Palm Sunday, Partisan Politics & the Power of the Cross

palm_sunday-jesus_enters_jerusalem_sicily_12thcWe remember it in the church as Palm Sunday. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s the day when Jesus of Nazareth pre-planned a comical, yet prophetic event, in order to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah (Zech 9:9).

Jesus literally acts it out.

It’s no coincidence. At the same time Pilate is parading in on the west side of the Temple to oversee Passover, ready to put a stop to any chaos that might ensue, Jesus decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. He’s not on a war horse wielding a sword, he’s on a donkey. And he’s not packing.

Think about that.

Not quite the entrance folks were expecting from their Messiah.

Nevertheless, the crowds give him a royal welcome. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And all of this to the waving of palm branches, symbolic of Messianic deliverance to the Jews, clearly harkening back to the time the Maccabees threw off Greek rule in Judea. Everyone understands this scene.

This is it. It’s Jesus’ time to prove himself as the long-awaited Messiah, the son of God. Will he go to the Antonio Fortress, where the largest garrison of soldiers are housed in Jerusalem, where Rome kept an eye on things? No doubt, the crowd could quickly turn into a mob and rush the place.

But he doesn’t take a right for the fortress, instead he goes left through the eastern gate, and into the Temple. He goes in, looks around, and according to Mark’s gospel, he leaves and returns the next day for some prophetic theater in the spirit of Jeremiah. We all know what happens next.

He wasn’t “cleansing” the Temple. He was shutting it down.

By the end of the week, Jesus had pretty much peeved everyone off. And early Friday morning Jesus is standing before Pilate saying:

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 NLT

He said his kingdom is not of this world. Wait… what?

What does Jesus mean that his kingdom is not of this world?

Let’s be clear about this.

Jesus doesn’t mean his kingdom isn’t for this world, or that it isn’t to be manifested in this world. He isn’t saying that his kingdom is far away in another dimension where we all walk on clouds with our loved ones singing Amazing Grace for eternity. That sort of kingdom isn’t a threat to Pilate or the Sanhedrin. But too often that’s how we’ve imagined it.

An immaterial, escapist “heavenly kingdom” doesn’t reflect anything Jesus has been living and preaching for three years. No, the kingdom of God is real. You can see it if you’re born from above. You can touch it. It’s definitely subversive.

But it’s nothing like the kingdoms of the world.

“The crucial distinction between the two kingdoms is how they provide antithetical answers to the questions of what power one should trust to change ourselves and others: Do you trust “power over” or “power under”? Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but noncoercive power of Calvary-like love?”
Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (pg.33)

This is the kingdom we’re being invited into: A kingdom that looks like sacrificial, Calvary-like love. It looks like Jesus riding on a donkey. It looks like him hanging on a cross for the sins of the world.

Make no mistake about it. If we’re being faithful to the King and his kingdom, our obedience will inevitably lead to a collision with the kingdoms of the world, those systems which Satan controls (Matt 4:8-9). We need to hear this now more than ever as disciples living within an American empire.

Are we willing to suffer with Jesus and follow him to Golgotha?

As we think back on the discouraged disciples in those final hours, and learn from their despair in the garden with a steadfast Jesus, may we be reminded that this is not the time to fall asleep from the weariness of our trials and tribulations, from our striving to do what is right.

It’s also not the time to be overcome with sorrow because Christendom is crumbling and we feel clueless as to how we live in a world hostile to our message. We shall learn to do what most Christians have done before us.

We mustn’t give into the temptation that Jesus rejected in the wilderness with the evil one–the temptation to trust in the power of the sword and law to fight back. As Paul said, our weapons are not like those of the world (2 Cor 10:4)

So we must be careful that just because we’re not one of “those evangelicals” on one side of the American political aisle, who are certainly an embarrassment, sometimes a mockery, to the name Christ, that this means we are somehow more qualified to use government for Kingdom purposes, or that we’ve actually found the third way of Jesus. Far from it.

Leaving one party and political philosophy for another doesn’t mean we now know how Jesus would vote, even if he would vote.

As an Anabaptist, I’m often asked that: “Do you think Jesus would vote?”

Well, let me say this: If he would, I don’t think he’d tell anyone about it. As petty as it may be for the Lord of the Cosmos, I’d say maybe he would cast his ballot, but then he’d move on about the Father’s business, knowing that participation in the political process is sort of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It may allow some folks to make it more swiftly to the lifeboats who don’t want to drown, but the ship is going down.

I don’t say that as a cynic-saint, but instead as a disciple who hears the Lord saying: “My Kingdom is not of this world, if it were, I’d be doing worldly kingdom kind of stuff. Sure, I’ll talk with Pilate. I’ll even call Herod a sly fox. But I’m not doing the power-over, tit-for tat thing. No, I’ll expose the evil and injustice of the system by my good works, but I won’t play Caesar’s game. All those who know me will follow me.”

