Jesus as Lord Sermon

Jesus as Lord Sermon

Jesus as Lord

A sermon on Philippians 2:1-13

The title of our sermon series, Freeing Jesus, was inspired by a book of the same name by Diana Butler Bass. We are examining various titles applied to Jesus to see how they might free us from mere Sunday school versions to something more relevant to adult situations.

Jesus as Lord

Today, we are looking at Jesus as Lord. Lord isn’t a title we ordinarily pay much attention to because lords aren’t part of our daily lives. For most of us, it is an old-timey title recognizing the power of God or Jesus. We don’t encounter the term often. It’s in the bulletin when we say some screwy version of the Lord’s prayer in worship that our pastors choose ostensibly to get us to pay attention to the prayer’s nuances.

We might sing it in songs.

O Lord, it’s hard to be humble.
O Lord, why don’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
The Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord for the sun and the rain and the apple seed.
King of Kings. Lord of Lords. And he shall reign forever and ever.

“Lords and ladies” often stumble across the screen as entitled oafs, their titles heralding little more than a penchant for drama and afternoon tea. Yet, in the early Christian context, the title “Lord” carried a weight far beyond the corridors of Downton Abbey. Applying it to Jesus was dangerous.

The dangers of calling Jesus Lord.

Proclaiming Jesus as Lord could get you arrested, tortured, and killed. “Jesus is Lord” was not an empty phrase for early Christians. Why was it such a radical thing to say?

Initially, some Jewish leaders considered it blasphemy to ascribe divinity to Jesus. The creator alone is the Lord, they said. Before he was converted, the Apostle Paul, who later wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, was the chief persecutor of Christians and led the charge to have Christians stoned to death because Christians called Jesus Lord.

After Paul, that persecution faded, and a different type evolved because the emperor had already claimed the title King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so he and his enforcers weren’t keen on anyone else being called Lord. It was considered disrespectful, traitorous even. There’s historical documentation of people meeting horrific ends just for saying, “Jesus is Lord.”

Jesus is called Lord more than 700 times in the Bible.

That’s why it’s shocking to see Jesus called the Lord more than 700 times in the New Testament. All the New Testament authors defiantly used the phrase. And every time they did, they proclaimed their allegiance to Jesus instead of the emperor. Writing it was an in-your-face move, which meant Jesus is Lord, the emperor is not.

Lord is not the only imperial title Christians wrestled away from the Emporer and put on Jesus. Do any of these sound familiar? The emperor held these titles: Savior of the World, Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Son of God.

Greek and Roman mythology allowed humans to achieve god status, so emperors were considered divine. Netflix just released a documentary on Alexander the Great that shows a common practice in the ancient world of ascribing divinity to emperors and rulers. The documentary is called Alexander the Great: Becoming a God.

Most Roman emperors insisted on being worshiped and dreamed of every knee on earth bending to their power and might.

Jesus, instead of the Emperor, was proclaimed as Lord.

Much of the New Testament was written to say, “Mr. Emperor. With all disrespect. You’re not ‘all that.’ We put our faith in Jesus, who showed us a superior way.” Everyone who read the original writings of the New Testament would have seen that this is at the heart of the Jesus story. The authors took what everyone knew–the only thing they had experienced in their lives–an oppressive system led by domineering emperors and contrasted that with Jesus. Jesus was everything the emperors weren’t and promised a kin-dom that was everything empires are not. This is one of the most important keys to understanding the Bible.

The authors go out of their way to show Jesus as superior to the emperor at every turn. Even our scripture today tells us that someday, in Jesus’s name, every knee on earth and under the earth shall bow. They one up the emperor. Not only are all the living people going to bend their knees for Jesus, but all the dead will, too, for all time. It’s not so much an end-of-days blueprint of what will happen but a faith claim that Jesus is the one who is worthy of praise and adoration. What he’s about has a universal appeal that people will embrace when they hear it.

Jesus as Lord instead of other interests.

Saying “Jesus is Lord” aligns with his teaching and example. Like the early Christians proclaiming Jesus as Lord, not the emperor, we might look at what it means to proclaim Jesus as our Lord instead of other options. Can we say and do our behaviors suggest that Jesus is Lord, not our personal comforts and conveniences? Not our fears or negativity. Not other people’s opinions, Not our past mistakes, not other people’s expectations.

Jesus, the anti-emperor.

The passage from Philippians tells us why. Jesus is everything the emperors were not—sort of the anti-emperor. Although divine, Jesus did not grasp after worldly power. Instead, he emptied himself. He took on the form of a servant, not someone who insisted that everyone serve him.

Jesus modeled an antithetical vision of leadership. Emperors enforced their will through violence and threats of violence. They bullied and demeaned people. Jesus was non-violent. Emperors thought everyone else in the world was there to support him. Goods, wealth, and services flowed upward to the wealthy elite. Emperors were known for their cruelty and demeaning of people. Jesus lifted people and empowered them. You would never see the emperor on his knees washing the feet of his friends. But that’s exactly where we find Jesus.

At the beginning of our passage, Paul encourages his readers to be imitators of Christ, having the same mind that he had. Instead of being high-and-mighty and full of himself like the emperors, Jesus was down to earth. He emptied himself.

Emptying yourself.

What would it mean to be less full of yourself and begin to empty yourself? That’s what the season of Lent encourages us to do.

  • Empty yourself of pride and ego.
    Empty yourself of jealousy.
    Empty yourself of letting events outside of you dictate whether or not you feel okay about your life.
    Empty yourself of the need to control things that are beyond your control. Reminder: every decision other people make is beyond your control–always.
    Empty yourself of worry.
    Empty yourself of a script you play in your head that tells you you are not worthy of good things.
    Empty yourself of yourself–putting your selfishness at the center of your life.
    Empty yourself of these false selves that are petty, insecure, and insensitive. The need for adoration, praise, and the pursuit of a big pile of money beyond what you need.

Jesus said it is only by emptying ourselves that we can find ourselves full of God, purpose, and inner peace. So, part of Lent is this process of emptying. That’s part of the tradition of giving something up, fasting, and giving money during this season. These rituals remind us of the bigger spiritual need. If our lives are too full, there’s no room for God, for acts of kindness, for deep connection with others–all the things that lead to real fulfillment.

Lent is a proclamation Jesus is our Lord.

We begin Lent with the ritual of the ashes, being reminded that we come from the earth and we return to the earth. Mortals need to decide what we will fill our days and hearts with. It’s about being intentional about how we spend our time on this earth that will someday make its claim and take us back into it.

Furthermore, marking ourselves with ashes is a public acknowledgment that we will follow the ways of Jesus, not empire, that Jesus is our Lord, guide, teacher, and example. It’s good to look at it in the mirror before you wash it off to remind yourself to align your actions with what is truly important to you. Amen.