John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement and is credited as one of England’s greatest spiritual leaders. John was a godly man who spent his life serving and making the world a much better place. Many churches are named after this great spiritual leader. Kelly and I were married in a church called Wesley United Methodist. We are sitting here today in Pleasant Grove Methodist Church because of John Wesley's influence on the world.
One family that followed this custom was
James and Mary Hardin. James was a Methodist minister in Texas who named his son after the founder of the Methodist movement. Unfortunately, their son, John Wesley Hardin, didn’t live up to his name sakes reputation for Christian love and charity. John Wesley Hardin became a notorious murderer who killed his first victim when he was only 15 years old. John Wesley Hardin murdered 21 men during his treacherous life. Yet despite this, people still name their children “John” or “Wesley”, and even “John Wesley”.
We have been studying the names of God to learn about His character. Today we come to a name that may seem natural for some but may trigger very negative feelings in others. One might be tempted to discard the name altogether, base merely on the negative connotation associated with it. However, we must not blame God for the sinful actions of people--anymore than we should blame John Wesley for John Wesley Hardin's evil actions..
The name of God we study today is Adonai. The Hebrew word Adonai may not seem controversial until we learn the English translation. Adonai means Master.
Master was a common word used in the ancient world. Both paid servants and unpaid slaves referred to their lord as master. In fact, calling someone master was a polite way for anyone to show humility and respect to someone of higher rank. A student called their teacher master—a tradition carried on today in some schools where the principle is called the headmaster.
Unfortunately, what comes to mind for many Americans when we hear the term “Master” is the terrible era of slavery in our country where people bought and sold other human beings as if they were only animals. The term master may bring to mind the terrible way slave master's treated their slaves in this country. however, this is not at all what we mean when we call God Adonai/Master.
God is not like sinful people any more than John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) is like the murderer John Wesley Hardin. In fact, it is precisely because God is our True Master that the world finally concluded slavery is evil. Christian abolitionists diligently argued and convinced the world that it is not right that one human being should own another human being. Their Christian belief that slavery is evil was based largely on their Christian belief that God is already our true master and a man cannot serve two masters (as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24). Many scholars and historians (including non-Christians) argue that slavery could not and would not have been abolished without Christianity.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
There are two things about this passage so far. First, you may recognize this as the words Jesus used in Luke chapter 4. You are absolutely right. Jesus once visited a worship service in his own hometown of Nazareth. He was invited to read the Scripture and preach. Jesus read this very passage from Isaiah 61. Then he preached a sermon saying, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” His sermon made his hometown so furious they tried to throw him off a cliff! (I hope my message today doesn’t have the same effect!)
Second, notice where is says Sovereign Lord (I’ve highlighted it for you in the passage above). This is the English translation of the Hebrew Yahweh Adonai. Yahweh is God’s holy name. It means something like "I am who I am and you can’t control me." Adonai means master.
What has this uncontrollable sovereign master done? He has anointed or chosen Jesus for a special purpose: to bring good news to the poor. Going on there’s more…
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
Are you brokenhearted? Are you trapped by someone or something? Are you imprisoned—literally or figuratively? The Master has Good News for you.
These words of Isaiah were written over 500 years before Christ was born. Originally, they were intended to comfort and console the Israelites who, because of their sin, had been dragged away as captives to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians. Those captives longed for a Messiah who would save them. Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, came preaching these words and giving them new meaning. We are all in need of a Savior chosen to comfort our broken hearts and set us free from captivity. And Jesus goes on sharing His beautiful purpose for being born on earth as God’s Messiah:
2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
Jesus came preaching this Good News, but not everyone wanted to hear it. Some thought He did not have the right to speak these words. He was just the son of a carpenter. Others wanted to cling to their power and position. They didn’t want the world to change—even if it was changing for the better—because it might threaten the life they’d eked out at the expense of others.
Do you want God to be your master? That’s a question we all need to honestly think about. It goes to the very heart of the human condition of sin and rebellion. Most of us do not want anyone to be our master—not even God. We prefer names for God like Savior, Redeemer, and Father. But Master? Not so much.
It is interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Master over 700 times.[i] Jesus is only referred to as Savior 26 times[ii] (the specific original Greek word for “Savior” is actually only used once, by the Samaritans in John 4:42[iii]). Master takes precedence over savior in the New Testament.
We want someone to save us. We don’t want someone to master us.
We are far too much like the younger son in Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-31). Like that rebellious younger son in His story, we chaff against the restraints of God on our life. Who is God that He should tell us how we should live—what we can and can’t do with our own life? Are we not free people? Can we not live however we please (so long as we aren’t hurting anyone else)? It is precisely this attitude that leads so many people to a place where they need someone to save them. The prodigal son in Jesus' story took all his money and went away to a foregn land to live however he pleased. He spent all his money on wild living. When it was all gone, he was destitute and forced to work for a pig farmer. He was starving to death and it was so bad he wished he could eat the slop he was feeding the pigs. That's what "living however we please" often leads to. Look at some of the results of people living however they please in America today. It often leads to financial debt. The average credit card debt in America is $6,000[iv]; the average household debt is $90,000[v]. The total national debt is $28 trillion and is projected to rise to $89 Trillion by the end of the decade[vi]. Living however we please can often lead to poverty, substance abuse, depression, heartache, and even suicide. Ultimately, it leads us to hell. When you won’t let God be your master, by default you invite someone or something else to be your master--and these other things are never kind masters who have your best interest at heart. They will use you up and discard you.
Even good people who work hard, live wisely, and do the right thing are in trouble if they refuse to let God be their master. This is an even more dangerous road to take. For the “good” people of our planet often become self-righteous and say, “I have earned the right to be my own master. I have my life together. I deserve the rewards of my good living. I’m not like those lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent people. I work hard for everything I’ve got. I don’t owe anyone anything.” People who think like this are the blindest people of all because they think the God who created them owes them. They cannot see God has already given them more than they deserve, and they owe Him everything.
I pray that everyone would come to have the attitude where they can come to God and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”
An interesting thing happens when we ask God to be our Master. Instead of treating us as slaves, or even servants, the Master--Adonai--treats us as beloved sons and daughters. Some of the ways the Bible portrays this is that God heals all our hurts and fills us with His Holy Spirit. God gives us royal robe and honors us with a heavenly feast. God makes us co-heirs with His son Jesus. God blesses us with eternal life where their will be no more sin or sickness or suffering.
Jesus showed us the Master’s attitude most vividly in one of his final acts of love for his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. Jesus, the Master, who was with God in the beginning when the world was created and who is God, knelt down like a slave and washed His disciples feet. And he said, whoever among you wants to be the greatest must become the least. And he told them (and us) go and do likewise.