Allen Jackson - Courage Required - Part 1
We've been working through a series talking about Jesus, his followers, and politics because I could be more annoying than normal. And the title for this session is "Courage Required". I really couldn't decide which was better, courage required or obedience required, because they're both necessary. And we could argue which precedes the other, but they're both going to be important for the season that we have entered into, and without courage I don't believe that we will fulfill what we were created for. I don't believe you'll go to heaven without courage. You know, we worry so much about our theology being correct and tight and clean and clear and systematically appropriate, and I'm for that.
I've spend a lot of time and energy on that. But I have come to understand that living the life of a Christ follower is going to take courage, and courage can be built. It can be developed. It is something that is learned and practiced and strengthened, and it's an important component right now in the heart of the church. We are witnessing in a very broad way and not a subtle way, in a rather bold and brazen way the manipulation of language. The meanings of words are being altered and definitions are expanded. I've been present when I was introduced to a man and he was labeled a wife or a woman, and they were labeled a husband.
Our language as it exist does not accommodate those manipulations. And the outcome is a lot of confusion, but this manipulation of language is being used to promote ungodliness and unfortunately it's caused many of us to retreat because whether we understand it just intuitively or we understand it by experience, that we would prefer to avoid the negative labels or the wrath of cancel culture. We don't want to be called sexist or racist or misogynist or xenophobes or whatever else the label they're trying to affix to you might be because you happen to have the courage to stand for and express a biblical worldview. Often even amongst churches and Christians and in Christian settings if we talk about our current culture or current events someone will respond inevitably. I've heard it hundreds of times don't be political, and undoubtedly somebody's going to raise their hand or raise their voice with the oft-repeated line, "Jesus was not involved in politics".
Well, thank you, Obi-Wan. And usually they'll follow it with some, if they have any awareness of Scripture at all, with a little awareness of Romans 1 they'll say, and Acts 1, "Jesus was not concerned about the Romans". Well, if you'll allow me just a moment, both of those last two statements are bad exegesis. They reflect a lack of knowledge of Scripture, or if you prefer just simple cowardice. Jesus very clearly explained that the Romans were the instrument of God's judgment upon his people, that 1st Century audience that he was speaking to, and therefore God was not removing them. They were going to do God's business. He said they will build embankments against the city of Jerusalem, they will tear it apart stone by stone, and they will dash the heads of your babies against the stones. That's Jesus. He had given very clear instructions about the Romans. It was just an uncomfortable message.
Now, if we use that same reasoning that Jesus was not involved in politics, we need to revisit our behaviors a good bit. If we're going to cling to that line, if you're going to defend that and say that's the appropriate track for the people of God and the appropriate lane for us to stay in; then I would submit to you that Jesus did not start a homeless shelter, Jesus didn't open a soup kitchen, Jesus didn't mobilize disaster relief, Jesus didn't teach Sunday school, Jesus did not go on foreign missions. In fact, if he said if you were a foreigner, you were a dog and he wasn't giving you any food. He did. If we really want to be honorary, Jesus didn't wear a suit. I think it's safe to say Jesus didn't even have Wi-Fi.
Now, admittedly most of those ideas have biblical support. I'm not saying they're wrong. But we have taken Scripture and we have made a false biblical narrative to support our lack of activity. And if we don't find the courage to take our biblical worldview and impact the culture in which we live, we will forfeit not only the blessings of God because we cannot live in cowardly disobedience and imagine God will continue to bless us. Jesus did not avoid authority. He didn't avoid religious authority, he confronted it on a very regular basis. He didn't avoid Jewish secular authority. He stood before governors. He didn't avoid Roman political authority. He stood before the Roman authorities in the land of Israel and he asserted his own credentials as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
It's just bad Bible study to suggest that Jesus avoided authority. Jesus gave us some very clear directions, if you'll allow me for just a moment, and I would submit to you for the most part we've ignored them. He said go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He didn't say some of you go or hire an evangelist to go or send a missionary. He gave all of us that assignment. He said he would be with us always to the very end of the age if we accept the assignment. If we accept the assignment, we forfeit his companionship. Jesus said, "The poor you'll have with you always". He did not give us the imagination we would eradicate poverty.
Yes, I believe we have an assignment to help those less fortunate than ourselves, but there's a hubris and an arrogance. There's a humanism in the notion that human beings together will eliminate poverty. Satan exists. His objective is the destruction of humanity, and we see it in the brokenness of human beings and the only resolution to that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when we don't have the courage to assert the truth of the gospel and we choose a social solution rather than God's truth, we abandon people to the destructive forces of evil. That's true. In fact, in the same passage, and it's recorded in all four of the Gospels which is very unique, when Jesus made the comment about the poor you'll have with you always, it's also in the midst of an event where someone is lavishing upon Jesus a very expensive gift.