It’s more apparent to me now than any other time in my own life. It’s time that the church adopt a healthy suspicion of all kingdoms of the world, all parties, and all candidates. If you feel convicted to participate, OK. But don’t be fooled into believing, into trusting, that there is anything uniquely Christian about it. Don’t get your life from that.

Don’t put your hope and trust in any earthly, political savior or slogan.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you belong to another. Your citizenship—your allegiance—is to a heavenly King and his kingdom (Phil 3:20). Don’t confuse your calling as a kingdom ambassador by mixing the language and concerns of Jesus with partisan politics. Our Lord doesn’t approve.

It’s time to trust in the power of the cross, to pledge our allegiance to the One riding into town on a donkey, the suffering Messiah—vindicated in resurrection because of his faithfulness. It’s time to believe that his Kingdom advances when we stop trying to bring it through worldly kingdom means, and instead see the church as his agents of new creation.

We can do this with a holy confidence that God will renew all things in this way, as slow and foolish as it may seem, because we’re not left alone in that wilderness with the evil one. As it was with Jesus in the desert, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, we have the Spirit to lead us and God’s angels to protect us. We have a Lord who says, “Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you. I will be with you to the very end of the age.”

As we continue adjusting ourselves to a post-Christendom culture, I want to say to us that now is not the time to be overcome by fear, reaching for control in an angry panic. No, this is the time that we learn what it means to be a faithful presence, to patiently make disciples like Jesus, and wait on the Holy Spirit to move among us. This is the way of the cross.

In the days ahead, I pray we return to, or simply be reminded of, the basic beliefs and practices of our faith, and what it means to be faithful aliens and exiles in a foreign land. Let us live in active obedience to Christ, and not in fearful reaction to the mess around us.

May we stand and pledge our allegiance to our commander and chief–the crucified and risen Christ who rides into his house on a donkey. With him we shall overcome, crushing the head of the serpent with feet fit with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Finally, when your allegiance is tested in the months leading up to the election, as it likely already has been, I want to encourage us to remain faithful to what we have professed in the ordinance of baptism and what we remember every time we share in holy communion: It’s in dying that we live.

Lord, help us say it with our lips and with our lives:

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

Over the last few years I have written on the resurrection of Jesus.

Check out this 3-part post: Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.

If you’re interested, I have preached through the same material here.

I still stand behind the statement I made at the beginning of that message: “If it weren’t for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, I wouldn’t be a Christian.” Yes, I do believe it is that important.

I believe that I’ve personally encountered Christ alive in my heart and in the lives of others, but if I were to discover that the resurrection was just an elaborate hoax pulled off by a bunch of dumb hicks, it would mean the end of my faith. Real faith lives or dies with the heart and mind intact.

Take some time and go see the movie Risen (Feb, 2016). This powerful film allows the skeptic to enter into the story and experience the awe and wonder of the event with the first disciples. It tells a fictional story of a Roman soldier that followed the evidence wherever it led him.

So of course I think the historical facts surrounding the empty tomb are quiet convincing. I don’t think that any other explanation fits the evidence nor can it account for what occurred in the subsequent Jesus movement.

As I’ve also written: “The early church didn’t experience explosive growth in the face of relentless persecution for believing the resurrection was a metaphor.”

Since everything hinges upon the resurrection event, I don’t think the skeptic can say they’ve taken the historical Jesus or the Christian religion very seriously until they have examined the evidence for themselves.

Here is a fun video that briefly responds to popular skepticism on the topic.

Let me know what you think. Where does the evidence lead you?

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


Mike Breen on Discipleship

Christians know that Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). It’s easy to nod our heads or give a hearty “Amen” when we hear the word “discipleship” and that the church should be making disciples.

But what does that actually look like? Are we really making disciples?

I’d like to introduce you to someone who has helped me in this area. For the last two years, with help from my own discipling mentor, I have been gleaning from his writings and seeking to implement his ideas into my life and ministry.

Mike Breen is an author, speaker, and innovator in leading missional churches through the US and Europe. Mike isn’t just a thinker, he is also a practitioner that works to see established churches and church planters become missional by helping them to create a discipling culture.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.”
Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, pg.11

Listen to Mike share how churches are to make disciples who make disciples.

Are you doing more than receiving information? Who are you working closely with to imitate? Do you have a spiritual father or mentor(s)? What is the Spirit speaking to you about this?

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


What Makes For A Peaceful Religion?

cc

What makes for a peaceful religion?

