Allen Jackson - Are We Awake? - Part 1
It's a privilege to be with you today. Our topic is "Jesus, His Followers, and Politics". I'm often told that Jesus didn't have anything to do with politics, and they generally will quote that passage from Acts chapter 1 when he was asked about the Romans and he said that's none of your business. Well, I would submit to you that Jesus was very much engaged in the current events of his days. He didn't sponsor candidates or endorse parties, but he had a great deal to say about the current events of those who were leading the people, both the religious authorities and the civil authorities. Well, that you implications for you and for me. So grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
God is so good to us. I wanna continue a study that we began last weekend talking about Jesus's followers and politics, because that couldn't annoy anyone. And in this session, I really wanna ask a question. Are we awake? I know the easy answer to that, but is the condition of our heart and our life really reflected in the life we're leading? It's an important question for us. I wanna begin with a passage from Isaiah chapter 59. It'll be familiar to those of you who are a part of the congregation or follow the ministry. It says, "Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, and honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice".
If you ask me to characterize what we're watching these days with a passage of scripture, I really don't believe I could do better than that passage from Isaiah 59, that justice is driven back, righteousness stands at a distance, truth has stumbled in the streets. Truth isn't really welcome any longer. We have a whole new vocabulary for ways to tell lies. We spin things. We posture things. We speak politically or evangelistically. They're all code words for "I'm about to lie to you". We've accepted as normal. We have accepted the ungodly as something that should be celebrated. In fact, I read a quote recently from Charles Krauthammer, and I think it's worth sharing. He said, "It's not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal now must be found to be deviant".
That's the world in which we live. And it's caused tremendous confusion in the church. There's a temptation on our part to retreat and to step back inside the walls of our buildings and go back to doing polite Bible studies, studies that are exegetically correct and hermeneutically appropriate, and discuss the culture of the first century. What did it mean when the message that Jesus delivered to a first century audience that knew about Roman oppression or the agrarian lifestyles of so many of the people? In doing so, we're often tempted to avoid the implications of the gospel in the 21st century. It's far messier to talk about what the gospel means in our culture than it is to talk about what the gospel message meant in the culture of the first century.
And so we find a lot of places where there's a little reluctance, even hesitancy, if not a complete refusal to talk about the implications of the Word of God for now. But I believe if we fail to do that, we fail to be salt and light. It's gonna take a different kind of courage on our part, because you understand intuitively if you haven't understood it really intentionally yet that there is a resistance to that, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not as welcome. He's not as welcome in our public schools or on our college campuses or in the corridors of our courtrooms or our hospitals. We've been watching that pushback. It been subtle, and to a great extent it's been somewhat covert for decades. But now it's broken into the open.
If you have the audacity to suggest that Jesus is Lord and the Word of God is true, it's highly likely you'll be subjected to some expression of a cancel culture. Your opinion'll be labeled misinformation, and the names begin to be hurled at you. All sorts of labels they'll try to affix to you. And we've watched that and it's caused us to retreat. Well, I've come to invite you back into the arena. We can't continue to retreat. I wanna give you a little mantra I introduced in the midst of COVID, "To watch and to listen, to think and to be prepared to act". You have to pay attention. You have to watch and you have to listen. The nonsense is coming at us with such frequency and such regularity that it is disorienting, and it's very easy to become confused. You have to pay attention.
Don't spend 24 hours a day watching your favorite news programming. It's too much. It'll addle your brain. It'll defeat you. Ten minutes a day or so is enough to get the highlights. After that, they just repeat the talking heads. Some of you are conspiracy theorists. Stop it. Twelve hours a day is too much. Get your Bibles out. Start to pray. Start to lift your hands and worship the Lord. Pray in the Spirit. Mobilize your friends to pray. Put yourself into the midst of what God is doing. Get outta the bleachers and stop listening to people that don't know the Lord tell you how to understand what's happening in the world.
