I’m reposting this article as we begin our series on the Sermon on the Mount. Every time I go back to this Kingdom Manifesto, I’m reminded by how easily Christians today boil Christianity down to private piety, overlooking the fact that Jesus calls his followers, the church, to be a new society living his New Way — a way that touches every sphere of our lives — political allegiances included! Peace, JB
The political climate in America this week is boiling hot on the heals of Sunday night’s signing of the Obamacare proposal. There is an apocalyptic like mood on the conservative right, with talk show hosts prognosticating on the eventual collapse of America as we know it.
Today, I walked to the gas station for a soda, and a perturbed man on the brink of desperation was waving a copy of the newspaper in the face of the clerk and yelling: “You see this?! This is not just a new Healthcare plan; it is the beginning of a complete government takeover of this great country! You just wait! This is the beginning of the end of America.”
I’m not here to weigh in or take sides in this debate. In fact, I intend to do quite the opposite. I intend to remind Christ followers of where our primary citizenship lies, and where our hopes for the future does rest. I walked out of the gas station store, calm and collected, opened my Mello Yello and with the fresh spring breeze all around me said a silent prayer of thanksgiving:
“Thank you, Lord, that my citizenship is of another world. Thank you, Lord, that the American government — whether conservative or liberal or far leftist — is not where I place my hope for my own future or the future of the world. Help this man to discover a greater, more lasting Kingdom to place his hopes in.”
Jesus was not an American — obviously. But nor was he a citizen of ancient Rome, supposedly the “bringers of world peace and prosperity” in the ancient world. When he was on trial for, among other things, treason against the political superpower of his day, he was asked plainly by Pilate about his political allegiance. His answer was unequivocally clear: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
We must quickly point out that Jesus did NOT mean by this that his Kingdom was not for this world or present in this world, as if he were referring to an otherworldly Kingdom in the sky called Heaven where we’ll eventually go. By saying his kingdom is “not of this world” he meant his Kingdom/government does not follow the same rules and patterns of other human governments we know. (In this context he means first and foremost that it does not stand or fall by military might: “If it were [of this world] my servants would fight to prevent my arrest”(v. 36b)).
Jesus inaugurated a new government rooted in radically subversive Kingdom-principles and driven by Calvary-shaped public agenda. Jesus didn’t align himself with any of the political parties of his day; but nor was his ministry apolitical.
Jesus announced a radically countercultural, seemingly foolish way of life and public service that tipped conventional political wisdom on its head. He didn’t try to reform the government or overthrow it. He started a quiet, non-violent, peaceable movement and invited people to turn from the ways of the populous and begin living their lives according to his Law of Love and agenda of self-sacrificing service to the least among us. His followers were not to be religious zealots or freedom fighters trying to force people to convert. They were not to be power-hungry, power-brokers wielding influence in the political spheres. They were not to be attempting to beat Caesar at Caesar’s own political games. Nor would they to withdraw from society altogether and live in isolation.
No. Instead, the Jesus movement would present a counter-kingdom, a radically new way of life that exposed the folly of the old ways. It would mind it’s own business, focus on the things Jesus focused on — loving the unlovely, serving the poor and forgotten, embracing those on the margins, loving one’s enemies, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, and, most importantly, sharing the good news of the gospel and inviting others to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ. Christians are called to be “a city on a hill”, shining the “light of the world” into the dark corners of society, being “salt and light”, and to “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17).
One of my favorite conservative radio talk show hosts, whom I respect and enjoy listening to on many subjects, drives me crazy when he, a religious Jew, repeats the following slogan: “America is the last and only hope for the world.” For a follower of Jesus, this is not a patriotic refrain nor a mere political opinion. This is blasphemy of the highest degree. For the Christian, there is only one hope for the world — and we’ll be observing and remembering the act of God in Jesus Christ that made that hope a reality this coming Holy Week.
I have my opinions about the current state of the American democracy and the political future of this nation. Some of my convictions are held passionately. But this is a great week to remember where our citizenship truly lies. This is a great week to be standing on the rock of Christ rather than any human political platform. So, Christian, which kingdom do you really serve?
To read more about the perspective I hold on Christian involvement in the political arena click HERE.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”