Darth Vader is the notorious baddie in the Star Wars movies. Those around him who bow to his authority, and obey his command give him a title: ‘Lord’ Vader. Similarly in the Harry Potter books and films, Harry’s archenemy is Voldermort. He’s so bad and scary that he’s referred to as ‘he who must not be named’. But to his subjects – to those who follow him – he’s given a title: ‘Lord’ Voldermort. In the UK we have a House of ‘Lords’, a political chamber of people who we believe have wisdom and authority that the nation needs to hear. So although it’s a word that’s been around for a long time, the title ‘Lord’ is still in common use today.
This word ‘Lord’ came up in the reading I was speaking from at the weekend – from Philippians 2:1-11 – a fabulous passage on the example of Jesus Christ. We’re told to embrace the same attitude Christ had – who humbly came to earth, served, and gave his life for us. But St Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to talk of how God raised Jesus from the dead and ascended him to heaven and:
‘gave him the name that is above every name’.
Pointing to Judgement Day the passage builds to a great crescendo as we’re told there’ll be a time when
‘at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!’
I talked to our staff team about this yesterday, telling them there’s a debate amongst scholars about the ‘name’ above every name that belongs to Jesus. What exactly is this ‘name’? Some say it’s the name Jesus. That may be right. Jesus was the name given Jesus at his birth and is the English translation of the Greek name Iesous, a rendition of the Hebrew Yeshua or Joshua. And it basically means: Saviour, Rescuer, Deliverer. Jesus is a great name! It beautifully summarises his identity – which is what a name should do. And it’s a powerful name. Powerful in prayer, as we pray in the name of Jesus. Powerful against the powers of darkness, as we rebuke the enemy in the powerful name of Jesus.
But Philippians 2 seems to suggest that there’s another ‘name’ bestowed on this man as a result of his death, resurrection and ascension. So it wouldn’t be Jesus. He already had that name. No, it looks like the name is ‘Lord’.
The Greek word we translate as ‘Lord’ is kurios. It means ‘one in charge’. The boss. The one with authority. That’s the additional name given to Jesus. It’s the highest accolade that could be given to him and the name of great respect and adoration that his followers particularly use. Clearly George Lucas (who directed Star Wars) and JK Rowling (who wrote Harry Potter) knew something of this, which is why they Vader’s and Voldermort’s followers call them by that exact name: ‘Lord’.
This makes sense of the scholarly evidence that suggests the earliest Christian Creed was the simple statement ‘Jesus is Lord’. Not only is it written on some early Christian artefacts and graves but it’s rooted in the earliest documents of the New Testament. In fact the words Paul uses in Philippians 2 – anticipating that day when everyone will call him ‘Lord’ -are probably an extract from an earlier hymn which pre-dates his letter. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul says that to truly say ‘Jesus is Lord’ you need to be inspired by Holy Spirit. And in Romans 10:9 we’re told that ‘if you declare with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’.
So the declaration that Jesus is ‘Lord’ was a simple statement of allegiance. Simple but totally profound. As no longer am I ‘Lord’. Or the king, or my boss at work. No. It’s Jesus. To say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to give your life to him. If Jesus is your ‘Lord’ then he’s in charge. In charge of you. Your time. Your things. Your life.
Philippians 2:11 says something else about this phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’. It says that one day – Judgement Day – everyone will acknowledge who he is. Everyone will bow as they realise, for some maybe reluctantly at first, that he really is ‘the Lord’. On that day every knee will bow. What a day that will be!
But we don’t have to wait until Judgement Day to bow the knee to Christ. We can do it today. Right now. And we can encourage those around us to do the same.
So why not do that today? Acknowledge him as ‘the Lord’. And praise him for all he he has done. And live your life today as one of the glad subjects of the ‘Lord’ Jesus.
As that wonderful hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith so beautifully expressed it:
King of all ages, by angels adored.
Power & authority, splendour & dignity
Bow to his mastery – Jesus is LORD!