Jesus is Political [Sermon #2]
God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You - Sermon #02 - Jesus is political
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Sept 18, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We are continuing in our new sermon series: “God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You.” We are engaging in this series because we are kingdom people, we are image bearers of the One True God and we have a mandate to be the people of God in every facet of our lives, whether at church, in the marketplace, on the job, on the street, or at home. When we refuse to engage the political discourse by assuming that politics have no place in the church, we immediately cede to politicians the right to define what is political and what is theological. This results in the church having a weakened voice on theology because important biblical concepts have been wrongly labeled “politics” and therefore become off-limits.
Regardless of what politics might mean today and regardless of how it’s practiced today, politics’ most basic concern is about the ordering of relationships. It’s about the way we live together and how we get along. It’s about people. Relationship, love, and getting along are central to the practice of Christianity. We believe that God has something to say about how we live and the way we relate to one another.
No Party Affiliation or Constituents - Just Submission
Last week, I opened the series by examining the political act of the incarnation, God becoming human. The incarnation (God becoming human) is the highest form of human affirmation possible. God being born to an unwed teenager in poverty, humility, and suffering was unimaginable. Being born this way was a judgement of the powerful and elite. You can consider God’s birth as an act of “nonviolent civil disobedience.” The birth of Jesus in a humble stable, into poverty, into a refugee family, into an oppressed region of a vicious empire was an act of “nonviolent civil disobedience,” it was unthinkable, unimaginable–it was illegal.
Jesus’ political identity begins not with party affiliation or constituents, but with an act of submission. Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan River. John the baptist operated in the vocation of old, he was a prophet calling the people to repentance.
3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ” (Matthew 3:3–4)
Over John’s objections, Jesus submits himself to John’s baptism.
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13–15)
As Jesus was immersed in the waters of creation, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on him in bodily form, and a voice from heaven declared,
16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17)
Tempted by Materialism, Power, and Self-Interest
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” spoken by a voice from heaven, was not a simple observation about Jesus' nature or origin. It was a summons to a task. Jesus is summoned to be the promised one, the Messianic son and servant, the one that David spoke about, the one Isaiah prophesied about, the bearer of God’s goodwill and the fulfillment of God’s promise–the king of the Jews.
From there he was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he overcame the temptation that corrupts all politics: materialism, power, and self-interest.
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Luke 4:1–2)
Let me make an observation as we make our way, I don’t believe the Satan is trying to get to Jesus to sin or prove that he is the Son of God, instead, I think the Satan is trying to entice Jesus by offering him different ways to fulfill his summons–he’s offering Jesus alternative ways to becoming King.
We may overlook the importance of this exchange between Jesus and the Satan because our authoritative interpreters have instructed us to understand and interpret this passage of scripture only through the lens of personal and fleshly temptation. But let me suggest that while that might be true, I believe that it is also true that there is a political component at work:
3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)
The first temptation to turn the stone into bread is interesting right? If we read the passage as a temptation to sin, what’s the sin in ending his fast early?
A possible sin is dishonestly, but only if Jesus pretends that he fasted when he ready didn’t. So why does Jesus need to perform a miracle to get something to eat? Let’s push in here for a moment, the Satan is inviting a hungry man to break his 40 day fast by turning a stone into bread. I’m no dietitian, but I don’t think they would recommend eating bread at the end of your fast. And if bread is the best option, wouldn’t it be easier to just leave the desert for a nearby town to get some bread? Wasn’t his fast voluntary? If he ended his fast, and the people discovered, what’s at stake? So why does the Satan tempt Jesus to turn the stone into bread? Let me suggest that this has to do with economic power. If Jesus is able to transform objects into food, he can wield lots of power over the people. Think of it this way, if you want to be a King, just promise to put a chicken in every pot. The people become dependent on you, they will blindly follow you, they will exchange their hunger for loyalty and obedience as you demonstrate your ability to take care of them.
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Luke 4:4)
And in this context, the response from Jesus totally makes sense, doesn’t it?
[If you think it would work, you could mention that after Jesus feed the 4000, the people tried to make Jesus, king by force, he resisted this temptation again and withdraw to solidarity place. John 6:15]
If Jesus takes up this Satan’s suggestion, he will use his power to establish a kingdom based on the buying of loyalty, what we might call, economic reward. Economic reconstruction and redistribution, however necessary and valuable, will not usher in the kingdom of God. We will learn later that Jesus will actually challenge our reliance on wealth over God and invite us to sell all of our possessions and give them to the poor. This is a radical call that is, wait for it, political. I want to push in for just a little bit, this might tweak some of us, but what Jesus is suggesting here is wealth redistribution! Today just like in the ancient world wealth was seen as a sign of blessings and favor with God, but Jesus knows that when our trust is in the material wealth that God gives, instead of God himself, it corrupts us, distracts us, and may prevent us from seeing God at work in way we live, interact, and love each other.
5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:5–8)
In the second temptation, Jesus is offered rule over the whole world if only he will bow to the Satan. I believe this temptation is widely recognized as a socio-political temptation. At the center of this temptation is idolatry. It starts with worshipping something or someone other than God–we see that with the Satan inviting Jesus to worship him, but there another idolatrous invitation present in this temptation.
This time, it’s the idolatry of what political and militarily power might can accomplish. The Satan is inviting Jesus to fulfill his summons not by submitting himself to God’s rule and reign, but by imagining what coercive power can accomplish, what nationalism can accomplish. You don’t need God if you have your own power. People will fear you, and you will rule them. You can institute peace, stability, and material provision, Jesus, you just have to do it "my" way, the Satan offers.
8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8)
I so appreciate what Jesus says, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” It’s a condemnation that our use of coercive power will accomplish what want. What if power is given not to rule, but to serve?
You may remember that James and John, the sons of Zebedee took Jesus aside and asked for positions of power, to sit at his right and left. These are places of authority, honor, and privilege. Those who sat at the left and right of the king acted with the king’s authority and power.
41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41–45)
These temptations in the desert, paint a picture, which Jesus will fully embody throughout his life and ministry. Jesus invites us his followers to follow him by abandoning everything we think will bring the kingdom, other than the King himself.
What Jesus shows us clearly with his responses to the Satan’s temptations is that neither material wealth nor coercive military power will bring the kingdom of God. Both are inefficient in the task of enthroning God in our lives, in our community, in the world. This is why Jesus instructs us over and over again to seek first the king, his kingdom, his righteous because this helps us orient ourselves, our lives, our worldview. (Matthew 6:33) Jesus will fully embody this through his life and ministry. And he invites us to abandoning everything we think will bring the kingdom, other than the King himself. For Jesus this started with his act of submission through his baptism. There’s an invitation for us there to ask ourselves, how we are enthroning the King of Glory in our everyday? Are we trusting wealth, power, intellect, position, beauty, resourcefulness, anything other than God to lead us day-to-day? None of the things in my list are bad in and of themselves, it’s just when we get it twisted and start trusting our gifts, instead of the gift-giver.
I’d love to return to this assertion from earlier, “Jesus invites us, his followers, to follow him by abandoning everything we think will bring the kingdom, other than the King himself.”
Let’s take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what things in our lives we are trusting in – what relationships or agendas we have that we think will give true meaning to our lives. [Pause]
Now it it’s something or someone other than King Jesus & His agenda, I invite you to surrender that with your palms open. Jesus, help me/us to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. I/we trust that “all these things will be provided for me/us.”