Twice in the past two years God has shaken my understanding of who Jesus is. For decades I have been intrigued by the titles and descriptions of Jesus in Scripture.
He is Son of God, Savior, Emmanuel, the Word, the Light of the World, the Christ, the Bread of Life, the Author of Life, the Way, the Truth & the Life, and so much more.
The name Jesus is special and God-ordained, meaning “the Lord Saves,” so an angel instructed his earthly father to call him that “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus’ apostles affirmed that there is no other name under Heaven given to human beings by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Soon thereafter they counted it a privilege to suffer disgrace for “the Name” (5:41). They had been told to pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13, 14), and we are commanded to do all that we do in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17).
No wonder there have been so many hymns and choruses written that celebrate the name of Jesus. I still enjoy singing those songs, but a conference speaker in 2016 caused me to reconsider how I refer to Jesus. He pointed out that the four Gospels consistently refer to him simply as Jesus. He stressed, however, that the last 23 books of the New Testament seldom call him that. Instead, he is nearly always referred to as the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I returned home I consulted my phrase concordance and found this to be true. I counted 81 times that Jesus is called the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts through Revelation. That very day I began to train myself to refer to him as the Lord Jesus instead of simply using his birth name.
Why the change in title in most of the New Testament? Jesus rose from the grave, proving himself to be Lord, not merely a good teacher and healer. That was the very point of Peter’s bold declaration in his Pentecost sermon, following 12 verses affirming Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Indeed, it was during the doubter Thomas’s first personal encounter with the risen Christ that he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). A few weeks later as Jesus prepared to return to Heaven, he declared to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The risen Jesus was clearly affirming his absolute lordship.
A few months after beginning to process this change in how Jesus was described, I studied Philippians 2 for a sermon series and discovered that the “name that is above every name” (v. 9) is actually Lord (v. 11). He already had the name Jesus. In the book of Acts Jesus is referred to as Savior twice, but as Lord 92 times!
Words matter. Jesus is Lord. The glorious One! His victory over sin, death, and the devil established his lordship and authority. Even the songs that focus on the name Jesus celebrate his lordship. The same song that declares, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” affirms eight times, “And crown Him Lord of all.” The simple chorus that begins with three repetitions of the phrase, “His name is Wonderful,” next declares “Jesus, My Lord.”
I wonder if we have often innocently missed this subtle shift after the Gospel accounts, or if there has also been a subconscious resistance to what Jesus’ lordship implies. We readily welcome the healer Jesus and the Bread of Life who provides. Even many unbelievers seem comfortable with baby Jesus in a manger, because there he is unthreatening.
It is easy to worship Jesus the baby, but it is not so easy to follow Jesus the Lord, who makes clear demands. Even on the night of his birth angels declared to startled shepherds that the one who had been born “is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
We worship the Lord Jesus Christ. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We submit to and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly Christ is in all and over all.
He is Lord. He is Lord. He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord!
Let’s live like he is.
Tom Claibourne celebrates the Lordship of Jesus with other believers at the Bethlehem Church of Christ near Winchester, Ohio.
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