The events that are unfolding in the United States are troubling from many angles. Many Christians pinned their immediate and long term hopes on Donald Trump. With Biden as President, the fight against the killing of the unborn has been dealt a significant blow.
But there are many other problems. The racial divide, polarization, political fringe groups, extreme rhetoric, threats of violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, an abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by media, our ability to choose our own tailored news, hatred for people who don’t think like us, an unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world. He didn’t tell us to take up arms and fight it. He said we should follow him, spread the Gospel and make disciples.
His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus didn’t come to empower the Zealots, but to turn them into self-sacrificing servants of God and His kingdom – spreading the Gospel and making disciples.
Islam spreads by the sword. The Gospel spreads by people who wash others’ feet, turn the other cheek and love God, neighbors and even enemies. The Christian wields not a political flag, but a cross that he carries on his own back.
If we are going to fight for the mission of Jesus, our fight should be “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. (Luke 4:18-19) This was how Jesus described his own purpose on the day when he stood up in the temple and announced his ministry.
Should we not follow him?
Jesus was quoting from the Isaiah scroll when he said these things. Isaiah 61:1-2 says it this way:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor [afflicted];
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….
If we are going to take up our crosses and follow after Jesus, we need to do what Jesus did the way he did it. If he described his own purpose and ministry this way, we should following after him and doing what he did.
I don’t see the idea of forcibly and defiantly wielding political power and influence in this description. It doesn’t preclude working within political power structures for the purpose of accomplishing Christ’s mission, but his goal was the kingdom of God – not the perpetuation in power of earthly kingdoms.
Taking a closer look at the words Jesus spoke, much of it involves proclaiming (speaking): Proclaiming good news to the poor/afflicted, liberty to the captives, the opening of prison to those who are bound and the year of our Lord’s favor. The only action words in the description of Christ’s mission (other than “to proclaim”) are the words “to bind up the brokenhearted” (or give sight to the blind).
The word translated “bind up” is chabash, which literally means to bind or bind up, with the idea (among other things) of bandaging or wrapping a wound and, figuratively, comforting the distressed. This is the description of the ministry of Jesus as described by himself, referencing Isaiah.
I would not say that this is all that Jesus came to do, but it is obviously so fundamental and central to his purpose that this is what he focused on when he first announced his public ministry. It’s a point of reference for everything else. If we interpret his message inconsistently with this point of reference, we are straying from his message – and the Gospel itself.
The Gospel, of course, centers on the death and resurrection of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, the redemption offered to us from God and the coming of His kingdom when God will right all the wrongs, wipe away every tear and usher us into eternal relationship with God as His children. (See The Gospel in a Nutshell) This is the good news Jesus announced!
I wrote yesterday on how Christians should respond to authority, even when that authority is tyrannical, by submitting to it. As with any rule, there are exceptions. I noted two: preaching the Gospel in the face of law that forbids it (citing Peter, John and Paul) and refusing to renounce God and bow to other gods (like Daniel). There may be other examples of exceptions to defying authority on Scriptural grounds, but they are few.
How we stand in this world full of tribulation and chaos, how we conduct ourselves and live out our Christian witness, what we say and do, matters. We are to be a light set on a hill. We are to be salt and light.
Salt is most useful for seasoning when it doesn’t overpower the food. As a preservative, salt works not only to preserve, but to soften over time. Salt flavors food, but it doesn’t become the food on which it acts. When the food overwhelms the salt, it loses it favor – its distinctiveness. We are to be in the world, but not of it.
The analogy breaks down (just like salt losing its flavor), but the point is that we should not allow our character to be molded by the world. We should maintain our distinctive “flavor”. Our character as Christ followers is our distinctiveness.
We are to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger. We are to turn the other cheek and love each other, our neighbors and even our enemies. Being salt and light means displaying the characteristics of love identified in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….
If we aren’t responding to current events in ways that display love and the fruits of the Spirit, we are “doing it wrong”. We are not following Jesus by doing as Jesus did. We might even have to question whether Christ is in some of us.
As harsh as that might sound, Paul urges nothing more than what I am suggesting: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
The good news is that we have a Savior who knows our weakness and who is ready, able and willing to meet us where we are. Being Christians doesn’t necessarily mean that we will always get it right. God forgive us when we get it wrong. May He always renew our minds and work within us to will and to act in concert with Him and His purposes.