This article is excerpted from a sermon Dr. Charles Carter preached for the 2009 William E. Conger Jr. Lectures on Biblical Preaching. We invite you to join us for the 2019 Conger Lectures featuring Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla. Learn more here.
The fundamental premise of our Christian faith is the lordship of Jesus Christ. It stands at the heart and core of Christianity. Everything in the Christian faith—becoming a Christian, living the Christian life and the ultimate outcome of being a Christian—stands or falls on the lordship of Christ.
The term “lord” occurs over 600 times in the New Testament. It is true that sometimes it is merely a term of address or respect or affection. However, at least 150 of these times it is used of God himself, and nearly 250 times it is used to describe Jesus. In his excellent Christology of the New Testament, Oscar Cullmann concludes that the early church expressed its whole faith with the single word “kurios” (Lord). Dynamic Scottish preacher James S. Stewart’s evaluation is that “Paul’s most loved name of Jesus was not ‘Messiah’ but ‘Lord,’” further noting that Luke represents Paul as using this title in the very first sentence he ever spoke to Jesus as he said, “Who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Thereafter, no demand Jesus ever made of Paul was too great—nor will it be of us when he is truly our Lord.
Three definitive New Testament passages address the implications of his Lordship and further point to our acceptance of others (Eph 4:4-6) and our evangelization of the world (2 Cor 4:5 and Rom l0:9).
Ephesians 4:4-6 speaks of “one body, and one Spirit…one hope;…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…..” If we take the New Testament seriously, it would seem that this seven-fold emphasis upon Christian unity (including the one on the lordship of Christ) would go a long way toward dissolving the fragmentation and polarization that have come to characterize much of Christendom.
The lordship of Jesus Christ speaks to our acceptance of other Christian traditions. I am grateful for my own Southern Baptist tradition— and I trust you are for your tradition. However, in our emphasis upon our heritage, our principles and our distinctives, God forbid that we become ecclesiastical snobs! We do not have to be identical twins to be brothers and sisters in Christ. What a group believes about church polity is not nearly as important as what they believe about the person of Christ. If he is their Lord, then they are our brothers and sisters, and we must convey this acceptance to them.
The lordship of Christ speaks to our acceptance of other races. As people committed to the lordship of Christ, we cannot and must not ignore seething social issues. If anyone, anywhere is denied a hearing of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ because of the pigmentation of his or her skin then our gospel is weakened and our efforts at world evangelization drastically decimated. We who are united under the lordship of Christ must convey to all other Christians, regardless of ethnic background, that we accept them as brothers and sisters in the Lord and that we take seriously the “whosoever will” of the gospel. There is only one Lord and all who know him are our brothers and sisters.
Beyond our acceptation of others, the Bible also teaches that the lordship of Christ has implications for our evangelization of the world—both in the message we proclaim and in the response we expect. As a preface to the giving of the Great Commission, Jesus states in Matthew 28:18, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Then he says, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples…..” Thus, all evangelism is predicated upon his lordship. The lordship passage in 2 Corinthians 4:5 deals with the proclamation by the preacher (the message) and the passage in Romans 10:9 deals with the affirmation by the believer (the response expected).
In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul declares, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Here we have clear evidence that early New Testament preachers had one basic message. Once convinced of his lordship by his resurrection, they proclaimed him as Lord to the whole Greco-Roman world. Their pattern for such preaching had already been set by the Lord himself. The theme of Jesus’ preaching was the kingdom (or rule) of God. This phrase emphasizes his lordship.
The examples of Christ and Paul set the pattern for us. Our task in proclamation is not to project ourselves or passing fads, but to confront people with the reality of the lordship of Jesus Christ and his claims upon their lives. Concerning our preaching, Ian Macpherson says, “Every sentence should suggest Christ and every sermon should leave hearers at the feet of Christ. The chief art of preaching is to exalt Christ!”
After the proclamation of the lordship of Christ by the preacher, there must be a response by the hearer to our message. As the Baptist pulpiteer E. V. Hill said, “For Him to be Prince of Peace in our lives, a coronation service must take place.” Thus we come to consider the affirmation by the believer. The definitive passage here is Romans 10:9 which says, “That if you will confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and will believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Here we confront one of the most ancient Christian confessions of faith—two words in Greek: “Kurios Iesous”; three words in English: “Jesus is Lord.”
In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, the worship of Caesar was the order of the day. Many of those accused of being Christians were required to do three things: (1) to say “the emperor is Lord,” (2) to offer a sacrifice to the emperor and (3) to curse Christ in order to prove their sacrifice was sincere. Failure to comply often resulted in forfeiture of life. The Roman state, with its multiple gods and goddesses, could not understand why Christians were so obstinate at this point. What harm is there in saying “Lord Caesar”? But many Christians died rather than say it, for to them the confession of Romans 10:9, “Kurios Iesous,” would no longer be valid if there were another Lord other than Jesus. Let there be no question about it: to whatever or whomever we yield first allegiance and loyalty, this is our “lord.” In our proclamation and affirmation, this prime position must be given to Jesus Christ.
Dr. Charles T. Carter joined the faculty of Beeson Divinity School in 1999 and serves as the James H. Chapman Fellow of Pastoral Ministry. Before joining the faculty, Dr. Carter served as the pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama from 1979-1998.