So maybe we should just extrapolate from that that extravagant gifts for ministers are the pattern. I'm kidding. Jesus also said, "Go and sin no more". We like to talk about his mercy and his grace, but he also looked at a woman who he had shown mercy to and he said, "You need to leave this interaction and sin no more". We have a lot of biblical directives that we don't pay much attention to. We just get heated up about the ones that we think provide us an exit ramp when we're in uncomfortable circumstances.
So I want to take a moment with this notion of living in the sight of God and what that means, to live under the watchful care of God. And I would submit to you, I'll give you the shorthand because I intend to conclude this series, and I don't want to create any confusion. I think there are times that means we'll have to live in civil disobedience. There are ungodly laws, immoral laws, and unjust laws and we have choices to make. I could give you many examples through the history of the church. I'm going to give you some from Scripture. In Exodus chapter 1 it says, "The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 'When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it's a boy, kill him.'"
We've been killing babies for a long, long time. It's not about our Supreme Court or our legal system or the law of the land, it's about the condition of our heart. The sanctity of human life is a biblical principle from the earliest chapters of the Bible to the conclusion. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew boys when they were born. And he said, "'If it's a girl, let her live.' And the midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live". Some of you know the rest of the story. I mean, that's a pretty obvious expression of rebellion. If you don't do that, somebody's going to notice. And they weren't killing the boys, so they got called back on the carpet. Understandable. They put their lives on the line. They're going to forfeit something. They could forfeit a great deal. They get called back on the carpet and they say, "We understand you're not killing the boys".
Do you remember what they did? They lied. They said, "Well, the Hebrew women are so healthy they give birth before we can get there". And it says God honored them for their choices. Doesn't stop there. Some of you prefer the New Testament. In Hebrews 11 we get a commentary on that behavior that we just looked at in Exodus. Says, "By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born. They saw he was no ordinary child, and they weren't afraid of the king's edict". Not only did the midwives not take his life, his parents hid him. "Bad law. We're not honoring it". Some of you prefer the New Testament. Acts chapter 4, different scenario. These are Jesus's closest friends. He recruited them. He entrusted to them the leadership of the church.
In Acts 1, he went back to heaven. By Acts 4, they're already in trouble. The same people that orchestrated Jesus's trial, his arrest, his trial, his condemnation, now they've got the disciples in their crosshairs. I promise you the threat that is being presented to the disciples is very real. It wasn't very many days ago they were hiding behind locked doors afraid they were going to be nailed to Roman crosses and now they've seen Jesus ascend to heaven, they have experienced the day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and they're standing before that same group. "They called them in again," Acts 4:18, "and they commanded them not to speak or to teach at all in the name of Jesus".
That's pretty clear. This is Jewish civil authority. "Don't you speak in the name of Jesus again. Your faith is not welcome in the public square. Your faith isn't welcome in this business setting. Don't you mention the name of Jesus". Somebody told me last night that a friend of theirs was given a contract dozens and dozens of pages long, music contract, and one of the paragraphs in it said, "You are allowed to speak of God, but you're forbidden to talk about Jesus".
Folks, this isn't removed from us. We're watching them on a daily basis in our nation, mock leadership in our Congress because they happen to be out front with their biblical worldview and we stay kind of quiet and shuffle our feet and act like we don't notice. Maybe we don't agree with their politics, so we think, "Well, just keep doing that". "Don't you mention the name of Jesus in this city again". Verse 19, "Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it's right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'" We're not relating theology. We're not arguing points of nuance. We're simply talking about what we have experienced, and we won't stop.
In Acts chapter 5, the next chapter, they're back again and they're being, this time they said, "Look, we told you and you didn't listen. We will close the book on you". And they will. Some of them will be behead, some of them will be murdered. "Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead.'" Now, you know, if you'd have stopped there, I would have commended them for their boldness, for their courage, for their willingness to stand. There's many commendable things at this point. What comes next causes me to rethink my responses because they weren't looking to say the least they could say and get out of the moment. They weren't looking for the most modest response that didn't in some way betray their allegiances. They said, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead".
And here they let it go. Some of them rolling their eyes, "I don't know, but..." "Whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him". And implied in that is, "You're clearly not obeying him, and he hasn't given you anything". And we're witnesses to all of these things. Their backup button is broken by current definitions. Please allow me. They're being political. If we use the current use of that expression they're talking about what happened in the city streets of Jerusalem orchestrated over by Roman authorities, but the machinations of that and the manipulations of that were done by the Jewish religious and civil authorities.
The Romans had a big part in it, and they are pushing it in the face of the leadership in that city and it has consequences. The persecution is going to be ratcheted up. There'll be arrests. There'll be murders. They'll be scattered from the city. There'll be hardship and difficulty and the Jesus's story will be extended. Revelation chapter 1, "I, John..." Of all the apostles, the one closest to Jesus. By the Book of Revelation, John's an old man. His peer group are almost entirely gone. The best we know from church tradition they've been martyred. John's the only one to escape martyrdom. What happened to John? He tells us. "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus".
