with, all, thou, was, and thy. The Lord is the overwhelming emphasis of the Scriptures.
Furthermore, ‘Jesus is the Lord’ is the primary focus of the New Testament. Consider the frequency with which the two words Lord and Savior occur alongside the word Jesus. That simple analysis of which is more repeated about him is one way to determine what is stressed about him and it is quite revealing. Whereas the words Jesus and Savior appear just 12 times in the same sentence, the words Jesus and Lord appear 167 times. That is a huge difference! ‘Jesus is the Lord’ is emphasized much more than ‘Jesus is the Savior.’
To get that data to soak into your brain, try the following auditory exercise. I want you to put this blog down in a minute and say thirty phrases out loud. Humor me. It will be helpful to you. Hopefully, you are alone as you probably don’t want to do it in a coffee shop. Start by saying ‘Jesus is the Lord’ fourteen times. If you are like me, you will have to count it out on your fingers. Then, say, ‘Jesus is the Savior’ once. Then, do both again for a total of thirty statements spoken aloud. Ready? Go for it!
How did it sound? You just did a verbal demonstration of the data regarding those words in the New Testament. For as much as people think of Jesus as the Savior, and rightly so, we must all multiply those thoughts by fourteen in thinking about Jesus as the Lord in order to be thinking Biblically.
Jesus is the Lord. That’s the emphasis of the New Testament and it is the first part of the good news. When preaching in the ancient city of Caesarea, the Apostle Peter said:
36″As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all.“
The Gospel begins with the announcement that Jesus’ lordship is comprehensive, perfect, and permanent. Let’s explore each of those three aspects in order to understand why it is such good news. First, Jesus is the King. He has comprehensive authority of all things.
The most life shaping experience of my childhood was when my sister Jody was diagnosed with cancer, slowly emaciated over several years as she battled the dreadful disease, and then died in our home on December 7th, 1984. The last nine months of her life were especially cruel to her, but also did significant collateral damage to me.
Since my room was down the hall from hers, I had no choice but to pass by it every morning and every evening. Obviously, I wanted to be there for her as she struggled, but at the same time, I was just a teenager trying to deal with what was happening. A periodic break or rest from the trauma would have been one coping mechanism, but it just wasn’t available to me. Death had sort of a personified presence among us that was inescapable, and I could never get any relief from its relentless pursuit of her. Day after day after day, I watched as she gradually slipped away from this life into its horrific grip.
Sometimes the nights were worse. Not only was my room down the hall, it was adjacent to hers. The headboards of our beds bumped up against the wall that our rooms shared.
So, less than a foot of dry wall separated us when we slept. I can still hear her cries of pain on the worst of all nights. That stuff marks you for life. For several years afterwards, the unnerving voice of death lingered as an indelible impression on my soul. I heard it consistently whispering to me, “I am coming for you too.”
While it was all very emotionally disturbing, it also made reality crystal clear. Through my sister, I learned firsthand that death oversees humanity. It is ruling. Everyone will eventually succumb to its power, no matter how strong a fight they put up. It reigns as king and everyone must bow the knee to it at some point. Death is the Lord of all. That was the lesson of my teenage years.
You can imagine, then, how wonderful it was for me to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ during college! I still remember that initial feeling of joy and hope as I heard the good news about the One who had more power than the power that took my sister.
I didn’t believe it at first. It just all sounded too good to be true. But, after some research, I concluded that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is well supported by the evidence of history. He really did walk out of that garden tomb. The stone was actually rolled away. He truly overcame the grave!
Even more, his resurrection was followed by his ascension to the throne of the universe. He beat death, has been installed as the King and has put all things under his feet. In other words, all the types of power known to humanity are subject to him. In speaking about the Lordship of Jesus, 19th century Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper put it aptly…
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
The good news is, no matter how it may appear, death is not in charge! Neither are wicked dictators, natural disasters, oppressive bosses, debilitating diseases, greedy billionaires, demonic forces, worldwide pandemics, abusive parents, unjust systems, or compulsive behaviors. All these authorities are vastly inferior to him. He is far above, and they are far below. Nothing is left out of his reign and no one can rival his rule.
Jesus is the King. He has comprehensive authority of all things. That is the first part of the Gospel as it relates to Lord. The second aspect of the Lordship of Jesus that is good news is his perfection. He is the Christ.
Up until the 1980’s, Superman was the best-selling character in American comic book history. His widespread appeal was not simply because of his unprecedented powers. Sure, superhuman strength is awesome, X-ray vision is fascinating and enhanced hearing is handy. Furthermore, who does not want to be able to fly!
Yet, those extraordinary abilities alone are not what won the hearts and minds of readers. Superman is beloved in the American culture even today primarily because of his virtue. He is a super-hero with an unwavering commitment to the welfare of humanity. He is all about justice, righteousness, kindness, and bravery. He is the perfect combination of power and goodness.
That is why it was always good news to the regular folks when they heard he was coming to town. It meant he was going to vanquish the evil that was oppressing them. Would Superman’s arrival on the scene of trouble always be greeted with joy if he had a flawed character or a moody disposition or situational ethics? Of course not. We love him because he is good inside.
Such it is with Jesus Christ. Having comprehensive authority over all things is not necessarily good news. After all, the question remains…what kind of person is he and, thus, how is he going to use that power? Well, you be glad to know that Jesus is not merely good inside. He is flawless. Moreover, his perfection is for your good. And it is described in that word ‘Christ.’
