By James A. Stewart
WHAT THEN IS THE TRUE EMPHASIS in the message of the evangel? The very appellations of the Gospel clearly convey its message; viz, the lordship of Christ. Here are some of them:
'THE GOSPEL OF GOD . . . concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord . . . declared (designated) to be the Son of God with power. . . by the resurrection from the dead.' (Rom. 1 : 1-4).
'THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST.'
(II Cor. 4: 4. R.V.).
'THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.'
(II Thes. 1 :8).
It is striking to notice that the lordship of Christ is never divorced from His Saviourhood. Wherever He is presented to us in the pages of the New Testament as our precious Saviour, He is also mentioned as God's anointed One.
'GOD my SAVIOUR.' (Luke 1 :47).
'A PRINCE and a SAVIOUR.' (Acts 5 : 31).
'GOD our SAVIOUR.' (Tit. 1 : 3).
'The LORD JESUS CHRIST our SAVIOUR.'
(Tit. 1 : 4)
'The SAVIOUR, the LORD JESUS CHRIST.'
The angelic declaration sums up the person of our Redeemer: 'A SAVIOUR, which is CHRIST THE LORD.' (Luke 2: 11).
In the New Testament the word Saviour occurs twenty-four times, eight of which refer to God the Father as our Saviour. The word Lord occurs five hundred and twenty-two times; Lord Jesus thirty times; and the Lord Jesus Christ eighty-one times. In the book of The Acts our precious Redeemer is called Saviour only twice-'Him hath God exalted . . to be a Prince and a Saviour.' (Acts 5:31); and, 'Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour.' (Acts 13:23). On the other hand it is amazing to notice that the title, 'Lord' is mentioned ninety-two times; 'Lord Jesus' thirteen times; and the 'Lord Jesus Christ' six times, in the same book.
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles we find that Jesus is presented as the risen, glorified Christ at the Father's right hand. 'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.' (Acts 2:32-36). Nowhere do we have such an insight into the contents of the Gospel message as in the apostolic sermons in this book. Here we see the titles of our blessed Redeemer used with the Spirit's guidance and discretion. Here is the Gospel clear and plain. As we study carefully, sentence by sentence, we discover that they preached Jesus Christ as Lord. 'For what we preach is not ourselves, but JESUS CHRIST AS LORD, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake' (II Cor. 4: 5, R.V.). The Revised Version is more correct: 'We preach...Jesus Christ as Lord.'
We note that the emphasis is not so much on the death of Christ as on His resurrection; not so much on His saviourhood as on His lordship. The Apostles' was a three-fold message: The resurrection, the ascension, and consequently, the lordship of Christ. Although it is true that Christ said, 'Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again'! nevertheless, the early evangelists stressed that it was God the Father Who raised His beloved Son from the tomb.
'This Jesus hath God raised up' (Acts 2 : 32).
'Whom God hath raised from the dead' (Acts 3 :15). 'God.. . having raised up his Son Jesus' (Acts 3 : 26).
'Jesus Christ of Nazareth.. . whom God raised from the dead' (Acts 4 : 10).
'The God of our Fathers raised up Jesus' (Acts 5:30).
'Him God raised up the third day' (Acts 10 :40). 'God. . . raised him from the dead' (Acts 17 :31).
Romans chapter ten and verse nine is a Gospel classic for the unsaved. 'Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved' (R.V.). We see in this verse that two things are essential for salvation-confession with the mouth and belief in the heart. The heart is the symbol of the inner life, while the mouth is the symbol of the outer life. 'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh' (Matt. 12 : 34). There must be a heart belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. To believe that God raised Him from the dead, is to believe in the finality and efficacy of His atoning sacrifice. To believe in the resurrection of Christ, is to believe that the precious blood of the Lamb silenced the thunderings of Mount Sinai. To believe that God raised His Son from the dead, is to believe that Christ met the righteous claims of a holy God against the repentant sinner. God stamped His divine approval upon the sacrificial work of His Son in that He raised Him from the dead on the third day. This is the glorious news of the Gospel of the risen Redeemer!
Guilty, vile and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
'Full atonenment ?' can it be?
Hallelujah? What a Saviour!
Lifted up was He to die,
'It is finished,' was His cry
Now is Heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah! What a Saviour
The death of Christ was the payment for our sins, and the resurrection was the receipt. 'Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification' (Rom. 4 : 25).
There must be a confession of Jesus as Lord of the life. Although this includes a public confession of our faith in Christ as Redeemer, it is plainly evident from the New Testament that it also involves the acknowledgment of the entire life to live under the lordship of Christ. That this confession is not a mere lip service is clearly evident from the words of the Saviour, 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven' (Matt. 7 : 21). Paul warns the Corinthian believers, 'No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost' (I Cor. 12:3). Only by the miracle of regeneration and a transformed life is a man able to call Jesus the Lord.
