Churchill once said that politics is
“The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
Politics can be tricky. It’s very personal though it does not just affect you personally. For something that caries such huge ramifications, I believe it is essential to talk about it. We need constructive conversations and hear different opinions.
While campaigning in 1900, someone exclaimed to Churchill: “Vote for you? Why, I’d rather vote for the Devil!” to which Churchill replied, “I understand,… But in case your friend is not running, may I count on your support?”
In this blog series, we are not looking at any political party. We will not be looking at specific platforms. I will not be telling you how to vote. What we will be doing is speaking of the principles in which Jesus came, lived, and how he told us to live. Though the political landscape is vastly different from now–incomparable even, that doesn’t mean that there are not very important principles.
Because politics can divisive, I’m going to leave you with one last story before we jump into things.
A newly elected Churchill had a moustache to show his dignity and maturity. One time a woman came up to him and said forthrightly: “There are two things I don’t like about you, Mr. Churchill–your politics and your moustache.” “My dear Madam,” he replied, “pray do not disturb yourself. You are not likely to come into contact with either.”
Is the Bible political? If it is, what does that look like, and what does it say about Jesus’ ministry?
To fully understand the political nature of the Scriptures, we must understand the culture and what was happening. Israel didn’t rule its self. They didn’t have a real king. They had no political power. Israel had bounced between Babylonia, Persian, Greek, and now in Jesus’ day, Roman forces. This type of rule was brutal. It was violent and built upon keeping the other group down, oppressing, and extreme taxation. Julius Caesar, through a brutal war, took control of the Roman Empire and spread the Good News of a newly united empire. There now would be peace on earth. Runners ran with this gospel to all corners of the empire. Later when Julius’ adopted son Augustus Caesar took over, he declared Julius to be divine thus making him the ‘son of god.'” Now let’s turn to three critical scriptures referring to what Jesus came to accomplish.
Understand this is an oppressed group of people reading about a Messiah. Hear what is being said through their ears.
The first is from Isaiah 9.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Is 9:6–7
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Do you hear the trigger words that would cause hope to rise in the heart of an ancient Jew under Roman rule? This passage speaks of a Messiah long before Jesus lived. This passage helps to inform what the Jewish people in Jesus’ time would expect of their Messiah. Now let’s add the angels’ message about Jesus. Remember the trigger words.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Lk 2:10–14
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Then in Matthew, Herod is scared to death about this coming king whom the wise men are saying they are visiting. This language doesn’t just have words that trigger something political these are political terms. In a world where there was no separation and fragmentation of life, Jewish people of the time cannot help but hear that Jesus has come to upheave the political system.
The disciples thought it was a physical kingdom, but Jesus was speaking of something much more powerful–a kingdom that rules the material, and that’s a spiritual kingdom. Though they begin and manifest themselves very differently, we must not see a separation in them. They were not separated for Isaiah, Luke, Matthew, or Jesus. These two kingdoms are intertwined. What we see is that even Herod and Pilot felt threatened.
If there were no political ramifications surrounding Jesus’ birth, then why was Herod fearful and start killing toddlers (Matthew 2:13)? If Jesus’ life wasn’t political, why was Roman threatened, and why did Jesus die the way he did?
We will be looking at the explicit teachings of Jesus in the next blog. Before we do, we must see how deeply
John Yoder tells us of these terms Good News and kingdom,
“It hardly needs to be argued that ‘kingdom is a political term; the common Bible reader is less aware that ‘gospel’ as well means not just any old welcome report but the kind of publicly important proclamation that is worth sending with a runner and holding a celebration for when it is received.”
N.T. Wright further points out,
“The message was carved in stone, on monuments and in inscriptions, around the known world; ‘Good news! We have an Emperor! Justice, Peace, Security, and Prosperity are ours forever! The Song of God has become King of the World!”
It sounds like they are talking about Jesus. However, they are not. Imagine what the Romans and Jews would hear in Jesus and the New Testament writers’ language. Wright continues,
“The message of the gospel is the good news that Jesus is the one true ’emporer,’ ruling the world with his own brand of self-giving love.”
While Augustus and Herod took, Jesus came to give.
The Disciples weren’t crazy for thinking Jesus had a political agenda, he did. When we speak of the disciples getting it wrong, it’s the nature of how the revolution that would take place that was wrong rather than that a revolution itself would happen.
The political nature of Jesus is further propelled by the question, why did Jesus die? Greg Boyd points out,
“In the political world of Jesus’s day, a crucified messiah’ was nothing short of an oxymoron.”
The crucifixion wasn’t something concocted by the first Christians to win people to their side. As much as the Jewish leaders influenced the process, they weren’t in charge. They were the occupied nation. Think of it as the black leaders in the height of apartheid rule in South Africa being able to force an execution, not very likely. As Yoder points out, this only leaves us with one option.
“Herod cannot be seeking to kill Jesus for heresy or prophecy; sedition would be the only possible charge.”
We know this further from how Jesus died. Crucifixion was meant to brutally humiliate a victim who threatened Rome while also acting as a warning to others of their insurrection. Jesus hung on the cross with the charges nailed above his head. What were they? Luke 23 tells us,
“There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.” Lk 23:38
The sign stated Jesus’ political crime. He was a threat against Herod and Augustus. Jesus had to die because his kingdom was not compatible with theirs.
Even though the Roman rule is vastly different from our governing authorities, even though we choose our leader, that does not mean that it has no effect on us today. Any kingdom built upon a man or woman is a direct contrast to the kingdom of God. Why? Because we are imperfect. However, I don’t think that this means we retreat or not get involved in politics, or don’t vote.
On the contrary, let’s engage, get involved, and vote. We must vote with a Jesus conscience. We need to be asking ourselves these questions.
These are important questions. How they manifest is not clear. As a follower of Jesus, we must think through these questions as we vote.
Jesus doesn’t tell you how to vote. He gave you a brain. We also have a community so you can wrestle with these questions. Most importantly, Jesus gave you the Holy Spirit to help you, in community, to explore the Scriptures, your heart and experiences, and in prayer to know where He is guiding you.
What are some of your thoughts on the politic of Jesus?
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