To profess that ‘Jesus is Lord’ was to simultaneously protest that ‘Caesar is not Lord.’
The words mean the same thing: Caesar, Christ. They both mean King, Lord.
You cannot affirm one with out renouncing the other.
Which is why in Paul’s day and for centuries after when you submitted to baptism, you’d first be led outside. And by a pool of water, you’d be stripped naked. Every bit of you laid bare, even the naughty bits.
And first you’d face West, the direction where the darkness begins, and you would renounce the powers of this world, the ways of this world, the evils and injustices of this world, the world of More and Might.
Then, leaving that old world behind, you would turn and face East, the direction whence Light comes, and you would affirm your faith in Jesus and everything that new way of life would demand.
In other words, baptism was your pledge of allegiance to the Caesar named Yeshua.
A little history lesson:
A few hundred years after Paul wrote his letters, the Caesar of that day, Constantine, discovered that it would behoove his hold on power to become a Christian and make the Empire Christian too.
Whereas prior to Constantine it took significant conviction to become a Christian, after Constantine it took considerable courage NOT to become a Christian. After Constantine, with the ways of the world ostensibly baptized, what had formerly been renounced became ‘Christian-ish.’
Consequently, what it meant to be a Christian changed. It moved inside, to our heads and hearts. What had been an alternative way in the world became a religion that awaited the world to come. Jesus, as Brian Zahnd likes to say, was demoted from Risen Lord of the Earth to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs.
Which meant ‘faith’ became synonymous with ‘beliefs’ or ‘feelings.’
But for Paul the word faith is best expressed by our word ‘loyalty.’
And for Paul everything God had heretofore revealed to his People telegraphs the way of Christ.
All those strange kosher laws in Leviticus? They anticipated the day when Christ would call his disciples to be a different and distinct People in the world.
‘Eye for an eye?’ It was meant to prepare a People who could turn the other cheek.
The ‘You shall have no other gods’ command was given so that we could recognize that kind of faith when it finally took flesh and dwelled among us.
When Paul writes that Christ is the telos of the Law, he simply dittos what Jesus himself says to kick off his most important sermon: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Another way of saying that is how Paul puts it in a different letter when he writes that ‘Jesus is the eikon of the invisible God.’
The life of Jesus displays the grain of the universe.
And that’s why being loyal to Christ can be so difficult and complicated because if the life of Jesus displays the grain of the universe then Christianity entails a hell of a lot more than believing in Jesus.
It’s about following after Jesus.
The grain of the universe is revealed in the pattern of life that led to the pounding of nails into wood through flesh and bone.
If you’re tracking with me that can sound like bad news as often as it sounds like Gospel. Because if Jesus reveals the grain, the telos, of the universe, if he is now the ascendant Lord of all the nations, then that means:
The way to deal with offenders is to forgive them.
The way to deal with violence is to suffer.
The way to deal with war is to wage peace.
The way to deal with money is to give it away.
And the way to deal with the poor is to befriend them.
The way to deal with enemies is to love them and pray for them.
And the way to deal with a world that runs against the grain is to live on Earth as though you were in Heaven.
Bowing to this King should make us a lot more dysfunctional in our world than we otherwise would have been.
It’s no wonder our culture- Christians included- would prefer us simply to ‘believe.’ Believe in a generic god. Or just believe in the freedom to believe.
The “beauty of nature may lead you to declare the glory of God,” as the Psalmist sings, but the beauty of nature won’t ever lead you to a Jew from Nazareth.
And you can be safe and damn certain it won’t ever lead you to a Cross. Despite what Joel Osteen promises, we’ve no reason to suppose it’ll turn out any better for you than it did for Jesus.
On the other hand, whenever you work against the grain, even when that seems the easiest, most obvious thing to do, eventually you’ll run into difficulty. And ultimately the fruit of your labor will not be beautiful.
Perhaps as much as anything that’s what it means to have faith in Jesus, the telos of the universe, the King of Heaven and Earth. It’s to trust that in the End the shape of his life will have made yours beautiful.
- Props to Hedy Collver for the image