One of the tools we watch that's being used widely to manipulate us in some pretty significant ways is language. Language is being altered. Words are being redefined to manipulate thought, attitudes, and behavior. If you just casually pay attention, it seems rather subtle. It's almost hardly worth noting, and it certainly doesn't seem worth the effort to lodge an objection. Yet frequently, if you'll just follow the stream they're trying to engage you with, it will lead you to some point of complete absurdity, or even to the forfeiture of your liberty and freedom. We are told frequently these days, I am told frequently these days, I can put it in first person.
I'm told in multiple ways on a regular basis, "Don't be political. Jesus was not political. The Bible is not political. Christians should not be involved in something political. Jesus didn't establish a political party or seek a political office. Jesus didn't throw out the Romans, therefore Jesus didn't have an interest in earthly governments or authorities". You've probably heard some version or some portion of those statements either directed at you or me or someone else you know that had the boldness to suggest that our Bible should be reflected in our current culture. Well, my first response is that collection of statements is not entirely accurate. It's true that Jesus didn't run for office, in case you didn't know. He did not. Nor did he endorse a candidate.
However, he had a tremendous amount to say and to do with those who were in authority over his people. The religious authorities, the Jewish civil authorities, and the Roman civil authorities, no aspect of authority over the people of his day escaped his notice or avoided his commentary. He was very much engaged in the implications of the Word of God to the people who were around him. We're going to have to recalibrate. You may have noticed that the definition of politics has been expanded. It's no longer limited to those who were seeking an elected office, or something that is related to the affairs of a political party. The word political is now used to describe current events, current values, or cultural trends, and you can quickly be labeled political just for discussing current events or culture.
You know, somebody, "Pastor, you shouldn't talk about that. It's political". I thought, "I'm sorry, I thought it was biblical". For instance, we're told that to oppose abortion is to be political. Well, the sanctity of human life is very much a biblical value. However, if you're in the church community and you favor abortion, you're labeled something different. You're called a champion of personal choice. Apparently if you just listen to the culture, being pro-abortion isn't political. But if you oppose it, that's political. Or perhaps if you advocate for a biblical view of marriage and you just pick up that biblical notion, what a quaint idea that marriage is between a man and a woman.
I'm frequently told I shouldn't be political. On the other hand, within the same community, the Christian community, if you support an expanded definition of marriage, which can include almost any combination of persons, places, or things, the label is very different. You're a progressive thinker. Again, if you support the prevailing wisdom of the day and reject the biblical worldview, it's not political. We're gonna have to be more observant, more aware, more determined, more courageous. It seems especially true for many of the values which are at the heart of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The fundamental precepts of our faith, the Christian worldview, the Christian world, until recently that dominated our culture, if you, again, if you're willing to step into the public square, and I believe these things, the labels they begin to try to affix to you are remarkable. You know, this subtle change, and I say subtle because the changes are seldom announced. The fact that they're manipulating the language is not being announced. They're not saying, "We're expanding the definition of political". They just run at you and say you're filled with hate speech. They're subtle because they're not very often announced, they're just implemented. Changes in definition often result in negative attitudes towards our faith and our belief. Have you noticed?
Well, I reject the labels. I believe we have an assignment to be salt and light, to hold up our biblical perspective, to take the truth of Jesus Christ to our generation, or else we're abandoning our children. And as horrific as I think it is that we have an open border and a debt that is completely out of control, that we're mortgaging our children's future in every imaginable way, it's even worse if we abandon the public square to the objective truth of scripture. We have to have that courage. We have benefitted from that. Those values have shaped our lives and given us opportunities and brought freedom and liberty to us. If we don't have the courage to stand up and to help, then we are abandoning the children around us. They need more than an experience. They need someone with the courage to own the truth.
