Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What does it mean when we say Jesus Christ is Lord?

Acts 1:15-26

Last week - we celebrated the ascension.

Jesus ascends into heaven. I find it very hard to imagine. So did the disciples: they stand open-mouthed.

The world in which they lived had suddenly got very much bigger. They couldn't make assumptions. There had to be an openness about what could be possible. And very very obviously, they realised that when Jesus said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me', he was speaking the truth.

But so what? How was this going to change the way that they lived, especially now that Jesus was not with them?

And what we read here in this rather unusual reading in Acts is the first attempt of the church to live in the light of the ascension; to live in the light of the fact that Jesus is Lord.

And that is very helpful for us. What does it mean for us to live as servants of Jesus Christ? Yes, it might mean that we are part of the church, that we do church things; but what else? How does it affect what we do on Monday? How does it affect how we live our lives, how we treat other people, how we do business, how we study? How does it affect how we behave as children or parents? How does it affect our interests, our sex lives, our spending, our holidays, our politics, our fitness, our friendships and our enmities? How does it change the way that we make our choices?

And I note three things

1. Because Jesus is Lord, we submit to the authority of the bible
For the apostles, the bible was the Old Testament. But what makes it important for them is not just the fact that they were brought up in a tradition that said that the bible was important.
What makes it important for them is the fact that Jesus sees it as authoritative, and that it points to Jesus and to his life, death and resurrection.

We see that in this passage. The church meets together to decide what to do now that Judas is no longer one of the 12. Peter takes two passages from Psalm 69 and Psalm 109 and understands both of them as referring to what happened to Jesus. In Psalm 69 the person who prays the psalm is scorned, disgraced and shamed. He prays God's judgement on those who revile him: 'May their place be deserted'. In Psalm 109, the person praying is returned evil for good. He prays that his enemy's place of leadership will be taken by another. And Peter sees these verses as pointing to what happened with Judas. He says, 'Judas place is deserted. Another should take his place.' Indeed, Peter goes further and says: 'Therefore it is necessary' (v21). Why? Because scripture says so. And, as Jesus said, 'the scripture cannot be broken'.

The first Christians just had the Old Testament. We have the Old Testament and we have the New Testament. Both of them for us point to Jesus. The New Testament tells us how the Old Testament points us to Jesus - we don't need to do that work again. The New Testament points us, much more obviously, to Jesus - both the Jesus who lived 2000 years ago, and the Jesus who reigns today. And as people who submit to the Lordship of Jesus, it is only right that we should submit to the authority of scripture.

And so to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ really is about living in submission to what the bible teaches.

People argue that the bible contradicts itself. I disagree. Yes, there are a few places where one instruction seems to go against a different instruction. And then we do need to do a bit of background work. But the main message of the bible is amazingly consistent. It is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God; his death and resurrection. It is about trust in Jesus, repentance and faith, forgiveness, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the hope for the coming Kingdom, love. It is all there. It was Mark Twain who said, 'It is not the bits of the bible that I cannot understand that give me difficulty. It is the bits of the bible that I can'.

And the bible is about great ideas, but it is also desperately practical. It is about what or who is at the centre of our lives; how our attitudes to others can be changed; about our priorities in life; it is about living in honest and right relationships. But I do wish to add this. Obedience to the bible is not about primarily about following a new set of rules. Obedience to the bible is first of all about coming to Jesus, trusting him and beginning to live as he lived.

So as people who submit to the ascended Christ, we live under the authority of the scripture. We spend time reading the bible, studying what it says, reflecting on what we are taught - and seeking to live it. There were three friends arguing about which translation they preferred. One said, 'The NIV'; the next, 'The NRSV'. The third said, 'My mother's!' 'What. Has your mother translated the bible?' 'No, but she lives it'

2. Because Jesus is Lord, we pray

This might sound rather basic.
But in v23 and v24 we are told that the disciples who have a decision to make - who should be the new apostle - proposed two people (Joseph and Matthias) and then they prayed.
Very very stupid. What they should have done is made an assessment of the strengths of the existing team, and worked out who would be the most complementary. They should have done some psychological profiling. They should have taken up the references. They should have given the candidates a task to do: perhaps ask them to preach.

And what do they do? They pray!
I am being a bit simplistic. Of course the other things are important. Last week I was with a group interviewing for a deputy head for Guildhall Feoffment. It is important that we do what we can. We have been given minds, each other and a bit of common sense and we need to use that. Certainly the apostles did. They know the job description: they are looking for someone to be an apostle, a leader in the new church, and to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus. They have a person spec: someone who has been with Jesus from the very beginning.

But having got that; and having shortlisted. They do what we forget to do - or, in many situations, are not allowed to do. They pray.

