Jesus and Politics

The news on Kinship Christian Radio and really, all the media all over the country, has lately been describing an intensely political time in our nation’s history. The tension right now seems tighter than the A string on a soprano ukulele.


But, before I go off on politics, let me start with a seemingly-unrelated story:


A couple of years ago, I was blessed to be able to attend a Passion Play at a church known simply “Frater” in Guatemala City. The official name is “Fraternidad Cristiana de Guatemala” (Christian Fraternity of Guatemala) and it’s an enormous church with seating for probably 10,000 people.


It was an ambitious production with an enormous cast, amazing music, and Pharisees whose shoes lit up when they danced. (I am unsure of the theological significance of that detail, but it may have had something to do with the pride and haughtiness of the Pharisees.)


Now, I speak very little Spanish, but I recognized when they got to the scene where the Pharisees set out to trap Jesus with the question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:20-26.)


And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:13-17 ESV)


In the play, when Jesus returned that denarius, he flipped it through the air. It arced gracefully and powerfully into the hands of an open-mouthed Pharisee who was astounded not only at Jesus’ reply but his utter lack of regard for the craftiness of their question. Jesus had already turned his back and was walking away by the time the Pharisee caught the coin.


Make no mistake, this was a trap and it was a political trap. The account in Luke specifically says, “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.” Luke 20:20b (NLT) The play at Frater may have dramatized the action of returning that denarius, but the point Jesus was making was intensely dramatic in that it illustrated just what he thought about their politics.


When the Pharisees finally did succeed in their plot and Jesus stood before Pilate as one accused of a crime worthy of death in John 18 and 19, Pilate wanted to know if Jesus called himself “King of the Jews.” 


Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 (NLT)


Pilate’s concern was political. He didn’t want some rebel challenging his authority or that of the Romans.


After Pilate had ordered Jesus flogged, he stood before Pilate refusing to answer his questions.


Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:10&11a (NLT)


Jesus was absolutely unimpressed by Pilate’s political power –even the power of life and death over him.


Let’s jump way back to 1 Samuel 8 when the elders of Israel wanted a king. Even though Samuel warned them about all the things a king would do and all that it would cost them, they wanted someone to rule over them, judge them, and lead them into battle. And God tells Samuel:


“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.” 1 Samuel 8:7 (NLT)


They rejected a heavenly kingdom for an earthly kingdom. Samuel warned them that a day would come when they would beg God for relief from this king they were demanding, but He would not help them. (1 Samuel 8:18) Even though Israel had been ruled by a system of judges in a heavenly system, they chose an earthly political system instead.


We have long been taught that God has three answers to prayer: “Yes.” “No.” And “Wait.” In the case of Israel’s prayers for a king, God said, “Yes,” –but that doesn’t mean He blessed it. 


At this particular moment in the history of this nation whose official motto is “In God we trust,” the tone has become so political that it seems nearly impossible to be spiritual without getting wrapped up in the politics of it all. But Jesus was anything but political. He purposely and divinely diverted political moments into heavenly, spiritual moments. His focus was relentless. His intent was never diluted, never sidetracked. 


And that purpose was showing us that God loves us. Jesus came to die on a cross to save us from our sin. That purpose was a great disappointment to those who thought Messiah would come to free the nation of Israel from the political oppression of the Romans. But the freedom that Jesus brought was from sin and death. 


And, over the course of the twenty centuries since that time, no one has changed the world more than Jesus Christ. No one has set more souls free than our Lord and Savior. No one has made it more clear what is really important.


Politics is a game played by flawed human beings wrongly for the purpose of wealth and power and rightly to leave this world a better place than we found it. Yes, our personal politics should reflect our spiritual values, but we should not let our politics come between us and the Kingdom of the One True King.


I’m thinking that what I give up for Lent this year is my tendency to convey a political message when I could and should be conveying an eternal message. 


Today’s Praise

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:14 (NIV)


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