Allen Jackson - Was Jesus "Political"? - Part 2
I am not gonna take the time in this session, but I would quickly in passing point out to you that the Bible is filled with narratives of God's people, God's heroes, engaging in the political arena. Anybody read the book of Esther lately? It's a political thriller. Modern day Iran, the queen is Jewish and nobody knows. Wouldn't that mess up the mullahs today? Hatred in our world is not a new thing. And Esther orchestrates the rescinding of an edict that would've annihilated the Jewish people, and she does it in the halls of the palace through political intrigue. Yes, there's prayer and fasting involved, yes, the people are called upon to cry out to God, but it required people to be engaged in the process. The book of Daniel, have you read that?
The entire context of the book of Daniel is a Jewish man, a slave in a foreign land living in the palace, serving under the authority of foreign kings. The book repeatedly has God's people facing political and cultural pressures. You will remember, I suspect from Sunday school, if you had that privilege, that Daniel's prayer life resulted in a death sentence. His prayer life brought him under threat of the political institutions that he served. And he was condemned to death in a lion's den. It just happened to be a day the lions weren't hungry. And Daniel had to point out to the king who he served that it was actually God that shut the lion's mouths.
In that same book, three of Daniel's friends refused to bow to an idol. Gee, we would never face that kind of a threat today. And it resulted in their condemnation to death. Being thrown into a furnace, you know that story. The Lord himself came and walked with them until they walked out. They didn't even smell like smoke; you can't even make barbecue without smelling like smoke. Jeremiah, one of the prophets in your Bible, he was a prophet who warned that the Babylonians could not be turned back, that God would not provide deliverance from their armies. And there was a whole menu, a large collection of false prophets with the opposite message, a very political message.
There's an enemy coming and the false prophets were saying, "We'll be fine, God always delivers us". And Jeremiah said, "No, he won't. There's nothing you can do. You better learn Babylonian". God provided a messenger with a warning about political, cultural problems. Do you think he stopped doing that? Do you think he's disinterested in our lives outside of a church building, outside of a worship service? Do you think his opinion on your morality, on your sexual behavior, on how you deal with your time and your resources is just theoretical, and as long as you show up for worship, God could care less? Well, in different times there are different messages and different outcomes. This is a problem because it requires us to have some discernment. It requires us to make some decisions. I can give you a couple of very quick examples.
In Isaiah 37, Isaiah's a prophet in Jerusalem. He's a court prophet. Amos is a farmer, not Isaiah. Isaiah's a prophet of the purple. He's very comfortable in the halls of the palace with all of the intrigue that goes on with the directions of nations. He's the counselor to the king, to multiple kings. And this is the message, this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria. Isaiah is going with a message about another nation. I think that meets our criteria for what would be labeled in our day political. "He won't enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He'll not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant"!
You read that, and if you weren't a biblical, if you weren't reading carefully, you might think David was the contemporary of Isaiah, but he wasn't. He died hundreds of years earlier. But God says to Isaiah, "Because of the character of David, I will defend the city that he established as our capital". That's an amazing statement. May I suggest you could live in such a way that a hundred years from now God would be making decisions on earth based upon your faithfulness to him. You wanna leave a legacy for your children, leave a legacy of faith; they'll spend your money. God will honor his covenant with your faithfulness. It's a better aspiration, it's a better goal. It's a better use of your thought, your strength, your energy and your heart. But the message through Isaiah was, "I will defend this city; the Assyrians will not take it".
The Assyrians were the most powerful military of their day. The people of Jerusalem had no ability to defend themselves, it was hopeless. And God said, "I will do it". And he delivered the message through Isaiah. The result of that is an idea in the minds of the citizens that God will defend us when we're greatly outnumbered, when the technology of our enemies is greater than our technology, that we will be victorious. That does something to the psyche of a people. They begin to believe they can't be defeated. It brings with it an arrogance and a pride and a disdain for God. Does that sound familiar? That they lived with so many blessings for so long and such freedom, even when it seemed improbable, if not impossible, that they began to imagine that there was simply nothing that they could do that would cause them to forfeit that.
Well, in the book of Jeremiah, another prophet, "The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 'I'm the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?' Therefore, this is what the Lord says: 'I'm about to hand this city over to the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who will capture it. The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; and they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people provoked me to anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.'" He said, "You have been idolaters, and you're going to Babylon".
Same God, same delivery system, different prophets, different times. You see, I think there's a convenience and a deception in saying God isn't interested in political things. As if we ignore that arena, then we're protected from any outcome. Folks, if our faith does not impact the decisions of our communities, our schools, the places where we work and our nation, we will limit our freedoms. Our freedoms have come from God. Now, I wanna go back, with that bit of background I wanna go back to Jesus and his audience because the Babylonian story and the Assyrian story I think are helpful in understanding what Jesus was saying. In Acts chapter 1, he said to the disciples, the disciples wanted to know, "When are you gonna kick out the Romans"?
