Sunday, August 26, 2018

Non-Negotiable Nomenclature

Jesus can be referred to many different ways.

It started before he was born. For example, one well-known prophet said, “call his name Immanuel.” During his ministry some called him Rabbi, as Jewish teachers were often known. Later, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ?” As for his disciples, both before and after his resurrection they referred to him almost exclusively as Lord.

The list of his names and titles is lengthy and something significant would surely be lost if we dismissed even the least of them. That said, there are three without which we cannot possibly preach a complete gospel or maintain a balanced, accurate perspective on Jesus.

You might call them non-negotiable nomenclature.

Paul puts these three together in Romans 1:
“... concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Jesus. Christ. Lord. The gospel Paul lays out in Romans has a heavy emphasis toward Gentiles, but the same three names pop up in Peter’s gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Lord. Christ. Jesus. The order is reversed, but the same critical components occur. Lose any of these and you’re in heresy territory.

 Jesus

“Jesus” locates the eternal, infinite Son of God in time and space. He arrived on a certain day at a certain hour, born to a specific Jewish woman in a well-specified location, splitting history right down the middle and establishing a divine beachhead in the human race.

To ask the question “Was Jesus historical?” is to voice something so crucial it can hardly be estimated. Take away that perfect humanity, and how is he our Savior? Myths and legends have no redemptive or transformative power. Only the “last Adam” could truly become a “life-giving spirit”. It is in a perfect human being that we are made alive.

Moreover, take away his humanity and you lose any sense of identification with him. He had to be “made like his brothers in every respect” or else we have no merciful and faithful high priest. The children “share in flesh and blood”, so he partook of the same things.

 Christ

The name “Christ” locates the man Jesus in the purposes of God. We only get as far as the third chapter of the Bible before the need for a “seed of the woman” to bruise the head of the serpent is firmly established. Already God has promised an answer to the problem of sin, and it has only just entered the world. Later, Abraham could tell Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb,” and even later still, John the Baptist would point him out to the world; the Christos, the Messiah, though few at the time could reconcile the notion that the Anointed of God, the great Prophet/Priest/King who came to do his Father’s will, would also be the once-for-all sacrifice for sin.

The Old Testament is the story of how the eternal God prepared to enter history to deal with sin and restore mankind to himself in the person of his Anointed. Take away the “Christ” from “Jesus Christ”, and you are left with the Person, sure, but no understanding of his Purpose. Take away the real reason he was sent, and you can easily see where ideas like “Jesus was a socialist” or “Jesus came to teach social justice” come from. Those who are not spiritually equipped to grapple with the existential problems Messiah came to address feel obliged to fill in the blanks with something familiar, even if the Christ they end up with is far too small.

Many stories have been written about powerful beings from other places who came to earth and showed us who we are, from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land to Clark Kent. Take away the “Christ” component from Jesus of Nazareth, and he becomes just another of wise alien teaching us how to behave better. The best of them, of course, but not much more.

 Lord

From the Person to the Purpose to the Power. “Lord” is kyrios, the supreme authority, same word as is used by Greeks to describe a Roman emperor.

That makes a good deal of sense: a Jesus without final authority is a Jesus who has no real point. He’s a wonderful example, and he can teach like nobody else, but in the end he cannot actually enforce anything. If the human race were occasional stumblers — only slightly wobbly on our spiritual feet — perhaps eventually we might come to mimic his example or put his teachings into practice. Alas, we are utterly fallen. We need more than some better ideas and a few lessons in good behavior: we need total, utter transformation.

That’s where a Lord comes in.

Technically, Jesus was Lord even before the official announcement was made in heaven. When Jehovah says to David’s “Lord” ['adown], “Sit at my right hand,” it is clear the king already acknowledges a greater Master. In another sense, as Peter preached at Pentecost, God has made him both Lord and Christ. But even before he ascended and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, he could affirm to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and send them on their mission in the strength of that authority.

For you and me, it is never a question of “making Jesus Lord of my life”, as some people put it. Jesus IS Lord. The only thing we can do about that is either acknowledge it or fail to acknowledge it, and those who fail to acknowledge it are simply living life in denial of reality.

A Balancing Act

Jesus Christ our Lord. Person, Purpose and Power. Man, Messiah and Master. It is quite impossible to maintain a balanced, accurate perspective on the Son of God (or, for that matter, a godly Christian walk) without keeping all three of these ideas squarely in view.

For example, Judaism acknowledges a Messiah, but refuses to acknowledge Jesus. Those who die in that state are hellbound. Islam certainly has a lord, but one that lacks both humanity and a redemptive purpose. Its adherents are in the same boat. The Jesus People of the sixties had a great sense of the humanity of the Incarnate Word (“I got a friend in Jesus”), but no real sense of his Lordship, which meant that they often lived chaotic and immoral lives. Hellbound? Maybe not in every case, but it is very possible to know all about Jesus without knowing him at all.

While the words “Lord”, “Jesus” and “Christ” occur individually throughout the New Testament whenever its writers wish to draw attention to a specific aspect of the Savior’s character or work, the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” is used an amazing 81 times, throughout the book of Acts and in all but three of the epistles. Sure, all his names and titles are important, but it would be difficult to argue that any other designation is as commonly used by his followers or as significant to Christians.

It is the primary way the writers of the New Testament intended to portray the One to whom they devoted their lives.

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