Jesus is not very popular. Never has been, in fact.
Now, I’m totally aware that many people throughout history have spoken highly of Jesus as a good person, a great teacher, a man of love, peace and forgiveness, etc. Many affirm Jesus the person and are cool with him being Savior if necessary. That Jesus is popular. But that’s not Jesus. Not all of him, at least.
Was Jesus a good person and a great teacher? Yes. Did he preach love, peace, and forgiveness? Yes. Is Jesus the Savior? Absolutely. But what’s missing in this description is the fact that Jesus is also Lord.
As Son of God and creator of the universe, Jesus bears an unparalleled authority over everything in his creation. The word “Lord” literally means master, and the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord means two things: that he has the right and authority to do whatever he wants, and that we should submit to his authority and do what he says.
The Lordship of Jesus is precisely what makes him so unpopular. This is nothing new; it’s been happening ever since Jesus’ ministry began. Just days before Jesus would be crucified, the Pharisees approached him in Mark 11:27-28 to question his authority. Their tone was defensive, indignant and accusatory – much like what you’d hear from an angry child screaming “What right do you have to do this to me? You’re not the boss of me!”
The Pharisees had grown tired of Jesus coming in and messing up everything they’d worked so hard to achieve. They wanted freedom from the oppression of Roman rule, but they wanted it their way. In their eyes, Jesus was going about it all wrong. And finally, they’d had enough. Under the leadership and direction of the Pharisees, Israel – God’s chosen people – rejected Jesus, God’s Son.
The temptation for us is to look back at Israel and the Pharisees and condescendingly say, “Well guys, that was dumb!” The reality is that Israel rejected Jesus for the same reason that everyone else does: If God is in control, it means I’m not. If Jesus is Lord, then I can’t be.
Just like the Pharisees and the nation of Israel, we want freedom. We want salvation. We want relief. But we want it on our terms, in our timing, and we want it our way. We’re often willing to “give God a shot,” but when things don’t go the way we want or hope – the tragic death of a child or loved one, an extramarital affair, an unexpected layoff, the stock market crashes, acts of domestic and international terrorism, etc. – our flinch is to try to regain control.
And so we fight, plot, manipulate, micro-manage, overwork, self-medicate – anything it takes to make us feel, even if only for a moment, that we have the control we so desperately want over our own lives and circumstances. Ironically, those things only add to the pressure we feel and burden from which we need to be relieved. We are the Pharisees. We are Israel.
And what we need is the same thing they needed: to see Jesus for who he is as both Savior and Lord, and to relinquish to him the control that he already has. This is easier said than done, and it’s a daily struggle for every Christian. However, it’s in submission to Jesus as Lord that we find the rest and relief for which we so deeply long, and resting and trusting in his goodness as Savior is what allows us to cling to him even in painful circumstances and seemingly unanswered prayers.