It's a little disheartening. I'm surprised Jesus didn't say at that point, "Are you really still so dull"? 'Cause I'm pretty certain he rolled his eyes, my opinion. But in Luke 19... in fact, I've chosen passages. Do you remember who the author of the book of Acts is? Luke, he wrote the gospel of Luke to tell the story of Jesus' life and the book of Acts to tell the story of Jesus' friends. So there's a consistency of thought, there's a consistency of authorship. So what we read in Luke is carried over into the book of Acts.
In Luke 19, "As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and he said, 'If you, even you, had known only on this day what would bring you peace, but it's now hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They'll dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They'll not leave one stone on another, because you didn't recognize the time of God's coming to you.'" Jesus just made a prophetic announcement about the city and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I would submit to you that by using our current definitions, Jesus was being very political. He said, "Your enemies are coming. There's nothing you can do to defend yourself, and they're gonna dash the heads of your babies against the stones of this city".
Sounds a lot like Jeremiah to me. Jesus was speaking about the arrival of the Roman legions who would besiege the city of Jerusalem within 40 years of his crucifixion. It was the year 70 they came; five legions came to Jerusalem. They marched from throughout Europe and the Middle East to surround that city. If you visit Jerusalem today and you stand on the Mount of Olives looking towards the city, you can see the remains of the Roman siege ramps that was built against the base of the Temple Mount from Jesus' day; it's still there. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God, that is the truth. But he also warned about the real life consequences of ignoring the principles of God's kingdom and taking for granted the blessings of God.
In Luke 21, Jesus again, "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea," that's the region immediately surrounding Jerusalem. "flee to the mountains. Let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment and fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers. There'll be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They'll fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles," the non-Jews, "until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled".
Jesus has spoken in the plainest of language about the future of Jerusalem. It's not ambiguous. It's no more indistinct than the many times Jesus said to the disciples, "I'm going to Jerusalem. I'll be betrayed, arrested, I'll be tortured, I'll be crucified. I'll die, I'll be buried". He told them over and over and over again, and when it happened, they were shocked. True, nachon? Well, long before Acts chapter 1... I put the verse back in your notes. This is their question.
Now, this is post resurrection. They realized they were wrong, that they didn't hear, that they didn't understand, they weren't prepared, they know he's the Messiah, they could not envision a messiah whom the Romans could conquer, because they'd been living with the hope of something else. And beyond any imagination they watched him be arrested, they watched him be beaten beyond recognition, and then unthinkably nailed to a Roman cross to the point that they were hiding; they knew they were next. Their dreams had been dashed, their hopes had been shredded. They've got no imagination that what they had thought, they're confused and conflicted. And in John 20, Jesus steps into the room. They'd been to the tomb earlier in the day. It's empty, and they're confused. "Where is he, where's the body, we can't find him". The women saw some angels, but you know them. And Jesus stepped into the room, and he showed them his hands and his feet. "Stop doubting, believe". He breathed on them, "Receive the Holy Spirit".
Forty days later, they've been with Jesus, he's been teaching them, opening their hearts and minds to understand. Acts chapter 1, this is just before the ascension. This is their last question to the Lord. "When they met together, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" And as he was giving the lecture on the bottom of the screen, it went across, see Luke 19, see Luke 21. Asked and answered. No! Luke wrote it down. "That's not for you to know". The anticipation of a Messiah who would deliver from political oppression was so deeply ingrained that even after the resurrection and 40 days with Jesus, they are still struggling to understand, because their hope, their dreams, their cultural preparation, the messages in synagogue, everything in their history has fed to them this notion of a Messiah as a deliverer.
And they have this long history, far longer than any history we hold of God as a deliverer, a Messiah who will be delivered. The book of Judges with Gideon, and Samson, and Samuel, and then the stories of David and Goliath and the prophets and the Assyrians being turned back. If you visit Israel today, they've excavated the wall that Hezekiah built because the Assyrians were coming and they will proudly... modern day Israelis will show you that wall and say, "God delivered us. We found Assyrian armor on the outside of that wall". It's impossible for us to imagine the degree to which that was a part of their imagination.
So when Jesus said, "They're gonna besiege this city and there's nothing you can do," they could scarcely believe it. The only group where there's any real historical record that gave any credence to what Jesus said in Luke 21 was that newly emerging group in the Jewish community that believed Jesus was the Messiah. See, the Roman siege was put in place, and then Caesar died, and the general that was put in overseeing the siege went back to Rome to put his hat in the ring to be Caesar, which he became. And the siege was lifted for a little bit of time. And when that happened, one group of people exited Jerusalem. It was that small subset of the population that believed Jesus was the Messiah, the ones that hadn't been scattered by the persecution, that had already broken out against them; many had fled the city already.
It's the first real time, the first time in the historical record where there's a significant gap between the broader Jewish population and those that believe Jesus is the Messiah because they felt like they abandoned them. They left the city. Jesus had told them what was coming and they believed him. The disciples were still trying to put that together in Acts chapter 1. It wasn't that Jesus was standing apart from the systems or the political authorities of his day; he'd already spoken to them, and he's about done, it's time to go. "I need to focus you on the assignment. You're gonna receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you'll be my witnesses. Deliverance isn't coming".
