Thursday, November 17, 2016

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Taken from part of the passage I will be preaching on this Sunday:

24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The above passage comes out of Luke 22 in the New American Standard Bible. The greater context of this passage involves someone that those who aren't Christians might be familiar with: Judas, the most famous traitor in all of history.

Toward the beginning of this passage the chief priests and scribes (two groups not likely to get along with each other, but that's for another time) were trying to figure out how they could arrest Jesus without turning the people against them. Along came Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve closest disciples. He was willing to lead them to Jesus when he knew Jesus would be by Himself.

Scripture never outlines for us why Judas betrayed Jesus. Though Satan is said to have entered Judas, Satan does not have the power to make us do whatever he wants. He can only intensify and magnify what's already present. "The devil made me do it" is never a satisfactory answer anywhere in scripture, and it didn't work with my parents either whenever I got in trouble growing up.

There are those who think that Judas was a zealot who would have loved to see the Jewish people overthrow Roman rule and establish a politically independent nation. Jesus though was taking too long for his liking and took matters into his own hands by, in his estimation, forcing Jesus to take a stand and establish a political kingdom set against Rome.

Others believe he was driven by money. He was the treasurer and it's likely he had stolen some of their money already, but this was an opportunity to get more money and perhaps gain some influence with both the chief priests and the scribes.

Maybe it was something else altogether. We simply don't know.

The specific reason might not be important, but in the few verses I posted I believe Jesus is speaking to the underlying motive.

Jesus had just revealed that He was going to be offered up as the perfect sacrifice, using the backdrop of the Passover to help His disciples understand the significance of what He was about to do. They had traveled with and ministered with Jesus for three years, hearing Him talk about the Kingdom of God, but perhaps always thinking it must be a political kingdom He was wanting to establish. It was also at this point that Jesus revealed one of their own was about to betray Him. Questions of who it could be soon gave way to questions as to who was the greatest among them. If one could be persuaded to betray Jesus, certainly there must be one who stands above the others.

Jesus had discussed prior to this what made someone truly great in His Kingdom, but here He's emphasizing the point again. Gentile rulers and benefactors are driven by an ambition toward power and authority, and they don't hesitate in using either. But the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms or governments of the world. The greatest is the one who serves others. Jesus Himself, the Creator of all there is (according to John 1) had more right than anyone to rule and reign. Yet with His disciples He served them the Passover meal. He washed their feet. He claimed no permanent residence. He even came into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, held the Passover in a borrowed room, and would be buried in a borrowed tomb. Discussions over who would be greatest in His Kingdom and who would be the most influential were counter to His Kingdom.

Since the days of Constantine, I believe plenty of Judas' and would be Judas' have come along and infected the Kingdom of God.

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and legalize it in the 4th century, though he didn't make it the only legal religion. But others "converted" as a means to gain power, influence, and prestige, and from that time I believe the earthly embodiment of the Kingdom of God (the Church) has had an unholy alliance with the kingdoms of the world.

I could get into the atrocities of the medieval ages, but instead I'm going to fast forward to the beginning of our Constitutional Republic (not democracy, the founders feared majority rule) when they recognized (perhaps from a purely political standpoint) the dangers of having a state religion. Their solution was to guarantee in the Bill of Rights that freedom to practice or not practice religion would not be hindered by the government, and neither would the government force conversions to any particular religion.

They didn't say religion could not influence government, nor did they say religion is a private matter that has no place in public. That however afforded the free and open practice of religion a place within a government it had never been before.

It also led to complacency within the church in the United States. We enjoyed a freedom that no other generation of Christians had before, and we took it for granted. That was until our place at the table began to move farther and farther away from the head.

The reaction of some powerful and influential church leaders was to essentially become a unified voting bloc that became identified with one particular political party in the United States. Within a few years it became nearly impossible to separate the church from that political party, and the church did all that it could to force legislation to make a more moral society.

Yet, Jesus warned His disciples about worldly power. The betrayal Judas committed could have been done by any of them. Their own ambition became evident when, after hearing He was going to die and that He was going to be betrayed, all they could think about was their place in the Kingdom. The Church did not become a political force initially because Christians backed a particular Roman emperor. It became a political force in this world because its followers actually followed Jesus' teachings.

Jesus would stand before Pilate and say "My Kingdom is not of this world." The Kingdom of God does not play the games of backroom deals, compromise, intrigue, or corruption. Plus, what can a politician or a political party do for the Church that Christ is somehow incapable of doing?

I don't know what ultimately drove Judas to betray Jesus, but I believe in the last 40 years especially we have seen each of those possibilities get played out by "evangelical" leaders who equated voting for a particular party or candidate with promoting the Kingdom of God.

I'm going to close out with this. In my near 33 years of life I have helped refugees to the United States find homes and jobs, and helped their children enroll in school. I have handed out food to those who had no food, and prayed with them. I have visited those who are sick and prayed for their healing and seen them be healed. I have gone into prisons and ministered to prisoners. I have been outspoken on behalf of those who have no voice for themselves. I am not bragging about any of this, but I am saying it doesn't take voting for a particular candidate or political party to do any of that. The work that Christ called us to do is not tied to the politics or the kingdoms of this world. Shame on us for ever equating the two.

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