Prayer, of course, is deeply subversive. It is about acknowledging the sovereignty of God. [The baptism commission] The very fact that we do pray means that we think that there is someone to whom it is worth praying.

I'm not talking about the sort of thing that goes under the heading of spirituality or prayer today - which is about centering in on yourself; being still. If we are talking about prayer simply as a way to quieten ourselves down, so that we will think clearer - then we should be more honest and talk about relaxation and breathing exercises. And I'm not knocking it: I crashed as a curate primarily because I had never listened when people talked to me about how to breathe correctly. And of course when we breathe correctly we are calmer and more focussed.

But prayer, Christian prayer, is not about yoga and about breathing correctly. Christian prayer is about being bothered to spend time - even when we are breathing correctly, especially when we are breathing correctly - seeking one who is bigger than us.

And this is not just about praying for church appointments or decisions. You can pray in the classroom or in the meeting room. You can pray in the interview room (out loud if it is permitted; silently, if it is not). You can pray when you are making a decision about whether you should buy a house or a car or a computer or a dress. You can pray when you are going to meet someone.

And when we pray - in this way - and submit our decision and/or what will happen to God - we recognise the authority of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is a totally pointless exercise. And the very fact that we do not pray - or that we keep prayer for church or for church meetings - actually implies that we think that Jesus is Lord of church life and of church people, but that he doesn't have much say in what goes on out in the world. Indeed when we do not pray, and think that it is up to us, we are to all intent purposes, atheists.

Prayer is subversive. Remember Daniel. He was thrown to the lions den because, in praying, he acknowledged a greater power than the power of Darius, the ruler of the then known world. Prayer is the acknowledgement that this world is not controlled by political leaders or by blind fate. It is not ultimately controlled by the principles of natural selection or survival of the fittest, or even by the bigger principle of entropy. It is the acknowledgement that this world is controlled by Jesus Christ

3. That leads me on to my third
point, which is the most difficult.

That to submit to the Lordship of Christ is to believe that God is ultimately in control.

The apostles, having thought, having prayed, then draw lots.

There are two ways of looking at this.

The first is to say that for the Christian there is no such thing as chance.

Now please do not hear me as saying that everything that happens has been determined. Far from it. God gives us far more choice than I think we could possibly dream of. Our decisions do change things. Our prayers change things. And yet, by faith, if Jesus Christ is Lord, we cannot say that there are things that happen by chance.

I am also aware that when I say that God is ultimately in control, it raises very sharply the question of evil and suffering.
If Jesus is in control, then WHY?

Today is not the day to try to answer that question. All I will say is that the belief that there is no such thing as chance is, I would hope, liberating.

If the world is ruled by chance then there is no cause or reason in suffering. Why, for instance, does that parent lose that child? There is no 'why'. It just happened. And don't say that it is not fair, because there is no ultimate criterion of fairness.
If, however, a loving God is in charge of the world, then at least we know that the question that we ask is a valid question. And even though we will probably not find the answer this side of heaven - we believe that there is an answer

As I said, this takes us into areas that for this morning it is better not to go. I am not even sure that I know clearly what I think.
But what I do know is that by choosing to pray and draw lots (in v24), the disciples were not resigned to leaving the decision up to chance. They believed that God would be in the decision.


The second way of looking at this is to say that actually, in the ultimate scheme of things, and in choosing to draw lots, the apostles realised that it did not really matter which of the two was chosen. Of course it mattered to the two people, certainly for the immediate future. It may even have made a difference in the direction that the early church went. But in the ultimate scheme of things, it did not matter for the two men and it did not really matter for the church.

The belief that Jesus is reigning means that we can trust that ultimately his purposes for us and for this creation will be fulfilled. That is why, for instance, we are called to give thanks to God in all situations and for all things. There is nothing that can happen that can frustrate his purpose for the world or for us.


So often we get bogged down with the details. We're like people on a high speed express from London to Edinburgh worrying about which seats we are occupying. It makes absolutely no difference to the final destination of the train. And when like Matthias the lot falls to us, we do get chosen, we do seem to be in the right place at the right time, we really need to remember that. There is no place for pride. And it is also very liberating for us when like Joseph we are are not chosen or we are not in the right place at the right time. It doesn't ultimately matter, because God still loves us, and his final purpose for us - that we will be transformed into the image of his Son will not be frustrated. That is why we are able to give thanks to God in all situations. He is in control.

So to conclude: There are three implications for saying that Jesus is Lord.
1. We believe and obey the scriptures: because Jesus did, and because they point to Jesus
2. We take time to pray: because prayer recognises that Jesus Christ is reigning
3. We trust in God's love, even when we face big disappointments, because nothing can frustrate his loving and good purposes for us and for the world.

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