“Jesus Christ Is Lord of All”


Easter

April 5, 2015

 

Text: Acts 10:34-43

         

          Our lesson from Acts today is the Apostle Peter’s first sermon to a non-Jewish audience. A Roman military officer named Cornelius, a God-worshipping Gentile who lived in Caesarea, had a vision telling him to send messengers to summon Simon Peter, who at the time was staying with one Simon the tanner in Joppa. So Cornelius did so. Meanwhile, as the messengers were arriving in Joppa, Peter had a vision in which a sheet was lowered from heaven containing all sorts of animals forbidden for consumption under the Jewish dietary laws. A voice spoke: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter said, “No, Lord, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice replied, “Do not consider unclean what God has made clean.” This happened three times. Then, while Peter was considering what this vision meant, the messengers from Cornelius arrived. The Holy Spirit informed Peter that God had sent these messengers and that Peter was to go with them. So, even though Jews were not supposed to associate or eat with Gentiles, Peter went. Cornelius welcomed him. He had gathered a large group of people to hear what Peter had to say. So Peter preached the sermon that was read as our First Lesson today.

          I believe the central point of Peter’s sermon is this: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. The other things he said were intended to back up that central point. Let’s take a look.

          First, let’s consider what that word “Lord” means. Most of us use it as a title for God or Jesus. But we need to remember that the Bible was written in a time when the prevailing political system was absolute monarchy. A lord in that context was a ruler, an authority figure to whom one owed obedience. The Romans referred to Caesar as their lord. To declare that Jesus is Lord of all was to say that Jesus is greater than any earthly ruler and deserves our utmost obedience.

          The first thing Peter said was, “God does not show partiality. In every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Jesus Christ is Lord of all nations and peoples. God does not show partiality because all people are subject to his lordship. No longer was God to be regarded as the exclusive possession of one particular group of people. And note that Peter describes this as a message of peace God gave to the Israelites. True peace, true shalom, true wholeness and well-being, was not to be achieved by separating from others, not by claiming special status compared to others, but by God being sovereign over all people without showing partiality toward any particular group or individual. And if Jesus is our Lord, since God does not show partiality, neither should we.

          Next Peter told about Jesus’ ministry—how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and endowed him with power. He traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. We read in the Gospels how Jesus had authority over evil spirits and diseases, bringing healing and wholeness to people’s lives. That authority was also given to Jesus’ followers. When Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to teach and to heal, and they came back reporting that even the demons were subject to them, Jesus replied that he had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven. He had seen that the Evil One is defeated.

          God has made Jesus Lord of all. All things are subject to him, even the powers in this world and beyond it that deal in evil and death and destruction, although they still rebel against him. He also taught with authority, and one of the frequent questions for which the religious leaders who challenged him demanded an answer is, “Where do you get your authority?” Of course, most of them were either unwilling or unable to believe Jesus’ authority came from God. Of course, that is often what happens with people who speak with divine authority, such as the Old Testament prophets. Those in power, whether of the secular or religious variety, find their message from God too challenging or too threatening, so they reject the messenger.

          Thus it was that Jesus was put to death by crucifixion, or as Peter put it, “by hanging him on a tree.” In Deuteronomy 21:23 it is written, “Cursed is anyone who is executed by hanging them on a tree,” and it also says for that reason that the body of anyone executed that way had to be buried the same day—instructions that were followed when Jesus was crucified. Not only did Jesus take on himself the curse of sin on our behalf, as Paul reminds us in Galatians when he cites the verse from Deuteronomy, he exercised authority over the curse of sin. Even though we still struggle with sin in our lives, even though we fall short of what God intends for us, we are no longer subject to its curse. We are no longer eternally separated from God because of it. Jesus in dying and rising from the dead took authority over the curse and set us free from it.

          Jesus has been appointed as judge of the living and the dead. He has the authority to decide our fate. And because of our many sins and failings, he could condemn us all if he so chose. However, that is not the purpose for which he came. As John 3:17 reminds us, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world could be saved through him.” Jesus has not only the authority to condemn, but the authority to forgive. He died to forgive our sins. He rose victorious over death, taking away its power over us. As Peter told Cornelius and those gathered in his house, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

          Furthermore, God raised Jesus from the dead. As Lord of all, Jesus has authority even over death. Of course, he had already demonstrated this authority when he raised Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and others from the dead. But those all would eventually die again. Jesus rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven to be forever at the right hand of God, the place of power and authority. It is from there that he continues to rule. However, we humans continue to rebel against him. We practice partiality in our dealings with others. We accuse others of being the devil instead of seeking to bring healing to those oppressed by the devil. We reject the messengers God sends to warn us that we need to change our ways. We refuse to forgive those who do wrong, and often seek revenge. We follow in the ways of death rather than in the ways of life. And then we wonder why the world is such a mess.

          Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He has authority over all things on earth and in heaven. He has authority over your life and mine. Even though we often fail to acknowledge that authority, through his death and resurrection we are forgiven, set free from sin’s curse, and offered new life in him. Let us trust this promise and seek to live accordingly.

                                                                   Amen.

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