No One Can Say (Day 25 of A Simple Lent) | Wednesday
In a most compelling turn, Paul leaves behind the abuse which bothered him yesterday to speak instead of what the blessed community should look like–how it should behave. But he centers it around being able to say “Jesus is Lord.”
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
When Paul writes like this, his style takes on both a “well of course!” and also a deeply profound quality. Because there is a deep sincerity in saying that the Spirit is the mover and the motivator. That we aren’t simply suggesting a metaphysic to believe, but which is otherwise not a significant or tangible part of one’s life. He’s being sincere: the Spirit really does work through us.
For those of us who aren’t Pentecostal or Renewalists, such a suggestion is awfully challenging. It has a magic quality with which we aren’t comfortable.
The phrase that provoked me this morning was “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” I’ll speak to what is significant about the phrase “Jesus is Lord” in a minute, but more significant for my ears was that “no one can say [it]” without the Spirit moving them. No one can say.
Taken literally, this is a stupid statement. It is false. It doesn’t pass the sniff test. Of course anyone could say the phrase “Jesus is Lord” without the Spirit’s provoking. Just find a friend and see if they can say the phrase. Their lips won’t be glued shut like Zechariah’s.
But there is something challenging to follow the suggestion that the Spirit provokes us to say this phrase with intention. To say “Jesus is Lord” and mean it.
The question, then, may not be over whether or not you can physically say it, but whether or not one can mean it without the Spirit pulling her into the relationship described in the phrase. Perhaps the Spirit is necessary to embody the servant relationship to Jesus.
Jesus is Lord
You are probably already familiar with the potency of the phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” I’m just hoping to remind you that it is a revolutionary phrase. It is a phrase of defiance and insurrection. It is a phrase of not only elevation of Jesus, but of placing him above, or worse, literally replacing the lordship of Caesar.
For it was common at the time that the people were to say “Caesar is Lord.” They were compelled by the threat of violence that they must not only worship the Roman emperor as a god, but to declare that very phrase: “Caesar is Lord.” So for Paul to suggest we say “Jesus is Lord” is to re-place Jesus where Caesar is.
Perhaps, Paul argues that unlike our being compelled by law and the threat of violence to say “Caesar is Lord,” we are not being forced to adopt Jesus as Lord through coercion, but through the very compulsion of GOD. That GOD persuades us to make this relationship the real deal. And therefore, we cannot possibly speak of Jesus being Lord without it already being true.
Persuaded By the Spirit
In Mark 8, we have a great compliment for this with these three bits which have a lot to say about faith and about a world in which Caesar is Lord.
- A group of Pharisees demand a sign: they want Jesus to work on their time, not GOD’s.
- Jesus warns about the teaching of the Pharisees and the Rome-imposed-King Herod (as opposed to GOD’s teaching in Jesus).
- Jesus gives sight to the blind man by rubbing his spit over the man’s eyes.
Jesus is in the business of helping people see. His mission isn’t simply compelling people to believe. For the disciples believe intellectually, and yet still mess up. Jesus wants them to see with his eyes, not Caesar’s. Not Herod’s. Not the Temple leadership’s.
Jesus wants us to see the Spirit at work in the world about us.
In love. In diligence. In service. In sacrifice. In connecting with others. When our heart is drawn, not only to the people of our tribal in-group, but to all of GOD’s people. And we can see them through the eyes of Jesus, and we recognize the eyes looking back at us.
Then we know the work of the Spirit.
Daily Office Readings
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This week’s homework is to find how to best embody a life of vocation.
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