I Believe a Man is My Lord
People believe incredible things this time of year: Ornery Grinches give back Christmases; a 250 pound Santa can slide down a chimney, and Texas will beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl (As a Michigander, I couldn't resist). But nothing is more startling than our confession that Jesus is my Lord. When Luther treated the Second Article of the Creed in his Large Catechism he concentrated on these few words, "in Jesus Christ, our Lord."
What does it mean to be a lord? Luther doesn't use it as another way of saying God here. No, he uses it in the sense of the society around him which had lords. Living centuries later, we don't have a clear image of this. A lord was the person who reigned and ruled over you. You looked to him for every good thing, for protection, for help.
Our natural state is to be without a lord. We come into this world as poor captives of the devil. O we think we're free. We think we're not orphans. We think we can stand on our own 2 feet. But no one is so captive, so orphaned, so helpless, as the orphan, slave, or child who stands there stamping his little feet with tear streaks on his face insisting, "I'm not an orphan; I'm not a slave; I'm not a child." This is us in our natural state, regardless of our age, social standing, or family. Christmas specials that have helpless, hapless children in them at the mercy of forces great and evil strike a chord with us because we sense our own plight as fallen sinners.
Being without a lord we were at the mercy of sin and blindness. Surely you remember as a kid ending up in a terrible mess before you even realized it? We are no match for sin. We blindly follow it thinking it's the way to happiness, fulfillment, peace, but we're like children lost in caves stumbling ever deeper into them. Ah, but don't have your heart going out to us lordless children. We're not loveable orphans like Annie or Oliver Twist. No, we confess to being "lost and condemned creatures." The 1991 Catechism changed it to "lost and condemned persons," but I like creatures. I think of the creature from the Black Lagoon. Or a Frankenstein type creature. Creature is not a loveable or even likeable word. It testifies to me that I am lost in sin and under God's wrath and displeasure. Creature that I am, I am condemned to death and sentenced to eternal damnation without counsel, without help, without comfort.
I am in a hopelessly lost condition. I am worse off than Tiny Tim or Frosty who only face temporal not eternal loss and are loveable in their plights. Who will help me with my eternal problem given my hateful disposition? Jesus? How can it be that Jesus has "become my Lord?" This is how Luther phrases it, "become my Lord." But hasn't Jesus, being true God from all eternity, always been my Lord? As God the Son, hasn't He always been my Lord? Yes, but in the Second Article we're also talking about how Jesus became our Lord.
The One who is Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made came from heaven to help me. He became a human being: conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, born of her without sin, born of her under the all the laws God required of man. What chance did orphans, slaves, and children like us have of keeping God's Law to love Him with all our heart and mind? We could only shake our tiny fists at him, mad at Him because of our miserable condition. What chance did waifs, ruffians, and castaways like us have of fulfilling God's Law to love our neighbor as ourselves? We could only view our neighbors as being in competition with us for the bare necessities of life. What we could not do, do not do, and cannot do, Jesus did as one of us. And so He became Lord over us.
But keeping the Law is not enough. There was still hell to pay, suffering to pay, the wrath of God to bear. This too Jesus did for us. Though He is the Son of God He became an orphan like us. Though He reigns over all things, He became a slave like us. Though He is Almighty God, He became a powerless child like us, and suffered, died, and was buried to make satisfaction for our sins, to pay what we owed. He paid not with gold or sliver but with His holy, precious, blood and innocent suffering and death. Jesus became my Lord by purchasing me from the damning power of sin.
There's more. Not only did sin hold me captive but so did Death. It threatened me. Told me it owned me. I was afraid of it, tried to fight against it even as a child fights the boogie man, but to no avail. Death crept ever closer with every passing year, new medical study, and dying loved one. But then Jesus came wedding my human nature to His divine nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And Death could not hold Him. Once He had finished paying for all our sins not even Lord Death had the right or power to swallow the Divine Nature. So Death had to spit Him out. Where the Divine nature of Jesus went our human nature went too. Death continues to rage, threaten, and creep up on us, but being in Jesus Death can no more swallow us than darkness can light.
There's more. Without a lord, not just sin and death held us captive so did the devil. He roared and we feared. He chased and we ran. He lied and we believed those lies. He claimed to rule the world, and we believed it. He claimed that we were at his mercy, and we lived like we were. He paraded before us all the senseless, pointless suffering, sighing and dying in the world and proclaimed God could do nothing about it, and we hung our head. But that was before Jesus came. In our human nature, Jesus took dominion over the devil by ascending to the right hand of God. Now Jesus reigns over all things not only as God but as a Man. Since He shares our human nature, we reign over the devil with Him.
I believe a Man is My Lord. How does this creed, this belief, drive my life? We plainly say how in the third paragraph of the explanation: "that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness." We misunderstand this when we think it means because Jesus is my Lord I have to be, should be, must be, ought to be a better subject of His. Have to, should, must, ought are all law words, and law words have no place in an article of faith called redemption. All 3 articles of the Apostle's Creed are Gospel. They are about what God gives and does for us sinners, not what we do for Him.
This law understanding of redemption fits right into the "purpose driven life" mind set that is popular in churches today. It's not enough to believe the promises of God in Christ that you have been redeemed. It's not enough to receive in the Means of Grace the grace Jesus won for you by His perfect life and innocent suffering and death on the cross. It's not enough to receive the holiness of the Holy Trinity by the means He gives holiness to you: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. No, you are falling short of His purposes for you if that's all you do. Always the Reformed faith tempts the Lutheran faith with, "There has got to be something more."
Does there? What more do you want than to "live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness?" When Luther penned those words in the Small Catechism, he meant them in a totally Gospel way. He did not mean them as people popularly take them: because of what Jesus did for you, you get out there and start being righteous, innocent and blessed. No, righteous, innocent, and blessed is what you are because Jesus has redeemed you a lost and condemned creature.
Let me prove to you that this is what Luther meant. Luther says In the Large Catechism in this same article that Jesus has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness and keeps us there. Jesus has snatched us from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, restored us to His Father's favor and grace. Then Luther says, and here I quote, "As His own possession, He has taken us under His protection and shelter in order that [This is purpose.] He may rule us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life and blessedness."
What a glorious way to live! It's more righteous than Scrooges' new way of life; more innocent than Jimmy Stewart's wonderful life and more blessed than Tiny Tim's. Because Jesus has become your Lord by redeeming you, purchasing you, and making you His own, you now live in His kingdom. He looks out from His castle and sees all that you do as everlastingly righteous, innocent and blessed. Away with this feeling you have that you don't quite measure up; in Jesus you are nothing but righteous. Away with this guilt that plagues you because there is always something wrong with what you do, say, or think. In Jesus you stand always innocent before God. Away with this creeping dread that something bad has to happen to you or your loved one because surely you deserve it. In Jesus, for His sake, you are blest not just today but for all your tomorrows.
In case you think this too good to be true, go back and look at your Small Catechism. There we confess we live "just as" Jesus did when He was risen from the dead." Ask yourself, "What was life like for Jesus after He rose from the dead?" Were sin, death or the devil a threat, a guilt, a worry? No. Was God's purpose for His life fulfilled? Yes. Go, live this way. There is no law that Jesus did not keep in your place, so you are righteous. There is no sin of yours that Jesus did not pay for, so you are innocent. There is no blessing Jesus did not earn for you, so you are blest.
The wonderful life Jimmy Stewart realizes; the changed life Scrooge is given, and the everlasting life Frosty finds, are real for you in Jesus. Live in them, rejoice in them, rest in them. God's purposes for you have been achieved. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Advent (12-15-04); Second Article