Is a religion peaceful because the majority of its adherents believe in the idea of peace and being peaceful? Is it peaceful if you can find some peaceful verses in the religion’s sacred text or its other revered writings?

What about if the religion contains violence in its holy book? Does it cease to be peaceful? What if a group of its followers are committing or once committed violence in the name of God sometime in its history? What then?

Does that make it inherently violent?

My primary point in this article is not to try and make a case that Islam is not peaceful. I do not believe all Muslims are terrorists or violent extremists. On the contrary, most Muslims are peaceful, as are the majority of Christians. This should be obvious to every sensible person.

Instead, I would like us to reflect on the real source of religious belief and practice within Christianity, renewing our commitment to the Prince of Peace.

The source is how you determine if the religion is truly peaceful.

While I do want us to think about the real source of Islamic faith, and whether or not Muhammad clearly and consistently exemplified a peaceful religion, my aim with this article is to help both conservative and progressive Christians avoid the current cultural extremes in being followers of Christ and bearers of the truth who are called to love their Muslim neighbors.

I submit that we do not need to fear Muslims, nor should we pretend that Jesus and Muhammad are the same. They are not. Therefore, I want to encourage Christians not to echo politically correct tripe or gloss over the truth about our differences, feeling that we must do this in order to best love Muslims.

So, what makes for a peaceful religion?

I’d like to briefly address this question by first applying it to my own faith. Is Christianity a peaceful religion? How do I answer that question? How do you? And then I’d like us to think about how it should equally apply to Islam.

Finally, I’ll end with some ways I think Christians should respond in light of the conclusions I’ve drawn. Please keep in mind that this post is a brief reflection of my own personal study and current thinking on the subject.

The Prince of Peace

What is the source of the Christian religion?

If you say “the Bible” then it’s possible that you might not agree with what I’m about to say. Yes, I believe in the inspiration and the authority of the Bible, but I do so because of and in the way of Christ–the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-14).

Let’s be clear. The source of the Christian faith is Christ himself.

That is why we call ourselves “Christ-ians” or followers of Christ. We love the Scriptures because they point the way to Christ, but we’re not following a book, we’re following Jesus. As I’ve said before, the highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation.

The Word became flesh. He lived, died, and was resurrected.

So, our enemies can spit on or even burn our book, but it doesn’t incite us to do violence. Yeah, it may hurt our feelings a bit, but the One we worship is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father. You can scoff at his name, but you can’t kill him anymore. He has risen and will raise all those who accept him and follow him as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).

This Messiah we worship is the Prince of Peace who taught us to love our enemies and never use violence (Matt 5:38-48) Why? It’s not just because violence begets violence, but because that is what God is really like. The NT is clear that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:1-3).

I don’t believe in peace and praying for my enemies because I think it’s a good idea, or because it is the liberal or progressive-hipster thing to do these days. I believe it because Jesus told me if I want to follow him I must take up my cross and walk his road (Lk 9:23). It doesn’t need to make sense to me, nor does it need to be popular or politically correct. I obey because Jesus said so.

Our King and his Kingdom win by dying, not by killing.

So I don’t try to save my life by proof-texting Jesus in some pathetic attempt to justify violence, or even violent self-defense. When Jesus disarmed Peter with his rebuke to put away his sword, he disarmed me and every other Christian that professes “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), i.e. Caesar and the NRA are not.

Taking up your cross means first putting down the sword.

But what about the violence in the Old Testament? That’s usually where people go when they want to justify “Christian” nationalism and violence, or an atheist wants to be critical of the Bible. Didn’t God command violence in the OT?

If you’re interested, I’ve written about my views of the Scriptures and how I understand what is going on in the OT in a post called How I View Christ & the Scriptures. But the short of it is this… that was then, this is now.

Disciples of Jesus have been given a new covenant (testament) through his broken body and shed blood on the cross–the ultimate instrument of violence. The old has gone, the new has come. There is a clear division in our Bible so we don’t miss this. Yet some still fail to see the real significance of Christ’s coming.

The death of Jesus brought an end to belief in a tribal warrior God.

Violence in the OT is bound by its historical context within the narrative of Israel. There are no commands to do violence or promote it within the words of Jesus. On the contrary, we have a peaceful Jesus consistently showing us and telling us to do good to those who hate us. True sheep listen to the Shepherd.

If you accept that Jesus is what God looks like and has always looked like, then it not only requires that you read the OT with that in view, but it means that you also accept that any violence done after Jesus (which started about 200 years after Christ with the emperor Constantine) is in direct violation to the life and teachings of Jesus–the source of the Christian religion.

If you want to know if a religion is peaceful, you look to its leader. When it comes to Christ, the leader of the church, there is no shifting of his person or exceptions in his call to peace. None whatsoever.

