A Tree Of Liberty
“Jesus is Lord,” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around a fair amount, like “In God We Trust,” or “God Bless America.” With tremendous enthusiasm, it is warbled like a motto in our Christian prayers and worship, and it is printed on everything from t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper-stickers, and refrigerator magnets. And most of us haven’t the slightest idea what we are saying.
To say that “Jesus is Lord” is to use revolutionary rather than religious language. It means that we have submitted our lives to a King, one to whom we have pledged our ultimate allegiance. It’s not a flag, party, political leader, or even a nation that directs our lives, but the words and way of a Jewish rabbi.
In effect, we are defying all the lesser powers of this current world and confessing that political parties won’t have the final say. Dictators, fierce as they may be, won’t last. Cruelty and oppression are temporary. Ideology – whether it’s communism, capitalism, socialism, or any other ‘ism’ – will pass away, as none of these have the lasting power to bring peace.
After all, what got the early Christians in hot water with the Empire of their day was not that they believed in God – there’s never been a deficit number of God-believing people – it was because their convictions did not allow them to simply “go along” and bless the violent, unjust, corrupt status quo. Because they could not bow the knee or heart to lesser powers parading as Ultimate Authority, they were marked as traitors, sellouts, and regarded as mutinous citizens who could be given no quarter.
In fact, everywhere people of faith are persecuted, from the primitive church to oppressed believers today, said persecution hardly ever involves “religion.” It is always about authoritarianism and totalitarianism: When a state, government, or tyrant demands total, uncompromising allegiance – “Lordship” as it were – it is something people of faith cannot cede.
This seems to play right to the American narrative. Our society was built on resisting overreaching authority, after all, and phrases like, “Don’t tread on me,” and Patrick Henry’s emphatic, “Give me liberty or give me death,” are as popular today as they were in the 1700s.
Such phrases are too often invoked in the name of violence, rebellion, and insurrection. They are used in desire of fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s words about watering “the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But Jesus never overthrew anything by seditious force. Instead, his liberty tree was a cross, and by being trampled underfoot by the world’s authorities, and employing a radically different power, he proved that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Anyone who calls Jesus, “Lord,” will follow this same path, utilize this same power, and resist with this same principle: The path is a cross, the power is love, and the principle is unarmed resistance. To call Jesus, “Lord,” may mean much more than this, but it can never mean less.