I would submit to you that our problem is not political. I've said it to you a hundred times. I would submit to you our problem is the heart of God's people, that if we will change our hearts, God will extend our freedoms and our liberties. And if we don't, they will be forfeited. Now, our theology says it's easier to believe it's the end of the world. And it could be the end of the age. The end of the age, or the end of an empire, the outcome for you and I means tremendous change either way. And I wanna encourage you to shake off the tendency to try to resurrect something from the past. Recognize times have changed, and the response of your faith will need to be different, not the essence of your faith, not what you believe, the gospel is sufficient but the expression of it for this time is important.
And stop imagining someone else is the problem. Just simply begin to say with humility, "Lord, I wanna honor you, I wanna follow you". I'll give you one more passage and we're done. Matthew 21. I've changed authors now, but it's still on point. Jesus has told them about political powers that are gonna change. He has a message for the Jewish leaders, for the power brokers amongst the Jewish community. He said, "I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls onto this stone," he's speaking of himself, "will be broken to pieces, but on whom it falls, it will be crushed. And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them, and they looked for a way to arrest him".
You understand there's an alternative there. They could have looked for a way to have a conference with him, they could have asked for a private meeting and some further understanding. They could have said to him, "We recognize you have an authority that we don't have. We don't walk on the water, we don't make wine from water, we don't open blind eyes, we don't speak to the wind and the waves, we don't raise the dead. We see in you clear evidence of something that fits into our narrative as a people, but we don't understand. Could you help us understand"?
That's how he recruited Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, and enormous crowds, thousands of people. But the leaders of the Jewish community, they looked for a way to arrest him. They had no intention of forfeiting the homes, and the privilege, and the power, and their plans, and their dreams. They didn't wanna be intruded upon by the presentation of the kingdom of God. Does it sound familiar? "But we're the covenant people of God, we're the children of Abraham," that's what they said to him. "We're the children of Abraham, and we have a long track record of God's involvement with us". And Jesus looked at them with exasperation and said, "God can make children of Abraham out of the rocks".
You put your pride in the wrong things. Is it possible we've done something similarly, that we put our trust in a heritage, in our economy, in our education? Do we think we're unassailable? Do we think nothing could be forfeited? Do we think we can endorse immorality, and ungodliness, and idolatry, and wickedness, and stay silent in the face of it because our adversaries call us names? Do we imagine that the fear of forfeiture of something that we can't keep anyway rather than side for the kingdom of Almighty God is really the best pathway forward? So we say with this rather cliché like attitude, "Well, Jesus wasn't political".
Oh, I disagree mon ami. I don't think he ran for office, I don't think he started a political party, but I think he talked to the people that would listen about the implications of political forces in their lives that extended from their spiritual condition. And I believe he'll give us an awareness if we're willing to listen. It's easy to imagine that the problem is someone else. It's easy to be mad at the White House or Congress or whomever you don't like. And if you don't believe there's divisions, spend a few minutes in social media, just a few, it'll make you nuts. I brought you a prayer. In Matthew 21, Jesus placed the nation under interdict. He said, "You're gonna be separate from the protection that you have known. You're gonna face a loss of opportunity, a forfeiture of what you hold, because you wouldn't recognize the day of God's coming to you".
Folks, let's not be that generation. Let's not point at all the deliverances of the past, and our past is filled with God's sovereign intervention on our part, let's decide to become the generation that bows our knee, and bows our head, and yields our will to the authority of God. Let's go all in, let's go all in. You're watching the faithfulness of God be displayed in the Middle East. Tiny Israel, a relatively insignificant group of people, completely outnumbered and out resourced, and yet they flourished to the consternation of their enemies. God will watch over his Word. What did Jesus say? Every bit of it will be fulfilled. You wanna be standing with the authority of God, whatever's coming in the earth.
Why don't you stand with me? I took a prayer from Daniel chapter 9. I gave you the references 'cause I tweaked a few of the pronouns. But the prayer comes from Daniel 9. Daniel realized from studying Scripture that it was almost time to go home, and he began to pray. But it's what he prayed that strikes me as unique. We've looked at it before. He didn't begin to pray triumphantly and boldly declare; he began to repent.
Now, he's lived his whole life as a slave because of the ungodliness of the previous generations. He could have been filled with anger and bitterness and resentment, but that's not there. He identifies, he puts himself in the midst of those who were ungodly. And rather than saying, "Them," he says, "We". So I want to invite you to a prayer of repentance because on our watch, we are witnessing the most precipitous decline of Christian influence in the history of the church. And we're struggling to find our voice, but I believe God is awakening us. Let's read this prayer together:
Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of darkness with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from our cities and our land. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made us an object of scorn to all those around us. Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servants. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of this generation. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. Amen, hallelujah.