When I was a kid, I thought Christ was Jesus last name. When I became a Christian, I discovered it was a title that meant “anointed one.” The Hebrew Bible prophesied that a man would be born anointed from God, perfect in all his ways. He would come to his people Israel as the promised Messiah to fulfill the Old Covenant Law; all the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of it. He would be the true Israel, who embodied all God called Israel to be. Where the nation failed to live according to God’s ways, the anointed one would succeed. Jesus is that man, the Christ. That’s why the Apostle Matthew records him as having said:
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Perhaps a way to say it in our contemporary terms is that he is the only human being who has ever lived in right relationship with God in every way. Everything he thought was right. Everything he desired was right. Every attitude he had was right. Everything he said was right. Everything he did was right. He was tempted in every way humanity can be tempted, yet, unlike all of humanity, he never sinned against God. He is the perfect human being.
Isn’t that amazing news? There is someone in charge of this world and the person in charge is thoroughly good inside. In other words, not only are death, wicked dictators, natural disasters, oppressive bosses, debilitating diseases, greedy billionaires, demonic forces, worldwide pandemics, abusive parents, unjust systems, or compulsive behaviors not in charge. The one in charge, Jesus, is displeased with all of them because they do not reflect his goodness to the world.
He tangibly demonstrated that displeasure in his earthly life, even proved it, when he did things like healing the paralytic in Capernaum, calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, driving a legion of demons out of the man from the Gerasenes, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and inspiring the tax collector Zaccheus to give half his riches to the poor and return defrauded money fourfold. So, whatever you are suffering at the hands of this world, you can be confident and rejoice in this good news: Jesus is not happy about the situation either because he is good and wants his goodness spread to everyone.
When the Apostles proclaimed Jesus is the Lord, they first and foremost meant he is the King. He has comprehensive authority of all things. It was about his position. Second, they also meant Jesus is the Christ, of Israel, the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He is perfect in all of his ways. It was about his person. The final aspect of the Lordship of Jesus that is good news is his permanence. He is the Son.
It is not uncommon for non-Christians to have a positive view of Jesus of Nazareth. For example, Muslims celebrate him as an important prophet. He is the most referenced person in the Quran, receiving 187 mentions. Similarly, Hindus regard him as an insightful life instructor. In a 1926 letter to Milton Newberry Frantz, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Jesus was one of the great teachers of mankind.” And in 1996, the Dalai Lama thought so much of Jesus that he wrote a book on how a Buddhist should appreciate his lessons.
Even many non-religious people esteem Jesus. Consider the atheist author Kurt Vonnegut. To the graduates of Agnes Scott College, at their commencement in 1999, he said, “Jesus of Nazareth told us to say these twelve words when we prayed: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….’ And for those twelve words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.’” Throughout history, Jesus has been beloved by people of all kinds as a human prophet, teacher, counselor and peacemaker.
Yet, as wonderful as it is to be admired, these views of Jesus are in direct contradiction to his own words. The fact of the matter is he did not view himself as merely a human being. He clearly claimed to be the Son of God, like the time when he was debating some of the Jewish religious establishment recorded in John 8. They were arguing with him and brought up Abraham to which he replied:
58“Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
What a fascinating statement! Notice, he did not say, “Before Abraham was born, I lived,” as if he was some sort of time traveler. No. He used the present tense to describe his experience of being alive prior to Abraham’s birth. It was a grammatical reference to his eternality.
Furthermore, he used the designation “I am,” because that is exactly the way God described himself when he spoke to Moses from the burning bush, recorded in Exodus 3:14. He told them he was God in the flesh.
As a result, the religious leaders did what you would expect them to do. They picked up stones to put him to death for blasphemy. It was obvious to them that he was committing crime worthy of capital punishment – equating himself with their God, Yahweh.
Isn’t it odd, then, that his claim to be the Son is not obvious to everyone else who reads these accounts of his life in the Bible? It is so strange that, in a 2020 theological survey, 52% of American adults, including 30% of evangelicals, indicated that they think Jesus was a great teacher but that he is not God, the Son. That’s strange because no matter how highly a person thinks of Jesus, the idea that he is merely a human being is ultimately offensive to him because it is antithetical to what he said about himself.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains this incongruence well. Lewis wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He is human, for sure, but he is more than human. He is a different category of being altogether. In the epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul described Jesus as “the image of the invisible God.” The author of Hebrews pronounced God’s “Son” as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The Nicene Creed teaches that Jesus is “begotten not made” and “of one substance with the Father.” The Apostle Thomas summed up all these ideas quite succinctly when he cried out simply, “My Lord and my God,” after he touched the resurrected Christ.
The Gospel includes this declaration, that he is the Son, and this declaration is indeed good news. Why? Well, think about it. Jesus is the King means that evil is not charge. No matter how it appears, not even death has the ultimate say. Jesus is the Christ means that he is clearly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. This world is a far cry from a reflection of his goodness. And since Jesus is also the Son, a permanent and flawless King, surely, he must have a plan to right all that is wrong. A perfect God-man with all authority in Heaven and on Earth isn’t going to sit idly by as his universe wallows in corruption.
The Apostles knew that to be true. They experienced a taste of it first-hand. That is what they proclaimed as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the first part of that message – Jesus is the LORD. The second part of the message is…Jesus is putting the world right regarding SIN.