Jesus Is Lord

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Acts 28:23-31

The earliest Christian confession of faith is also the simplest: “Jesus is Lord!” (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). There are many places in the New Testament that spell out what this creed means, but one of the richest of them is the conclusion of the book of Acts.

The earliest Christian confession of faith is also the simplest: “Jesus is Lord!” (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). There are many places in the New Testament that spell out what this creed means, but one of the richest of them is the conclusion of the book of Acts.

A Tale of Two Cities

Someone has characterized Acts as “A Tale of Two Cities.” The outline of the book is given by Jesus himself in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And that is exactly how the story that Luke tells unfolds. In Acts 2 we see the Holy Spirit come upon the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost, empowering and emboldening them for witness. That very day 3,000 people were converted and added to the church. Over the next few chapters we read about the church growing in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, including Samaria (Acts 8). Then in Acts 9 Luke reports the momentous conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, and from then on he traces the career of Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles. Beginning in Acts 13 Paul launches out from Antioch on the first of three missionary journeys that take the gospel to most of Asia Minor and Greece. Then in chapter 19 Paul states his intention of traveling to Rome, and the rest of the book of Acts will follow the twists and turns of the difficult path that takes him there.

Why Rome? That’s easy. You’ve heard the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” In the ancient Mediterranean world that was literally true. There was a golden milepost in the center of the Roman Forum from which every road in the empire marked its distance. But if all roads led to Rome, of course that meant that all roads led from Rome as well. If you could get to Rome, you could get to anywhere. And Rome was a meeting place for all nations. Like one of our great modern cities – New York, London, Los Angeles – Rome had citizens from every part of the known world. If you could take the gospel to Rome, there you would meet people who could take it back to every nation under heaven. So Rome was the obvious destination, both for the apostle Paul’s missionary career and for the evangelist Luke’s missionary book. In tracing the path of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome Luke is showing us how the first followers of Jesus did in their day what every follower of Jesus is called to do in theirs – take the good news of Jesus’ salvation from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

House Arrest

So the book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome. And here is how Luke describes his situation.

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Acts 28:30-31

Paul arrived in Rome under arrest, but the conditions of his confinement were liberal. During his period of house arrest Paul’s visitors had access to him, and he himself was free in the most important way: free to preach and teach the gospel. Paul “welcomed all who came to him,” and proclaimed “the kingdom of God” to them, and taught “about the Lord Jesus Christ,” as Luke says. Now those two phrases don’t indicate two different subjects. Paul did not have two separate themes for his preaching and teaching. We must not imagine him talking about the kingdom of God in the morning, for example, and then switching topics to the lordship of Christ in the afternoon. No, the “kingdom of God” means the coming of God, the rule and power of the God who is present with his people, reigning over their lives in judgment, mercy and grace. The kingdom of God comes when Jesus comes. It begins with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it will be consummated and completed with his return at the end of the world. So the kingdom is all about the lordship of Jesus. The message the apostle Paul proclaimed to one and all, in Rome and everywhere else he traveled, can be summarized in three short words: Jesus is Lord!

The Meaning of Our Confession

Now that brief acclamation is not just a summary of Paul’s message, it is also the heart of our confession of faith. With Christians of every time and place we confess that we believe “in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,” as the Apostles’ Creed says. What does it mean to be a Christian? The answer is quite simple, really. Christians are people who say, “Jesus is Lord” – and mean it! It’s a simple answer, though not an easy one. For one thing, this is a public confession, and therefore threatening to the powers that be.

To say “Jesus is Lord” is to claim much more than just that Jesus is my personal Savior. When you proclaim the lordship of Christ you are issuing a challenge to all other powers and authorities. The most important religion in the Roman Empire was the cult of the divine emperor. Caesar claimed all the highest titles for himself; he was the imperator, the commander, the emperor. Rome would allow any of its people to practice whatever religion they chose in the privacy of their own home or hearts provided they would acknowledge Caesar as the supreme public Lord, and sacrifice a bit of incense to him once a year to show their submission.

So you can see why Christians alone of all people were singled out for persecution by the Romans because they worshiped a higher Lord than Caesar. And today you can’t say “Jesus is Lord” and then say “My country, right or wrong.” You can’t say “Jesus is Lord” and remain indifferent to suffering or injustice or poverty in your society. You can’t say “Jesus is Lord” and then live as if money or power or sex were really lord.

Here is a second truth about our confession of faith. “Jesus is Lord” is a universal claim and, therefore, divisive. Initially the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome were open-minded about the Christian message they heard from Paul. There seems to have been a cordial discussion among them about the meaning of the scripture’s prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. Some of these Roman Jews were convinced by Paul’s testimony and acknowledged Jesus as Lord. But not everyone responded to the gospel this way. The same division soon occurred here in Rome, as it had every place else Paul went, over the fundamental issue of belief in Jesus Christ and, in particular, over the question of sharing this gospel with all the world’s peoples.

But, you see, if Jesus is not Lord of everyone, he cannot be Lord of anyone. Either he was and is the Son of God, the incarnate Savior of the whole world, or he is nothing, and all that is written of him in the New Testament is simply false witness. The one thing that cannot possibly be true is what so many people think today – that Christianity is fine for those who choose to believe it, but it doesn’t have to be for everyone. But if Jesus is not who the apostles claimed he was, in other words, if the gospel is not true, then no one should believe either in it or in him! If Jesus isn’t Lord, then the Christian church is founded upon a colossal error, and the whole missionary enterprise from Paul’s day to ours is a tragic mistake. If you really believe that Jesus is Lord, then you must also believe and proclaim that he is Lord for everyone everywhere no matter how controversial that claim may be in our pluralistic world.

Finally, to proclaim that Jesus is Lord is to confess a dangerous faith, one that may prove costly to those who hold it. As soon as the apostle announces his intention of traveling to Rome (Acts 19:21), all hell breaks loose in the book of Acts, quite literally. There is a riot against Christians in the city of Ephesus where Paul is living and preaching. He goes to Greece and then to Jerusalem where there is another riot outside the Jewish Temple. Paul is only saved from the mob when a Roman officer takes him into protective custody. Next there is a plot to assassinate him in Jerusalem, and Roman soldiers spirit Paul away to Caesarea, the provincial capital. After two years in prison there Paul exercises his right as a Roman citizen and appeals to the emperor to judge his case personally. On the way to Rome the ship in which Paul is sailing is struck by a severe storm. The ship is lost, though Paul and his traveling companions manage to drag themselves up onto the shore with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Then, as they stand warming themselves by a fire, a deadly serpent fastens itself onto Paul’s hand. Talk about being snakebit!

But this, you see, isn’t just a run of bad luck for Paul because the gospel has a powerful enemy in the world, an evil spiritual power that will try anything to stop its advance. There is nothing easy about bringing the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. If we commit ourselves to this task we can expect setbacks and suffering. The devil doesn’t like to see people become Christians. What do we expect, that the mission of the gospel will be a cakewalk? But God has the last word. The last word in Acts – literally the last word of the book – is “unhindered.” Here is Paul in Rome under guard, but living and working, preaching and teaching the message that Jesus is Lord. And he does this, says Luke, “with all boldness and without hindrance.” Because though Paul may be in chains, God’s Word is not (2 Timothy 2:9). It can’t be stopped by anything! And some day, everyone will know that “Jesus is Lord.”