So let's take a moment and look at scripture with some perspective on God and governments. I'll start with Jesus. I think that's generally a good plan. Isaiah chapter 9 is a Messianic prophecy. It's Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah, but talking about the anticipation of Messiah. So Isaiah 9 and verse 6, "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". You'll see that verse on Christmas cards, the ones that still have the courage to put a verse of scripture on them. It's better than "Happy Holidays".
Now I'm meddling. "Of the increase of his government," verse 7, "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". Very clearly, the imagination, the declaration over the Messiah over Jesus's life is that the government of God will be expressed in the earth through him. In fact, when Jesus taught us to pray, do you remember the prayer? You know the Lord's prayer, the "Our Father," that line in there, "Your kingdom come, your will be done," where? "On earth as it is in heaven".
We're told in the New Testament, we'll look at it in the session that follows this, to pray for those in authority over us, that we might live peaceable lives in all godliness, that all people might come to the knowledge of salvation. To imagine that our faith is not intended to impact those with authority over our lives is to ignore scripture. More than that, I think it's a lack of courage. More plainly, I think it's an expression of cowardice. I'm not arguing for some crude nationalism. I understand God's not an American. When you get to heaven, they'll not play the Star Spangled Banner in the elevators. Having said that, the liberties and freedoms that we enjoy are unprecedented in human history and they have come to us because of the unique perspective, the unique Judeo-Christian heritage of this nation.
And if this generation abandoned those because of the pressure that we feel, we will bear the responsibility for that, not the ungodly. Not the politician that you don't like. Not the party that you prefer not to support. It will be the failure of the church. All throughout scripture, when God's people suffered defeat, it was not because of the prominence or the ability or the strength of their adversaries. It was because of the failure of their own hearts, and if we see that our freedoms and liberties continue to be eroded, it will not be because of expressions of darkness. It will be because we have extinguished the light. Amen.
Matthew 28, Jesus is speaking. This is post-resurrection. He's talking to his closest friends. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit". We like to focus on the disciple-making part. I believe that's a fundamental assignment that we have. But what makes it possible was Jesus said, "I have all the authority. No weapon formed against you will prosper". He gave his disciples some counseling. By the time he was nearing the end of his ministry, he said, "You'll need to be prepared to defend yourself. You're gonna be hated broadly, widely, by all nations because of me". But he said, "If you will accept this assignment, if you will persist in this, I'll watch over you".
And almost his last instructions to them was this reminder of the authority he had. In John 19, Jesus is appearing before Pilate. His life is in the balance. Pilate's a bit frightened, intimidated by Jesus. "They went back into the palace". This is John 19 and verse 9. "'Where do you come from?' he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. And Pilate said 'Do you refuse to speak to me? Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?' And Jesus answered, 'You'd have no power over me if it weren't given to you from above.'" Again, before Jesus makes that declaration to the disciples, he's making that declaration to Pilate. "You think Caesar gives you authority? There's a greater authority than Caesar that's watching over me".
Church, we exist in the earth to be an expression of an authority greater than governments. Following the law if it's evil is not a good plan. We've got to be awakened a bit. Leading with our faith in various realms of authority is at the heart of the narrative of scripture. You know this intuitively if you'll just stop and reflect for a moment. It's just a little bit against conventional wisdom that we hear so frequently. Moses, the greatest leader in the Bible until we get to Jesus, notably for leading the children of Israel, the Hebrew slaves, out of hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery. In Exodus 7, Moses standing before Pharaoh, the powerful leader of the most powerful nation on the earth in that time, said, "'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go".
That was Moses's message to Pharaoh. He didn't say to him, "You need to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob". I would submit to you that Moses's call to Pharaoh was quite political. Let my people go. And Pharaoh in turn desperately wanted to enforce the separation of church and state. "You keep your faith, but don't you meddle with how I'm leading this nation". Pharaoh didn't wanna consider God's perspective or entertain his preferences. Pharaoh felt that to acknowledge God, the God of the Hebrews, would weaken his authority. So he refused to acknowledge God, and the outcome was his empire was devastated.
