Sunday, September 1, 2013

Boss and Owner of It All (What “Lord” Means)

We live in a nation of people who believe they are following Jesus because they go to church or their kids attend a “Christian” school, or because they listen to a Christian radio station and have the bumper sticker on the back of their car to prove it. A good portion of these same people practice serial monogamy, cheat on their taxes and have a unquenchable thirst for stuff in the face of, and in spite of, tremendous human needs all around us. Saying Jesus is “Lord” or putting a Christian bumper sticker on your car does absolutely nothing for you in eternal terms, except perhaps give you the false illusion that you are headed to heaven when you may well not be going that direction at all. 
Here’s how Jesus put it:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of 
        my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in 
        your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew 
        you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Rather than offer words of explanation here, I encourage you to re-read the three verses above again and give long pause to ponder them. It has been pointed out that in Matthew’s Gospel, whenever someone says “Lord, Lord” twice like this, it is not good. It may reflect Jesus’ ominous warning about people who act religious or seem spiritual and wrongly think that their prayers will be heard by God, “because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

Jesus goes on in the next verses to say this:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his 
        house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did 
        not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put 
        them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the 
        winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
(Matthew 7:24-27)

Let’s face it, if a friend spoke to us like this we would call him or her bossy, arrogant, full of himself or herself. But, if we understand what “Jesus is Lord” means, then our compliance with His orders, commands and teaching determines whether Jesus is MY Lord, or just someone else’s “Lord, Lord.” 

The word “lord” in our English New Testaments is a translation of the common Greek word for master (kurios). If you grew up at the time of Jesus, just about everybody had a slave or was a slave or had been a slave. As an American, I have shameful, racially tinged and painful images in my brain associated with the words master and slave. (See my chapter, “Slave of Christ and Slaves of Christ,” in The Problem With Paul [IVP, 1996]--I’ll be glad to email it to you if send a request). But, to really get Jesus I have to push past all that and understand what it meant for Him. Jesus is not a white, antebellum plantation owner, nor is He an oppressor of black people. He is the Boss of it all and Owner of all things, white people included. If we don’t belong to Jesus--if we don’t know and act like He is our owner and boss--then He has no part of us. If Jesus is not your boss and owner, neither is He your savior.

Does Jesus really mean to communicate to us that He is some kind of royal owner and boss, and we will not go to heaven unless we act and live like it? Yes. To strengthen this observation, consider a Roman military commander’s recognition of Jesus’ authority as a master and commander like the officer himself had seen in his military service:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies 
        at home paralyzed, suffering terribly."

Jesus said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?"

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my 
        servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he 
        goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in 
        Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at 
        the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown 
        outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at 
       that moment. (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus calls it “great faith” to understand that He is the boss of it all. “Faith” is not merely about beliefs or spirituality or religious feelings. Faith is TRUST THAT THE BOSS KNOWS BEST. Faith trusts so much that you do what He says, when He says it, without hesitation. Much of the rest of the book of Matthew is about the difference between people who see this about Jesus and either get it or don’t get it. The people who killed him got it. If they let him live, they reasoned, he was a threat to THEIR power, control and authority. Indeed. But after they killed Him, they learned a little death and pain could not keep Him down. After He had flicked off the coffin lid, these are the first words He said to His disciples as Matthew remembers it:

“"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18).

Wow. Jesus IS Lord. He is a complete and total threat to whoever or whatever is in control of your life, and He will dramatically interfere with your decision-making and choices for yourself. He can and does do a better job at being God than you could ever hope to do. (Click here to read more: ).

It is no surprise that Jesus is not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of boss and owner. He himself had to lay down a foundation of His own obedience to require it of us. You can’t lead someone where you have not or are not going yourself. He got to be the boss and Lord of it all by submitting to and obeying the will of God. As Paul puts it in a potent little passage:

[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be clung to for his own 
       advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. And    
       being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of 
       Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that 
      Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God. (Philippians 2:6-11).

My patient doctoral mentor, the esteemed Professor Ralph Martin, did his doctoral work on the Philippians 2:6-11 scripture above (and two other passages similar “poems” in the New Testament). He identified these as perhaps the words of a song sung by the earliest followers of Jesus. If they are a sung poem of the earliest Christians, then they give us crucial insight into their understanding of who Jesus was and is, and what it means to be devoted follower of Jesus. It is the reason I have made this Boss/Lord the first word study in this book.

The most important thing to notice if you want to know the way to heaven is the V-shape movement of Philippians 2:6-11. Down, then up. The down-stroke, first part of the V-shape of this passage is that Jesus obeys and He gets killed as a result. He lowers himself, down, down, down, lower still, eventually to dead-low. After this comes the upstroke of the V: God lifts him up from the dead, and up, up, up to the highest place and gives Jesus all this amazing authority and respect. How do we get to heaven? We must follow Jesus’ example of costly obedience. Paul’s segue into quoting this song is to tell us to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (2:5). After quoting the song, he reiterates that we should obey the boss, owner and Lord of all: “If you believe what you sing, dear friends, obey Jesus!” (2:12). The earliest Christians, according to this song’s lyrics, understood being a Christian was not about merely praying a prayer but about living an obedient life, regardless of the cost. 

Not all Christians today get that they must learn to die with Jesus if they want to be raised up with Him. The servant is not greater than the Master. If Jesus goes down to go up, so must we. For many, Jesus is his savior but not boss. In this watered down version of Christianity, one can get an eternal fire insurance policy to protect from hell by “praying the prayer” or “going forward” or by raising a hand. If you do that once, you are safe forever.

But read Jesus’ words themselves (in red in my New Testament):

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the 
        nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the 
       sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the 
        kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was 
        thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you 
        clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you 
        something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did 
        we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you 
       did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil 
        and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 
        was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and 
        you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in 
        prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Do you want to know what happens when you die? Do you want to know the way to heaven? Listen to Jesus. Look at Jesus. Follow his example of obedience. Hear and heed his commands. Jesus is only your savior if he is also your boss and owner.
You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
From everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:17-19)5
  Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:23)