We next discover in the apostolic evangel the preaching of an ascended Lord to the Father's right hand in power and glory.
'Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted' (Acts 2 : 33).
'The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus' (Acts 3 : 13).
'This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner' (Acts 4:11).
'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sta:ding on the right hand of God' (Acts 7 : 56).
The triumphant entry of our glorious Redeemer into the courts of Heaven is tersely expressed by the Holy Ghost in the words, 'Received up into glory' (I Tim. 3 : 16). The Scripture affords the clearest proof of the triumphant manner in which the Lord of life and glory went up on high. In Psalm 68 there is a blessed description of the glorious convoy of angels which attended Him on His royal progress up to Heaven's gates. For even as when He will appear the second time without sin unto salvation, He will be 'revealed from heaven with his mighty angels' (II Thes. 1: 7, and Matt. 16: 27), so also did thousands upon thousands of ministering angels attend upon Him at his triumphant ascension. 'The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels : the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them' (Ps. 68: 17-18).
This triumphant ascension of the blessed Lord is also clearly intimated in Psalm 47: 'O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth. God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding' (Ps. 47: 1-2, 5-7).
Nor are we left without scriptural intimations even of the blessed Lord's reception in the courts of glory. When He reached the gates of Heaven the celestial courts were, as it were, moved at His approach, for then was accomplished that memorable transition recorded in Psalm 24 as thus represented to our faith. It was as if the attendant angels that formed His glorious convoy shouted aloud before Him as the heralds of His approach, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in' (Ps. 24:7). But from within is made the inquiry, 'Who is this King of glory?' The answer is given from without by the attendants of His train of triumph, 'The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.' Then comes forth the universal chorus from without and from within, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory' (Ps. 24:9, 10).
In another scripture the Lord is represented in His glorious ascension as the conquering Christ dragging at his chariot wheels the infernal hosts of hell and openly showing them to all the holy angels as vanquished prisoners. 'And you who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him' (Col. 2:18-15, R.V.).
'Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious,
See the 'Man of Sorrows' now;
From the fight return victorious,
Every knee to Him shall bow.
Crown Him, crown Him!
Crowns become the Victor's brow,
Crown the Saviour! Angels crown Him!
Rich the trophies Jesus brings;
In the seat of power enthrone Him,
While the vault of Heaven rings,
Crown Him? crown Him!
Crown the Saviour King of kings.'
What a glorious truth is that of the ascension of our blessed Lord. It was Peter's explanation of the phenomenon of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). Why are there so few hymns on the ascension of Christ?
Since His ascension His official title is, 'The Lord Jesus Christ.' 'God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ' (Acts 2:36).. This is the official royal proclamation from Heaven.. 'Him hath God exalted. . . to be a Prince and a Saviour' (Acts 5:31). The name Jesus occurs six hundred. and eight times before the ascension, and only sixty-two times afterwards. It is used thirty times in the Acts alone, which is about half the number, to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is now the Enthroned One and Conqueror. The name Jesus, by itself, is mentioned in the Epistles thirty-two times, and like the references in the Acts is used with deep significance to prove the lordship of Christ. Two passages will suffice to illustrate this fact:
'Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father' (Phil. 2 : 9-11); and, 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' (I John 5: 1).
It is striking to notice that the title of 'The Lord Jesus Christ' never appears before the ascension, and that it occurs some eighty-one times afterwards. There is a tendency today to declare the Saviour's death on the Cross for sinners and that alone! While the essential basis of the true Gospel appeal must ever be 'Christ crucified,' it must never leave the hearers with a crucified Christ. The plain fact is that Christ on the Cross can save nobody. The atoning sacrifice of Calvary and the shedding of His precious blood is the foundation of our salvation. But it is a RISEN LORD and that alone which saves. The New Testament Gospel message includes, by presupposition, that Calvary opened up a way whereby a holy God could justify a hell-deserving sinner. 'Being justified freely by his grace through. the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3:24).
It must not be overlooked that when Jesus is received as Lord, He must be received as a crucified Lord. The One Who is now exalted 'in the midst of the throne' is represented as a 'Lamb as it had been slain' (Rev. 5: 6). It is not as though He was Christ only in His sufferings for us, and is now Lord since His exaltation. No, He was 'the Lord of glory' when He was crucified; and it is as the 'Lamb that was slain' that He now receives the worship of the redeemed in Heaven (I Cor. 2 : 9, and Rev. 5: 11, 12). So then it is as the crucified Lord that He must reign in our hearts now. To receive the crucified One as our Lord means to be despised and rejected with Him. We must bear the stigma and the reproach of the Cross of Christ. The acceptance of Christ as Lord means also the crucifixion of the old life of selfishness arid sin. 'They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts' (Gal. 5 : 24). If the crucified One is Lord of our lives, the hand that rules will be a nail-pierced hand. He, as the Captain of our Salvation, will lead us in a path of crucifixion and shame. That is what it means to accept Christ as Lord.