He wasn't on a cruise, and they had stopped at the beaches of Patmos. There were copper mines there, and the Romans put prisoners there. They worked as slaves in the mines. John is in exile as an old man separated from the church, separated from his friends. He's on an island and he tells us why. Because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He's not a thief. He's not a murderer. He's not an extortionist. He stood up to the civil authorities and continued to tell the Jesus's story. We know he stood up because all the way back years and years earlier in Acts 4 and 5 when he's still something of a new follower, he's still getting his legs under him and ministering in Jesus's absence, he's being threatened with execution and he and Peter and the crew said, "No, no. We're not giving into that".
So I'm not surprised to find him now as an older man with a great deal more life experience, having experienced a great deal more and he said, "You know, I'm on an island this time". And just as an aside, look at how John compares what we share with him in our faith. First sentence, first verse, "I, John, your brother and companion". Now, if I were writing that, I would probably have said in the blessings and the goodness and the mercy of God because I too have been influenced by the contemporary church. I have been a part of it. But that's not what John says. John said, "I'm your brother and your companion in the suffering and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Jesus".
Wow. Look at John 7. This is Jesus talking to the leaders in the temple in Jerusalem. He said, "If a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken..." You're not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath, but they will circumcise children if that's keeping with the day in relation to their birth when the child is supposed to be circumcised. So they're a little hypocritical. There are some things they say you can do on the Sabbath, but then there are some things they say you can't do. And one of the things they'll let you do is circumcise a child if it's the eighth day. So Jesus is poking them a little bit. He said, "If a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath"? 'Cause they're mad 'cause he'll heal people on the Sabbath.
Can you imagine? Such a reckless breaker of the law. "'Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.' At that point some of the people in Jerusalem began to ask, 'Isn't this the man that they're trying to kill?'" Jesus's resistance to the order of the day was so consistent, so persistent, so public that the crowds in Jerusalem understood just by word of mouth that they intended to kill him. He's not pushing on Rome yet, he's pushing on the Jewish religious and civil authorities. He is dismantling their manipulative system that keeps them in power and breeds disobedience to the truth of God. Gee, that doesn't sound familiar at all. And he has stood up to it, and he's pointing out to them their hypocrisy. And the people of the city understand that his life is at risk. I just read it. It's not my inter, the people of Jerusalem be, "Isn't this the man they're trying to kill"?
So I'm not surprised a few days later then when the Romans says, "Who do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus"? They understand the word on the street. They understand the political tone just like we do; the same reason we're quiet, the same reason we deny Jesus, the same reason we act like we're confused about human sexuality, the same reason we're silent when they mutilate our children or put pornography in our schools or terminate our babies' lives or cheer for other forms of immorality or greed because we understand the word on the street. We don't want to be labeled. Let me ask a question. Do you imagine that God's laws are less significant than civil rules? You don't have to answer out loud, but I want you to think about it. Let me ask it a different way.
Do you imagine that the law of the land is more important than God's law? We have to decide. I have to decide. You know, there's a rule. I learned it as a child, but it's being reinforced as an adult that silence is golden. Anybody ever hear that? Well, it's a legitimate question. Is silent really golden? Jesus is standing before Pilate the Roman governor. He's before a political authority. It's a very political scene. And Pilate says to him, "You're a king".
Now, the only, the thing above all others that would cause you to be condemned to crucifixion is if you expressed yourself as a king and companion, against Caesar. No question Caesar is a supreme authority. If you assert that kind of authority, you're finished. And Pilate looks at Jesus. He knows he's innocent. He knows he's not guilty of what he's been charged with, but he's heard this. He's desperately looking for an off ramp. He says, "So you're a king". And Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I'm a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me".
Are you really going to look at me with a straight face and say Jesus wasn't political? One of the most courageous statements he could make as a human being. He just signed his death warrant. He knows how to be quiet. He was silent before Herod. He was silent before the high priest. Isaiah prophesied it about him. Peter picks it up and repeats it about him in his epistle. On most of the occasions where he was questioned, he was silent. He's handing Pilate what he needs to orchestrate the execution. "I'm a king".
A different realm, different authority. He's already talked to Peter about this. He said, "Listen, if I needed troops, we could call some troops". It'd be fun to watch. He's coming back with his troops. You want to be on his side when he gets here. So I want to come back to that question. Is silence golden? I would submit to you, if you'll allow me, that sometimes we are silent because we don't want to forfeit the gold. It's easier for us to be quiet. We don't want to be excluded. We don't want to forfeit something. We don't want the consequence so we just shut down.
I want to pray with you before we go. It seems to me we have been silent in the face of evil for too long. We've been quiet while 60 million children were sacrificed. We've been quiet while marriage was redefined. We've been quiet when they said don't pray in public spaces. Folks, you're going to have to find the courage to use our voices. We don't want to be obnoxious, we don't have to be belligerent, and we certainly don't want to be violent. We've got to speak up. Let's ask the Lord for boldness:
Father, I thank you that you called us to this season, that you've given every one of us influence; and I pray that we'll have the courage to use our voice to be advocates for Jesus of Nazareth and for your principles and your truth in our generation. Thank you for that. In Jesus's name, amen.