He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).

Jesus was peaceful. Therefore, true Christianity will always look like Jesus.

The Cross & the Crescent

So, what about Muhammad & the Quran? Is Islam peaceful?

I readily acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people, but what about Muhammad? Can we say with confidence that Muhammad was a man of peace? If the leader and prophet Muhammad was not a peaceful person, what does this say about Islam? Can peaceful Muslims trust a violent Muhammad? This is an honest question for the honest person.

And it is a key point of civil conversation when evangelizing Muslims.

If the leader called for both peace and violence, which is clearly the case in the Quran and in Islamic history, who gets to speak for Islam? If Muhammad is the prophet and final revelation of Allah, on what grounds and on whose authority does one get to say at the heart of Islamic doctrine is a peaceful religion?

I have read the Quran. Have you? If you haven’t, you should.

A major difference between the New Testament and the Quran is that the NT is written from multiple authors within a few decades of each other. Jesus didn’t pen a single word, but instead the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tell us about Jesus and invite us to accept him and follow his teachings.

The Quran on the other hand comes entirely in Arabic from Muhammad as dictated by the angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, from Islam’s peaceful beginnings in Mecca to the violent militarism of Muhammad in Medina.

There are no “Old and New Testament” divisions within the Quran, none that are obvious to the lay reader, that indicate what teachings of Allah via Muhammad are in effect. I’m no Islamic scholar, but this is definitely why we are seeing the radical differences of interpretation within Islam.

So which Muhammad is reflective of true Islam?

I don’t see how the 100+ violent verses are annulled (e.g. Suras 2:216; 8:12; 9:111). They read as standing commands, not bound by their historical context. And that is of course why Islamic terrorists are saying Muhammad’s final revelation from Allah (God) is in effect. It’s the Islam of Medina.

This is much more than a matter of “twisting” verses in the Quran.

Former terrorists and Islamic scholars have been testifying to this problem, despite the backlash of our so-called “tolerant” pluralistic culture where we are certain every religion is obviously peaceful at its core.

Could it be a combination of this glaring problem with Muhammad and the rise of ISIS that is resulting in mass conversions of Muslims to Jesus?

If God is working like never before to bring Muslims to a saving knowledge of Jesus, why would we turn away refugees out of fear? Also, how does it help when progressives overreact to anti-Muslim bigotry by saying that our theology and history of violence are pretty much the same?

Not only is it not helpful, it simply isn’t true to history or the context.

We need to be clear. This isn’t just about differences of Quranic interpretation, as if Christianity has the same problem with the Bible. It is about the historical figure of Muhammad, the source of Islam, calling for both peace and violence.

What do peaceful Muslims do with this conflicting portrait of Muhammad and his commands to do violence? I’ve yet to hear of a coherent Quranic hermeneutic of peace like the Christocentric one set forth by Jesus in the Bible.

Until then, I will love Muslims as Christ loves me, but I can’t reconcile the prophet Muhammad, a man of war bent on conquest, to a peaceful Islam.

The Christian Response

How then should followers of Jesus respond?

  1. Affirm the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
    Christians need to remember that the source of our faith is Christ himself. However you sort through the violence of the Old Testament, the peaceful and non-violent Jesus supersedes it as God’s final Word.
  2. Speak up and out about the true source of our faith.
    It’s time for all followers of Christ to lovingly challenge the distorted perspectives of the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham who are shaped more by the Bill of Rights than the Jesus of the NT.
  3. Get educated and informed about the Quran.
    Buy a copy, read it, and learn about the differing perspectives of Islam. Notice its similarities and differences with your own faith. Listen to Muslims and converts to Christianity talk about the Quran.
  4. Learn about the faith of your Muslim neighbor.
    It’s easy to fear and disdain those you don’t know or understand. Seek out inroads with your Muslim neighbors. Befriend them. Invite them over for dinner or connect via social media. Jesus would and he’d like it.
  5. Lovingly rebuke anti-Muslim rhetoric from the fearful.
    Our only opinion about Muslims, peaceful or violent, should be that God loved them so much that he gave his Son for their salvation. We dare not promote or allow hateful speech/acts against those made in God’s image.
  6. Live the life that comes from the Prince of Peace.
    We live in a tumultuous time right now. Look how it presents us with opportunities to display the peace that surpasses all understanding. Be that peaceful presence. Seek to live the life God’s peace brings.
  7. Remember we do not battle against flesh and blood.
    Prayer is our warfare. Prayer shapes our worldview and enables us to love our neighbor and our enemies. Tap into the power that pushes back on spiritual evil and releases the Kingdom. And pray without ceasing.
Suggested Reading & Resources:

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


%d bloggers like this: