Summary: A sermon dealing with what it means when we say "Jesus is Lord!"
Philippians 2: 5 – 11
One of the favorite movies around the Malone household is The Princess Bride. The film is a fairy tale as told to an ailing grandson by the visiting grandfather, and the story is filled with heroes and villains, damsels in distress and perils unnumbered. The primary hero is the poor farm boy Westley, who serves and falls in love with the beautiful princess, Buttercup. I won’t bore you with all the details. I’ll trust you to watch it for yourself. One of the villains in the film is a short, rotund kidnapper named Vinzzini, who is hired by the villain prince Humperdink to kidnap his betrothed Buttercup in order to incite a war with the rival nation Guilder. Vinzzini hires a swashbuckler named Inigo Montoya and his side-kick giant Fezzi to assist with the kidnapping. They are successful in their enterprise, but once they begin their escape, the Dread Pirate Roberts pursues them. Throughout the pursuit, there is a continuing series of unexpected turns, and at each occurrence Vinzzini exclaims, “Inconceivable!” Finally, in exasperation, Inigo Montoya looks at Vinzzini and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Like Vinzzini’s use of “inconceivable,” I think we 21st century disciples struggle to understand who Jesus is, especially when we use the phrase “Jesus is Lord.” Just what do we mean when we say “Jesus is Lord,” or more particularly, “Jesus is Lord of my life”? We say it, and like Inigo Montoya, I’m not sure it means what we think it means. The phrase has become almost a cliché for 21st century Christians. We print it on T-shirts and bumper stickers, paint it on overpasses and we may even see a sign at the Super Bowl tonight that someone has erected proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord!” It’s just a nice name we use for Jesus, but in reality, it has little impact on our lives.
That wasn’t the case for the early disciples of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church to encourage them to maintain the faith he found in them when he was with them. The passage we read this morning is one of Paul’s most moving paragraphs, and he concludes it with what has been called the “first creed of the Church.” We say the Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed, but scholars have termed the phrase “Jesus Christ is Lord” as the statement early followers of Jesus proclaimed when they greeted one another. What did it mean for them?
The word “Lord” comes from the Greek “kurios,” and it meant “master or owner.” The Lord was one who owned or had possession of a thing—like one who owned property or a slave. The word was also used as the official title of the Roman Emperor, and Roman citizens would greet each other with the words “Caesar is Lord!” In that sense, it was a subversive statement for the 1st century believers to utter the words “Jesus is Lord!” For the first century believer, to say Jesus is Lord meant that he was the owner of their life. Their life was not their own, but it had been surrendered to another—the person of Jesus Christ. Their proclamation was also a death sentence, for the one thing the Roman authorities could never tolerate was subversion or rebellion. There could only be one Lord—Caesar. To assert otherwise meant certain death to the proclaimer.
There is one other note to be made: The title “Lord” is the most used title in the New Testament for Jesus. 618 times, the authors refer to Jesus as Lord, and the term ties back to the Old Testament word which the Jews dare not utter—Jehovah. Every time in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Jehovah appears, it is translated “Lord,” with a capital L. For the first century believer, and for the Apostle Paul, it was an acknowledgment of the divine nature of Jesus himself. It was to say, Jesus is God in human flesh. That is a profound theological statement on Paul’s part, and it carries theological implications for us today, but for Paul and for us, it needed more practicality. It had to be lived out in life, not simply rooted in the mind. It was the living out of the implications of their theology that made the difference. So it is for us, too.
I’m afraid we’ve come to see Jesus as Lord much like people in England see the Queen. It used to be the monarch was supreme. Laws were passed by the King/Queen, whomever occupied the throne and they were immediately enforced. The Empire was subservient to his/her whims and vices. The monarch spoke. People responded, or it was “Off with their head.” But, times have changed. The Queen of England is simply a figurehead. Oh, a much loved one, no doubt, but one without real authority. The masses still fawn and feign allegiance, and will line the streets to wave as she motors from one castle to another, but after the parade passes, the “subjects” go back to their lives as normal. That’s what we do to Jesus! We pay lip service to him. We’ll answer polls that say we acknowledge him as Lord, and call ourselves disciples, but when the parade passes, we return to our lives as though nothing is different.