More Shocking Than Christ

Why We Call Jesus Lord

One of the reasons to read the Old Testament is so you can be shocked at the right times when reading the New Testament. Philippians 2, for example, is a wonderful, glorious passage — but it becomes a shocking passage when read in light of Isaiah 45.

Isaiah 45 records the prophet’s oracle concerning Cyrus, king of Persia. Despite being a pagan ruler, Cyrus is the Lord’s anointed, his christ with a lowercase c (Isaiah 45:1). Though Cyrus does not know Yahweh (God’s personal name, Exodus 3:14), Yahweh knows Cyrus, names Cyrus, calls Cyrus, and equips Cyrus to fulfill God’s purposes by restoring the fortunes of Israel following their exile to Babylon (Isaiah 45:4–5). And Yahweh acts in this way so that all people will know that “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5–6).

“One of the reasons to read the Old Testament is so that you can be shocked when reading the New Testament.”

In fact, the uniqueness of the Lord becomes the dominant theme in the oracle of Isaiah 45. Again and again, Yahweh asserts his unique divine prerogatives. He alone is the Creator God. He forms light and creates darkness (Isaiah 45:7). He sends showers to the earth and causes plants to grow (Isaiah 45:8). He is the potter who forms the clay and the father who makes all mankind (Isaiah 45:9).

God Over All

Isaiah draws our attention back to Genesis 1:

Thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
     (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
      (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
     he formed it to be inhabited!). (Isaiah 45:18)

Not only did he alone create the world, but he alone governs it from beginning to end.

Thus says the Lord,
     the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him [Cyrus]:
“Ask me of things to come;
     will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
I made the earth
     and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
     and I commanded all their host.” (Isaiah 45:11–12)

And not only is Yahweh alone the Creator God; he alone is “a righteous God and a Savior” (Isaiah 45:21). Yahweh is distinct from all the gods of the nations, since the pagans “carry about their wooden idols and keep on praying to a god that cannot save” (Isaiah 45:20). Yet even the nations will one day recognize the futility of their idols and acknowledge the God of Israel (Isaiah 45:14).

There Is No Other

Again and again in this chapter, the Lord, through his prophet, shouts that he alone is God. Hear the trumpet blast of God’s absolute uniqueness sound seven times in this one chapter.

  • Verse 5: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.”
  • Verse 6: “There is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
  • Verse 14: “They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.’”
  • Verse 18: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
  • Verse 21: “Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”
  • Verse 22: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
  • Verse 24: “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength.”

And that is why it is no surprise in this passage when Yahweh declares,

By myself I have sworn;
     from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
     a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
     every tongue shall swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:23)

As the only supreme God, he has no one greater by whom he can swear (Hebrews 6:13), and his sure and certain word establishes that all shall bow to him and him alone. Every tongue will confess that Yahweh is Lord.

One Shocking Name

But what is not surprising in Isaiah 45 becomes unbelievably shocking in Philippians 2. Like Isaiah, Paul is celebrating the anointed of the Lord, Christ Jesus himself. Whereas Cyrus did not know the Lord, Jesus does, and his humility and obedience is the model for our own. Jesus humbled himself, and his obedience extended all the way to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–9).

And then the turn. Because of his humility and his obedience, God has highly exalted him. He has given him the supreme name in the cosmos. And what does this exaltation and name-giving mean? It means that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

“Jesus, the man from Nazareth, is not just a great prophet or the anointed king. He is Lord, the Lord, Yahweh himself.”

Paul knows what he is doing. He knows that this fundamental Christian confession — Jesus Christ is Lord — does not merely declare him to be a human ruler like Herod or Caesar. He knows that he is echoing the words of Isaiah in that great monotheistic chapter. The chapter that rang with “there is no other god” is now shockingly, surprisingly, incredibly redeployed to declare that Jesus, the man from Nazareth, is not just a great prophet or the anointed king. He is Lord, the Lord, Yahweh himself, come in the flesh to rescue and redeem, to suffer and to save.

Yes, Paul knows what he is doing. And he knows that he’s not the first to do so.

Jesus Is Lord

The shepherds heard it first, declared by angel tongues on the night of Jesus’s birth. The good news of great joy for all people shockingly brought together Isaiah’s words in a simple sentence. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Not merely the Lord’s Christ (like David or even Cyrus). This Christ is the Lord himself, now laying aside his divine privileges and emptying himself, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men.

Now when the ends of the earth turn to be saved, they don’t merely turn to the Creator God. They turn to the God-man from Nazareth, the boy from Bethlehem. Jesus is Lord, and there is no other. Jesus is Lord, and there is none like him.