Tag Archives: messiah

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.

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What Would Jesus Not Do?

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil following his baptism by John, his own cousin.

But before Jesus can begin his ministry of revealing the Kingdom of God, Jesus must first undergo a series of temptations that will forever define him. He must decide in his own heart, and for the testimony of his followers, what kind of Messiah he will be.

What kind of king and kingdom will Jesus choose? His way then becomes our way. The temptations of Jesus are a matter of our own discipleship.

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  1 John 2:6 (NIV)

In order to understand the temptations, we must see them in conjunction with the previous event. They should not be isolated from Christ’s recent baptism. John the Baptizer recognizes Jesus as the coming king of the promise, the Messiah for Israel. And that’s what he will be.

So, what kind of Messiah will Jesus be for his people?

The temptations of Christ are not just examples of Jesus overcoming sin. They were never meant to be read as examples of Christ experiencing random temptations. The gospel writer sees them as the defining moment for the person and work of Jesus.

“Only as we see what Jesus rejected, can we know what he has affirmed.”  Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, 34.

The nature of these three temptations is critically important for seeing what Jesus will not do in his ministry.

Bread from Stone—Kingdom Economics

After fasting forty days and forty nights (a reenactment of Israel’s wilderness wandering), Jesus was tired and hungry. This clearly would have made any proposal appealing to the flesh. Our physical state often affects our spiritual condition.

And this was the point of the fasting. Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to opposition. It would have certainly been a time of closeness with the Father and a time of great challenge in his humanity against Satan. Jesus must now face his greatest challenges as Messiah.

The devil came to him and said, “If (since) you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies, “It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3-4).

Was Jesus simply tempted to eat because he was hungry? What does this have to do with the baptism event and Jesus’ coming Kingdom ministry?

Jesus embodies Israel and reveals the nature of his divine mission. The connection to Israel’s history and Christ’s words of total submission to God is obvious. So, what does this have to do with his kingship and Kingdom?

There were two classes of people in the Roman Empire: upper and lower class. Evidence suggests that 90% of the citizens were of the lower class. Most folks were unbelievably poor.

Since Jesus is the Messiah, the devil tempts Jesus to be a welfare king. “Turn these stones to bread” he said. How will Christ deal with the economic problems of the world? This is the question Christ answers. It is a question every king must consider.

Will he open the grain houses upon his arrival? Like Julius Caesar returning from Gaul seeking to manipulate and pander to the masses, will Jesus use his power to win people through their stomachs? What will be his method of proving his divine rule?

Jesus relates to the hunger of people all over the world. He embraces the hunger of others. Jesus’ response ought to be seen as a rejection of solving the problem as an earthly king would.

He doesn’t ignore the physical needs of the world. Jesus will go on to feed many who are hungry. However, the Kingdom of God is much bigger than a loaf of bread—it is more than food. And Jesus doesn’t need bread because he is the bread of life.

Jesus deals with poverty in a different manner. He will feed folks, but he seeks to do more than feed mouths. He will seek to restore the dignity of others and reconcile them to God.

Base Jumping From the Temple—Bad Religion

Then the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan says, “If (since) you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matt 4:6). The devil then proceeds to quote Scripture (Psalm 91), twisting it to tempt Jesus to action.

Is Jesus going to swoop in and gain the approval of the religious establishment? He very easily could have removed all doubt to who he was.

A grand entrance would certainly gain recognition that he was indeed the Messiah. Yet he resists the temptation to gain approval of those religious folk. If Christ were going to convince the religious leaders, the “Doctors of the Law,” this would be the way to do it. But he doesn’t do it.

Jesus chooses not to parachute in and remove any obstacles from them hearing his message of the coming Kingdom.

He will make his presence known in the Temple, but only right after he drives out those practicing bad religion. This is quite different than the entrance he was tempted with by the devil.

FYI: This isn’t how you win the votes of the Sadducees on the left (who were in charge of the Temple) or the Pharisees in the “Religious Right” who were popular with the people.

Instead, Jesus storms in to the heart of Jewish religion, and turns it upside-down. The Temple is no longer the place of worship and symbol of God’s presence. For the Spirit of God has come to dwell in men. There is now something, someone, greater than the Temple.

He is Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus will not do any pandering to the religious elite. No sir. Jesus will shut down institutional religion for good and tell the ruling party that they are now out of a job.

There’s a new king in town. His name is Jesus… the Christ from Nazareth.

Kings and Kingdoms—The Politics of Jesus

Jesus has already rejected two powerful offers to play by the world’s rules and give the people the Messiah that was expected—a Messiah that fixes this present age by methods characteristic of this world.

Jesus refuses to manipulate people using the old avenues of power. Instead, he will offer people bread from heaven and true religion that’s good for the soul, which is much more satisfying.

Now Jesus faces his most difficult challenge yet. Jesus is taken to a high mountain. In the ancient world, mountains were seen as places where deities come to earth. From the pagan “high places” to the receiving of the Ten Commandments, God chose to work within this ancient mindset.

And this final temptation should be seen as an offer of divine importance.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Matthew 4:8,9 (NIV)

Lest you think this temptation is merely about getting Christ to commit to devil worship, let’s look closer at what really faces Jesus in this final bout with the devil.

Christ is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has power over them, which Jesus does not deny. The evil one still manipulates these kingdoms today. The Messiah will crush these kingdoms as Daniel prophesied (Dan 7:14). But how will he crush them?

Will he take the world by force using violence? Will he succumb to the way of the present evil age and the prince of the air by putting his hand to the plow of political power? Will he commit to the way of the devil—the source of all war and violence?

Will he be an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, an Augustus, or better yet… a King David?  This would not be the last time he is faced with this temptation (Matt. 16:23; 26:51,52; Jn. 6:15).

Christ redefines power in his rejection of earthly kingship. He rejects the avenue of earthly politics to advance the Kingdom of God. As God’s full revelation of his own character, he intentionally rejects power-over methods of coercion and force to advance the Kingdom.

Jesus embodies God’s will for his people and all those who seek to enter in to the rightful reign and rule of God on earth. Do not pass by this temptation and miss the foolishness of the Kingdom of God, for therein is power that we have not fully known in our day.

We must be willing to say to the prince of the power of the air and the kingdoms he controls, “Away from me!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matt. 4:10).

Walking the Kingdom Way

If we’re really concerned with WWJD, maybe we should first look at what Jesus would not do for the sake of clarity.

The temptations of Jesus prove that Christ rejects the secular concept of Messiah in both the way he confronts social injustices, instutionalized religion, and the political powers of his day.

Jesus is faced with three major social institutions: economic (bread), religious (temple), and the political (mountain).

Notice that Jesus would not capitulate to the world system. The rejection of these three temptations characterizes the entire ministry of Christ.

Until we’re willing to reject what Christ rejected, we have not fully accepted the Kingdom of God as revealed by Jesus.

If we desire to follow Christ, we must embrace the way of the suffering Messiah, instead of that way which is common to man.

We must walk the Kingdom way. And that way always looks like Jesus.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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