Politics and religion often polarize us. Recently, I’ve heard some people say Jesus was very political and enraged his culture. I disagree. Had He done that, He would’ve kept the unsaved—the ‘unholy’—from the Kingdom of God just as the Pharisees had. A holy war against the unreligious would’ve placed the Kingdom so far out of reach and unattractive (as is often the case today) that it would’ve been unattainable to those who needed to enter. But, in reality, the political background of the Pharisees just didn’t seem to matter to Jesus (nothing in the Bible suggests that it did). The only thing that He ‘raged’ against was the religious nature of some of the Pharisees—a force that kept people from the Kingdom of God. Let’s look at a few examples.
Jesus explained that the Pharisees in their religiosity kept people from His Father’s Kingdom: But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people … (Matthew 23:13). Considering that Jesus came to introduce the Kingdom to humankind, this makes sense.
Jesus also overturned the money changers’ tables during Passover at the beginning and end of His ministry (John 2:13-22 & Mark 11:15-19). Why? They had commercialized the things of God—not unlike what we often see today in our consumeristic Christianity.
He also verbally attacked Pharisaical attitudes and behaviors in Matthew chapter 23 by pointing out their hypocritical nature (1-4). He calls them “blind guides” (23:16) and a “Brood of vipers” (23:33). Finally, He asks them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (23:33). As I mentioned earlier, He challenged the forces that restricted access to His Father’s Kingdom while tending to teach the non-religious sinners patiently. Perhaps the religious Pharisees were unteachable whereas the nonreligious were.
Just to be clear: we must stand firm when confronting the immoralities of the day. But we must do it gently and lovingly as a witness to the unbelieving world. So, what’s my point, then? Don’t use Jesus as a fall guy for violent or subversive rhetoric, speech, or behavior. Instead, have compassion on the lost, don’t wage holy wars against the unholy, and focus on reforming unhealthy religious behavior starting with ourselves. Only then will we be godly models others will trust and listen to and mimic as we shine the light of Christ and shape cultures.
Next week, I’ll share with you the life and times of John Bar Zebedee – John ‘the Revelator,’ who was the only apostle not to be martyred as he honored Christ’s charge to care for Mary, fostered the church in Ephesus, and warned of things to come.
Blessings and peace,