The idols of Egypt were humiliated. And if we preside over the faith of this generation and we watch God continue to be rejected and idols to be lifted up, if we imagine we're the wealthiest or the most powerful or our military is the strongest or that our technology will save us, they're idols. We will watch them be decimated. If we will stand for the truth of Almighty God, we will see the deliverance. It didn't stop with Moses. It steps right into the New Testament. In John chapter... I'm sorry, in Luke chapter 3, it's John the Baptist. You know his story, many of you.
It's Luke 3:19, "When John rebuked Herod the tetrarch," it's fancy language. Herod was the Jewish governor over the land, and John the Baptist, the man who lived in the desert with no formal claims to power, he didn't have a large following. He may have had a small band of disciples, but he certainly didn't sit in the midst of the Pharisees or the Sadducees or the power brokers amongst the Jewish religious community. He was an outsider. His ministry didn't take place around the temple and all of its opulence and wealth. His ministry took place in the desert, on the shores of the Jordan River. "And John rebuked Herod the tetrarch," he rebuked the governor, "because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done".
John's message was not simply to the people to repent. His message was to those that were leading the nation. He called them on their evil behavior, and it says, "Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison". It's the plainest of language. John publicly rebuked the Jewish governor for his evil behavior. Imagine if we did that today, the labels that would begin. "You're being political".
I would submit to you John was being pretty political. And I would honestly tell you he probably could've lived a much longer life if he would've avoided that. But I would remind you that Jesus had nothing but praise for John. He said of those born amongst women, there was no one greater. I would've expected Jesus to tell us the truth. His response when he heard John had been imprisoned wasn't, "You know, he could never figure out when to be quiet". He didn't look at John's disciples when they came with the message and respond to them as he did to his own disciples so often, "Is he really that dull"?
He didn't do that. Jesus had nothing but commendations for John. It's worth reflecting. God recruited Moses to lead his people to stand against Pharaoh. God had invited Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and stand against all the Canaanite cities and their influence. For the book of Judges, for almost 400 years God recruited leader after leader after leader to stand against the Philistines or the Midianites or whoever might be oppressing his people. You know the judges, Sampson and Gideon. God chose Samuel, the last of the judges, this powerful transitionary figure in our Bibles.
God recruited the first king of Israel, Saul. It was God that sent a prophet to anoint a shepherd boy named David to be the greatest of all the Hebrew kings until we meet the Messiah. God sent his Son, in the language of scripture, to rule over all creation. Jesus recruited himself personally the leaders for the church. "Come follow me," he said, "I'll make you fishers of men". And then he took them on a private course for a three year period preparing them to be the leadership that would be needed for the Jesus story when he went back to heaven. Please don't imagine that God doesn't care about the authority over our lives.
Civil, religious, varying realms of authority. Jesus and his friends in Matthew 10:17, Jesus said, "Be on your guard against men; they'll hand you over to the local councils and they'll flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles". Again, he's coaching his followers. And he said, "You're going to face resistance and hatred. They'll hand you over to religious councils. The religious community will not be happy with you".
We're gonna have to be wiser. We're gonna have to understand the difference between true and false. For far too long, we've been able just to hide beneath the umbrella of church and think we were in a safe place. The apostasy, the falling away within so many expressions of the organized church right now is staggering. I don't say that with any joy. It's sobering. And Jesus said, "On my account, you'll be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them". Jesus understood we would face civil authority.
Hey, leadership matters in our world. It matters in our government. It matters in our homes. It matters in our churches. Let's ask God for his leadership in all of those places in our lives. Let's pray:
Father, thank you. I thank you for your watchful care over our lives, but Lord, you put people in positions of authority. Give us men and women who fear your name in all of those places where decisions are made. We thank you for it, Lord. We trust you, not parties or individuals, but we trust your goodness in our lives. In Jesus's name, amen.