We like Jesus. For some that’s too mild of a statement. We love Jesus. We especially love the Jesus who steps in on time, the One who comes to our rescue. We love that Jesus so much we even write songs about Him. Jesus on the main line tell Him what you want…
Nothing compares to the hope one can derive from knowing that Jesus cares. Through the deepest night of despair there is always the confidence that comes from believing that Jesus is with us and will see us through. We want that Jesus.
We also want the Jesus who will fight our battles for us. The text “vengeance is mine” has kept the sanity of many a believer. As we navigate through life we need a shield before us and behind us and no one can do that better than Jesus. We want that Jesus.
We especially want the Jesus that brings forgiveness to our guilty consciences. Lifting the burden of guilt that crushes our souls is a miracle in itself. Regardless of our past we have the promise of forgiveness to those who ask for it. We want that Jesus.
But there is a Jesus we don’t want. We never talk about this Jesus. He’s like that embarrassing relative we want no one to know of. It’s the Jesus that walks the narrow road and who goes against the grain of our lives and against the currents of society. We’re not the first to disown this Jesus but we may be of the generation who ignore Him at the greatest peril.
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38
This Jesus showed Himself most clearly during a difficult time in history. The chosen nation, through myriad moral failures, was now in bondage to another nation. The tensions between the government and the people, especially the Jews, were volatile and ongoing.
Appearing on the scene came a man named John the Baptist. He was a unique man who had a calling in life that put him at odds with many who were in power. Whether religious rulers or members of the government, John called out to all the need to repent.
So powerful were his words that people came from all around to hear him. His words were driven home by the power of God and many were convicted and made right with God through his preaching. John was so highly regarded that even Jesus came to him to be baptized. The humble John was actually a legend in his own time.
As the Bible records, John was eventually arrested. As he languished in captivity John sent word to Jesus via his trusted disciples. Without doubt it had been suggested to John that certainly, if Jesus was who everyone claimed He was, He would make it possible for John to be released from prison. If He was indeed the Messiah, the soon-to-be King of Israel, surely He could rectify this injustice.
The gospel records the unexpected response Jesus gave to the inquiring disciples.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Matthew 11:4-6
Tell John that the work I am doing to lift fallen humanity and to restore man back to a proper relationship with God is the greatest evidence of who I am that one could be given.
No attempt was made by Jesus to free John from prison. This was not because he did not value John. As a matter of fact we find Jesus gave more words of affirmation about John than about anyone else. He valued John, but to engage and correct the government of the land, which was full of abuse and injustice, was not the mission of Jesus. This is the Jesus we don’t want.
To make the situation even worse, John the Baptist was eventually murdered by King Herod. I can only imagine that it had a similar impact upon the masses as the martyrdom of significant individuals of our own societies. For my generation this would be like the late Dr. Martin Luther King being murdered while in custody of the government and no excuse or apology given. This was huge.
As a natural reaction, all eyes turned to Jesus. What would He say or do about this blatant injustice? Would he speak against the lengthy record of travesties performed by the governing body? Would He rally the people together to pressure a change in the methodologies and practices of the government?
He did not.
This is where we begin to part ways with this Jesus. Without any effort on our part we can recall a list of brave individuals who, at the peril of their own lives, effected change in government that has bettered society. It is indisputable that men and women have been called to play roles in history that paved the way for the freedoms many of us enjoy today.
That fact alone makes it hard for us to embrace this non-activist Jesus. We have a difficult time understanding how on one hand we are to do for the least of these and on the other hand we find an example in Jesus of essentially ignoring social injustices that lay perpetrated by the government.
We would find it hard to defend Jesus’ non-involvement in civil reforms relating to government abuses, were it not for His relentless labor in doing His Father’s work. From rising early to pray with God to healing entire villages of their sick, Jesus worked. He raised the dead, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He brought hope and courage to the downtrodden and forgotten. He forgave sins and lifted the heavy burdens of guilt and shame. Jesus changed lives every day. Not some days or on occasion, but each and every day He worked to reclaim man back to God.
As a defender of the scorned and disenfranchised, Jesus was the ultimate champion. Man-made barriers of race, social standing and religious dogma were shattered by Jesus. Hypocrisy dressed in the garb of religious piety was exposed for what it really was – graves full of dead men’s bones. He related and responded to the real needs of the people. There was a valid reason why the Bible records “the common people heard him gladly.” Mark 12:37
But what about the murdered John? The answer is best given by using the actual words of Jesus. He is now standing before Pilate after enduring a kangaroo court by His own people. Pilate knows this is no ordinary man, and he asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. Jesus’ answer is profound and worth our serious contemplation.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36
That’s not the Jesus we want. That’s not the Jesus we embrace in times of social outrage and shock. That’s not the Jesus who leads us when the injustices of government weigh down upon the masses. We don’t want that Jesus.
We want a Jesus that leads the charge against social injustice committed by those who govern. We want a Jesus that will give voice to our justified outrage. We want a Jesus who demands justice and leaves no stone unturned in holding the guilty accountable.
But maybe the argument can be made that in this particular case, Jesus does not have to serve as our example. Perhaps there is a uniqueness about the mission of Jesus that singularly prevented Him from engaging in civil reforms. Maybe we should look a little lower for our example.
Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, offers godly advice in many areas of life. He launched church after church and traveled extensively throughout the region. His mission to the Gentiles put him into close proximity with those who had a different life experience than those of the Jewish nation.
As we search through his writings, the theme that rises to the top is something he said while in Athens. This great city was the center of heathendom. Along with a population of highly intelligent people, idolatry was a way of life. We would be correct to assume that injustices and crimes were committed by those in power.
Yet Paul, with his keen intellect and gift of oratory, fails to even mention social injustices committed by those in power. He fails to mention the need for civil reforms. Even while on his own journey to his ultimate demise, we find Paul silent regarding the corrupt system of government of his time. What He did talk about was revealing the redeeming Christ to those hopelessly lost in sin.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Like Christ, Paul had a laser focus on his mission in life. His efforts were all put towards that end. His life was completely dedicated to the Savior he met on the Road to Damascus. And Paul too leaves us an example of priorities in life.
Neither Christ nor Paul’s example discounts the validity of the grievances many have against those in power. There are absolutely unconscionable injustices perpetrated on the powerless by those in power today just as there were during the days of Christ and Paul. This is not a matter of burying one’s head in the sand.
Nor does their example suggest that the people should not take advantage of all rights and privileges afforded to them, including the ballot box. But their example does point us to the real cure for the evilness of man – the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
This world, as it is today, is not our final home. Like Abraham of old, we must look beyond today.
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10
How applicable are the examples of Jesus and Paul when confronted with injustice and the lack of accountability by those in power?
What should our conversation be during times of crisis and controversy, especially related to the ethnic conflicts that plague our nation and other nations of the world?